10 MLB Free Agents to Watch in January

David McCrackenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2016

10 MLB Free Agents to Watch in January

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    MLB free agency has certainly slowed down a bit after a wild start, but it's far from over.

    There are still a lot of big names available this offseason as players hold out for the biggest and best possible deal that they can find on the market. Some of these players are waiting for the dominoes to fall, waiting for players like Chris Davis to sign before they put their pen to paper.

    This list is not ranked because each player serves a different need. While Davis is arguably one of the league's best players and a player any team would love to have, a pitcher like Antonio Bastardo may fill a more important need for a specific team more so than Davis would. 

    Here, you will find some player predictions ans a little insight as to why each player is still available. January marks the beginning of a new year, and free agency is the opportunity for a fresh start.

Justin Upton

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Possible destinations: Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, San Diego Padres 

    Justin Upton had a lot of potential when he first came into the MLB, but the 28-year-old hasn't lived up to expectations. Upton may not be a marquee player in the league, but he is a productive player when given the opportunity.  

    He has averaged 26 HR, 84 RBI and 16 steals a season thus far in his career, and even though his defense leaves you scratching your head sometimes, he can make a team better. 

    Where Upton lands remains a mystery and likely won't be solved until other free agents find a team. Chris Davis—yes he is still a free agent—is one of those players. ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney reported recently that if the Baltimore Orioles find Davis' price tag too high or if he lands another deal elsewhere, then Upton (as well as Yoenis Cespedes) could be a real possibility as a replacement.

Chris Davis

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    GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

    Possible destinations: Orioles, Rangers, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals 

    Davis is the best player left in free agency, and a lot depends on where he goes. I've already mentioned earlier how Upton will be affected by Davis' deal—and so will Cespedes for that matter—but it's unlikely he would leave the Orioles this offseason.  

    The Orioles' offer of a seven-year, $150 million contract to Davis is a good deal, but it feels like Davis is holding out for a competing offer to use to his advantage for negotiation. 

    While there is nothing wrong with a player using the free market to his advantage, it does put the Orioles organization in an awkward position. What happens if they lose out on Davis? Will it be too late to replace him if and when he strikes a deal with another team? A lot is left to be desired.

Yoenis Cespedes

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Possible destinations: Orioles, White Sox, Angels, Tigers 

    Cespedes was a key player for the New York Mets last season after being acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline. But as with the other aforementioned free-agent outfielders (Davis, Upton) not much has changed.  

    Cespedes averages 30 homers and 103 RBI per season throughout his career and, arguably, has the league's strongest arm for an outfielder.  

    One team that stands out for Cespedes this offseason is the Chicago White Sox. Coming off a 35 HR, 105 RBI season, Cespedes could be the antidote for a team that scored MLB's fewest runs last season. He won't come cheap, but Cespedes could bring a team like the White Sox back to relevancy.

Wei-Yin Chen

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    GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

    Possible destinations: New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals 

    The free-agent pitching market got off to a record start with the likes of Zach Greinke and David Price receiving record-breaking deals. What does that have to do with Wei-Yin Chen, you ask? Everything. 

    When pitchers get huge deals, every other pitcher is smiling because now they can look to their peers' contracts as a base for future negotiations. Chen is, reportedly, holding out for a five-year, $100 million deal this offseason after winning 27 games over his last 62 starts for the Orioles, according to MASNsports.com (via MLB.com's Austin Laymance).  

    Whether or not he is worth a six-figure deal, matters little at this point as teams around the league are looking to pick up pitchers like never before. It is reported Chen, along with Yovani Gallardo and Ian Kennedy, is being looked at by the Kansas City Royals after recently signing Alex Gordon to a deal, according to CBS Sports (via Laymance).

Yovani Gallardo

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Possible destinations: Orioles, Royals, Astros 

    Gallardo has found a MLB niche as a rotation pitcher and could help teams that need to add another pitcher to their staff to put them over the top.  

    He isn't the most attractive free-agent pitcher out there on the market, but he has recorded a 3.46 ERA average over the past two seasons (21-22 in 65 starts). Gallardo isn't worth a big contract by any means, but he could demand a four or five-year deal for around $50 million-$60 million. 

    The kicker for teams that are interested in signing Gallardo, along with Kennedy and Chen, is that they all have draft-pick compensation tied to them, meaning a team would have to give up a first-rounder if it signs one of them.  

    As HNGN's Thomas Carannante pointed out, the Royal are likely not favorites to land Gallardo to a multi-year deal now that the big-spending Orioles have reportedly come into the picture, per MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo.

Ian Kennedy

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Possible destinations: Royals, Miami Marlins, Orioles 

    With Kennedy, you know what you're getting. The 31-year-old pitcher is a strikeout machine, averaging 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings over his career. But Kennedy's issue is he gives up a lot of runs.  

    Kennedy has a career 3.98 ERA, but has fallen off that mark over recent years, giving up an ERA of 4.19 over his last 127 starts (44-50).  

    Nonetheless, Kennedy is a solid pitcher to have in a team's staff if it's willing to take the risk on him. Like many other players here, the Royals are once again in the mix for the seasoned veteran, which is no surprise after they lost Johnny Cueto to the Cincinnati Reds.

Antonio Bastardo

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Possible Destinations: Orioles, Mets 

    ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney reported the Orioles are interested in signing Antonio Bastardo to add depth and strength to their bullpen.  

    The 30-year-old left-hander went 4-1 last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, with a 2.98 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 64 strikeouts in 66 games.  

    Bastardo had a quality second half to last season, which has boosted his free-agency value. With the New York Mets also interested, it'll be interesting to see if the Orioles are able to sign Bastardo in what could end up being a costly bidding war for his services.

Doug Fister

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Possible destinations: Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Marlins, Orioles 

    Doug Fister was one of MLB's most underrated pitchers not too long ago. From 2011-14, Fister had a record of 51-38 with a 3.11 ERA in 114 starts. However, he has since lost that spark on the mound. 

    Last season for the Washington Nationals, Fister recorded a 4.19 ERA in 25 games (15 starts) while going 5-7 on the year and was out of the rotation at one point of the season. 

    If the Orioles aren't able to land Bastardo or even Gallardo, look for Fister to be a bargain deal if he is able to regain his form this season.

Chad Billingsley

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Possible Destinations: Yankees 

    So far, the market has been very dry for Chad Billingsley.  

    The former Los Angeles Dodger and most recently a member of the Philadelphia Phillies doesn't seem to have received much attention from teams this offseason after a disappointing campaign last season—his first season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  

    But Billingsley, a 31-year-old pitcher with a career 3.72 ERA, could be a hidden gem in this free-agent class if he is able to come back and be the pitcher he once was with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees need another pitcher for their rotation and bullpen, and Billingsley fits that bill.

Ian Desmond

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    Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

    Possible Destinations: Padres, Colorado Rockies 

    It's hard to imagine Ian Desmond rejected a seven-year, $107 million contract with the Nationals in 2014.  

    Coming off the worst statistical season of his career, Desmond is looking for a new home, and so far, the two likeliest options appear to be the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies. Both teams are in need of a shortstop, and despite Desmond hitting .233 last season, he has been a very productive player throughout his career.  

    Desmond has hit 88 HR over the past four years and owns a career .736 OPS, so he will not walk away empty-handed this offseason. The Padres seem to have the upper-hand in negotiations at this point, having reportedly been in constant communication with Desmond's camp since November, according to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune.