Comfortable Landing Spots for MLB Free Agents
Much has been made about the slow-moving free-agent market this MLB offseason.
Whether it's an isolated phenomenon or a more long-lasting shift in the way teams view free-agent spending, there are still a number of impact players searching for a new home as the month of February draws ever closer.
In fact, of the top 10 free agents potentially available this winter—according to a November article from MLB Trade Rumors—only Masahiro Tanaka (No. 5) and Wade Davis (No. 8) are off the market.
Tanaka opted into the final three years of his contract with the Yankees, while Davis signed a three-year, $52 million deal with the Colorado Rockies.
Big picture, something has to give in the days and weeks to come. As such, we set out to find a comfortable landing spot for each of the remaining top-10 free agents.
Greg Holland: St. Louis Cardinals (No. 10 Free Agent)
Stats: 139 ERA+, 41/45 SV, 3.61 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 70/26 K/BB, 57.1 IP, 1.4 WAR
Why St. Louis is a Comfortable Landing Spot
The relief pitching market is the one area where there's been significant movement this offseason.
All told, 17 different relievers have landed multiyear deals, not counting Mike Minor, who is expected to move into a starting role with the Texas Rangers.
Yet the NL saves leader remains unsigned.
In his return from Tommy John surgery, Greg Holland made good on a one-year, $6 million deal with the Rockies, converting 41 of 45 save chances with a 3.61 ERA and 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
While St. Louis Cardinals team president John Mozeliak recently "expressed confidence" in Luke Gregerson as the team's closer for the upcoming season, another splashy addition from the rival Chicago Cubs or up-and-coming Milwaukee Brewers could be enough for him to change his tune.
Gregerson, 33, saved 46 games in 57 opportunities with the Astros during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, but he's spent the bulk of his nine-year career as a setup man.
While Holland struggled to a 6.95 ERA after the All-Star break, he has a lengthy track record as a shutdown closer and he won't cost nearly as much as Wade Davis.
A two-year, $24 million deal with a third-year option would double his salary while also keeping the Cardinals from being locked into anything long-term.
St. Louis looks like the best fit among contenders.
Lance Lynn: Washington Nationals (No. 9 Free Agent)
Stats: 124 ERA+, 11-8, 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 153 K, 186.1 IP, 3.1 WAR
Why Washington is a Comfortable Landing Spot
With Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez all slated to reach free agency next offseason, the Washington Nationals have every reason to go all-in on the 2018 campaign.
If there's one remaining hole on the roster, it's the No. 5 starter's spot.
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg give the team a pair of legitimate aces, and they'll once again be followed by Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.
However, with Joe Ross recovering from Tommy John surgery, the final spot in the rotation is up in the air.
Prospect Erick Fedde, right-hander A.J. Cole and non-roster invitees Edwin Jackson and Tommy Milone are the leading in-house options.
Meanwhile, the team has also shown interest in free agent Lance Lynn, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Lynn, 30, is said to be seeking $15 million-plus per year and at least four years, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.
That's a slight uptick from the $12 million that Gonzalez is making this season, and with that salary coming off the books next winter and the left-hander potentially heading elsewhere, signing Lynn now to boost the team's chances in 2018 and serve as his eventual replacement in the No. 3 starter role makes perfect sense.
Lorenzo Cain: San Francisco Giants (No. 7 Free Agent)
Why San Francisco is a Comfortable Landing Spot
The San Francisco Giants have added two superstars in Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen this offseason as they look to rebound from a disastrous 2017 season.
However, they've yet to address the glaring need for improved outfield defense.
According to FanGraphs, the Giants outfield tallied a horrendous minus-45 DRS last season, by far the worst in all of baseball.
The biggest issue was center field, where a group led by Denard Span posted minus-32 DRS and was simply overmatched by spacious AT&T Park.
Speedy Jarrod Dyson, steady veteran Jon Jay and former Gold Glove winner Carlos Gomez are all still available on the free-agent market.
However, the truly impactful addition would be Lorenzo Cain.
The Giants were willing to blow past the luxury-tax threshold to acquire Giancarlo Stanton, so it's reasonable to think they might be willing to incur the subsequent penalties if it means adding another star-level player in Cain.
The 31-year-old has long been one of the league's elite defensive outfielders, and at this point in their respective careers, it's not a stretch to think he's also capable of making a bigger offensive impact than Longoria or McCutchen.
Now that it's clear they have no intention of rebuilding, the Giants might as well throw caution to the wind.
Mike Moustakas: New York Mets (No. 6 Free Agent)
Why New York is a Comfortable Landing Spot
"It really hurts to say this, but I obviously can't be relied on to go out there and do what I've done throughout my career."
That's what franchise icon David Wright recently had to say to reporters about his future with the New York Mets.
Spinal stenosis has limited the 35-year-old to 75 games over the past three seasons, including none in 2017, and he's still owed $47 million over the next three years.
As it stands, Asdrubal Cabrera would be the leading candidate for the everyday third base job, with Wilmer Flores manning second base.
However, signing Mike Moustakas and moving Cabrera in a super-utility role would give the team more flexibility.
Moustakas has some holes in his game—most notably his lack of on-base ability, as he posted a .314 OBP and 5.7 percent walk rate last season—but he brings a lot of positives as well.
He's younger than most of this year's top free agents at 29 years old, he's a steady defender and his 38-homer bat would fit nicely alongside Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce in the middle of the lineup.
Finding more starting pitching depth is still a clear need for the Mets, but if they're going to make a splashy signing, Moustakas looks like the best target.
Jake Arrieta: Milwaukee Brewers (No. 4 Free Agent)
Stats: 123 ERA+, 14-10, 3.53 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 163 K, 168.1 IP, 1.9 WAR
Why Milwaukee is a Comfortable Landing Spot
News broke on Sunday night that the Milwaukee Brewers had made a contract offer to Yu Darvish, according to Yahoo Japan (via ESPN.com).
That should serve more as an indication that they're serious about landing a top-tier starter than a shift away from interest in Jake Arrieta, who has long been viewed as the team's top target.
While a return to the Cubs, where his career has taken off over the past few seasons, might look like the most comfortable fit on paper, it sounds like he'd have to settle for a four-year deal to return.
The Brewers have yet to make a formal offer, but with money to spend and a clear need for a proven staff ace, going to five years figures to be less of a sticking point in Milwaukee.
The question then becomes what's more comfortable: returning to your former team or the security of an extra year?
We'll go with the latter and say Arrieta fits best in Milwaukee.
He's certainly enjoyed plenty of success in Miller Park over the years, going 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 31 innings over five starts.
As they look to take the next step toward legitimate postseason contention, slotting Arrieta ahead of Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and eventually Jimmy Nelson (once he returns from shoulder surgery) would make for a formidable starting staff.
Eric Hosmer: San Diego Padres (No. 3 Free Agent)
Why San Diego is a Comfortable Landing Spot
Kansas City Royals versus San Diego Padres: Which rebuild looks more promising?
That could wind up being the ultimate question facing Eric Hosmer.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Royals have made a seven-year, $147 million offer to bring back the homegrown star, while the Padres have come in a bit lower at seven years and $140 million.
No other team has been willing to jump into the mix so far, and there's a good chance that will be the extent of his interested market unless he's willing to accept a shorter deal.
So where is the better fit?
The Royals are clearly headed for an organizational shift after this winter's free-agent exodus, and the rebuild could be a long one with an MLB roster that's short on controllable impact talent and a farm system that ranked last in Bleacher Report's most recent update.
On the other hand, the Padres have some intriguing young talent to build around with guys like Wil Myers, Manuel Margot, Dinelson Lamet, Hunter Renfroe and Luis Perdomo already locked into MLB jobs.
They also have the No. 4 farm system in baseball, with several potential future stars climbing the ranks.
Sacrificing $1 million per year to latch on to a far more promising situation in San Diego should be a no-brainer.
J.D. Martinez: Boston Red Sox (No. 2 Free Agent)
Why Boston is a Comfortable Landing Spot
It could come down to a question of who blinks first between the Boston Red Sox and slugger J.D. Martinez.
The Red Sox have an offer on the table for five years and somewhere in the neighborhood of $125 million, according to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald.
That's well short of the $30 million-plus per year and at least six years that Martinez and agent Scott Boras are said to be seeking, per Heyman.
There are also some other interesting wrinkles to the situation beyond just money.
"While Boston has been seen as the favorite, word is Martinez prefers to play the outfield rather than DH, which is one edge the D-backs may have, and they’ve hired his personal hitting coach, Robert Van Scoyoc, as the team’s hitting strategist," wrote Heyman.
That might give Arizona a good enough pitch to stay in the running, but the Red Sox are far more likely to up their offer than a club that is already close to maxed out from a salary standpoint.
This situation could wind up outliving the offseason and stretching into spring training, but the best fit for Martinez still looks like Boston, where the right-handed hitter could take aim at the Green Monster and give the team the power bat they were missing last season following the retirement of David Ortiz.
Yu Darvish: Minnesota Twins (No. 1 Free Agent)
Stats: 118 ERA+, 10-12, 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 209 K, 186.2 IP, 3.9 WAR
Why Minnesota is a Comfortable Landing Spot
The Minnesota Twins were the surprise postseason team of 2017 as they claimed the second AL wild-card spot on the heels of a 103-loss season.
With a young offensive core in place, the bullpen already addressed this offseason and a solid one-two punch of Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana atop the rotation, they might be one impact starter away from making some serious noise once again.
Yu Darvish could be the missing piece.
General manager Thad Levine was the assistant GM in Texas when the Rangers first signed Darvish in 2012, so he's plenty familiar with the player and the person.
Minnesota has not been shy about making its interest in Darvish known this winter, and it's firmly in the mix for his services.
Teams like the Cubs and Yankees remain interested because they have money to spend and would be foolish to pass on adding a quality starter at a discounted rate.
The Twins, on the other hand, have made Darvish their top priority from the get-go and might be willing to outbid everyone else when the time comes.
It would be uncharted territory for the organization, as the four-year, $55 million deal that Santana signed stands as the largest free-agent contract in team history.
It sounds like they're ready to make that leap, though.