Free agency has officially been underway since November 7th. All of the qualifying offers and team options have been dealt with and players are free to start negotiating with their suitors.
Without further ado here are predictions and dollar amounts for my Top 20 free agents this offseason
1) Yu Darvish — Cardinals. 5 years, $140 MM. The Cardinals need someone to join Carlos Martinez atop their rotation. St. Louis did extend a qualifying offer to Lance Lynn but he is expected to reject it. Lynn’s 186 innings pitched ranked second on the team last season and must be replaced.
Adam Wainwright hasn’t been a reliable starter for St. Louis since his ruptured Achilles injury back in 2015. Hoping he can regain past form at the age of 36 is a risky proposition. His $19 MM per year salary is coming off the St. Louis books following the season, so the future payroll can fit in a Darvish contract.
The Cardinals would have a 2018 rotation with Carlos Martinez, Yu Darvish, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright and one of Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty in the 5th starter spot. This gives the Cards a formidable one-two punch while also providing insurance should injuries impact the starting staff.
2) J.D. Martinez — Red Sox. 6 years, $150 MM. Multiple MLB evaluators have told Alex Speier of the Boston Globe that the Red Sox are expected to prioritize J.D. Martinez over Eric Hosmer in free agency.
Martinez’ 45 HR power makes perfect sense for a Red Sox team that finished dead last in the American League with 168 HRs. Boston also slugged a dismal .406 when facing left-handed pitching. That mark is 12 points below the AL average Martinez, on the other hand, absolutely rakes to the tune of a .892 slugging percentage and a 1.356 OPS vs southpaws.
Red Sox right-handed bats also had trouble doing damage hitting the ball the other way. It was too easy to pitch away to their lineup thus forcing them to string together singles. Deven Marrero led the team with a .532 slugging % when going the other way. That ranked him 66th in MLB. JD Martinez was tops in the show with a whopping 1.388 slugging % when he hits to the opposite field.
3) Eric Hosmer — Royals. 7 years, $140 MM. Not only does the entire Royals off-season plan hinge on resigning Eric Hosmer, but the future 5-year plan could hinge on Hosmer staying in Kansas City.
via Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star,
“Royals officials are making it clear that Hosmer is their top offseason priority. If they are able to re-sign him, they will try to shed some payroll and make an aggressive offer to Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer signs somewhere else, the Royals will move to a contingency plan.”
Hosmer is coming off of a well-timed, career year in which he posted a slash line of .318/.385/.498 while also being named a finalist for a Gold Glove award at first base.The Royals can’t offer up the most money on annual basis but I believe they will offer the longest term to Hosmer.
4) Jake Arrieta — Rangers. 5 years, $125 MM. Texas heads into the off-season in desperate need for starting pitching. Cole Hamels will still lead the rotation but only has a year left on his current deal. Behind him is a very mediocre, Martin Perez and then question marks.
Jake Arrieta would provide the Rangers with a Top 2 starter for the upcoming season and beyond. He’s made at least 30 starts for three straight seasons and his 8.7 K/9 would help a staff that ranked last in the AL with just 640 strikeouts.
5) Mike Moustakas — Angels. 5 years, $90 MM. An Angels right-handed laden lineup could use some lefty thump in the middle of it. Los Angeles just happens to have a need at the hot corner as well.
Early projections have Mike Trout, Justin Upton and then Albert Pujols in the 2-4 spots in the batting order with Kole Calhoun leading things off. Dropping Moustakas in between Upton and Pujols will give the Angels order some length while making it more difficult for bullpens to match up against.
While many pundits would suggest that Angels GM, Billy Eppler, should upgrade the rotation, we’ve seen formidable staffs get crushed trying to keep the Astros lineup in check. Why not try to mash with them by constructing a lineup with 3-4 guys who can leave the yard 30 times per season?
6) Lorenzo Cain — Mariners. 5 years, $80 MM. The Mariners tried to emulate the Royals by building a rangy outfield to help improve an outfield corps that had -43 defensive runs saved between 2014-2016. The center fielders from the Jack Zduriencik tenure had a below average -5 DRS in 2016 alone.
The plan worked as Jarrod Dyson and company improved in 2017 by accumulating +9 defensive runs saved. Unfortunately the center field corps was last in Major League Baseball with a paltry .612 OPS which was 138 points below the AL average.
Adding Gold Glove candidate, Lorenzo Cain keeps consistent with Seattle’s need for defensive outfielders while his .863 OPS vastly improves the offensive production from the position.
7) Lance Lynn — Twins. 4 years, $ 60 MM. Lynn received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals but the need for starting pitching across MLB is so great that he will undoubtedly reject the QO.
Despite being one-year removed from Tommy John surgery, Lynn led all MLB pitchers with 33 starts. There has been a lot made of Lynn’s decreased velocity last season but he ramped his fastball back up to an average of 93.37 MPH by season’s end. This bodes well for Lynn suitors as it falls in line with the normal time frame for an increase in velocity following Tommy John surgery.
Lynn’s career K-rate of 23.7 % dipped to 19.7 % and his career walk rate of 8.7 % climbed to 10.1% so there is some risk showing in his peripherals. Still, a trio of Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Lance Lynn would give the Twins a very competitive trio for another run at an AL playoff berth.
8) Wade Davis — Cubs. 4 years, $54 MM. The Cubs front office is generally considered to be philosophically opposed to long-term contracts for closers but Theo Epstein should make an exception for Wade Davis.
Davis set a franchise record by nailing down 32 consecutive save opportunities with the Cubs and then had a memorable 7-out save to eliminate the Nationals in the NLDS and once again bailed out Joe Maddon‘s questionable bullpen management with a 6-out save in Game 4 of the NLCS.
Epstein certainly sounded impressed, “He’s got huge balls. No moment’s too big for him.”
9) Alex Cobb — Cubs. 4 years, $52 MM. The Cubs could be losing Jake Arrieta and have been mum on any decisions involving John Lackey‘s return so they need at least one starter for the middle-back of their rotation.
Cobb, 3o, had quite a bit of success with the Rays while Joe Maddon was his manager. He appeared to have turned a corner in the second half of the season, posting a 3.52 ERA, a 1.188 WHIP and ticking up to 7.3 K/9 from a pedestrian 5.3 K/9 before the All-Star break. Those strikeout numbers could sustain with Cobb switching leagues.
10) Greg Holland — Rockies, 4 years, $48 MM. The Rockies tried to replace Latroy Hawkins’ solid 2014 season with John Axford and Jake McGee before finally signing Greg Holland last season. Holland certainly provided more reliabity to the back end of Colorado’s bullpen than the Rockies previous two closers thus I’m suggesting they stick together.
His 3.61 ERA wasn’t specatular by any stretch of the imagination but his 29.8% K rate and 10.99 K/9 are very respectable numbers considering the environment in which he pitches his home games in.
11) Carlos Santana — Cardinals. 3 years, $45 MM. There are those who believe the Cardinals are going to be suitors for J.D. Martinez or Giancarlo Stanton but I believe the length of both contracts will deter them.
A 3-year deal for a first baseman who’s 162-game averages of 25 HRs and 105 walks while posting MLB‘s 2nd best defensive runs saved at 1B? Sign the Cardinals up for that type of deal.
The 2017 Jays slipped out of the MLB top 5 in HRs per season for the first time since 2012. The losses of Edward Encarnacion last season, Joey Bats this off-season in addition to the looming free agency of Josh Donaldosn in 2019, could sap more power from the Jays lineup.
Jay Bruce has hit 25 HRs or more in every season since 2010 aside from his 18 HR output in 2014. There is the possibility that Bruce’s struggles vs left-handed pitching could force a loss in plate appearances which may keep Bruce’s contract at 3 years.
13) Zack Cozart — Padres. 3 years, $36 MM. If Cozart‘s desire is to continue being an everyday shortstop then San Diego makes the most sense for him.
The Royals could be an option but after doling out big bucks to Eric Hosmer may be reluctant to sign another free agent. The feeling is they will give Raul Mondesi Jr. the job in Spring Training.
14) Logan Morrison — Rays. 3 years, $36 MM. LoMo broke out for 38 bombs in his second season with the Rays and could be poised to return to the Trop.
Signing a 1B to a 3-year deal worth $12 MM per year may seem uncharacteristic for the Rays but I believe they will be busy on the trade market this winter and that will open up some payroll and plate appearances.
15) Shohei Otani— Mariners. Pundits believe Otani will favor an American Legaue team so he can hit on his days away from the mound. The Mariners have the richest histroy with Japanese born players in the majors with Ichiro, Iwakuma, and Sasaki all having successful tenures in Seattle.
There appears to be some progress with the posting impasse between MLB, MLBPA and Nippon Professional Baseball.
There’s a “tentative understanding” in place simply to extend the prior posting regime for another year, Sherman reports. The MLBPA has yet to weigh in on the subject, though, and there’s still not a final deal in place.