MLB Free Agency 2017-18: Early Look at One Realistic Fit for Every Team

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2017

MLB Free Agency 2017-18: Early Look at One Realistic Fit for Every Team

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    There are still the exciting final two weeks of the regular season and then a month of playoff baseball separating us from another busy MLB offseason, but it's never too early to start looking ahead at how free agency might play out.

    Ahead we've identified one realistic free-agent fit for all 30 MLB teams.

    These projections are a mixture of notable re-signings and new additions and were reached with a combination of rumors from around the league and speculation based on club needs and past free-agency trends.

    Obviously, a lot will change by the start of free agency, but this should get the conversation started.

AL East

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    Carlos Santana
    Carlos SantanaTony Dejak/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: SP Jaime Garcia

    The Orioles have employed baseball's worst starting rotation this season (5.64 ERA), and they're set to lose Chris Tillman, Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez and potentially Wade Miley—who has a $12 million team option—to free agency.

    A reunion with Jake Arrieta or any other wallet-busting addition seems unlikely, but a second-tier arm such as lefty Jaime Garcia would be a nice fit alongside young righties Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

    The 31-year-old does a decent job keeping the ball on the ground (55.6% GB) and avoiding the long ball (0.99 HR/9), which is a necessity in the launching pad that is Camden Yards.

                                  

    Boston Red Sox: 1B/DH Carlos Santana

    The Red Sox have dealt with a power outage of sorts this season, going from ninth in the majors in home runs (208) a year ago to 27th (158), and that's come amid a record-breaking power surge leaguewide.

    Carlos Santana could help address that while serving as a replacement for the departing Mitch Moreland at first base.

    The 31-year-old has an .855 OPS with 57 home runs since the start of last season, and he's long been one of the league's better on-base threats (.366 career OBP).

    He'll likely come cheaper than someone like Eric Hosmer, and he's a safer bet to produce than breakout guys such as Logan Morrison and Yonder Alonso.

                     

    New York Yankees: SP/DH Shohei Ohtani

    We're in uncharted territory with Shohei Ohtani.

    The 23-year-old two-way standout will be subject to the bonus pool system until he turns 25, which both severely limits his earning power on his initial contract and means that all 30 teams will have a viable shot at wooing him should he become available this offseason.

    Anything can happen, but his landing in a large market still seems like the most likely outcome as a means of capitalizing on his marketability.

    And while the Cubs and Dodgers will make a strong pitch, an AL club still makes more sense as the designated hitter would be the easiest way to utilize his offensive abilities while protecting his electric arm.

    All of that sounds like the perfect storm for a retooling Yankees team with money to burn to land Ohtani.

    Past flop signings Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa will at least give a reason for pause, but the Yankees hit it big on a more proven Japanese-league talent in Hideki Matsui, so the past won't scare them away.

                                    

    Tampa Bay Rays: 1B Logan Morrison

    It cost the Rays just $2.5 million to re-sign Logan Morrison last offseason after he posted a .733 OPS with 14 home runs in his first year with the team.

    It'll cost a bit more this time around.

    The 30-year-old has enjoyed a breakout season with an .858 OPS and 36 home runs, helping him to a career-high 3.3 WAR.

    Despite those impressive numbers, a watered-down market for power-centric players could still keep him in the small-market club's price range.

    A two-year deal with something similar to the $8.5 million annual value that Mike Napoli received last winter looks like a reasonable expectation.

                      

    Toronto Blue Jays: SP Jeremy Hellickson

    Even after agreeing to an extension with Marco Estrada, the Blue Jays will look to add starting pitching help this winter, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca.

    The payroll is already going to take a major jump this offseason as a result of arbitration raises for the likes of Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna and Kevin Pillar.

    That makes a mid-level starter such as Hellickson a reasonable target.

    The 30-year-old went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.15 WHIP last season to earn a qualifying offer from the Phillies, and he accepted the one-year, $17.2 million deal.

    While his ERA has spiked to 5.47 this season and he's struggled since joining the Orioles at the trade deadline (7.29 ERA), he has a solid track record of success and plenty of experience in the AL East.

    In nine career starts at the Rogers Centre, he's posted a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 54.1 innings.

AL Central

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    Steve Cishek
    Steve CishekChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox: C Kurt Suzuki

    Are the Chicago White Sox comfortable with 25-year-old Omar Narvaez handling the development of their young pitching staff?

    He has shown intriguing offensive potential with a .270 average and .367 on-base percentage over 284 plate appearances, but he's been one of the league's worst pitch-framers while throwing out just 25 percent (16 of 65) base stealers.

    Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Avila, Kurt Suzuki, Miguel Montero and Chris Iannetta headline this year's free-agent catching market. 

    Suzuki stands out from that group as he's having a stellar offensive season (.842 OPS, 16 HR) and Braves pitchers have posted a notably better ERA (4.60) with him behind the plate, relative to co-starter Tyler Flowers (4.92).

                     

    Cleveland Indians: RF Jay Bruce

    The August waiver trade that sent Jay Bruce from the Mets to the Indians has been a win-win for both team and player.

    "I think that I pretty much went from what ended up being one of the least fun situations in baseball to the most fun," Bruce told reporters following the trade.

    In 33 games with the team, he has an .827 OPS with 15 extra-base hits and 20 RBI in 131 plate appearances, and he played a role in the historic 22-game win streak.

    The 30-year-old has now recorded back-to-back seasons with 30 home runs and 90 RBI, and with Carlos Santana also headed for free agency, bringing back Bruce would help offset that loss of power.

    Re-signing or replacing setup reliever Bryan Shaw will also be a priority.

                       

    Detroit Tigers: SP Chris Tillman

    As the Tigers begin rebuilding, they'll be on the lookout for cheap sources of innings that can be flipped at the trade deadline.

    Chris Tillman looks like a prime candidate.

    A four- or five-year deal might have been waiting had he reached free agency last offseason, following a 2016 campaign where he went 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA and 1.29 WHIP while topping 170 innings for a fourth consecutive year.

    Instead, he'll hit the open market on the heels of the worst season of his career.

    The 29-year-old has gone 1-7 with a 7.66 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, tossing just 87 innings while getting a late start to the season after a spring shoulder injury.

    A one-year deal in the $8 million-$10 million range might wind up being the best offer he gets, but a return to form could make him a valuable trade chip and set him up for a nice payday the following winter.

                          

    Kansas City Royals: IF/OF Eduardo Nunez

    The Royals stand to lose Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar from this year's starting infield, as well as center fielder Lorenzo Cain.

    So who better to target in free agency than the ultra-versatile Eduardo Nunez?

    The 30-year-old is capable of playing second, shortstop, third and both corner outfield spots, and adding him early in the offseason would allow the front office plenty of flexibility the rest of the hot-stove period.

    In other words, sign him quick and figure out where he plays later.

    While he hasn't duplicated his counting numbers from a year ago, Nunez has improved his batting average (.288 to .312) and OPS (.758 to .798) while still providing a nice mix of power (32 2B, 12 HR) and speed (24 SB).

                            

    Minnesota Twins: RP Steve Cishek

    Tip of the cap to Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle for doing an admirable job closing out games for the Twins this season, despite spending most of their careers as middle relievers and lacking prototypical closer stuff.

    However, it's worth exploring other options this winter.

    Steve Cishek hasn't served in a closer capacity this year, but he has 121 career saves, including a pair of 30-save seasons (2013 and 2014) during his time with the Marlins.

    He's also been quietly dominant since joining the Rays at the deadline, posting a 1.31 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 over 22 appearances.

    The 31-year-old should get another shot at closing games, and the Twins look like the perfect fit.

AL West

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    Lorenzo Cain
    Lorenzo CainJim Mone/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: RP Jake McGee

    It speaks to the Astros' need for a reliable left-handed reliever that they were willing to take a flier on Francisco Liriano at the deadline.

    Incumbent Tony Sipp earned a three-year, $18 million deal with a terrific 2015 season, but he's pitched to a 5.54 ERA over 102 appearances since signing that contract, so expect the Astros to be active on the lefty market.

    Jake McGee and Tony Watson are the marquee names on the left side of this year's relief pitcher crop, with Brian Duensing, Oliver Perez, Jorge De La Rosa and Fernando Abad also available.

    It will likely take something in the neighborhood of the four-year, $30.5 million deal that Brett Cecil signed with the Cardinals last offseason to land either of those top-tier guys, but that'll be money well spent.

    McGee is having the better 2017 season and is a year younger at 31, so we'll call him the No. 1 target.

                            

    Los Angeles Angels: 3B Mike Moustakas

    How will the Angels find help for Mike Trout?

    Regardless of what happens with Justin Upton and his opt-out clause, third base looks like an obvious spot to add another run producer.

    Yunel Escobar is a .300 hitter over the past three seasons, but he's hit just 21 home runs in 1,539 plate appearances during that span and will be a free agent.

    The aggressive play would be to replace him with Mike Moustakas.

    The 29-year-old is enjoying a career year offensively with an .848 OPS and 37 home runs—good for a new franchise record in Kansas City. He also has an unusually low strikeout rate for a power hitter (15.8 percent), and that would play well behind an on-base machine like Trout.

    Todd Frazier represents a passable plan B with some upside relative to his likely asking price, but Moustakas should be No. 1 on the offseason wish list.

                   

    Oakland Athletics: RF Carlos Gonzalez

    The Athletics have finally committed to the idea of a full rebuild, and that means they'll look for bargains and potential trade chips in free agency.

    Carlos Gonzalez could represent both.

    Long one of the league's most productive sluggers when healthy, he's seen his production free-fall at the worst possible time.

    A career .291 hitter with an .868 OPS entering the season, he's hitting just .256 with a .744 OPS and 13 home runs in 505 plate appearances. His 83 OPS+ ranks 136th among 148 qualified hitters.

    Is there anything left in the tank?

    Finding out would be well worth a one-year, $12 million prove-it deal. If he returns to form, the prospect haul could be significant, and if not, it won't hurt the club's long-term payroll.

                  

    Seattle Mariners: SP Alex Cobb

    Alex Cobb missed the entire 2015 season and made just five starts last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he's bounced back strong in 2017.

    The 29-year-old is 11-10 with a 3.63 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, and he's proved himself healthy en route to working a career-high 173.1 innings.

    That'll make him a hot commodity on a thin pitching market, and a case can be made that he's the fourth-best starter available behind Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish and Lance Lynn.

    Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has been ultra-aggressive when it comes to turning over the roster since taking over two years ago, and rotation help is the glaring need this offseason.

    The M's have used 17 different starters this season and rank 19th in the majors with a 4.79 starters' ERA.

    A four-year, $60 million deal might be the floor, depending on how many teams are involved. But it's a necessary expense if Seattle is going to snap that 16-year playoff drought.

                       

    Texas Rangers: CF Lorenzo Cain

    Lorenzo Cain is a terrific all-around player, but finding an ideal fit for him is trickier than it sounds.

    While the Rangers will need to address the starting rotation this offseason—beginning with whether to bring back Andrew Cashner—they could make a run at the Royals All-Star center fielder as well.

    Carlos Gomez will be a free agent after signing a one-year deal last winter and even if Delino DeShields is capable of holding down an everyday spot, he's best slotted in left field.

    Cain would not only provide the offense with a dangerous power/speed threat capable of hitting at a number of different spots in the lineup, but he'd also be a defensive standout in center field who would have an impact on the pitching staff with his glove.

    It all comes down to how far the Rangers are willing to stretch the payroll and how well they think the 31-year-old's tools will age. But on the surface, it looks like a fit.

NL East

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    Jake Arrieta
    Jake ArrietaGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves: SP Yu Darvish

    The Braves have quietly been active players on the front-line starting pitching market.

    They were linked to Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray and Chris Archer in the past calendar year, and there's no question they have the prospect talent to swing a blockbuster deal of that caliber.

    There's also little doubt they'd prefer to hold on to that controllable young talent if possible.

    The solution: Sign a big-ticket free agent such as Yu Darvish.

    The 31-year-old doesn't quite have ace-caliber numbers this year with a 9-12 record and 3.96 ERA, but his peripheral numbers are still strong with a 1.20 WHIP and 200 strikeouts in 179.2 innings.

    A five-year, $100 million deal is probably the floor, and the Braves might not be ready to contend for a few more seasons. However, their aggressiveness on the trade market has made it clear they're ready to add a big piece.

                        

    Miami Marlins: SS Zack Cozart

    The fact that Zack Cozart is still wearing a Reds jersey speaks to the state of the shortstop market.

    Teams looking for a starter at the position are few and far between.

    However, the Marlins are one club that looks like an obvious fit. They shipped starter Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays in June and turned things over to rookie JT Riddle—a decent prospect who looks more like a useful utility guy than an everyday shortstop.

    There's no up-and-coming prospect in the pipeline, and targeting another glove-only player such as Alcides Escobar would be a sideways move from Hechavarria.

    If the Marlins are going to hold on to Giancarlo Stanton and other potential trade chips, they have to continue improving the roster.

                            

    New York Mets: RP Luke Gregerson

    Marc Carig of Newsday wrote: "As the Mets begin their efforts to retool for 2018, the bullpen appears to be an area of focus, with a source saying Tuesday that adding another experienced arm will be part of the plans."

    Plenty of players fit that description: Luke Gregerson, Tyler Clippard, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Joe Smith, Brandon Kintzler and familiar face Addison Reed, to name a few.

    Let's focus on Gregerson, who may represent the best value of the group. The 33-year-old has posted a less-than-stellar 4.50 ERA over 62 appearances this season, and that could drive his price down.

    However, an abnormally high 21.2 percent home run-to-fly ball ratio has resulted in 11 home runs allowed in 58 innings, so that inflated ERA is as much a result of bad luck as anything.

    His fastball velocity is also right in line with past seasons, so a bounce-back performance appears likely.

                          

    Philadelphia Phillies: SP Jake Arrieta

    The Phillies had a $177 million payroll as recently as 2014, per Cot's Baseball Contracts.

    However, that figure was just over $100 million on Opening Day this season.

    This hasn't suddenly become a small-market team. It's been rebuilding and filling out the roster with stopgap pieces in recent years, but eventually, it'll be major players on the free-agent market.

    The front office won't break the bank ahead of the vaunted 2018-19 free-agent class, but a big-ticket item could be on the shopping list.

    Aaron Nola looks like a legitimate No. 2 starter, and prospects Sixto Sanchez and Franklyn Kilome have significant upside, but the staff is lacking a true ace for the present and future.

    If they're ready to make that move now, Jake Arrieta could be the guy.

                   

    Washington Nationals: LF J.D. Martinez

    This one might seem like a stretch, but hear me out.

    As I recently wrote, the Nationals are facing as much urgency as any team in the league to win a title, as Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez are all headed for free agency following the 2018 season.

    With Jayson Werth coming off the books and Ryan Zimmerman far from a sure thing to duplicate his surprising 2017 numbers, spending big on a middle-of-the-order bat makes sense given the win-now mindset.

    Now that the bullpen has been addressed and the starting rotation is locked up through next season, there's no glaring need to address.

    A megadeal for Martinez would improve the team's title chances in 2017 and help better position it for life after Harper.

NL Central

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    Lance Lynn
    Lance LynnPaul Beaty/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: SP Lance Lynn

    The Cubs raided the rival Cardinals' free-agent pool a few years ago when they signed Jason Heyward and John Lackey.

    Might they go that route again to address the starting rotation?

    Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester are locked into three spots, but with Jake Arrieta and Lackey both hitting free agency and Mike Montgomery best utilized out of the bullpen, there's a clear need for rotation help.

    Lance Lynn has returned strong after missing the entire 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, going 11-7 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 147 strikeouts in 180.2 innings.

    He had a strong track record of both performance and durability prior to that injury and would be a stellar No. 4 starter on any staff.

    It might take something close to the five-year, $80 million deal that Mike Leake signed in December 2015, but that's a bargain compared to what it would take to re-sign Arrieta.

                       

    Cincinnati Reds: SP Jhoulys Chacin

    A low-cost veteran starter capable of eating innings while the young starters get acquainted with life in the big leagues. That's what the Reds were looking for last offseason when they signed Scott Feldman, and it will be one of their top priorities once again.

    Jhoulys Chacin has earned a modest raise over his $1.75 million salary by going 12-10 with a 4.12 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 141 strikeouts in 168.1 innings.

    He might even be able to negotiate his way into a multiyear deal.

    Still, the 29-year-old won't break the bank, and he'd be a nice steadying presence to a young Cincinnati staff.

                    

    Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Neil Walker

    Neil Walker is hitting .264/.396/.462 with 10 extra-base hits and 13 RBI in 30 games since joining the Brewers in an August waiver trade.

    Second base became a need in Milwaukee after Jonathan Villar regressed badly following his out-of-nowhere breakout 2016 season.

    The Brewers farm system boasts the No. 3 and No. 4 second base prospects in the league, according to MLB.com, in Isan Diaz and Keston Hiura.

    However, Diaz has yet to play above High-A, and Hiura was the team's first-round pick this season.

    If Walker is willing to return on a two-year deal, he'd be the perfect stopgap until one of those guys is ready to take over.

                    

    Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Francisco Liriano

    Who will be the Ray Searage reclamation project this year?

    Chris Tillman, Clay Buchholz, Tyson Ross, Henderson Alvarez and Hector Santiago are all worth a mention as candidates.

    However, maybe the Pirates pitching coach can work his magic on a familiar face in Francisco Liriano.

    The 33-year-old has pitched to a 5.09 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over the past two seasons, but prior to that, he was one of the better left-handed starters in the league.

    In his first three seasons in Pittsburgh from 2013 to 2015, he went 35-25 with a 3.26 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 543 strikeouts in 510 innings.

    He's might jump at a chance to start again and to return to a place where he enjoyed significant success.

                    

    St. Louis Cardinals: 1B Eric Hosmer

    The Cardinals have to address the relief corps this offseason with Trevor Rosenthal likely to be non-tendered and Seung Hwan Oh headed for free agency.

    However, if they're going to make a splash signing, Eric Hosmer is the ideal target.

    He's younger than most free agents, at 27 years old, so a long-term commitment would mean paying for his prime seasons without the drop-off on the back end.

    The Cardinals first base spot has also been revolving door since Albert Pujols left after 2011. They could easily move Matt Carpenter back to third base and return Jedd Gyorko to a super-utility role.

    Re-signing Lance Lynn won't be a priority thanks to the emergence of Luke Weaver and the eventual return of Alex Reyes, so spending big on a middle-of-the-order bat to bolster the offense makes sense.

NL West

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    Jonathan Lucroy
    Jonathan LucroyDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: RP Wade Davis

    The Diamondbacks have quickly gone from a 93-loss team a year ago to one of the best and most well-rounded clubs in baseball.

    However, if there's a glaring need, it's at the back of the bullpen.

    Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin have been a terrific tandem in the setup role, but closer Fernando Rodney has been shaky at best.

    The 40-year-old veteran signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal in the offseason and has converted 38 of 44 save chances with a 4.50 ERA in 57 appearances.

    Replacing him with the best reliever on the market—Cubs closer Wade Davis—would turn the club's biggest weakness into a strength.

    It will take at least the four-year, $62 million contract Mark Melancon signed last offseason to get a deal done. 

                 

    Colorado Rockies: C Jonathan Lucroy

    Jonathan Lucroy has already expressed interest in returning to the Rockies, according to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post.

    "Look, I'm a 31-year-old catcher, so I have to get going. I want a ring, or two, or three. And I think the opportunity is definitely here for that to happen," Lucroy told reporters.

    And that interest appears to be mutual.

    "We aren't focused on that right now," GM Jeff Bridich said of potentially re-upping with Lucroy. "But in a lot of ways, it's been a positive experience having Jonathan here. I do think the veteran presence he brings has been a plus."

    A down season has lowered his price tag considerably, but he's still capable of making noise with the bat, and the Rockies would benefit from having a veteran backstop to anchor a young starting staff.

                      

    Los Angeles Dodgers: RP Addison Reed

    The Dodgers have the best bullpen in the NL (3.49 ERA) and the trio of Pedro Baez, Luis Avilan and Josh Fields has done a terrific job setting up closer Kenley Jansen.

    You can never have enough good relief pitching, though.

    This roster doesn't have any glaring needs to address with plenty of starting pitching depth and a good mix of controllable young talent and established veterans across the diamond.

    With that in mind, splurging on one of the market's better relief arms in Addison Reed could be the best way to make an impact on the free-agent market.

    Reed will likely have a chance to close games elsewhere, but the Dodgers have the financial flexibility to pay him like a closer while using him in the eighth inning.

                   

    San Diego Padres: SS Alcides Escobar

    The Padres have one shortstop prospect close to MLB-ready in Luis Urias and another potential future superstar at the position in Fernando Tatis Jr., who is moving quicker than expected.

    Adding a stopgap veteran at the position is still a good idea.

    Alcides Escobar has essentially been a non-factor offensively the past three seasons with a 67 OPS+ that ranks 223rd among 227 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances during that span.

    However, he's still a standout defender, and if he can be had on a one- or two-year deal at less than $5 million per season, it would be well worth the investment. 

                                

    San Francisco Giants: 3B Todd Frazier

    One rival executive predicted that the Giants would be "all over" Mike Moustakas this offseason, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.

    We've got Moustakas going to the Angels in these predictions, so they'll have to settle for the consolation prize at third base in Todd Frazier.

    The 31-year-old is batting just .219 over the past two seasons, but he's managed to post a .770 OPS thanks to his on-base skills and plus power.

    He has his shortcomings, but he's still a 30-homer threat with a good glove (7 DRS, 8.6 UZR/150), and he's a good clubhouse guy, so you could do a lot worse as far as backup plans are concerned.

                    

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Wednesday's games.