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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Even as we anxiously await news as to whether and where he’ll be traded, Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins has been tabbed as the National League’s Most Valuable Player for the 2017 season by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Joey Votto of the Reds came in a very close second; Paul Goldschmidt of the D-Backs rounds out the top three in the National League.

Stanton outslugged the rest of the National League’s batsmen by a healthy margin, launching 59 long balls and posting a league-leading .631 slugging percentage. Even as the Marlins fell shy of hopes, and Stanton came up short of his bid for sixty home runs, the big man was rewarded for his startling power output.

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Major League Baseball has set the order for Competitive Balance Rounds A and B of next year’s draft, reports Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. Those rounds, which take place after the completion of the first and second rounds, respectively, are comprised of picks awarded to teams that are considered in the bottom 10 in terms of market size and/or revenue.

As Mayo explains, last season marked the beginning of MLB utilizing a more formulaic approach to determining Competitive Balance order rather than a lottery, as had been done in previous drafts since the Competitive Balance rounds’ inception prior to the 2013 season. The league’s formula took into account total revenue and winning percentage among the 14 teams that received Competitive Balance picks. Based on the results of that formula, the Rays, Reds, A’s, Brewers, Twins and Marlins were awarded the six picks in Comp Round A last year, with the other eight teams (D-backs, Padres, Rockies, Indians, Royals, Pirates, Orioles, Cardinals) all falling into Comp Round B.

Under the new system, those two groups will now flip on an annual basis, meaning the six teams that were awarded Comp Round A picks in 2017 will now comprise the teams selecting in Comp Round B. Likewise, the eight teams that comprised Comp Round B in 2017 will now comprise Comp Round A in 2018. Notably, the Rays will pick in both rounds, as they’ve received the No. 32 overall pick as compensation for failing to sign last year’s No. 31 overall pick, Drew Rasmussen.

According to Mayo, the rounds will play out as follows:

Round A

31. Pirates
32. Rays (Compensation for Rasmussen)
33. Orioles
34. Padres
35. D-backs
36. Royals
37. Indians
38. Rockies
39. Cardinals

Round B

70. Marlins
71. Athletics
72. Rays
73. Reds
74. Brewers
75. Twins

It should also be noted that this isn’t yet likely to represent the final draft order. Competitive Balance draft selections are the only picks that are eligible to be traded from one team to another under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement. These picks can only be traded during the regular season, though, and each pick can only be traded one time. (The Royals, for instance, cannot acquire the Orioles’ pick and then trade it to another team.)

The specific placement of these picks in the overall draft order figures to change as well as draft-pick compensation from qualified offers slightly alters the ordering of the picks both surrounding the Competitive Balance rounds. Generally speaking, though, this serves as a rough guideline for next summer’s draft and helps to provide a clearer picture of which teams will have the largest draft pools.

The Royals, for instance, could very well have five of the top 40 or so picks in the draft between their first-round selection, their Competitive Balance selection, and the likely comp picks for Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain (which would fall after the first round and before Competitive Balance Round A so long as each of that trio signs for $50MM or more in guaranteed money).

Meanwhile, the Rays stand to have six of the top 72 selections if Alex Cobb signs a contract worth more $50MM or more and would otherwise have six of the top 80 if he signs elsewhere for less than $50MM (which would push the compensatory pick for his free agency back after Competitive Balance Round B).

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THURSDAY: Officially, all nine players have rejected their qualifying offers and become free agents, the MLBPA has announced (h/t Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, on Twitter).

MONDAY: All nine of the free agents that received a one-year, $17.4MM qualifying offer will reject that offer in favor of free agency, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports writes. Each of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Greg Holland and Carlos Santana will turn down that one-year opportunity in search of a multi-year pact in free agency.

In doing so, that group of nine will also subject themselves to draft-pick compensation and position their former clubs to recoup some value in next year’s amateur draft should they sign elsewhere. Last offseason’s new collective bargaining agreement altered the specifics of that compensation, tying the draft picks received and surrendered largely to the luxury tax threshold, revenue sharing and the size of the contract signed by the free agent in question.

MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explained which draft picks each of the six teams that issued a qualifying offer would receive, should their free agents sign elsewhere, as well as which picks all 30 teams would be required to surrender if they are to sign a qualified free agent. Prior to that, MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk provided a more comprehensive and in-depth overview of the new QO system, for those that are unfamiliar or would like a refresher on the finer details.

It’s been reported for quite some time that Kansas City will make a strong effort to retain Hosmer. Heyman added over the weekend that the Royals will also push to keep Moustakas but feel that Cain is almost certain to land elsewhere on the open market. The Rockies are known to have interest in re-upping with Holland on a multi-year deal, and Heyman notes within today’s column that the Rays “understand [Cobb] is out of their reach financially” and will sign elsewhere. He also adds that Davis seems to be likelier than Arrieta to return to Chicago.

It’s unlikely that there will be any formal announcements just yet. Among the changes to the QO system under the 2017-21 CBA was that QO recipients would have 10 days, rather than seven, to determine whether to accept or reject the offer. The deadline to issue QOs was last Monday, so the recipients still technically have until this coming Thursday to formally declare their intention. But, barring a last-minute freak injury it seems that each of the nine will go the widely expected route and enter free agency in search of the most substantial contracts in their respective careers.

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