Inside Baseball MLB Notes | Where could Jay Bruce land?

Oct 6, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians right fielder Jay Bruce (32) celebrates after hitting a solo home run during the eighth inning in game two of the 2017 ALDS against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Inside Baseball from Jon Heyman, with notes on (nearly) every MLB team. Click here to read Heyman’s top 80 free agents with contract projections.

Atlanta Braves

  • MLB’s investigation into rules violations by the Braves took a break for the World Series but is said to be heading toward the finish line. GM John Coppolella and international scout Gordon Blakely were forced out early, but others are being looked at as well.
  • The Braves have interest in Royals GM Dayton Moore, an ex-Braves exec, to run their baseball operations department, and even if the Royals don’t let him go (or he decides not to come back), there will need to be a substantial remaking of the department. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reported earlier that the Royals declined to let the Braves interview Moore.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Jason Vargas and Andrew Cashner are among the expected targets for the Orioles, according to Roch Kubatko of MASN.
  • Some Orioles people still love Jake Arrieta, but there’s almost no way they’d pay the kind of money it would take to get him back.
  • Regardless, starting pitching is the focus this winter.
  • It was no surprise that Welington Castillo chose free agency over his $7 million player option. But he served a purpose for the Orioles. As GM Dan Duquette said, “Castillo helped the club move on from Matt Wieters and bridge the gap to see that Caleb Joseph was healthy and allow the club to develop Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns.”

Boston Red Sox

  • The Red Sox received praise for their stated willingness to go over the luxury tax. This seems to be undeserved praise from here. Shouldn’t Boston – which had the highest revenue in the game in one recent year, according to sources — already have been over the tax?

Chicago Cubs

  • The Cubs need to rebuild their bullpen, and they need to figure out who their closer will be. Free agent Wade Davis plus outside free agent Greg Holland are candidates for the closing spot, and someone familiar with their system said he believes prospect Dillon Maples could be a candidate for a back-end spot in their pen, as well.
  • No surprise, the Cubs gave Davis and Arrieta the $17.4 million qualifying offer, and both will of course decline that offer.
  • There were whispers John Lackey might retire, but sources tell FanRag Sports that Lackey fully intends to pitch in 2018.
  • Cory Mazzoni may be a great under-the-radar pickup by the Cubs. His stats in the high minors last year were fantastic.
  • Can’t blame the Cubs for hiring the great Chili Davis for hitting coach. But John Mallee, who was replaced, is well-respected and should catch on somewhere.

Colorado Rockies

Detroit Tigers

  • It was nice to see our friend Doug Mientkiewicz get a better job as manager of the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens after he was let go by the new Twins regime following a very successful managing tenure in the low minors there. Mientkiewicz admitted his strong personality may have contributed to his Twins ouster. He has a long-term relationship with new Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. And a bonus: He was born in Toledo.

Houston Astros

  • Justin Verlander was in a very good mood when I ran into him at a Starbucks by L.A. Live in downtown L.A. the morning after the Astros won their first World Series ever. He had just won his first ring, had solidified his Hall of Fame candidacy and was two days away from marrying his fiancée Kate Upton, obviously a very strong supporter of his career, in Italy. Verlander, clearly quite happy with his last-second call to accept the trade to the Astros from the only team he ever knew, the Tigers, wanted to correct the story that he had accepted the trade with “two seconds” to go, which had already been amended downward from one minute to go (thus, the Minute Maid trade tweet) to “two milliseconds.” He said it was no more than “two milliseconds,” and he said it with a smile (the smile appeared to be permanent). Verlander loved being a Tiger, reportedly most preferred the Dodgers (where he has a home in the Beverly Hills area with Upton) or Chicago if he was going to be traded, and didn’t know much about Houston, except what he had seen on TV following Hurricane Harvey. The hurricane damage, Verlander said, was about the “third question” regarding Houston. But ultimately, he wants to win. So he made the right call, at the very end – whether it was a minute, two seconds or two milliseconds.
  • Best wishes to Rich Dauer, the Astros first base coach who was hospitalized with a blood clot following the parade.
  • The Astros are going to have a hard time keeping their core together long-term, and the knowledge of that may be why GM Jeff Luhnow was so reluctant to part with their prospects and had to be nudged into giving up some good ones for Verlander by owner Jim Crane and manager A.J. Hinch, who reminded Luhnow that they had a chance to win a championship, which they did, thanks to Verlander.
  • As for Hinch, the Astros are going to need to address his contract situation sooner rather than later. His first contract, which reflected his desire – even desperation – to get back into managing, was extended and renegotiated. But with a year to go on his deal, the Astros need to attend to that this winter, and make him one of the higher paid managers in the game.
  • Dallas Keuchel has been busy interviewing other agents after he let go his long-time agent Darek Braunecker, who had him since he was a seventh-round pick out of the University of Arkansas. Keuchel got two very good one-year contracts, according to people who know about these things, and has to be happy he never accepted any of the Astros many multiyear overtures (as many as four, by some counts). But he obviously is seeking something different.
  • The belief is that Carlos Beltran will retire. If so, congrats to him on a very nice career. He has a decent Hall of Fame case.
  • Good for Yuli Gurriel owning up to his mistake to make that heinous gesture after homering off Yu Darvish, and admitting he was wrong. But he was very relieved only to be penalized the first five games of next year rather than in the World Series. MLB took his offense seriously, though we would have given him a harsher penalty. The Dodgers for their part didn’t complain about what seemed like a light penalty, so good for them.

Kansas City Royals

  • The Royals will make a strong play to try to keep Eric Hosmer, the one free agent they most want back.
  • Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain will all decline the qualifying offer, of course, making it nine for nine in terms of players declining.

Los Angeles Angels

  • Even after re-signing Justin Upton for $106 million over five years, they are planning to add more offense. GM Billy Eppler said in a phone interview he is “open-minded” as to how they do that, meaning he isn’t necessarily looking at one particular position.
  • Eppler admitted he’s “wide open” about second base, so that is one area where they could look for a big offensive upgrade (currently they have no obvious starter). Eppler characterized Luis Valbuena and C.J. Cron as being “penciled in” at third base and first base, which presumably means they’d consider imports at those positions, depending on what’s out there. We wrote in this space last week that Mike Moustakas is a possibility, as Valbuena seems replaceable.
  • The Angels were one of three teams to show interest in Dee Gordon over the summer (Jays and Royals), and he is now available. He also would fit them well. Manager Mike Scioscia has always loved to run, so he’d fit especially well.
  • And by the way, nice job by Larry Reynolds, Upton’s agent and brother of Harold, to boost Upton to $150.25 million over seven years and the two deals (Detroit and LAA).

Miami Marlins

  • The Marlins are believed to have made no offer for Ichiro before declining his $2 million option. Ichiro, 44, does intend to play somewhere next year.
Sep 28, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins right fielder Ichiro Suzuki (51) runs to first base after hitting a single against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Twins

New York Mets

  • New bench coach Gary DiSarcina has great reviews, but some wonder whether someone with major-league managing experience might have made sense as the bench coach for rookie manager Mickey Callaway, who was endorsed strongly here. DiSarcina was teammates with Callaway for a brief time in Anaheim (aka Los Angeles).
  • New pitching coach Dave Eiland was an excellent get.

New York Yankees

  • Brian Cashman confirmed in interviews that Joe Girardi’s inability to connect with players was behind his firing, as we suggested last week. The question remains: Why did Cashman think anything has changed?
  • People around the team suggest the Cashman-Girardi relationship wasn’t what it was, either, though Cashman didn’t stress that as a reason for the surprise firing. In any case, others suggest it has become clear now that it had frayed, whether anyone wants to talk about it or not. It is also becoming clear that Cashman had a change of mind for months, as we know of at least one person who was approached about his interest in managing the Yankees several weeks before the end of the season.
  • The Yankees are telling everyone they have a long list (20-25 people) and are just getting started, which is telling in and of itself. They wanted rid of Girardi badly enough that they did it without having anyone in mind.
  • The Yankees suggest there is no deal with Cashman yet, but doesn’t there have to be one at this point? He has already fired the manager. Do you let someone who isn’t coming back fire a manager (who happened to make a bigger salary than him)?
  • Gold star to Cashman for saying the manager candidates will meet with the media. The Cubs and Red Sox have done this in the past for manager/GM candidates. But we like this idea.
  • People around the game were shocked that Masahiro Tanaka did not opt out from the $67 million over three years remaining, and the speculation is that his medicals must not look great. Tanaka has been said to have a “very small” tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, which sometimes can lead to Tommy John surgery. But he pitched effectively through it and was actually brilliant late in the season and into the postseason. The Yankees can’t comment on Tanaka’s medicals, but it was reported here that they weren’t planning to “chase” Tanaka had he opted out. Tanaka’s enjoyment of New York surely weighed into his decision, as he suggested in his statement.
  • The Yankees could lower their AAV, as was suggested in last week’s notes, by extending Tanaka at a lower annual salary – say $80 million over four years – but are said to have no interest in doing so, which says something.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Condolences to the family and friends of pitching great Roy Halladay, 40, who died tragically off the coast of Tampa Bay in a one-plane crash. Here’s what we said about Halladay, and his first scouting report as a high school star at Arvada (Colo.) West, by Tim Wilken the Blue Jays scouting director and Hall of Fame scout who drafted him No. 17 overall in the 1995 draft: He should be a Hall of Famer. Here’s my tribute to Halladay, complete with Wilken’s original scouting report.

St. Louis Cardinals

San Francisco Giants

  • Before opting not to opt out of $84 million and four years, Johnny Cueto inquired as to whether the Giants might consider adding a year – or even another opt-out – to his deal. But alas, the Giants, while saying they wanted Cueto back, correctly surmised that opting out was a gamble probably not worth taking. The Giants told him they’d be interested in pursuing him again as a free agent if he chose to opt out, but with $84 million to go (plus $9 million already earned in bonuses, which he would have gotten either way), it wasn’t worth the risk. It’s possible Cueto could have gotten an extra year elsewhere, but it’s also possible that after an uncharacteristic year in which he had blister trouble and a 1.4 WHIP, he would have had to settle for less.
  • Jay Bruce could be a consideration for them.

Seattle Mariners

  • They will be in the market for outfielders. Besides their own free agent Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain and Jay Bruce could work.
  • First base looks like an area of need, as well.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Alex Cobb will decline the $17.4 million qualifying offer. Cobb has made about $14 million in his career but should be able to get a four-year deal as a free agent, at least.
  • The Rays are giving it a shot with Shohei Otani, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times has reported. They’d seem to be a major long shot but they do have one selling point: They are letting top draft choice Brendan McKay, out of Louisville, be a two-way player. This is very important to Otani.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Toronto has made attempts in the past to sign Jay Bruce before and it is expected to be a player this winter for his services. The Cardinals, Giants and Mariners also are seen as teams that will be in the Bruce market after his very productive season in New York and Cleveland. Bruce should be able to get a significant three-year deal based on his performance in 2017, and besides the second half of the year before, he has been a pretty consistent producer throughout his career. The Jays seek an outfielder and have looked into deals for him in the past, while the Mariners and Giants also need an outfielder and the Cardinals could consider one. The Mets and Indians both liked Bruce very much, but his performance could price him out of those teams, who took him on at full salary but on only parts of his previous contract.
  • Some are suggesting that Jose Bautista may have to take a minor-league deal after a rough year in Toronto, but we don’t think so, not as long as he doesn’t wait around for the perfect deal.

Washington Nationals

  • While we like the hiring of Davey Martinez, and the Nats’ new willingness to give their manager a three-year deal (they absolutely needed to show stability at this point), we still don’t get the firing of Dusty Baker, a great ambassador for the game.
  • The hiring of Kevin Long as hitting coach is a plus. His son Jaron, a pitching prospect, is eligible to be a six-year minor-league free agent, but he has more incentive to stay now.

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