With the World Series behind us, it’s time to focus on the offseason and the unpredictable signings teams make for unimaginable amounts of money. This offseason features a free agency class filled with big boppers and bullpen arms. It’s going to be interesting to watch how things unfold, especially since one of the notorious high spending teams, the Yankees, will likely be active in free agency for the first time in a few years.
There’s also usually one surprise team of the offseason who spends big, although it usually doesn’t pan out (Diamondbacks, Padres, Marlins). The teams who could look to surprise some people in free agency this year are the White Sox, Astros, and Indians.
It’s always fun to analyze each teams biggest needs heading into free agency, and to try and predict if they have the money to afford certain players. This article will take a look at the top 15 guys who will earn the big bucks, and try to predict their landing spot.
15. Baltimore Orioles: Rich Hill
If there’s one thing we know about this year’s offseason, it’s that starting pitchers are on sale for a limited time only. The quality of starters is underwhelming, especially with the amount of teams who could use pitching help. Those teams include the Orioles, Royals, Reds, Braves, Pirates, Tigers, Yankees, Marlins, and just about every other team looking for depth. Trying to predict where Hill goes is like a blind-folded guy throwing darts at all these teams – he can land anywhere.
The O’s are one of the few playoff teams whose starting pitcher WAR was lower than many non-playoff teams. Part of the reason for that is because there is no ace on the staff. Hill wouldn’t give them a clear-cut number one starting option, but he would elevate the staff if he can continue to perform the way he did in 2016, despite the fact that he is entering his age 37 season.
14. New York Yankees: Jeremy Hellickson
Sticking with the starting pitchers, Jeremy Hellickson is the right-handed (and younger) option on the market. His numbers were not as good as Hill’s, but he did start 12 more games in 2016 and will likely get a longer contract because of his age. The Yankees could be a fit, as they could use the extra arm with Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Luis Severino taking steps backward in 2016. Hellickson is long removed from his days in Tampa Bay, but he did have success in the AL East, a division with no shortage of big name hitters.
The Yanks were a few games away from making the playoffs in 2016, and you know they aren’t looking for a long rebuild. They will still save their money for 2018, when bigger names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit the free agent market, but they will still be involved in signing players this offseason with Mark Teixera off the payroll. Let’s not forget, the Yankees have been awfully quiet for the past two offseason’s in their attempt to get under the luxury tax threshold. Their lack of spending should somewhat come to an end this winter.
13. Baltimore Orioles: Josh Reddick
Right-field defense is a significant need for the Orioles. They played 2016 with Mark Trumbo starting the majority of games in right, and advanced defensive metrics grade him to be a horrible fielder. While Baltimore will miss his bat if he choses to sign elsewhere, the team can bring in a more affordable option who can play better defense while also giving them a left-handed option at the plate.
No matter what team does sign Josh Reddick, they won’t be hoping for him to repeat his 2016 performance. Rather, they will be looking to invest in the player he was back in 2015, where he batted .272/.333/.449 to go with 20 home runs. Here is a look at what the Orioles projected lineup could look like through the first six batters if they were to sign Reddick: (L) Hyun Too Kim, (R) Jonathan Schoop, (R) Manny Machado, (L) Chris Davis, (R) Adam Jones, (L) Josh Reddick. That’s a nice mix of lefties and righties to go with a variety of batter types. It’s not the same as having Trumbo’s bat in the lineup, but it does make them a bit more versatile.
12. Chicago White Sox: Neil Walker
2016 was a ground breaking year for second basemen offensively. There were so many second basemen performing at a high level, that Neil Walker kind of got lost in the shuffle. On top of that, the market for a second baseman isn’t exactly booming. Teams might look to use Walker as both a second and third baseman, but ultimately a team like the White Sox makes the most sense for him.
It’s possible that Walker accepts a qualifying offer from the Mets if they were to offer one, but they already have Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores, Asdrubal Cabrera, and David Wright coming back to what would be a crowded infield with the 31-year-old Walker. The Dodgers could be another option in the mix, but a reunion with Chase Utley would seem like the most affordable and likely option since Utley would like to spend his finals days on a winning team. For a team that was as bad as the White Sox were in 2016, they have a number of big name players all over the roster. A guy like Walker could be the missing piece to a team who plays in a division where seemingly any one of those five teams can win it. Other teams who could be in on Walker are the Padres, Athletics, and Angels, but those three teams are not likely to play meaningful baseball in the near future.
11. St. Louis Cardinals: Dexter Fowler
The St. Louis Cardinals are heading into an offseason having not made the playoffs for the first time in five years. This is not a team that is looking to go through a rebuilding process, as they were just a few games away from sneaking into the postseason. What they really need to get into October baseball was a legitimate center fielder and leadoff hitter, and Dexter Fowler can play both of those roles. Matt Carpenter was an extremely capable leadoff hitter for them, but with the loss of Matt Holliday, the team would probably be interested in moving Carpenter down the lineup, perhaps to the number three spot.
If GM John Mozeliak decides to make to move to bring on Dexter Fowler, it wouldn’t just be to fill an obvious need. Don’t forget, last offseason, it was the Cubs stealing Jason Heyward away from the Cardinals, signing him to a big contract that he hasn’t necessarily been worth in year one. Stealing Fowler from the Cubs would be a nice revenge move while pushing this storied rivalry further. Of course, in order for this to happen, Fowler would have to deny the Cubs qualifying offer.
10 Los Angeles Dodgers: Justin Turner
The Dodgers have a number of guys they would like to bring back this offseason, and none of them are bigger for the offense than Justin Turner. The red-headed third baseman has put up numbers no one saw coming, including 27 home runs in 2016. While his BA and OBP took a slight dip, he is going to receive the biggest contract he’s ever been offered – a lot more than the $1 million the Dodgers paid to get him before he took off.
The Dodgers could save money and try to get other guys going – like Howie Kendrick or Kike Hernandez – but that’s not who the Dodgers are. They are spenders and they will continue to do so if they fail to bring in a World Series title in 2016. It’s important to note that Turner grew up 30 minutes from Dodger stadium. Since LA is the only team he’s had significant Major League success with, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he takes less money to stay with the team.
9. Toronto Blue Jays: Mark Trumbo
We have heard all about the two big Blue Jay power hitters who are headed for free agency. While they probably won’t be able to retain Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista (they probably don’t want to bring Bautista back anyways), there are still other options to consider on the market. Mark Trumbo is the biggest power bat to consider outside of Encarnacion. He is a one-dimensional player, as his fielding issues are well documented and his OBP isn’t necessarily high (.316) for a guy who hit nearly 50 home runs. He would most likely fill in as a DH while the team looks for left-handed options to play first base and right field.
A couple other teams that could be in on Trumbo are the White Sox and Rangers. Both teams could use help at the DH position, and Trumbo’s defensive liabilities project him as an everyday DH. The Rangers used the aging Carlos Beltran as a DH, who is a free agent. The White Sox used Avisail Garcia for most of the year, and he finished with an underwhelming slash line of .245/.307/.385.
8. Cleveland Indians: Wilson Ramos
The situation Wilson Ramos is going through is rather unfortunate. The man goes out and has the best season of his career, only to suffer a serious ACL tear that will undoubtedly hurt his stock heading into free agency. He was originally seeking a four-five year deal worth over $100 million, but those expectations between him and his agent may have to be lowered as his rehabbing will leak into the 2017 regular season. Not to mention, 2016 was by far his best year in the big leagues, so we have no idea if he is capable of repeating that level of performance.
Regardless, he plays the catcher position, for now at least, and there are always teams who would love to have the luxury of having an offensive catcher in the lineup. The Cleveland Indians were this close to winning it all in 2016, and they did that with a catcher who profiles as a backup. They missed out on Jonathan Lucroy at the deadline, which may have been the move that hindered them from winning it all. Ramos’ stock may have dropped low enough for the Indians to afford him, since they are a team that generally stays away from big contracts.
7. San Francisco Giants: Mark Melancon
The San Francisco Giants have had three World Series winning teams since 2010, and one thing each of those teams had was a closer. We saw the effects of what not having a closer looks like, so one of their biggest needs is to improve their bullpen. Mark Melancon gives them the ninth inning arm they need, and he doesn’t come with the price tag of a Aroldis Chapman or Kensley Jansen.
Melancon has had four straight great seasons, and would give the Giants the one piece they are missing in the pen. Both Santiago Casilla and Hunter Strickland can compete for the seventh and eigth inning spots, while Melancon can be the shutdown guy in the ninth that so many playoff teams value. This past World Series saw two teams who traded with the Yankees for their elite relievers in Chapman and Andrew Miller. The value for relievers seems to be at an all-time high, and the Giants of all teams know why that is.
6. Houston Astros: Ian Desmond
A lot can change in a year, and Ian Desmond is a prime example of that. The 31-year-old went from a shortstop that nobody wanted to a Swiss army knife that is sure to attract a number of teams looking for a player who can fill in on the infield or outfield. The team that will value Desmond the most is a team that has a hole out in left field with little depth at the infield positions. Desmond will start off as an everyday left fielder, but if something were to happen to a shortstop, second baseman, or third baseman, the team will have Desmond as an option to fill that new need.
Teams of that mold are the Rangers, Giants, Mariners, Orioles, and Astros. A team like the Astros could surprise everybody since they are a low budget team who rarely makes a splash in the free agent market. But having missed the playoffs in 2016 after making it in 2015, that might be enough motivation for the team to whip out the checkbook like some low budget teams have done in the recent past.
5. Chicago White Sox: Jose Bautista
With all the attention their cross-town rivals got for winning the World Series, the White Sox will look to use the offseason to revert some of the attention back to them. One way to do that is to sign Jose Bautista to be the team’s DH and occasional corner outfielder. Since Bautista didn’t put up his typical numbers in 2016, his price tag should come down a bit, making mid-market teams a potential landing spot for the 36-year-old.
Bautista could sign a similar deal that Yoenis Cespedes got with the Mets last season, where he can opt out after one year. The bottom line is that given his age, he won’t be getting a long term deal, and most likely nothing past the three year mark. Whatever team signs him, we can expect there to be some incentives or even a team opt. out as well. While teams like the Mets have inquired about Bautista, he probably stays in the American League to pursue a full-time DH role.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen
The Dodgers have indicated that they want to bring back some of their key free agents, and Kenley Jansen is probably the most important of them all. We know they have the finances to retain him, and without Jansen, that bullpen will struggle to close out games. There isn’t a reliever on that roster that can replace Jansen, who has accumulated a 3.8 WAR, which is better than a lot of starting pitchers.
Jansen has dominated the ninth inning with the same pitch Mariano Rivera threw – the cutter. He’s pitched for LA since 2010 and has never finished the season with an ERA over 3.00. At the age of 29, he can potentially receive a contract that keeps him in Dodger Blue for over five years, but it’s more likely to be in the ballpark of four years. It’s hard to imagine Jansen getting more money elsewhere, and the Dodgers seem to be in playoff contention every year. With youngsters like Julio Urias and Corey Seager, the near future looks good for the Dodgers and their chances of playing October baseball.
3. Boston Red Sox: Edwin Encarnacion
The Red Sox are going to miss the iconic bat of David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup, and they have a good opportunity to replace him with a power bat from their division rivals. If the Red Sox are able to steal their rivals DH, it would greatly impact the Blue Jays future, as Jose Bautista is also no guarantee to resign with the club. Toronto has made the Wild Card the future is unclear in that highly competitive division. A move like this could make Boston an AL East powerhouse.
The only downfall this move presents is that the lineup would be heavily right-handed. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing in Fenway Park. In the 50 games Edwin Encarnacion has played at Fenway, he’s hit 14 home runs while batting .286. The Red Sox would probably look to improve upon their starting pitching, but there aren’t any long term options on the market. Finding a new DH is the next best thing, and Encarnacion is perfect for that.
2. New York Yankees: Aroldis Chapman
The Yankees actually finished the season just five games out of playoff contention. They somehow did that without Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Now with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixera off team payroll, the Yankees can make some moves in free agency, something they have avoided doing for the past two years. Don’t forget, the Yankees originally acquired Chapman through a trade, not the free agent market.
The Yanks will be going after an elite receiver on the market, especially since there are a few different options. Chapman represents the best one for the team since it would give Joe Girardi an elite righty/lefty tandem with Dellin Betances. Girardi can once again save his best option for the ninth, depending on what the opponents lineup presents, or depending on which one of their studs needs a day of rest. It helps that Chapman has played in New York already, and the fact that he has experience on the biggest stage in baseball, the World Series, a series the Yankees plan on reaching every year.
1. New York Mets: Yoenis Cespedes
The hardest free agent to predict this offseason will be Yoenis Cespedes. Of course, he would have to use his opt out to hit the free agent market, which he is almost guaranteed to do. If he does, the Mets will likely not be in the running for Cespedes since they can bring Jay Bruce back to go with their crowded outfield. Some analysts have predicted he signs with the Yankees, but that would likely mean they miss out on signing Bryce Harper in 2018. The Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cubs are other big market teams, but there doesn’t seem to be a fit on their rosters for the Cuban outfielder.
An intriguing team would be the San Francisco Giants, but given the amount of right-handed bats they already have, and the fact that they spent a lot of money last offseason on Johnny Cuetto. It’s more likely that the Mets and Cespedes once again find a way to work out a deal. It will be interesting, given that the Mets have a ton of corner outfield options, but I’d imagine they opt to trade on of their young pieces for a left-handed center field option to platoon with Lagares so they can keep Cespedes, who has proven he can play under the brightest lights.
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