MLB Hot Stove: End-of-year recap, where are Harper and Machado going?

It’s been two months since the Red Sox won the World Series, and MLB has seen quite a bit of player movement in the hot stove. The two biggest pieces available this winter, however, have yet to sign as the calendar turns to 2019 and OF Bryce Harper and SS/3B Manny Machado are still on the market. The biggest names to be moved so far this offseason have come via trades.

Trades

The biggest story of the offseason to date has been the rebuilding of the Mariners, who saw their playoff drought extend this season after a promising first half of the season turned into a disappointing second half that saw the team fail to make the postseason for the first time since 2001. The Mariners’ first trade saw a package highlighted by C Mike Zunino go to the Rays in exchange for OFs Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley. The next trade was their most significant, as they sent veteran SP James Paxton to the Yankees in exchange for several minor leaguers, with the centerpiece of the package being SP Justus Sheffield. They also made two trades on December 3. One sent 2B Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets for four players, including OF Jay Bruce and P Anthony Swarzak. Seattle’s other trade that day included SS Jean Segura and Ps Juan Nicasio and James Pazos going to the Phillies for 1B Carlos Santana and SS J.P. Crawford. The Mariners subsequently flipped Santana to his former team, the Indians, in a three-team deal in which the Mariners acquired DH Edwin Encarnacion. All of that action by GM Jerry DiPoto helped the Mariners shed salary and get younger as part of a rebuild, which is likely to extended the team’s streak of missing the playoffs by at least a couple more years.

The aforementioned three-team trade with the Mariners and Rays wasn’t the only deal the Indians have made, as they also sent 1B Yonder Alonso to the White Sox and extended the contract of SP Carlos Carrasco with a team-friendly three-year, $37.5 million that will keep him under team control through 2022, with a vesting option for 2023. While Carrasco will be with the Indians long-term, there have been rumors that they will trade either SP Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber as they also look to pare down their payroll.

The biggest trade at this point of the offseason occurred a few days before Christmas and involved the team that has lost the World Series in each of the last two seasons. The Dodgers traded OFs Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, SP Alex Wood and C Kyle Farmer to the Reds for SP Homer Bailey and a couple of minor leaguers, SS Jeter Downs and P Josiah Gray. Making those moves helped clear some room on the payroll for the Dodgers, who have been linked to Harper and are believed to be among the teams most likely to land the coveted free agent, who is expected to sign for more than $300 million.

Free-agent signings

As has been the case in recent winters, the free-agent market has been slow to get moving with the biggest names still available heading into January. Some of the bigger names behind the big two — including OFs Marwin Gonzalez and A.J. Pollock , SP Dallas Keuchel, C Yasmani Grandal, DH Evan Gattis and closer Craig Kimbrel — are likely waiting for Harper and Machado to sign before the other dominos begin to fall and we get a better idea of what teams’ rosters will look like heading into spring training and the regular season.

The Red Sox re-signed a couple of their World Series heroes, including inking SP Nathan Eovaldi to a four-deal and bringing back World Series MVP 1B Steve Pearce for another season. The team the Red Sox beat in this year’s ALCS, the Astros, who are likely going to lose Gonzalez and Keuchel, have made a couple signings with C Robinson Chirinos and OF Michael Brantley agreeing with the team to one-year and two-year deals, respectively. Among other playoff teams, the Braves brought back C Brian McCann, who started his career with them, and signed 3B Josh Donaldson each to a one-year deal. The Phillies, hoping to keep pace with the Braves in the NL East, signed veteran OF Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal, and another division rival in the Mets signed C Wilson Ramos for two years and RP Jeurys Familia — who they traded to the A’s during the season — for three years.

The Nationals — in all likelihood preparing to be without Harper starting in 2019 — have signed four free agents so far, with the biggest deal being a six-year, $140 million contract for SP Patrick Corbin, with SP Anibal Sanchez also signing a two-year deal with the team. They also signed C Kurt Suzuki for two years, with a one-year deal going to 1B Matt Adams. The Rays signed Astros 2017 postseason hero SP Charlie Morton to a two-year contract, and the Cardinals’ biggest signing has been RP Andrew Miller, with a two-year contract worth $25 million. The Yankees re-signed SPs J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia.

Other notable players who have come off the board so far in the offseason (with the team that signed them) include: 2B Jonathan Schoop and DH Nelson Cruz (Twins); RP Joe Kelly (Dodgers); SPs Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill, OF Justin Bour (Angels) ; OF Billy Hamilton (Royals); SP Tyson Ross (Tigers); and 2B Daniel Murphy (Rockies).

Likely landing spots for Harper and Machado

With Harper and Machado both reportedly seeking long-term deals in excess of $300 million, the number of teams that could sign them are limited. The Yankees, at times entering the offseason, have been linked to both players but appear to be focusing in on one while some high-profile National League teams appear to be leading the pack for the other.

The Yankees, Phillies and White Sox are the three teams thought to be pursuing the services of Machado, who visited all three cities and met with the teams prior to Christmas. The Phillies and White Sox — especially the former — seem to be willing to spend more money for Machado than the Yankees, but I think if the money is close Machado could still sign with the Yankees due to the perceived prestige of playing for the team. The Yankees are reportedly shopping 3B Miguel Andujar in trade talks, which could be a sign that the Yankees may still sign Machado. Signing him would make Andujar more expendable, as Machado can play either shortstop — where he would likely begin the season while SS Didi Gregorius is out — or third base. In the end, I think Machado signs with the Yankees.

The Dodgers’ biggest intention in making that big trade with the Reds was likely to clear room on the payroll to sign Harper. Other teams that have been connected to Harper are the Cubs — who have 3B Kris Bryant who, like Harper, is a Las Vegas native — Phillies and Nationals, who are likely still in on Harper, even though he reportedly turned down a $300 million team late in the season. Being from Vegas, I think Harper wants to sign with a West Coast team to be closer to home, and why not make it the team that has represented the National League in the World Series each of the last two seasons? I think the Dodgers ultimately sign Harper.

Possible trades still to come

Even though there have already been several trades this offseason, the trade market likely isn’t closed yet. All winter, the Marlins have been trying to shop C J.T. Realmuto, with teams like the Mets, Dodgers, Yankees and Astros reportedly among the teams interested in the backstop. Signing Ramos means the Mets are out. Reports have tabbed the Yankees as wanted a straight swap of Realmuto-for-Gary Sanchez, which the Marlins have seemingly balked at. If the Yankees sign Machado, maybe they’ll be willing to include Andujar in a possible deal. The Dodgers may not have enough trade pieces anymore after the Reds deal, and the Marlins are reportedly asking for one of the Astros’ top prospects — SP Forrest Whitley or OF Kyle Tucker — for Realmuto. Whitey is reportedly untouchable from the Astros’ perspective, but Tucker would likely be the centerpiece of the trade if the Astros are successful in acquiring Realmuto, even though they signed Chirinos earlier this winter. The Marlins may keep Realmuto for now and reconsider trading him near the trade deadline this summer, but if they trade him this offseason — which I think they will — I think he goes to Houston to fill one of the holes on the Astros’ roster.

Another trade to watch out for is the Mariners dealing Encarnacion. They are reportedly shopping him around, and drawing interest from the Rays, White Sox and Astros. The Mariners likely want to get rid of as much of the $25 million remaining on the veteran’s contract as possible because the 1B/DH, who is almost 36, doesn’t fit in with the team’s rebuilding effort. If he is traded, whichever of the Rays, White Sox and Astros doesn’t get him may turn their sites to Cardinals 1B/OF Jose Martinez, who has also been the subject of trade rumors.

With almost two months remaining before the start of spring training, there is still plenty of time left for free agents to sign and teams to make more trades. We’ll be updating the moves that happen as the hot stove continues.

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