Sabathia's Last Hurrah
Yankees starter CC Sabathia announced his plan to retire from baseball following the upcoming season. He'll hold an official press conference Saturday at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. He signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Yankees in early November after posting a sharp 3.65 ERA over 29 regular-season starts in 2018. This will be his 19th major league campaign. What a career it's been. The 38-year-old ranks second among all active pitchers with 246 career wins (one behind Bartolo Colon). He is one of only three active pitchers with 200 or more wins (Justin Verlander has 204). He ranks first in innings pitched with 3470, first in strikeouts with 2986, first in complete games with 38 (tied with Colon), second in pitcher bWAR with 62.2 (behind Verlander with 63.8) and third in shutouts with 12. He ranks 17th all-time in strikeouts and should reach the 3,000 strikeout mark early in the season. Sabathia was a 1st-round pick by the Indians in the 1998 Draft and was a teammate of Colon when he made his debut with the Tribe in 2001. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting that year behind Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners (who also won the MVP). Sabathia won the American League Cy Young Award in 2007 with the Indians and finished in the top five of Cy Young voting another five times in his career. He made six All Star teams. Sabathia has a strong case to make the Hall of Fame, especially if he can pad his stats a bit with one last good season for the Yankees this year. He will have earned $260 million dollars in his career by the end of this season.
Stars Still Not Lined Up
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told reporters on Thursday that they are willing to wait on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. "We’re going to continue to play it out and see what happens," Klentak said. "We’re plenty willing to make commitments when the time is right. We're comfortable that we've put our best foot forward. But it takes more than one party’s willingness to do that." The team would surely like to finalize their roster soon as spring training has already started. The Phillies have made several moves to bolster their status as contenders, trading for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura and signing Andrew McCutchen, but the two biggest fish in the market -- Harper and Machado -- remain available for a team that repeatedly stated they were willing to spend big money this offseason. It's not known exactly how much money they may have offered Harper and Machado but they've seemed confident in their ability to land one or even both of the superstar free agents. Harper is known to have turned down (or at least not accepted) a 10-year, $300+ million offer from the Nationals. Machado would likely come with a lower price tag but not a whole lot lower.
Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Padres general manager A.J. Preller met with Manny Machado in Miami last week. Acee also reports that Machado is the team's "first choice" to fill their vacancy at third base. San Diego is probably not Machado's first choice however. They play in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, are not expected to contend for the playoffs this year or next and they probably can't offer Machado as much money as some of the other teams that are pursuing him. It is believed that Machado is not close to signing with anyone at this point, and the Yankees, Phillies and White Sox have also made offers to the 26-year-old.
** Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Phillies have signed Aaron Nola to a four-year, $45 million contract extension. The deal will also carry a $16 million club option for a fifth year. Nola was set to go to salary arbitration with the Phillies for the first time but he is instead now locked up through 2022, and potentially 2023. The 25-year-old right-hander flourished in Philadelphia last season to the tune of a 17-6 record, 2.37 ERA, 0.975 WHIP, and 224/58 K/BB ratio in 212 1/3 innings. He'll carry massive fantasy upside into the 2019 campaign.
** Blue Jays signed LHP Ryan Feierabend to a minor league contract. Feierabend pitched the last four years in the Korean Baseball Organization, and has converted into a knuckleballer. He owns a 7.15 ERA over 113 1/3 innings in the major leagues, with his last appearance coming for Texas in 2014. He put up a 4.19 ERA in 630 innings during his career in Korea. He could be an interesting player to follow if he makes the Blue Jays' roster.
** Blue Jays signed RHP John Axford to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He will have a good chance of making the Blue Jays' roster even though he posted a 5.59 ERA over the last two seasons. He struck out 75 batters in 75 2/3 innings over that period. He has a 3.87 career ERA and has a lot of closing experience. He ranks 10th among all active pitchers with 144 saves in his career. He has closed games for the Brewers, Indians, Rockies and Athletics and pitched in a setup role for the Cardinals, Pirates, Blue Jays and Dodgers in his long career.
** The Twins signed outfielder Max Kepler to a five-year, $35 million contract extension. There is also a club option for a sixth year worth $10 million, with a $1 million buyout. The 26-year-old slashed .224/.319/.408 with 20 home runs and 58 RBI over 156 games last summer for Minnesota while playing strong defense at multiple outfield spots. His fantasy stats weren't very impressive last year but his underlying peripherals reveal that he made a lot of progress at the plate. He had a career-best walk rate, a career-best strikeout rate and suffered from an unlucky .236 BABIP that is very likely to rise this year. He makes for a sneaky value pick in the later rounds of fantasy drafts this spring.
** Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area hears from a source that the Giants have interest in free agent infielder Yangervis Solarte.
Solarte had his $5.5 million club option declined by the Blue Jays after he hit just .226/.277/.378 over 122 games in his first and only year with Toronto. His positional flexibility and fairly good hitting stats over the past several seasons have made him a good commodity as a backup on fantasy rosters.
** MLB.com's Joe Frisaro writes that Carlos Gonzalez "is a possible pickup" for the Marlins. It would not be a good destination for fantasy purposes. He would leave the hitters' paradise of Coors Field to go to one of the more pitcher-friendly ballparks in the league. For his career as a whole, CarGo has a .974 OPS at home and a .728 OPS on the road.
News from Around the League
** The Rockies and third baseman Nolan Arenado have been negotiating a possible contract extension and those talks could extend into the season. He recently netted a record $26 million dollar contract in his final year of arbitration eligibility. Arenado said "When serious games start, there'll probably be a silent deadline. I'm not sure, but at the end of the day, I'm open to anything. It's been fine. There's no hard feelings. We can talk whenever." Fantasy owners would love for Arenado to remain with the Rockies.
** Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said Thursday that there is "no firm timeline" for the MLB debut of top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. That is a code phrase that indicates the Blue Jays as expected will leave him in the minors for at least two weeks so they can limit his service time enough to gain an extra year of team control over the precocious young hitter. The 19-year-old third baseman posted an insane .381/.437/.636 batting line with 20 home runs and 78 RBI over 95 games last season between four different levels of the Blue Jays' minor league system, topping out at Triple-A Buffalo. He has a strong chance of making an impact upon his debut much like Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto did last year.
** Mets manager Mickey Callaway told reporters that the majority of Jeff McNeil's playing time will come in the outfield. MLB.com's Anthony DiComo estimates that McNeil will be the starter in left field against righties with Brandon Nimmo in center and Michael Conforto in right. McNeil played primarily second base last year but is blocked at that position by the newly-acquired Robinson Cano this year.
** Reds manager David Bell said that it is "very possible" that prospect Nick Senzel will be the starting center fielder. "Having never seen him on the field, my first impression was, 'This guy can really move. He's an athlete. This is more than possible,'" Bell told reporters. The Reds don't have a true center fielder on their roster and Senzel is blocked at both third base (by Eugenio Suarez) and second base (by Scooter Gennett), so giving their top prospect a shot to lock down the center field job makes sense on multiple levels. He has never played the outfield in a professional game at any level however, so it is a big adjustment.
** The Angels are listing prospect Jared Walsh as both an outfielder and pitcher. Walsh was a two-way player at the University of Georgia, but was drafted as an outfielder and hit 29 homers at three different levels in 2018. He also was given some chances to pitch, and was sent to the instructional leagues to work on the mound this fall.
** The Diamondbacks plan to play Ketel Marte at second base and shortstop in addition to center field. The club added Wilmer Flores to serve as the primary second baseman this year, moving Marte into more of a super-utility role. Marte will likely start in center field most days and move to the infield when Jarrod Dyson draws starts in center. The 25-year-old batted .260/.332/.437 last year with 14 home runs, 59 RBI and six stolen bases in 153 games.
** Orioles manager Brandon Hyde indicated Thursday that he might not have a dedicated closer this season. The dreaded "closer by committee" could rear its ugly head. Givens would seem to be the best bet for the job on paper and is the only appealing fantasy option in the Baltimore bullpen as it stands, but Hyde told reporters in Orioles camp that he "won't manage to the save stat" in his first year at the helm. It's the smart baseball strategy, but it could obviously prove to be quite frustrating for Givens owners. Givens went 0-7 with nine saves in 13 chances to go with a 3.99 ERA in 69 games. He struck out 79 batters in 76 2/3 innings and owns a 10.42 K/9 for his career. He has closer stuff but doesn't always have command of it.
** Royals manager Ned Yost said Wednesday that he doesn't expect to name a closer going into this season. This is getting to be a trend, with more and more managers seeing the benefits of maintaining flexibility with their relief corps rather than using rigid roles for each pitcher. Wily Peralta did a fine job as the closer down the stretch last year but the team brought in former Diamondbacks closer Brad Boxberger over the winter and he is likely to lead the team in saves in 2019.
** Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Wednesday in camp that he won't announce a closer for "a few weeks." Will Smith served as the Giants' primary ninth-inning man down the stretch last season and posted a sharp 2.55 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 71/15 K/BB ratio over 53 total innings. He will have to battle former closer Mark Melancon for the job in camp this year. Melancon recorded a 3.23 ERA in 39 innings last year but missed the first two months of the season with a forearm injury and was handled carefully the rest of the year. He has 182 career saves (seventh among active pitchers) and is right-handed. Bochy would probably prefer to use Melancon in the ninth inning and use the left-handed Smith in high-leverage situations against lefty batters.
** Rangers manager Chris Woodward hinted Wednesday in camp that Mike Minor will be the team's Opening Day starter. "He is our best pitcher," said Woodward. The 31-year-old left-hander posted a decent 4.18 ERA and 132/38 K/BB ratio over 157 innings (28 starts) in 2018.
** Ross Stripling could begin the season in the Dodgers' bullpen. He registered a 3.02 ERA with a 136:22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 122 innings spread over 21 starts and 12 relief appearances last year. On any other team he would be a lock for the starting rotation but the Dodgers are loaded with starting pitching options. Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu are the favorites for the first four slots in the rotation with Stripling, Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda battling for the last slot.
** Brewers manager Craig Counsell confirmed Thursday that Brandon Woodruff is being stretched out as a starter. The 26-year-old has accumulated 85 1/3 innings over the past two seasons while notching a 4.22 ERA with 47 strikeouts.
** Junior Guerra is being viewed as a reliever this spring in Brewers camp. Guerra pitched well at times as a starter last year, but it sounds like he'll be some form of a multi-inning bullpen arm for Milwaukee in 2019. The 34-year-old right-hander holds a 3.87 ERA in 337 career major league frames.
** Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the Twins will sign shortstop Jorge Polanco to a contract extension worth $25.75 million in guaranteed money through 2023, with a pair of club options for 2024 and 2025. The 25-year-old missed the first 80 games last year due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drug usage, then returned to bat .288/.345/.427 with six home runs, 42 RBI and seven stolen bases in 333 plate appearances. He is obviously back in good graces with the front office despite the cheating scandal.
** Blue Jays outfielder Billy McKinney could beat out Teoscar Hernandez for the starting job in left field. McKinney registered a .252 batting average with six homers in 38 games last year as rookie. Hernandez turned in a .239 batting average with 22 homers and 57 RBI in 134 games. McKinney is by far the better fielder of the two.
Players Limited by Injury
** Jake Arrieta (knee) told reporters Thursday that he tore his left meniscus last June. That would help explain his poor second half. Arrieta had the injury surgically repaired this offseason and has already thrown a couple of bullpen sessions in Phillies camp. He is expected to be close to full strength by the time Opening Day rolls around. He went 10-11 with a 3.96 ERA last year, with 138 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings. He had a 3.23 ERA in the first half and a 5.04 ERA after the break.
** Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Wednesday that Alex Bregman (elbow) will be brought along slowly at the start of camp. Bregman had surgery in January to remove loose bodies from his right elbow. He is expected to be ready for regular duty by Opening Day. Bregman broke out as one of the best fantasy players in the game last year by slashing .286/.394/.532 with 31 home runs, 103 RBI, 105 runs and 10 stolen bases while qualifying at shortstop and third base in fantasy leagues.
** Matt Harvey suffered a glute strain during agility drills Wednesday and is expected to be sidelined for the next 10 days. Harvey went 7-9 with a 4.94 ERA in 32 games (28 starts) between the Mets and Reds last year. He signed a one-year, $11 million free agent contract with the Angels in December and is aiming for a bounceback season in a pitching-friendly ballpark before heading into free agency again next winter.
** Dodgers president Andrew Friedman said Wednesday that shortstop Corey Seager's recovery from Tommy John surgery has been "a best-case [scenario] to this point." The young star underwent the reconstructive elbow procedure last May and also needed arthroscopic surgery on his left hip in August. He is expected to be ready by Opening Day, although setbacks are a definite possibility. He could be a boom-or-bust draft pick this year in fantasy leagues. Seager boasts a .302/.372/.494 career batting line in 355 major league games.
** Gary Sanchez (shoulder) said Thursday that he is on track to begin playing in the second week of Grapefruit League games. Sanchez underwent a left shoulder debridement procedure back in November but should be fine for the start of the 2019 regular season barring any setbacks. The 26-year-old catcher will be looking to bounce back in a big way for the Yankees after slashing just .186/.291/.406 over 374 plate appearances in 2018.
** Franmil Reyes (knee) has been fully cleared for workouts, although the Padres could take things slowly with him early on in spring training. The outfielder had a bit of an under-the-radar breakout last year as a rookie, slashing .280/.340/.498 with 16 homers and 31 RBI in 87 games.
** Gregory Polanco (shoulder) is in the early stages of a throwing program. More encouraging is that he is fully "uninhibited" for hitting drills this early in Pirates camp, as general manager Neal Huntington put it Wednesday. Polanco needed surgery last September to repair a dislocation and labrum tear in his left shoulder and will open the 2019 season on the injured list, but it sounds like he might only miss around a month of major league action. That is a much better prognosis than reports from around the time of his injury, when he was expected to miss half of the 2019 season. Last year he batted .254/.340/.499 with 23 home runs, 81 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 461 at-bats.
** Buster Posey (hip) hit in the batting cage and took batting practice on the field without any issues Wednesday. Posey had surgery last August to repair a right hip impingement and a torn labrum, but it's looking like he will have a pretty regular workload in spring training and should be ready for the start of the regular season.
** Cardinals manager Mike Shildt confirmed Wednesday that Yadier Molina (knee) is expected to be ready for Opening Day. Molina underwent a cleanup surgery on his left knee in December and will likely be held out of Grapefruit League action until the middle of March, but there doesn't seem to be any concern in Cardinals camp about the 36-year-old missing real games.
** Brent Suter (elbow) will be restricted to throwing from 60 feet three times a week during spring training. Suter underwent Tommy John surgery in July and will miss at least the first half of the upcoming season.
** Brandon Morrow (elbow) has expanded his flat-ground throwing to 90 feet. Morrow is recovering from November elbow surgery (non-Tommy John) and is expected to miss the first month of the season. Pedro Strop is the favorite to handle closing duties while Morrow is on the shelf.
** White Sox 3B prospect Jake Burger (Achilles) has begun hitting in cages. The 2017 first-round draft pick tore his left Achilles tendon twice last year. He will get a late start to the season before reporting to one of the White Sox's lower level affiliates.
** Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters on Thursday that Julio Urias will have an innings limit for the 2019 season. It is not a surprise considering Urias is still just 22 years old and is coming off a severe shoulder injury. The Dodgers will give him a chance to join the starting rotation but he carries a high risk of being moved to the bullpen.
Quick Hits: Mets manager Mickey Callaway announced Thursday that Jacob deGrom will be the club's Opening Day starter. Was there ever a doubt? ... Orioles prospect Dean Kremer is currently sidelined in camp because of a strained oblique. He was acquired from the Dodgers last July as part of the Manny Machado trade and registered an impressive 2.88 ERA with 178 strikeouts over 131 1/3 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2018. ... Young Reds right-hander Robert Stephenson is dealing with shoulder inflammation. The former top 50 prospect is out of options and must start the season either in the majors or on the injured list or else he will have to be exposed to waivers. ... Reds backup catcher Curt Casali had offseason surgery to repair a damaged labrum in his hip. He is expected to be ready by Opening Day. ... Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told reporters Thursday that Clayton Richard is locked into a rotation spot. It is a bit surprising considering Richard posted an ugly 5.33 ERA and 108/60 K/BB ratio over 158 2/3 innings last season in San Diego. It won't be any easier for him in Toronto. ... Marlins manager Don Mattingly announced Thursday that Jose Urena will be his Opening Day starter. He went 9-12 with a 3.98 ERA in 31 starts last year, striking out 130 batters in 174 innings. ... Jerad Eickhoff experienced some recurring symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome last month. The right-hander missed all but three games last year with the injury and now it looks like his 2019 season is in jeopardy as well. ... Among several Venezuelan players experiencing visa problems this month are Twins catcher Willians Astudillo and Orioles catcher Jesus Sucre.