Lowdown: A.J. to L.A. – Offseason Lowdown

Friday, January 25, 2019

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If you predicted that A.J. Pollock would be the first free agent position player to receive more than three guaranteed years in a contract this offseason, please step forward and collect your prize.

Moving from one NL West team to another, Pollock has agreed to a four-year deal with the Dodgers. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported news of the deal while Buster Olney of ESPN.com passed along the contract details. Pollock will make $55 million over the first four years and there’s a $5 million buyout on a $10 million player option for a fifth year. It’s a creative structure aimed at giving the Dodgers some breathing room on the luxury tax. The deal also includes an opt-out after the third year based on plate appearance benchmarks.

Some Dodgers fans undoubtedly would have preferred the club to go all in on mega free agent Bryce Harper, especially as his market continues to be a mystery, but the club ended up going the more conservative route. Pollock turned 31 in December and has been dogged by injuries since his All-Star season in 2015, but he’s still a plus defensively and provides balance to a lefty-heavy Dodgers’ lineup.

If healthy, Pollock should be the regular center fielder for Los Angeles while Cody Bellinger projects to spend most of his time at first base while being mixed in at the corner outfield spots. Of course, Bellinger also provides an insurance policy in center field. The Dodgers traded Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds in December, so that likely leaves prospect Alex Verdugo with an opportunity in right field. Joc Pederson is the best option in left field against right-handers, at least assuming he isn’t traded.

Pollock batted .257/.316/.484 with 21 homers, 65 RBI, and 13 steals over 113 games with the Diamondbacks last season. His injury history is a legitimate concern, but as noted above, the Dodgers have the flexibility to get by if Pollock needs to miss some time.

We can officially rule the Dodgers out for Harper, but that doesn’t mean they are done making moves. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported Thursday that the Dodgers are engaged in “intensive ongoing talks” with the Marlins regarding catcher J.T. Realmuto. Specifics aren’t known, but the Dodgers definitely have the sort of players who would make sense for the Marlins. Joe Frisaro of MLB.com wrote earlier this week that Dodgers prospect catcher Keibert Ruiz was a possible player of interest.

Relief Market Moving

With the calendar about to flip to February, we’re starting to see some bargain contracts in free agency. Asdrubal Cabrera (one-year, $3.5 million with the Rangers), Nick Markakis (one-year, $6 million with the Braves), and Drew Pomeranz (one-year, $1.5 million with the Giants) are three examples from this week. The latest, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, is reliever Brad Brach agreeing to a one-year deal with the Cubs worth at least $4.35 million. There’s a second year mutual option which could bring the total to $9.5 million.  

Brach turns 33 in April and posted a 3.59 ERA and 60/28 K/BB ratio over 62 2/3 innings between the Orioles and Braves last season. His strikeout percentage has dipped from 29.6 percent to 20.8 percent over the past two seasons, but he finished 2018 strong and gives Cubs manager Joe Maddon another experienced late-inning option. That’s relevant with Brandon Morrow expected to miss the early part of the season following November elbow debridement surgery. As of now, Pedro Strop is the likely fill-in at closer.

Edwin Diaz is a difficult act to follow, but the Mariners appear to be zeroing in on his replacement at closer. As first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the club has agreed to a one-year contract with right-handed reliever Hunter Strickland. Terms aren’t yet available.

Strickland was non-tendered by the Giants in late-November after posting a 3.97 ERA and 37/21 K/BB ratio over 45 1/3 innings in 2018. He began the year filling in at closer with Mark Melancon sidelined and pitched quite well, but he broke his right hand punching a wall after a blown save in mid-June and ended up missing two months. He scuffled and showed diminished velocity after returning in August, which was enough for the Giants to move on despite him being projected to make only around $2.5 million via arbitration in 2019.

Strickland is still only 30 years old and boasts a 2.91 ERA for his career, so taking a chance on a bounceback is a reasonable strategy. He’s under team control through 2021 via arbitration, so the Mariners could have an interesting trade chip depending on how things play out. As if Jerry Dipoto needs incentives to make trades.   

We should see an avalanche of relievers come off the board very soon. Jon Heyman of Fancred reported Thursday afternoon that Sergio Romo, Shawn Kelley, and Ryan Madson are among the veteran arms “who are being heavily pursued.” Mark Feinsand of MLB.com writes that Kelley is deciding between three teams. As for Craig Kimbrel, easily the top reliever remaining on the market, it’s still crickets for now.

Castellanos Ready to Move On

With Nicholas Castellanos going into his walk year and the Tigers in rebuild-mode, it’s not hard to see where this situation is headed. This is one of those “when” not “if” scenarios, but if Castellanos has it his way, a trade would come sooner rather than later. Castellanos’ agent, David Meter, told Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press on Thursday that his client would prefer to be dealt prior to spring training.

The Tigers are under no obligation to grant Castellanos’ wish, as they could always wait until July’s trade deadline. Barring a surprise suitor, it sounds like he’ll stay put to begin the 2019 season. Tigers general manager Al Avila was surprisingly candid in his comments to 97.1 The Ticket on Thursday, saying that the market for Castellanos has been “very frustrating” and “there’s been no interest at this point.”

Castellanos turns 27 in March and is coming off a career-best year where he slugged 23 homers with a .298/.354/.500 batting line over 157 games. Unfortunately, his defense in right field takes away from his overall value. He’s the best trade chip the Tigers have, so they understandably want to hold out for a solid package of prospects, but it’s fair to wonder how far teams will be willing to go for someone who will be a free agent after 2019.

The Tigers and Castellanos recently avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $9.95 million contract.

Quick Hits: According to the Associated Press, MLB is proposing going back to a 15-day disabled list as well as option time minimums (from 10 days to 15 days) for players … Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies and third baseman Nolan Arenado are likely headed to an arbitration hearing next month in regard to his salary for the 2019 season … Jon Heyman of Fancred reports that the Astros “still have interest in bringing back” free agent left-hander Dallas KeuchelCarlos Correa, who has an arbitration hearing scheduled for January 31, said Thursday that his back feels 100 percent …  Dan Hayes of The Athletic writes that Byron Buxton has added 21 pounds of muscle this offseason … The Yankees finalized their three-year, $23 million contract with reliever Adam Ottavino … The Astros and right-hander Chris Devenski have an arbitration hearing scheduled for February 5 … Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed Thursday that Sam Tuivailala (Achilles) is expected back in June … The Padres signed outfielder Boog Powell and catcher Chris Stewart to minor league contracts with invitations to major league spring training … The Tigers claimed Kaleb Cowart off waivers from the Mariners and plan to use him as a two-way player in spring training.

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