MLB hot stove: Five last-minute free agent signings we'd like to see before spring training begins

At long last, spring training has arrived. MLB teams will begin reporting to spring camps in Arizona and Florida in the coming days, and, late next week Cactus League and Grapefruit League play will begin. Real live baseball is less than two weeks away. Thank goodness for that. I think we're all ready for the offseason to be over (and for the Mookie Betts trade to finally go through).

Last year at this time we were still waiting for Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, and Manny Machado to sign. Thankfully, the free agent market moved much more quickly and vigorously this offseason, and all the big names signed weeks ago. Only three of our top 50 free agents remain unsigned, and one of the three has been on the fence about retirement.

And yet, several useful players remain unemployed as spring training opens. These players will sign soon enough -- inevitably, injuries will open roster spots before Opening Day -- but right now they're stuck waiting. Let's play free agent matchmaker. Here are five last-minute free agent signings we'd like to see with spring training set to begin.

Holt to the White Sox

View Profile
Brock Holt MIL • 2B • 32
BA.297
R38
HR3
RBI31
SB1

The White Sox might be the most improved team in baseball yet they still have an opening at second base. Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick are expected to hold down the position until unicorn prospect Nick Madrigal arrives, likely in late April or May. Madrigal struck out 16 times in 120 minor league games last year (!) and reached Triple-A. He'll be up soon enough.

Here's the thing though: Chicago expects to contend for a postseason spot, and every win in the standings matters. The difference between Garcia/Mendick and Brock Holt until Madrigal arrives could be a win, and that win could be the difference between a wild-card spot or an October vacation. Also, it's not Garcia/Mendick or Holt. The White Sox can have all three players.

Furthermore, the White Sox's bench isn't particularly strong. Garcia/Mendick are expected to join backup catcher James McCann, outfielder Adam Engel, and either Zack Collins or Cheslor Cuthbert on the bench. It's not great. Holt provides depth at second base and coverage pretty much everywhere because he's so versatile. He can help them in so many ways.

Kipnis to the Cubs

View Profile
Jason Kipnis CHC • 2B •
BA.245
R52
HR17
RBI65
SB7

Considering they were dead set on spending little to money this offseason, the Cubs did a decent job picking up low-cost depth players like Steven Souza and Jeremy Jeffress. The bullpen is still lacking, they don't have a set center fielder or second baseman, and the bench could maybe use another bat, but doing something (Souza and Jeffress) is better than nothing. Hooray?

Right now the Cubbies are planning on some combination of Albert Almora, Ian Happ, and Jason Heyward in center with Happ, David Bote, and Nico Hoerner at second base. It's been a while since Jason Kipnis was even a league-average hitter, but he has experience at second base and in center field, and is a left-handed hitter who can put the ball in the seats.

As unexciting as a Kipnis signing would be, he'd give the Cubs depth at two unsettled positions, and allow the club to remain patient with Hoerner, their top prospect. Hoerner skipped over Triple-A entirely last year and it showed at times during his brief MLB stint. For Chicago, adding Kipnis is about giving new manager David Ross as many options as possible.

McHugh to the Yankees

View Profile
Collin McHugh HOU • RP • 31
ERA4.70
WHIP1.23
IP74.2
BB30
K82

Even while handing out the largest pitching contract in baseball history, it's been a sneaky-quiet offseason for the Yankees. They signed Gerrit Cole, re-signed Brett Gardner, and that's it. No other notable additions. The Yankees lost a good amount of depth to free agency (Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine) and haven't replaced it. They'll try to do so from within.

New York lost James Paxton to back surgery last week (he'll be out 3-4 months) and they have a little flexibility in their bullpen. Collin McHugh has been a serviceable starter and a great reliever at various points in his career, and he checks every analytical box (high spin rates, etc.). The Yankees could let him compete for their No. 5 starter's spot with the bullpen as a fallback plan.

The elephant in the room: McHugh battled elbow trouble last year and finished the season hurt. MLB Trade Rumors, which catches every reputable rumor in the internet, has not had an update to its McHugh archive since Sept. 25. That's a pretty good indication teams are not comfortable with the medicals. There's no such thing as a bad minor league contract, however.

Pillar to the Rangers

View Profile
Kevin Pillar BOS • CF • 5
BA.259
R83
HR21
RBI88
SB14

Kind of a weird offseason for the Rangers, no? They added to their rotation (Corey Kluber and Jordan Lyles), brought in a new third baseman (Todd Frazier), and took some nice minor league fliers (Cody Allen, Greg Bird, Matt Duffy). Texas did not add the big bat many expected to add this winter though, and the Rangers still don't have an actual center fielder on the roster.

Right now, utility man Danny Santana is penciled into center field, assuming he isn't needed at first base. Joey Gallo is the fallback plan in center, though it seems the Rangers prefer him in right. Beyond Santana and Gallo there's, uh, Scott Heineman? Adolis Garcia? Top prospect Leody Taveras is likely a year away from a full-time MLB role. Maybe even longer.

Center field is an obvious need as the Rangers open Globe Life Field and Kevin Pillar is far and away the best true center fielder on the market. Even with his defensive stats trending south in his early 30s, Pillar remains a good defender who can put a mistake in the seats offensively. He'd also allow Santana to go back to the super utility role he thrived in last year. An obvious fit.

Puig to the Marlins

View Profile
Yasiel Puig CLE • RF • 66
BA.267
R76
HR24
RBI84
SB19

Our highest ranked unsigned free agent (No. 14 on our top 50) has started appearing in rumors lately. The Giants and Rays have reportedly had interest in Yasiel Puig recently. It's unlikely he will ever return to his 2013-14 peak, but Puig turned only 29 last month, and he's still good for 20-something homers, great throws, and a lot of fun. Few players are more entertaining.

The Marlins, to their credit, have made an effort to be respectable in 2020. They won't contend for a postseason spot or even be good, but this winter they brought in Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickerson, and Jonathan Villar, three legitimate major leaguers to help one of the game's worst and least compelling offenses. That's more than you can say about some other rebuilding teams.

Miami could slot Puig into right field, move Brian Anderson back to his natural third base, and slot Villar in at shortstop. That allows Miguel Rojas to fill a super utility role, where he fits best. The Marlins are going to be bad -- maybe not as bad as 2019, but still bad -- and if you're going to be bad, you might as well be fun. Plus Puig on South Beach seems like a thing that needs to happen.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories