If Mariners are done with Lopez, suitors should be plentiful

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jose lopez getty.jpgIt’s been suspected by some, but never phrased so strongly. Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker — our most trusted Mariners news source — wrote Tuesday that he “seriously doubts” second baseman Jose Lopez will still be a Mariner by the start of spring training.
No legitimate Lopez rumors have sprung up yet, with the little talk surrounding him more concentrated on whether he could become the Mariners’ full-time first baseman.
Lopez had the Triple Crown numbers of a first baseman last season, coming in at .272-25-96. He also smacked 42 doubles. However, it took him 613 at-bats to get there. With just 24 walks on the season, his OBP was a lousy .303. He scored just 69 runs despite batting third for much of the season.
Lopez has four full major league seasons in and has never walked more than 30 times in any of them.
On the other hand, Lopez is just now turning 26 (today, actually), and he truly was a force in Seattle’s lineup after a rough first two months. From May 29 on, he hit .295/.321/.526. The only second basemen to drive in more runs last season were Aaron Hill and Brandon Phillips.
Lopez is also rather inexpensive. He’ll make a total of $7.75 million in his final two seasons before free agency.
So, why would the Mariners be at all anxious to move him? Part of it is the OBP. Mostly, though, it’s about defense. While UZR has rated Lopez a bit above average at second base over the course of the last four seasons, the Mariners clearly think he’s a liability there. It’s why they stuck him at first base over his objections while Russell Branyan was hurt, and it’s why they’re thinking about moving him now even though it’s doubtful that they’d be willing to turn second base over to Matt Tuiasosopo or Bill Hall. Maybe they’ll go to Dustin Ackley eventually, but he shouldn’t be ready until 2011 at the earliest.
I’m more on the Mariners’ side here: Lopez is pretty clearly below average. He’s strong on the double play, but he lacks range. If he worked on getting into better shape, then maybe he could stay there for another half dozen years or so. As is, he might be more useful somewhere else.
What surprises me is that the Mariners aren’t viewing third base as an option. They have a hole there with Adrian Beltre leaving, and Lopez clearly has the arm for the position. I think Lopez would become a fine third baseman in short order.
But it appears more likely that the Mariners are set on trading Lopez. The Dodgers, Cubs and Diamondbacks have the biggest needs at second base, and the Mets would like to make a change from Luis Castillo. I could definitely see Lopez hitting 30 homers in Wrigley Field next year and then moving to first or third in 2011 if Derrek Lee and/or Aramis Ramirez choose to depart.
The Mariners would likely ask for young pitching in return and they could also inquire about Hak-Ju Lee, a talented young shortstop buried behind Cubs’ No. 1 prospect Starlin Castro. Another option as a second or third piece in a deal would be Jake Fox, who would make a lot of sense as a right-handed option at DH and first base.
If Lopez is open to playing third base, the market for his services would further expand. There might even be some teams interested in using him as a corner outfielder. Young, inexpensive right-handed power doesn’t come along all that often.

Report: Cardinals are scouting Cuban outfielder Luis Robert

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 25: Baseballs sit in the St. Louis Cardinals dugout prior to a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
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According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.

There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.

Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.

Cubs extend Pedro Strop through 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Pedro Strop #46 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported over the weekend that the Cubs and reliever Pedro Strop agreed to a contract extension. He’ll remain with the Cubs through 2018 and the new deal includes a club option for the 2019 season as well. Per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Strop will earn $5.85 million in 2018 and the club option is worth $6.25 million with a $500,000 buyout. The two sides already avoided arbitration earlier this month, agreeing on a $5.5 million salary for the 2017 season.

Strop, 31, has been a very reliable reliever for the Cubs over the last three years. He has a combined 2.65 ERA with 212 strikeouts and 69 walks over 176 1/3 innings in that span of time.

The Cubs replaced Aroldis Chapman with Wade Davis, so Strop and Hector Rondon will be bridging the gap to Davis this coming season.

Strop joined the Cubs along with Jake Arrieta in the July 2013 trade that sent Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Orioles. That trade panned out well for the Cubs.