Friday, December 1, 2023

MLB rumors: Yankees to pursue Matt Olson; Rangers eyeing Clayton Kershaw; Mets’ J.D. Davis drawing attention

Major League Baseball’s owner-imposed lockout officially came to an end on Thursday, on what marked its 99th day. Players will soon report to camps to warm up for Opening Day, now scheduled for April 7. In the interim, a lot of business has to be completed on the free-agent and trade markets. To keep you informed, we’ll be tracking all of the day’s biggest moves and rumors below.

Yankees, Rangers ready to pursue Olson

As CBS Sports noted on Thursday, Athletics first baseman Matt Olson figures to be one of, if not the top trade target for numerous contenders. That list will include each the Yankees (per Erik Boland) and the Rangers (Evan Grant), who, as you may recall, capped off the offseason’s first half by signing both shortstop Corey Seager and second baseman Marcus Semien.

Olson, 28 come late March, has two seasons of team control remaining. Last year, he batted .271/.371/.540 (153 OPS+) with 39 home runs. Olson greatly reduced his strikeout rate along the way, clipping it from 31.4 percent down to 16.8 percent. That improvement, if sustainable, could point to him achieving a new true talent level.

It’s no wonder then that the Yankees, Rangers, and, in all likelihood, the Braves are lining up to add him to the middle of their lineups.

Rangers also to chase Kershaw

Texas may not stop at Olson. According, again, to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers will take a run at veteran left-hander Clayton Kershaw.

Kershaw, 36 in a week’s time, is from the Dallas area and has been rumored to have a desire to pitch closer to home. To this point, he’s spent his entire career with the Dodgers. Last season, he amassed a 3.55 ERA (115 ERA+) and a 6.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 121 innings. 

Kershaw was ranked as the 16th best free agent by CBS Sports entering the offseason:

The word of this write up is availability. It applies to Kershaw’s free agency in two senses. Foremost, is he going to be impacted by the elbow injury that sidelined him for the postseason? Second, is he serious about leaving the Dodgers, the team whose hat he’ll bear on his Hall of Fame plaque? If Kershaw is good to roll, both for Opening Day and out of Los Angeles, then he should have plenty of suitors. We’ll add that while Kershaw’s curveball gets all the attention, it was his slider that served as his primary pitch for the first time last season. That’s something to watch for going forward.

The Rangers did sign a different starting pitcher prior to the lockout, agreeing to terms with former Rockies right-hander Jon Gray on a four-year contract worth $56 million.

Yankees, Padres among those with Conforto interest

Olson isn’t the only left-handed bat the Yankees have interest in. Michael Conforto, a 29-year-old who rejected the Mets‘ qualifying offer, is also on their radar, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. The Padres are interested in Conforto as well, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune

Conforto entered the offseason ranked by CBS Sports as the 23rd best free agent option available. Here’s what we wrote at the time:

There may not be a good time for a player to have an underwhelming season, but there is a bad time. Conforto learned that lesson the hard way by hitting .202/.341/.298 in the first half of his walk year. Though he rebounded to an extent in the second half (.252/.347/.445), his chances of cashing in this winter were already dashed. Conforto, it turns out, may disagree with that assessment. He appeared to be an obvious candidate to accept the qualifying offer, but a report from last month indicated that he intended to decline and seek out something better on the open market. Good luck.

Conforto batted .232/.344/.384 (101 OPS+) overall with 14 home runs last season. 

Mets’ Davis drawing attention

The Mets were busy prior to the lockout, signing Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Eduardo Escobar. Their next move might involve a trade, however. 

According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, reserve J.D. Davis estimated his chances of being traded are “60-40.” Puma notes that the Cubs, Red Sox, Twins, and Athletics all had interest in Davis prior to the lockout.

Davis, 28, has enjoyed a successful three-year stint with the Mets. He’s batted .288/.373/.472 (128 OPS+) with 33 home runs in 893 plate appearances. He has experience at third and first base, as well as in the outfield, making him an interesting option for teams who value flexibility. 

Davis will not qualify for free agency until after the 2024 season.

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