4 Free-Agent Signings Set to Improve Their New MLB Clubs the Most in 2017

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2016

4 Free-Agent Signings Set to Improve Their New MLB Clubs the Most in 2017

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    It makes sense that to improve a Major League Baseball club, a player could not have been on the team last season.

    Though the Los Angeles Dodgers' re-signings of Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill were monumentally important, they didn't improve the club from its standing in 2016.

    Instead, players who signed with new teams have the chance to make an impact in their new settings. All signings are not created equal, so here are the most impactful among them. Each of them fills a need glaring for each club when the 2016 season concluded.

Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants

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    No team had a bigger hole to fill this offseason than the San Francisco Giants, who drastically needed to upgrade the back end of their bullpen.

    Many thought San Francisco was the favorite in the National League West after the first month of the season, but it lost the division over the final two months because it didn't have a closer.

    The Giants ended up four games back in the NL West and won the league's Wild Card Game, only to suffer a maddening defeat in the National League Division Series to the Chicago Cubs at the hands of—you guessed it—the bullpen.

    The Giants blew two saves, ultimately winning one of those games, en route to losing the series 3-1.

    They acted decisively this offseason, signing Mark Melancon, who has been one of baseball's best closers over the last three seasons. The righty saved 131 games over that span and will undoubtedly have a major impact on a Giants team that led MLB in blown saves last season.

    On top of the Giants' quality starting pitching and a talented group of position players, Melancon could be the missing piece to a fourth World Series under manager Bruce Bochy.

Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros

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    There hasn't been a team in baseball more active this offseason than the Houston Astros, who are looking to make the playoffs after a disappointing 2016 season in which they finished third in the American League West.

    Houston signed Carlos Beltran, whose switch-hitting bat could fit nicely between right-handers Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, the team's shortstop and second baseman, respectively.

    Last season, Beltran raked at a clip of .304/.344/.546 in 99 games with the New York Yankees before they shipped him to the Texas Rangers in a trade-deadline deal. His numbers dropped slightly, but he still finished the season with 29 homers and 93 RBI in stints with both clubs.

    Beltran will turn 40 on April 24 but still appears to have the kind of bat that can impact a close division race. It's important to note that he brings a veteran presence to the clubhouse too.

Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians

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    The Cleveland Indians came as close as a team can to winning a World Series title without taking home the trophy. They made it to the 10th inning of Game 7 before losing to the Cubs.

    Any move to improve the club—even the slightest—has a chance to put it over the top. Instead, the Indians made a big one, signing Edwin Encarnacion, who was perhaps the most coveted bat on the free-agent market.

    The team did not extend a qualifying offer to Mike Napoli, who served as the first baseman and designated hitter for the club in 2016, looking to improve at the spot.

    Encarnacion certainly offers the Indians a better bat, besting Napoli in every important statistical category in 2016. The former Toronto Blue Jay, who helped the team to back-to-back playoff appearances, slashed .263/.357/.529 with 42 homers and an AL-leading 127 RBI.

    He'll slot into the middle of the Cleveland lineup, immediately impacting a team that should be a runaway favorite to repeat as AL Central champs.

Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Since the turn of the century, the St. Louis Cardinals have been arguably the best organization in baseball, contending for a World Series nearly every season by cultivating players like center fielder Dexter Fowler.

    Fowler does less heralded—but still monumentally important—things well: play solid defense, work deep pitch counts, draw walks and run the bases effectively.

    It's by this method that the Cardinals have made 12 of the last 17 postseasons, which includes a streak of five straight that ended this past season.

    We can gush over Fowler's 2016 statistics with the Cubs, including a .276/.393/.447 slash line. But perhaps this acquisition is best qualified by saying Fowler plays the game the right way.

    The same way the Cardinals have done for close to two decades.