The best moves of the MLB offseason so far

The early part of the MLB offseason has already brought with it some blockbuster moves, as well as some under-the-radar signings that could have a big impact in 2020. Here’s a look at the best moves of the early offseason, as of Dec. 20. 1 of 20

Angels hire Joe Maddon

The Angels last made the playoffs in 2014, and their one year with Brad Ausmus at the helm didn’t go well. The organization continues to waste Mike Trout’s talent, but Maddon is as capable as any manager to get L.A. back to the postseason. He started to wear thin with the Cubs recently but should be able to give the Angels a jolt of energy and new-age thinking. 2 of 20

Angels acquire Dylan Bundy

Seemingly over the injury issues that plagued him early in his career, Bundy was a massive disappointment in Baltimore over the last two years and fetched only a group of middling prospects from Anaheim. Much of his issues have been directly related to the long ball, and getting out of Baltimore’s hitter-friendly confines can only help. The Angels desperately needed to beef up their rotation this offseason, and Bundy is a nice start. 3 of 20

Braves sign Will Smith

Smith was a dominant closer for the Giants last season, and he’s been one of the league’s best left-handed relievers since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2018. A three-year contract for any reliever is a risk, but Smith is still only 30 and has seen nothing but success in the majors since converting to the pen in 2013. He can serve well in any bullpen role for a Braves team with World Series aspirations.

4 of 20

Brewers sign Josh Lindblom

Lindblom has a history of MLB experience and some success, which is important to remember after three terrific seasons as a starter in Korea. He returns to the majors on a three-year, $9.125 million contract with Milwaukee, which seems like a minimal risk for a pitcher with excellent control and the ability to pitch in multiple roles. For the cost, there’s nothing but upside. 5 of 20

Brewers acquire Omar Narvaez for Adam Hill and draft pick

Milwaukee remedied the loss of Yasmani Grandal by acquiring Narvaez. The catcher is in no way comparable to Grandal, but he did prove to be one of the league’s best offensive catchers in Seattle last year by hitting .278-22-55. Poor defense is a concern, but the price was right for the Brewers. 6 of 20

Brewers acquire Eric Lauer and Luis Urias for Zach Davies and Trent Grisham

Milwaukee is always in search of undervalued assets and stuck with that mindset in this deal. Lauer is a former first-round pick who is unproven at the major league level, but he has a good minor league track record and has been serviceable in two seasons with the Padres. Urias was considered a top prospect just one year ago and gives the Brewers insurance at shortstop with Orlando Arcia continuing to struggle. Davies would seem like a big cost with a career 3.91 ERA in 111 starts, but he doesn’t miss bats and became strictly a five-inning starter late last season. Grisham is a former first-round pick who didn’t hit in the minors until last year, so the jury is still out on him.

7 of 20

Cardinals sign Kwang-Hyun Kim

The Cardinals seem to be going for values more than splashes this offseason, a product of spending big money on the extensions of Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt. Signing Kim to a two-year, $8 million contract brings with it minimal risk with plenty of upside, after the lefty posted a 2.51 ERA in 190.1 innings in Korea last season. He has an MLB-quality slider and could contribute in a variety of roles. 8 of 20

Diamondbacks sign Stephen Vogt

The pending expansion to a 26-man roster will enable many teams to carry three catchers, a strategy that the Diamondbacks have already liked to employ. Vogt gives the team a veteran backup for Carson Kelly, and he was able to reestablish his health last year as Buster Posey’s backup in San Francisco by posting a career-high .804 OPS. Not only could Vogt be used as a backup catcher, but he also is a strong pinch-hitter for only $3 million. 9 of 20

Dodgers sign Blake Treinen

It’s no mystery that the bullpen was L.A.’s biggest weakness last year, and Treinen gives the team a big boost. He fought shoulder issues in Oakland last season but was one of MLB’s best relievers in 2018, with an 0.78 ERA and 38 saves in 68 appearances. An extreme groundball pitcher, he gives the A’s another setup option and potentially a closer alternative if Kenley Jansen struggles again.

10 of 20

Giants sign Kevin Gausman

Gausman clearly isn’t the pitcher he was when he was first promoted by the Orioles, and he is coming off the worst season of his career. The silver lining is that he was terrific as a reliever for the Reds late last year and posted a career-high 10.0 K/9. San Francisco clearly saw that upside when it signed Gausman, and the move to a larger park will help the home run-prone right-hander. There’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract, and this is one of the highest upside one-year deals so far this offseason. 11 of 20

Giants acquire Zack Cozart and Will Wilson

San Francisco took Cozart’s contract off the Angels hands to bring on Wilson, the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft. The Giants are effectively paying $12.7 million for Wilson, a middle infielder out of NC State. That’s a hefty price for a prospect, but the Giants have some spare change now that they’re in rebuilding mode. If Wilson turns into an MLB regular, the trade is easily a win for San Francisco. 12 of 20

Marlins claim Jesus Aguilar off waivers

Aguilar was one of the league’s top offensive first basemen in 2018, hitting .274-35-108, but he fell flat last year. After continuing to struggle late in the season with Tampa Bay, Aguilar was waived and claimed by the nearby neighbors in Miami. As the Marlins continue to rebuild, they have at-bats to provide players like Aguilar who are looking to revitalize their careers as the former minor league veteran tries to prove his 2018 season wasn’t a fluke. 13 of 20

Marlins select Sterling Sharp in Rule 5 draft

There aren’t many treasures to be had in the Rule 5 draft these days, but Sharp could be one. The former Nats prospect missed much of last season with a back injury, though he has a career 3.71 ERA in the minors and is coming off a great showing at the Arizona Fall League. An extreme groundball pitcher, Sharp has a chance to not only make the Marlins out of spring training but also to serve in their starting rotation. 14 of 20

Rangers sign Kyle Gibson

Gibson has regained the former talent he showed as a top prospect with the Twins recently, posting a 3.62 ERA in 32 starts during 2018. He struggled late last season after stomach issues but has shown an uptick in velocity lately to go along with an excellent slider. He also had a career-best 2.86 K/BB ratio last year, showing enough upside to be worthy of the three-year, $28 million contract he signed with Texas. The contract is strikingly similar to the one Lance Lynn signed with the Rangers last offseason, and there’s similarly interesting upside. 15 of 20

Rangers acquire Corey Kluber for Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields Jr.

It’s rare that a two-time Cy Young winner can be had for what’s effectively a salary dump, but the Rangers were able to pull it off. In fairness, Clase looks like an outstanding bullpen arm and DeShields can really track the ball in center field, but neither player is a true impact performer in the short term. Kluber missed most of last season with a fractured elbow and struggled before the injury, but he’s entering only his age 34 season and was an elite pitcher as recently as 2018. The Rangers rotation looks terrific with Kluber added to Lance Lynn, Mike Minor and Kyle Gibson. 16 of 20

Rays acquire Hunter Renfroe and Xavier Edwards for Tommy Pham

Tampa Bay got a great 2019 season out of Pham but might have sold high on the soon-to-be 32-year-old by acquiring Renfroe and Edwards. Renfroe struggles defensively, but he hit 33 home runs in only 494 plate appearances last season and is just entering his prime. Edwards is the kicker in the deal, a first-round pick from 2018 who hit .322 between Low-A and High-A last season at age 19. He very well could be the Rays’ second baseman of the future next to top shortstop prospect Wander Franco. 17 of 20

Red Sox sign Jose Peraza

Cincinnati’s shortstop of the future just one year ago, Peraza was non-tendered after an awful 2019 season. Boston signed him to a one-year, $3 million contract, and he will effectively replace Eduardo Nunez on the roster. He brings the upside of a young Nunez, as shown by his 2018 season in which he hit .288 with 14 home runs, 23 stolen bases and appearances at multiple positions. The Red Sox can use some defensive versatility as they figure out the futures of Michael Chavis and Mookie Betts. 18 of 20

Twins re-sign Michael Pineda

Pineda’s market was hurt by the 60-game PEDs suspension that he will continue to serve at the start of 2020, but he looks like a bargain on a two-year, $20 million contract. No team knows him better than Minnesota after employing the big right-hander last year, and the Twins were able to get a lot out of him after a slow start to the season. With great control and a 5.00 K/BB ratio last year, Pineda shows huge potential. 19 of 20

White Sox sign Yasmani Grandal

Chicago didn’t waste much time in the offseason, signing Grandal to a four-year deal in November. He’s been one of the leagues best and most consistent catchers in recent seasons, providing plus-plus ability both offensively and defensively. He should still have some life left as he enters his age 31 season, and he gives the team a nice middle of the order hitter to add to its young talent. 20 of 20

Yankees sign Gerrit Cole

Cole signed a record-breaking nine-year deal with a Yankees organization that has been surprisingly patient and restrained in recent seasons. Clearly an elite starting pitcher, he gives the Yankees the one missing piece that could put them over the top, and he is potentially capable of offsetting the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium dimensions after posting a 13.8 K/9 and 6.79 K/BB ratio last season.

By: Seth Trachtman

https://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/the_best_moves_of_the_mlb_offseason_so_far/s1__30857315#slide_1

10 MLB players who will make a difference down the stretch

Baseball’s stretch run is in full swing, and while a handful of clubs — the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers and Braves — are locks to be playing in October, the remaining playoff spots are very much up for grabs. Every team in the hunt has legitimate stars aiming to lead it to the game’s biggest stage, but here at Yardbarker we’re focusing on guys who are not quite household names but will still have a big impact on the season’s final six weeks.

1. Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

Hiura had long been the crown jewel in the Brewers system, and since arriving in the big league’s to stay in late June, he’s done nothing but impress. Since July 1, the former first-round pick has hit .307 with 14 home runs, and his emergence has allowed Milwaukee to shift veteran Mike Moustakas back to his natural position of third base and send struggling Travis Shaw to AAA. The Brewers were a trendy pick to dethrone the Dodgers in the National League this season, and while the year has not gone entirely to plan, they’re still right in the thick of not one but two heated races. Entering play tonight, Milwaukee sits just one game back of both the Cardinals and Cubs in the NL Central and one game out of an invitation to the NL wild-card game. If they do ultimately get to participate in the postseason, Hiura may well be the primary reason why, as while the rookie has thrived toward the top of the Brewers lineup, several veterans on this team have underperformed.

2. J.D. Davis, IF/OF, New York Mets

The January trade the Mets made with the Astros to bring utility man J.D. Davis to Queens drew few headlines. The right-handed hitter had always crushed minor league pitching during his tenure with Houston but had failed multiple times at the game’s highest level. New York, though, was undeterred, as it felt his struggles with the Astros were a direct result of sporadic at-bats because of a logjam of talented players at the positions he could play. Fast forward seven months, and that bet is paying huge dividends. In the early portion of 2019, Davis was mostly a power threat off the bench for the Mets. But after injuries opened up regular playing time for him, the 26-year-old has become impossible to take out of the lineup. Since the beginning of July, he’s hit an incredible .367 while reaching base at an absurd .428 clip. He’s begun to hit for a little more power in August, as he’s already blasted four homers this month and driven in 11 runs, and his somewhat surprising production is one of the biggest reasons the Mets have been able to climb back into the pennant race.

3. Paul DeJong, SS, St. Louis Cardinals

DeJong is now in his third big league season, but he’s yet to generate much fanfare outside of St. Louis. That’s probably a little bit of an oversight, as while he’s far from being the best shortstop in the league, he’s been a productive and consistent right-handed bat for the duration of his career. After a red-hot start to this season, DeJong went into a terrible slump, but he’s broken out of it big time since the All-Star break. A recent surge that included a three home run game in Pittsburgh has put him in position to set new career highs in homers and RBI, and the Cardinals are certainly hopeful he can continue producing at a high level. Similar to Milwaukee, St. Louis is locked in heated races for both the NL Central crown and a wild-card spot, and DeJong’s bat in the bottom half of the lineup is crucial, as opposing teams are unlikely to let fellow right-handed sluggers Paul Goldschmidt or Marcell Ozuna beat them in a big spot.

4. Zach Plesac, SP, Cleveland Indians

The nephew of longtime big leaguer Dan Plesac, the young right-hander was not considered much of a prospect entering this season. A dominant 10-start beginning to his minor league season opened eyes, however, and with the Indians in need of a starter at Fenway in late May, it was Plesac who got the call. Since then he has been an absolute godsend for a Cleveland rotation that has sustained injuries to Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar as well as a trade of outspoken Trevor Bauer. In 14 starts for the Tribe, Plesac has worked to a 3.27 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP in 77 innings, bringing a level of consistency to a pitching staff that desperately needed it. His performance has helped Cleveland erase an 11.5 game deficit in the AL Central, as earlier this week it caught Minnesota, and the club is counting on him for continued success as this race is likely headed for a photo finish.

5. Scott Kingery, IF/OF, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies made headlines in spring training a year ago when they inked Kingery to a long-term pact before he’d ever played in a major league game. The organization obviously believed immensely in the University of Arizona product’s potential, and while it’s hard to call his rookie season much of a success (.226/.267/.338), Kingery has become a much more important Phillie in 2019. Playing all over the diamond, the 25-year-old has hit .275 with 14 homers and 27 doubles in 324 at-bats while serving as an offensive table setter for Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto for most of the season. Philadelphia has underwhelmed following a massive importation of star power last winter, but the Phils are still right in the thick of a chaotic NL wild-card race. Having Kingery on base and wreaking havoc down the stretch will drastically help their chances of reaching October.

6. Austin Meadows, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-run major league baseball operation than the Tampa Bay Rays. Year after year Tampa Bay finds a way to not only compete but also to often triumph over behemoth division rivals in Boston and New York all while operating in one of the smallest markets in the game. The 2019 season has been no different, as despite the Yankees having the AL East all but sewn up, the Rays are positioned to make the postseason as a wild card. Their young right fielder is a huge reason why. Meadows was acquired in the ’18 deal that sent Chris Archer to Pittsburgh, and he has absolutely thrived in his first full season in the big leagues. In just short of 400 at-bats thus far, the left handed slugger has hit .283 with 20 home runs and 25 additional extra-base hits. He was even named an All-Star last month. Moving down the stretch, Tampa will continue riding the young 24-year-old, as he’s already become arguably the focal point of the offense.

7. Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics

Oakland is eerily similar to the aforementioned Rays, as it deals with a lot of the same market challenges but still finds a way to remain a force to be reckoned with. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance the two clubs square off head to head in the AL wild-card game in just a few weeks. The Athletics left-handed-swinging first baseman has flown by under the radar in recent seasons, but his production is soon going to render that impossible. After missing a month-and-a-half early in the season, Olson has rallied to crush 25 home runs since Mother’s Day, putting him just four short of his previous career high. With Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha and most importantly a healthy Khris Davis, the A’s are exceedingly right-handed heavy, making Olson’s left-handed bat imperative to the middle of their lineup.

8. Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals

Robles was supposed to be the next big outfielder to come out of the Nationals system last season, but injuries prevented him from making an impact and ultimately contributed to Juan Soto coming up and making a bid for last year’s NL Rookie of the Year. While his young teammate has blossomed into a star, Robles breakout rookie season has not been discussed as much as it should. Yet he’s become a critical player on a team looking to return to October. Playing in almost all of Washington’s games, Robles has launched 15 long balls from the bottom part of the lineup while swiping 18 bases and playing tremendous defense at the premium position of center field. He does strike out too much, as his 110 punch outs in just 397 at-bats are unsightly, but he’s obviously immensely talented. If he can turn it up just a little, Washington should have the inside track on a playoff berth.

9. Josh Taylor, RP, Boston Red Sox

The underlying narrative surrounding the 2019 Red Sox nationally has been a horrific bullpen that consistently blows leads and lets winnable games get out of hand. That’s accurate, but it’s also why few fans outside of New England have been privy to what Taylor, a 26-year-old rookie, has been doing. In 33 contests the southpaw has worked to a strong 3.27 ERA in 33 innings while delivering a 1.18 WHIP and striking out well over a batter/inning. The Arizona native has delivered six scoreless outings in consecutive appearances while becoming the closest thing the Red Sox have had to a reliable relief pitcher. That will have to continue moving forward for Boston to have any chance to make a late surge, as barring a serious run, the defending champs will find themselves on the outside looking in come October.

https://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/10_mlb_players_who_will_make_a_difference_down_the_stretch/s1_13132_29761247

By: Justin W Mears

MLB manager hot seat rankings

With the MLB regular season now about one-third of the way finished, we have a clearer picture of where each team stands. Some managers are already looking over their shoulders as a result of poor team performance. The following gallery is a ranking of MLB manager job security from one (least secure) to 30 (most secure).

1. Dave Martinez, Nationals

Brad Penner / USA Today Sports Images

While the Nats allowed Bryce Harper to walk in free agency, they entered the season with high expectations after signing Patrick Corbin. The roster has its share of stars with Corbin, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon, yet the team was almost out of the playoff race entering June. Washington was also the most disappointing team of 2018, at 82-80, and fired pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in early May. Frankly, it’s surprising Martinez has lasted this long in his second year.

2. Mickey Callaway, Mets

Noah K. Murray / USA Today Sports Images

The Mets sideshow continues. Callaway’s team finished with 77 wins in his first season but seemingly went all in this offseason by adding Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos and also allowed rookie Pete Alonso to stick on the roster out of spring training, thereby losing a year of team control. Yet, New York was below .500 entering June, and the pitching staff (Callaway’s area of expertise) has been disappointing.

3. Don Mattingly, Marlins

Aaron Doster / USA Today Sports Images

It’s hard to believe him, but Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has insisted he expects the Marlins to win now. Jeter and Mattingly go way back to their days with the Yankees, but if Jeter truly practices what he preaches, Mattingly could be on the chopping block. To the surprise of no one (except maybe Jeter), the Marlins were 21-36 through June 3 and in contention for the worst record in baseball.

4. David Bell, Reds

Brad Penner / USA Today Sports Images

On one hand, the Reds ranked fourth in run differential in the NL through June 1. On the other hand, they were in last place at 27-32 with a lineup that has been a massive disappointment. The Reds’ pitching additions have worked out for the most part, particularly Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark, but the team had much higher expectations in Bell’s first season. It would be surprising if Cincinnati fired Bell in his first year but not unprecedented.

5. Ned Yost, Royals

Jim Cowsert / USA Today Sports Images

Yost gets some leeway for leading the Royals to two World Series, but the organization’s last winning season was its World Series championship 2015 season. K.C. won only 58 games last year and is well on its way to another embarrassing finish. The hiring of former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as a front office assistant opened some eyes, and he would make sense as a replacement if the Royals move on from Yost, whose contract expires after this season.

6. Joe Maddon, Cubs

Jasen Vinlove / USA Today Sports Images

Maddon is in the last year of his contract with the Cubs, and the team has high expectations for 2019 despite making few offseason moves. While they have appeared in four straight playoffs, including their historic World Series win in 2016, their playoff success under Maddon has otherwise been fleeting. The NL Central has never been tougher during Maddon’s tenure than it is this season, but the team might decide to finally move on from him if it doesn’t go further in the playoffs this year.

7. Mike Shildt, Cardinals

Jim Cowsert / USA Today Sports Images

Shildt was the Cardinals savior last season, going 41-28 after the first-time manager was promoted following Mike Matheny’s firing. His start to this season has been more innocuous at 30-28, third place in the loaded NL Central. The Cardinals are desperate to make the playoffs after failing over the last three seasons and trading a significant package for Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason. Shildt can’t be faulted for the team’s starting pitching struggles, but ownership could make changes if the team disappoints again this year.

8. Brad Ausmus, Angels

Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports Images

You’ve probably heard this one before, but the Angels have been plagued by multiple pitching injuries and have struggled to find hitters around Mike Trout this year. They had the same issue recently under Mike Scioscia, and Ausmus hasn’t been able to buck the trend despite being far more amenable to using openers and defensive shifts. Ausmus should get some slack, but it’s inexcusable for the team to not be competitive for so long. The Angels are at risk of finishing below .500 for the fourth straight season.

9. Clint Hurdle, Pirates

Philip G. Pavely / USA Today Sports Images

The Pirates remain within striking distance in the NL Central, though winning the division doesn’t truly look realistic with Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams injured. Pittsburgh’s pitching staff has been far worse than expected as a result, and their negative-68 run differential through 58 games currently is the third-worst in the league. Hurdle has done a nice job considering the circumstances, but the team has finished above .500 only once in the last three years and could be in for a standings plunge if it doesn’t get healthy quickly.

10. Scott Servais, Mariners

Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today Sports Images

The M’s had a fire sale this offseason despite winning 89 games in 2018 but were able to get off to a hot start anyway. The Jay Bruce trade on June 2 likely was the first domino to fall in a continuing rebuild with the team standing 17 games out of first place. Servais hasn’t done anything wrong, but it remains to be seen whether the front office sees him as the right manager for what will soon become a younger roster.

https://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/mlb_manager_hot_seat_rankings/s1__29249243#slide_10

By: Seth Trachtman

11 MLB players in contract years who will crush it in 2019

Athletes in any sport wants to perform at their best the year before they’re eligible to hit free agency, and baseball players are certainly no different. This winter alone has shown how much money can be gained or lost in a contract year, with high-profile names standing out on both sides of the spectrum. Manny Machado used the best season of his career to secure a $300 million long-term guarantee from the Padres, while longtime Astros’ lefty Dallas Keuchel struggled in his walk year and finds himself still unsigned with two weeks to go until Opening Day.

Impending free agents on losing teams always deal with a degree of uneasiness around the trade deadline, when clubs hope to bring back something before letting a player leave for nothing, and it takes a certain level of professionalism to block out the noise and perform. In 2019 several players jump off the page as candidates to enjoy a big walk year. Let’s examine the list.

1. Justin Smoak 1B Toronto Blue Jays

Two years ago the switch-hitting Smoak hit .270 with 38 home runs and 90 RBI while adding 29 doubles and making the All-Star Team. Unfortunately he was unable to come close to replicating that success a year ago. In 505 at-bats, the veteran watched his stat line dip to .242 with 25 homers and 77 RBI, still a solid season but not nearly as eye-opening as his prior campaign. Entering 2019 both the Blue Jays and Smoak would benefit from a renaissance, as Toronto is exceedingly unlikely to be in the mix in a difficult AL East and would love to move him to a bat-needy team at the deadline. Smoak understands the monetary difference between his ’17 and ’18 seasons is massive.

2.  Jose Abreu 1B Chicago White Sox

Abreu has spent his entire career in the Windy City after defecting from Cuba prior to the 2014 campaign, and during his first four years in the big leagues he was one of the best run producers in the entire sport. From 2014-17 the right-handed slugger hit over .290 with 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI in each season, but last year didn’t go nearly as swimmingly. A lower abdominal injury limited the 32-year-old to a career-low 128 games, and his .265 average, 22 homers and 78 RBI were evidence of just how bothered he was by the discomfort. Now back and healthy, Abreu is a prime candidate for a huge year, as he is a proud man who fancies himself as one of the most productive hitters in the American League. A big winter payday is quite the carrot at the end of the proverbial stick.

3. Zack Wheeler SP New York Mets

After spending the majority of his career taking two steps forward and one step back, the right-hander finally arrived in a big way in 2018. In 29 starts, Wheeler dominated for much of the year, turning in a 3.31 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP in 182.1 innings while striking out 179 men and holding the opposition to just a .225 batting average. There had been some minor chatter of New York trying to extend the 28-year-old during camp, but Wheeler spoke candidly about understanding he and Gerrit Cole are the top two free agents to be starting pitchers, and it’s clear he has his eyes on the prize heading into the new season.

4. Gerrit Cole SP Houston Astros

Speaking of Cole, the former Pirates first-round pick landed in Houston as part of an offseason trade prior to last year, and while he often found himself overshadowed by teammate Justin Verlander, he was one of the best pitchers in the American League in his own right. In 32 outings the veteran turned in a 2.88 ERA with a career best 1.03 WHIP while holding the opposition to a sub .200 batting average for the first time and eclipsing the 200 innings pitched plateau for the third time in four years. His 276 strikeouts finished second to only Verlander in the AL, and the UCLA product earned a selection to his second All-Star Team. Entering 2019 Wheeler was 100 percent right that he and Cole will be the two most sought-after pitchers next winter, and provided Cole avoids serious injuries moving forward, his bank account can expect to expand by several zeroes.

5. Josh Donaldson 3B Atlanta Braves

Perhaps no offensive player is more motivated at the outset of 2019 than the 2015 AL MVP, who struggled through a miserable injury-plagued 2018 season and ultimately settled for a high value one-year, prove-it deal in Atlanta. The Braves could be getting themselves a steal as they attempt to win their second consecutive division crown, as from 2015-17 Donaldson launched 111 homers and drove in 300 runs while consistently hitting around .280 and getting on base at close to a .385 clip. Taking the pillow contract was a strategic play for the veteran, as he understood he would be overshadowed by Machado and Bryce Harper on the free-agent market this season. And if he can re-establish himself as a premier run producer in 2019, he just may break the bank next winter.

6. Scooter Gennett 2B Cincinnati Reds

In just two seasons in western Ohio, Gennett has transformed himself from a solid role player in Milwaukee to one of the best offensive second basemen in the league. Last year the 28-year-old hit .310 with 23 homers and 92 RBI while setting a new career high with a .357 OBP and eclipsing 30 doubles for the third time in his career. By all accounts the veteran is someone the Reds should want to keep around for the long haul, but in mid-February he expressed frustration over not receiving a contract extension, a potential rift to pay attention to as the summer unfolds.

7. Marcell Ozuna OF St. Louis Cardinals

When the Marlins were selling off everyone and everything that wasn’t nailed down prior to last season, the Cardinals were happy to swoop in and take the right-handed-hitting Ozuna off their hands. The Dominican Republic native had just completed a season that had watched him hit .313 with 37 homers and 124 RBI while earning a trip to his second straight All-Star Game, taking home his first Silver Slugger award and even winning his first Gold Glove. St. Louis fantasized about adding that type of production to the middle of its lineup, but unfortunately it took the veteran some time to get used to his new surroundings. When all was said and done, Ozuna’s numbers slid to .280 with 23 homers and 88 RBI, still solid but not what the Cardinals were expecting. Entering Year 2 in Missouri, this lineup is now home to slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who will take pressure off Ozuna to be the premier right-handed bat and, in theory, add a substantial amount of RBI opportunities. It should come as no surprise if the 28-year-old delivers a monster season.

Giancarlo Stanton Will Not Waive Trade Clause for Cardinals Or Red Sox

Written by Dayn Perry at CBS Sports.com

As you know, the Marlins under new ownership are seeking to shed payroll, and to that end they’re also looking to trade slugger Giancarlo Stanton and his mega-contract. What makes Stanton an appealing trade target is that coming off an age-27 season in which he mashed 59 home runs and wound up as a finalist for NL MVP honors. What complicates all that is that, if he doesn’t exercise his opt-out after the 2020 season, he’s still owed almost $300 million.

We learned recently that four teams in particular have strong interest in dealing for Stanton and have held at least cursory talks with the Marlins. That number jumped to at least seven at the start of the GM Meetings in Orlando. Stanton, though, has a full no-trade clause, which means that he’ll have to approve any trade the club is able to hammer out. His stated preference is to play on the West Coast (he’s a Southern California native), and that’s bad news for a number of teams linked to him, specifically the Red Sox and Cardinals. Specifically, here’s this from Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald:

A baseball source said yesterday that he’s been told Stanton will not accept a trade to either the Red Sox or the Cardinals, another team linked early and often in trade rumors. Perhaps there’s some flexibility in that stance, but Stanton’s preference is a factor.

So that’s bad news for the Red Sox and Cardinals. There have been conflicting reports about Boston’s level of interest, but the Cardinals have been the presumed frontrunner in recent days. Consider this report a blow to their chances.

The Giants are also said to be heavily in on Stanton, and they obviously meet the West Coast criterion.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Four Teams Interested In Giancarlo Stanton

Written by Dayn Perry at CBS Sports.com

First, the obvious: Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton has legitimate designs on 60 or more home runs this season, and his second-half surge has lifted Miami into wild-card contention. As such, the Marlins — even though Stanton has already passed through waivers — aren’t going to trade him during the season. However, once the new ownership group publicly fronted by Derek Jeter takes the reins, an offseason trade of Stanton and his mega-contract is a distinct possibility.

As for who would be interested in adding Stanton to the fold, it requires a mix of need, payroll flexibility and risk tolerance (Stanton had an opt-out of his backloaded $325 million deal after the 2020 season, which means his club assumes all of the risk). On that front, Bob Nightengale of USA Today has some tantalizing specifics. He writes:

The San Francisco Giants recently called, and privately informed the Miami Marlins of their interest.

So have the St. Louis Cardinals. The Texas Rangers. The Philadelphia Phillies didn’t want to be left out, either.

They all have one thing in mind.

They want Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, and while it’s not realistic now, it could be by the start of the 2018 season.

Nightengale’s piece has much more on the Stanton situation, so give it a read.

As for the four teams he names — the Giants, Cardinals, Rangers, and Phillies — they all make sense. That’s especially the case with the Phillies, who are working to emerge from a deep rebuild and have negligible long-term salary obligations. The Giants, though, are certainly pining for a reboot after their disappointing 2017 season and would love to resume contending around that core of Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and company. The Cardinals have plenty of outfield depth, but they badly need a true middle-of-the-order hitter to keep up with the Cubs and Brewers, who both figure to contend for years to come.

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Yadier Molina Gets Ball Stuck To Chest Protector, Cubs Steal A Runner

Written by Mark Saxon at ESPN.com

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina wasn’t sure how a baseball stuck to his chest protector after a wild pitch by Brett Cecil in the seventh inning, but it wasn’t as funny after Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run homer two batters later to propel the Cubs to a 6-4 victory Thursday.

TV close-ups of Molina’s chest protector later showed a white, star-shaped smudge low on his chest protector where the ball was stuck a few seconds earlier. Molina took exception when a reporter asked if he puts pine tar or another foreign substance on his gear.

“Do I put anything on my chest protector? No. That’s a dumb question,” said Molina, who could not locate the ball as it clung to him, which helped set up Chicago’s rally.

Catchers sometimes put pine tar somewhere on their uniforms, often around the shin guards, to help give them a better grip. There are no rules against the practice, though it is against the rules for players to have pine tar on their skin, or to place it on the ball. Umpires could have addressed the matter had the Cubs made an issue of it, but that wasn’t the case Thursday.

Molina was certain about one thing.

“That play changed everything,” he said. “If we get that first out, everything changes.”

It allowed Cubs pinch hitter Matt Szczur to reach first base after a swinging third strike to lead off the seventh inning. Molina repeatedly spun around, looking for the ball, and smiled upon seeing where it wound up.

After a walk to Jon Jay, Schwarber homered to right to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead.

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Cards Right Fielder Left Game After Hit To Head

Written by Mark Saxon at ESPN.com

Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty left Tuesday night’s game after being struck in the head by a throw from Cubs second baseman Javier Baez as Piscotty was sliding into home plate.

The Cardinals announced that Piscotty had a head contusion.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Piscotty would be evaluated later Tuesday evening, and then again Wednesday morning, but that the outfielder appeared to be OK as he left the field.

“The trainers asked him a lot of questions. He answered everything fine,” Matheny said. “It just rung his bell, which we’ll find out what exactly that means when the doctors give him a better test than just us asking him questions on the field. But he was coherent.”

It was a treacherous trip around the bases for Piscotty, who reached when Jake Arrieta hit him in the right elbow with a pitch. Piscotty advanced to second on a wild pitch, but not before he was struck in the left elbow by a throw from Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. When Kolten Wong hit a dribbler past Arrieta for an infield hit, Piscotty kept coming from second and scored. Contreras missed the throw from Baez and it caught Piscotty on the left ear flap of his batting helmet as he was sliding feetfirst.

Under MLB’s concussion protocol, the Cardinals could put Piscotty on the seven-day disabled list if they determine he has a concussion.

He was replaced in right field by Randal Grichuk, who moved over from left. First baseman Matt Adams entered to play left field.

In 2015, Piscotty was involved in a frightening incident in Pittsburgh, when he ran into center fielder Peter Bourjos while pursuing a fly ball. Piscotty was rushed to the hospital after the collision and sustained a concussion and head contusion. He would later say he played with a sore neck over the remainder of that season.

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Opening Day Review: All The Action From Sunday’s Three Games

Written by Mike Axisa at CBSSports.com

The first day of the 2017 regular season is in the books. The traditional Opening Day around the league is Monday, though Sunday — what used to be known as Opening Night — brought us three games. Here are the final scores:

  • Tampa Bay Rays 7, New York Yankees 3 (box score)
  • Arizona Diamondbacks 6, San Francisco Giants 5 (box score)
  • St. Louis Cardinals 4, Chicago Cubs 3 (box score)

In the grand scheme of things, Opening Day is just another game, and we shouldn’t read too much into what we see in the season opener. I remember trading Aaron Harang in my old Fantasy league after he allowed nine runs on Opening Day in 2006, then I watched him go on to lead the NL in wins and strikeouts that year. I am much wiser now.

Now, that said, Opening Day is not meaningless. The game certainly counts in the standings, and some of the information it brings is useful, if not in a predictive way than in a descriptive way. Here are eight takeaways from the first day of the 2017 season, in no particular order.

Chris Archer looked like pre-2016 Chris Archer

Last season was a tough one for Archer. He led baseball with 19 losses and, more important, his 4.02 ERA (101 ERA+) was quite a bit higher than the 3.26 ERA (117 ERA+) mark he posted from 2013-15. Archer’s home run rate climbed from 0.8 HR/9 from 2013-15 to 1.3 HR/9 in 2016, which is significant. Home runs were up around baseball last season, so everyone’s home run rate climbed, but Archer seemed to get dinged especially hard.

On Sunday though, Archer looked very much like the 2013-15 version of himself. He held the Yankees to two runs in seven innings on Opening Day while striking out five. Three of the seven hits he allowed were little squibbers that managed to beat the shift. Not exactly rockets. And in the biggest moment of the game, Archer jumped ahead in the count against Gary Sanchez and got him to roll over on a weak grounder with the bases loaded.

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Adam Wainwright Buys Rental Car For Rookie Who Walked To Practice

Written by Jennifer Langosh at Cardinals.com

For more than two weeks, just as the sun was rising, Ryan Sherriff would leave his rented Spring Training home and begin his walk to work.

The journey wasn’t far, 10 minutes by foot, Sherriff estimated. But it was unusual. Most players rent cars for the duration of camp or at least arrange a carpool schedule. Sherriff, a 28th-round pick who hasn’t yet risen above Triple-A, was the exception.

He didn’t make a big deal about the lack of transportation and actually grew to enjoy the walk. What he didn’t realize, however, was that someone was watching.

For three consecutive days earlier this week, veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright passed Sherriff on his way to the park. Each time, Sherriff was further away than the last. Wainwright was too curious to leave the observation alone.

He approached Sherriff on Wednesday and, after learning that Sherriff did not have a vehicle, offered him a bike or a car. Sherriff politely declined and went about his day. Then, shortly after walking home that afternoon, he received a call from a member of the Cardinals’ equipment staff.

There was a Nissan Altima at the complex with his name on it, Sherriff was told. Wainwright had taken care of the rental car cost.

“I started crying because no one had done anything like that for me,” Sherriff said. “It was awesome.”

For Wainwright, it was a pay-it-forward moment.

“That’s the kind of thing that happened to me when I was younger,” Wainwright said. “I remember I wore a couple of tired collared shirts a couple days in a row to the field, and Mark Mulder bought me a whole box of collared shirts. Many, many things like that happened to me, so you just kind of pass that stuff on.”

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