We’re just a week out from Christmas, which means things are about to go fairly quiet on the Hot Stove front. But if this offseason has taught us anything so far, it’s that plenty can change over the span of seven days, so expect plenty of action between now and this weekend.
Who’s heading where? Each weekday, we’ll be bringing you the latest news, rumors and reports from around MLB. Monday’s edition features plenty of interesting items, from Yoshinobu Yamamoto dining with a big-market suitor to the Padres’ payroll limitations to another Japanese import drawing lots of interest to a young ace potentially on the trading block. (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: Monday, Dec. 18
Yamamoto dines with Cohen, Mets
With Ohtani off the market, Japanese ace (and potential $300 million man) Yoshinobu Yamamoto is now the apple of everyone’s eye — especially the New York Mets. After a week spent conducting in-person visits with various suitors — everyone from the Yankees to the Dodgers to the Giants to the Phillies — Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Yamamoto spent this past Saturday dining at the home of Mets owner Steve Cohen. Other invited guests included Cohen’s wife, Alex, president of baseball operations David Stearns, manager Carlos Mendoza, and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.
At just 25 years old, Yamamoto is an ideal building block for the future as Stearns embarks on his first offseason in charge of the Mets. With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco moving on, New York is in desperate need of young starting pitching talent, and the righty more than fits that bill. Of course, every other big-market team could say the same, and there’s no telling where this bidding war might end up — Yamamoto is also expected to take a second meeting with the Yankees before leaving the tristate area.
Padres’ payroll target even lower than expected
We knew San Diego had to cut costs this winter; they weren’t trading away Juan Soto for the fun of it, after all. But recent reports suggest that the Padres’ financial straits are even more dire than previously known. The Athletic’s Dennis Lin wrote on Saturday that the team could keep their final 2024 payroll under $200 million — a far cry from the $256 million tab they ran in 2023.
Of course, this can hardly come as too much of a surprise; the implosion of the team’s local TV deal forced it to take out a loan to help cover payroll costs for the month of September, a sign of just how cash-strapped San Diego really was. The Padres currently have around $150 million in payroll committed for 2024, giving GM A.J. Preller a bit of wiggle room left to work with — just not as much as previously thought. This team still needs pitching help, as well as a corner bat or two to supplement Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts.
Twins listening to offers on Polanco, Kepler
It’s been an awfully quiet offseason so far for the reigning AL Central champs; Minnesota still hasn’t found a replacement for either Sonny Gray or Kenta Maeda, and they’ve still yet to upgrade an offense that was far too boom-or-bust in 2023. One catch: They, too, are reportedly looking to shed payroll this winter as the result of the cratering cable market, making it harder to add talent to a team that should be looking to push the Astros, Rangers and Yankees atop the AL.
One way Minnesota might kill two birds with one stone? Trading from positions of depth. To that end, Jon Morosi reports that the team is listening on offers for second baseman Jorge Polanco and right fielder Max Kepler. Polanco is among the league’s better second basemen, but an inability to stay healthy — plus the emergence of star rookie Edouard Julien last season — could have the team looking to move on from his $10.5 million salary. Kepler, meanwhile, is coming off a year in which he slashed .260/.332/.484 (121 OPS+) with 24 homers, but he too is set to make eight figures in 2024 and is a bit redundant on a roster very long on lefty-hitting corner bats.
Giants in on Imanaga
Yamamoto has sucked up all the oxygen of late, but he’s not the only Japanese pitcher who figures to draw a healthy amount of interest on the free-agent market. Lefty Shota Imanaga doesn’t have nearly Yamamoto’s upside, but the 30-year-old lefty has posted a 3.18 ERA across eight seasons in NPB — certainly nothing to sneeze at, especially with demand for quality starting pitching vastly outpacing supply.
Foremost among the teams interested in Imanaga, at least according to Morosi? The San Francisco Giants, who just landed Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee earlier this week and are now looking to upgrade a rotation that doesn’t have much in the way of known quantities behind ace Logan Webb and righty Alex Cobb (set to miss the start of the season after undergoing hip surgery). Oracle Park is a great place in which to pitch, and the Giants have the money to spend. The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Tigers are among the teams hoping to contend in 2024 and looking to spend on pitching, though, so expect Imanaga’s market to be a robust one.
Marlins, Royals discussed Luzardo deal
The Royals have been among the surprises of the early offseason, snagging righties Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha to reasonable deals as they look to upgrade what was a dismal rotation in 2023. And apparently they had their sights set even higher during the Winter Meetings earlier this month: Per Ken Rosenthal, Kansas City and the Marlins discussed a deal that would’ve sent Royals first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino to Miami in exchange for dynamic lefty Jesus Luzardo.
Rosenthal adds that the Royals-Marlins talks do not appear to be ongoing. Still, this is a fascinating trade to consider, and it corroborates recent reports that Miami is at least willing to listen on Luzardo — new Marlins GM Peter Bendix comes from the Rays front-office tree, a group that’s made a living by flipping stars for younger and more cost-controlled talent as soon as they hit arbitration. Luzardo fits that bill: He’s under team control until 2026 but is set to enter his first year of arbitration after posting a 3.58 ERA this past season. For a Marlins team that’s had no trouble developing starting pitching in recent years but remains offensively challenged, a trade could make some sense, even with Sandy Alcantara set to miss 2024 as he recovers from Tommy John sursgery.
For his part, Royals GM J.J. Picollo told reporters that he’s “content” with what the Royals have done this winter, indicating that the flashiest part of Kansas City’s offseason may already be in the books.