After 108 years, three 100-loss seasons, Billy Goats, many broken hearts, and of course Bartman, the Chicago Cubs have ended the longest running title drought in North American sports history, by winning their first World Series since 1908.
Unfortunately, we will now have to wait five and a half months until the regular season starts and the Cubs can defend their title.
Even though April is still a ways away, there is a little bit of business that all 30 Major League Baseball teams including the Cubs and their general manager/baseball God Theo Epstein have to take care of before we next spring rolls around; and that, of course, is free agency.
Unlike football, basketball, and hockey, there isn't long wait from the end of the season until the opening of free agency. The floodgates have officially opened on MLB's free agent period. Names like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Aroldis Chapman, and Yoenis Cespedes have all hit the market, with their services most likely go to the highest bidder.
With free agency about to get started, we here at The Sportster give you The Top 15 MLB Free Agents, and where they will sign.
15 Neil Walker – Los Angeles Dodgers
The son of former Pittsburgh Pirates Pitcher Tom Walker, Neil, the New York Mets' second baseman had a phenomenal year in his first season as a member of the Metropolitans. After arriving in a trade last off-season from his hometown Pirates, he reached a career-high in batting average, homers, and slugging percentage, with .282, 23, and .476 respectively.
Walker has been a model of consistency through his career, as he has hit at least 12 home runs in seven straight full seasons (he played 17 games his rookie year in 2009). He exhibits the same thing defensively, as last year was the sixth straight campaign he put up a .985 or better fielding percentage. In fact, in 2015, the Pittsburgh native helped turn the first ever 4 (Second Base) - 5 (Third Base) - 4 (Second Base) triple play in MLB history.
The only red flag about the 11th overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft is that he only played 113 games last season as he underwent back surgery (lumbar microdiscectomy) in September.
When healthy, Walker would provide a team with reliability and production from both sides of the diamond. The Dodgers are an easy answer here due to their tendency to splurge.
14 Justin Turner – Los Angeles Dodgers
I originally had outfielder Josh Reddick on the list, but I quickly realized that not only is Justin Turner a better player, but Reddick is actually a little over-rated. Moving on, Turner, who was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers on a one-year $1 million minor league deal after he was let go by the New York Mets, has turned into a quality player out west.
In his first season as a Dodger, Turner led the team with a .340 batting average. The following year, he batted a more than respectable .294, and hit a career-high 16 home runs and 60 runs batted in.
In 2016, the Long Beach, California native bested his numbers, by producing 27 homers, 90 RBIs, along with a personal best 153 hits and 274 total bases.
In the postseason, Turner ups his game even more, as the soon to be 32-year-old hit .357, 12 RBIs, and 9 extra base hits spread out over 18 games.
Defensively, Turner's numbers improved as well, as he put up a career-best .972 fielding percentage. He also showed a lot of versatility, as he played all four infield positions.
There's no reason to think the Dodgers won't keep him.
13 Wilson Ramos – Washington Nationals
Wilson Ramos was enjoying a spectacular season for the Washington Nationals, as he was named to his first All-Star team, and he hit .307, with 22 home runs, and 80 RBIs, all career highs. All that came crashing down on September 26th, when the 29-year-old tore his right ACL. The injury not only ended the Venezuelan's season but it effectively also eliminated any real chance of his team winning the World Series, as his absence was too big of a hole to fill.
While the veteran catcher will surely come back from the injury, (he had surgery in mid-October) there's no telling how accurate the 6-8 month recovery prognosis is, how his knee will fare in rehab, the amount of much time he will miss next year, and how long it will take the 29-year-old to get back to pre-injury form.
Naturally, it should go without saying, that any team that brings in the talented backstop will not only have to have patience with him but should also have a backup option who they are comfortable with having to start at least the first 2-3 months of the season.
Injury or no injury, Ramos, who has seen an increase in hits, homers, and RBIs the last three straight years, as well as in his batting average and slugging percentage in two out of the last three campaigns, would have undoubtedly been much higher on the list if not for the injury. He will still have a good amount of suitors trying to get him to sign on the dotted line once the free agent frenzy begins. His injury may result in him signing in Washington on a hometown discount.
12 Mark Melancon - Atlanta Braves
We come to our first closer on the list. Acquired by the Washington Nationals from the Pittsburgh Pirates this past July, Mark Melancon was lights out for both squads as he saved 47 games, and posted a sterling 1.64 ERA. The right-hander has converted 131 of a possible 141 save opportunities since becoming a full-time closer in 2013.
Melancon, who was drafted in the 9th round of the 2006 draft by the New York Yankees, has also pitched for the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, and Houston Astros. This past season, the closer, who relies on control and ball placement due to his inability to hit the mid-90s on his fastball, was named an All-Star for the second consecutive season, and the third time in his career. He also was the 2015 Trevor Hoffman Award winner, which is given to the National League's best relief pitcher, after he led the NL in saves with 51 as a member of the Pirates.
While he might not get as much attention as big-name relief pitchers Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, at only 31 and with 168 career saves already under his belt, Melancon not only has plenty of time to build off of his impressive numbers but to also get his name mentioned with the game's elite.
This would truly help the Braves, who are desperate to climb back on top of the NL East.
11 Matt Wieters - Atlanta Braves
With Wilson Ramos' aforementioned ACL injury and the Texas Rangers deciding to exercise their club option on catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles finds himself as this off-season's most attractive free agent options behind the plate.
Wieters picked the perfect time to have a bounce back year after missing time over the previous two seasons due to Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his right elbow. In his first full season since the 2014 operation, the switch-hitting 30-year-old hit .243, with 17 home runs, and 66 RBIs, with a solid .302 on-base percentage (OBP) and a .409 slugging percentage. The return to health paid off, as he was voted an All-Star for the fourth time in his career.
Defensively, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket can hold his own, as he is a two-time Gold Glove winner. This past season, he recorded a .988 fielding percentage, and he threw out 35% of base runners, which was 6% better than the league average.
Once again, with such a weak crop of free agents, a player of Wieters' talents, stands a really good chance of scoring a really big payday. A team looking for some offense from behind the plate and a veteran to help lead a young pitching staff should sign the 31-year-old. Hello Atlanta.
10 Rich Hill – Los Angeles Dodgers
While it may seem a little odd to put a player who will turn 37 before the regular season starts on a list of top 15 free agents, the veteran pitcher is like a fine wine, as he has seemingly gotten better with age.
Acquired by the Dodgers along with the aforementioned Josh Reddick from the A's, Rich Hill was dynamite in his only season with the team from the Bay Area, as he posted a 9-3 record with 2.25 ERA and 129 strikeouts.
Hill was arguably even better in Dodger blue, as he recorded 6 scoreless innings to earn a 1-0 win over the San Francisco Giants in his debut with his new team in August. Then, he nearly threw a perfect game versus the Miami Marlins a month later.
Armed with a nasty curve ball, the 6'5 Hill was electric in the National League Championship Series against the Cubs as he pitched 6 scoreless innings and gave up only 2 hits while severely out-pitching Chicago ace Jake Arrieta.
Despite his age, the only real red flag on Hill is blister issues that caused him to exit a few games early than expected. Nonetheless, teams looking for starting pitching help should try to sign the late-blooming pitcher. There's no reason to think the Dodgers will let him go.
9 Dexter Fowler - San Francisco Giants
After almost signing with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent last offseason, center fielder and leadoff hitter extraordinaire Dexter Fowler returned to the Chicago Cubs on a one-year deal. The move paid off for both sides, as Fowler would play a key role in helping the Cubbies win their first championship in 108 years.
Besides helping the Cubs make history, Fowler made some of his own, as his lead-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series not only energized his teammates and set the tone for the game, but it also made him the first player in the years of the fall classic to start off the game by hitting one out of the park.
By making it to the World Series, Fowler, along with teammates Carl Edwards Jr., Jason Heyward, and Addison Russell, became the first ever African-Americans to play for the Cubs in the fall classic.
During the regular season, the speedy Fowler stole 13 bases, hit .276 with 13 Home Runs, 48 RBI, 25 doubles, and a team-high 7 triples. He also had an impressive .393 on-base percentage.
His defensive game was even more impressive, as the 30-year-old had 219 Putouts and a .983 fielding percentage. Combining his play on both sides of the ball explains why he was named an All-Star for the first time this season.
Any team looking for a defensively-sound outfielder who has some pop in the bat and the speed to create havoc on the base paths, don't need to look any further than Fowler. This looks like the perfect signing for the Giants, who are desperate for more reliable bats in their lineup.
8 Mark Trumbo - Kansas City Royals
After failing badly when he had to play in the outfield this season (he had 12 errors), it is abundantly clear that fielding isn't the strongest point of Mark Trumbo's game.
As a DH/first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, the recently voted 2016 Sporting News American League Player of the Year was flawless defensively as he didn't record a single error.
What puts Trumbo on the list, however, is his offensive talents. This past season, the 30-year-old slugger had a monster year at the plate, as he hit a Major League Baseball leading 47 Home Runs, along with a career-best 157 hits and 108 RBIs, and was voted to his second All-Star team. His numbers were the best since 2012 when he was a member of the Los Angeles Angels.
Besides the Orioles and Angels, Trumbo has also suited up for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners. For a team (preferably an American League one) looking for a big bat, you could do a lot worse than the California native, who in 7 short seasons, already has 517 runs batted in and nearly 200 career home runs. Expect a run-challenged team like the Kansas City Royals to make a run at the slugger.
7 Carlos Beltran - New York Mets
Carlos Beltran is like that annoying relative at a family dinner that won't stop talking and stuffing their face with everything in sight. Despite being 39 years old (he'll turn 40 this April), Beltran's career keeps on going.
With last season split between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, the 1999 ALRookie of the Year hit an incredible 29 home runs and a jaw-dropping 93 RBIs.
Despite the fact that he is still in peak physical condition, Beltran was arguably even more impressive defensively, as the 3-time Gold Glove Award winner played left, right, and center field at an age when most Major League Baseball players are long-retired.
Still looking for his first championship, the 9-time All-Star and future Hall-Of-Famer can conceivably keep chasing a ring for as long as he wants to. As the $15 million he earned last season shows, teams are still more than willing to pay for the Beltran's services.
Teams who are looking for hitting, solid defense, the versatility to play all three outfield spots, and veteran leadership should look to sign Beltran immediately, as he won't last too long on the open market. The Mets will want to rebound after a taking a step back in 2016 following their trip to the World Series in 2015.
6 Ian Desmond - Chicago White Sox
While I have never met Texas Rangers' second baseman Ian Desmond, I would have to imagine that he's pretty good at poker. Last offseason, as a member of the Washington Nationals, he rejected a qualifying offer from the Nats that would have paid him $15.8 million for this past season. Instead of renegotiating another deal, the team let him walk as a free agent. Desmond stayed unsigned all the way until February 29th when he signed a 1-year with the Rangers for $8 million.
While Desmond lost money in the short term, he essentially bet on himself that he would make it up a year later in free agency. The wager proved to be a brilliant one as he put up impressive numbers in his first season in the American League. In 156 games with the Rangers, the former Montreal Expos' draft pick (2004) batted .285 and connected for 22 homers and 86 RBIs. He also recorded 178 hits and 279 total bases, both of which were career-highs.
What makes Desmond's season even more impressive is that after playing Shortstop for his first 7 MLB seasons and winning three Silver Slugger Awards, Desmond, switched to the outfield and was voted to his second All-Star game.
Desmond's batting ability, along with his versatility and production, will be sure to have him not only signed way before February this year, but it will most likely have him laughing all the way to the bank. After falling behind in the AL Central, expect the White Sox to make a strong push.
5 Kenley Jansen - New York Yankees
The 2016 Trevor Hoffman Award winner with a National League leading 47 saves is the next closer on the list. The 6th year pro from Willemstad, Curacao actually signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an undrafted catcher in 2005.
After becoming a pitcher in 2009, the 6'5 270-pounder wasted little time finding his groove, as he was promoted to the Dodgers in 2010.
Since becoming the team's full-time closer in 2012, Jansen, whose trademark pitch is a cut fastball that has been timed in the high 90s, has been one of the best finishers in baseball. His 14.6 strikeouts per 9 innings over the last four seasons is the second most in Major League Baseball history.
This past season, Jansen posted career-high numbers in ERA with a sterling 1.83 and saves with the aforementioned 47. He was also voted to his first All-Star team.
Jansen's breakout season couldn't have come at a better time, as the 29-year-old free agent, who signed a 1-year $10.65 million dollar deal with the Dodgers last year, is sure to almost double that figure once the free agent frenzy begins.
After trading away Aroldis Chapman last season, the Yankees will land their replacement at closer.
4 Jose Bautista - Boston Red Sox
Once thought unimaginable, the face of the Toronto Blue Jays, and the author of the infamous bat flip, Jose Bautista could be finishing his impressive and potentially Hall-Of-Fame career in another uniform.
Contract talks with the slugger and the team broke down in spring training, with the 36-year-old Bautista rejecting the idea of taking a hometown discount. He was reportedly looking for a deal in the neighborhood of five years and in excess of $140 million.
The problem with giving Bautista that kind of deal is, besides the fact that he is closer to 40 than he is to 30, it appears that injuries have started to take their toll on the slugger. This past season, the right fielder and occasional DH missed 46 games. Over his five previous seasons combined, the face of the franchise has missed a total of 143 contests.
Regardless of the injuries, you can be sure that multiple teams, including Toronto and the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and Texas Rangers, will still try to get the most popular Blue Jay since Joe Carter to sign on the dotted line. They can point to his 177 home runs and 458 RBIs in the previously mentioned 5-year time period, along with his .861 on-base and slugging percentage, as a justification for the move.
The Red Sox have to be considered the favorite here considering their DH David Ortiz just retired and they've shown they're willing to pay anything to land a high priced free agent.
3 Aroldis Chapman - Washington Nationals
The flame-throwing left-hander almost became the ghost latest in a long list of reasons as to why the Chicago Cubs hadn't won a championship in 108 years, as his blown save in Game 7 of the World Series almost came back to bite the Cubbies. Aroldis Chapman, however, would actually end up getting the win.
Besides the Game 7 theatrics, Chapman, who was acquired by the Cubs in a trade with the New York Yankees just before last season's trade deadline, was money all year for both teams as he recorded 36 combined saves and a 1.55 ERA.
Armed with a devastating fastball that has been clocked at a record-breaking 105 MPH and an extremely tough to hit slider, Chapman has a career strikeout per 9 innings rate of 14.66.
The 4-time All-Star also holds the record for most consecutive relief appearances with a strikeout with 49 and is the fastest pitcher to reach 500 strikeouts.
Widely considered the best closer in the game, you can be sure that a bidding war will take place for his services. Expect a team who is looking for the final piece to put them over the top like the Cubs were last year, to break the bank to sign the 28-year-old.
A logical fit would be the Nationals, who have constantly come up short in the postseason.
2 Yoenis Cespedes - Boston Red Sox
The entertaining outfielder makes the list after he decided to opt out of the final two years of a 3-year, $75 million deal that he just signed with the New York Mets last year.
The two-time Home Run Derby champion (2013-2014), brings a strong bat to the table. Over the last two seasons alone, Yoenis Cespedes has hit 66 homers and an eye-opening 191 RBIs.
On the defensive end, Cespedes is equally impressive, as the two-time All-Star also has a 2015 Gold Glove on his resume. He also gives you versatility, as his speed and range have allowed him to play all 3 Outfield positions.
The recently turned 31-year-old has the ability to turn a team into an instant contender. For teams like the Red Sox — who have the replace the recently retired David Ortiz — or the Dodgers — who will have to find a replacement for Yasiel Puig once they get rid of the gifted but controversial star as expected — dishing out a contract that will most likely come closer to $200 million than $100 million will simply just be the price of doing business.
1 Edwin Encarnacion - Toronto Blue Jays
Some people will put Cespedes first, but I am going with Encarnacion due to the fact that he has been more productive for a longer period of time.
Reportedly regarded as nothing more than a throw-in in a 2009 trade between the Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays, Edwin Encarnacion has to go down not only as one of the best acquisitions in Jays' history, but in the league as well. The then little-known first baseman/DH has put up monster numbers in his seven and a half years playing for Canada's only team.
It would seemingly make the most sense for the 33-year-old to re-sign with Toronto, given the team's firepower (even potentially without his bash brother Jose Bautista), solid starting pitching, status as a contender, and the fact that Encarnacion played a huge part in the franchise's recent turnaround over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, we all know that money talks, and while the Jays are owned by Canadian media giant Rogers Media, the team will still be in competition with the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers and possibly both New York organizations for the slugger's services.
Despite what Bautista means to the city of Toronto, there stands a very good chance that he has played his last game as a Blue Jay. Fortunately for the fans, that won't be the case with Encarnacion.
Other Possible Fits: Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers.
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