Despite the relative calm, the rumor winds are starting to stir every so slightly in advance of the Monday evening deadline to set 40-man rosters. While deciding who is or isn’t eligible for the Rule 5 Draft isn’t going to spur anything just yet, there are a few other matters that could really catalyze the free agent market.
Chief among those is the fate of Shohei Ohtani, which has been in perpetual flux for the last month or more. Next is the possible trade of Giancarlo Stanton, whose big bat and bigger contract will make a wave or two. Once those things get sorted out, teams will have a better idea of where they stand and which direction to take this winter.
So let’s take a look at some of what’s going on right now.
Brewers interested in Jake Arrieta
Several teams have interest in Arrieta, so it seemed really odd when MLB Trade Rumors predicted that he’d end up with the Brewers on a four-year deal for $100 million. Both time and money seemed light, and that’s before you consider that Milwaukee is sort of an odd destination. They’ve got a young team that has rebuilt itself on the cheap, so dropping a bunch of money on an aging pitcher is out of character.
Except…yeah, I guess that makes sense. I can think of another recent example in which an NL Central team gutted itself down to the studs and went with cheap hitters before spending big-time on a veteran pitcher with playoff experience. And Arrieta will probably come cheaper than Jon Lester did, both in AAV and length of contract.
Citing a source, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted that the Brewers are indeed “showing interest in” Arrieta. He noted that Milwaukee is in need of top-of-the-rotation help now that Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss a big chunk of 2018 following shoulder surgery. And we’re talking about labrum issues, so there’s no guarantee that Nelson can be effective if and when he is able to return.
Though Arrieta won’t get anywhere near the contract he thought he was in line for as an ace-level starter, I have to think he’s in that five-year, $125 million range. And given the interest from the Cardinals, Rangers, Phillies, and Dodgers, among others, it’s hard to believe the Brewers come out on top. Then again, they have maintained low payrolls and have room to add salary.
Ohtani agreement in doubt
We learned last week that the MLBPA had set a Monday deadline to decide on whether or not to allow an agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball to grandfather the expired posting system to stand. You can check that link for more details, but the quick and dirty is that the union has issues with the posting system that go beyond just this instance.
Ken Rosenthal had more on the specifics over at The Athletic (subscription required/recommended), with three sticking points the union wanted to address.
– A provision that would allow a player to be posted anytime between Nov. 1 and Feb. 1. The union, worried that a later posting would cause major league teams to delay signing free agents, wants the dates to be between Nov. 1-15, followed by a 30-day window for teams to reach an agreement with the player.
– A provision that would allow a Japanese club to withdraw its post of a player if it is not satisfied with the contract the player signs with a major league team. This issue would apply more to players 25 and over who become free agents. The Japanese club, under the proposed agreement, would receive a sum equal to 20 percent of the signing amount. MLB agreed to allow “pullbacks” to alleviate NPB concerns that a team might sign a player to say, an inexpensive two-year deal, then give him a monster extension later.
– A provision that would allow a Japanese club to receive an additional 20 percent for a player under 25 if he is promoted to the majors within two years of signing. The union’s concern is not the money, but the potential manipulation of service time. If signing bonuses in the new pools top out in the $5 million to $6 million range, the Japanese team would net only an extra $1 million to $1.2 million through its additional 20 percent.
Despite the optimism expressed by Commissioner Rob Manfred, Morosi tweeted Ohtani’s clearance is far from guaranteed and that there was no progress made Sunday night toward resolving these issues prior to the 8pm ET deadline. Rosenthal reported that an extension of that deadline was possible, but MLBPA is going to want to get this done as quickly as possible in order to spur free agency.
The other matter here, and this is purely based on my own personal assumptions, is that the union could be wielding this Ohtani situation as a bit of a club. Manfred has come out and said that new pace-of-play rules will be enforced with or without the union’s blessing, so it’s possible the player’s association is proving a point.
If that sounds petty, just think about what a financial boon Ohtani represents to MLB, in particular the owner of the team that will pay him only a tiny fraction of what he’d earn as a true free agent. Preventing the owners from accessing that kind of value would certainly prove a point. It might also be a matter of the players cutting off their collective nose to spite their face. After all, less money for Ohtani means more money for current major league free agents.
Cards made formal offer for Stanton
Though we don’t know exactly what it includes, the Cards have reportedly “made a formal trade offer” to the Marlins for Stanton. That came from, you guessed it, a Morosi tweet. It had been reported earlier that Stanton would not accept trades to either Boston or St. Louis, but we have also heard that the Cardinals were willing to part with top pitching talent to acquire Stanton.
Stanton has not publicly stated anything about his desired destinations or those cities in which does not want to play, so we can’t say anything for sure at this point. Morosi went on to wonder whether Stanton might prefer playing for a competitor in St. Louis over a rebuilding team in Miami, but one has to account for long-term comfort as well.
With a full no-trade clause and as much as a decade left on his current deal (unless he opts out), Stanton has full control over where he ends up. Does he want to spend that time in St. Louis? The reports say no, but Morosi points to Justin Verlander initially balking at a trade to Houston.
Of course, that wasn’t so much about Verlander not wanting to go to the Astros as it was that he really wanted to go to the Cubs. If Stanton truly doesn’t want to go to a certain city, he’s not going to care that that team can make the most compelling offer. I can’t lie, I really want to hear that he has rejected a trade to the Cardinals.