Updated Predictions for Where MLB's Top 15 Remaining Free Agents Will Land

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2016

Updated Predictions for Where MLB's Top 15 Remaining Free Agents Will Land

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    We're less than a month into the Hot Stove League and, already, five of the MLB free agents that appeared on our initial Top 25 Big Board at the end of September have come off the market.

    On the surface, none of those deals appear to be eye-poppingly absurd or out of place, but it begs the question: If these are the kinds of contracts that players outside our Top 10 landed, what sort of deals await the best free agents still on the market? 

    We'll attempt to answer that on the pages that follow by taking these already completed acquisitions, the latest chatter on the rumor mill and the perceived demand (or lack thereof) for a particular position into account.

    Let's get to it.

15. OF Michael Saunders

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    Had Michael Saunders been able to sustain his All-Star first half, when he hit .298 with 43 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 42 RBI and a .923 OPS, the 30-year-old would have been assured a substantial multiyear deal.

    But after hitting just .178 with a .638 OPS after the All-Star break, Saunders found himself non-tendered by Toronto and a free agent for the first time in his career. But that doesn't mean his time with the Blue Jays has come to an end.

    Saunders remains "'squarely' on the Blue Jays’ radar," according to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith as the team searches for outfield reinforcements. Currently, the Blue Jays have only Ezequiel Carrera, Kevin Pillar, Melvin Upton Jr. and prospect Dalton Pompey as in-house options. 

    Prediction: Re-signs with Toronto for two years, $16 million

14. C Matt Wieters

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    Jason Castro and Nick Hundley have dominated the rumor mill when it comes to free-agent catchers and for good reason—neither one is going to command a multiyear deal with an average salary over $10 million. The same can't be said for Matt Wieters, the best healthy backstop on the market.

    Multiple teams are in need of catching, but only a handful can afford the kind of deal that Wieters will surely be looking for. While he struggled somewhat in 2016, Wieters did make his fourth All-Star appearance and ranked ninth among qualified catchers with 17 home runs.

    MLB.com's Mark Bowman reported that "there has never seemed to be interest in pursuing" Wieters from Atlanta's standpoint, but the Braves are one team with a glaring hole behind the plate. It's hard to believe the Braves have no interest in the 30-year-old, who played his college ball in Atlanta at Georgia Tech.

    Prediction: Signs a three-year, $42 million deal with Atlanta

13. 1B/DH Mike Napoli

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    Mike Napoli didn't flash his customary solid glove at first base in 2016, but that hasn't stopped National League teams from expressing interest in the 35-year-old, sources tell Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, though the identity of those teams remains a mystery.

    Napoli's production and leadership help explain why the Cleveland Indians have "a desire" to keep him around, as general manager Mike Chernoff told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick shortly after the World Series ended, but the veteran figures to get a more lucrative deal elsewhere.

    Houston (per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal) and the Seattle Mariners (per MLB Network's Jon Morosi) are among the other teams known to have interest in the veteran slugger, though his right-handed bat isn't necessarily a fit with the Astros and the Mariners seem unlikely to block prospect Dan Vogelbach at first base.

    Prediction: Signs a two-year, $28 million deal with Houston

12. OF/DH Carlos Beltran

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    Carlos Beltran might be past his prime, but the 39-year-old future Hall of Fame inductee proved in 2016 that he's still got plenty left in the tank, hitting a combined .295 with 29 home runs, 93 RBI and a .850 OPS while splitting time between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers.

    While he's a subpar defender at this point in his career, Beltran can still play the field on occasion while spending most of his time as a designated hitter. Like Napoli, his leadership and impact on a clubhouse are largely what he offers a team.

    According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, it appears to be a three-team race between a trio of American League clubs—Boston, Houston and New York—for Beltran's sevices, with Texas on the periphery.

    Prediction: Signs a two-year, $30 million deal with the Red Sox

11. OF Dexter Fowler

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    Dexter Fowler doesn't offer the kind of power most of the other free-agent outfielders do, but he's capable of going deep while contributing a high on-base percentage and speed atop a team's lineup.

    Entering his age-31 season, CBS Chicago's Bruce Levine hears that Fowler is looking for a four-year deal. That might be too long for his former employer, the Chicago Cubs, which have a crowded outfield without inserting Fowler back into the mix.

    While he's only officially been linked to Toronto, per Moros, Fowler would be a fit for a number of teams besides the Blue Jays, including San Francisco and St. Louis.

    He'd fill voids in left field for the Jays and Giants, who have Kevin Pillar and Denard Span in center field, respectively, while he'd man center for the Cardinals, allowing them to shift Randal Grichuk over to left field.

    Prediction: Signs a four-year, $65 million deal with the Cardinals

10. SP Rich Hill

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    When he's healthy, Rich Hill is capable of delivering an ace-like performance, evidenced by his combined 2.00 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 165 strikeouts over 139.1 innings of work since 2015. But there are significant questions about his ability to stay on the field, especially as he prepares to enter his age-37 season.

    Still, he's the top free-agent starter on the market. A number of teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers (per the Los Angeles Times' Andy McCullough) and Yankees (per ESPN's Buster Olney), have interest in his services.

    Earlier this month, Hill told SportsNet LA that he'd love to stay with the Dodgers:

    "Absolutely...with the leadership that's here—Clayton [Kershaw] being the best pitcher in baseball...it's something that you want to be around."

    Prediction: Re-signs with Los Angeles on a three-year, $50 million deal

9. CL Mark Melancon

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    One of the three elite free-agent closers on the market, Mark Melancon doesn't have the same name recognition (or intimidation factor) as Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. But every team with a need in the late innings is going to check in with the veteran. Some already have.

    The San Francisco Giants have met with both Melancon and his agent, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan and MLB Network's Morosi, while the club with which he finished 2016, the Washington Nationals, is "expected to go hard after him," sources tell Cafardo.

    San Francisco is looking to rebuild a bullpen that blew an MLB-high 30 saves in 2016, while Washington could use Melancon's experience and leadership to help bring along young relievers (and potential future closers) like Koda Glover and Trevor Gott. 

    Prediction: Signs a four-year, $60 million deal with the Giants

8. OF Jose Bautista

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    More than a decade after acquiring and then trading Jose Bautista in the same day, the New York Mets spoke with the free-agent slugger's representatives at the general manager meetings in early November, an industry source tells the New York Post's Mike Puma.

    With Yoenis Cespedes potentially leaving as a free agent, it's not entirely surprising to see the Mets interested in the 36-year-old as a possible replacement.

    Toronto general manager Ross Atkins told reporters, including Nicholson-Smith, that the team's decision to sign Morales "doesn’t impact us on Jose in any way." But that doesn't mean the Blue Jays are interested in keeping him around, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports hears the team values the draft-pick compensation it'd receive when he signs elsewhere more than the veteran slugger.

    Prediction: Signs a two-year, $40 million deal with the Mets

7. 1B/DH Mark Trumbo

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    While there's been little in the way of solid rumors surrounding Mark Trumbo's next team, Passan tweeted earlier in November that the slugger's market was "bustling," which helps to explain why he turned down the Baltimore Orioles' one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer.

    With the Orioles seemingly focused on improving their outfield defense, a return to the Inner Harbor isn't quite as obvious as it once appeared. That said, there are plenty of teams in need of an influx of power, a first baseman, designated hitter or all of the above.

    One of those teams is the Colorado Rockies, a team with ownership that is prepared to field a team with a franchise-record payroll in 2017. Playing in the National League, the Rockies wouldn't have the option of using Trumbo as a designated hitter outside of interleague play.

    But it's hard not to get excited about the kind of damage Trumbo's right-handed power could do at Coors Field, where he'd replace the platoon of Stephen Cardullo and Gerardo Parra that the Rockies are currently projected to employ at first base in 2017. 

    Prediction: Signs a four-year, $62.5 million deal with Colorado

6. CF Ian Desmond

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    It'd be fair to say that Ian Desmond bet on himself and lost, as the seven-year, $107 million extension he turned down from the Nationals in 2014, per MLB.com's Bill Ladson, does not await him on the free-agent market.

    But don't feel too sorry for him, as the 31-year-old shortstop-turned-outfielder has a nice payday coming his way. While Baltimore expressed interest in Desmond in early November, per Morosi, a return to Texas makes far too much sense for him to join his third team in three years.

    Desmond put together the fourth 20-20 season of his career while hitting .285 with a .782 OPS and providing solid defense in both center field and left field, learning both positions on the fly. While the Rangers could go with Delino DeShields Jr. in center field, re-signing Desmond is a much better option. 

    Prediction: Re-signs with Texas on a four-year, $72.5 million deal

T4. CL Kenley Jansen

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    According to a report from Heyman, the Miami Marlins have made Kenley Jansen their top offseason target with the goal of creating a "super pen" that would also, presumably, include incumbent closer A.J. Ramos, among others.

    The Marlins aren't the only team with interest in the 29-year-old but, as Heyman notes, they could have an advantage over the rest of the field due to their proximity to Curacao, where he hails from, and the presence of manager Don Mattingly, under whose guidance Jansen became a star with the Dodgers.

    A return to the Dodgers can't be ruled out, and the Cubs have done their "due diligence" on Jansen, per Rosenthal, though Rosenthal noted that the Cubs aren't believed to have significant interest at this point.

    Prediction: Signs a four-year, $90 million deal with the Marlins

T4. CL Aroldis Chapman

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    We can rule Miami out as a potential landing spot for Aroldis Chapman, as one of his associates told the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson that it's "highly unlikely" the flamethrower would take his talents to South Beach.

    The same can't be said of other teams in the market for bullpen upgrades, including NL West rivals Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    His agent has already met with the Giants, per Morosi, while McCullough tweeted that the Dodgers are "expected to make a dedicated pursuit" of the player they nearly traded for last offseason.

    A return to the Yankees, the first of two teams he's been traded to in the past year, isn't out of the question, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. It's fair to speculate that the Cubs, the team with which he won the World Series, remain interested in his services as well.

    While not officially linked to Chapman yet, the Nationals have long tried to acquire the southpaw, as recently as the non-waiver trade deadline (per Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball) and have a need for a closer.

    That's no fewer than five potential landing sports for the flame-throwing closer, for those keeping track. But ultimately, there's only one Chapman and only one team with which he can sign.

    Prediction: Signs a five-year, $95 million deal with the Dodgers

3. 3B Justin Turner

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    Justin Turner's market has developed slowly. Outside of an early November report from MLB Network's Jon Morosi that San Francisco was "open-minded" about making a run at the third baseman, there's been little chatter surrounding the 32-year-old, which is odd because he's clearly the best third baseman available.

    He's not really old enough for teams to be wary of making a long-term investment, so what's the problem? It could be that most teams realize that, of all their free agents, Turner is the one player the Dodgers can ill afford to lose.

    Without an in-house replacement and no one of his caliber available, either in free agency or on the trade market, there's little chance that the Dodgers would let Turner depart. 

    Prediction: Re-signs with Los Angeles on a five-year, $85 million deal

2. 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion

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    Edwin Encarnacion might be wearing a different uniform in 2017, but it'll belong to a team in the AL East, the division he's wreaked havoc upon for eight years.

    The Yankees have been linked to nearly every free agent on the market, with general manager Brian Cashman telling reporters, including MLB.com's Bryan Hoch, that he's "open-minded" to all possibilities, including a potential signing of Encarnacion.

    Interestingly enough, the team many believed the 33-year-old slugger was destined to join, the Red Sox, have "yet to engage in any serious discussions" with Encarnacion's camp, sources tell Bradford.

    A return to Toronto can't be ruled out even after the Blue Jays signed Morales, with Heyman reporting the club offered Encarnacion a four-year deal worth around $80 million. Should Encarnacion re-sign, the Jays envision him taking most of the reps at first base.

    "People realize he can do it,” Encarnacion's agent, Paul Kinzer, told Heyman of his client's ability to play first base regularly, adding that he'd received some interest from National League clubs. “He showed a lot of athleticism.” 

    Prediction: Re-signs with Toronto on a four-year, $90 million deal

1. OF Yoenis Cespedes

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    Yoenis Cespedes could stay in New York, but it might not be with the Mets. Cashman recently told reporters, per Hoch, that he's spoken with Cespedes' agent and expects to continue discussions about bringing the Cuban-born slugger to the Bronx.

    While left field at Yankee Stadium is currently occupied by Brett Gardner, Cashman noted that he's received trade inquiries on the Gold Glove winner, who is due $24 million through 2018 and has a $12.5 million team option for 2019 with a $2 million buyout.

    In other words, Gardner's presence won't prohibit the Yankees from adding an impact bat like Cespedes to bolster a lineup that ranked just 12th in the American League in runs scored last year. 

    Prediction: Signs a five-year, $125 million deal with the New York Yankees

        

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.