The Top Remaining MLB Offseason Target at Each Position
If you haven't checked off your Christmas list by now, well, you're out of luck.
Fortunately for MLB general managers and front-office decision-makers, there are still several weeks of free-agent shopping left. And while an array of big names have been snatched up, there's plenty of talent left on the shelf.
What follows is a list of the top available free-agent targets at each position, including a starting pitcher and reliever, as of Dec. 25. It includes a handful of All-Stars, several potent bats and a few intriguing arms—enough to give teams with holes to plug and cash to burn a modicum of hope.
We're looking at stats, primarily. But other factors—including age, health and potential—matter as well. In some cases, there were multiple qualified candidates. In others, we had to scrape the bottom of the offseason barrel. And remember, we're considering only free agents, so speculative trades don't count.
First, rip open your presents and gobble down your feast. Then belly up to the nearest hot stove and proceed when ready.
Catcher: Wilin Rosario
The 2015-16 free-agent catching pool was shallow to begin with, but after Matt Wieters accepted the Baltimore Orioles' qualifying offer and lesser targets like Alex Avila and Chris Iannetta fell off the board, it was reduced to a stagnant puddle.
Among the handful of unsigned backstops, Wilin Rosario is probably the most intriguing. Yes, he saw more time at first base last year than behind the dish. And yes, he was designated for assignment by the Colorado Rockies in late November.
But Rosario, who opted for free agency over a gig with the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate, hit 21 home runs as recently as 2013 (Coors Field caveat added). And, as Nick Groke of the Denver Post noted, he owned an impressive .338/.402/.459 slash line in 74 Dominican Winter League at-bats as of Nov. 30.
Rosario is a right-handed swinger with a career .960 OPS against left-handers, so he might make the most sense as a bat off the bench or one half of a designated hitter platoon. Either way, someone is likely to take a flier on a 26-year-old with proven pop.
Honorable Mention: Jordan Pacheco? (We're stretching the definition of "honorable.")
First Base: Chris Davis
Chris Davis, MLB's reigning home run leader, will get a big payday from someone. But as the New Year approaches, he's still dangling. It's been that kind of winter for hitters.
And Davis isn't just any hitter. We're talking about a guy who launched 47 big flies in an era when power is at a premium. Yes, he stumbled in 2014, hitting just .196 before getting slapped with an amphetamine suspension.
But the basher they call Crush came roaring back in his contract year, and he's going to make the middle of someone's lineup a lot more dangerous.
Davis' agent is Scott Boras, so it's no surprise the sticking point is money. Boras wants $24 million annually for his client, Encina reports, and the O's "are determined that they're not going to bid against themselves for Davis' services."
The question now is which side will blink first, or whether another suitor will swoop in and meet Crush's demands.
Honorable Mention: Justin Morneau
Second Base: Howie Kendrick
With Ben Zobrist off the board and Daniel Murphy signing with the Washington Nationals on Thursday, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Howie Kendrick becomes easily the top second-base target.
Yes, he missed time to injury last season. When healthy, though, he provided his usual steady offense, posting a .295 average and flashing consistent, legit gap power.
His defensive metrics took a significant dive, with his defensive runs saved (DRS) plummeting from seven in 2014 to minus-12, per FanGraphs. That's troubling, but it could be an anomaly.
And if intangibles matter to you, the 32-year-old veteran has a reputation as a strong clubhouse leader, which would've made him a good fit in D.C. before the Nats nabbed Murphy.
Honorable Mention: Stephen Drew
Third Base: David Freese
Unless you count guys like Zobrist and Murphy who saw limited action at the hot corner, David Freese has been the top free-agent third baseman all winter.
That says as much about the lack of third-base depth on the market as it does about Freese. But the 32-year-old former All-Star had a respectable season for the Los Angeles Angels, hitting .257 with 14 home runs.
And he won't cost a draft pick, since the Halos didn't extend him a qualifying offer.
Honorable Mention: Juan Uribe
Shortstop: Ian Desmond
Ian Desmond wasn't terrible in 2015. He hit 19 home runs, after all, third-most among MLB shortstops. But after winning three straight Silver Slugger awards and compiling 10.9 WAR between 2012 and 2014, per Baseball-Reference.com, Desmond's production slipped.
Perhaps that's why he's still on the market despite the paucity of available shortstops. Yet the 30-year-old is more than capable of rediscovering his stroke, as he teased by notably raising his numbers in the second half.
Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran posited the Chicago White Sox as a possible landing spot. Considering the Sox have a need at short and play their home games in a hitter-friendly yard, that could be a win-win.
Also, apropos of nothing except that it's awesome, we now know Desmond is not a fan of "nose hair whistlers," thanks to his Festivus-inspired airing of grievances.
Honorable Mention: Alexei Ramirez
Left Field: Alex Gordon
We're going to cheat a little in the outfield to get the three best available players on the list.
Alex Gordon slots into left field because he's been the best defender at that position over the last two seasons, per FanGraphs.
He's also a three-time All-Star who posted an .809 OPS in 2015 and won himself a ring with the Kansas City Royals.
The outfield market has been slow to develop, even after Jason Heyward signed with the Cubs. But with his steady bat, flashy leather and championship pedigree, someone is going to throw gobs of cash at Gordon.
It likely won't be the Royals, who have been informed they have "no chance" to retain Gordon's services at their current offer, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman's sources.
Honorable Mention: Austin Jackson
Center Field: Yoenis Cespedes
Yoenis Cespedes profiles much better as a left fielder. Again, though, we're fudging it to shoehorn in the top three outfielders. And Cespedes did play 40 games in center field for the New York Mets after they acquired him at the trade deadline.
But his value to the Mets, and to whichever club signs him this winter, comes primarily from his bat.
Buoyed by his late-season surge with New York, Cespedes hit .291 with 35 home runs and 105 RBI in 2015. He's not an on-base machine, but with the possible exception of Davis, he's the best pure power hitter on the market.
And if a team signs him to play left, he'll bring above-average defense and a howitzer arm.
As Eno Sarris noted at ESPN.com, the projection systems are foretelling a significant drop-off at the plate for Cespedes next season. But that won't stop some dinger-hungry club from giving big years and dollars to the 30-year-old Cuban masher.
"I do think there's something to be said for his presence in a lineup," an NL talent evaluator said of the impact Cespedes had in New York and the offensive decline the Oakland A's suffered after trading him to Boston in July 2014, per ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. "He has a confidence factor and some swagger, and teams are afraid of his power."
Honorable Mention: Dexter Fowler
Right Field: Justin Upton
We're really stretching it here, as Justin Upton hasn't played an inning in right field since 2013. Really, the top three available outfielders all fit best in left, where Upton played exclusively last season for the San Diego Padres.
But, like Gordon and Cespedes, Upton is a cut above the rest of the outfield crowd.
In fact, with Heyward signed, he's possibly the best all-around free-agent position player, period. His numbers dipped a bit in San Diego, but he still managed 26 home runs along with 81 RBI and 19 stolen bases.
And the former No. 1 overall pick is just 28, meaning the club that lands him will be paying for a sizable chunk of peak years.
Yet, despite his considerable skill and enviable upside, Upton will always be viewed by some as a partial disappointment, as Tony Blengino outlined on ESPN.com:
[He] has been good, but not generational. He has quietly been selected to three All-Star Games and has made it to the postseason three times, but his career high in homers is 31 and in RBIs is 102. He has led the league in exactly nothing. So why should Justin Upton be a big deal in the free-agent market?
"Because he's an excellent baseball player on the right side of 30" would be one answer. Still, it'll be interesting to see what kind of deal Upton gets relative to the eight years and $184 million the Cubs gave Heyward.
Honorable Mention: Gerardo Parra
Starting Pitcher: Scott Kazmir
It was tempting to hand this spot to Kenta Maeda. And it's entirely possible his superlative stats with Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball will translate to MLB.
But we'll go with a proven big league commodity and select Scott Kazmir from a list of solid available arms that also includes Wei-Yin Chen and Yovani Gallardo.
Kazmir, who was pitching in the independent leagues as recently as 2012, continued his remarkable comeback by posting a 3.10 ERA last season, fourth-best in the Junior Circuit.
His numbers tailed off after a trade-deadline swap from Oakland to the Houston Astros. But there's little reason to doubt the 31-year-old southpaw can be a valuable No. 2 or No. 3 in virtually any rotation.
On Dec. 21, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported the Royals, A's, Orioles, Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals were the finalists to land Kazmir, though the Cards are presumably out after signing Mike Leake.
Honorable Mention: Kenta Maeda
Relief Pitcher: Tyler Clippard
There aren't any top-tier closers on the free-agent market (though next year's class is loaded, per MLB Trade Rumors).
Of the remaining relievers, Tyler Clippard stands out. The bespectacled right-hander and two-time All-Star posted a 2.92 ERA in 71 innings with the A's and Mets last season and profiles as one of the top setup men in the game.
He wobbled a bit in the postseason with New York, yielding five earned runs in 6.2 frames. That's a tiny sample size, so it's not fair to penalize him, but it's something potential suitors may remember.
Still, Clippard has ninth-inning experience—he saved 32 games for the Nationals in 2012 and 19 last year—and has held left-handed swingers to a .182 average in his career.
Honorable Mention: Antonio Bastardo