We’re now safely into territory where spring training is more than on the horizon. It’s less than a month away. And yet, Major League Baseball still has, essentially, a team full of free agents anywhere from great to useful. Some of the remaining big names in free agency are part of the reason that the trade market has stalled, meaning we’re still possibly in for a few dozen notable moves within the next month. In spite of that hope, things seem awfully slow right now in both the free agency and trade markets.
The rumors of the day are going to keep us warm, because the so-called “hot stove” has been anything but.
Cease in line to stay put?
Coincidentally, there’s a Dylan Cease rumor the same day we had a roundtable discussion about whether or not the White Sox were going to keep him heading into the season. Buster Olney of ESPN reports that two “rival executives” believe the Sox will hold onto Cease.
“There is no pressure on them to lower their asking price,” one said, via Olney. “They’ll get what they want at the (trade) deadline.”
Keep in mind pitchers like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery remain in free agency while possibly Shane Bieber and/or Corbin Burnes (though it’s seeming less likely these days that either gets moved) are on the trade block. If, all of a sudden, the market starts moving fast, the White Sox could always change course here, assuming the rival execs are even correct.
Another reason the White Sox could hold Cease is the feeling that they’d be selling low. He was 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 227 strikeouts in 184 innings in 2022, finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. Last season, he was 7-9 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 214 strikeouts in 177 innings.
Cease is under team control for two more seasons before hitting free agency.
Astros eye Hader
Hader is reportedly seeking a record deal, which means breaking Edwin Díaz’s five-year, $102 million deal from last offseason.
Hader, a 29-year-old lefty, saved 33 of 38 games last season with a 1.28 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings. He’s one of the best closers in baseball.
The complication here — which would fall under “nice problem to have” territory for first-year manager Joe Espada — is the Astros already have a stud closer in Ryan Pressly. If there’s a way to please Hader and Pressly with their individual roles, however it shook out, it would be a great signing for the Astros. Behind Pressly, they have setup men Bryan Abreu and Rafael Montero before a good number of question marks.
Speaking of Hader …
Hader holding up relief market
Quality relievers can still be had in free agency, such as Hector Neris, Robert Stephenson and Aroldis Chapman, trickling down to others like Ryan Brasier, David Robertson, Wandy Peralta, Collin McHugh, Michael Fulmer and Jakob Junis. A team could conceivably fill an entire bullpen in free agency right now. Some will remain unsigned, but a large number of quality relievers remains.
It seems like the top dog here, Hader, is the hold up.
“I think the Hader domino needs to fall first,” a National League executive said to MLB.com. “I can’t see any other reason the market is slow for them. Sometimes these guys at the top can hold up everything.”
Yankees focused on bullpen
The Yankees signed right-hander Marcus Stroman this offseason, but otherwise traded some starting pitching depth in order to acquire Juan Soto. Still, they appear to be done working on the rotation (full seasons from Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes would help mitigate concerns) and are instead looking to shore up the bullpen, according to The Athletic.
As noted immediately above here, Hader remaining a free agent appears to be holding up the market, but that also means a lot of relievers are still available for Brian Cashman and company. Right now, Clay Holmes would be the closer with Jonathan Loáisiga and Tommy Kahnle in setup roles.
Hader would be a fit at closer, knocking everyone else back a spot. They could bring Peralta back, though a Chapman reunion surely isn’t in the cards. The Athletic also mentions Stephenson, Neris and Matt Moore as options for the Yankees.