Tigers eye Iwakuma; A's, Mets, Phillies have coveted arms
By Paul Casella
Hot Stove rumors have heated up as the General Managers Meetings continue in Boca Raton, Fla.
While the free-agent and trade markets are still just beginning to take shape, a number of teams have either already been linked to or received inquiries regarding specific players. Here's a look at some of the key reports to come out of the meetings through Wednesday morning.
Cubs thinking big
The Cubs are "big-game hunting" in their search for starting pitching, CSNChicago.com reported. The club plans to meet this week with the representatives for free agents David Price, Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann. They also were to talk with representatives for Jeff Samardzija about possibly returning to the North Side of Chicago, according to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat.
One issue for the Cubs is that signing a top-tier free-agent pitcher would be an expensive move after they gave lefty Jon Lester a six-year, $155 million deal last offseason. Another option would be to seek a rotation upgrade by trading from their depth of position players.
While pitching is Chicago's primary concern, the club also is expected to meet with the agent for center fielder Dexter Fowler this week, according to Muskat. The Cubs made the free agent a one-year qualifying offer worth $15.8 million, which he figures to decline.
Yanks, Mariners talk about Gardner
The Yankees and Mariners have discussed a potential trade for Brett Gardner, the New York Post reported early Wednesday. Gardner made the All-Star team for the first time this season, and he finished the season with a .259 batting average and .346 on-base percentage.
The Post reported that talks are not at an advanced stage, and the Yankees are apparently looking for young starting pitching depth in return for Gardner. Gardner, 32, batted .206 with a .300 OBP and .292 slugging mark in 69 games after the All-Star break.
The Mariners might not be willing to discuss Taijuan Walker, according to the Post, but James Paxton could be the kind of pitcher the Yankees would target. Paxton, a left-hander who has been limited due to injuries in each of the past two seasons, is 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA in 30 career big league starts.
Iwakuma among Tigers' targets
Though Tigers general manager Al Avila isn't about to divulge his full list of free-agent targets, he acknowledged on Tuesday that the club does have interest in right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma.
The Tigers aren't expected to pursue the elite arms at the top of the market, according to MLB.com's Jason Beck, but the former Mariner could fit into Detroit's plans. The club is believed to be looking to add both a starter for the front of the rotation and another at the back end.
"He'd be in the mix," Avila told a Japanese reporter during a media session.
Iwakuma made just 20 starts in an injury-shortened 2015 campaign, going 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA in the process. Considering he will turn 35 in April, he figures to be in line for a short-term contract -- something else that plays into Detroit's favor, though it could also lead to a return to Seattle.
A's not shopping Gray Sonny Gray may generate plenty of interest this offseason, but A's general manager David Forst said the club has no interest in moving the AL Cy Young Award finalist, according to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart.
Gray, 26, went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA over 31 starts this past season and holds a 2.88 career ERA in 76 big league outings. Toss in the fact that he's under club control for the next four seasons, and Gray figures to be one of the most sought-after young pitchers on the trade market. Unfortunately for potential suitors, Forst doesn't foresee Gray anywhere other than Oakland to begin next season.
"Our plan is not to trade Sonny Gray," Forst said. "The problem is, when you have a young, healthy, really good starting pitcher, and as soon as you trade him, you're looking for exactly that guy. It's not for lack of interest. Understandably, a lot of teams have asked. We really believe he's here when our next ... group of players come and when we're back in contention."
Teams lining up to ask about Mets hurlers
Speaking of pitchers garnering heavy interest, the Mets have already received plenty of calls regarding their top four young pitchers.
"Our holes, I don't think, are as glaring as they were," said assistant general manager John Ricco, filling in at the Meetings for GM Sandy Alderson, who was set to undergo a scheduled medical procedure. "That's not to say we can't improve. We certainly have to improve and be better next year."
Though there had been talk at various points throughout this past season that Harvey could be a potential trade chip, that now seems unlikely. If the team is indeed to move a starting pitcher, DiComo speculates that it could be Zack Wheeler, who was actually involved in the Mets' Trade Deadline deal for Carlos Gomez that was nixed at the last minute. Then again, Wheeler, who is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, could be ready to rejoin the rotation as soon as July, meaning the Mets might not be in any hurry to move him either.
Phillies listening on Giles
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak figures to make plenty of moves this offseason, one of which could involve highly touted closer Ken Giles.
The hard-throwing, 25-year-old righty notched a 1.80 ERA and 15 saves over 69 appearances last season, after posting a 1.18 ERA in 44 games during his 2014 rookie campaign. Though the Phillies would certainly be interested in holding onto the promising young closer, the club could ultimately move him to address other needs, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.
"The biggest thing is we need to add innings to our rotation to help protect our kids," Klentak told reporters at the Meetings. "That's going to be important. We'll be opportunistic in terms of how many and who they are. I don't want to put a number on it. But you know what we ended the season with and who was in our rotation and who walked away."
Beyond free agency, the team could also pursue rotation help by trading some of its young talent, highlighted by Giles. In fact, other teams have already reached out regarding Giles.
"It's not a goal," Klentak said about trading his closer. "We're trying as much as possible to collect as many good young controllable quality players as we can. But as I said last week and probably the week before that, we're trying to be opportunistic at every turn and trying not to operate in absolutes. I think Ken is terrific. He's great in his role. We want to hold the leads we can hold, but I don't want to categorically say we will or we won't do anything."
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.