Free-agent rentals sel­dom stay long-term

The Western Star - - SPORTS - BY RON­ALD BLUM

When base­ball stars on ex­pir­ing con­tracts get traded in July, there’s usu­ally no need to find long-term hous­ing.

In­field­ers Manny Machado, Mike Mous­takas and Brian Dozier; start­ing pitch­ers Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Nathan Eo­valdi; catcher Martin Mal­don­ado; and closer Zach Brit­ton are among the play­ers dealt ahead of this week’s dead­line for trades with­out waivers. All could be el­i­gi­ble for free agency af­ter the World Series.

Most will find new clubs, like Randy John­son (Hous­ton for Ari­zona af­ter 1998), CC Sa­bathia (Mil­wau­kee for the Yan­kees af­ter 2008), Aroldis Chap­man (Chicago Cubs for a Yan­kees re­turn fol­low­ing 2016) and Yu Darvish (Los An­ge­les Dodgers for the Chicago Cubs last off­sea­son).

Few de­cide to stay, such as Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes with the New York Mets af­ter the 2015 sea­son

Adding to the in­trigue is last off-sea­son’s slow free-agent mar­ket, which saw vet­er­ans scram­ble dur­ing spring train­ing to find cut-rate con­tracts as open­ing day ap­proached.

A look at some of the po­ten­tial free agents and their sit­u­a­tions:

COLE HAMELS

Chicago is pay­ing just $5 mil­lion to the 34-year-old left­hander, who struck out nine Wed­nes­day night to win his Cubs de­but 9-2 at Pitts­burgh. If he is over­whelm­ing the rest of the way, the Cubs likely would ex­er­cise his $19 mil­lion op­tion for 2019. Oth­er­wise, they would de­cline and get re­im­bursed by Texas for his $6 mil­lion buy­out. If he is rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful but not dom­i­nant, Wrigley Field could be his home for the next two years rather than him tak­ing the risk of go­ing on the mar­ket and get­ting squeezed.

MANNY MACHADO

He is among the most-an­tic­i­pated of the play­ers in this off­sea­son’s mar­ket, a free agent at age 26 who could com­mand a deal of eight-to-10 years or more, per­haps with an opt out or two that could set him up for free agency again in his early 30s. Even if he leads the Los An­ge­les Dodgers to their first World Series ti­tle since 1988, he al­most cer­tainly would seek his mar­ket value. But if he does bring a tro­phy to La-La Land, there will be pres­sure on man­age­ment to pay to keep him in Dodgers blue.

MIKE MOUS­TAKAS

A World Series cham­pion and two-time All-Star with Kansas City, he ex­pected a big-money, long-term con­tract as a free agent last win­ter. In­stead, he re-signed with the Roy­als in March for an end-of-off-sea­son close­out price: $5.5 mil­lion guar­an­teed and $2.2 mil­lion in per­for­mance bonuses he is on track to earn. He joined a Mil­wau­kee team that has never won a World Series, los­ing to St. Louis in its only ap­pear­ance in 1982. His home runs are down slightly this year and his RBIs up. He turns 30 next month. His deal’s $15 mil­lion mu­tual op­tion seems de­signed not to be ex­er­cised. If he pow­ers the Brew­ers to a deep Oc­to­ber run, he’ll likely de­cline. If he doesn’t per­form, the team will say no thanks.

MARTIN MAL­DON­ADO

He is likely a short-term guest in Hous­ton. Brian Mc­Cann had knee surgery last month and is due back in Au­gust, and the Astros ob­tained the Gold Glove win­ner from the Los An­ge­les An­gels as an up­grade while he is out. Hous­ton holds a $15 mil­lion op­tion on Mc­Cann, who is val­ued by the team’s pitch­ers and in the club­house.

J.A. HAPP

A left-han­der who turns 36 in Oc­to­ber, Happ could find hap­pi­ness in Yan­kee Sta­dium. New York’s ro­ta­tion is un­cer­tain be­hind Luis Sev­erino, with con­cerns about Masahiro Tanaka’s el­bow, CC Sa­bathia’s knee and Sonny Gray’s for­ti­tude. Jor­dan Mont­gomery won’t re­turn from Tommy John surgery un­til late next sea­son at the ear­li­est, and while New York is ex­pected to pur­sue a top free-agent starter such as Dal­las Keuchel, or Clay­ton Ker­shaw if he opts out of his Dodgers’ deal, New York wants more ro­ta­tion depth.

ZACH BRIT­TON

It is hard to imagine Brit­ton stay­ing in the Bronx, where Aroldis Chap­man is the closer and start­ing pitch­ing is a more ur­gent need. But David Robert­son is a free agent af­ter the sea­son and Dellin Be­tances is un­der con­trol for only one more year. New York gen­eral man­ager Brian Cash­man gave An­drew Miller a $36 mil­lion, four-year deal af­ter the 2014 sea­son when he al­ready had Robert­son to close and Be­tances to set up.

AP PHOTO

Chicago Cubs’ Cole Hamels de­liv­ers a pitch dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s game against the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates in Pitts­burgh.

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