What we're watching: Beckett goes for 12th win

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– Sinkerballer Sergio Mitre, who underwent Tommy John surgery last
year, will make his Yankees debut against the Orioles after going 3-1
with a 2.40 ERA in seven starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He
was 10-23 with a 5.36 ERA in 52 starts and 26 relief appearances for
the Cubs and Marlins from 2003-07. If he succeeds in his first couple
of starts, it will relieve any pressure on the Yankees to out Phil
Hughes back into the rotation.

– Josh Beckett will aim for fifth straight win while pitching on
eight days’ rest against the Rangers. The Red Sox opted to give both he
and Tim Wakefield additional time off even though neither ended up
working in the All-Star Game. Beckett, who could become the AL’s first
12-game winner, will be opposed by Tommy Hunter, who is 1-1 with a 1.53
ERA in three starts since being recalled at the end of last month.

Game of the Night

Chicago Cubs vs. Philadelphia – It’ll be up to Rich Harden to halt
the Phillies’ nine-game winning streak. He’s coming off one of his best
starts, having allowed just one unearned run and three hits over six
innings against the Nationals last time out. While his season ERA
stands at 5.06, he’s 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA outside of Wrigley Field. The
Phillies, though, have been far better at home lately after getting off
to a surprisingly awful start at Citizens Bank Park. They’re 10-1 in
Philadelphia this month. Joe Blanton will start for the Phillies.

Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

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Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.