Five thoughts on the early happenings at the Winter Meetings:
1. McCutchen rumors
The most mentioned player right now is Andrew McCutchen, who is likely to be traded by the Pirates. McCutchen is by far Pittsburgh's most popular player, the one credited with leading the Bucs out of their lengthy playoff slump. He's won an MVP and led the league in hits, on-base percentage and OPS at one point.
I don't think McCutchen is finished as a star player. From 2012 to 2015, he hit .313/.404/.523 and averaged 65 extra-base hits (25 HR), 82 walks and 120 strikeouts. Last season, he hit .256/.336/.430 with 53 extra-base hits (24 HR), 69 walks and 143 strikeouts.
McCutchen's bat and legs looked a bit slower last season. His numbers with two strikes plummeted. But I still think he's going to hit around .290 with a .400-plus OBP in 2017. The guy's 30, not 36.
The Nationals have been the team connected to McCutchen the most, but reports indicate they're unwilling to part with their top, top prospects. There's demand for McCutchen, but I still don't see the Pirates getting full value based on McCutchen's lackluster 2016 and the $28.75M owed to him the next two seasons.
2. Benoit a good idea for Phillies
The Phillies haven't officially signed Joaquin Benoit, but my early take on the move, if it happens, would be that such a deal is rarely a bad idea. Benoit will turn 40 in July, but he's maintained his effectiveness throughout his late-30s. Since 2010, a span of seven seasons, Benoit has a 2.40 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a .189 opponents' batting average. Those are elite numbers.
Benoit's fastball last season averaged 94.2 mph, a higher mark than he had seven seasons ago.
3. Tyson Ross a fit for Phils?
The most surprising non-tender last Friday was Padres right-handed starting pitcher Tyson Ross. The 29-year-old had a 3.03 ERA in 64 starts in 2014 and 2015 and was San Diego's opening day starter in 2016, but that was the only start he made. Ross hurt his right shoulder, had several setbacks and then underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in October. The recovery time is believed to be 4 to 6 months, putting him on pace to potentially be ready to pitch early next season.
A lot of teams will show interest in Ross, who was projected to make about $9.5 million in 2017, his final year before free agency. The Phillies should be one of the teams to examine Ross' health, and if they feel he has a real shot to return early next season, they should be aggressive to try to sign him.
It's highly unlikely a pitcher with Ross' current bill of health will get a long-term contract. The Phillies, who have a ton of money to spend, could offer him a high one-year salary, allowing him a chance to make some money and reestablish his value. If he pitches well, they could try to keep him in the fold or trade him.
Many teams will be connected to Ross because he's an intriguing name in a thin starting pitching market. But he makes as much sense for the Phillies as any other team — they have the payroll space, and they're at the juncture in their rebuild when it makes sense to take chances.
4. Closer market gone wild
The expected massive contracts for closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen reflect the growing importance of star relievers. They also reflect the precedent set by the Phillies with Jonathan Papelbon's contract in 2012. Papelbon's $50 million deal was the most expensive ever for a closer at the time. These deals will exceed it by about $30 million, if not more. And they'll be logical contracts for the teams that sign them. The Marlins are thought to be aggressively pursuing one of them.
Mark Melancon reportedly agreed to a four-year, $62 million deal with the Giants, who badly needed a closer. Melancon's ERAs and saves totals have been comparable to Chapman's and Jansen's in recent years, but his stuff isn't. Melancon is much more reliant on command, and of the three closers I'd bet on his results declining first.
5. Typical Theo
The Cubs' addition of Jon Jay was such an under-the-radar, Theo Epstein move. I bet it pays off. Jay, a left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield positions, has been dogged by injuries the last two years but is still a heck of a hitter. He's hit .287 with a .352 OBP in 3,000 plate appearances, and is a player I always thought the Phillies should have pursued.
Jay has underrated skills. He's not blazing fast and he doesn't have double-digit home run power, but if he's healthy he's going to hit .290 to .300 for your team with solid defense. He's like Martin Prado with better speed, defense and plate discipline. Wise way to protect against losing Dexter Fowler and do it in an inexpensive way.