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D’backs table extension talks with A.J. Pollock
Few players did better for themselves heading into their first tour of arbitration than A.J. Pollock, who delivered a 5.4 WARP campaign on the strength of 39 doubles, 20 homers, and 39 stolen bags. The 28-year-old bloomed late but has established himself as a star-level contributor, the sort of player teams are eager to lock up as free agency draws nearer. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, while they’ve accomplished a lot this offseason, locking Pollock up long term may have to wait.

Nick Piecoro, who covers the Snakes for the Arizona Republic, heard directly from GM Dave Stewart Friday that the sides will put off further discussions until they settle Pollock’s 2016 pay. The gap between their submissions is seemingly trivial—the player requested $3.9 million, the team offered $3.65 million—representing just 6.8 percent of the money on the table, so a one-year pact is possible before the hearing date. Still, neither side is in any rush to go beyond the coming year.

With two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining, Pollock can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season, when he’d join a mega-class that features the likes of Josh Donaldson, Bryce Harper, and Andrew McCutchen—along with a Clayton Kershaw-led pitcher group. Standing out among that crowd will be a tall order, notable perhaps because of the way this year’s supply-over-demand outfield market has unfolded, but two more seasons like the one he just turned in would make Pollock a highly coveted commodity, even at the age of 31.

Stewart has $84.275 million in guaranteed payroll commitments for 2016, with Pollock as his lone remaining arbitration case, but while the D’backs are reportedly brushing up against their short-term budget cap, the long view might be more instructive. Arizona has just three players—Zack Greinke, Yasmany Tomas, and Paul Goldschmidt—totaling $52 million under contract beyond the 2018 season. A significant uptick in annual player payroll would be necessary to add a fourth franchise cornerstone to that group, with 21 more roster spots to be filled out when the time comes.

The Diamondbacks’ $1.5 billion TV deal might further loosen Stewart’s purse strings, enabling a hefty investment in Pollock. But as the second-year GM maps out his long-term budget, more data on the legitimacy of Pollock’s breakout could be worth the risk of encountering a higher price tag down the road.

Astros might be in play on Yoenis Cespedes
Various reports had the market for Yoenis Cespedes springing to life over the MLK weekend. The most noteworthy of these was Jon Heyman’s tweet Sunday, indicating that the current level of interest means the outfielder is assured of landing a long-term contract and will not have to settle for a one-year deal. The most intriguing might’ve been mystery-team buzz among Peter Gammons’ industry sources, a few of whom noted that the Astros are quietly lurking in the Cespedes derby.

At first blush, the Astros-Cespedes connection appears curious. There’s no shortage of outfielders on A.J. Hinch’s roster: Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, and George Springer are the projected starters, with Jake Marisnick, Preston Tucker, and—if all hell breaks loose—Evan Gattis available off the bench. But if GM Jeff Luhnow is looking ahead, it’s easier to see why he might chase the 30-year-old Cuban.

Rasmus, who accepted the Astros’ qualifying offer, and Gomez are both slated to become free agents after the 2016 season, when the Astros might again tender the qualifying offer to at least one of them. While Rasmus might’ve been buried in this year’s class, he and Gomez might be the top two center-field-capable options available next winter, with part-timers like Gregor Blanco and Rajai Davis, and old-timers like Angel Pagan and Coco Crisp, alongside them. The corner-outfield picture isn’t much brighter, with Josh Reddick potentially leading the pack.

Hence, teams with a murky post-2016 outfield outlook would do well to plug those holes this offseason. And that’s where Cespedes and the Astros begin to look like a more logical fit. Given the cozy left field at Minute Maid Park, Houston also has the benefit of being able to mask some of Cespedes’ defensive deficiencies as he ages, while providing him with a favorable hitting environment.

As usual, though, the situation remains fluid and other clubs with more pressing outfield or power-hitter needs might trump the Astros’ best offer. If that’s the case, Luhnow and Co. could move on to Plan B for 2016-2017. Indeed, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle heard Monday that the Astros are “unlikely” to end up with Cespedes, and could instead look to the trade market to improve their outfield and rotation.

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