The Hot Stove League hasn't been officially open for a full week yet and the rumor mill has already begun to spin, with teams expressing interest in free agents and general managers beginning to chat on the phone about how their respective clubs may be able to help each other out in potential trade scenarios.
Teams that we don't normally expect to be aggressive in the offseason, such as the Minnesota Twins, have been dominating the headlines this week, while news surrounding the biggest name available, second baseman Robinson Cano, has been far less than anyone expected.
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While there have been conflicting reports as to whether the Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs are engaging in talks about a potential trade that would bring Jeff Samardzija to Arizona—ESPN's Buster Olney says yes, while ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine says no—we can be sure that upgrading the rotation this winter is a priority for D-Backs GM Kevin Towers.
Upgrading the rotation makes plenty of sense for Arizona, considering the group finished 2013 with such disappointing numbers: a 46-59 record, a 4.13 ERA and 1.32 WHIP.
But to land a pitcher like Samardzija, the team would almost certainly have to include top prospect Archie Bradley in the deal—and for as good as Samardzija is, there's no way that I'm moving Bradley if I'm Towers.
While the team may prefer to land reinforcements for the group though a trade, going after one of the second-tier starters on the free agent market, like Scott Feldman or Phil Hughes, would be the team's best move for its long-term future.
Two mainstays in Atlanta are free agents this offseason, and while the Braves would like to keep both catcher Brian McCann and starting pitcher Tim Hudson, the team is faced with significant competition for their services.
Andy Martino of The New York Daily News has reported that the Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees are all in on McCann, and all three American League powers have significantly deeper wallets than the Braves do.
Hudson, according to David O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has generated interest from at least eight teams, including the A's, Giants, Rangers and Red Sox, though the Braves are the only team known to have made him an offer (a one-year deal).
While Atlanta has the pieces to replace both veterans, replacing their leadership will be far more difficult a task than replacing their production on the field.
Aside from needing to bolster the team's starting rotation, Baltimore currently sits without its starting second baseman and left fielder, as both Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth were not extended qualifying offers by the club.
Other than Buck Showalter telling MASNSports.com's Steve Melewski that he expects Roberts to be the team's starting second baseman in 2014, there has been nothing out of the Orioles—or the rumor mill—about how the team plans on improving its roster this offseason.
While no big signings have gone down yet and with plenty of time left before spring training hits, some may consider the silence coming out of Baltimore right now to be deafening—and an ominous sign of things to come.
Who's That Masked Man?
While Boston has four catchers on its 40-man roster—Dan Butler, Ryan Lavarnway, David Ross and Christian Vazquez—the team has been linked to a trio of veteran backstops on the open market: Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz and last year's starter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Manager John Farrell told WEEI.com's Alex Speier that, despite the team opting to not extend a qualifying offer to Saltalamacchia, that both he and the front office would like to have him back. That said, Salty was benched by Farrell for the final three games of the World Series—not exactly a ringing endorsement.
CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury reports that the Red Sox have begun to do their "due dilligence" on Ruiz, who has spent his entire eight-year career with the Phillies and boasts a solid lifetime .274/.358/.412 slash line.
McCann, a seven-time All-Star, is one of the biggest names in this year's free-agent class and would require the most lucrative deal, in both dollars and years, of the three.
Andy Martino of The New York Daily News says that Boston (along with Texas) is one of the two teams going hardest after McCann, while his agent, B.B. Abbott, told The Boston Herald's Scott Lauber that "Boston would certainly be a place that would be a consideration for Brian."
Who Starts at Shortstop?
According to an unnamed GM that spoke with Peter Gammons, the chances of Stephen Drew returning to Fenway Park in a Red Sox uniform in 2014 appear to have dropped considerably:
GM:"Forget Stephen Drew accepting the $14M. Scott(Boras) already has set up a number of meetings on Drew for Tuesday at the GM meetings."
With Xander Bogaerts capable of playing either shortstop or third base, Boston may not be willing to commit to multiple years—or pay much more than the $14.1 million salary that Drew would receive if he accepted the qualifying offer.
Considering the scarcity of quality shortstops on the free-agent market, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Red Sox bow out of the race for Drew's services if multiple teams get involved and drive the price up.
Carlos Beltran Coming to Fenway?
Beltran, 36, is expected to decline St. Louis' $14.1 million qualifying offer as Derrick Goold of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the slugger wants to play for at least three more seasons.
While surrendering a draft pick to sign him isn't ideal, bringing Beltran aboard would give the Red Sox options in the outfield if Jacoby Ellsbury departs via free agency as many expect that he will.
Perhaps now that the team's managerial search has come to an end, GM Jed Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein can shift gears and focus on building a roster for newly hired Rich Renteria.
Thus far, the only rumor surrounding the Cubbies was a report from ESPN's Buster Olney that the team had begun discussions on a deal that would send staff ace Jeff Samardzija to Arizona—a continuation of talks that began during the regular season—only to have that report refuted by Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago the following day.
It's been eerily quiet for a White Sox club that, by all accounts, is trying to rebuild on the fly.
Aside from a report from MLB.com's Scott Merkin and Gregor Chisholm more than a week ago that touched on a potential deal involving second baseman Gordon Beckham with the Toronto Blue Jays, there hasn't been a peep out of the rumor mill about the White Sox and their plans for 2014.
Signing first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu was a great start to the offseason for GM Rick Hahn, but he has plenty of work to do before Opening Day if the Sox are to have a shot at rejoining the land of contenders in the American League in 2014.
Outspoken and, depending on who you ask, possibly overpaid, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has been the subject of trade rumors since the season ended.
Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan cited an unnamed front office executive as saying that "He's (Phillips) gone," while The Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay believes that the dynamic middle infielder will remain in Cincinnati, citing the $50 million that he's due over the next four years as the primary reason why.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman says that the Yankees have called the Reds about Phillips, but that at this point, they feel the asking price is "way too steep." While the Reds aren't opposed to moving their Gold Glove second baseman, they won't give him away either.
Despite putting together one of the best seasons of his career under the watchful eye of manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway, ESPN's Buster Olney* reports that Ubaldo Jimenez would prefer to continue his career somewhere other than Cleveland.
George A. King III of The New York Post says that the Yankees have interest in the 29-year-old right-hander, but to what extent—and what Jimenez's asking price is—remains to be seen.
Also potentially on the move is Scott Kazmir, another pitcher who found his career rejuvenated under Cleveland's new coaching staff last season.
One of the Indians division rivals, the Twins, have interest in adding Kazmir to their rotation, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN, while there's been little word out of Cleveland as to whether the Indians have genuine interest in keeping him around for another season.
Should one or both depart, the Indians have in-house options to replace them, including Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, T.J. House and Tyler Cloyd.
Free agency is another option for the Indians to perhaps find a replacement, as Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the Indians have been one of the teams to show the most interest in 38-year-old Tim Hudson, who hasn't pitched in the Amercian League for nearly a decade.
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While adding to the starting rotation will always be a priority in Colorado, the rumor mill has revolved around the team's efforts to improve its bullpen thus far this offseason.
Troy Renck of The Denver Post reports that the team has interest in 40-year-old reliever LaTroy Hawkins, along with 33-year-old Jose Veras and 29-year-old Joe Smith. The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser notes that Colorado is also in on former Oakland closer Grant Balfour.
Of the four, the team figures to face the stiffest competition for Balfour and Hawkins' services.
Renck also notes that the team has interest in veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz, who, if signed, would allow the team to slide current starter Wilin Rosario over to first base or a corner outfield spot.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports that the Tigers are in the "listening, not shopping mode" on Max Scherzer, which he translates as meaning "willing to move for the right return."
When asked for some clarification by The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, GM Dave Dombrowski replied “I would not discuss our trade situations going into the wintertime. That’s not something we’d talk about.”
It would likely take an overwhelming offer for the Tigers to consider moving Scherzer, a 29-year old coming off of a career year and the favorite to take home the 2013 AL Cy Young Award, but it wouldn't be the first time that a Cy Young Award winner was traded shortly after taking home the honor.
As for the ninth inning, Dombrowski told Matthew B. Mowery of The Oakland Press that the Tigers will indeed be signing a legitimate closer this winter and that it's at the top of his to-do list:
You want to bring a closer back. We’re going to have a closer, so we’ll want to pursue somebody to pitch at the back end of the bullpen.
Joaquin (Benoit) is in that group, but there are a lot of closers out there. It’s the one area where there are a lot of guys. That’s the one area I think we need to address, with him or someone else. And then we’ll look at the rest of the club.
Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Tigers have interest in former Oakland closer Grant Balfour, who nearly came to blows with Tigers DH Victor Martinez in the ALDS.
To borrow a line from the immortal Lieutenant Frank Drebin of Police Squad, "Nothing to see here, please disperse."
Aside from a report by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman last month that the Astros were going to make a run at free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo—something that seems highly unlikely—the Astros have been quiet on both the free agent and trade fronts.
It's quite possible that Houston won't be linked to players until the Hot Stove League is well underway, when rosters begin to fill up and those left without a home become more open to joining a non-contender.
While the Royals extended a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer to Ervin Santana, it seems as if the 30-year-old right-hander has his heart set on greener pastures—if he can find them.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Santana is seeking a five-year deal in excess of $100 million, something that would all but assure that he's pitching for another team in 2014.
Perhaps knowing that the chances of Santana sticking around were slim, earlier this week, the Royals reached out to veteran free agent Tim Hudson, per Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith, who notes that Kansas City was one of the teams to show the most interest in the 38-year-old.
The Angels are looking to bolster a bullpen that posted the third-highest ERA (4.12) in the American League—the 26th highest in baseball—and Oakland's Grant Balfour is someone the team is looking to bring into the fold, according to The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser.
Balfour, 35, is a versatile reliever who could take over for Ernesto Frieri in the ninth inning, having converted 62 saves for the A's over the past two seasons, or he could become part of the middle relief corps that bridges the gap between the team's starters and Frieri in the ninth.
But Los Angeles also needs some live arms to get the ball to the bullpen with a lead in hand, and, according to Mike DiGiovana of The Los Angeles Times, the Angels have legitimate interest in Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka.
DiGiovana quotes Angels GM Jerry DiPoto as saying that the team has scouted Tanaka "multiple times," which makes sense considering the team's need for high-quality arms in the rotation.
Tanaka finished the 2013 season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles with a 24-0 record, 1.27 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 212 innings of work, striking out 183 batters.
While neither Balfour or Tanaka is going to come cheap, owner Arte Moreno has never shied away from spending money when he truly believed that it put the team in a better position to contend, as we've seen the past two winters with the team's signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
While those haven't worked out as planned, it's reasonable to think that Moreno could be swayed to spend big once again this winter.
As ridiculous as it sounds, several general managers have told Peter Gammons that they expect the Dodgers to try and head into 2014 with four No. 1 starters in their rotation. One GM layed out the team's possible plan of attack to pull it off:
They have the minor league talent to get (David) Price. If they would trade Corey Seager and Julio Urias (the 17-year old lefthanded pitcher) and a couple out of Zach Lee, Joc Pederson or Chris Withrow, it would get it done. Then if they post $80M for (Masahiro) Tanaka, they could have a rotation with four number ones and a number two with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Price, Tanaka and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Not only would the Dodgers have four No. 1 starters, but they'd have three Cy Young Award winners (Kershaw, Greinke and Price) along with Tanaka, a 24-year-old phenom from Japan who is expected to make the move to MLB this winter.
While the Dodgers have some roster spots to fill—namely finding a starting third baseman if Juan Uribe isn't bought back—loading up on front-line starting pitching would give them an edge over nearly every other team in baseball.
Speculation over Giancarlo Stanton's future in Miami will continue until he either signs a contract extension with the team or does actually get traded. For more than a year, the Marlins have insisted that Stanton isn't going anywhere—and GM Dan Jennings reiterated that point to ESPN's Jim Bowden: "Mr. Stanton is NOT Available. He will be in RF at Marlins Park on Opening Day. We are building around him"
While moving Stanton would bring the Marlins a massive package of talent to speed up the team's rebuilding process, few players in the game possess the kind of raw, game-changing power that he does—though in spacious Marlins Park, that power is somewhat minimized (another brilliant move by Jeffrey Loria, one of the most inept owners in sports).
Yet sooner, rather than later, the team is going to have to find out whether Stanton even has any interest in staying with the Marlins after his contract expires. If he makes it clear that he isn't sticking around after the 2016 season, the Marlins will have no choice but to move him and build around players like Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich instead.
With Mat Gamel no longer in the organization and top prospect Hunter Morris taking a step backwards in his development last season, retaining the services of veteran first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart, who missed the entire 2013 season due to knee injuries, is a priority for the Brewers.
But keeping the 30-year-old around may be easier said than done, as The New York Post's Mike Puma reports that about a dozen teams, including the Mets, have interest in signing Hart this winter. It's not surprising that he's generating this much interest, as he hit .279 with 29 home runs, 83 RBI and an .857 OPS on average from 2010 to 2012.
While there's no guarantee that he'll return to that pre-surgery form, the Brewers need his bat in a lineup that already has major questions regarding what kind of production they can count on from veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez and disgraced left fielder Ryan Braun.
The rumor mill has been spinning faster in Minnesota than anywhere else in baseball this offseason, with the Twins being linked to 10 different free-agent pitchers thus far.
Mike Berardino of The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that the team is interested in Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco, while ESPN1500's Darren Wolfson confirmed that Ervin Santana was also on the team's radar.
Yet all three, especially Nolasco and Santana, who, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, want ridiculous five-year contracts—more than $100 million for Santana, $80 million for Nolasco—are likely out of the Twins price range.
Of the other pitchers that the team has been linked to, the two most intriguing may be Phil Hughes and former Twins ace Johan Santana.
Hughes, who Berardino reported the team's interest in, is the youngest free-agent starter with MLB experience at 27 years old, and, despite pitching to an ERA above 5.00 for the Yankees last year, he was significantly better away from Yankee Stadium than he was at home and has some upside.
Wolfson reported the team's interest in Santana, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner with Minnesota and one of the best pitchers in team history. While he's missed two of the past three seasons due to injury, the 35-year-old is reportedly healthy and, on an incentive-laden deal, he could be a steal.
The New York Post's Mike Puma reports that the Mets have reached out to super-agent Scott Boras to express their interest in outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, though the two sides "haven't talked dollars." In a later report, Puma cites a source as saying that Scott Boras is pushing him as a $90 million player.
Puma's colleague at the Post, Joel Sherman, disputes the fact that the Mets are in on Choo at all:
The Mets remain organizationally unnerved over getting too little from Johan Santana for $137.5 million and almost nothing from Jason Bay for $66 million. With many needs, the Mets are not going to sink $20 million-ish into one item. So already, we know they are not shopping on Fifth Avenue this winter.
While Choo's defense is sketchy, at best, and he doesn't have the top-end speed that you'd normally look for in a leadoff hitter, the career .288/.389/.465 hitter would still be a valuable addition to a lineup that badly needs an infusion of talent.
There has been no movement on negotiations on a new deal between All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano and the Yankees, according to The New York Post's Dan Martin, which isn't all that surprising considering that Christian Red of The New York Daily News says that Cano has yet to hear from any other team, thus leaving him without any leverage in negotiations.
In the meantime, the Yanks have checked in with the Reds about Brandon Phillips. However, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the team considers Cincinnati's asking price to be far too high at this point.
As for the rotation—which has already lost Andy Pettitte to retirement and, at some point, will lose Phil Hughes to free agency—the Yanks have expressed interest in Ubaldo Jimenez, per George A. King III of The New York Post.
Hiroki Kuroda, the team's best pitcher in 2013, is thought to be seriously considering a return to Japan, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, and the Yankees may need to pay more than the $15 million he earned last year to keep him in the Bronx for another season.
While Oakland's current crop of young arms—Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Brett Anderson and Sonny Gray—is a formidable group with tremendous upside, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien reports that the A's are interested in a reunion with one of its former stars—Tim Hudson.
Hudson, who spent the first six years of his career with the A's (1999-2004), pitching to a 3.30 ERA and 1.22 WHIP while finishing in the top 5 of the AL Cy Young Award voting three times, is coming off of an injury-shortened 2013 campaign that saw him pitch to a 3.97 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 121.1 innings for the Braves, with whom he's spent the past nine seasons.
O'Brien notes that Oakland is only one of eight teams thought to be interested in the 38-year-old's services, so it certainly isn't a given that a reunion will happen. That said, the allure of returning to where his career began—and joining a young, up-and-coming team that has won back-to-back division titles—could give the A's the upper hand over the competition.
While Carlos Ruiz told Ryan Lawrence of The Philadelphia Inquirer that he wanted to finish his career in Philadelphia at the end of the season, Lawrence reports that the 35-year-old catcher has been given an ultimatum by GM Ruben Amaro Jr: don't let things drag out like Jimmy Rollins did in 2011.
“I can assure you if it takes similar as long (to get something done), there will be very little chance of bringing Chooch back. We can’t afford to miss out on other opportunities.”
Those other opportunities likely include veteran backstops Brian McCann, A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with McCann and Saltalamacchia certain to be more expensive investments for Philadelphia to make than re-signing Ruiz would be.
Earlier this week, Darek Braunecker, A.J. Burnett's agent, told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Travis Sawchik that his client remained undecided about whether he was going to pitch in 2014 or retire.
The Pirates, meanwhile, have been consistent in their stance, which GM Rob Huntington reiterated to The Tribune-Reveiw's Rob Biertempfel. The team is interested in having Burnett back, but not at the price of a qualifying offer: "$14.1 million is a significant chunk of our estimated budget."
Sooner, rather than later, the Pirates are going to need an answer from the 36-year-old, who has gone 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over the past two years in Pittsburgh, so that they can plan accordingly.
Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown reports that the Padres would like to hang onto third baseman Chase Headley, believing that his strong finish to the season, when he hit .305 with five home runs in September, is a sign of things to come.
After a 2012 that saw him hit .286 with an .875 OPS and a National League-leading 115 RBI, he struggled with injury and ineffectiveness in 2013, posting a .250/.347/.400 slash line with 13 homers, 35 doubles and 50 RBI this past season.
Despite the drop in his numbers, the Padres would have little trouble finding a trade partner if they were to put the 29-year-old on the trade block, as he's an above-average defender and, at the very least, has the ability to get on base consistently, with a career .350 on-base percentage.
If the two sides have made no progress on a contract extension by the time the non-waiver trade deadline rolls around at the end of July, look for the Padres to sell the free-agent-to-be off to the highest bidder, sliding Jedd Gyorko over to the hot corner to take his place.
As expected, the Giants declined to pick up the $6.5 million option that they held on Ryan Vogelsong for 2014, but it appears as if rather than working with him on a reduced salary to return, the team has shifted its focus elsewhere.
Henry Schulman of The San Francisco Chronicle says that there are no talks going on between the two sides, while noting in another report that the team has interest in as many as a dozen free-agent starters—a list that includes Bronson Arroyo, Dan Haren and Tim Hudson.
Arroyo, a noted fly-ball pitcher, could be a perfect fit in PNC Park, giving the Giants a reliable veteran arm who has averaged 211 innings a season since 2005.
Hoping to not repeat the disappointing feeling of last winter when Josh Hamilton spurned their advances, the Mariners have set their gaze on a pair of big free-agent bats, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal: Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury.
While the two outfielders have drastically different skill sets—Ellsbury possessing more speed and a far better glove while Choo is more adept at getting on base—signing either one would be a major coup for a Mariners lineup that desperately needs a table-setter.
While the Cardinals are willing to give Carlos Beltran another two-year deal, according to Bernie Miklasz of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that doesn't sound like it will be enough to keep the 36-year-old in right field at Busch Stadium.
The Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold reports that Beltran would like to play for another three seasons, and thus, would prefer to sign a three-year deal with a team. Given the presence of top prospect Oscar Tavares on the horizon, it's highly unlikely that the Cardinals would be willing to do that.
The team extended a qualifying offer to the outfielder, so they will receive draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere, but replacing his production in the lineup—especially in the postseason—won't be an easy task to accomplish.
Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Tampa Bay is interested in a reunion with one of its former middle relievers who has since gone on to become one of the better closers in the game.
Grant Balfour, 35, spent four seasons in Tampa Bay (2007-2010), going 14-7 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 203 relief appearances.
With closer Fernando Rodney currently a free agent, Balfour, who has pitched to a 2.53 ERA and 1.04 WHIP while saving 64 games for Oakland over the past three seasons, could replace the former All-Star in the ninth inning for Joe Maddon.
MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reports that the Rangers are willing to consider dealing one of its middle infielders—Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler or Jurickson Profar—if it means that the team can plug other holes on the roster.
Both Andrus ($126 million through 2022) and Kinsler ($57 million through 2017) have significant money remaining on their contracts, with Kinsler having a partial no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to seven teams. Sullivan notes that the Rangers will not pick up any of the money left on his contract.
Once thought to be an untouchable piece, the team seems to have softened on its stance regarding the 20-year-old Profar, who struggled in limited playing time last year, hitting .234/.308/.336 over 324 plate appearances.
Despite his mediocre showing in 2013, Profar remains the most valuable trade chip out of the three and someone that, if packaged with additional pieces, could bring the Rangers a significant return—perhaps a front-of-the-rotation arm to pair alongside Yu Darvish.
GM Alex Anthopoulos wants to upgrade second base in Toronto and has targeted Chicago's Gordon Beckham, according to a report from MLB.com's Scott Merkin and Gregor Chisholm.
Beckham, 27, is a career .249/.314/.380 hitter with middling power, not much speed and an average glove—but he'd still represent an upgrade for the Blue Jays at the position.
While the Jays traded away a large chunk of its farm system last winter in separate trades with the Marlins and Mets, enough talent remains for them to pursue a deal for a player like Beckham, who has underachieved thus far in his career but still has some upside and could benefit from a change of scenery.
In 2012, Edwin Jackson was the veteran arm at the back-end of Washington's talented rotation; in 2013 it was Dan Haren.
In 2014, that role will be played by...someone other than Haren, most likely.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman reports that the Giants have interest in signing the 33-year-old, while The New York Post's Joel Sherman says that the Yankees could be players for the 11-year veteran as well.
That there's been no word out of Washington that the Nationals have any interest in bringing Haren, who finished 2013 with a strong second half by pitching to a 3.52 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 14 games (13 starts), back into the fold, which doesn't bode well for an encore performance.