MLB’s Winter Meetings start next week

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, December 7th, 2018

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BY DIC HUMPHREY
DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL.COM

Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings start next week. The
sites alternate from year to year between Major League cities and
Minor League cities; and this year, the venue is the Mandalay Bay
Hotel in Las Vegas. Theoretically, the meetings are about off the
field business, but when all the General Managers, other front office
people and agents gather in one place, trades and free agent signings
hog the headlines.
Until this week, it’s been a slow moving market. The reason most
often credited is the tremendous front office turnover. The Orioles,
Mets and Giants replaced their General Managers. In the Orioles case,
almost the entire front office was changed.
Texas lured Shiraz Rehman from the Cubs and Matt Blood from Team
USA; signings that may have more long term effect on the organization
than any player moves this winter. In short, front office people have
put trades and free agent signings on the back burner to restock their
front offices.
Once the Thanksgiving holidays concluded, teams began to get
down to serious business. The Seattle Mariners have been the most
active. Seattle had the fourth best record in baseball at the
All-Star break, but slipped out of the playoff picture in the second
half. They still won 89 games, but for whatever reason, they decided
to strip it down to the studs.
They did the first explosive trade, sending left-handed starter
James Paxton to the Yankees.  Also gone is Robinson Cano in a salary
dump. Edwin Diaz, the Major League leader in saves last season, went
with Cano to the Mets.  He was packaged with Cano to accommodate the
salary dump.  Shortstop Jean Segura was then sent to the Phillies, and
there appears no chance that the Mariners will re-sign designated
hitter Nelson Cruz. That’s five key pieces to the 89 win team that
are gone, and supposedly Mariners’ G.M. Jerry Dipoto isn’t finished
yet.
The first really big free agent signing also came this week, when
Washington signed Patrick Corbin, the best starter available as a free
agent. He inked at six year deal totaling $140 million. Nice work if
you can get it. Nathan Eovaldi, another top free agent pitcher, then
re-signed with the Red Sox. Eovaldi thrust himself into the top tier
of pitching free agents with his work in this year’s playoffs. It was
basically a given that he would return to Boston.  The only question
was the price, which turned out to be four years at $68 million.
With all the trades taking place, free agent signings have taken
a back seat, and the trades may impact the free agent market.  The
Mets for example are a team that many thought would be in on the big
name free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machad. They look out of the
running with their acquisitions, and their trade partner Seattle
undoubtedly won’t be taking their place.  Seattle wants to shed
payroll.
The Phillies were the favorite by many to be the next home for
Machado. However after landing Segura, the Phillies may no longer be
in the running.
As for the Rangers, Adrian Beltre settled the third base situation
by retiring. The team held Beltre’s farewell press conference last
week.  Impressively, many current and former teammates were on hand.
Former mates included Yu Darvish, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and Derek
Holland.
The Rangers made the first free agent signing of the season
landing catcher Jeff Mathis on a two year deal. It’s doubtful that
Mathis, at 36, can catch even 90-100 games, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa
isn’t ready to make up the difference.The Rangers are thus continuing
to look for another catcher.
Last week, Texas signed Jesse Chavez to a two year contract.
Chavez was signed last year, pitched well enough to attract interest
from the Cubs as the trade deadline neared last summer, and now he’s
back.
The Rangers are building a bullpen and there is still more work to do.
Other former Ranger relievers may soon join the team. Cory Gearrin,
who was acquired during the season from San Francisco, then later
traded to Oakland, is a free agent as is Jake Diekman, who finished
the 2018 season with Arizona. Both are a consideration.
Last week, was the deadline for teams to tender contracts, and if
they don’t, the player becomes a free agent.  The surprise for Texas
was that Matt Bush was non-tendered. Bush could still return on a
minor league contract. With Bush gone, the current bullpen starts
with Jose Leclerc, who was absolutely fantastic over the final two
months of the season as the Rangers’ closer once Keone Kela was
traded. Alex Claudio, Chris Martin and Chavez are the only additional
bullpen“for sures”.
There were lots of tryouts toward the end of the season, and
pitchers such as Connor Sadzeck, Nick Gardewine, C. D. Pelham and
Jeffrey Springs could easily be part of next year’s bullpen.
That still leaves the starting rotation to fill out. Japanese
left-handed starter Yusei Kikuchi was posted last week, meaning he is
available as a free agent to any Major League team willing to part
with the posting fee. Kikuchi is 27 years old, and is not regarded as
highly as last year’s Japanese import Shohei Ohtani or Yu Darvish; but
he is still highly regarded as a pitcher that can step into a Major
League rotation immediately as a solid starter. He made 23 starts for
the Seibu Lions in 2018 with a 14-4 record and a 3.08 ERA in 163-1/3rd
innings.
The posting fee has been altered to be a function of the value of
the contract the player signs with a Major League team. It is
calculated as 25% of the first $25 million, 17.5% of the next $25
million, and 15% of value over $50 million. There is also a provision
for a supplemental fee to the Japanese team based on bonuses or salary
escalators the posted player later receives.
Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels says they are doing their homework on
Kikuchi, though he opted not to comment on how strong their interest
is. Teams have 30 days to make a deal with Kikuchi.
Right now the Rangers rotation is Mike Minor, Drew Smyly, Edinson
Volquez, Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado.  All but Minor are
“penciled in”.
NOTABLE:
• Oscar Marin was named this week to be the Rangers’ bullpen coach
and Callix Crabbe was tabbed to be the assistant hitting coach in 2019
to complete the coaching staff.
• Former Ranger Robinson Chirinos signed with Houston this week.
Many close watchers of the Rangers were surprised when the Rangers
didn’t exercise their 2019 option on Chirinos making him a free agent.
Chirinos is friends with the Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve, and
contacted him immediately when he became a free agent. With Altuve’s
push, the Astros decided to sign him. Chirinos had career highs last
season in home runs (18) and RBIs (65) in 443 plate appearances, also
a career high.  He signed a one year deal at $5.75 million, $1.25
million more than the team option the Rangers chose not to exercise.
• The Rangers announced that Paul McCartney will perform in concert
at Globe Life Ballpark next year on June 14.  Tickets go on sale next
week on Thursday, December 13.

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