MLB Free Agency 2016-17: Early Look at One Realistic Fit for Every Team
There is still an exciting month of playoff baseball separating us from what promises to be another busy offseason around the league, but it's never too early to start looking ahead at how free agency might play out.
This year's free-agent class is headlined by a number of notable bats.
Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Neil Walker and Justin Turner are all headed for significant multiyear deals, while Martin Prado, Kendrys Morales, Matt Wieters, Mike Napoli, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss should also garner plenty of interest.
The starting pitching side of things is a different story.
Rich Hill and Jeremy Hellickson are the top dogs among a starting pitching class that also features the likes of Andrew Cashner, Doug Fister, Ivan Nova and Bartolo Colon.
The deepest market is the relievers.
Three of the league's elite closers in Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon will be available, along with guys like Neftali Feliz, Brad Ziegler, Sergio Romo, Joe Blanton and Travis Wood.
As a preview of sorts for the offseason ahead, what follows is a look at one realistic free-agent fit for all 30 MLB teams.
These projected fits are a mixture of notable re-signings and new additions and were reached with a combination of rumors from around the league and speculation on my part based on team needs and past free-agency trends.
Obviously, a lot can change between now and the start of free agency. For now, here's a look ahead at some potential offseason free-agency fits.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RP Joaquin Benoit
The Arizona Diamondbacks were in the market for a late-inning bullpen upgrade last offseason before settling on signing veteran Tyler Clippard to a two-year, $12.25 million deal.
With Clippard shipped to the New York Yankees at the deadline and incumbent closer Brad Ziegler also departing in a trade with the Boston Red Sox, the back of the bullpen is once again an area of need.
Even if the front office is unwilling to pay top dollar to sign someone like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon at the top of the reliever market, there are a number of experienced arms who could help at a lower price point.
Joaquin Benoit is one such veteran.
The 39-year-old has ample experience in both a setup and closer capacity and he's been lights out since joining the Seattle Mariners in a July trade, posting a 0.42 ERA with nine holds in 23 appearances.
Hard-throwing rookie Jake Barrett could still be the choice to man the ninth inning going forward, but Benoit would provide some valuable insurance and a rock-solid eighth-inning option.
Atlanta Braves: C Matt Wieters
If there's an obvious hole on the rebuilding Atlanta Braves, it's the catcher position.
No trade was made to acquire a long-term option at the position leading up to the trade deadline, despite some rumblings that the team could make a forward-thinking move, per Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
As a result, finding a starting catcher figures to be item No. 1 on the offseason to-do list.
Veteran A.J. Pierzynski has filled the position the past two seasons on a pair of one-year deals, but after suffering a season-ending hamstring injury there's a decent chance the 39-year-old has played his final MLB game.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring, but if that’s it, then it was fun," Pierzynski told reporters after his season prematurely ended.
Wilson Ramos, Jason Castro, Nick Hundley, Kurt Suzuki, Dioner Navarro and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are all options on this year's free-agent market, but the best fit may be Matt Wieters.
The longtime Baltimore Orioles backstop attended college at nearby Georgia Tech and he'd bring a good mix of receiving skills and staff-handling ability, along with some plus pop in a lineup that could use it.
With Caleb Joseph in place as a stopgap option to top prospect Chance Sisco, the Orioles may finally be ready to move on from the former No. 5 overall pick.
Baltimore Orioles: SP Doug Fister
Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy have been legitimate bright spots for the Baltimore Orioles this season and Chris Tillman remains a solid veteran arm, but starting pitching remains a clear area of weakness.
That trio has helped keep the O's in the playoff hunt, but they haven't stopped the team from ranking 28th in the majors with a 4.89 starters' ERA.
The O's have plenty of options to fill out the rotation behind that trio, most notably veterans Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley, who all stand to make a good amount of money in 2017.
Jimenez will earn $13.5 million in the final year of a four-year, $50 million deal, Gallardo will make $11 million after the team surrendered a draft pick to sign him last winter and Miley is on the books for $8.9 million.
Trouble is, those three have been mostly awful, going 13-24 with a 5.89 ERA and 1.629 WHIP in 54 combined starts.
Even with so many option, adding another veteran starter at a reasonable price who is capable of eating innings would seem like a wise move if they hope to stay relevant in the AL East.
The 32-year-old has gone 12-12 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.408 WHIP in 174 innings of work for the Houston Astros this season after signing a one-year, $7 million deal in the offseason.
A similar deal seems like a realistic expectation in his second go-round in free agency and he offers some decent upside for the price with a solid track record.
Boston Red Sox: DH Edwin Encarnacion
The Boston Red Sox will be tasked with replacing more than just a beloved clubhouse presence and a big personality when David Ortiz calls it quits at the end of the season.
The 40-year-old leads the AL with a 1.036 OPS, to go along with 47 doubles, 36 home runs and 122 RBI as one of the most productive sluggers in all of baseball.
Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and Carlos Beltran headline this year's crop of power bats who could be tasked with sliding into the DH role and shouldering a good deal of the run-production load.
According to early reports, Encarnacion has some level of interest in being the guy.
"Both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion envision the Red Sox as a possible winter landing spot, provided David Ortiz really does go through with his plan to retire," wrote Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball in June, also noting that Encarnacion will be seeking a four-year deal.
Since the start of the 2012 season, Encarnacion ranks second in the majors in home runs (193) and RBI (546) and he's had no shortage of success at Fenway Park over the years with an .886 OPS, 26 home runs and 85 RBI in 108 games.
Nelson Cruz and the four-year, $57 million deal he signed with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2015 season would seem like a reasonable starting point in negotiations.
Chicago Cubs: RP Aroldis Chapman
The Chicago Cubs gave up a ton to acquire flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline, so why wouldn't the make a serious push to re-sign him?
Since coming over from the New York Yankees in exchange for a four-player package headlined by shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, Chapman has continued to dominated in the ninth.
He's converted 15 of 17 save chances with a 1.19 ERA, 0.838 WHIP and 15.5 K/9 in 24 appearances, shoring up what was the biggest weakness on an otherwise stacked Cubs roster.
Chapman has never had any significant arm issues, despite his otherworldly velocity, and he's actually taken a significant step forward with his command this year with his walk rate trimmed from 4.5 to 2.7 BB/9.
Jonathan Papelbon currently holds the distinction of signing the largest contract ever for a reliever—a four-year, $50 million pact that turned into a $61 million deal with a fifth-year option—and it's fair to assume that Chapman will surpass that total.
Something like a five-year, $75 million deal is not out of the realm of possibility given his age, track record and the growing cost of quality bullpen arms.
That may sound like a lot, but with no other glaring needs and the title window still wide open it's a worthwhile expenditure for the North Siders.
Chicago White Sox: 1B/OF Brandon Moss
Finding a left-handed power bat to slot between Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier figures to be a top priority for the Chicago White Sox this offseason.
Adam LaRoche briefly and unsuccessfully filled that role prior to retiring and the team has gone largely without a left-handed run-producing presence here in 2016.
As a team, they've posted a .707 OPS (24th in MLB) with 45 home runs (23rd in MLB) from the left side, with most of that damage coming from Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera, who are better suited as table-setters.
Kendrys Morales, Mitch Moreland, Matt Joyce, Adam Lind, Pedro Alvarez and Luis Valbuena are all capable of providing pop from the left side, but the best fit on the free-agent market might be Brandon Moss.
Moss, 33, has posted an .808 OPS with 27 home runs and 65 RBI in 431 plate appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals this season and he's capable of playing first base and corner outfield.
That's good enough to at least put him in the conversation for a qualifying offer this winter and he could be the rare case that accepts the offer with a desire to stay in St. Louis.
"Honestly, I have thought more about wanting to stay here than I have thought about where I could end up," Moss told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when asked about his future. "I think most guys spend their entire careers trying to get to a place like this."
With Matt Holliday likely on his way out, the Cardinals could have interest in a reunion as well, but if he does hit the open market the White Sox look like a good fit.
Cincinnati Reds: RP Neftali Feliz
Needing to find a replacement for the departed Joakim Soria in the role of right-handed setup man, the Pittsburgh Pirates took a chance on the talented but disappointing Neftali Feliz on a one-year, $3.9 million deal this past offseason.
Feliz burst onto the scene with the Texas Rangers in 2010 to claim AL Rookie of the Year honors and was one of the league's best closers during his first two seasons in the league, converting 72 of 81 save chances with a 2.73 ERA and 8.5 K/9.
However, he appeared in just 14 games over the next two seasons as injuries derailed his promising career.
The right-handed returned strong for a 1.99 ERA over 30 appearances in 2014, but struggled mightily last season with a 6.38 ERA and 1.563 WHIP in 48 games with the Rangers and Tigers.
That was enough to lower him into the Pirates' price range after he was non-tendered and he's rebuilt his stock under the tutelage of pitching guru Ray Searage.
The 28-year-old has a 3.52 ERA, 1.137 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 in 62 appearances and he ranks second in the majors with 29 holds.
Contenders will no doubt be lining up for a chance to secure his services in a setup role, but the opportunity to close for a rebuilding team like the Cincinnati Reds could be a win-win for both parties.
For the Reds, it would give them a short-term solution at the back of the league's worst bullpen and a valuable trade chip when the deadline rolls around. Think Fernando Rodney with the San Diego Padres this season.
For Feliz, proving he can once again be an effective closer could set him up to be a coveted arm on the 2017-18 free-agent market when he won't have to compete with the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon for a job.
Cleveland Indians: 1B Mike Napoli
Entering the 2016 season, the Cleveland Indians had not had a right-handed hitter top the 30-homer mark since Ellis Burks went deep 32 times back in 2002.
That surprising streak has finally ended thanks to Mike Napoli, who's posted an .814 OPS with 34 home runs and 98 RBI as one of the better free-agent signings of the offseason.
A disappointing 2015 season resulted in limited interest on the free-agent market and the veteran slugger wound up agreeing to a one-year, $7 million deal as one of a handful of low-cost additions along with Rajai Davis, Juan Uribe and Marlon Byrd.
Now the Indians are faced with the tough decision of whether to pay up to bring Napoli back, and it appears the 34-year-old is open to returning.
"People try to say it's a distraction or whatever," Napoli said of his upcoming free agency to Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com. "I'm always up for anything. Yeah, I love it here. From the guys in the clubhouse, the front office, the training staff, the cooks. Everything has been wonderful."
Manager Terry Francona wouldn't mind seeing him back next year either.
"Man, he’s been a blessing to us," Francona told reporters. "This guy is what you want. He shows up to win. When he doesn’t win, he’s (expletive)...He has affected everybody in the clubhouse, and myself. It’s been pretty special."
A two-year deal with a reasonable raise and a third-year option could be enough to keep him in town.
Colorado Rockies: RP Brad Ziegler and RP Marc Rzepczynski
A 4.84 ERA might not turn heads, but the Colorado Rockies starting pitching has been vastly improved this season, as that mark represents a significant improvement over their league-worst 5.27 ERA from a year ago.
Jon Gray (27 GS, 111 ERA+, 9.8 K/9) has shown flashes of emerging as an ace, while the trio of Tyler Chatwood (26 GS, 120 ERA+), Chad Bettis (30 GS, 102 ERA+) and rookie Tyler Anderson (18 GS, 137 ERA+) gives the team a solid, controllable staff.
The bullpen on the other hand has been atrocious.
Veterans Adam Ottavino and Boone Logan have pitched well and rookie Carlos Estevez has plus stuff, but the relief corps as a whole has a 5.05 ERA and a dismal 57.4 percent save conversion rate (35-of-61).
Jason Motte and Chad Qualls were signed last offseason in an effort to add more experienced arms to the pen, and while those particular signings didn't necessarily pan out, a similar approach would make sense this winter.
Given the importance of keeping the ball on the ground at Coors Field, two names that make sense as targets are Brad Ziegler and Marc Rzepczynski.
Among pitchers with at least 40 innings of work, Rzepczynski ranks second in ground-ball rate (68.8 percent), with Ziegler close behind in seventh (63.4 percent), according to FanGraphs.
Ziegler would give the team a capable closer at a reasonable price relative to the rest of the high-end relief market, while Rzepczynski could replace the departing Logan as the second lefty alongside Jake McGee.
Detroit Tigers: UT Sean Rodriguez
The Detroit Tigers have a high-priced offense with no clear holes, a rotation on the rise with a trio of young starters and a bullpen that is no longer a glaring issue.
What they don't have is viable infield depth.
Jose Iglesias has made a number of trips to the disabled list in recent years, Nick Castellanos is currently shelved with a fractured hand and Ian Kinsler is headed for his age-35 season.
Those injuries have meant Mike Aviles (181 PA, .210 BA, .528 OPS), Andrew Romine (183 PA, .245 BA, .636 OPS) and Casey McGehee (96 PA, .228 BA, .500 OPS) have seen significantly more time than expected this year and provided very little in the process.
Veteran Sean Rodriguez has long been one of the game's most versatile role players, but he's taken his offensive game to another level this season and could be the perfect addition to bolster the Tigers' bench.
The 31-year-old has hit .266/.347/.524 with 14 doubles, 18 home runs and 54 RBI over 309 plate appearances while playing seven different position for a 1.9 WAR.
The Pittsburgh Pirates gave Rodriguez a one-year, $2.5 million deal to return last offseason. While he should net a decent raise, he's not going to break the bank and could be a significant addition.
Houston Astros: C Jason Castro
Jason Castro has been the Houston Astros' primary catcher since the 2012 season, racking up a 10.1 WAR to rank eighth among all catchers during that span.
He's never matched his breakout 2013 season when he posted an .835 OPS with 35 doubles and 18 home runs en route to his lone All-Star appearance, but he's been a steady contributor on both sides of the ball.
The 29-year-old has tallied double-digit home runs each of the past four seasons, hovers around league average in throwing out base stealers and ranks as one of the game's elite pitch framers, per StatCorner.
Is that steady but unspectacular production enough for the Astros to seek a reunion?
"At multiple points, the Astros and Castro have talked long-term deals, including earlier this winter before arbitration filings. A two-year deal came up, as well a three-year deal plus an option, a person familiar with the offers said," wrote Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle in February.
There's no reason to think the team's opinion of the backstop would have changed with a similar performance here in 2016.
Jake Rogers, who was selected in the third round of this year's draft out of Tulane, is the highest-rated catching prospect in the Astros system right now, per MLB.com's Prospect Watch, and he's still at least a few years away from the majors.
So unless the team decides to make a run at signing Wilson Ramos or Matt Wieters in free agency, re-upping with Castro would appear to be their best option.
Kansas City Royals: DH Carlos Beltran
Carlos Beltran may not be the same dynamic five-tool player he was in the prime of his career, but he's still going strong.
The 39-year-old has hit .299/.340/.519 with 32 doubles, 28 home runs and 91 RBI while splitting the season with the Yankees and Rangers and he has no intention of retiring at season's end.
"The way I’m contributing and the way I feel physically, two more years would be a great accomplishment for me personally and give me a chance to win a World Series," Beltran told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during the All-Star break.
A Gold Glove center fielder earlier in his career, Beltran is now limited to being a below-average right fielder and is best suited serving as a full-time designated hitter.
The Kansas City Royals stand to potentially lose their current designated hitter Kendrys Morales as he has an $11 million mutual option that he's likely to decline.
Beltran began his illustrious career in the Royals organization as a second-round pick in 1995, winning AL Rookie of the Year in 1999 and spending his first six-plus seasons with the team.
The Royals were reportedly interested in signing Beltran last time he hit free agency, according to Cash Kruth of MLB.com. Then they pursued him again at this year's deadline, per George A. King III of the New York Post.
Bringing his career full circle and putting the finishing touches on his Hall of Fame resume back where it all began could be a win-win for the Royals and Beltran.
Los Angeles Angels: 2B Neil Walker
The second base position has been a hole for the Los Angeles Angels since they shipped Howie Kendrick to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Here's where the position has stacked up to the rest of the league the past two seasons:
- 2015: .646 OPS (23rd), 6 HR (26th), 54 RBI (26th)
- 2016: .631 OPS (28th), 10 HR (25th), 42 RBI (28th)
There has also been a lack of production from left-handed hitters in the Angels lineup the past two years:
- 2015: .645 OPS (30th), 42 HR (24th), 190 RBI (29th)
- 2016: .655 OPS (30th), 29 HR (30th), 124 RBI (29th)
Now let's take a look at how Neil Walker, a switch-hitting second baseman, has fared over that same span:
- 2015: .756 OPS, 16 HR, 71 RBI
- 2016: .823 OPS, 23 HR, 55 RBI
Walker underwent season-ending back surgery earlier this month and there's still a chance he could be saddled with a qualifying offer from the New York Mets, so there are some outside factors that need to be taken into consideration.
However, veterans Chase Utley, Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew represent the best of the rest at second base, so a run at Walker—even with those red flags—makes sense.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RP Kenley Jansen, SP Rich Hill and 3B Justin Turner
With a payroll north of $266 million this season, the highest in baseball according to Spotrac, the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group has provided the team with limitless financial flexibility.
While they can target anyone they want on the open market from a dollars standing, the focus of the upcoming offseason figures to be on re-upping with some of their incumbent talent.
More specifically, the trio of starter Rich Hill, closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner.
According to Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball, the Dodgers intend to make an effort to re-sign all three of those key contributors, as well as veteran second baseman Chase Utley:
They loved Hill last winter and were expected to look at him if Brett Anderson had turned down his qualifying offer. Turner has turned into a star since their smart signing of him, and it makes sense to keep that marriage together, but the Dodgers also look closely at players’ ages, so the fact he’s turning 32 may limit the terms they consider.
They love Utley, though in his case they have Howie Kendrick signed to a two-year deal, and could switch him to second base. Utley is hitting .257, up from .212 last year.
Jansen is the guy they may feel best about, though the free-agent closing market is perhaps the best of all positions this winter (while the Dodgers canceled a trade for Aroldis Chapman, there’s also Mark Melancon). Still, it would be a surprise if they didn’t return at least half those players to L.A. next year.
Before they start kicking the tires on external option, expect the Dodgers to focus their attention on locking up whoever they can from that group in the early stages of the offseason.
Miami Marlins: SP Jeremy Hellickson
The Miami Marlins were one of the teams linked to Jeremy Hellickson in the days leading up to the trade deadline, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.
The Philadelphia Phillies hurler wound up staying put and the Marlins instead settled for acquiring Andrew Cashner from the San Diego Padres, but it's a potential fit that figures to be revisited this offseason with the Marlins still in serious need of quality starting pitching to flank ace Jose Fernandez.
Last year's big free-agent signing Wei-Yin Chen, the steady but unspectacular Tom Koehler and 26-year-old lefty Adam Conley look like the best bets to follow him in the rotation as things currently stand.
Meanwhile, Hellickson profiles as perhaps the top arm in an ultra-thin market for starting pitching, and he'll almost certainly be extended a qualifying offer by the Phillies.
However, that didn't stop the Marlins from signing Chen last winter and it shouldn't be a deal-breaker in this case either.
Hellickson, 29, has gone 12-9 with a 3.57 ERA, 1.142 WHIP and 149 strikeouts in 181.1 innings after joining the Phillies in an offseason trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Marlins have seen firsthand just how good he can be.
Hellickson is 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 0.843 WHIP in six starts against the Marlins this season, including a three-hit shutout earlier this month.
Milwaukee Brewers: 3B Luis Valbuena
The Milwaukee Brewers have already clinched a second straight losing season, but the future looks bright thanks to a restocked farm system that checked in at No. 3 in B/R's latest farm system rankings.
While they have a wealth of young talent, they're still at least a couple years away from legitimately contending, which makes them a tough team to peg when it comes to their free-agent activity.
Jeff Todd of MLBTradeRumors.com suggested one approach that could make sense for a team in the transitional phase between rebuilding and contending, writing the following: "Perhaps being willing to pay a bit for one or more mid-level, health-concern/bounce-back free agents—Luis Valbuena, Neil Walker, Charlie Morton, Andrew Cashner, or (dare I say it) Carlos Gomez are a few who come to mind—could be a viable strategy."
The name we're going to focus on is Valbuena.
The 30-year-old set a career high last season with 25 home runs and 56 RBI, posting a 2.1 WAR while playing solid defense at third base and offsetting his low batting average (.224) with a respectable on-base percentage (.310).
This season he's lost playing time to rookie Alex Bregman, making just 342 total plate appearances, but he's putting up career-best triple slash numbers with a .260/.357/.459 line and 13 home runs en route to a 2.6 WAR.
Chris Carter and Jonathan Villar are currently manning first and third base, respectively, and have been two bright spots for the Brewers this season.
Signing Valbuena would allow them to potentially sell high on one or both of those guys.
Minnesota Twins: RP Drew Storen
The 2016 season did not go as planned for a Minnesota Twins team that appeared ready to take the next step forward after a surprise run at contention last year.
That being said, there's still a lot of good, young talent on the roster and potential for this team to be significantly improved going forward.
One area that does profile as a weakness, though, is the bullpen.
Brandon Kintzler has done an enviable job filling in for All-Star closer Glen Perkins (torn labrum), converting 14 of 17 save chances with a 3.04 ERA in 50 appearances.
However, the relief corps as a whole has struggled to a 4.63 ERA with 20 blown saves and relying on Kintzler to hold down the ninth inning role once again next season may be wishful thinking.
Hard-throwing J.T. Chargois has future closer potential, but signing a stopgap veteran to fill the ninth inning would appear to be a priority.
It's been a trying season for Drew Storen, as he flamed out in Toronto before being traded to Seattle and has pitched to a 5.70 ERA over 52 appearances.
That makes him an intriguing buy-low option for a cost-conscious team like the Twins, though.
Storen, 29, is just one year removed from saving 29 games while closing for a contending Washington Nationals team, prior to their ill-conceived addition of Jonathan Papelbon.
His fastball velocity is way down this year from 94.0 mph to 91.8 mph, per FanGraphs, but if his stuff returns following an offseason of rest he could be one of the best bargains of the winter.
New York Mets: 1B Mark Trumbo
The New York Mets stand to lose both Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker in free agency, arguably their two most productive hitters here in 2016.
There's also the question of whether Lucas Duda will return, as he has one year of arbitration remaining but could be a non-tender candidate after missing the bulk of the season with a stress fracture in his lower back.
With that in mind, the Mets could be in the market for a first baseman and middle-of-the-order threat when free agency begins.
Assuming Cespedes opts out of the final two years and $47.5 million of his current contract, which still seems like a safe bet despite what he's told the media, the Mets would have the financial flexibility to pursue a big bat.
There are a number of options who could be a fit, but Mark Trumbo looks like the top option as a bona fide slugger in the prime of his career.
Trumbo doesn't get on base and he's never going to win a Gold Glove award, but there are few in the game with as much power. He currently leads the AL with 43 home runs, to go along with 102 RBI and a .515 slugging percentage.
Despite what reputation might suggest, Citi Field has actually played a bit more homer-friendly this season than Camden Yards, per ESPN Park Factors. So there's no reason to think Trumbo wouldn't be able to put up similar numbers in a Mets jersey.
At 30 years old, Trumbo is also a younger option than other power-hitting first basemen on the market like Edwin Encarnacion (33), Mike Napoli (34) and Brandon Moss (33). That makes a three- or four-year deal easier to swallow, knowing you're likely paying for prime production.
New York Yankees: LF Yoenis Cespedes
Yes, Yoenis Cespedes is still technically not a free agent.
And yes, he's indicated more than once that he has no intention of opting out of the final two years and $47.5 million of his current deal with the New York Mets.
"I’ve said it before: My intentions, of course, are to be here for three years and if I can spend the rest of my career with the Mets I would," Cespedes recently told reporters.
However, this time around, he wasn't quite as convincing as he went on to say the following when asked if that meant he'd made the decision to stay:
Nope. My focus is just to play baseball and help the team win, hopefully make it to the playoffs. I let my agents worry about all that.
If anything were to happen, I guess that would be something to deal with in the offseason. My mind right now is on playing. There is nothing that is making me get away from my contract, but I just haven’t thought about it.
Jim Duquette of MLB.com ranked Cespedes as the No. 1 free-agent hitter of the upcoming class, listing the Mets, Yankees and Indians as potential suitors.
Given their lack of power production, aside from the otherworldly numbers that Gary Sanchez has put up in his short time in the majors, the Yankees would seem like a good fit.
Signing Cespedes would likely mean finally pulling the trigger on trading Brett Gardner or slotting top prospect Aaron Judge at DH to begin his MLB career, but it fills a clear need and they'll have the coin to pull it off.
Oakland Athletics: SP Brett Anderson
If there's one thing the Oakland Athletics love it's a good bargain.
Recent success stories like Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir, Drew Pomeranz and Bartolo Colon headline what they've been able to do on the pitching market, though things don't always work out as last winter's signing of Henderson Alvarez proves.
Still, expect them to take a similar route this offseason when it comes to looking for starting pitching help, and one name that could be a nice buy-low target is left-hander Brett Anderson.
Anderson has dealt with injuries throughout his big league career and this year has been no different as he's been limited to just three starts.
However, when he has managed to take the field he's been rock-solid with a 3.87 ERA in 683.1 career innings.
That includes a stellar debut with the A's in 2009 when he went 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 175.1 innings to finish sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting at the age of 21.
He didn't top 20 starts again until last season, when he was 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA in 180.1 innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers, earning him a qualifying offer that he accepted.
Now he's set to hit the open market again and it's fair to assume he won't come close to matching the $15.8 million salary he banked this year.
Something like a one-year, $5 million deal with plenty of incentives could be enough to secure his services, and that could be a chance worth taking for the small-market A's.
For what it's worth, Anderson returned to action on Thursday night for the first time in over a month, allowing six hits and four runs over five innings of work.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Martin Prado
The Philadelphia Phillies are at a point in their rebuilding efforts where they are no longer looking to unload veteran assets, and could instead start looking to add free-agent talent to fill out the roster around their promising young core.
Here's what Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball had to say on the matter:
The Philadelphia Phillies are going to target one or maybe two veteran hitters this winter, with Martin Prado and Ian Desmond two possible candidates.
The Phillies seek professionals who can bat near the top or middle of the order, veterans experienced enough to positively influence their ultra-young team but young enough where they could be there when the Phillies contend. For now, they’ve gone with first- and second-year players all over the field. That’s not easy.
Next year's outfield already profiles to feature All-Star Odubel Herrera and perhaps September call-up Roman Quinn, not to mention prospects Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens, who are knocking on the door in the upper levels of the minors.
With that in mind, Prado makes more sense as a potential target than Desmond.
Signing Prado could mean sliding Maikel Franco across the diamond to first base and shopping breakout slugger Tommy Joseph, or the team could slot Prado at second base, where Cesar Hernandez has shown flashes but may profile better as a utility type.
Regardless of his role, Prado is exactly the type of veteran who can be a positive influence on the club simply by the way he goes about his business.
The 32-year-old is hitting .308/.364/.418 with 36 doubles, seven home runs and 71 RBI for a 3.7 WAR that ranks as the third-highest mark of his career.
Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Ivan Nova
Ivan Nova has been the latest in an ever-growing line of pitching success stories for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
According to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pirates are looking to extend the relationship beyond just a two-month rental.
The Pirates have made two contract offers to right-hander Ivan Nova, who will reach free agency after this season, according to sources...
...The Pirates began conversation with Nova and his agent, Greg Genske, in late August and made an offer the first week of September. Nova’s representatives told the Pirates they were looking for a deal in the range of five years and $70 million, according to a source.
The Pirates made a second offer, a source said, and discussions are ongoing.
Nova, 29, was acquired from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline in a deal that garnered little fan fare at the time, but he's been the Pirates' best starter since coming aboard.
The big 6'5" right-hander is 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.066 WHIP and a brilliant 45-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over nine starts in Pittsburgh, including two complete games. That comes on the heels of a 4.90 ERA in 97.1 innings of work during his time with the Yankees.
A five-year, $70 million investment would be a significant one for the small-market Pirates, but unloading Francisco Liriano and his $13.67 million salary at the deadline does give them some wiggle room.
Considering that's the starting point in negotiations from Nova's end, something like a five-year, $60 million deal could be an eventual compromise as a $12 million annual value seems reasonable.
San Diego Padres: SP Scott Feldman
The San Diego Padres have a wave of promising young position players set to join All-Star first baseman Wil Myers in the everyday lineup, but the starting rotation will likely need to be addressed in free agency, at least from a short-term standpoint.
A healthy Tyson Ross and Rule 5 surprise Luis Perdomo would appear to be the team's top two rotation options looking ahead to next year, with Jarred Cosart, Christian Friedrich, Erik Johnson and Colin Rea also in the mix.
While they do have some quality pitching prospects in the lower levels of the minors, none appear ready to be part of the team's 2017 plans.
The Padres likely won't be looking to add any huge contracts to the books as they continue working toward the future, but a multiyear deal for an established veteran like Scott Feldman could be a good fit.
Feldman, 33, is in the final season of a three-year, $30 million deal during which he's posted a 3.84 ERA and 1.321 WHIP in 365.2 innings of work.
The Houston Astros used him as a swingman this year with an abundance of starting pitching options and he's worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the Toronto Blue Jays since being moved at the deadline.
All told, Feldman has gone 7-4 with a 3.97 ERA and 1.377 WHIP spanning five starts and 35 relief appearances.
Carlos Villanueva was signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal last winter as a similar pitcher, although Feldman will likely command a decent amount more given his longer track record of success as a starter and the overall lack of pitching on the market.
Something like a two-year, $15 million deal seems reasonable and that would be a solid investment for the Padres.
San Francisco Giants: RP Mark Melancon
The San Francisco Giants kicked the tires on all of the top bullpen options available at the trade deadline, before settling on acquiring left-hander Will Smith from the Milwaukee Brewers.
That failure to add a shutdown ninth-inning option has been their undoing, as Santiago Casilla was yanked from the closer's role and a carousel of others have struggled to pick up the slack closing out games.
"It isn’t lost on us. I wear it every day," general manager Bobby Evans told Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball while discussing the team's failure to properly upgrade the relief corps. "Every time we lose, I think, 'What a knucklehead am I?'"
Speaking realistically, the Giants did not have the pieces to compete with the offer that the Chicago Cubs made to land Aroldis Chapman, but Mark Melancon was seemingly within reach.
Melancon was shipped from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Washington Nationals in exchange for a pair of lefty relievers in Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn.
It won't help them here in the final weeks of 2016, but Evans and the Giants will have a second chance at shoring up the bullpen this winter and Melancon figures to be one of the top names on their list.
He may not have the electric fastball that most closer's possess, but there's little question Melancon has been one of the game's elite relievers in recent years.
Since the start of 2013, he's posted a 1.81 ERA, 0.926 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9 over 291 appearances, converting 142 of 156 save chances for a stellar 91 percent success rate.
They could make a run at signing Chapman or prying Kenley Jansen away from the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, but Melancon looks like the most realistic target at this point.
Seattle Mariners: CF Ian Desmond
New general manager Jerry Dipoto was as busy as anyone last offseason, adding a plethora of veteran talent both in trades and free agency as he tried to rework the Seattle Mariners roster into a contender.
Things figure to be a bit less hectic in his second winter at the helm, but the team could still look to make a splash and center field could be the place to do it.
Leonys Martin looked like one of the biggest steals of the offseason when he posted an .822 OPS with nine home runs, 20 RBI and eight stolen bases in 167 plate appearances over the first two months of the season.
However, he has a .636 OPS with six home runs and 24 RBI in 371 plate appearances since the start of June, leaving him as a below-average option at the position even with his solid defensive work.
The headliner of this year's center field market is Ian Desmond, which is a sentence no one thought would ever be uttered at this time a year ago.
The Rangers scooped up Desmond on a one-year, $8 million deal just before the start of spring training and convinced him to make the move from shortstop to the outfield.
He began the season in left field, but took over in center for a struggling Delino DeShields Jr., where he's been surprisingly solid defensively while posting a .794 OPS with 29 doubles, 22 home runs, 84 RBI and 20 steals for the fourth 20/20 season of his career.
The 31-year-old will no doubt land a multiyear deal this time around and it's reasonable to expect him to have at least a handful of seasons of prime production left in the tank.
In a lineup that already features the likes of Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz and a rejuvenated Mike Zunino, adding Desmond would give the M's one of the most dangerous offenses in baseball.
St. Louis Cardinals: RF Josh Reddick
The St. Louis Cardinals have some interesting decisions to make this offseason, most notably with their $17 million option on Matt Holliday and the free agency of a surprisingly productive Brandon Moss.
Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk would appear to be two significant pieces of the team's long-term plans, but that still leaves one corner outfield spot up for grabs.
Negotiating with Holliday to take less money or re-upping with Moss are certainly still viable options, but for a team that has always placed a premium on defense they may prefer to go a different route.
Holliday has never been anything more than an average fielder with extremely limited range and that doesn't figure to get any better heading into his age-37 season.
Moss has actually graded out as an above-average defender in the outfield this season (3 DRS, 12.0 UZR/150), but that hasn't been the case for the most part in his career and he's headed for a substantial raise as one of the market's top power bats.
Looking at the rest of this year's crop of free-agent outfielders, one player who could emerge as a target is Josh Reddick.
Rock-solid defense in right field, a strong on-base percentage and decent power have been the calling cards for the longtime Oakland Athletics star who was shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline.
He missed some time this season with a fractured thumb and that has sapped some of his power, but he has still managed to hit .279/.344/.397 with 16 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBI in 420 plate appearances.
Reddick won't turn 30 until February, so giving him a three- or four-year deal to join Piscotty and Grichuk in the outfield seems like a solid investment for a Cardinals team that is generally cautious when it comes to offseason spending.
Tampa Bay Rays: C Nick Hundley
The catcher position has been a weak spot for the Tampa Bay Rays throughout their existence as a franchise, with one All-Star season from Dioner Navarro serving as the exception.
The 2016 season has been no different, as the team's backstops have produced a .199/.264/.346 line with 17 home runs and 53 RBI.
Curt Casali, Hank Conger, Luke Maile and Bobby Wilson have all seen time behind the plate, but none of them profiles as a long-term option and all would be best suited in a backup role.
Luckily, this year's catching market is as deep as any in recent memory.
While the Rays won't break the bank to sign someone like Wilson Ramos, Matt Wieters or Jason Castro, there are plenty of mid-level options available as well.
Nick Hundley, Kurt Suzuki and Jarrod Saltalamacchia make up the second tier of available backstops, while Alex Avila, A.J. Ellis and Geovany Soto will also be looking for new homes.
Hundley is the best of the bunch there, as he's hit .281/.330/.455 with 41 doubles, 20 home runs and 90 RBI in 699 plate appearances with the Colorado Rockies over the past two seasons and done a nice job handling their young pitching staff.
It took a two-year, $6.25 million deal for the Rockies to land Hundley the last time he was a free agent, and even a bump to something like $10 million over two years would be a worthwhile investment for the Rays to upgrade a significant weakness.
Texas Rangers: DH Kendrys Morales
With Prince Fielder forced to retire and both Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland ticketed for free agency, the Texas Rangers will likely be looking to add a bat this winter.
Young slugger Joey Gallo will likely get first crack at supplanting Moreland as the everyday first baseman and another solid prospect in Ronald Guzman will push for playing time there as well.
However, adding a proven veteran to serve as DH and shoulder some of the run-production load would seem like a smart move.
Kendrys Morales has an $11 million mutual option with the Kansas City Royals for 2017, but he'll almost certainly be able to secure a multiyear pact and a raise if he declines and tests the open market.
The 33-year-old was terrific in his first season with the Royals last year, posting an .847 OPS with 41 doubles, 22 home runs and 106 RBI.
He hasn't quite matched those numbers here in 2016 with a .792 OPS, 21 doubles, 29 home runs and 89 RBI, but much of that is due to a slow start and he's been the team's best hitter in the second half.
Given his age and injury history, signing Morales to anything beyond a two-year deal is risky.
However, offering up something in the neighborhood of a $30 million deal could represent a substantial enough raise to convince him to agree to a two-year deal, which give the Rangers their run producer and protect against a bad long-term investment.
Toronto Blue Jays: RF Jose Bautista
It's hard to picture Jose Bautista wearing anything but a Toronto Blue Jays uniform.
Joey Bats is undoubtedly the face of the franchise and Toronto is where he transformed himself from a role player into a household name and bona fide superstar.
Now the 35-year-old is staring down free agency and it will take some compromise between player and organization to keep him around.
It was reported in February that Bautista would be seeking a five-year, $150 million deal in free agency, according to TSN's Rick Westhead.
Given his age and recent injury history, he's not going to get that, from the Blue Jays or anyone else.
However, Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball reported in July that the Blue Jays would be interested in something similar to the three-year, $75 million deal that Yoenis Cespedes signed last offseason.
More annual money and less years makes sense for a franchise looking to keep a beloved superstar player on the downswing of his career.
Assuming Edwin Encarnacion walks, it would be tough for the Blue Jays to replace both of those sluggers in their lineup, even with some money to spend and prospect Rowdy Tellez knocking on the door.
It's simply a matter of whether Bautista is willing to accept fewer years to stay in Toronto or if he'll offer himself up to the highest bidder in free agency.
Washington Nationals: C Wilson Ramos
The Washington Nationals already locked up their biggest free agent when they gave Stephen Strasburg a seven-year, $175 million extension back in May.
Now their full attention will turn to locking up breakout star Wilson Ramos.
After years as a solid everyday catcher with decent pop, Ramos looked to be on the outs after hitting .229/.258/.358 last season.
However, he's exploded for a huge season at the perfect time, hitting .303/.352/.491 with 25 doubles, 21 home runs and 79 RBI while staring down free agency.
The 29-year-old will be the top catcher on the market and one of the top free-agent bats period, and it will take a serious payday to keep him in the nation's capital.
The Nationals kicked off extension talks earlier this week with a three-year, $30 million offer, according to Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball.
Not surprisingly, Ramos quickly rejected that low-ball offer, per Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, but talks are still open between the two sides as the Nationals look to come to terms before the other 29 teams get involved.
The Nationals have a decent catching prospect in Pedro Severino who saw some time at the MLB level this season, but the 23-year-old is by no means ready to step into the everyday role.
Make no mistake, losing Ramos would be a huge blow.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.