MLB Hot Stove: After Yoenis Cespedes deal, what free agent outfielders are left?
The Mets claimed one big name among outfielders, but others remain on the market
Yoenis Cespedes is off the board this offseason, as he's reportedly agreed to return to the New York Mets on a four-year, $110 million pact. That means the free-agent market is down plenty of right-handed power and one coveted outfielder.
Speaking of the outfield market, Josh Reddick ( Houston Astros ), Jon Jay ( Chicago Cubs ) and the repatriated Eric Thames ( Milwaukee Brewers ) are also spoken for. So what remains within the thin-from-the-outset 2016-17 free-agent crop for teams in need of outfield help? A partial listing of aspiring contenders possibly targeting an outfielder this winter includes the San Francisco Giants , New York Yankees , St. Louis Cardinals , Toronto Blue Jays , Baltimore Orioles , Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians . Are there others? Yes, there are probably others.
As for the supply side of the equation, let's take a quick look at what's available, post-Cespedes, to teams looking to add a fly-catcher before spring training.
Fowler, thanks to deeper positioning, proved in 2016 that he's still capable of being a plus defensive center fielder. As well, he's developed a much more discerning batting eye over the years -- especially when it comes to laying off pitches outside the zone -- and his OBPs have risen accordingly. In the near-terms, he's a highly productive lead-off man with pop to the gaps and some speed on the bases.
Gomez is probably the most intriguing option on the market. He was a rich power source during the latter part of his Milwaukee tenure, and that in tandem with his defensive value made him a down-ballot MVP candidate in 2013 and 2014. With the Astros, though, Gomez's swing fell apart, and the numbers dropped accordingly. After the Texas Rangers claimed Gomez off waivers last season and adjusted his mechanics at the plate, we saw vintage Gomez once again. He'll soon turn 31, and he's no longer a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. That said, he can still pin down the position and be a fielding asset at the corners. His power resurgence on Texas' watch also raises hopes that he'll be a significant producer moving forward. Yes, fade him a bit for those struggles in Houston, but that same dynamic means that Gomez could be a bargain this offseason.
Defensively, Desmond adapted well to outfield duty in 2016, and he's still likely capable of manning shortstop, at least in a pinch. Desmond's key skill at the plate is occasionally running into one. As he proved last season, though, that hot start wasn't sustainable, as he put up a .630 OPS after the break. Desmond, however, does promise defensive value, speed on the bases, and roughly league-average production at the plate in the near-term. That combination has value.
The question is whether Bautista can play the field for much longer. He's going into his age-36 campaign, and he's been a defensive liability for some time. Yes, he's still good for power and walks-driven OBP, but the rising K rates also raise concerns moving forward. He's an aging power hitter who's best suited to first base or DH, and the market will treat him as such. Joey Bats can have value in 2017, but he shouldn't be considered an outfield solution.
Speaking of "shouldn't be considered an outfield solution," there's Trumbo. He's obviously a tremendous power hitter, but he's not without his qualifiers and downsides. First, he's a major defensive liability who gives back runs with a glove on his hand. Ideally, Trumbo will be someone's DH in 2017. Second, he has little discipline at the plate and doesn't hit for his averages, which means he tends to run low OBPs. Third, he's on the wrong side of 30. Trumbo can help the right team, no doubt, but characterizing him as an "outfielder with 40-homer power" glosses over his substantial weaknesses.
Saunders in recent years has been one of those "good when healthy" types, and that profile typically makes for a sound calculated risk. He played a career-high 140 games in 2016 and overall put up strong numbers (including a career-best 24 homers). On the downside, his production utterly cratered in the second half, which may give some teams pause. He's a good option for teams comfortable with taking on risk in exchange for a performance upside that would far outstrip the contract he'll sign.
Rasmus has a history of low-OBP power from the right side, and he can get by in center while grading out as a plus at the corners. Yes, Rasmus disappointed for Houston at the plate in 2016 (76 OPS+), but his anomalously low BABIP may portend improvement in the season to come. He's a reasonable short-term fix for a team that doesn't need him to be a fulcrum.
The remainder includes Brandon Moss , who boasts good left-handed power but little else. There's Matt Holliday , who can still produce at age 36 (soon to be 37) but shouldn't see the field any more (he's potentially a bargain DH fix this winter). Matt Joyce returned to being a useful primary half of a platoon, but his fielding is going to become more of a concern. Rajai Davis has a stellar base-running season for Cleveland, but that masked a poor hitter who can't excel in center any longer.
As you can probably glean, there's a significant drop-off after Carlos Gomez. Such is the post-Cespedes landscape for free-agent outfielders heading into the winter meetings.