With the regular season opener less than a week away, the White Sox appear to be in the process of finalizing an eight-year, $77.5 million contract extension with highly-touted outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the deal reportedly includes $43 million guaranteed over six years and two additional club option years. Chicago has not yet confirmed the deal, but an official announcement could happen as early as Thursday. The historic agreement would represent the largest financial guarantee ever for a player who has yet to appear in a major-league game and provides the White Sox one additional year of team control over Jimenez before he is eligible for free agency.
Aside from the clear long-term benefits, which include guaranteed financial security and avoiding the arbitration process later in his career, the more immediate incentive for Jimenez to ink this deal would be if it guarantees a spot on the Opening Day roster. The 22-year-old slugger was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte last week and was expected to spend nearly a month in the minors, purely for contractual reasons. According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, it remains "undetermined" whether he will begin this season in the major leagues. However, this deal should theoretically pave a clear path to an everyday role at the big-league level. There’s still a chance Jimenez could spend some time in the minors for developmental purposes, but that’s a difficult case to make considering that he posted a staggering .337/.384/.577 triple-slash line with 22 home runs and 75 RBI in 108 games across Double-A and Triple-A last year. Once Jimenez officially arrives, he profiles as an immediate four-category fantasy superstar. He won’t steal more than a handful of bases, but he possesses true 80-grade, light-tower power and won’t be a liability in the batting average department. He may never reach the lofty heights of power/speed combo first-round fantasy studs, but he should establish himself among the truly elite hitters in the game very quickly.
Slamtana Rocks Tokyo
The Athletics and Mariners kicked off the 2019 regular season with a high-octane, offensive explosion in Game 1 of the Tokyo Series on Wednesday. In a contest that featured five round-trippers, the pivotal blast belonged to 26-year-old outfielder Domingo Santana, who launched an opposite-field, grand slam off Athletics starter Mike Fiers to cap off a five-run outburst in the third inning and propel Seattle to a 9-7 victory in their season opener.
Mariners starter Marco Gonzales got off to a rocky start in his first Opening Day nod, but managed to settle down and pick up the win, allowing four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits with four strikeouts and only one walk over six frames. In addition to Santana’s heroics, shortstop Tim Beckham went 3-for-3 with a two-run homer, three runs scored and a walk in his Mariners debut and newly-minted closer Hunter Strickland worked a scoreless ninth inning to preserve the victory.
Despite being on the wrong side of an old-fashioned shootout, there were several encouraging developments for the Athletics in the loss. Veteran slugger Khris Davis picked up right where he left off after a career-high 48-homer campaign, blasting a two-run homer off Gonzales in the third inning, and a pair of burgeoning young superstars -- Stephen Piscotty and Matt Chapman -- also went deep in this one.
The two teams square off in the Tokyo Series finale on Thursday. Seattle will hand the ball to 27-year-old southpaw Yusei Kikuchi to make his highly-anticipated major-league debut. Meanwhile, Oakland will counter with 35-year-old righty Marco Estrada, who will be making his Athletics debut. On a somber note, this is expected to be the final professional game in the storied career of future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki.
Kershaw, Severino Progressing Towards Return
Generally speaking, the prudent advice in fantasy baseball is remain endlessly pessimistic when it comes to injuries and recovery timetables. However, there was encouraging news out of a pair of spring training camps on Wednesday regarding a pair of aces, Clayton Kershaw and Luis Severino.
Let’s start in Los Angeles, where Kershaw threw a 22-pitch batting practice on Wednesday and estimated that he'll need 20 days to rebuild arm strength after missing most of spring training with an injured shoulder. Based on this timeline, he’s still about three weeks away from being big-league ready, and could only miss a handful of weeks in April. The 31-year-old southpaw has seen his draft stock tumble from a consensus second or third round selection all the way to the sixth round, on average in drafts since initially injuring his shoulder in late-February. There is some legitimate risk associated with selecting Kershaw in the early rounds, but if he can stay healthy and eclipse the 150-inning plateau, he should have no problem returning a profit at that cost.
Meanwhile, Luis Severino (shoulder) made 25 throws from a distance of 60 feet on Wednesday in Yankees camp. It was his first time throwing a baseball since he was diagnosed with inflammation in his right rotator cuff on March 5. He told reporters after the workout that he felt no discomfort in his shoulder and that he plans to throw again on Thursday before taking the day off Friday. This situation is moving in the right direction, but the 25-year-old ace obviously still has many hurdles to clear. He'll miss at least the first month of the 2019 regular season.
Friends In Lowe Places
After rumors began to swirl late the previous evening, the Rays officially inked versatile infielder/outfielder Brandon Lowe to a six-year, $24 million contract extension with club options for 2025 and 2026 on Wednesday. According to reports, the deal could be worth up to $49 million over eight years if both team options are exercised. He’s the fourth player (Evan Longoria, Matt Moore and Chris Archer) with less than a year of service time that the Rays have signed to a long-term extension. If this deal isn’t a carbon copy, it’s the spiritual successor to the contract -- six-years, $24 million with three club options, worth a total of $42 million -- Scott Kingery inked with the Phillies last spring. Not only does it virtually guarantee Lowe a spot on the Opening Day roster, it also ensures that he will receive something close to everyday playing time between second base and a corner outfield spot this season. The 24-year-old second baseman batted .297/.391/.558 with 54 extra-base hits (22 homers) and eight steals in 100 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year before making his big-league debut in August. He was mired in a horrific slump (5-for-37) to begin his major-league career, but eventually pulled out of it, hitting .272/.358/.565 with six homers in his final 106 plate appearances. Lowe doesn’t profile as a fantasy superstar, but his versatility and four-category contributions will have tangible value in deeper mixed leagues this year.
Betts, Rendon Reportedly Declined Extension Offers
On the heels of Mike Trout’s record-setting deal earlier this week, a pair of superstars -- Mookie Betts and Anthony Rendon -- appear slated to potentially hit free agency in the coming years after turning down long-term extension offers. On Wednesday, Betts confirmed a New York Post report by Joel Sherman that he rejected an eight-year, $200 million extension offer from the Red Sox following the 2017 season. He also told reporters that he doesn’t expect to reach an agreement before the 2019 campaign. The 26-year-old reigning AL MVP is eligible for free agency after next season and could be poised to easily surpass the lofty financial guarantees received by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this offseason.
Meanwhile, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post confirmed on Wednesday that the Nationals offered an extension to Rendon in late February. Dougherty added that the offer "was not what Rendon and his representation were seeking." Extension talks are currently halted between the two parties, but could pick up again between now and the start of the regular season, and perhaps beyond. Rendon told reporters last month that he would not put a deadline on negotiations. The 28-year-old third baseman is currently scheduled to become a free agent next winter.
American League Quick Hits: Athletics LHP Jesus Luzardo will be shut down for 4-to-6 weeks with a muscle strain in his left shoulder ... Joey Gallo (groin) hopes to play in the Rangers' exhibition game Sunday in Nashville … According to Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times, "most signs" point to Alex Colome beginning the year as the White Sox's closer … Michael Fulmer will undergo Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery … David Price (illness) will throw an "aggressive" bullpen session on Thursday … Jason Kipnis left Wednesday's Cactus League game against the Giants with renewed calf tightness … Carlos Carrasco whiffed eight batters over 5 2/3 innings in a start against the Angels … Michael Pineda tossed five shutout innings in a start against the Pirates … Jonathan Schoop went 3-for-3 with a two-run homer and teammate Willians Astudillo went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI in that one … Ervin Santana was lit up for four runs on eight hits over four innings in his Cactus League debut against the Diamondbacks … Spencer Turnbull fired five shutout innings with seven strikeouts in the Tigers’ win over the Phillies … Ronald Guzman (knee) returned to the Rangers' lineup Wednesday against the Reds … Steve Pearce (calf) will see at-bats in a minor league game on Thursday … Rangers optioned RHP Ariel Jurado to Triple-A Nashville … Twins released 1B Lucas Duda … Orioles released SS Alcides Escobar …
National League Quick Hits: Yu Darvish (blister) will throw a bullpen session on Friday and is expected to make his next scheduled start Sunday against the Padres. … Adam McCalvy of MLB.com confirms Corey Knebel has "taken a break" from throwing … MLB Network's Jon Heyman hears that the Brewers' talks with free agent closer Craig Kimbrel are "pretty serious." … Rhys Hoskins will be sidelined the rest of this week due to mild left shoulder soreness … Phillies manager Gabe Kapler confirmed Wednesday that Andrew McCutchen will open the season as the team's leadoff hitter … Gregory Polanco (shoulder) could begin playing right field in minor league games early next week … Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said it's "fair to say" Dakota Hudson will make the Opening Day roster … Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo isn't ready to announce a closer yet … Corey Seager homered in his Cactus League debut against the Cubs on Wednesday … Matt Strahm fired five scoreless innings with four strikeouts and zero walks against the Brewers … Manny Machado went 1-for-3 with a two-run homer and teammate Wil Myers also went deep, launching his second long-ball of the spring, in that contest … Ronald Acuna went 2-for-3 with two RBI and a walk Wednesday in the Braves' victory over the Blue Jays … Pablo Lopez tossed six scoreless innings in the Marlins’ win over the Cardinals … Tanner Roark allowed one run over 5 1/3 innings in a start against the Rangers … Drew Pomeranz logged five hitless innings in a start against the Indians … Buster Posey went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored in the Giants’ blowout win over the Indians … Alex Avila slugged a pair of homers and drove in six runs in the Diamondbacks’ rout of the White Sox … Garrett Hampson recorded his Cactus League-leading seventh steal against the Royals on Wednesday … Braves optioned RHP Mike Soroka to Triple-A Gwinnett … Cardinals optioned LHP Austin Gomber and RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon to Triple-A Memphis … Giants signed OF Matt Joyce to a minor-league contract … Brewers released RHP Josh Tomlin …