MLB hot stove: Finding the best fit for every unsigned free agent on our top 50 list
Only 26 of our top 50 free agents have signed
Spring training is a little more than five weeks away, and yet, the free-agent market has yet to get going. Patrick Corbin signed a six-year deal with the Nationals last month, and several relievers have inked two-year deals. Otherwise, not a whole lot has happened. We're still waiting for the floodgates to open, and, after last offseason, they may never truly open.
, including only five of the top 10. In a "normal" offseason, maybe 10-15 of the top 50 free agents would be unsigned at this point, and only 1-2 of the top 10 would be unsigned. For a multitude of reasons, teams have scaled back on spending, and free agents are feeling the squeeze. Spring training is coming and some legitimately great and many very good players are unemployed.
So, with spring training approaching and so many top free agents still 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.
Gosh, every team should be in on Bryce Harper. Every single one. He's a 26-year-old mega-talent and rarely do you get an opportunity to acquire a player like this for cash. Going back to the Nationals makes sense. Signing with the Dodgers or Yankees makes sense. Joining the Cubs makes sense. Lots of teams makes sense for Harper. To me, Harper to the Phillies is the best fit for both parties. The Phillies have to come away from this offseason with a superstar free agent and Harper would get to be the centerpiece of the team's resurgence. Even after the Andrew McCutchen signing, the Phillies have an open corner outfield spot, and they could use a lefty middle-of-the-order presence as well. It fits. It fits perfectly.
Gosh, every team should be in on Manny Machado. Every single one. He's a 26-year-old mega-talent and rarely do you get an opportunity to acquire a player like this for cash. I know I just said that about Harper, but it applies to Machado as well. The Yankees managed to reset their luxury tax last season and they have a sudden opening at shortstop thanks to Didi Gregorius' Tommy John surgery. Also, it's an open secret Machado wants to play for the Yankees. They could use him at short until Gregorius returns, then slide him over to third with the defensively inferior Miguel Andujar moving elsewhere. The Yankees did just sign Troy Tulowitzki, but Tulowitzki should not stand in the way of signing Machado.
The Mets have already had a very active offseason, adding Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, and Wilson Ramos. They still have an opening in center field though -- Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton are nice players but almost certainly not starters for a contending team -- and Pollock is the best center fielder on the market. He'd add length to the lineup and also provide quality defense in spacious Citi Field. His injury history is a concern, for sure, but the potential reward is well worth the risk. The Mets pushed all their chips into the middle of the table this winter. There's no reason to cheap out on center field now.
Lots of clubs have already addressed their catching situation this offseason (the Mets signed Ramos, the Nationals added Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, etc.), so Grandal is starting to run out of potential landing spots. A return to the Dodgers on a high dollar one or two-year contract seems most sensible at this point. Los Angeles gets a stopgap until top prospect Keibert Ruiz is ready to take over behind the plate, and Grandal could re-enter free agency in a year or two without being attached to draft-pick compensation. Sleeper team to watch here: A's.
Without or without Harper or Machado, the Phillies could use one more starter to take their rotation from good to great. It's been a few years since Keuchel pitched at a Cy Young level but he is still very good, and besides, the Phillies have Aaron Nola as a bona fide ace. Keuchel would join Jake Arrieta to form a strong veteran middle of the rotation, a rotation that could go toe-to-toe with pretty much any other rotation in the league. The Phillies certainly have the money and the need.
It's between the Red Sox and Braves for me. The Braves could really use a closer and obviously Kimbrel started his career in Atlanta. It's a good fit for both sides, really. The Red Sox made more sense to me though. They're looking to repeat and they currently have a giant hole in the back of the bullpen with Joe Kelly bolting for the Dodgers and Kimbrel sitting in free agency. Boston would have to exceed the luxury tax threshold even either further to get it done, but when you're looking to defend a World Series title, going cheap at the closer position is a bad idea.
The Jurickson Profar trade put an end to Lowrie's time with the Athletics. There is no shortage of contenders that need second base help though, and the Angels stand out as the best fit for Lowrie. They need another middle-of-the-order bat to help Mike Trout and the price tag shouldn't be exorbitant with his 35th birthday right around the corner. The Halos have been all about incremental upgrades this offseason (Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Tommy La Stella, Justin Bour, etc.). Plugging Lowrie in at second base would be a more substantial addition to a team that is probably two or three substantial additions away from being a serious contender.
Even with Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Chad Green set to pitch the late innings, the Yankees are looking for additional bullpen help this offseason, and the high strikeout Ottavino fits their mold. As an added bonus, he's a native New Yorker who still lives in the area in the offseason. There is some risk here given his injury history and up-and-down career. Ottavino is almost certainly the best non-closing reliever on the market, however.
Clearly, the Phillies have soured on Maikel Franco. Moustakas is not Machado, but with Jean Segura now on-board to play shortstop, Moustakas could man the hot corner and improve the team's defense, if nothing else. (The Phillies were far and away the worst defensive team in baseball last season according to Defensive Runs Saved.) He's also probably a safer bet to provide league average offense than Franco. Philadelphia is in position to make some high profile upgrades this winter and they've done that already (McCutchen, Segura, David Robertson). A lower cost pickup like Moustakas would improve the margins of the roster and that matters too.
Marwin Gonzalez is one of those free agents who fits every team because he's a switch-hitter who can play almost any position. There is room for a player like that on any roster. I like the Brewers the best for Gonzalez because he can play second base in the short-term, then, once top prospect Keston Hiura arrives, he can shift into the super utility player role he held with the Astros the last few seasons. The Brewers are in it to win it and adding depth to the roster in Gonzalez is a no-brainer move.
The Nationals have been very active this offseason but they are still without a clear cut second baseman. Howie Kendrick fits best in a utility role at this point of his career and Wilmer Difo probably shouldn't start for a contender. There are questions about LeMahieu's bat outside Coors Field -- he's a career 329/.386/.447 hitter at Coors Field and a career .267/.314/.367 hitter everywhere else -- but there are zero questions about his glove. The bet here is LeMahieu's true offensive talent level is higher than his non-Coors numbers would lead you to believe, and he'll wind up a sneaky good pickup for someone.
The Athletics figure to be in on every low-cost one-year contract starting pitcher this offseason. They've already brought back Mike Fiers, but, realistically, they need two or three more starting pitchers to have a chance to repeat last year's 97-win season. Gonzalez started his big league career in Oakland and he probably needs to pitch in a spacious home ballpark at this point of his career. If nothing else, Gonzalez can be counted on for innings. He's thrown at least 170 innings in each of the last four seasons and in eight of the last nine seasons. There is value in that durability.
The Braves are known to be seeking bullpen help and Herrera is kind of a forgotten man this winter because he finished last season hurt. He suffered a foot injury covering first base and didn't pitch after Aug. 26. Herrera was very good when healthy, as has been the case for more than a half-decade now, and he strikes me as an excellent value buy for a team not scared away by the foot injury. Classic risk/reward play here and the reward is awfully high.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, the Indians were compelled to cut payroll this offseason, though they managed to do that without trading away one of their top starting pitchers. Good for them, I suppose. Anyway, Cleveland's outfield at the moment includes Leonys Martin, Tyler Naquin and Greg Allen. Maybe Jason Kipnis or Jake Bauers too. Clearly, there's room for another outfielder on the roster, and while Jones is no longer a true center fielder, he's playable in a corner. Also, he's a top notch clubhouse dude. It never hurts to add someone like that to the roster.
Allen picked a bad time to have the worst season of his big league career. He set new full season career worsts in ERA (4.70), FIP (4.56), walk rate (4.4 BB/9), and home run rate (1.5 HR/9) heading into free agency. Ouch. Rather than being positioned for a big free-agent contract, he's essentially a reclamation project. The Angels do not have an obvious closer right now -- rookie Ty Buttrey did nice work in that role at the end of last season -- so they can offer Allen three things: One, a clear path to the closer's role. Two, a chance to pitch in a pitcher friendly ballpark. And three, never having to face Trout. Can't beat that, can you?
If not the Braves, then where? I guess the Rockies could be a fit, though turning Raimel Tapia loose in right field seems more likely. Maybe a rebuilding team like the Marlins or even a return to the Orioles? Eh, possible. The Braves make the most sense to me because they need a corner outfielder and Markakis would have a chance to win. I'm sure he'll hook on somewhere, but it seems to me Markakis is at some risk of a forced retirement this offseason.
I can't help but feel the White Sox's pursuit of Harper and Machado is going to amount to one giant "we tried." Settling for Cabrera would certainly qualify as underwhelming, but the ChiSox aren't shy about making small upgrades (see: Alonso, Yonder), and Cabrera would fit. There's talk Yoan Moncada could shift to the outfield, which would open second base. There's talk Yolmer Sanchez could be cashed in as a trade chip, which would open third base. To me, it sure looks like Cabrera is a free agent without many suitors.
The Brewers are certainly not acting like their rotation is as desperate for help as those of us on the outside may believe. Youngsters like Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes threw the snot out of the ball in postseason and look poised to assume larger roles in 2019. That said, Zach Davies was hurt most of last season and Chase Anderson wasn't very good. Jimmy Nelson hasn't pitched in over a year following shoulder surgery too. Another starter for depth wouldn't be a bad idea. Miley pitched well for Milwaukee last year and it shouldn't cost much to bring him back as an innings guy.
Signing Iglesias would equal replacing Jordy Mercer with a slightly better version of Jordy Mercer. The Pirates have utility man Erik Gonzalez penciled in at shortstop and, if nothing else, Iglesias would really improve the infield defense behind a ground ball reliant pitching staff. Spending money isn't really Pittsburgh's thing, but Iglesias shouldn't cost much. There's no such thing as too much middle infield depth, I say. If not the Pirates, Iglesias may have to hope he can hook on with a rebuilding team like the Marlins or Orioles.
Harrison is the poor man's Marwin Gonzalez. He's an adequate hitter who can play just about any position with aplomb. Joe Panik has injury concerns and the Giants are short on outfielders, so squeezing Harrison into the lineup would be a piece of cake. Add in the fact that he's a high-energy guy and he'd fit nicely with a San Francisco team that needs to accumulate depth, even if they do take a step back and rebuild.
Like I said earlier, the A's figure to be in on every low-cost starting pitcher. Buchholz turned in a surprisingly excellent season with the Diamondbacks last year, throwing 98 1/3 innings with a 2.01 ERA around an oblique injury, and while I wouldn't expect that again, Oakland is in position to roll the dice to see whether the improvement is for real. The A's have signed similar out-of-nowhere bounceback players in recent years, most notably Bartolo Colon, Rich Hill, and Scott Kazmir. It fits.
Yep, another one-year contract guy for the A's. Finger surgery limited Santana to five starts and 24 2/3 innings last year (24 2/3 innings in which he allowed 22 runs) but it was only a season ago that he threw 211 1/3 innings with a 3.28 ERA. Pitching in the spacious Oakland Coliseum will help mitigate Santana's home run issues, so it's a good fit for him and a good fit for the team. Should things go as laid out in this post, the A's would roll into the coming season with Fiers, Gio, Buchholz, and Santana fronting the rotation. Sexy? Not really. Potential for a sneaky good staff? For sure.
The Rays missed out on Cruz and, unless they can convince the Mariners to eat some money, a trade for Edwin Encarnacion doesn't seem all that likely. (They reportedly indicated to Cruz they could offer him $12 million. Encarnacion is due $25 million in 2019.) Gattis has never been a high on-base player but he will annihilate a mistake, and he'll cost a fracture of some bigger name DH options.
Even if they re-sign Kimbrel, the Red Sox could still use one more middle reliever. Someone to complement Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes rather than push them into less prominent roles. Kelly is a slider specialist and a buzz saw against right-handed hitters -- he held righties to a .171 batting average and a .605 OPS in 2018 -- which would come in handy for all those head-to-head matchups against the right-handed heavy Yankees. Having Kelley available to match up against Andujar, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and others 18 times a year sure could come in handy.
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