Ranking MLB's Top 10 High-Impact Targets Still Up for Grabs Post-Winter Meetings
The 2017-18 offseason crop isn't historically rich. It certainly isn't as loaded as the vaunted class of 2018-19 is projected to be.
Still, there are a number of intriguing, game-changing players available via trade or free agency, and many remain on the board as we creep toward the end of 2017.
Let's take a look at the top 10, keeping in mind track record, potential, price tag and—in the case of trade targets—contract status and controllability.
We’ll meet a few ace-level arms, several sluggers and one superstar for rent. First, some honorable mentions.
Before we dive into the top 10, here are 10 more free agents and trade targets who warrant mention but didn't quite make the cut.
Like the trade targets in our top 10, the names below have all featured in recent, credible rumors.
Free Agents: RHP Wade Davis (per Troy Renck of Denver7); RHP Lance Lynn (per Jon Morosi of MLB Network); OF/DH Jay Bruce (per Marc Carig of Newsday); RHP Alex Cobb (per Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago); RHP Greg Holland (per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports).
Trade Targets: LHP Zach Britton BAL (per Heyman); LHP Brad Hand SD (per 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson, via MLB Trade Rumors); RHP Gerrit Cole PIT (per Heyman); RHP Jake Odorizzi TB (per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times); C Yasmani Grandal LAD (per Morosi).
No. 1: RHP Yu Darvish
Forget Yu Darvish's postseason failures with the Los Angeles Dodgers—or at least put them in perspective.
Yes, the Japanese right-hander had a couple of rough outings on the biggest stage, including in Game 7 of the World Series.
He also struck out 209 hitters in 186.1 innings between the Dodgers and Texas Rangers en route to a fourth All-Star appearance. Despite missing the entire 2015 season to Tommy John surgery, Darvish has been good for 14.5 fWAR since 2013, which ranks among the top 25 pitchers in the game.
The past arm trouble and the postseason hiccups add risk to the nine-figure contract Darvish is going to command. But he's a legitimate ace on the back end of his prime, which by definition is a precious commodity.
No. 2: RHP Chris Archer
The Tampa Bay Rays don't have to deal Chris Archer, whose name churns through the rumor mill every winter and again at the July trade deadline. He's locked into an affordable contract that runs through 2021 with a pair of team options.
That's precisely why he's such an alluring asset and could net the small-market Rays a haul of prospects.
Multiple clubs have inquired about Archer, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. No wonder: The two-time All-Star eclipsed 200 innings and averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017 and is just 29 years old.
If he is traded, you could make a case for him being the best pitcher on the 2017-18 market. At worst, he's a small tick below Darvish.
No. 3: LF/RF J.D. Martinez
It's tough to imagine a better contract year than the one J.D. Martinez put together in 2017.
The 30-year-old outfielder posted career highs in home runs (45), RBI (104) and OPS (1.066) between the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. After a deadline swap to the D-backs, Martinez went on a power binge, bashing 29 home runs in 62 games.
Now, he's going to cash in. In November, superagent Scott Boras said his client was seeking a contract in the neighborhood of seven years and $210 million, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
He won't get that much, but any team that inks him is going to shell out for production now and likely accept some dead money on the back end.
For a bevy of contenders seeking game-changing thump, it will be worth it.
No. 4: 1B Eric Hosmer
Speaking of good contract years, Eric Hosmer notched career highs in hits (192), average (.318) and OPS (.882) and tied a career high with 25 home runs before making his first foray into free agency.
The 28-year-old is also a Boras client and could be in line for a nine-figure contract.
His power numbers may take a dip—he hit just nine home runs as recently as 2014 and had never hit as many as 20 before 2016. But he is a four-time Gold Glove-winner at first base and an exemplary clubhouse leader by all accounts.
"He's got that characteristic that you can’t really teach," Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield said of Hosmer in October, per Fox Sports. "When he walks into a room, he's got a presence about him."
Those traits would play well for a postseason hopeful such as the Boston Red Sox or a rebuilding club in search of veteran leadership such as the San Diego Padres.
No. 5: RHP Jake Arrieta
Jake Arrieta has taken a tumble since winning the National League Cy Young Award in 2015.
The hirsute right-hander's ERA has climbed and his velocity has dipped in each of the two subsequent seasons. He posted a fully respectable 3.53 ERA last season but also threw just 168.1 innings, his lowest total since 2014.
He was better in the second half, lowering his ERA from 4.35 before the All-Star break to 2.28 after. And he posted a 0.84 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 10.1 innings across two postseason starts for the Chicago Cubs, though he issued 10 walks.
He will turn 32 in March and will surely be seeking a long-term deal. There are red flags aplenty but also enough upside to guarantee someone will open the wallet and hope for a return to 2015 Arrieta.
No. 6: CF/LF Christian Yelich
The Miami Marlins have traded away two-thirds of their 2017 starting outfield, shipping Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees and Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now, they could field offers on Christian Yelich, though their asking price will be steep, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.
Yelich is worth it. The 26-year-old hit .282 with an .807 OPS, 18 home runs and 16 stolen bases last season after a full-time move from left field to center. And he's signed to a below-market contract that runs through 2022 with a team option.
The Fish faithful are hanging their heads as this firesale continues, but another fanbase could soon welcome one of the game's more dynamic all-around outfielders.
No. 7: 1B Jose Abreu
The Chicago White Sox might opt to keep first baseman Jose Abreu after his name simmered on the hot stove.
The Cuban slugger hit .304 with 33 homers and 102 RBI last season and has two remaining years of arbitration eligibility. He could anchor the White Sox's lineup in 2018 and provide mentorship to its emerging core, particularly countryman Yoan Moncada.
The Sox, Nightengale reported, would have to be "overwhelmed" by an offer for Abreu. Still, that's not an unequivocal "no."
Paying a high prospect premium for a player who turns 31 in January and would hit free agency after 2019 might be a turn-off for some suitors, especially with first base options such as Hosmer available via free agency.
Abreu, though, is an elite hitter who has averaged 31 homers and 102 RBI in his four MLB seasons. If he leaves the South Side, he will have a seismic impact wherever he lands.
No. 8: 3B Manny Machado
Manny Machado is 25 years old. He is an elite defensive player capable of handling third base or shortstop. He's made three All-Star teams and enjoyed three top-10 AL MVP finishes. Despite a slow start, he hit 33 home runs last season.
Only his contract status keeps him from the top of this list.
Great as he is, Machado is set to become a free agent after the 2018 season. The Baltimore Orioles are fielding offers and drawing interest on their franchise player, per ESPN's Buster Olney.
He would make any team better, but he'd be a one-year rental sure to hit the open market and command untold riches next winter.
Is one year of Machado worth a significant outlay of prospects? Maybe. It would also be a risky, win-now investment with potentially harmful long-term ramifications.
No. 9: CF Lorenzo Cain
Several key members of the Kansas City Royals' championship core are on the market. Hosmer is arguably the biggest name, but center fielder Lorenzo Cain should draw plenty of interest.
The 31-year-old hit .300 with 15 home runs and 26 stolen bases, and he remains a plus defender in center.
As with many players on the other side of 30, a long-term deal could sting in the later years as Cain's speed and range diminish and drag his value down with them.
For now, he's an All-Star-caliber player at a key position just two seasons removed from a top-three AL MVP finish.
No. 10: 3B Mike Moustakas
Another Royals free agent, Mike Moustakas, rebounded from an injury-marred 2016 season to hit 38 home runs with an .835 OPS for Kansas City and win AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
Now the 29-year-old two-time All-Star is the best available third baseman not named Manny Machado.
There are warts, including his pedestrian career .305 on-base percentage. After the season he just had, however, someone is going to hand Moustakas a lucrative multi-year deal.