As 2019 starts winding down, MLB franchises have kept their eyes focused on how to improve for 2020.
Free agency began on Nov. 4, but the biggest names remain on the market ahead of the Winter Meetings.
Plenty can and does happen at the Winter Meetings every year. This year, the expectation is for extension negotiations between the Chicago Cubs and their All-Star shortstop Javier Baez to take place.
Elsewhere in the National League, the turn of the calendar could signify a franchise-shifting move on the mound by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Separate from the Phillies, one pitcher who could be on the move is Arizona Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray.
For more about each of these rumors, read on below.
Javier Baez, Cubs Talking About Extension
Baez has become an essential piece for the Chicago Cubs since debuting for the club in 2014. The 28-year-old's dynamic ability resulted in him becoming the third player in league history to start one All-Star Game at second base (2018) and another at shortstop (2019).
At the plate, Baez has hit .270/.310/.484 with 110 home runs and 354 RBI across 665 games.
All of that is enough for the Cubs to reportedly want to try to secure Baez long-term.
According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, "Baez's [representatives] and the Cubs are expected to sit down at the winter meetings to see if an extension is possible." Heyman added that Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times first had the beat on negotiations surrounding Baez and any deal would be "a whopper."
Wittenmyer reported on Nov. 15 that the two sides had "begun negotiations on a potential long-term extension with the Cubs."
Here's more from Wittenmyer:
"A deal is considered much more feasible to reach with Baez than with Kris Bryant, the team's other high-profile superstar within two years of free agency. That doesn't mean the Cubs will suddenly trade Bryant if they can't reach an agreement with him—especially if they get agreeable terms with Baez. But it certainly would keep Bryant's status in play throughout the winter, then possibly at the trade deadline and again next winter, barring a move before then."
Baez is owed $9.3 million in 2020 before entering arbitration in 2021 and unrestricted free agency in 2022, per Spotrac.
Philadelphia Phillies Looking For Top-Tier Pitching Additions
According to MLB Network's Jon Morosi, the Phillies will strike sooner than later on a free-agent starting pitcher:
Cole Hamels has history in Philadelphia. The 35-year-old southpaw began his career with the Phillies in 2006 and played there until the club traded him to the Texas Rangers in 2015. He put together three All-Star seasons in Philly and was named World Series MVP when they won it all in 2008.
Most recently, Hamels went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA and 1.39 WHIP for the Chicago Cubs last season.
Zack Wheeler was linked to the Phillies earlier this month when MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes projected him to land a five-year, $100 million deal with them as the fourth-best free agent in the 2020 class. However, Dierkes listed 14 other teams as ones to watch. In other words, Wheeler's market is fluid.
The 29-year-old rejected the New York Mets' qualifying offer on Nov. 14. Wheeler pitched for the Mets from 2013 through last season. Last season, he went 11-8 across 31 starts with a 3.96 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.
As for Madison Bumgarner, Morosi had reported on Nov. 22 that Bumgarner's representatives had been in contact with the Phillies. The four-time All-Star won three World Series titles with the San Francisco Giants, earning World Series MVP in 2014. He rejected the Giants' qualifying offer on Nov. 14.
Last season, Bumgarner went 9-9 across an MLB-most 34 starts with a 3.90 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.
Any of these three would be a welcome upgrade for a Phillies' starting rotation that ranked 17th in ERA (4.53) and 22nd in opponents batting average (.261).
The 81-81 Phillies missed the postseason for the eighth consecutive season.
Robbie Ray Could Land on Trading Block
There was much ado about nothing surrounding Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray leading up to the 2019 MLB trade deadline, but the 28-year-old left-hander's name has resurfaced in trade rumors:
Ray debuted with the Detroit Tigers in 2014, and the All-Star has been in Arizona since 2015. His best season in terms of ERA (2.89) and WHIP (1.15) came in 2017. He also led the National League in 2017 with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings, a mark he matched last season.
Overall in 2019, Ray posted a 12-8 record with a 4.34 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and career-high 235 strikeouts across 33 starts.
The pitching market will be robust with options like Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Bumgarner available to clubs willing to spend big. Ray figures to belong in a lower, more affordable tier for pitching-needy teams.