MLB Free Agents 2016-17: Predicting Final Landing Spots for the Top 15 Players

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2016

MLB Free Agents 2016-17: Predicting Final Landing Spots for the Top 15 Players

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The 2016 MLB postseason is in full swing, but for the 26 teams no longer in contention, the offseason can't come soon enough.

    This year's free-agent market is loaded with impact hitters, headlined by Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Turner, Ian Desmond, Mark Trumbo, Dexter Fowler, Jose Bautista and Mike Napoli.

    The relief pitching market is also deep, with a trio of elite closers in Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon joining quality setup arms like Neftali Feliz, Travis Wood, Brad Ziegler, Brett Cecil and bounce-back candidate Greg Holland.

    Then there's the barren wasteland that is this year's available starting pitching crop.

    Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova are the top options in a group that also includes Andrew Cashner, Bartolo Colon, Doug Fister and other veterans best suited as organizational depth.

    A lot will change in the months to come, but for now let's take a crack at predicting where the top 15 names of this upcoming free-agent class might wind up landing.

        

    Note: "2017 age" refers to how old a player will be on June 30 of the upcoming season.

Other Notable Free Agents

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Position Players

    • DH Carlos Beltran
    • C Jason Castro
    • OF Rajai Davis
    • DH Kendrys Morales
    • 1B Mitch Moreland
    • 1B/OF Brandon Moss
    • C Wilson Ramos (injury concerns bumped him from the top 15)
    • OF Josh Reddick
    • OF Michael Saunders
    • 3B Luis Valbuena
    • 2B Neil Walker (injury concerns bumped him from the top 15)
    • C Matt Wieters

        

    Pitchers

    • RP Joaquin Benoit
    • SP Andrew Cashner
    • SP Bartolo Colon
    • RP Neftali Feliz
    • SP Doug Fister
    • RP Greg Holland
    • RP Travis Wood
    • RP Brad Ziegler

15. CF Carlos Gomez (2017 Age: 31)

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2016 MLB postseason is in full swing, but for the 26 teams no longer in contention, the offseason can't come soon enough.

    This year's free-agent market is loaded with impact hitters, headlined by Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Turner, Ian Desmond, Mark Trumbo, Dexter Fowler, Jose Bautista and Mike Napoli.

    The relief pitching market is also deep, with a trio of elite closers in Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon joining quality setup arms like Neftali Feliz, Travis Wood, Brad Ziegler, Brett Cecil and bounce-back candidate Greg Holland.

    Then there's the barren wasteland that is this year's available starting pitching crop.

    Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova are the top options in a group that also includes Andrew Cashner, Bartolo Colon, Doug Fister and other veterans best suited as organizational depth.

    A lot will change in the months to come, but for now let's take a crack at predicting where the top 15 names of this upcoming free-agent class might wind up landing.

        

    Note: "2017 age" refers to how old a player will be on June 30 of the upcoming season.

14. SP Ivan Nova (2017 Age: 30)

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    G/GSQSW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    32/261012-84.174.111.25328127162.02.0

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    In a largely overlooked deal in the final minutes leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Ivan Nova from the New York Yankees for two players to be named later.

    Nova had put together a forgettable season in the Bronx to that point, going 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA, 1.356 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 97.1 innings spanning 15 starts and six relief appearances.

    Then he stepped into the same clubhouse as pitching coach Ray Searage and was miraculously transformed into an impact starter...at least I assume that's how it works.

    Nova would go 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.098 WHIP and a sterling 52-3 strikeouts-to-walk ratio in 64.2 innings over 11 starts in Pittsburgh, catapulting himself into the top five among available starting pitchers in a weak free-agent class in the process.

    The right-hander has a 4.30 ERA and 4.26 FIP in 793.2 career innings, so even if he can't duplicate his late-season success, there's plenty of reason to believe he can be a serviceable back-end starter.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Pittsburgh Pirates

    According to Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Nova has indicated that he would like to remain in Pittsburgh.

    The Pirates let reclamation project J.A. Happ walk last season, only to watch him go on to win 20 games with a 3.18 ERA in Toronto. They won't make the same mistake with Nova.

13. SP Jeremy Hellickson (2017 Age: 30)

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    GSQSW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    321712-103.713.981.15345154189.03.0

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    The biggest surprise of this year's trade deadline was the deal that didn't happen, as Jeremy Hellickson stayed put on the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies, despite significant interest from contenders.

    The Phillies never came down from a reportedly high asking price and the interested parties never bit, leaving the former AL Rookie of the Year as a prime candidate for a qualifying offer.

    Hellickson is open to the idea of returning to the Phillies, according to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, but bringing him back won't be easy.

    Outside of Rich Hill, he's the top free-agent starter of this year's class.

    And it stands to reason that there will be more interest in Hellickson than the 36-year-old Hill, who carries more risk on a multiyear pact given his age.

    Hellickson is not an ace by any means, but he's a capable innings eater who put up solid peripherals and looks to be more than capable of similar production for the next few seasons.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Miami Marlins

    The Marlins were one of the teams linked to Hellickson in the days leading up to the trade deadline, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN, and a need remains in the starting rotation. The fact that Hellickson went 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 0.843 WHIP in six starts against the Marlins should help boost the team's opinion of him as well.

12. 1B Mike Napoli (2017 Age: 35)

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    BA/OBP/SLGH2B3BHRRBIRSBDRSWAR
    .239/.335/.46513322134101925-41.0

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    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 streak finally ended this year thanks to Mike Napoli, who smashed 34 home runs and drove in a team-high 101 runs as one of the better value signings of the offseason on a one-year, $7 million deal.

    "Man, he's been a blessing to us," manager Terry 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."

    Napoli is limited defensively and he'll turn 35 later this month, so he's a fairly significant risk at anything beyond a two-year deal.

    Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo are similar free agents who will likely command more money and set the market for Napoli in the process, so he may have to wait a bit once free agency kicks off before teams start pushing for his services.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Cleveland Indians

    By all accounts, Napoli has been a terrific addition to the Cleveland clubhouse and his on-field production speaks for itself. Bringing him back on a two-year deal with a healthy raise won't break the bank for the small-market Indians, and it could go a long way in keeping them on top in the AL Central.

11. SP Rich Hill (2017 Age: 37)

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    GSQSW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    201312-52.122.390.99733129110.14.1

       

    Free-Agency Outlook

    It's hard to find a historical comparison for Rich Hill.

    Once a promising young starter for the Chicago Cubs roughly a decade ago, injuries derailed his career and forced him first to the bullpen and then to the independent league. His playing days appeared to be coming to a close while he suited up for the Long Island Ducks in 2015.

    Then he got one last chance with the Boston Red Sox, signing with them in August and going 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA, 0.655 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 29 innings over four starts.

    That was enough to intrigue more than a few teams in free agency last winter, and he wound up landing in Oakland on a one-year, $6 million deal.

    A groin injury and then a persistent blister limited him to 20 starts this season, but those 20 starts were awfully impressive as he pitched to a 2.12 ERA over 110.1 innings with 129 strikeouts.

    Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com is among those who expects Hill to cash in on the thin pitching market, predicting him to get at least $45 million on the open market.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Dodgers will have Clayton Kershaw flanked by the promising young duo of Julio Urias and Jose De Leon, but bringing back Hill as a quality No. 2 option would take some pressure off of those up-and-coming arms in the rotation.

    Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball reported last month that the Dodgers intend to make a push to re-sign Hill.

10. RF Jose Bautista (2017 Age: 36)

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    BA/OBP/SLGH2B3BHRRBIRSBDRSWAR
    .234/.366/.452992412269682-81.0

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    It was reported in February that Jose Bautista would be seeking a five-year, $150 million deal in free agency, according to TSN's Rick Westhead.

    There have been some questionable contracts handed out over the years, but no one is crazy enough to give him that.

    Bautista is a star, but a star on the decline as he gets set to enter his age-36 season.

    Injuries limited him to just 116 games during the regular season, and his .817 OPS was his lowest since 2009, prior to his breakout season.

    He's still an on-base machine capable of going yard at any point, but he's become a liability on defense (-8 DRS, -5.6 UZR/150) and has a bit of an injury history. All of that needs to be taken into account when assessing his free-agent stock.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Toronto Blue Jays

    Bautista might have more value to the Blue Jays than anyone else.

    He's a fan favorite, and bringing him back would help ease the loss of Edwin Encarnacion, who is also ticketed for free agency.

    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.

9. CF Dexter Fowler (2017 Age: 31)

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    BA/OBP/SLGH2B3BHRRBIRSBDRSWAR
    .276/.393/.4471262571348841314.2

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    It looked like Dexter Fowler was headed to Baltimore last offseason, but he ended up rejoining the Chicago Cubs on a one-year, $8 million deal.

    That proved to be an incredibly important signing, as the Cubs were 85-40 (.680) in games that Fowler played this season, compared to 18-18 (.500) without him penciled in atop the lineup.

    His value as a high on-base table-setter atop the lineup earned him his first All-Star appearance, and that coupled with improved defense in center field should make him a hot commodity in his second go-around on the open market.

    Fowler does have a $9 million mutual option for next season, but he'd be leaving a lot of money and security on the table if he were to exercise his end.

    A three- or four-year deal and a nice bump in salary seems like a reasonable expectation for Fowler.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Los Angeles Angels

    Left field was a black hole (.204 BA, .584 OPS) for the Angels this season alongside the otherwise productive outfield of Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun, and they lacked a traditional leadoff hitter with Yunel Escobar spending the bulk of the season in that spot.

    With Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson coming off the books, they have some money to spend. Fowler seems like the perfect target.

8. RP Mark Melancon (2017 Age: 32)

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    GW-LSVERAWHIPBBKIPWAR
    752-247/511.640.897126571.12.8

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    He may not have the gaudy strikeout numbers of some of the game's other top-tier closers, but Mark Melancon has been every bit as effective when it comes to nailing down saves.

    Since 2014, his first full season as a closer, Melancon has converted 131 of 141 save chances with a 1.93 ERA and 0.900 WHIP.

    Those 131 saves are the most in the majors during that three-year span, and his 92.9 percent conversion rate is second only to Zach Britton (93.8 percent) among relievers with at least 20 saves.

    He's three years older than Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, so that's the only reason he comes in a few spots lower in these rankings.

    Melancon should still be able to secure a three- or four-year deal with an annual salary north of the $9.65 million he made this season in his final year of arbitration, as the demand for quality late-inning relievers continues to drive up their price.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: San Francisco Giants

    The bullpen was an issue for the Giants all season, and it wound up being their undoing in a Game 4 elimination loss to the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS when five different relievers couldn't hold a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning.

    Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez are all headed for free agency, so a complete bullpen retooling is coming, and it should start with signing one of the top-tier closers.

7. 1B/OF Mark Trumbo (2017 Age: 31)

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    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    BA/OBP/SLGH2B3BHRRBIRSBDRSWAR
    .256/.316/.53315727147108942-111.6

           

    Free-Agency Outlook

    The Seattle Mariners preferred trading Mark Trumbo for next-to-nothing over paying him $9.15 million in arbitration this past season, and the Baltimore Orioles capitalized.

    Acquired in exchange for backup catcher Steve Clevenger, Trumbo went on to lead the majors with 47 home runs, earning a spot on the AL All-Star team for the second time in his career in the process.

    Power has always been his calling card, as he's averaged 34 home runs and 99 RBI per 162 games during his MLB career, including two previous 30-homer seasons.

    The trouble is, it's really his only plus tool.

    He's a below-average defender in the outfield (-11 DRS, -7.7 UZR/150), and his 6.7 percent career walk rate has resulted in a .303 on-base percentage.

    Over-the-fence power is always in demand, even when it comes in an otherwise limited package. Expect Trumbo to have no trouble finding multiple years and a decent annual raise.

           

    Predicted Landing Spot: New York Mets

    The Mets will do everything in their power to bring back Yoenis Cespedes, but if they miss out they could turn their attention to Mark Trumbo in an effort to add an impact bat to the middle of the lineup.

    With Lucas Duda looking like a health concern at best and a non-tender candidate at worst, Trumbo could be brought in as the primary first baseman, which would help hide his below-average glove a bit better than the corner outfield spots.

6. CF Ian Desmond (2017 Age: 31)

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    BA/OBP/SLGH2B3BHRRBIRSBDRSWAR
    .285/.335/.446178293228610721-42.7

           

    Free-Agency Outlook

    There are plenty of outfield bats in this year's free-agent class, but Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler are the best of the center field-capable options.

    Desmond settled for a one-year, $8 million deal from the Texas Rangers after finding extremely limited interest in free agency last winter, accepting a move from shortstop to left field in the process.

    He slid over to center field when Delino DeShields Jr. slumped early and took to the new position surprisingly well, further adding to his value in the process.

    His bat cooled a bit in the second half, but he still finished with a .782 OPS and his fourth career 20/20 season.

    It won't approach the seven-year, $107 million extension he declined prior to the 2014 season, but Desmond should have no trouble landing multiple years and a healthy raise this time around.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Texas Rangers

    DeShields Jr. looked like the future in center field after a stellar rookie season in 2015, but after posting a .209 average and .588 OPS over 203 plate appearances, he won't be relied on as anything more than organizational depth.

    Re-upping with Desmond seems like the best move for the Rangers, especially now that top prospect Lewis Brinson is no longer in the future plans after being traded to Milwaukee.

4b. RP Kenley Jansen (2017 Age: 29)

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    Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    GW-LSVERAWHIPBBKIPWAR
    713-247/531.830.6701110468.22.5

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    There's no sense trying to pick a favorite between Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, so we'll just rank them at "4a" and "4b" for the sake of this exercise.

    Jansen blew six saves this season, but he was still nothing short of dominant.

    He's never had a strikeout rate lower than 13.0 K/9 in any of his seven MLB seasons, he's had a WHIP below 0.900 in four of the past five years, and he reached a new career high with 47 saves to help the Dodgers to another NL West title this season.

    By all accounts, Jansen has gotten better since assuming the closer's role, and at 29 years old he should still have plenty left in the tank.

    The largest contract ever given to a reliever was the four-year, $50 million deal the Philadelphia Phillies gave Jonathan Papelbon, which turned into a five-year, $61 million contract when his fifth-year option vested.

    Expect Jansen and Chapman to both exceed that mark.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Los Angeles Dodgers

    It's no lock that Jansen will re-sign with the Dodgers, as former teammate A.J. Ellis explained to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:

    Kenley's been unabashed about his free agency. He's been the most open guy to talk about free agency that I think I've ever played with. He's very excited, really looking forward to the process.

    He's kind of Zack Greinke-esque – the highest bidder gets me. He's like, "This is my one chance to get paid. I've earned the right to go and get the highest contract I can get."

    Luckily, the Dodgers have infinity dollars, so expect him to be back.

4a. RP Aroldis Chapman (2017 Age: 29)

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    GW-LSVERAWHIPBBKIPWAR
    594-136/391.550.862189058.02.5

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    There's no one in baseball quite like Aroldis Chapman.

    With his whip-like left arm he's able to pump in 100 mph fastballs with a regularity never before seen in the game, and he's remained incredibly durable despite the perceived strain on his arm.

    In fact, he's gotten better.

    He entered the season with a 4.4 BB/9 career walk rate, as he was not always able to rein in his overpowering stuff, but he trimmed that to a career-best 2.8 BB/9 in 2016.

    Seven years into his MLB career, the "Cuban Missile" has saved 182 games with a 2.08 ERA, 0.992 WHIP and 636 strikeouts in 377 innings for an absurd 15.2 K/9.

    He's going to get paid like no reliever before him, unless Kenley Jansen signs first this winter.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Chicago Cubs

    Another boring prediction of a player re-signing with his current club, but this seems like a no-brainer for the Cubs.

    Despite being a rental, Chapman didn't come cheap by any stretch of the imagination, costing the Cubs a package of players headlined by No. 1 prospect Gleyber Torres.

    He also won't be eligible for a qualifying offer since he was traded at midseason, so they won't be able to recoup any of that loss in the form of a draft pick.

    Regardless, the Cubs are a better team with Chapman anchoring the bullpen, and there really are no other pressing needs to address in free agency. The No. 1 focus should be on bringing back the flame-thrower.

3. 3B Justin Turner (2017 Age: 32)

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    BA/OBP/SLGH2B3BHRRBIRSBDRSWAR
    .275/.339/.493153343279079474.9

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    Scooping up Justin Turner on a one-year, $1 million deal prior to the 2014 season after he was non-tendered by the New York Mets could go down as one of the best moves in Los Angeles Dodgers history.

    After starring as a part-time player in 2014 with an .897 OPS and 29 extra-base hits in 322 at-bats, he took over as the everyday third baseman last season and has continued to exponentially improve.

    This season he broke through as a legitimate star with career-bests in hits (153), doubles (34), home runs (27), RBI (90) and runs scored (79), while posting a 4.9 WAR that ranked seventh among third basemen.

    On top of his offensive breakout, he was also a standout defender at the hot corner with 7 DRS and a 14.1 UZR/150, further adding to his overall value.

    The four-year, $52 million deal Chase Headley signed with the New York Yankees seems the floor in contract talks, with the disaster of a deal signed by Pablo Sandoval (5 years, $95 million) perhaps a better comp.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Dodgers don't have a viable in-house replacement for Turner at third base, and one alternative option at the position has already disappeared as Martin Prado signed an extension with the Miami Marlins.

    So unless Luis Valbuena looks like a good alternative, paying to retain Turner seems like an obvious move for a team that has the money to get the job done.

2. 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (2017 Age: 34)

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    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    BA/OBP/SLGH2B3BHRRBIRSBDRSWAR
    .263/.357/.5291583404212799203.7

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    Since the start of the 2012 season, few sluggers have out-produced Edwin Encarnacion.

    During that five-year span, he ranks among the top 10 in baseball in the following categories:

    • SLG: .544 (fifth)
    • OPS: .912 (sixth)
    • HR: 193 (second)
    • RBI: 550 (second)
    • R: 451 (eighth)
    • BB: 392 (eighth)
    • TB: 1,458 (seventh)

    That's pretty stellar production from someone who didn't truly emerge as an offensive force until his age-29 season.

    He's a below-average first baseman best suited serving as an everyday DH and will turn 34 in January, but he's produced at a top-tier level for long enough that teams won't be scared off from giving him big money and a four-year deal.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: Boston Red Sox

    "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," Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball wrote in June.

    If that's the case, expect Encarnacion to be No. 1 on the team's offseason wish list, as he'd be the perfect veteran power bat to slot alongside the young core and help ease the loss of Big Papi.

1. LF Yoenis Cespedes (2017 Age: 31)

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    Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 Stats

    BA/OBP/SLGH2B3BHRRBIRSBDRSWAR
    .280/.354/.5301342513186723-32.9

        

    Free-Agency Outlook

    All eyes will be on Yoenis Cespedes once the World Series wraps up, as he'll have three days to decide whether to opt out of his current contract 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 told reporters near the end of the regular season.

    The general consensus of the baseball world seems to be: I'll believe it when I see it.

    He'd be leaving two years and $47.5 million on the table by opting out, but as the top player on the offseason big board, he looks like a lock for a deal north of $100 million this time around.

    The Cuban-born slugger not only put up good power numbers again in 2016, but he also saw his walk rate spike from 4.9 to 9.4 percent as his on-base percentage jumped from .328 to .354 in the process.

    All of that adds up to one of the league's most dangerous run producers.

        

    Predicted Landing Spot: New York Yankees

    Signing Cespedes would likely mean finally pulling the trigger on trading one of Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury, with Gardner being the more likely of the two to be moved.

    He'd fill an obvious need, though, with the team sorely lacking in legitimate power threats outside of breakout star Gary Sanchez.

        

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.