After a very slow start, the free-agent market is finally starting to move. The Yankees inked deals with both DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber, and the Washington Nationals added Jon Lester to their rotation. As the market heats up, ESPN MLB reporter Jesse Rogers weighs in with the latest offseason buzz he is hearing right now.
Veteran starting pitcher landing spots
First, it was two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber finding a home with the New York Yankees,
Then it was Jon Lester, who is headed to the Washington Nationals on a one-year deal.
Lester isn’t returning to the Chicago Cubs, despite his stated desire to win his 200th game in their uniform, because the Cubs are in a money crunch of their own making and decided they couldn’t afford to bring back the left-hander.
Lester, like Kluber, wasn’t going to sign with a rebuilding squad, and the Nationals emerged with a need for an innings-eater behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. Lester will also have plenty of familiar faces in D.C. with manager Dave Martinez, pitching coach Jim Hickey and recent acquisition Kyle Schwarber all having come to Washington from Chicago.
Next up could be Adam Wainwright. He is still available to teams looking for starting pitching this winter, though there’s still a good chance he re-signs with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Reached Monday, Wainwright says the door hasn’t shut on anyone and he has had several offers come in “recently” while talking to a mix of different teams. Industry executives believe both Wainwright and Yadier Molina will still end up back in St. Louis for another season.
Second baseman dominoes
Industry observers believe the market for second baseman should start to move quickly now that LeMahieu has re-signed with the Yankees. There’s a backlog of veteran options out there, so we asked one executive (not currently in the hunt for help at the position) to handicap where four of the top remaining options will sign.
Tommy La Stella: Returns to the Oakland A’s
Jonathan Villar: Returns to the Orioles after a one-year hiatus with the Marlins and Blue Jays
Jurickson Profar: Signs with the Royals
Kolten Wong: Angels. He essentially replaces La Stella, who was traded to Oakland at the deadline.
NL DH or no NL DH?
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: There’s still a belief we could see the designated hitter in the National League this season, but no one is sure when an agreement could be reached. It won’t really help front offices with roster construction if the decision comes in late March or even late February. As for players, they wanted to know yesterday.
Buster Olney sets up the season with his annual position-by-position rankings.
There’s a handful of hitters, such as former Rangers, Red Sox and Padres slugger Mitch Moreland, who would benefit greatly if 15 National League teams were in the marketplace. Moreland has played some outfield in his 11 years in the big leagues, but he’s a classic first baseman/DH type at this point in his career. There’s reason to believe he can still hit at a high level, having produced a .894 and .835 OPS the last two seasons — and he was off to a great start in Boston before being traded in August 2020.
The Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates are among his current suitors, but clarity would greatly help him and some other hitters including free agent Tommy La Stella beyond oft-mentioned available DH options Nelson Cruz and Marcell Ozuna.
Some around the game believe ownership is dragging their collective feet in order to reduce the market: The longer things play out, the more antsy players will get to sign.
Nearly half of the stadiums in baseball could become mass vaccination sites, as the Bay Area teams are the latest to consider using their facilities. Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Park in San Francisco are likely to join Minute Maid Park in Houston, Dodger Stadium, Marlins Park, Citi Field in New York, Yankee Stadium, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Petco Park in San Diego as places people can go to get their coronavirus vaccine. Other parks are being considered including Guaranteed Rate Field and Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Petco Park began vaccinations in its tailgate lot last week. There’s hope of providing 5,000 vaccinations per day, seven days a week. It’s not lost on organizations that are making their stadiums available that the more who get vaccinated, the societal benefit should help lead to a benefit for baseball: fuller stadiums, sooner.