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Great Moments in Courting Free Agents: Gabe Kapler Edition

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LAS VEGAS — As happens every year at the Winter Meetings, every manager will sit for an interview session here in the media room. Most of them go how you would expect: a lot of cliches, a lot of broad answers and a lot of effort spent keeping answers from becoming headlines. I used to sit in on as many of them as I possibly can, but I now pick and choose because there generally isn’t a lot of news for our purposes.

Still, the boilerplate and headline avoidance can be entertaining in its own way. Gabe Kapler of the Phillies had his session late this morning and the first two questions he was asked were about Manny Machado, who the Phillies are said to be courting in free agency. Specifically, they were questions about him being a “showboat” and how that might go over in Philadelphia.

While I’m a little tired of that characterization of Machado, it’s a fair question and one that a lot of Philly fans probably want to know the answer to. Kapler, meanwhile, likely knows that he can’t exactly expound colorfully on an issue that (a) could potentially alienate a free agent target; or (b) anger fans who may not yet be sold on the idea of Machado coming to Philly.

So how did he answer? By, basically, acknowledging that he has heard of a baseball player named Manny Machado and that he is aware that the Phillies play in the city of Philadelphia:

Q. Given the fan base, could a player like Machado provoke negative reactions with his showboating?

GABE KAPLER: I think Manny has done a tremendous job in his career of establishing a reputation of being one of the top young players in baseball. And I think he’s in an incredible position to be able to choose from a wide variety of suitors at this point. And I think wherever he goes, somebody’s going to get an incredible baseball player.

Q. Could the Philadelphia-Northeast type fan market react negatively to [inaudible]?

GABE KAPLER: I think the Philadelphia fan base is an incredibly passionate and devoted one, and they demand that their players play hard. They set an incredibly high bar and are disappointed when players don’t meet that bar. Probably speak to players in general rather than to any one specific player. But it’s certainly a high bar, and it should be a high bar.

This was the baseball equivalent of “name, rank and serial number.” I’m sort of in awe. Kapler has only been on the job a year, but that was a masterclass in saying nothing when it’s absolutely in his best interests to say nothing. Gotta hand it to him.

Cubs have considered trading Ben Zobrist

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The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma reports that the Cubs have considered trading super-utilityman Ben Zobrist in order to free up payroll space, which would allow the club to address other areas of the roster.

Zobrist, 37, is entering the final year of his contract and will earn $12 million in 2019. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Cubs project to have an Opening Day payroll of about $204.5 million, just a hair below the luxury tax threshold of $206 million. The Cubs have notably been absent from the free agent marketplace, particularly involving Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, due to luxury tax concerns.

Last season, Zobrist hit .305/.378/.440 with nine home runs, 58 RBI, and 67 runs scored in 520 plate appearances. He played all over the field, logging 100-plus innings in both outfield corners and second base while also spending a handful of games at first base. With Addison Russell serving a 40-game suspension to open the 2019 season, Javier Báez will handle shortstop and Zobrist figures to be the starting second baseman.