What I hear:
• The market for independent starting pitchers is quite active and the first demands of the three biggest names — Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón — are, unsurprisingly, quite high.
Rangers general manager Chris Young, who has already traded for Jake Odorizzi and made a qualifying offer to Martín Pérez, said he will explore “all ends of the market”. But early demands from the big three could force Rangers and other clubs to turn to lower trades and starters.
• Verlander, who personally negotiated his free agent contract with Astros owner Jim Crane while vacationing in Italy last offseason, seemed like a good bet to quickly re-sign with Houston. But that didn’t happen, perhaps because Verlander sees the potential for lucrative opportunities with the Dishes, Yankees and Dodgers, among others. Unlike deGrom and Rodón, he was not eligible for a qualifying offer. And because he did not receive one, he is not subject to a draft selection indemnity.
Probable AL winner Cy Young, who turns 40 on February 20, could be a good short-term candidate for any of these clubs. The Mets face free agency losses not only to deGrom, but also to Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker. The Yankees declined to pursue Verlander at the Trade Deadline 2017 and missed it in free agency last offseason. The Dodgers could sue Verlander if Tyler Anderson rejects their $19.65 million qualifying offer — and heck, even if he accepts, too.
• Little beginners who have not received qualifying offers (Andrew Heaney, José Quintana, etc.) are also attracting considerable interest. Some of those pitchers could leave the roster soon after Tuesday’s deadlines for teams to set 40-man rosters and players to accept their qualifying offers.
Nathan Eovaldi, who received a qualifying offer, is another starting pitcher to watch. The Red Sox would have made him a multi-year offer and are among the many teams that love Japan’s top pitcher in the free agent market, Kodai Senga.
• The Astros have identified Anthony Rizzo as their No. 1 free agent target at first base. They are also considering Yuli Gurriel and Jose Abreu, but signing Rizzo would serve the dual purpose of bolstering their own roster while weakening the Yankees.
Rizzo, 33, faces an interesting decision about returning to the Yankees. If he accepts the team’s offer to qualify, he would earn a higher one-year salary than he could receive under a multi-year contract. He could then spend another season hitting Yankee Stadium, while benefiting from the new shift restrictions, and re-entering the market without a qualifying offer. A player cannot receive it twice.
While the club, as a matter of principle, does not grant no-trade clauses, a player who signs an extension does so with the implicit understanding that he will not be traded. Obviously, things can change – a player, for example, might want to go out eventually. But if the Braves break the trust they’ve created internally, players will become more resistant to the expansions that have positioned the team for long-term success.
• Two other highly unlikely things for the Braves: Signing deGrom or a shortstop other than Dansby Swanson. If the Braves can’t keep Swanson, they’ll likely be out of line for Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts, all of whom appear to be more expensive. That’s why President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos in GM meetings mentioned Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom as inside options.
No player currently with the Braves will make more than $22 million in a season during their contract, seemingly creating the flexibility for a major expense. But the Braves are reluctant to make a deal with a player who takes too high a percentage of their payroll, knowing that in future seasons their young players’ salaries will increase.
• The odds of Brewers commercial shortstop willy adames are probably thin. Luis Urias and Brice Turang can both play short, but Adames is a key player for Milwaukee. And newly promoted Brewers general manager Matt Arnold is well aware of what happened to the team after his predecessor, David Stearns, subtracted another, closer, main player. Josh Haderat the deadline.
Admittedly, a clubhouse can more easily recover from an off-season trade than from a mid-season trade. The Brewers, however, have other positional players they can move if they want to reconfigure their payroll. second baseman Kolten Wong is expected to gross $10 million. Right fielder Hunter Renfroe should get $11.2 million in arbitration. Both will be free agents at the end of the 2023 season.
Adames, who is expected to earn $9.2 million in arbitration, is under the club’s control until 2024.
• Free agent Adam Frazier is coming off a career low of .612 OPS in 602 plate appearances with the sailors, but some teams see super-utility-like potential in him. Not a bad thought, especially if Frazier regains the offensive form he displayed in 2021 before his trade from pirate to padres.
Frazier, who turns 31 on Dec. 14, received Gold Glove votes in left field in 2017, his first full season, and was top-five at second base in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Last season, he played in all three outfield spots as well as second and short, his position at Mississippi State.
• This is my own speculation, and not something I’ve heard specifically. But Matt Carpenter’s deep and enduring ties to the Cardinals would seem to make a possible reunion possible.
Carpenter was a roommate in the rookie ball with Cardinals manager Oli Marmol. His transformation this past offseason included a visit to Marucci’s baseball performance lab in Baton Rouge, La., with Cardinals stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, as well as punching sessions with former teammate and new Cardinals bench coach Matt Holliday.
Albert Pujols’ retirement potentially creates an opening for Carpenter, who turns 37 on November 26. And the departure of batting coach Jeff Albert could also reinforce that possibility. Carpenter didn’t blame Albert for his struggles during his later years with the Cardinals, but said, “I just never bought into (the analysis) like I should have.”
(Top photo by Justin Verlander: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)