Top MLB Offseason Targets Ranked by Star Power Left in the Tank

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 22, 2018

Top MLB Offseason Targets Ranked by Star Power Left in the Tank

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Lest they forget, Major League Baseball evaluators might as well have the same motto tattooed somewhere: "Past performance doesn't guarantee future results."

    It's a fact of life for evaluating players. Even the good ones. Heck, especially the good ones.

    To illustrate that concept, what follows are rankings for the top 10 offseason targets (both free agents and trade candidates) based on their remaining star power, which take into account their age, how their skills are trending and any relevant silver linings or red flags.

    The only players excluded from this list are rental trade candidates, such as Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson. Teams are only looking at having them for a single season, so it's not as necessary to take the long view of their playing abilities.

    Otherwise, it's on with the show.

10. Mike Moustakas, 3B (Free Agent)

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    Mike Moustakas occupies the lowest spot somewhat by default.

    Although he's a two-time All-Star, he's tallied only 11.4 wins above replacement in seven seasons. Even in mashing a career-high 38 home runs last year, he managed just 1.8 WAR.

    His defensive ratings at third base have generally been good, but they peaked early and fell below average in 2017. At 29 years old, that decline has to be taken seriously as a sign of things to come.

    If so, his bat will bear the burden of keeping him relevant. It isn't without flaws of its own. 

    He tried to swing his way to a career year in 2017, resulting in his already below-average walk rate plummeting even further below average. Throw in the many shifts he attracts, and there are two forces that threaten to keep his offense in check.

    On the bright side, his power outlook invites less skepticism. His 2017 surge was the result of unleashing good raw pop that's always been there. He put fewer balls on the ground while boosting his pull rate, thus more frequently taking the easy route to the cheap seats. Dingers abound.

    If power is all a team wants out of Moustakas, he'll be able to live up to expectations.

9. Josh Harrison, INF/OF (Trade Target)

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    Josh Harrison is also a two-time All-Star, yet he's underrated.

    The late bloomer has compiled 12.1 WAR over the past four seasons. Feeding into that is just about every talent you could ask for: He can hit, and he has a bit of power and more than a bit of speed. He can also handle himself at multiple positions.

    Since Harrison is 30 years old and signed to a contract that runs as far as 2022, it is fair to wonder whether his athleticism might soon show cracks that could develop into full-on fissures.

    However, it's a good sign that he's literally not slowing down. Per Statcast, his average sprint speed was 27.3 feet per second in 2015 and has held steady at 27.8 feet per second in 2016 and 2017. He's also maintaining as a quality defender, putting up average to above-average ratings at second base and third base.

    In the meantime, he is what he is as a hitter. He doesn't draw enough walks but makes up for it by avoiding strikeouts. How much of his contact will be on the ground from year to year is anyone's guess, but he can hang with the average player at making hard contact.

    Nobody expects (or should expect) Harrison to be a superstar-caliber performer. But he has what he needs to continue being a good, solid player.

8. Jake Arrieta, SP (Free Agent)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    It was only a few years ago that Jake Arrieta looked like the best pitcher in the world.

    Following a criminally overlooked breakout in 2014, he broke out even more with a 1.77 ERA over 229 innings in 2015. Even in a year in which Clayton Kershaw struck out 301 batters and Zack Greinke finished with a 1.66 ERA, it was good enough to earn Arrieta the National League Cy Young Award.

    However, things have since turned for the worse. 

    It wasn't just Arrieta's results that worsened in 2016 and 2017. As I covered in more depth a week ago, he's battled diminished fastball velocity and, for whatever reason, has reduced the use of his slutter (a cutter/slider hybrid).

    Arrieta's arm slot also dropped throughout the course of 2017. Since he'll turn 32 in March, it's hard not to wonder if that's a sign of a physical issue. Regardless, it's unlikely to be any help to his control. As it is, his walk rate has already regressed drastically since 2015.

    But for all Arrieta's problems, he exited 2017 pitching quite well. He put up a 2.84 ERA over his final 22 starts. Red flags be damned, he was still uncorking some nasty fastballs and breaking balls.

    Frankly, the stuff to be a No. 1 isn't there anymore. But even the stuff Arrieta does have is plenty to make him a capable No. 2 starter for a few more years.

7. Chris Archer, SP (Trade Target)

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    Chris Archer has one of baseball's liveliest arms, and is still south of 30 years old (29) and signed to a cheap contract that runs as far as 2021.

    While he's an ace by reputation, he's managed just a 4.05 ERA over the last two seasons. That equates to a 101 ERA+, which is barely above average.

    The bright side is that he's continued his bat-missing mastery by posting the fifth-lowest contact rate among qualified starters and striking out 10.8 batters per nine innings. At work there is electric stuff: a 95.5 mph fastball and a heavily used slider that averages 88.9 mph.

    When hitters have made contact, it hasn't been pretty for Archer. He's been hurt by the surge in home runs over the last two seasons, and the spike in his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in 2017 mirrored that of his hard-hit rate.

    Evidently, his velocity just isn't overwhelming anymore. That raises a concern over how he'll fare once it begins to leave him. He'll have to become more of a pitcher than a thrower, which is a transition he's yet to show he's capable of.

    For now, though, there's no real indication that Archer's velocity or bat-missing talent are in imminent danger. Throw in how he's been one of only 15 pitchers to log over 200 innings in each of the last two seasons, and he's a fine target for teams in need of a reliable starter who occasionally looks like a No. 1.

6. Eric Hosmer, 1B (Free Agent)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    In most departments, it's hard to ask for a more desirable free agent than Eric Hosmer.

    He just turned 28 last October, putting him safely on the young side of the free-agent spectrum. In his collection of accolades are four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and a World Series ring. And he's coming off a career year highlighted by a personal-best .882 OPS and 25 homers.

    Despite all this, Hosmer doesn't check all the boxes for a star.

    He's accumulated only 14.1 WAR in his seven-year career, often struggling to stay above replacement level. In 2014, for example, he produced only 0.8 WAR. In 2016, just 1.0.

    There are two main causes. Hosmer's supposedly excellent first base defense doesn't feature much range. And while his patience and ability to make contact are commendable, his extreme ground-ball habit leads to massive fluctuations in his offensive results.

    The sky's the limit if Hosmer finds ways to fix these issues—particularly his tendency for grounders. Were he to get under more balls, his impressive power would produce impressive results.

    But until a real indication that Hosmer is ready, willing and able to do that, he's best taken as is: A frustrating talent whose youth nonetheless guarantees a few more good years.

5. Lorenzo Cain, OF (Free Agent)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Lorenzo Cain racked up 20.5 WAR between 2014 and 2017. That's more than Robinson Cano, Giancarlo Stanton and Buster Posey.

    Cain has done this with a well-rounded value attack, as he's been an above-average hitter, fielder and baserunner. It's only natural, given his 31 years of age, to fear that his athletic talents have a short shelf life going forward.

    He's coming off a 2017 season in which he sprinted at an average of 29.1 feet per second, his highest mark of the Statcast era (since 2015). In light of that, it's plausible that his relatively disappointing defensive ratings from 2017 will prove to be an anomaly. If not, his defensive instincts will keep him from plummeting too far.

    In the meantime, Cain is evolving as a hitter.

    He turned into an above-average contact hitter in 2015 and is now taking on more qualities typically associated with sluggers. He's drawing more walks, hitting fewer ground balls and making more frequent hard contact.

    Cain's athleticism will disappear at some point. But his bat should be able to help pick up the slack. That will allow him to carry on as a capable everyday outfielder.

4. Yu Darvish, SP (Free Agent)

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    Yu Darvish left a bad taste in everyone's mouth when he last pitched. In two World Series outings, he barely totaled more outs (10) than runs allowed (9).

    However, everyone knows what he's capable of.

    He's mostly been a huge success since coming over from Japan in 2012. He owns a 3.42 ERA in 832.1 major league innings, not to mention the highest K/9 of anyone. Only three starters have lower contact rates than his 73 percent since 2012.

    Of course, his red flags aren't just limited to his World Series flop.

    Darvish missed the 2015 season after Tommy John surgery, yet has still 2,127.2 professional innings on his arm. And while his notorious slider still looks pretty, it's not the whiff magnet that it used to be.

    The latter isn't destroying his talent for avoiding contact, however. That's due to the sheer depth of his repertoire, as well as his surge in fastball velocity since returning from Tommy John. He peaked at an average of 94.2 mph last season. Evidently, his arm is in good shape.

    Since he's 31 years old, it's unlikely that Darvish will hold his newfound velocity for the long haul. But it's comforting that he proved he can dominate with less velocity earlier in his career. When it comes down to it, he's better equipped than Arrieta to pitch like a No. 1 in a long-term deal.

3. J.D. Martinez, OF (Free Agent)

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    J.D. Martinez is a flawed player now, and figures to stay that way in a multiyear deal.

    Although he only turned 30 last August, the red flags typically associated with 30-something players have already found him: He's had trouble staying healthy over the last two seasons, playing in just 239 games. His defensive ratings have declined so drastically that it's a fair question whether he should transition from a full-time outfielder to a full-time designated hitter.

    But, man, can he hit.

    Martinez logged an MLB-best .690 slugging percentage and slammed 45 homers in only 119 games last season. Go back to 2014, and his 149 OPS+ rates him as Paul Goldschmidt's equal and Bryce Harper's superior.

    The knock on Martinez is that he strikes out a lot. But that habit isn't getting worse, and his walk rate is improving, which peaked at 10.8 percent in 2017.

    Then there's his power, which is beyond reproach. His 43.8 hard-hit percentage since 2014 is the best of any active player. In the Statcast era, his average exit velocity of 96 mph on fly balls and line drives is topped by only four other hitters.

    Right now, Martinez isn't the best player on the free-agent market. But with a bat like his, he should outlast the likes of Darvish, Hosmer, Cain and Arrieta as a true star.

2. J.T. Realmuto, C (Trade Target)

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    J.T. Realmuto wants out of the Miami Marlins. Assuming they actually want to move him, they're holding one of MLB's most valuable trade chips.

    Realmuto is just 26 and under club control through 2020. And while the spotlight hasn't yet found him, he's been coming into his own as a catcher who can do it all.

    He's a .280 career hitter whose OPS has gotten better every year. He also has exceptional athleticism by catcher standards, which serves him well running the bases and controlling the running game from behind the plate. Equally noteworthy is how, per Baseball Prospectus, he turned into a solid pitch framer in 2017.

    Even the man himself knows his athleticism is on borrowed time as long as he's in the crouch.

    "Obviously, with catching, I'm going to slow down over time," Realmuto told MLB.com's Mike Petriello last June. "I'm going to be less and less athletic the longer I catch."

    Still, his youth works in his favor. So does the fact that his workload hasn't been too bad. He's caught 3,295.1 innings in the majors. For perspective, Yadier Molina had caught over 5,000 by the time he was through his own age-26 season.

    It's also likely that Realmuto keeps improving as a hitter. He's already an above-average contact hitter, and has recently developed a taste for hard contact.

    All told, a trade for Realmuto would mean landing a rising star.

1. Christian Yelich, LF/CF (Trade Target)

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    Whereas Realmuto is one of MLB's most valuable trade chips, fellow Marlin Christian Yelich might be the most valuable trade chip. At least among those realistically available.

    Yelich just turned 26 in December and is signed through 2022 for a total of $58.25 million. That's more than a reasonable sum for a player who's put up 17.7 WAR in five seasons. 

    Yelich has done that with a combination of talents. He's a true hitter with a career average of .290. He also has a bit of power and speed, the latter of which serves him well on the bases and in the field.

    Like Hosmer, Yelich does have a ground-ball habit that suppresses his natural power. To wit, he's averaged 95.4 mph on his fly balls and line drives since 2015.

    Unlike Hosmer, however, Yelich's ground-ball rate is on a downward trend that's led to 39 homers over the last two years. Even if it doesn't get better than that, he's proved he can keep his offensive numbers afloat by taking his walks and finding holes in the defense with his excellent bat control.

    One thing that isn't trending as well is Yelich's sprint speed, which has declined from 29.0 feet per second in 2015 to 28.7 this past season. That and his comparatively better defensive metrics confirm that he's best used in left field rather than center.

    Put simply, Yelich is a star player who's in the thick of his prime with both a high floor and high ceiling going forward. Somebody should go get him.

          

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus.