Winter Meetings Day 1 Notebook: Ohtani’s Spurn Cleared Path To Stanton

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.--The race for Shohei Ohtani affected just about every team's plans this offseason.

That apparently included the Yankees' pursuit of Giancarlo Stanton.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman revealed Monday that the Yankees planned to keep their vacant designated hitter spot open for Ohtani, the two-way Japanese star known for throwing 100 mph on the mound and hitting titanic home runs at the plate. Only when Ohtani informed the Yankees he would not sign with them did Cashman turn his attention to Stanton.

"The DH role is an important piece here, because obviously with our excess, we need to create a flow where everyone would get involved in the lineup, and utilize it as an advantage to rest people, and maneuver on a weekly basis so to speak,” Cashman said. “But I had to keep that vacancy open until the Ohtani situation declared itself. Once Ohtani declared himself as everything east of the Mississippi wasn’t in play, then we pivoted and engaged further."

Ohtani officially cut the Yankees from his list of teams on Dec. 3 and signed with the Angels on Dec. 8. It was a blow at the time, but Cashman was able to turn it into a positive. With Ohtani, there likely would have been no Stanton.

"It’s hard to speculate now, because that we never signed that player," Cashman said. "The Ohtani situation, when he was potentially in play, the DH spot was going to be the area that he could’ve gotten his at-bats as a two-way player."

MCMAHON HAS LOTS TO PROVE

Mark Reynolds, the Rockies' first baseman last year, is a free agent. Ryan McMahon is the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect, hit .355 across Double-A and Triple-A last year and made his major league debut, all while primarily playing first base.

While it's a natural fit on paper for McMahon to slide into Colorado's vacant first base slot, manager Bud Black made clear the 22-year-old still has work to do to prove he's ready for an everyday role.

"I think there are prospects and there are players that I think you feel really good about--given the opportunity, this guy’s going to do it," Black said. "And Ryan is still a little bit young to really know what we have. But we’re going to--we’ll get (him) out there in spring training, and if it happens where he makes our team and gets at-bats, we’ll see."

A key part of McMahon's proving ground will be his performance defensively at first base. He was a third baseman exclusively his first three professional seasons after the Rockies drafted him in the second round in 2013. He began mixing in some first base in 2016, and 2017 was the first season he played first more often than his natural third base. (He also saw time at second base.)

"He’s athletic," Black said. "Each day that he’s out there, either in-game or practicing, he’s going to get better because he has the movements and the body control, coordination to be a good defender. His hands are good. He throws well. I think instinctively, from what I’ve seen, it’s solid. For him, it’s just repetition to feel comfortable. I mean, we bounced him around. He played some first. He’s played second base. But that’s sort of a tribute to him as a player, thinking that he can handle this because at some point in the future, we want his projected bat in the lineup. But I think wherever he plays on the diamond, he’s going to do well. I think he’s going to be a solid defender."

HADER'S ROLE STILL TBD

Josh Hader entered last season as the top lefthanded starting pitching prospect in the game. He shifted to relief at Triple-A Colorado Springs, made his major league debut out of the Brewers bullpen and transformed into one of the game's most dominant relievers, pitching 47.2 innings with just 25 hits and 11 runs allowed, 68 strikeouts and a .156 opponent average.

As for whether Hader will stay in the bullpen or get a shot at returning to the starting rotation in 2018, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said nothing has been decided.

"We have not added any pitchers to the mix as of yet, so I think part of that decision kind of is reflective on what we add and who we add," Counsell said. "The other thing is that he had a lot of success in the role we used him last year. Are there ways to expand on that? Can you use him at the start of the game in a role like that? So we’re considering everything right now with Josh and on Dec. 10, you feel like you got some time still."

RAYS READY FOR IN-HOUSE RELIEF

Rays closer Alex Colome has been one of the hottest names in trade rumors at the Winter Meetings, with multiple suitors chasing the reigning American League saves leader.

Rather than pursue other free agent relievers in advance of a possible move, Rays manager Kevin Cash said the organization is looking in-house to fill any bullpen vacancies that may arise.

"I think we’re going to have a bunch of guys from our farm system, namely in Triple-A, come in and compete," Cash said. “We’re going to have some opportunities....(Pitching coach) Kyle Snyder is going to be here tomorrow. I’m really going to lean on him quite a bit because he saw a lot of those guys in Durham and saw how they performed in non-starting roles and the dual or multiple-inning roles out of the relievers and the guys that went up and down. So we’re going to have lot of discussions here going forward."

Relievers who starred at Triple-A Durham last season include righthanders Andrew Kittredge (6-1, 1.45), Ryne Stanek (3-0, 1.21) and Chih-Wei Hu (4-1, 3.06) and lefthander Adam Kolarek (3-4, 1.65), all of whom made their big league debuts during the year. Righthanders Diego Castillo (3-2, 3.38) and Jamie Schultz (1-0, 3.86) are two others who have had Triple-A success while flashing upper 90s velocity.

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