Tag: Ben Zobrist

Ben Zobrist Wins 2016 World Series MVP Award

Ben Zobrist has been named Most Valuable Player of the 2016 World Series while helping the Chicago Cubs secure their first title since 1908.

The outfielder had the game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning of the dramatic Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

Baseball Reference noted the historical importance of the game-winning hit:

He also finished the series batting .357 with a .419 on-base percentage, getting a hit in six of the seven games.  

Zobrist has now won back-to-back titles after winning the World Series with the Kansas City Royals last season.

ESPN Stats and Info provided an interesting note on the veteran player:

Per Odds Shark, the No. 4 hitter had 10-1 odds to win this award coming into the series, tied for second-best among Cubs players behind only Jake Arrieta. He lived up to expectations with a strong performance throughout the seven games.

He finished with a .250 batting average and five RBI in 17 postseason games.

His wife, Julianna, provided motivational words from her view of the big play:

Buster Olney of ESPN discussed the lack of pressure Zobrist had put on himself in these big games:

Of course, with a team like this, there were plenty of other options for MVP. Woody Paige of the Gazette noted the possible options:

Kyle Schwarber batted .412 in his appearances as a designated hitter after missing most of the season. Anthony Rizzo hit .360 with some clutch RBI, while Kris Bryant was responsible for some of the biggest moments in the series.

The pitching staff also had some big moments, although Justin Verlander was voting for a sentimental favorite:

David Ross hit a key home run in his last game before retiring.

Still, it was Zobrist who took home the hardware, helping break the longest championship drought in professional sports in his first season with the team.

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Analyzing Every Impact Deal of the 2015 MLB Winter Meetings

FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: We told ourselves we were only going to deal with transactions during the winter meetings, which ended Thursday afternoon. But some things are too big to ignore, so with the news that free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward has chosen the Chicago Cubs (first reported by Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times), we’ve added an 11th transaction.


The 2015 MLB winter meetings included one trade so big you could write a whole column about it. In fact, I did.

The winter meetings didn’t include the largest free-agent contract (by annual value) in major league history, but the Arizona Diamondbacks did make Zack Greinke’s signing official during them.

These weren’t the most active winter meetings of all time. Officially, 45 players changed teams between Monday morning and Thursday afternoon, the exact same number that moved at the 2014 meetings.

Some deals were small. Did you know the Oakland A’s traded pitcher Evan Scribner to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for pitcher Trey Cochran-Gill?

Perhaps that has a significant impact on the 2016 season, but right now we’re guessing it won’t. So we’ll stick to what we’ll call the 10 impact deals (some in combination) of the 2015 MLB winter meetings.

If there’s another deal announced Friday, don’t blame us for missing it. The meetings ended Thursday afternoon.

So here we go.

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Ben Zobrist, John Lackey Deals Strong Veteran Upgrades for Title-Chasing Cubs

The young, upstart Chicago Cubs have gotten a little longer in the tooth this offseasonand that’s a good thing.

First, they signed 37-year-old right-hander John Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal that was finalized on Tuesday, per Ronald Blum of the Associated Press. Then, later that same day, they inked 34-year-old super-utility man Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million pact, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

To help make room for Zobrist, the Cubs concurrently traded 25-year-old middle infielder Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for right-hander Adam Warren and a player to be named later, per ESPN the Magazine‘s Buster Olney.

That move clears some salary off the Cubs’ ledgerSpotrac indicates that Castro is owed around $40 million through 2019and gives the Cubs pitching depth and flexibility, as the 28-year-old Warren can start or come out of the bullpen.

Mostly, though, the Zobrist and Lackey signings were about the Cubs adding veteran pieces to a team that was high on talent but relatively low on experience.

Yes, left-hander Jon Lestera teammate of Lackey’s with the Boston Red Soxand catcher Miguel Montero are battle-tested. But the Cubs’ core is green.

Four rookies—Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler—featured prominently in last season’s playoff run. By contrast, Anthony Rizzo—a 26-year-old who’d never tasted the postseason—looked like a grizzled elder statesman.

Age isn’t everything, of course. In fact, in Zobrist’s case, you could argue it’s something of a red flag considering he’s locked up through his age-38 season.

But for next year at least, the versatile infielder/outfielder gives skipper Joe Maddon exactly the kind of weapon he covets. There is perhaps no manager in the game who likes to mix and match more than Maddon, and Zobrist arms him with a top-notch Swiss Army knife.

Maddon and Zobrist have familiarity, too, from their days with the Tampa Bay Rays. In his best seasons under Maddon2011 and 2012Zobrist racked up 14.4 WAR (wins above replacement) and capably manned four different positions.

He won’t replicate that production in Chicago, but he’s still plenty valuable, as he demonstrated by hitting .276 with an .809 OPS last year for the Oakland A’s and world champion Kansas City Royals.

Lackey, meanwhile, is coming off a renaissance campaign with the St. Louis Cardinals. After posting a 4.30 ERA in 60.2 innings for the Cardinals in 2014, Lackey sipped from the fountain of youth and put up a career-low 2.77 ERA in 218 innings in 2015.

He’ll slot nicely into a rotation fronted by Lester and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta. Lackey owns a 3.11 lifetime postseason ERA in 127.1 frames, which is good news as the Cubs look to make another deep October run.

“You walk into a three-game series and the other team calls for your pitching, and you say it’s going to be ‘Lester, Arrieta and Lackey,’ they don’t like that,” Maddon said with typical bravado, per ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers.

He’s right. That’s a sturdy top three.

And just as Lackey strengthens the staff, Zobrist bolsters the lineup. He doesn’t blow you away with power, but he’s a switch-hitter without dramatic splits who is essentially versatility personified. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan highlighted Zobrist’s virtues:

You could argue that Castro, who is nearly 10 years Zobrist’s junior, has more long-term upside. And, again, it’s fair to wonder what Zobrist will be able to door not doin the third and especially fourth years of this deal.

But the Cubs are in win-now mode after blossoming ahead of schedule yet falling to the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

Zobrist and Lackey, while not as splashy as David Price or Jason Heyward, are exactly the kind of complementary pieces Chicago needed on its long-delayed title quest. Don’t worry, we’re not going to mention billy goats. Promise.

The deals are sweetened from the Cubs’ perspective when you consider that Chicago snatched Lackey from the archrival Cards and Zobrist from the Mets, who were “pretty optimistic” they’d land him, per ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin.

The Cubs have shown interest in Heyward, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. And the Zobrist and Lackey deals are reasonable enough to make adding the 26-year-old outfielder a possibility. Heyward, another former Cardinal with legit five-tool talent, would certainly and instantly make the Cubs much, much better.

So far, though, president of baseball operations Theo Epsteinthe architect of this rebirth on the North Sidehas opted for restraint and chosen to tinker around the edges of an already-excellent roster.

The Cubs had youth. Now they’ve added experience. Is it a trophy-hoisting recipe? It’s still December, so the proper answer is “Wait and see.” But from where we’re sitting, signs point to “Yes.”


All statistics and contract information current as of Dec. 8 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Shopping Season Underway at Nashville Winter Meetings

1. Navigating Nashville, Music City USA and Baseball’s Epicenter This Week

You probably think the most difficult thing for a general manager at the winter meetings is completing that three-way trade to land an ace or boxing out four other teams to land a bat.

Wrong. This year, the hardest thing in this massive maze of a resort that is the largest non-casino hotel in the United States outside of Las Vegas, with some 2,700 rooms, will be actually finding someone. For example, St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak could schedule a meeting with Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti on Monday at 1 p.m. to discuss a blockbuster trade, and they may not actually locate each other until Wednesday at 4 p.m. You need a GPS and a nutrition bar every time you leave your room, just in case.

Yes, signing a free agent like Jason Heyward (Cardinals? Angels?), Yoenis Cespedes (Mets? Cardinals?), Ben Zobrist (Mets? Cubs?), Johnny Cueto (Dodgers?), Chris Davis (Orioles?) or Daniel Murphy (Yankees?) will be difficult, too. It will require far more cash than clubs want to pay, especially based on what we’ve seen so far (David Price to Boston for seven years and $217 million, Zack Greinke to Arizona for six years and $206.5 million, Jordan Zimmermann to Detroit for five years and $110 million).

“I like the free-agent field. I think it’s good,” one longtime talent evaluator says, and amen to that. It is a strong and deep class this winter, especially regarding starting pitchers and corner outfielders.

But he adds, correctly: “I think it is the secondary guys who make or break a club more than the top-tier guys.”

Think back to 2012, the last time these winter meetings were in Nashville, and how Boston signed outfielder Shane Victorino, first baseman Mike Napoli and reliever Koji Uehara. All played key roles in the Red Sox winning the 2013 World Series.

In the meantime, the stage is set for an active trade market—possibly hyperactive—too. Several clubs have checked in with the Atlanta Braves on starter Shelby Miller. And rumors continue to crackle around a couple of legitimate aces: Oakland’s Sonny Gray and the Chicago White Sox’s Chris Sale.

Best part, always, are the surprise deals. Last year, nobody saw the Dodgers dealing second baseman Dee Gordon to Miami, and the Marlins wound up obtaining a batting champion.

As long as nobody goes missing, or is lost traveling the indoor river that flows through the Opryland Hotel, all should be good.   


2. NL West: Off to the Races

The question as they flew to Nashville was, will the Dodgers get left behind?

Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks and Jeff Samardzija to the Giants left the Dodgers playing catch-up, big-time. But practically before Monday morning’s coffee had cooled, Los Angeles was on the move: They were on the verge of a deal with free-agent right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma late Sunday night, according to Bleacher Report sources, then Monday morning they reportedly landed Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman for two prospects.

The Dodgers were left with no choice but to act quickly: Losing Greinke was bad enough, but watching him flee to an NL West rival was especially painful in terms of Arizona closing the gap for 2016.

Together, Greinke and Clayton Kershaw camouflaged a series of weaknesses in Los Angeles last summer. Even had Greinke returned, the Dodgers needed rotation help. Now, it’s S.O.S. time, especially with the San Francisco Giants immediately striking to sign right-hander Jeff Samardzija ($90 million) practically before Greinke had even learned what next summer’s uniform combinations will be like in Arizona (trust us, there seemingly are more offerings than the 31 flavors at Baskin-Robbins).

The Diamondbacks and Giants both would like to add another starting pitcher, and both, according to industry sources, are targeting Mike Leake.

In San Francisco’s favor, perhaps, is that Leake pitched for Bruce Bochy during the second half of last year after Cincinnati traded him.

In Arizona’s favor, perhaps, is that with Greinke aboard, the Diamondbacks clearly have momentum going into ’16, and Leake played in Tempe at Arizona State.

The Dodgers? Adding Chapman to closer Kenley Janssen not only adds intrigue internally (Which one will close? Would Janssen accept a move to the eighth inning?), it signals the club’s post-Greinke plan: Clearly, building a strong bullpen now is a necessity given a rotation that likely will be weaker. Their sticking point with Greinke was they did not want to add a sixth year to their offer for a pitcher who already is 32.

One thing that has to rankle the Dodgers is that, with a payroll of around $300 million, they pumped $44 million worth of competitive balance tax into this year’s pool, and the D-backs were only too happy to be one of the recipients. In a way, the Dodgers helped finance Arizona’s poaching of Greinke.


3. Strong Secondary Pitching Market

Beyond David Price and Zack Greinke, the market is loaded with options—though things already have started to move. Even with Jordan Zimmermann (Tigers), Jeff Samardzija (Giants), John Lackey (Cubs) and Hisashi Iwakuma (Dodgers) off the market, Johnny Cueto, Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, Doug Fister, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, Bartolo Colon and Mat Latos all are available.

And already, Cueto reportedly turned down a $120 million offer from Arizona (the D-backs, of course, rebounded nicely with Greinke).

Beyond the free agents and the aforementioned starting pitcher trade options, even more could flood the market. Cleveland is desperate for offense, and some wonder whether the Indians will fix that by trading from their starting pitching depth. The names of Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer all have made their way to the rumor mill, so whether Cleveland finds a deal it likes will be one fascinating part of this week.

As the Padres look to fill holes, they are believed to be making James Shields very available. Failing that, don’t be surprised if the Padres move Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross (for a whopping price only).

Might Tampa Bay move one of its excellent starters, Jake Odorizzi or Matt Moore? Might the Yankees deal Ivan Nova as they look to reshuffle and upgrade their rotation?

Beyond Price and Greinke, there are no sure things. While Bochy and San Francisco pitching coach Dave Righetti stand every chance of getting Samardzija launched in the right direction, he is coming off of a rock ’em, sock ’em year in which he led the majors in hits allowed and earned runs allowed, and produced a ragged 4.96 ERA.

“The thing that’s attractive about Samardzija to me is that he’s a super athlete,” one former GM says. “He’s going to go out there, and he’s probably going to get you 200 innings a year for the next four or five years. So at least you’re getting that.”

Yeah, but…

“I think the team that signs Samardzija will be horrified with the lack of what he gives you,” says one scout. “I understand he gives you [innings], but you lose. The most wins he’s had in a season in his career is 11. He’s a .500 pitcher at best, and he’s never proven anything beyond that.”

See, in baseball during the winter, as in modeling, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


4. Where Will Jason Heyward Go, and Whatever Happened to Yoenis Cespedes?

Let’s not allow pitching to hog the entire spotlight (hey, this is Nashville, and even on the television show by the same name, there’s plenty of room for both Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere).

With runs per game and hits per game dwindling to early 1970s rates, few teams out there do not need hitting. And there are a handful of difference-makers, starting with Heyward. The Cardinals would love to bring him back. The Angels have a big need for an impact, left-handed bat. He fits several other places, too, and is projected by at least one handicapper to hit $200 million or more over 10 years.

“He is interesting to me, but the money they’re talking about with him I just don’t believe,” one industry source says. “This isn’t Mike Trout we’re talking about.”

So let’s raise a question: What if, instead of paying Heyward that, a team in the market for an outfielder who can get on base went for Dexter Fowler instead?

“If I wanted to get two guys out of this, I’d go get Fowler and then somebody else for the same money I’d have to pay Heyward,” the source says. “The market is there to go ahead and do that, to get two of what is considered second-tier players.”

Heyward is 26 and batted .293/.359/.439 with 13 homers, 60 RBI and 23 steals last season.

Fowler is 29 and batted .250/.346/.411 with 17 homers, 46 RBI and 20 steals last season.

In their same list, mlbtraderumors.com projects Fowler to go for $60 million over four years. Sure, Heyward is younger, but one size doesn’t fit all in the Hot Stove League.

Speaking of which, there is remarkably little buzz, so far, surrounding Cespedes. Partly because….


5. Ben Zobrist, Darling of the Hot Stove League

The Mets are pursuing Zobrist hard, according to Bleacher Report sources, and he fits well with several other clubs, too, including the Angels, Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals and Giants. Take your pick; Zobrist is versatile in the field, he’s a switch-hitter and he’s a leader in the clubhouse.

As of now, Cespedes is holed up waiting for clubs that don’t get Zobrist to turn to him.


6. The Unknown Factor in This Year’s Meetings

Introductions, please:

Ten clubs have changed GMs (or point men in charge of baseball operations, if you factor in those with a “president of baseball operations”-type of title) in the past few months, including the Angels (Billy Eppler), Red Sox (Dave Dombrowski), Tigers (Al Avila), Mariners (Jerry Dipoto), Blue Jays (Mark Shapiro/Tony LaCava/Ross Atkins), Brewers (David Stearns), Braves (John Coppolella), Marlins (Michael Hill is still president of baseball operations but the GM position is vacant), Phillies (Matt Klentak) and Reds (Dick Williams, with Walt Jocketty moving up to director of baseball operations).

Some of those names are familiar and experienced (Dombrowski, Dipoto), but many are just breaking ground in their new roles. How quickly will they move? How difficult will it be for them to navigate the landscape at the winter meetings and deal? And will they get lost in Nashville like so many hotel guests seen aimlessly wandering around?


7. Revisiting Closers

Already, Boston has traded for Craig Kimbrel and Detroit has acquired Francisco Rodriguez, and with teams such as the Chicago Cubs looking for a closer, there are several to be had via the trade market.

Early Monday morning, the Dodgers reportedly acquired the sexiest name on the trade market, Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman, but Monday night a bombshell dropped: Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown and Jeff Passan reported of a domestic violence incident at Chapman’s Florida home in October that put the trade on hold and well may lead to bigger and far more serious issues.

The Yankees are said to be listening on Andrew Miller as they look to upgrade their rotation. The Phillies are listening on Ken Giles, the White Sox might be enticed to deal David Robertson, one of their prizes from last year’s free-agent market, and the Nationals are widely expected to trade Drew Storen this winter and make a strong push to deal Jonathan Papelbon.


8. Other Points of Interest Beyond the Johnny Cash Museum

• Credit the Cubs for identifying a need and zeroing in on it quickly: John Lackey was a great under-the-radar buy before the Cubs snapped him up with a two-year, $32 million deal. “He’s one of the best out there,” one scout told B/R a couple of hours before he landed with the Cubs. “I know he’s 37, but this guy gives unbelievable effort and quality starts, time in and time out.”

 The Padres are expected to be much quieter than they were last year when GM A.J. Preller stole the show at the winter meetings, but they still need a shortstop (Ian Desmond?) and bullpen help (Fernando Rodney?).

 The Blue Jays traded 11 pitchers this year (including Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd to the Tigers in the David Price deal). They are looking to replenish their supply of minor league arms.

 They are done with their major moves, the Red Sox say, but some in the industry still expect new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to dump erstwhile slugger Hanley Ramirez at some point. “I would get Hanley as far away from that ball club as possible,” one executive says. “Panda (Pablo Sandoval) is a follower, not a leader. When he was with the Giants, he wasn’t a guy you worried much about. Yeah, he was overweight, but he played hard. Then he gets with Hanley and has one of the worst years of his career. Gee, I wonder if there’s any correlation. David’s got to unload one of those two, and my guess is he unloads Hanleyand he’s going to pay for a bunch of it.” Ramirez is still owed more than $69 million over the next three years.

 The Reds aren’t necessarily looking to deal third baseman Todd Frazier, but given the rebuilding and desperate need for pitching, anything is possible with Cincinnati.

• The Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Committee fired a shutout, failing to elect any of the 10 candidates they were considering. Charged with reviewing those who played before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, the committed reviewed, among others: Wes Ferrell (who pitched for 15 seasons and finished second in AL MVP voting in 1935 with Boston), Sam Breadon (an early Cardinals owner who hired Branch Rickey and created the blueprint for the modern farm system), slick-fielding shortstop Marty Marion (1944 NL MVP with the Cardinals), first baseman Frank McCormick (1940 NL MVP with the Reds) and right-hander Bucky Walters (who won the 1939 NL MVP award with the Reds).

 Sending all the best to Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who is battling an undisclosed form of cancer and is embarking upon 12 weeks of chemotherapy, and will not be in attendance in Nashville. Good thoughts and prayers his way.


9. Who Is Kenta Maeda and Why Do You Need to Know Him?

He is a 27-year-old right-hander posted last week by his Japanese team, the Hiroshima Carp. Being that he is at least two years younger than the best free-agent starters available right now and given that he won the Japanese version of a Cy Young Award this year (he surrendered only five total homers while facing 821 batters), he immediately becomes a very interesting player.

The Diamondbacks are looking for another starting pitcher, and GM Dave Stewart raved about Maeda last winter. “I love Maeda,” Stewart told MLB.com. “I love him.” The Dodgers need pitching, the A.J. Preller-led Padres always are in the market for international players, the Yankees could absolutely use him (though they again apparently are determined to stay under the $189 million competitive balance tax threshold and may not make a big free-agent move).

Any interested major league club can bid up to $20 million for the right to negotiate with him, and the winner would earn exclusive negotiating rights. If that club signs him, it pays the posting bid to the Carp, plus the contract to Maeda. If Maeda goes unsigned, that club does not owe anything to Hiroshima.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Updating the Hottest Questions of the 2015-16 MLB Offseason, Week 4

With David Price off the board, Zack Greinke can officially claim his place at the center of the baseball universe as Week 4 of the 2015-16 MLB offseason draws to a close.

While everyone patiently awaits Greinke‘s decision on where he’ll be pitching in 2016, Aroldis Chapman is patiently waiting to find out just where he’ll be traded.

There’s no question about it—buzz surrounding prominent pitchers like Greinke and Chapman dominated the baseball week that was. And as if the market for arms wasn’t loaded enough already, another high-upside starter has been added to the free-agent front following the non-tender deadline.

Hurlers headline the list that follows, but there’s still room for talk about one position player who’s proving to be the most popular free agent of all this winter.

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MLB Free Agents 2016: Latest Rumors and Predictions on Top Talent

There is no shortage of talent in the Major League Baseball free-agent pool, and a World Series champion is starting to make some waves in the market.

Ben Zobrist came to the Kansas City Royals in a midseason trade with the Oakland Athletics and was rumored at one point to have both teams from The Big Apple interested him.

Now, the New York Yankees have backed off, but the New York Mets are still interested, per Ken Davidoff and Dan Martin of the New York Post.

Let’s take a look where Zobrist could end up, as well as two top free-agent pitchers.

Zobrist Could Re-Sign with Royals

Zobrist’s versatility, which includes playing second base and outfield along with switch-hitting, should be enough to have nearly every team interested him in. Just because a player is in demand, though, doesn’t mean he fits with every team. As Martin and Davidoff wrote, believe it or not, the Yankees aren’t willing to shell out the cash for him.

“According to industry sources, the Yankees aren’t willing to spend as much as Zobrist likely will receive on the market, even if he does fill a need in the infield and is a switch-hitter,” the Post reported. 

The Mets are looking to replace National League Championship Series MVP Daniel Murphy after he rejected the team’s one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer, per Davidoff and Martin, which would open the door for Zobrist.

It would be interesting if he signed with the team that the Royals defeated in the World Series, but don’t look for it to happen.

Per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com, Zobrist said during the regular season Kansas City was on his list of choices for 2016 and even gave his newborn the middle name Royal.

With most of the core talent returning for the 2016 season, it would make sense for him to re-sign with the Royals.

Prediction: Multiyear deal with the Royals


Cueto Testing the Market

Zobrist’s teammate Johnny Cueto played a big role in the Royals’ championship season as well, throwing a two-hit, complete game to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead in the World Series.

However, as soon as Kansas City traded key minor leaguers to get him right before the deadline, there was speculation Cueto was just stopping by for a visit.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote during the playoffs that the Royals had no plans to re-sign the 29-year-old: “The Royals already know they will not be trying to retain Johnny Cueto. They expect his free-agent price tag to go beyond their comfort level and, also, they have seen enough of his inconsistency to be worried about trying to keep him long term anyway.”

Despite some strong playoff starts and a complete-game shutout in his first home start with Kansas City, Cueto was just 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA after the trade.

The Royals don’t shell out contracts like he’s seeking—which varies, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports—and they probably feel like his time in town was worth the trade considering they ended the season as champions.

The Boston Red Sox, on the other hand, make a habit of doing just that. Per Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, the Red Sox are looking to fill a hole at the front of the rotation via free agency, after trading for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel.

Cueto, and his 96 career wins and 3.30 ERA, would fill that void nicely.

Prediction: Multiyear deal with the Boston Red Sox

Zach Greinke Commanding a Huge Contract

If you want to make some money, go 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA in a contract year. That’s exactly what Zach Greinke did in 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now he is commanding a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $125-$150 million over five years, according to John Heyman of CBSSports.com.

Greinke is 32, and as Mark Saxon of ESPN.com recently wrote, the Dodgers “probably” won’t look to re-sign him:

The Dodgers are looking to get younger, and another mega-contract makes that more difficult. Also, team president Stan Kasten has a blanket policy against extending pitchers beyond a certain number of major-league pitches and Greinke, who has been durable throughout his career, has thrown more than 33,000.

It can’t be easy to let a guy go who has gone 51-15 the past three seasons, but that appears to be the case.

Greinke is a private person and has given no indication of where he might end up. It’s all speculation at this point, but count on him going to a contender if he doesn’t change his mind and re-sign with Los Angeles.

He forced his way out of Kansas City in 2011 and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, who made the postseason that year. He left a year later to sign a six-year deal with the Dodgers.

Prediction: Multiyear deal with the New York Yankees

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MLB Rumors: Latest Buzz on Ben Zobrist, Aroldis Chapman and More

The Major League Baseball season is over, but hot-stove action is just heating up.

It’s a time when bad teams look to get better, but even the World Series champion Kansas City Royals don’t shut it down in the offseason.

While they are looking to make an already strong team stronger, they also are fending off teams that are seeking to add the services of free agents who played in Kansas City last year, such as Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist.

One of the major blueprints for Kansas City’s success was a strong bullpen, and middle relievers and closers are hot commodities on this year’s market.

Let’s take a look at where some of the top free-agent relievers could land and how one rival may be trying to lure Zobrist out of Kansas City.


Flamethrower Chapman Draws Interest

Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman is 6’4″ and 215 pounds. He’s left-handed and throws 100 mph. It goes without saying that teams like that combination in a closer—or any pitcher, for that matter.

Chapman saved 145 games in Cincinnati the past four years, and according to Peter Gammons of MLB Network, he has many potential trade suitors:

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported the Boston Red Sox could be one of those teams:

Chapman will be a free agent after the 2016 season, and Travis Durkee of Sporting News said the Reds have no interest in paying him to remain with the team thereafter:

Chapman, 27, has recorded no fewer than 33 saves in the last four seasons as the Reds closer. However, he’ll hit free agency after the 2016 season, and the Reds reportedly have no plans to keep him as he’ll certainly command even more than the $13 million he’s set to make in his final year of arbitration.

If so, it would make a lot of sense to unload him now. Closers don’t usually bring back equal value in a trade, but Chapman is one of the rare ones who could come close.

He would be a good fit in Boston. The Red Sox have closer Koji Uehara, but he is 40 and has regressed the past two seasons after a phenomenal 2013 campaign.

The Reds look to be rebuilding this year after trading starting pitcher Johnny Cueto to the Royals midseason. Per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, Cincinnati is listening to offers on just about anyone at this point.

Chapman is all but gone, but where will he land?

Boston makes sense, as does Detroit, but don’t be surprised if a sleeper comes in at the last minute and makes a deal.


Zobrist on Cardinals’ Radar

The Royals won the World Series in 2015 thanks in large part to midseason acquisition Ben Zobrist. The utility man played mostly second base for Kansas City and batted .284 with seven home runs and 23 RBI in 59 games, after coming over in a trade just before the deadline.

He played a solid second base and registered 20 hits in 16 playoff games for the Royals. Kansas City fans want him to stay. One fan even set up a Go Fund Me page to help keep Zobrist and Gordon with the team. Zobrist and his wife Julianna have become fan favorites, especially when they gave their newborn the middle name, Royal.

That would all change if a recent report from ESPN’s Buster Olney comes to fruition. He writes that the St. Louis Cardinals are interested in Zobrist. 

The Royals and Cardinals are bitter rivals. While most realize professional sports is a business, the last thing Kansas City fans want to see is Zobrist in Cardinals red.

With Zobrist’s flexibility to play nearly anywhere, it would be hard to imagine a team that is not interested in his services. However, Crasnick said the Royals are going to make a push at re-signing the 34-year-old:

Olney’s report on the Cardinals’ interest in Zobrist means they most likely will pursue him, but don’t look for him to end up there.

Zobrist fills a need for Kansas City—who played most of the year with light-hitting Omar Infante at second base—and even as far back as August, he expressed an interest in remaining with the team, per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com.

Royals fans, rest easy that he’ll be back. If not, how else will he explain his daughter’s middle name?


Struggling Tigers Look to Bolster Pen

The Detroit Tigers won the American League Central from 2011 to 2014 with a less-than-stellar bullpen. They were typically exposed in the playoffs, although they did reach the 2012 World Series, only to be swept by the San Francisco Giants.

In 2015, a horrid bullpen wasn’t the only reason the Tigers fell to last place in the Central, but it was a huge factor. Detroit relievers blew 25 saves and converted just 58.3 percent of save opportunities—both ranking 14th out of 15 AL teams.

There are plenty of solid relievers in free agency for the Tigers to go after. According to Crasnick, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Detroit has shown interest in Ryan Madson, Shawn Kelley, Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day and Joakim Soria—who pitched with the Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015.

O’Day, 33, is the most sought-after relief pitcher right now and could demand at least a three-year, $18.5 million contract, per Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. He thinks O’Day is likely to stay in Baltimore, but nothing is imminent.

“All things being equal, I think O’Day would like to remain in Baltimore,” Connolly wrote. “But once free agency unfolds for real, things stop being equal. And some team is going to pay a whole lot of money for O’Day’s consistency and leadership.”

In 65 innings, O’Day had a 1.52 ERA, and a team could use the setup man as a closer if needed. The side-arm righty closed six games for the Orioles in 2015 and has not finished with an ERA higher than 2.28 since 2011.

Showing interest and actually making a move are two different things. As early as Nov. 10, Olney said an O’Day signing could happen soon:

The Tigers have money to spend after dumping the contracts of Yoenis Cespedes and David Price during the regular season. Agent Scott Boras said owner Mike Ilitch is willing to spend money on starting pitching, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.

However, the Tigers had plenty of pitching over the past five years with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister and still never got over the hump. If they want to win that elusive World Series, the bullpen must improve.

Ousted general manager Dave Dombrowski is no longer there to make a signature blockbuster trade, but count on new GM Al Avila and Ilitch to add at least one of these relievers from the list.

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Ben Zobrist: Latest News, Rumors, Speculation on Free-Agent 2B

Long one of baseball’s most underappreciated players, Ben Zobrist now has nearly half of Major League Baseball chasing him in free agency.

Continue for updates.

‘Very Strong’ Market for Zobrist

Thursday, Nov. 12

Chris Cotillo of SB Nation and ESPN’s Buster Olney highlighted the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals as potential suitors. Cotillo put the number at “at least” 12 teams that have expressed interest in the utility man.

Zobrist, 34, hit .276/.359/.450 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI while splitting last season with the Royals and Oakland Athletics. While those numbers were solid, his overall contributions were his worst since 2008. His 2.1 wins above replacement were a 3.4-win drop from 2014 and mostly attributable to a surprising defensive regression, per FanGraphs.

After posting positive defensive metrics each of the previous six seasons—and at times being considered among the most versatile talents in the sport—Zobrist struggled in an inconsistent role. He spent most of 2015 bouncing back and forth between the outfield and second base, also spending four games at third. 

It’s worth noting this was his first season not playing 81 games on the Tampa Bay turf, but most teams likely view his downturn as an outlier. Zobrist also helped increase his value with a strong postseason, hitting .303/.365/.515 with two home runs and six runs batted in as the Royals earned their first World Series in three decades. 

“The way the front office runs things and the way the coaching staff runs things, it’s loose and fun but also structured,” Zobrist said of the Royals in August, per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com. “It’s very professional. The way they go about everything is really good. It’s fun to be assimilated into a culture like that, because they’re already good. I don’t need to change anything. They’re already headed in the right direction. I just have to be a part of it.”

Signing a 34-year-old without much power or speed who is coming off his worst season in more than a half decade may seem like a risk. But given Zobrist’s track record, it’s probably one worth taking.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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How Mets Can Build Offense to Get Them Final Step to World Series Glory

The New York Mets are in an enviable position as the free-agent market opens because they may be the one team in baseball that really doesn’t need David Price or Zack Greinke.

Too bad the market doesn’t also offer them what they do need.

The Mets have their rotation, it’s soon to be five-deep and they already know it’s good enough to get them to the World Series. Good enough to win it, too, because the Mets’ loss to the Kansas City Royals had a lot more to do with hitting, defense and the bullpen than with the starting pitchers.

“They need to get more athletic,” one rival scout said a few days after Game 5.

A reasonable suggestion, but the Mets aren’t going to become the next World Series champs by turning into the Royals. They don’t need to. They just need an offense good enough to support their championship-level starting pitching, a group still so young that none of them is eligible for free agency for three more years.

They don’t need Price, they don’t need Greinke and they probably aren’t going to play for any of the biggest-name free-agent hitters, either. My friend Joel Sherman suggested in Wednesday’s New York Post that a successful Mets winter would have them signing Ben Zobrist, Darren O’Day and Gerardo Parra, and a scout familiar with the Mets agreed those seem like reasonable targets.

Fair enough. Any of the three would help. All three would fill significant needs.

Now tell me which one of them is going to replace Daniel Murphy in the third spot in the Mets batting order. Tell me which one takes over for Yoenis Cespedes as both the cleanup hitter and the lineup presence the Mets rode through August, September and October.

The Mets are unlikely to keep Murphy and Cespedes, and just as with their reluctance to trade pitching, there are significant baseball (i.e. not financial) reasons to let both of them walk. Signing Zobrist to replace Murphy would give the Mets a stronger defense and more flexibility. Cespedes‘ willingness to play center field was admirable, but do you really want him locked in there for full seasons?

The Mets are committed to Lucas Duda and David Wright at the infield corners. Right fielder Curtis Granderson was probably their best position player from start to finish, and they smartly would like to see Michael Conforto with an everyday chance in left field.

They could think about moving Granderson down in the order and signing a center fielder who bats leadoff (Denard Span?), but manager Terry Collins smartly doesn’t want to switch Granderson from the spot where he has had the most success. They could theoretically move Granderson to center field, opening up a corner spot to sign someone like Justin Upton, but Granderson as a full-time center fielder doesn’t fit any better than Cespedes did.

So back to the middle of the order, because remember, the day before the Mets began their late-July makeover, they faced Clayton Kershaw with John Mayberry Jr. batting fourth and Eric Campbell right behind him. Remember, the Mets were 28th in baseball in runs scored before the All-Star break, and even with their outstanding pitching (third in baseball), they were so bad offensively they were a 52-50 team before the July 31 Cespedes trade.

They could be better in 2016, if Travis d’Arnaud can stay healthy for a full year, and if Lucas Duda can be a little more consistent, and if Conforto makes a difference in his first full season, and if Wright can stay both healthy and productive.

Or, how about this if: What if the Toronto Blue Jays decide to trade Troy Tulowitzki and the Mets could make a deal for him?

So far, there’s no real suggestion Tulowitzki or any offensive star who fits the Mets’ positional needs (middle infield, center field) can be had in a trade. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is on record saying he doesn’t want and doesn’t expect to trade any of his big pitchers.

If you’re limited to free agents and you don’t like Sherman’s Zobrist/Parra combo, you could go with Ian Desmond or Asdrubal Cabrera in the middle of the infield, or with Span or Dexter Fowler or Colby Rasmus in center field. But again, which one of those does what Murphy and Cespedes did?

The Mets won the National League in 2015 without making the pitching-for-hitting deal many wanted to see last winter. They could win it all in 2016 without trading any of those pitchers this winter—if a whole lot of other things come true.

At worst, one Mets official said by phone Wednesday, the Mets should be able to ride their pitching and whatever lineup they can build into some form of contention. At worst, he said, they can give themselves another shot, and perhaps Alderson can work the same July magic he did this year.

That’s probably not what Mets fans who got a taste of success and crave more would want to hear. But with a starting rotation so good and so young the Mets can build around it for years to come, it’s probably the right way to go.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball. 

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Ben Zobrist May Need to Go on Paternity Leave During 2015 World Series

The Kansas City Royals will face the New York Mets in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night, but they could be without one of their key postseason contributors for some of the Fall Classic.

Infielder Ben Zobrist may go on paternity leave at some point during the best-of-seven showdown. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports noted that Zobrist’s wife, Julianna, is due to give birth to the couple’s third child on Nov. 10.

Rosenthal also shared some comments from the second baseman: “If she goes into labor and I’m playing, she’s not going to tell me. Obviously if something happens, something dangerous, I’m gone—that’s the priority. She said if I’m playing and everything is fine, she’s probably not going to let me know until after the game.”

If the World Series goes the full seven games, the decisive contest would occur in Kansas City, Missouri, on Wednesday, Nov. 4.

According to Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com, there is no paternity list in the postseason, which means the Royals would be forced to play with a 24-man roster if Zobrist were to miss any games.

Kansas City acquired Zobrist before the trade deadline from the Oakland Athletics, and he hit .284 with seven home runs and 23 RBI in 59 games for his new team. He has been even better in the postseason, with a .326 average, two home runs and 10 runs in 12 games, and he is known for his ability to play multiple positions.

The Royals added rookie infielder Raul Mondesi Jr. to their postseason roster in part so they have something of an insurance policy should Zobrist miss any time. While the 20-year-old Mondesi has never appeared in a game above Double-A, he is fast enough to cover ground in the middle infield in place of Zobrist and make an impact on the basepaths, as he had 19 steals in 81 minor league games this year.

If Mondesi does appear in a game, he will become the first player in the modern era to make his MLB debut in the World Series.

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