Predicting Final Landing Spots for Top 10 Available MLB Offseason Targets
With a little over a month to go until the start of spring training, we've reached the point of the offseason where things are typically kind of boring.
There's nothing typical about this offseason, though. It started with maybe the deepest class of free agents in MLB history, and a handful of them are still looking for work. There are also some notable trade chips who haven't been dealt yet. In all, quite a few impact players are still in the mix for new homes.
So, let's try to find their new homes for them.
Using a modified version of last month's ranking of the winter's remaining targets, we're going to take a whack at predicting where the 10 best remaining free agents and trade targets will end up. The predictions are based partially on what's on the rumor mill and partially on imagination.
Before we begin, be warned that we're not ruling out trade targets staying put. With that said, step into the box whenever you're ready.
10. Dexter Fowler, CF, Free Agent
Final Destination: Detroit Tigers
For a time, it seemed like Dexter Fowler was destined to join the San Francisco Giants, thus filling their need for outfield depth and an additional leadoff hitter.
Instead, the Giants announced Thursday they had signed Denard Span to fill that role. That leaves us to look off the board for a home for Fowler, and the one that stands out is Detroit.
Jim Duquette of MLB.com proposed the Tigers as a fit for Fowler way back in November, and it's now easy to see that as a realistic possibility. They were busy early on in the offseason in their attempt to catch up to the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central and made quite a bit of headway in doing so. But after the Royals re-signed Alex Gordon, the ball is back in Detroit's court.
That's one reason the Tigers could turn to Fowler. Others include arguably needing to upgrade over Anthony Gose and Cameron Maybin in center field and how much the lineup could benefit from having Fowler's .363 career OBP at the top.
But perhaps the biggest reason has to do with Fowler's cost. After Gordon's $72 million contract fell well short of the $105 million MLB Trade Rumors projected him to get, it's possible Detroit could now get Fowler for well less than the $60 million MLBTR projected.
These should be enough reasons for Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who generally doesn't need much convincing to spend money anyway.
9. Ian Desmond, SS, Free Agent
Final Destination: San Diego Padres
At the start of the offseason, the New York Mets were the popular favorite to sign Ian Desmond. They needed offense at shortstop, after all, and surely Desmond wouldn't be too expensive even for them.
Well, apparently not. The Mets signed Asdrubal Cabrera instead. With them out of the picture, the Padres would seem to have the inside track at Desmond.
According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the Padres and Desmond are having "ongoing discussions." If nothing else, we know this is a team with a square hole reaching out to a square peg. The Padres got just a .228 average and .644 OPS out of their shortstops in 2015, so Desmond would be an upgrade even if he doesn't improve on last year's .233 average and .674 OPS.
Of course, Desmond could do even better. He averaged a .788 OPS and over 20 homers between 2012 and 2014 and got back on that track with a .777 OPS and 12 homers in the second half of 2015. After some early-season struggles, he also squared things away on defense.
Money is the big hurdle here, but not as much as it would have been at the start of the winter. One wonders about Desmond's leverage at this point, and the Padres did do themselves a favor by clearing Craig Kimbrel's and Joaquin Benoit's contracts.
So, here's thinking this happens. The Padres seem to be the only team interested in Desmond, and the two sides are a good fit for each other.
8. Carlos Gonzalez, RF, Trade
Final Destination: Colorado Rockies
Remember that point about predicting trade chips to stay where they are being fair game? Well, here you go.
Carlos Gonzalez is indeed available, as Morosi reported last month that the rebuilding Rockies are willing to move him and fellow outfielders Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson. But after re-establishing his value with an .864 OPS and 40 home runs in 2015, Gonzalez is obviously the big prize.
But that's also the problem.
The Rockies have put a high price tag on Gonzalez. Per Jon Heyman, formerly of CBS Sports: "The Rockies wanted Colorado product Kevin Gausman in a package for slugger Gonzalez, but Baltimore is making clear it doesn't want to part with Gausman."
We're inclined to say the Orioles did the right thing.
Gonzalez has lots of power, but his career home/road splits raise the question of how much of it would show up away from Coors Field. Throw in the fact that he's owed $37 million over the next two seasons, and prospective buyers should indeed be wary of giving up anything of real value for him.
There's no reason for a team to go all-out for Gonzalez with options like Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton available on the open market. There could be renewed interest in Gonzalez after the two of them sign but likely not enough for a team to meet Colorado's lofty asking price.
7. Wei-Yin Chen, SP, Free Agent
Final Destination: Washington Nationals
The free-agent market was especially rich with pitching at the beginning of the offseason. Now, Wei-Yin Chen is easily the best of the not-so-much that's left.
And right now, he should probably pack his bags for Washington.
You'd think Chen would be a hot item on the open market after posting a 3.44 ERA across nearly 380 innings over the last two seasons. But his corner of the market has been surprisingly quiet and now likely features two fewer obvious suitors.
According to Heyman, the Royals were interested in him, but they probably exhausted their spending money when they signed Gordon. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports (h/t MLB.com), the Los Angeles Dodgers have also been linked to Chen, but they're no longer desperate for pitching after signing Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda.
This could be the chance the Nationals are waiting for. A source told MLB.com's Bill Ladson in December that Chen was on the club's radar, but it didn't want to give him the five-year deal Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports reported the left-hander was looking for. But now, the Nationals may not have to go that far. At this point in the offseason, it's not as if there's much competition for Chen.
One thing that's for sure is that Washington's rotation could use him. It's solid at the top but lacks depth at the back end. If the Nationals can slide him in as a No. 4 behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, they'd have a rotation capable of contending with anyone else's.
6. Tyson Ross, SP, Trade
Final Destination: Chicago Cubs
Whether or not they sign Desmond, the Padres are a good club for teams in search of starting pitching. They have a few arms to offer, with Tyson Ross being the most attractive of the bunch.
Mind you, one can see a situation in which Ross stays put...but nah, let's go ahead and put him on the Cubs.
Ross has been on Chicago's radar for some time now. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Cubs tried for Ross over the summer, and Morosi reported in December that the Cubs and Padres have also had talks this winter.
It's easy to see why the Cubs are interested. Ross is a 28-year-old with two years of club control left. Oh, and he's also pretty good. With the help of a heavy sinker and swing-and-miss slider, he's racked up a 3.03 ERA across 391.2 innings over the last two seasons.
The word from Heyman in December was that the Padres will only trade Ross if they get a "big-time prospect" back in return. The Cubs do still have some of those, and the major league club's collective youthfulness makes them expendable. To shore up their rotation with yet another impact arm, the Cubs may indeed be willing to pay the price.
5. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Trade
Final Destination: Milwaukee Brewers
Yep. Another boring no-trade prediction. Sorry. Not sorry.
In all seriousness, we do know Jonathan Lucroy is on the block. The Brewers have gone into rebuilding mode this winter, and ESPN.com's Buster Olney noted at the beginning that Lucroy was among the players they were willing to deal. He was an elite catcher as recently as 2014, and he's controlled through 2017 for less than $10 million. So, he does have a level of attractiveness.
However, his situation is also complicated.
The Brewers are understandably putting a high asking price on Lucroy, with Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggesting that the Texas Rangers would have to part with slugging prospect Joey Gallo to land Lucroy. Given Lucroy's track record and team-friendly contract, the Brewers' demand is understandable.
But as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs (via Fox Sports) highlighted, the Brewers are in a tough spot with Lucroy. As much as they want to demand the world for him, his value is down a few pegs following a 2015 season in which he struggled with injury and ineffectiveness. If the Brewers are going to move him now, they may have to sell low.
The alternative for the Brewers is to hold onto Lucroy and hope they can sell high on him later. There's plenty of risk involved in doing so, but they're in a position to take that risk.
4. Chris Davis, 1B, Free Agent
Final Destination: Baltimore Orioles
Some things just feel right. Chris Davis ending up back with the Orioles is one of them.
The Orioles were pushing hard to re-sign him at the start of the offseason, but Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported in mid-December that the club had pulled its offer to the prized slugger. In general manager Dan Duquette's words, the club had decided it was "going down different tracks."
But indications are that was a mere ploy. According to Heyman, Baltimore's offer for Davis—reportedly seven years and $154 million—is still on the table. If so, the Orioles aren't so much out on Davis as they are daring him to do better.
As things stand now, it's hard to see how he could. The rumor mill hasn't had much to say about any possible competition for Davis' services, and it's easy to believe that to be a true reflection of the situation. Davis has an outstanding power bat to offer, leading MLB in home runs in 2013 (53) and in 2015 (47), but his list of additional talents is iffy.
If a team is going to spend big bucks on Davis, it should thus be one with money that can make the most of his power over the long haul. That would be a team with a small ballpark and the designated hitter to offer. Beyond Baltimore, there aren't many of those.
To the Orioles and Davis, we say this: Just get it over with.
3. Yoenis Cespedes, LF/CF, Free Agent
Final Destination: Chicago White Sox
Yoenis Cespedes picked a good time to have a career year in 2015, slugging 35 home runs with an .870 OPS and playing fantastic defense in left field.
His reward? Probably a below-market deal with the White Sox.
As Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reported in late December, the White Sox and Orioles are emerging as the two leaders in the Cespedes sweepstakes, with the Giants and Los Angeles Angels in the background. With the Giants having signed Span and the Orioles circling a reunion with Davis, the Angels may be Chicago's only real competition for Cespedes.
If so, the Angels may not being willing to go as far as the White Sox in the bidding. We've discussed how Cespedes fits best with a team that can maximize his power, and the Angels don't have the ballpark for that.
The White Sox do. They also have the dream scenario of adding Cespedes to the middle of a lineup that already features Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier. Adding him would also continue the club's tradition of picking up talented Cuban defectors.
And though the White Sox don't have a ton of spare cash now, they will later. After 2016, they have John Danks and Adam LaRoche coming off the books. That's nearly $30 million, and Melky Cabrera's departure after 2017 will free up another $15 million.
If the White Sox can add Cespedes, they might actually fulfill last year's goal of making something of big offseason additions.
2. Justin Upton, LF, Free Agent
Final Destination: Los Angeles Angels
Justin Upton is a 28-year-old who offers a power bat, some speed and solid on-base talent. As such, you can probably color most of us surprised that he's still available.
But don't worry. Surely, the Angels will pick him up.
With his well-rounded set of talents, Upton looks like just the guy the Angels need to upgrade their left field situation, which FanGraphs tells us finished dead last among American League teams in WAR in 2015. Knowing that, Heyman's recent report that the Angels are staying in touch with Upton comes as no surprise.
Granted, money is an issue here. Despite what Angels owner Arte Moreno said earlier about doing "whatever is needed," MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez heard that Moreno has actually been adamant about staying under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. If the Angels sign Upton, that's not happening.
However, one doubts this means Moreno would pass up a deal that could be too good to pass up. Upton is another player whose market value likely took a hit when Gordon signed his $72 million contract with the Royals, which potentially puts him in a position to sign for well under the $147 million MLBTR projected.
If Upton's market has indeed been taken down a peg or two, that will be just another reason for the Angels to sign him.
1. Jose Fernandez, SP, Trade
Final Destination: Miami Marlins
As much as I don't want to make it three no-goes out of four for the trade options on this list, I just have to do it. Jose Fernandez may technically still be available, but he's not going anywhere.
Fernandez's corner of the rumor mill was first activated back in November when SiriusXM host Craig Mish tweeted there was "growing sentiment" that the Marlins were looking to trade the 23-year-old right-hander. It's still possible that smoke will lead to fire. Fernandez is a talented pitcher who's under control for three more years, and he's about to start getting expensive in arbitration.
But while Miami could still deal Fernandez in theory, it's hard to see it happening.
The Marlins have understandably put a sky-high asking price on Fernandez, who owns a 2.40 ERA in 47 career starts. For perspective, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported in December that the Marlins asked the Arizona Diamondbacks for Patrick Corbin, Dansby Swanson and more for Fernandez.
The Diamondbacks, of course, traded for Shelby Miller instead. That takes one prospective suitor off the board, and another came off the board when the Dodgers took care of their pitching needs by signing Kazmir and Maeda. After the two of them, Miami's potential suitors include...um, good question.
Granted, this could change if a club suffers a catastrophic pitching injury during spring training. But with those being nigh impossible to predict, we'll play it safe and assume Fernandez stays put.