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Hot Stove Reset: The top 10 remaining free agents on the market

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Hi, everyone. Hope your holidays were happy.

If you’re like me you ate too much, drank too much, slept too little and spent too much money and now you’re contemplating starting the new year with mindfulness and an effort to embody the concepts of simplicity, minimalism, temperance, frugality and overall healthy habits. Then the football playoffs will start and you’ll drink a lot of beer while dipping chicken wings in blue cheese dressing and vow to start again in the spring. We should probably just skip this whole mindful period and order a pizza.

If you’re also like me, the lack of hot stove news in the past couple of weeks has caused your baseball brain to atrophy. To remedy that — and to take our minds off of our personal failings — let us take a fresh look at the free agent market to see who remains and what, if anything, is happening with them at the moment. Other than their experiencing sheer panic over not having a job:

Jose Bautista: There have been conflicting reports as to whether Bautista is talking to the Blue Jays or not, but there seems to be at least some momentum for the slugger to return to Toronto. It may be on a short deal, possibly even a one-year deal, as Bautista’s sub-par and injury-plagued 2016 season harmed his chances at a big long term pact. If Bautista is amenable to a one-year deal, however, there are a lot of clubs who might be willing to sign him, as the biggest question about him isn’t whether a healthy Bautista can be useful — he likely has a lot of dingers left in that bat — but whether anyone wants to commit to the 36-year-old for multiple years.

Mark Trumbo: There were rumored talks with both the Orioles and the Rockies for the 2016 Home Run King, but those talks have been quiet for a while. It would be amazing to see Trumbo in Colorado — he’s hit eight homers in 12 games there — but his low OBP and poor defense would make it hard for an NL team to sign him (he got the start at DH 59 times in 2016). Of course the Rockies do things like give Ian Desmond multiple years to play positions he’s never really played before, so maybe they don’t care.

Matt Wieters: I’m so old that I remember a time when Georgia Tech alum Wieters wasn’t reported to be “coveted” by the Atlanta Braves, but it was a very, very long time ago so it remains fuzzy nonetheless. The Diamondbacks and Nationals have been reported to be keeping an eye on him as well. His offense took a dip in 2016, but he was durable and remains a top defensive catcher. At 30, you figure a player with that profile has, approximately, 27 years left in Major League Baseball.

Mike Napoli: Since Edwin Encarnacion signed with Cleveland, Napoli has been reported to be very close to a deal with the Texas Rangers, for whom he has played on two previous occasions. The smart money has him going back to Arlington, but the Oakland A’s, who reportedly made a big offer to Encarnacion could be in the mix as well, even if it’s only as a source of bargaining power for Napoli.

Jason Hammel: Hammel posted a 3.83 ERA in 2016 in 166.2 innings for the Cubs last season, but had some elbow issues late and saw a degradation in his strikeout and walk rates. That, it is reported, is limiting him to one-year offers. Just about anyone could use a guy like Hammel on a short deal, of course, so it may be a bit before Hammel (a) figures out if he’s cool with a one-year deal; and (b) decides among what would likely be several offers for said one-year deal.

Michael Saunders and Brandon Moss: It’s been pretty quiet for the market for these two so far this offseason. It makes sense, of course, as they are viewed as fallbacks for the clubs which don’t get the Edwin Encarnacions, Jose Bautistas and Mark Trumbos of the world. Saunders made the All-Star team after hitting .298/.372/.551 in the first half of the year, but stumbled to a line of .178/.282/.357 in 185 at-bats after the break, along with poor defense. Moss is what he is: a lot of power with low OBP and defensive limitations. A poor man’s Trumbo, I suppose.

Travis Wood: The lefty worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the Cubs in 2016, but started a bit the year before and, of course, was a full-time starter before that. Rumor has it that he wants to start again. If that’s so, it’s more likely second division teams would be his likely landing spot, while true contenders would likely want him to work out of the pen. He throws with his left arm, however, so there are approximately 30 teams which likely would have a place for him. His deal won’t be a big one, but he’ll probably sign when he wants to sign as opposed to having to play musical chairs like the remaining second-tier sluggers will.

Pedro Alvarez: Did I mention second-tier sluggers? I dunno, maybe Alvarez is a third tier. He hits right-handed pitching, is severely compromised against lefties and cannot play defense at all. Is there a place for that? Probably, but it’ll be on a short, low-money deal. If Trumbo goes elsewhere, he could return to Baltimore. The Royals have had a reported interest too, having lost Kendrys Morales to the Jays.

Jonathan Papelbon: He has had a mysterious few months, reportedly rejecting offers to work as a setup man in a couple of places after his release by the Nationals and, early in December, reportedly not engaging with any teams due to an unspecified personal matter. There’s a chance he could be toast after his poor 2016 season, but there’s a better chance that some team will take a chance on him to see if he can’t return to form in 2017.

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

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NEW YORK (AP) Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost four of five following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.