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Free-agent rentals seldom stay long-term in MLB

August 2, 2018
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Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Cole Hamels delivers in the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 offseason’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 left-hander, 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-offseason 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.

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