With America set to sit down around the table, and give thanks for all they hold near and dear, the rest of the world eagerly anticipates a trifecta of NFL games and taking advantage of Black Friday deals. For me though, what I look forward to is not the obligatory airing of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” although, I am a sucker for a John Candy film or the 75% off of a 70″ flat screen, but rather the ramping up of the MLB offseason. Known to those who speak baseball as the “hot stove,” the MLB offseason is a whirlwind ride of rumours, rumblings and constant refreshing of the Twittersphere, that leaves fans of every club eager to find out who their team is “in on.”
Even though the MLB’s GM Winter Meetings, the “unofficial” start of Hot Stove season, aren’t set to take place for another few weeks in Las Vegas, the Stove is already beginning to show signs of warming up. So far, outside of various signings to fill minor league rosters, we have seen a few free agents ink new deals, most notably being World Series MVP, Steve Pearce re-signing in Boston, and veteran backstop, Kurt Suzuki, finding a new home in Atlanta for the next two years. The trade market has also begun to heat up with the Yankees taking advantage of a sell off in Seattle and landing one of the bigger names available on the market, LHP James Paxton, although the price to pay was a steep one with Seattle receiving a package of prospects headlined by New York’s number one, LHP Justus Sheffield. This wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last trade of note to come out of the Pacific Northwest, as Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto, a favourite of the Hot Stove Hounds, has also recently swapped starting catcher, Mike Zunino and OF Guillermo Heredia with the Rays, for former Mariner great and notorious base thief, Mallex Smith. But enough about what HAS happened, let’s now look ahead to what COULD happen.
Free Agent Predictions
This offseason is shaping up to be one of if not the biggest and most exciting in MLB history with two of the games biggest stars (OF Bryce Harper and SS/3B Manny Machado) both hitting the open market, not to mention a former MVP (3B Josh Donaldson), a former Cy Young recipient (LHP Dallas Kuechel) and a closer with over 300 saves (RHP Craig Kimbrel) also available to the highest bidder. Why don’t we begin with some predictions on where the above, as well as some of the other “big names,” will wind up….
Top Position Players Available
Position: SS/3B • Age: 26
2018 Stats: 709 PA • .297 BA • .367 OBP • .905 OPS • 37 HR • 107 RBI • 5.7 WAR • 141 wRC+
Who Should Sign Him: Los Angeles Angels. My thinking here is that the Angels front office should want to bring in some much needed help and support for current front-runner to the claim of GOAT, Mike Trout. The main deterrent here will not be a financial one, but a logistical one. Mr. Machado, though a borderline elite defender at the hot corner, now fancies himself a SS, the position he was drafted as and played at last season. The problem here is not only is Manny a surprisingly sub-par defender at short, but his position of choice is currently filled by the best in the game, Mr. Andrelton Simmons. Imagine though, for a second, if Machado decided to go back to 3B. Just imagine how filthy defensively that left side of the infield would be.
Who Will Sign Him: Philadelphia Phillies. As much gossip and chatter as the rumour mill churns out during Hot Stove season, what still tends to happen is along the lines of the age old cliche: “where there is smoke, there is fire.” Meaning that, if you hear that so and so is linked to a team, and you read that they’re linked to a team, it most likely means that they’ll wind up with said team. Last week, Phillies owner John Middleton told USA TODAY Sports “We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” It’s hard not to read between the lines on that statement. The Phillies will be linked to, and most likely wind up signing two or three of the marquee free agents available. With the lack of development from former first round pick, SS JP Crawford, and the inconsistency of 3B Maikel Franco, you can bet that Machado will be the top name on the Phillies wish list. Although, you have to wonder how much the blue collared fans in Philadelphia will appreciate the hustle and antics of Machado.
Term: 10yrs/$350 million
Position: OF Age: 26
2018 Stats: 695 PA • .249 BA • .393 OBP • .889 OPS • 34 HR • 100 RBI • 3.5 WAR • 135 wRC+
Who Should Sign Him: New York Mets. Realistically, any team in need of or desiring an impact, middle of the order type bat, and can afford to shell out the biggest free agent contract to date, should be interested. But, given their inability to consistently produce offensively and their willingness to pursue top tier talent, it would be hard not to see the Mets make sense as a suitor for Harper. Not only would Harper immediately become the face of the franchise that just lost their heart and soul with the retirement of David Wright, but he would also get to play in the biggest baseball market there is; even if that means his home games are in Queens and not the Bronx.
Who Will Sign Him: Philadelphia Phillies. As mentioned above in regards to Manny Machado, the Phillies ownership has already outright said that they are going to spend “stupid” amounts of money this offseason. Which most likely means that Harper will be near, if not at, the top of their “wish list.” As ridiculous as it seems that a team could spend nearly a BILLION dollars on TWO players, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if the Phillies wind up with both Harper and Machado. One thing to keep in the back of your mind though is that New Jersey native and avid Philadelphia sports fan, Mike Trout, could potentially hit the open market in the next two years. Could the Philles hold off on signing Harper, and play the wait and see game with Trout?
Term: 15yrs/$450 million
Position: CF Age: 31
2018 Stats: 460 PA • .257 BA • .316 OBP • .800 OPS • 21 HR • 65 RBI • 2.5 WAR • 110 wRC+
Who Should Sign Him: San Francisco Giants. The Giants will be an interesting team to keep an eye on during the course of Hot Stove season. Despite four lackluster seasons since their last World Series appearance and title, and strapped with an aging core of players, nobody really knows what to expect when it comes to San Fran. Newly hired, Farhan Zaidi, left the rival Dodgers to become the President of Baseball Operations for the Giants. What that means is that all decisions regarding trades and signings will go directly through him. What Zaidi decides to do as far as retooling the roster or rebuilding it from the ground up, will ultimately impact if the Giants are a viable option for Pollock. If they go the retool route then it’s hard to find a better and more realistic option than Pollock as he fits pretty much every need that the Giants have in the OF. However, if Zaidi decides to sell off his veterans and begin an overhaul of his roster, than a veteran OF (Michael Brantley, Adam Jones) that can be flipped at the deadline for a piece or two will be a more realistic signing.
Who Will Sign Him: Atlanta Braves. Though being one of the few “attractive” outfield options available on the free agent market, Pollock’s age and durability concerns – he hasn’t played more than 113 games since 2015 – will see him take a considerable backseat to the likes of Harper as far as term and value go. That being said, Pollock’s abilities with both his glove and bat make him the second best OF option available. With the Braves set to move on from RF Nick Markakis, and Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ender Inciarte already in place, the allure of adding a solid defensive fielder, as well as a top of the order bat, might make this a perfect fit for both club and player.
Position: 3B Age: 33
2018 Stats: 219 PA • .246 BA • . OBP • .889 OPS • 8 HR • 30 RBI • 1.3 WAR • 117 wRC+
Who Should Sign Him: Anaheim Angels. Maybe I am biased by my man crushes on both Donaldson AND Mike Trout, but my thinking here is once again influenced by the Angels need to surround Trout with some form of offensive help, or risk having him decide to take his talents elsewhere once his contract expires. Sure, the Angels may be weary about signing a former MVP who is over 30 (see: Pujols, Albert), but the glaring need they have for BOTH an everyday 3B, as well as an “impact bat” may be one that causes them to overlook their past misfortunes with former MVP’s over 30 (see: Hamilton, Josh). Couple that with Donaldson being linked to rumours of a one year deal in the $20 million range, and this may be too much of a bargain for the Angels to pass up.
Who Will Sign Him: St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals have been linked to the former AL MVP pretty much since the Blue Jays were eliminated by the Indians in the 2016 ALCS. Despite offering up the likes of RHP Jack Flaherty in exchange for Donaldson following the 2017 campaign, the Cardinals were rebuffed by the Blue Jays; a move that the latter would come to regret as Donaldson was sold for .10 on the dollar after missing the majority of the season in Toronto. Blue Jay bitterness aside, the Cardinals are now poised to finally wind up with their man, and it’ll come at no cost besides cash. Signing Donaldson would allow Matt Carpenter to slide back to 1B, where he is a better fit, and also allow the Cardinals to deal Jose Martinez, who’s all bat/no glove approach is better suited for an AL DH spot, for some help at other roster needs.
Position: 3B Age: 30
2018 Stats: 635 PA • .251 BA • .315 OBP • .774 OPS • 28 HR • 95 RBI • 2.4 WAR • 105 wRC+
Who Should Sign Him: Kansas City Royals. After an October run to the NLCS with the Brewers, the man known as “Moose,” hits the market for the second time in as many years. Unlike last year, where rumours of a 5yr/$85mil deal were floated around before an eventual “freeze” in the Free Agent market saw numerous “big names” not sign until February, there seems to be a better understanding of how the market for Moose might shape up. Despite prodigal power at the plate, his low on-base numbers make him a less than attractive option for GM’s who value modern stats over the more traditional ones. Still, there will be a market for a player who can play an above average 3B, while offering 30/90 potential. I anticipate a team that is in the midst of a rebuild, and can look to flip him at the deadline, will be the one most likely to come to terms with the big 3B. Seeing as how one of the teams that fits this bill is the team that drafted him in the first place – the Royals – a reunion between the two might be the most natural of fits.
Who Will Sign Him: Pittsburgh Pirates. Even though they have already come to terms with SS/3B Jung-Ho Kang, the Pirates may look to roll with someone who hasn’t sat out the majority of the past two seasons. One of the other things that makes the Moose a fit in the Steel City is that he gives them a middle of the order bat that can make them challenge for the NL Central right away, or they can move him at the deadline to a contender if and when the Pirates are out of contention.
Position: Utility Age: 29
2018 Stats: 552 PA • .247 BA • .324 OBP • .733 OPS • 16 HR • 68 RBI • 1.6 WAR • 104wRC+
Who Should Sign Him: Colorado Rockies. It goes without saying that any team that realistically views themselves as more “Contender” than “Pretender” could benefit from the addition of a versatile player like the man known as “Swiss G.” Capable of playing all four infield positions as well as LF, Gonzalez could give the Rockies immediate value as a potential everyday replacement for LF Carlos Gonzalez or 2B D.J LeMehieu; not to mention as an option to give 3B Nolan Arenado and SS Trevor Story some needed days off.
Who Will Sign Him: New York Yankees. As mentioned above, Gonzalez will be most attractive for a team with aspirations of contending from day one. Who fits that mold better than the Bronx Bombers? The Yankees are already entering the season needing to replace SS Didi Gregorious, whom will miss the entire season with Tommy John surgery, and the most logical fit for that role is 2B/SS Gleybar Torres, who was their everyday 2B last season. If Torres does indeed move over to SS, Gonzalez could slot in immediately as their Opening Day 2B. However, by adding someone with the versatility of Gonzalez, it could also see the Yankees play him occasionally at 1B or LF, and go and add one of the veteran 2B options available; such as: Daniel Murphy, Jed Lowrie, D.J LeMehieu, Brian Dozier or Jed Lowrie.
Position: C Age: 30
2018 Stats: 518 PA • .241 BA • .349 OBP • .815 OPS • 24 HR • 68 RBI • 3.6 WAR • 125 wRC+
Who Should Sign Him: Houston Astros. The Astros have already decided to part ways with veteran, Brian McCann, and are set to head into the season with a tandem of Max Stassi and Chris Herremann. Though they have been one of the teams most linked with acquiring the Marlins, J.T Realmuto, in order to do so, the Astros would have to part with one or more of their top prospects. Even though they are an early favourite to head to the World Series, and a trade for Realmuto would easily put them over the top, the cost to do so might be one that is too high for GM Jeff Luhnow’s liking. Enter, Yasmani Grandal. Sure, his postseason play especially on the defensive side left A LOT to be desired, but there is no denying that his offensive prowess more than makes up for his defensive deficiencies. The switch-hitting, Grandal, would be an immediate upgrade over their current options, and would also allow them to keep their top prospects which they could use on their roster or to fill any other holes that may need filling.
Who Will Sign Him: New York Mets. There is no denying that Travis d’Arnaud is not an everyday MLB catcher. It is not because of his bat and offense, although that has dropped off significantly since 2015, but it is more to do with his inability to stay healthy. The soon to be 30 year old, has never played in more than 112 games at the MLB level, and at this point in his career, may be better suited as a back-up option. Outside of d’Arnaud, the Mets have Kevin Plawecki, but he too is starting to look more and more like a back-up. On the farm, the Mets have 24 year old, Tomas Nido, but his glove first approach and lack of bat might also make him a better back-up candidate at the MLB level. The Mets do have the pieces to pursue a catching option on the trade market like the Indians, Yan Gomes, or even possibly, J.T Realmuto, but the latter would cost them more than they are likely willing to part with. Signing one of the better free agents available -either Grandal or Wilson Ramos – could be the Mets best route to filling both a hole in their lineup, as well as adding a much needed offensive threat.
Part Two – Top Pitching Free Agents available – coming soon.