Scarcely a day goes by in which the Giants are not linked to Giancarlo Stanton on multiple occasions, but John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that San Francisco is also considering the other top right-handed slugger that is available this offseason: J.D. Martinez. It’s not clear if the Giants have sat down with agent Scott Boras, and Shea is careful to note that the Giants are internally discussing a wide number of options to improve their offense. Martinez would represent the most aggressive means of doing so on the free-agent market. He’ll command fewer years and dollars than the remaining decade and $295MM on Stanton’s contract, though Boras is reportedly seeking a sky-high $210MM over seven years early in the offseason. (Martinez will quite likely sign for less than that, as early asking prices are always on the high side for any free agent.)

Working against the Giants is a payroll that is already dangerously close to the luxury tax barrier and that Martinez doesn’t help the Giants’ stated goals of improving the outfield defense or getting better in center field.

More on the from the division…

  • The Padres are interested in reunions with right-handers Jhoulys Chacin and Craig Stammen, general manager A.J. Preller told reporters at this week’s GM Meetings (link via MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell). “From our standpoint, it’s about seeing how the next couple weeks play out,” said Preller. “They’re two guys we have interest in bringing back. We’ve got to see if we line up financially.” Cassavell reports that the Friars would consider a multi-year deal for either pitcher, though such a contract would likely need to come with a discounted second year. San Diego has a number of arms rising through the system and may not relish the idea of blocking those arms, though from my vantage point having either Chacin or Stammen around at an affordable rate is a good problem to have if all parties are performing well.
  • In a separate pair of Padres columns, Cassavell characterizes their interest in Eric Hosmer as little more than due diligence, while Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune hears a bit differently and reports that their interest goes “beyond the cursory level.” Cassavell notes that the Padres have kicked the tires on roughly 50 free agents thus far (most of them pitchers) as they look to get a full picture of the free-agent market. Lin, meanwhile, suggests that the Padres may be intrigued both by Hosmer’s intangible leadership qualities and by his 25-homer output despite being an extreme ground-ball hitter. A willingness to amend that approach and put the ball in the air more often could yield untapped power; I’d imagine that the Padres, who call spacious Petco Park their home, are also intrigued by the pop that Hosmer showed in his own cavernous home park (Kauffman Stadium) in spite of an approach that isn’t traditionally conducive to power.
  • The D-backs have added Jason Parks to their front office as their new director of pro scouting, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports (via Twitter). Parks, who many readers may remember from his excellent work at Baseball Prospectus, has been with the Cubs as a scout and a special assistant since 2014. He’ll join an increasingly youthful Arizona front office that is led by GM Mike Hazen and assistant GMs Jared Porter and Amiel Sawadaye. Notably, Parks’ role as director of pro scouting will be the same one that Porter filled with the Cubs when he and Parks were colleagues in Chicago.

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The Braves announced on Friday that former president of baseball operations John Hart has stepped down and is leaving the organization “to pursue other opportunities.” Hart’s departure comes less than two months after GM John Coppolella resigned from his post due to infractions on the international free agent market and in the domestic amateur draft.

While it has been reported that the league would not sanction Hart based on its investigation into the matter, Hart was moved to a diminished role (senior adviser) earlier this week when Alex Anthopoulos was hired as the team’s new general manager and given full authority over the baseball operations department.

Through a team press release, Hart issued the following statement:

“This was a difficult decision, but it’s one that I made with the best interests of the Atlanta Braves in mind. With the hiring of Alex Anthopoulos as general manager, this organization is in great hands. I believe that the talent of the Major League players, combined with the young talent soon to arrive, makes the Braves poised for a great run of success. This is a good time to step aside and let Alex and his group put their stamp on this great franchise. I still have a tremendous passion for this great game, and I plan to stay active and contribute to the game.  I want to thank Braves fans – the best fans in baseball – for your patience during this rebuilding time.  You will soon see the winning team that you deserve.  I also want to thank my beautiful and supportive family. I am very excited to see how the next chapter of our life unfolds. Finally, I want to thank my longtime friend, John Schuerholz, for convincing me to come to Atlanta to oversee the rebuild. And especially to our leader, Terry McGuirk, who has shown such passion for returning to a winning place.  Thank you all, and Go Braves!”

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Here are Friday’s minor moves throughout the league…

  • The Blue Jays announced last night that they’ve brought back former first-round pick Deck McGuire on a minor league contract and invited him to Major League Spring Training. Toronto selected McGuire, now 28 years of age, with the 10th overall pick back in 2010. The former Georgia Tech star tore through Class-A Advanced with the Jays but began to struggle upon reaching Double-A and was ultimately traded to the A’s for cash considerations in 2014. McGuire has since pitched in the upper levels of the Dodgers and Cardinals systems, and in 2017 he made his big league debut with the Reds after turning in a terrific season in Double-A. McGuire tossed 168 innings with a 2.79 ERA, 9.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 for Cincinnati’s Pensacola affiliate, and he impressed in a brief sample of MLB innings as well. Through 13 2/3 frames with the Reds, McGuire allowed four earned runs (2.63 ERA) on 10 hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts.
  • Andy McCullough of the L.A. Times tweets that the Dodgers are closing in on a minor league deal with left-hander Manny Banuelos. The 26-year-old Banuelos was once one of the most prized prospects in the Yankees’ farm system before elbow problems slowed his career. Banuelos had Tommy John surgery back in 2013 and has since undergone a second elbow operation to remove bone chips. His lone season with MLB experience came in 2015 when he tossed 26 1/3 innings with the Braves. Banuelos spent the 2017 season with the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate and struggled to a 4.93 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against 4.6 BB/9 in 95 innings. It’s perhaps worth noting that he spent the bulk of 2017 as a reliever (nine starts, 30 relief outings) — his first career season working primarily out of the bullpen.

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In his latest Inside Baseball column, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag looks into the Royals front office. Owner David Glass is “considering a possible two-year extension” for GM Dayton Moore, writes Heyman, even though Moore has “no leverage” given that he’s already under contract for three more seasons. This all arises after Glass declined to allow the Braves to speak with Moore about changing squads. While Moore has expressed gratitude to ownership, his recent comments were interesting, if difficult to interpret with any precision. All told, it seems there could still be some unresolved matters in the Kansas City front office.

Let’s look at a few more items from Heyman of particular relevance to the still-developing hot stove season:

  • Top free agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain has drawn some early interest from the Mets and Giants, according to Heyman. As regards the New York organization, this information seems to conflict with recent statements from Mets GM Sandy Alderson — though as ever it’s worth taking things with a grain of salt and acknowledging fluidity this time of year. As for the Giants, we at MLBTR pegged San Francisco as the likeliest landing spot for Cain, though some doubt whether the organization will go over the luxury tax line and sacrifice draft choices to land him. At a minimum, though, the organization would seem to be wise to do some diligence on the possibility.
  • The Rangers have “looked into” free agent righties Lance Lynn and Tyler Chatwood, says Heyman. While it’s not clear just how serious the interest is, the link isn’t surprising. Texas clearly needs arms; indeed, MLBTR guessed they’d land Lynn. While Chatwood doesn’t have nearly the track record of results that Lynn does, he is an intriguing option in his own right and shares some of the characteristics of Andrew Cashner — the former Ranger free agent signee who is himself back on the open market.
  • Another team with a desire to add several starters (and with reputed interest in Chatwood) is the Orioles. The Baltimore front office met with agents for lefty Jason Vargas during the GM Meetings, Heyman reports. The 34-year-old veteran seems to be a good match for the O’s, as we predicted, since the team needs to find so many rotation innings and can’t afford to make major long-term commitments to multiple starters.
  • The Diamondbacks are “open” to bringing back Fernando Rodney, GM Mike Hazen tells Heyman. Arizona is facing a difficult payroll situation but obviously will be looking to maintain and improve upon a Wild Card-winning roster. Though Rodney didn’t dominate last year, he’s still throwing mid-nineties heat and generating quite a few swings and misses — and obviously met with the approval of the D-Backs’ brass in the closer’s role. Beyond improving the pen, the Arizona priority is to improve in the outfield, per the report. That could mean pursuing under-the-radar additions; though Hazen says he’s not ruling out a return for J.D. Martinez, that’d almost certainly require the kind of payroll increase that does not appear to be under consideration.

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MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams.  Click here for the other entries in this series.

What was supposed to be a transitional year for the Yankees instead nearly resulted in a World Series berth, as breakouts from Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino (among others) propelled the club to a 91-71 record. With an excellent young core and a still-stacked farm system, the Yankees look like a powerhouse for years to come.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration-Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

[New York Yankees Depth Chart | New York Yankees Payroll Outlook]

The Yankees traded their top two relievers and their designated hitter in July 2016 and played the uncharacteristic part of a deadline seller. Despite ponying up to pay Aroldis Chapman on a record-setting five-year contract, they weren’t viewed as a major threat in the AL East. Aaron Judge didn’t even enter Spring Training with a surefire spot on the big league roster — and certainly no one forecast an 8-WAR, MVP-caliber season from him — while their rotation came with injury question marks and inexperience. Could CC Sabathia endure another full, healthy season at age 37? Would Luis Severino bounce back after posting a 5.83 ERA and losing his rotation spot in 2016? Could Jordan Montgomery serve as a viable rotation member at age 24 with just 37 Triple-A innings under his belt? The answer, across the board, proved to be a resounding yes.

The Yankees’ first-half results were impressive enough that GM Brian Cashman elected to begin a good portion of his offseason shopping back in July. Even with the success in their rotation, the Yankees were cognizant of the fact that Sabathia’s contract was expiring, as was that of Michael Pineda (who had already undergone Tommy John surgery). Acquiring Sonny Gray gave the Yanks two and a half years of control over an arm that can slot comfortably into the second or third slot in their rotation. Picking up David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (along with rental piece Todd Frazier) in a massive trade with the White Sox ensured a deep and talented bullpen and left the club with little need to pay top-of-the-market prices for additional relief help this winter.

While some of their needs are already filled, the Yankees have one gaping hole in the organization that few would’ve predicted: manager. After a decade-long run at the helm of the Yankees, Joe Girardi was informed by the team that his contract would not be renewed. Reports since his fairly stunning dismissal have suggested that the Yankees want more of a “player’s” manager and that Girardi’s relationship with Cashman wasn’t particularly strong toward the end of his tenure.

Whoever succeeds Girardi will be inheriting an enviable roster that is backed by a deep farm system. However, he’ll also have to contend with the largest and one of the most critical media markets in the country and extremely high expectations from a fanbase that is now dreaming of a World Series run. To date, Eric Wedge is the only reported candidate with prior experience as a big league manager. If the Yankees do go with a rookie skipper, it will be baptism by fire in every sense of the cliche.

Looking to the Yankees’ roster, there aren’t many glaring deficiencies — as one would expect from a team that won 91 games. Greg Bird has yet to prove himself over the life of a full season at first base, but Cashman has stated on-record that he expects Bird to be their first baseman next year as the team looks to drop under the luxury tax barrier. Despite plenty of speculation over the summer, there won’t be a pursuit of Eric Hosmer.

Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Judge are all but assured of regular playing time. Chase Headley once again rebounded from a slow start to finish with decent numbers, though he’ll be pushed by prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar at some point in 2018. Gary Sanchez will hold down regular catching duties, though the team could certainly stand to explore the possibility of adding a better backup — potentially allowing Sanchez to spend some more time at DH.

Austin Romine’s batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all fell shy of the .300 mark, and he threw out just 3 of 29 potential base thieves. Alex Avila would make for a nice left-handed complement to Sanchez (not that he needs platooning) and could also handle some first base if needed. Chris Iannetta would be another affordable veteran coming off a nice year in Arizona.

Plenty of Yankees fans have speculated about the possibility of a Starlin Castro trade on the heels of two decent but unspectacular seasons in the Bronx. The 27-year-old (28 in March) has been a roughly league-average bat with questionable second-base defense in two years with the Yankees, and he’s owed $22MM over the next two years. Trading him could allow the Yankees to play both Andujar (third base) and Torres (second base) with regularity on either side of Gregorius. However, there’s not much in the way of surplus value on Castro’s contract, and it’s a poor time to be selling a second baseman. Neil Walker stands as a quality free-agent option, and the trade market also features the likes of Ian Kinsler, Dee Gordon and Cesar Hernandez, among several others. Beyond that, there aren’t that many clubs seeking second-base upgrades in the first place. It’s certainly not impossible to envision a Castro trade, but it is difficult to imagine too much of a market for his services developing.

If there’s one contract that Yankees fans are clamoring to move, however, it’s that of Jacoby Ellsbury. The 34-year-old still has a whopping three years and $68.5MM remaining on his contract, to say nothing of a full no-trade clause. The Yankees will play Gardner in left, Hicks in center and Judge in right even with Ellsbury in the fold, but his presence makes it more difficult to carry Clint Frazier on the roster and also limits the team’s financial flexibility moving forward.

Unfortunately, Ellsbury hasn’t performed anywhere near well enough to make his contract movable in its current state. It’s difficult to envision him receiving even three years and $30MM on the open market right now, and I’d wager that the Yankees would need to be open to eating as much as $40-45MM to facilitate a deal. The Mariners are an oft-speculated fit given Ellsbury’s Oregon roots, but they have a crowded payroll as it is and better options to pursue in free agency.

One completely speculative possibility would be a swap involving Ellsbury and former Yankee Ian Kennedy, who is still owed $49MM over the remainder of his own undesirable deal. The Yankees would likely need to include some decent minor league talent to pique Kansas City’s interest — there’s no reason for the Royals to simply take on Ellsbury’s larger contract, especially when they need to fill their rotation — but adding an upper-level minor league arm that could affordably replace Kennedy is an intriguing concept. The Yankees would still have an overpaid fifth starter in Kennedy, but they’d lessen their luxury tax ledger considerably and open a spot to more easily fit Frazier onto the roster. (More broadly, the Yankees will again look for ways to take advantage of their overstuffed 40-man roster while also opening room for the next wave of prospects in need of protection.)

The 2018 rotation outlook was the most significant question for the Yankees heading into the season. Back in Spring Training, I noted that with Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda all potential free agents at season’s end and Severino/Montgomery both unproven, there was potential for a truly murky outlook. What a difference six months makes.

Severino looks likely to be the team’s Opening Day starter next year, and he’ll be trailed by Gray, Montgomery and Tanaka. The 29-year-old Tanaka made the rather surprising decision to remain with the Yankees rather than opting out of the final three years and $67MM on his contract. While it’s true that Tanaka’s ERA isn’t exactly sparkling, the righty was excellent from early June through season’s end, shined in the postseason, and generally delivered sensational K/BB numbers over the course of the season. Topping $67MM on the free-agent market looked like a clearly attainable goal (unless medical reports on his elbow are more troubling than we know), but Tanaka called the decision “simple” in announcing the move and voiced a love of New York City and the Yankees’ fans. The feeling should be mutual, as it’s a nice price for a quality player at a position of need.

With Severino, Gray, Tanaka and Montgomery all penciled into the rotation, there’s little cause to pursue a high-priced starter. A reunion with CC Sabathia makes some sense on a short-term deal, though Yankees fans are almost universally fixated on a deal with a pitcher that is nearly a decade and a half younger. Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani will be posted by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters if the league, the players union and Nippon Professional Baseball all agree to a new posting system. It’s not yet a guarantee that’ll happen — there’s a Monday deadline to find out — but if Ohtani becomes available, the Yankees will be among the teams favored to land him.

New York can currently offer a $3.25MM bonus, though there’s still time to trade for additional international money. The Rangers ($3.535MM) can offer the most, while the Twins ($3.245MM) are right behind the Yankees. It’s early to pencil Ohtani into their starting five, but doing so would give the Yankees a powerhouse rotation on paper and could allow the club to more freely entertain the notion of including pitching prospects like Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield in trades.

Turning to the bullpen, there’s no need for a significant overhaul. The Yankees’ pen will once again be anchored by Chapman, and the setup core currently projects to include Dellin Betances, Robertson, Kahnle, Chad Green, Adam Warren and Chasen Shreve. Another lefty could be of interest for matchup purposes, especially since most of the Yankees’ upper-level arms are right-handed, but many of the Yankees’ right-handed setup options shut down lefties as well as righties last year.

Given the depth of that group, it’s worth wondering if they’ll all return. Specifically, Betances comes to mind as a particularly obvious trade chip. The bizarre manner in which Yankees president Randy Levine called out Betances after last year’s arbitration hearing drove somewhat of a wedge between the two sides, and while Betances remains a supremely talented reliever, he also battled serious control issues in 2017 (6.6 BB/9 during the regular season plus five walks in four playoff innings).

Betances has two years of arbitration remaining and has averaged better than 15 punchouts per nine innings in the past two seasons, so he’d certainly appeal to other clubs. It doesn’t seem likely that the Yankees would simply trade Betances for a prospect(s) given their desire to compete, but they could use Betances to fill another need — such as a solid left-handed setup option with more team control, perhaps from a team looking for a shorter-term upgrade at the back of its ’pen. Doing so could also spare the Yankees a slight bit of luxury tax concern, and while that wouldn’t be a main factor in a theoretical swap, it could be a bonus.

After all, both Cashman and Steinbrenner have plainly stated that their firm plan is to get under the $197MM luxury tax line. Doing so would reset the Yankees’ penalty level — tax penalization is compounded for each consecutive year that a team is over the threshold — in advance of next year’s class of free agents. At that point, both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will be available at the respective ages of 25 and 26. Clayton Kershaw, too, figures to be a free agent once he opts out of the remaining two years on his contract.

The Yankees still have some wiggle room — roughly $25MM or so in average annual value — to make some additions to next year’s roster. However, their proximity to the luxury tax line and stated desire to stay south of it makes it exceptionally unlikely that they’ll be a player for a major item such as Giancarlo Stanton. Even if the Yankees could acquire Stanton and ever-so-slightly stay under the luxury tax line, they’d be leaving themselves with little room for making in-season moves to address injuries and other unforeseen circumstances that arise over the course of a given year.

Rather than a major item like Stanton, it’s possible that the Yankees will instead look to beef up their bench with an improvement at backup catcher or utility infielder — they’re reportedly interested in Texas’ Jurickson Profar, for instance. They could also poke around the left-handed relief market and talk to names like Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson.

Certainly, if the team could somehow find a way to jettison some of Ellsbury’s contract or move Headley, there’d be more flexibility for a big ticket item. It seems likelier, though, to expect a more reserved offseason in the Bronx prior to a more aggressive offseason approach following the 2018 campaign.

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Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • The Orioles have added former Twins lefty Ryan O’Rourke, according ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (via Twitter). While the report doesn’t specify, it seems reasonable to presume that it’s a minors pact given that O’Rourke missed all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The 27-year-old struggled with free passes in his first taste of the majors in 2015, but settled down upon returning in the following season. In 25 frames in the 2016 campaign, O’Rourke posted a 3.96 ERA with 24 strikeouts and six walks. It’s still a fairly minimal sample, but he has been pretty stingy against lefty hitters in the majors, holding them to a .134/.244/.239 slash through eighty total plate appearances.
  • Fellow former Minnesota southpaw Jason Wheeler is joining Korea’s Hanwha Eagles, as Yonhap News reports.  He’ll earn $575K to head to the KBO for the coming season. Wheeler, 27, has scant MLB time, with just two outings in the 2017 season. He spent most of the year in the upper minors, working to a 4.37 ERA over 94 2/3 innings with 6.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9.

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Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was the clear favorite among Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters for the American League Most Valuable Player award, as he took 27 of 30 first-place votes en route to his first MVP nod.

Altuve, a diminutive but dominating figure, led the American League in hits for the fourth-straight season and finished with a .346/.410/.547 slash with 24 home runs and 32 steals. While the Astros’ postseason success did not weigh in the balloting, the team’s 101-win regular season campaign surely did not hurt Altuve’s candidacy.

Some thought it would be a tighter race between Altuve and the towering Aaron Judge, who was an easy choice for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Judge topped fifty homers while also pacing the A.L. in walks (as well as strikeouts). While he rebounded from a late-summer swoon to post a monster month of September, finishing with an excellent .284/.422/.627 campaign at the plate, Altuve’s steady excellence earned him the award.

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