Hot Stove: Finding the best fits for all the unsigned top 50 MLB free agents
It's time to find a home for all those quality free agents still looking for a job
Spring training is a little more than two weeks away, and yet, the free agent market has yet to get going. Lorenzo Cain signed a five-year deal with the Brewers last week, so maybe that will get the market heated up. Then again, we said the same thing when Shohei Ohtani signed, and when Giancarlo Stanton was traded, and when Carlos Santana signed.
At the moment,, including only three of the top 10. In a "normal" offseason, maybe five or six top 50 free agents would be unsigned at this point, and zero of the top 10 would be unsigned. For whatever reason -- and I'm sure there are many small reasons, not one big reason -- free agency has been a slog this winter. Spring training is coming and some legitimately great and many very good players are unemployed.
So, with spring training coming and so many top free agents on the board, this is as good a time as any to find these players some homes. Here are the best fits for the remaining unsigned top 50 free agents. And by best fit, I mean the best fit for both the team and the player. Let's dive in.
A painfully obvious fit. The Red Sox finished dead last in the American League in home runs last season and Hanley Ramirez has been pretty underwhelming in the three years since he returned to Boston. J.D. Martinez would give the BoSox that fearsome middle of the order power threat they lacked last year. First base would be a little complicated with both Hanley and Mitch Moreland under contract, but this is one of those situations where the free agent is so good you sign him and figure the rest out later.
Mike Montgomery wants to start and has made it no secret he wants to start, but he is more valuable to the Cubs in a swingman role. Yu Darvish would cost Chicago nothing but money, which they have lots of, and he'd slot into the rotation nicely alongside Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood. The window to win isn't getting any more open on Chicago's north side. Darvish is a big rotation upgrade over Montgomery and he helps get the club closer to another World Series title.
Of all the unsigned free agents, I think Jake Arrieta is most likely to go into the season without a contract because he's yet to receive what he considers an acceptable offer. The Nationals seem to sign whatever top Scott Boras client remains on the board at the end of the offseason, and let's not kid ourselves, this might be Washington's last year as a World Series contender. Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy will be free agents next offseason, and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg won't be in their primes forever. This season might be this group's last best chance to win. Arrieta would replace either A.J. Cole or Erick Fedde in the rotation, which would be a clear upgrade even if he's no longer the 2015 Terminator version of himself.
I think it would be pretty fun to see the Rockies swoop in to sign Eric Hosmer, but realistically, this comes down to the Padres and Royals. Hosmer is a rock star in Kansas City and he's young enough that he should still be in his prime by time they are ready to contend again. That said, the Padres have a dynamite farm system -- ESPN's Keith Law ranked it the third best farm system in the game a few days ago (the Royals were 27th) -- and are theoretically closer to contention than Kansas City. How long does Hosmer want to wait to win again? Plus, it's San Diego! Can't beat that city or the ballpark.
This seems like such an obvious fit. The Braves have a great big opening at third base and their top two prospects at the position, Rio Ruiz and Austin Riley, aren't the type of prospects you worry about blocking, especially when Moustakas might be available at a discount this late in the offseason. In the rebuilding hellscape that is the National League, the Braves are basically a good third baseman and one or two young pitchers breaking out from being relevant in the wild-card race during the summer.
In our hypothetical, the Twins are losing out on Darvish, reportedly their top pitching target. Lance Lynn is the next best thing. He's a big time fastball pitcher -- more than 90 percent of Lynn's pitches were some type of fastball last year (four-seamer, cutter, sinker) -- with fly ball tendencies who would fit best in a big ballpark with a good outfield defense. That's the Twins.
The Brewers added Christian Yelich and Cain last week, and in our hypothetical free agent world they came up short in the Darvish chase. They still need a pitcher though, and Alex Cobb is a pretty good backup plan, especially since the budget conscious Brew Crew wouldn't have to break the bank to get him. Miller Park is not a fun place to hit, though Cobb shouldn't have much trouble in a tough environment after spending the entirety of his big-league career going through the AL East grinder.
It's hard out there for a power-hitting first baseman. Logan Morrison put up a .246/.353/.516 (135 OPS+) batting line with 38 home runs in 2017, and yet no one seems to want him. The Rays' current first baseman is ... Brad Miller? Brad Miller. Yeah. LoMo, go back to Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay, bring back LoMo. It makes too much sense.
Matt Wieters is coming off a brutal 2017 season and Washington's backup options (Pedro Severino, Raudy Read) aren't all that appealing. I don't think any other contender offers Jonathan Lucroy greater opportunity to wind up with a starter's workload, at least not without injury. And again, the Nationals should be doing everything possible to win right now, and that includes taking at-bats away from Wieters.
Another obvious fit. The Cardinals don't have a closer at the moment -- a few weeks ago president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Luke Gregerson would be the guy if the season started today -- and Holland is far and away the best available free agent reliever at this point. St. Louis did well to add Marcell Ozuna a few weeks ago. Now they need to take care of the pitching staff, and that starts in the ninth inning.
Tough to find a good fit for Carlos Gomez, unless he wants to play for peanuts with the skeleton crew the Marlins will run out there in 2018. The Indians have an all left-handed hitting outfield (Bradley Zimmer, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall), so the right-handed hitting Gomez would give them a center field capable platoon option. Also, Brantley has missed a lot of time with injuries the last two seasons. A lot. Gomez would be insurance and also a late-inning defensive replacement. He'd fill the Austin Jackson role, basically.
The Yankees have openings at second and third bases, and could very well go into the season with highly rated prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar at the positions. (MLB.com ranks Torres and Andujar as the fifth- and 65th-best prospects in baseball, respectively.) That is quite risky, especially with Torres coming back from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow. Neil Walker has been a second baseman the bulk of his career, and last season he played some first and third bases as well. He'd give the Yankees a switch-hitting bat, protection at second and third, and also depth at first base in case Greg Bird gets hurt again.
The D-Backs have a great big J.D. Martinez-sized hole in the outfield, and the front office doesn't seem particularly fond of Yasmany Tomas. Carlos Gonzalez would move from one hitter's ballpark into another, and he'd help Arizona replace some of the thump they're losing in Martinez. Not all of it, but some of it.
The Red Sox could really use a quality reserve infielder. Dustin Pedroia is expected to miss the start of the season after undergoing knee surgery, and while third baseman Rafael Devers looks like a future stud, he had some big ups and down last season. Nunez would fill in for Pedroia and provide a safety net behind Devers. Also, Nunez had tremendous success with the BoSox after coming over at the trade deadline last year. He seemed to fit the roster and the ballpark perfectly.
Doesn't Andrew Cashner just feel like an Orioles pitcher? They desperately need rotation help, and it seems Cashner's low strikeout rate -- he fanned 86 batters in 166 2/3 innings in 2017 (4.6 K/9) -- is scaring teams away. This is the type of free agent pitcher the O's tend to pounce on. The big-ish name veteran with questions. Think Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez. Cashner is next in line.
Jaime Garcia spent about five minutes with the Twins between stints with the Braves and Yankees last year, so Minnesota's front office liked something about him. Even after adding Lynn in our hypothetical free agent world, there is still room in the rotation for a cheap fifth starter that pushes guys like Adalberto Mejia and Aaron Slegers a bit further down the depth chart.
The Indians lost Bryan Shaw to free agency this offseason and next winter both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen will hit the open market. That is pretty scary for a team trying to win the World Series on a budget. Tony Watson would help replace Shaw and also give the team some late-inning bullpen insurance going forward in case they can't afford to re-sign Miller and/or Allen.
Like I said, it's hard out there for a power-hitting first baseman. Especially one who has missed as much time as Lucas Duda over the last few years. The Astros strike me as a team lying in the weeds waiting for a good bargain deal for a DH. Right now that job belongs to some combination of Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez, and Derek Fisher. Duda would help balance the lineup with a big lefty bat -- George Springer, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel all hit from the right side -- and give the team a defensive alternative to Gurriel at first. A sneaky good fit.
The Orioles have outfield bodies behind Adam Jones and Trey Mancini. The question is are any of them any good? I'm talking about Joey Rickard, Austin Hays, and Anthony Santander. Hays is a top prospect -- he hit .329/.365/.593 with 32 homers in 128 minor league games last year -- though he skipped over Triple-A entirely before making him MLB debut late last year, and a little more time in the minors wouldn't be the end of the world. If nothing else, Jon Jay would be a proven depth/platoon option, and a more natural leadoff hitter than the hacktastic Tim Beckham.
The Giants wanted to improve their outfield defense this offseason and they did that with Austin Jackson and Andrew McCutchen. Jarrod Dyson would improve it even more. He can platoon with Jackson in center field on the cheap, and give the club a more viable late-innings defensive replacement. Given the moves they've made this winter, it doesn't make sense for the Giants to stop now. Keep adding pieces and try to win.
As with Cashner, Jason Vargas just feels like an Orioles pitcher. They are woefully short on starting pitching and an innings guy like Vargas -- excuse me, a 2017 All-Star innings guy -- would represent a pretty significant upgrade over tentative starters like Miguel Castro, Mike Wright, and Gabriel Ynoa. The O's have a history of waiting until late in the offseason to cut free agent deals. Picking up a veteran depth starter with the illusion of upside like Vargas (and Cashner) feels inevitable.
I think it's time for Chris Tillman to move on from the Orioles. His stuff hasn't been the same since his 2015 shoulder injury, and at this point, he'd fit best with a National League team in a big ballpark. That's the Giants, who are currently have Ty Blach and Chris Stratton slotted into their rotation. Even if Tillman comes in on a minor-league contract as a non-roster player, chances are he'll be needed at some point. Getting out of the AL East and into spacious AT&T Park makes too much sense for Tillman, and the Giants can use the pitching depth.
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