Analysis and Predictions on Latest MLB Free-Agency and Trade Rumors
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With the start of spring training now less than a month away and the free-agent market picked clean, it’s no wonder Major League Baseball’s rumor mill has slowed down.
But since it hasn’t yet stopped spinning, let’s dive in to the latest.
We spotted seven rumors that are deserving of analysis, ranging from whether the proposed fit makes sense to whether a certain party might be bluffing with its stance in negotiations.
For the heck of it, we also made predictions about what, if anything, will come of these whispers. This is where we mostly went with our gut.
Now then, what’s say we start with Boston?
Can the Red Sox Add Multiple Up-the-Middle Players?
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In the wake of Xander Bogaerts’ departure and, more recently, Trevor Story’s elbow surgery, Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom indicated the club is looking to add multiple up-the-middle regulars:
Boston presently has Enrique Hernández at shortstop, Christian Arroyo at second base and Jarren Duran in center field. Or: someone who belongs in center field, a utility player with durability issues and a light-hitting speedster whose defense was too often comically bad in 2022.
But as much as Bloom rightfully wants to rectify this situation, what can he really do about it?
On the free-agent market, there’s Elvis Andrus, José Iglesias, Josh Harrison and not much else. On the trade market, the Red Sox have been connected to Joey Wendle of the Miami Marlins as well as Adalberto Mondesi of the Kansas City Royals. Neither moves the needle, as the former is a utility type and the latter would be an upside play.
Other speculative possibilities include Trent Grisham and Ha-Seong Kim of the San Diego Padres, Jorge Mateo of the Baltimore Orioles, Brendan Rodgers of the Colorado Rockies and, best of all, Bryan Reynolds of the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, their price tags aren’t exactly conducive to the Red Sox’s acquiring more than one of them.
The Red Sox already look like long-shot contenders for 2023, so it’s hard to imagine Bloom will make all-in plays on any of the players from that last group. The low-risk plays seem more likely, whether it’s Andrus, Wendle, Mondesi or whomever.
Could the Giants Add a First Baseman After Brandon Belt’s Departure?
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With Brandon Belt having signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, the San Francisco Giants are without a clear starter at first base. According to Maria Guardado of MLB.com, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has left open the possibility of an outside addition.
Sans Belt, the Giants’ in-house options at first base include LaMonte Wade Jr., J.D. Davis and Wilmer Flores. There might be a solid platoon to mine from that trio, but whether any of them is fit to be a regular at the cold corner is questionable.
It thus wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if the Giants indeed brought in an outsider to shake things up, though their free-agent options are basically an array of lottery tickets.
Sans Trey Mancini, who signed with the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, there’s Yuli Gurriel, Luke Voit and Miguel Sanó. The last two were fearsome sluggers in the best of times, while the first isn’t far removed from winning the American League batting title in 2021.
As trade options go, the Giants might consider Bobby Dalbec, who is reportedly on Boston’s chopping block. The Giants might also take a cue from Anthony Franco of MLB Trade Rumors and call their cross-bay rivals, the Oakland Athletics, about overlooked slugger Seth Brown.
At least from this perspective, the Giants’ in-house options at first base aren’t so hopeless that the team needs to do anything drastic. A mere minor league signing would do, for which Voit and Sanó are potential candidates.
Is Gary Sánchez a Fit for the Giants?
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Sticking with the Giants, there’s also a report out from MLB insider Héctor Gómez that the club is interested in power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez:
The shine that once accompanied Sánchez during his days with the New York Yankees is pretty well worn off by now.
In the last three seasons, he has posted a respectable 162-game average of 27 home runs but with a below-average 90 OPS+. And while larger bases and limits on pickoff throws figure to make his strong throwing ability extra useful, the Giants would still have to live with his iffy framing.
Meanwhile, there’s also the question of how much the Giants are willing to invest in their catching depth. Per Evan Webeck of the Mercury News, Zaidi doesn’t sound determined to do a major league deal with anyone:
Evan Webeck @EvanWebeck
Austin Wynns cleared waivers and can elect free agency. Farhan Zaidi made it sound as though <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/SFGiants?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#SFGiants</a> very much want him back. Said it’s unlikely they’ll add another catcher on an MLB deal. Likely some competition on an NRI.
This could preclude an agreement with Sánchez, who, flaws and all, is too good to settle for a minor league deal. And lest anyone think the Giants could make a run at him as a first baseman, he has played all of four innings at the position throughout his major league career.
We’re not about to dispute that the Giants are indeed interested in Sánchez, but that interest doesn’t have to necessarily be mutual. If he’s only looking to accept a major league deal that would allow him to keep catching, he is probably more likely to sign elsewhere.
Is Michael Wacha a Fit for the Twins?
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As for the team that Sánchez was with most recently, Dan Hayes of The Athletic dropped a note amid a look at the Twins roster Jan. 3 that the club has expressed interest in signing right-hander Michael Wacha.
The Twins are set to open the season with a starting rotation of Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda and Bailey Ober. At least on paper, that’s a compelling party of five.
Yet there are durability questions aplenty, especially at the back end. Mahle and Ober missed substantial time in 2022 with shoulder and groin injuries, and Maeda is coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Hence the interest in Wacha. He’s not exactly a paragon of durability in his own right—he’s topped out at 127.1 innings over the last five seasons—but he’s fresh off posting a 127 ERA+ for the Red Sox.
There’s also a more specific way that Wacha suits Minnesota. He’s come to like using his fastballs higher in the strike zone in the last two years, and Twins hurlers subscribed to that same philosophy more than all but one group in 2022.
Ah, but context matters. Hayes brought up Wacha as a possibility in tandem with a hypothetical sell-high trade of Gray. The Twins don’t necessarily have to do that first to sign Wacha, but in the meantime it’s easier to imagine them pursuing lower-cost depth options. After all, their 2023 payroll is already slated to demolish the club’s previous record.
Is There a Trade to Be Made Between the Marlins and Twins?
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Another way the Twins might address their pitching depth is by swapping out a bat for an arm. To this end, Heyman reported Minnesota had discussions with Miami about Pablo López that concerned Max Kepler and Luis Arráez.
Heyman further noted that the Twins don’t want to part with Arraez, and why would they?
López is a good pitcher, but it shouldn’t be glossed over that he wore down as he racked up 180 innings over 32 starts in 2022. He had a 2.30 ERA through his first 12 outings, and then a 4.68 ERA over his next 20.
For his part, Arraez is a .314 hitter over four seasons and is fresh off winning the AL batting title by way of a .316 average. As he won’t be a free agent until after the 2025 season, Arraez also has an additional year of club control on López.
A López-for-Kepler deal would make more sense, as Kepler is owed $8.5 million in 2023 with a $10 million club option for 2024. The Marlins surely know Kepler is an excellent defender and that he also has upside at the plate, with a past peak of 36 home runs.
Even if a López-for-Kepler swap is a better idea than a López-for-Arraez trade, it’s fair to question whether the Marlins should go for it. Whereas López is an obviously good pitcher, Kepler’s recently diminished returns (i.e., a 96 OPS+ over the last two seasons) cast doubt on whether he’s the impact hitter Miami so badly needs.
Could the Marlins Trade Pablo López to the Padres Instead?
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If they can’t work something out with the Twins, could the Marlins try to interest the Padres in López? According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, a rival evaluator views the two sides as a good fit.
This is where one recalls a Dec. 29 report from Dennis Lin of The Athletic, wherein he addressed San Diego’s need for starting pitching and the possibility of the team trading Grisham or Kim to fix the problem.
Meanwhile, the Marlins have needs at both center field and shortstop.
Center field belongs to Bryan De La Cruz, who makes plenty of hard contact but struggles with whiffs and defense. Sans Miguel Rojas, who is now a Los Angeles Dodger by way of this week’s trade, the Marlins seem set to upgrade Wendle from utility infielder to starter.
Trouble is, Grisham and Kim would only be partial upgrades. They are fantastic defenders who tallied a total of 25 outs above average in 2022. But neither was an impact hitter, which, again, is something the Marlins need after finishing third from the bottom in runs last season.
Maybe there’s a scenario here in which the Marlins get both Grisham and Kim in a López trade and thus go all-in on run prevention as their ticket to contention in 2023. But relative to swapping him out for the kind of hitter they need, even that isn’t an ideal scenario. Marlins GM Kim Ng can and should do better.
Will Bryan Reynolds Still Be a Pirate on Opening Day?
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As to the other oft-mentioned star on the trade market, Heyman and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported there is doubt that the Pirates will move Reynolds any time soon. Per the latter, the expectation is that the center fielder will still be a Buc come Opening Day.
Where Reynolds stands with regard to his future with the Pirates is no great mystery. Per his trade request in December, he would rather not have one.
That doesn’t help the Pirates’ leverage in trade talks, but it doesn’t sound like they’re backing down. Heyman and Rosenthal have both characterized the package that Pittsburgh is requesting for Reynolds as being akin to what the Washington Nationals got for Juan Soto.
Even still, the Pirates would be making a mistake if they did back down. If they can’t get what they want for Reynolds now, they may stand a good chance of getting it during the season if he boosts his value or other teams become desperate for his bat.
If the Pirates are bluffing, clearly nobody has called them on it yet. And given that Reynolds is under their control through 2025, they have every right to take their sweet time in finding the right deal. So, yeah, we’ll buy that he’s still a Buc on Opening Day.