Baseball’s Winter Meetings are set to kick off in Nashville this weekend, which means that the next day or two could be something like the calm before the offseason storm. Still, there are always rumors and reports to sift through at this time of year, and each morning we’ll be here to collect the best of them and break them all down. Friday’s edition includes an update on Shohei Ohtani’s free agency, the Mets’ plans to upgrade their rotation this winter, the Rangers staying quiet and an All-Star closer who could be changing teams. (As a reminder, here are our top 25 free agents as well as the 10 most interesting trade candidates this winter.)
MLB Hot Stove rumors: Friday, Dec. 1
The latest on Shohei Ohtani
For the most part, Ohtani and agent Nez Balelo have chosen to play the most anticipated free agency in baseball history very close to the vest. But with Winter Meetings looming, we’re starting to get a sense of who is and is not in the running for the two-way phenom. ESPN’s Jeff Passan published a report on Friday morning with the latest on all things Ohtani, in which he estimates that an eventual deal could climb as high as $550 million. As for which team he’ll be signing that deal with:
The Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, who were among the initial group of suitors, have turned their attention to other players, sources said. Among those confirmed by sources to be still in the bidding: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays and Angels. The San Francisco Giants have long had a fondness for Ohtani, though where they stand in these sweepstakes is unknown.
The Dodgers have long been considered the favorites to land Ohtani, and this certainly does nothing to change that sense. The Cubs have money, motive and a need at DH (and, more long-term, the rotation), while the same could be said of the Blue Jays — with an added dash of desperation as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. draw nearer to free agency. The Angels’ inclusion here feels more like a courtesy than anything, while the Giants remain a wild card as a big-market West Coast team that’s been in need of a superstar for years now.
As for the three teams that Passan’s report rules out, none of them can be considered much of a surprise. The Mets have been viewed as among the favorites to land Ohtani ever since Steve Cohen assumed control of the team, but their disastrous 2023 season (and subsequent fire sale) makes them a hard sell for a player who is by all accounts focused on the quickest path to his first postseason appearance. John Henry and the Red Sox, meanwhile, haven’t shown the financial werewithal in recent years to make this kind of move feasible.
Mets not done adding arms
Speaking of the Mets, New York got out ahead of the starting pitching market earlier this week by inking for Yankee Luis Severino to a one-year, $13 million deal. But that doesn’t mean that new president David Stearns is done addressing the team’s rotation — far from it, in fact, as SNY’s Andy Martino reports that New York is “working to add several more starters” and “expect to sign more pitchers to one-year deals” this winter. Martino tabs World Series hero Jordan Montgomery as among the likeliest high-end targets, while the Mets have been consistently linked to Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto in recent days. With nothing but question marks behind Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana — who knows whether Severino will be able to rebound from a terrible 2023 season — expect Stearns to target one more big name to solidify his top three while filling out the back-end with multiple lower-tier names.
All quiet on the Texas front?
Basking in the glow of their first-ever World Series title, the Rangers might not be quite as active as they were the last couple of offseasons, at least if GM Chris Young’s recent comments are to be believed.
“We expect to be active in free agency, but probably not spending at the level that we have spent in previous offseasons,” Young told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
As you might expect from a team that just won it all this October, Texas’ list of needs is pretty short. the Rangers will bring back more or less their entire lineup from 2023, plus top outfield prospect Wyatt Langford waiting in the wings. A DH to replace the departing Mitch Garver would be nice, but there are plenty of cheaper options who would fit that bill. More pressing is the rotation, which is slated to lose Montgomery (and includes a ton of injury risk in Nathan Eovaldi, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery). If Texas does break the bank at any point this winter, expect it to be on a Montgomery reunion or another pitcher like Lucas Giolito.
Guardians listening on Emmanuel Clase
It’s easy to see the logic. Clase figures to have real value on the trade market given his elite performance over the last three years, a friendly contract (he’s owed $2.5 million in 2024, $4.5 million in 2025, $6 million in 2026 and has $10 million club options for 2027 and 2028) and a very thin free-agent class beyond Josh Hader. Cleveland is one of the best pitching development organizations in baseball, and they likely won’t be too nervous about their ability to replace Clase in the ninth inning. Their offense, meanwhile, remains moribund, and dangling Clase might allow them to pry a young bat from a contending team. A team like, for instance ...
Orioles looking for high-leverage reliever
... the Baltimore Orioles, who have more young position-player talent than they can fit on one field and are reportedly looking to add a reliever this offseason. With Felix Bautista set to miss all of 2024 as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, the O’s could use another high-leverage option as they eye another postseason run. They figure to be in on Hader, Jordan Hicks, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and the rest of this free-agent crop, or they could flip a top prospect like Coby Mayo to Cleveland for Clase.