While the Yankees have at least touched base with free agent Kevin Youkilis, Jeff Keppinger appears to be their primary target at the moment. Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan reports that the two sides met yesterday and that the Bombers’ interest in Keppinger is “very strong.”
Keppinger is the more realistic target, given that Youkilis is the top third baseman on the market and is drawing interest from wealthy Dodgers and Phillies teams that have full-time jobs open for him. Keppinger would likely be more open to serving as the stopgap at third base while Alex Rodriguez rehabs from hip surgery and then moving into more of a utility role. Keppinger, though, could command a two-year contract from another team, while the Yankees would much prefer to hand out a one-year deal.
The 32-year-old Keppinger is coming off a great season in which he hit .325/.367/.439 with nine homers and 40 RBI in 385 at-bats for the Rays. He’s a lifetime .288/.337/.396 hitter in 2,459 at-bats. He is much better against left-handers than right-handers, but that’s not such a bad thing in the lefty-heavy Yankee lineup.
Youkilis hit .235/.336/.409 with 19 homers and 60 RBI in 438 at-bats for the Red Sox and White Sox last season.
Update: FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the price for Keppinger is now $8 million for two years. That will give the Yankees pause, considering that their aim is to reduce payroll for 2014.
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.
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.