Predicting Landing Spots for Top 10 Available MLB Offseason Targets

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 3, 2017

Predicting Landing Spots for Top 10 Available MLB Offseason Targets

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    No player enters free agency hoping to sign in January. No team wants to let half the winter go by with significant needs unfilled.

    But here we are in the new year. Free agents remain unsigned. Deals that had to be made remain undone.

    And Jose Bautista wonders where it all went wrong. Or maybe he doesn't.

    If Edwin Encarnacion waited forever before landing with the Cleveland Indians on a three-year, $60 million deal, Bautista has waited forever and two weeks to find his next employer. The Minnesota Twins have waited forever to get a Brian Dozier trade done. The New York Mets still have too many outfielders, and the Atlanta Braves still haven't improved behind the plate.

    Oh, and after trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in two much-praised deals, the Chicago White Sox have gone nearly a month without more rebuilding.

    There's plenty still to do as we wait for Hall of Fame voting results and the start of spring training.

    Reporting day is just six weeks away. Now these guys just need to know where to report.

    We're here to help, with Bleacher Report's predictions for where the top remaining winter targets will land.

10. Todd Frazier

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    The Chicago White Sox have big-ticket items available on their shelf, and Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote Saturday first baseman Jose Abreu has been the target of more interest than Todd Frazier. That's understandable because a team could control Abreu for three years, while Frazier will be a free agent next winter.

    The years of control, though, make for little urgency in moving Abreu, unless the White Sox get offers like the ones that convinced them to trade Chris Sale and Adam Eaton last month. There's less to be gained by holding on to Frazier, who turns 31 just before spring training begins.

    Frazier overcame a slow start to hit 40 home runs in his one year in the American League, but it's easier to see a National League team picking him up in hopes he returns to the form that made him a two-time All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds. The San Francisco Giants, who could use a bat and some help at third base, seem like a logical fit.

    It can't hurt that Frazier is a career .358 hitter at AT&T Park.

    Prediction: The White Sox trade Frazier to the Giants.

9. Jay Bruce

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    It shouldn't be that tough to trade a three-time All-Star who can carry a team when he gets hot. But it seemed to take the Cincinnati Reds forever to move Jay Bruce before they dealt him to the New York Mets on Aug. 1, and now the Mets have gone more than a month since they re-signed Yoenis Cespedes without reducing their glut of corner outfielders.

    Bruce didn't end up being a great fit in New York, and he became even less of one when the Mets said Cespedes will play left field. With three other corner outfielders (Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto in addition to Bruce), a trade seemed inevitable.

    It still does, and Bruce remains the most logical one to go. Granderson can play center field if needed, and Conforto offers too much hope for the future.

    The Mets have no doubt been hurt by the number of corner outfield types on the free-agent market. Many of them remain available, but teams looking for bargains could see Bruce at $13 million as a good deal. He'll be motivated as he heads to free agency next winter.

    So where does he go? It's just a guess because no team has been publicly connected to Bruce, but the Tampa Bay Rays make some sense. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported last month they might be open to a discounted one-year deal with Jose Bautista. He lives in the area, but it's unlikely his price would ever get low enough for the small-budget Rays.

    Bruce's $13 million is a lot as well, but perhaps the Mets will agree to pay some of it down.

    Prediction: The Mets trade Bruce to the Rays.

8. Matt Wieters

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    When the Baltimore Orioles signed Welington Castillo to be their new catcher, it seemed clear Matt Wieters would move on after eight years that didn't match the hype but did result in four All-Star appearances and two trips to the playoffs.

    According to Dan Connolly of Baltimore Baseball.com, agent Scott Boras told reporters three weeks ago he didn't expect Wieters to sign until January because the catching market often develops late. If so, maybe Wieters' market will get better this month.

    Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Washington Nationals have long been connected to Wieters—a natural fit given their need for catching and history with Boras clients. So have the Atlanta Braves, who are another natural fit given their even more desperate need for catching and that Wieters played at Georgia Tech.

    The Nationals already acquired Derek Norris this winter. Wieters would be an upgrade, but they may not want to spend big to get him. The Braves have the bigger need, with unimpressive holdovers Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker as their two catchers.

    Prediction: Wieters signs with the Braves.

7. Ryan Braun

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    Ryan Braun would be higher on this list if not for a contract that runs through 2020, when he'll be 36. The contract also limits the number of teams the Milwaukee Brewers can trade Braun to without his approval.

    A deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers has always seemed a fit given their financial resources and Braun's Southern California roots. But a Brewers-Dodgers trade that Fox Sports' Ken Rosthenal reported was discussed last summer never happened, and speculation it could be rekindled this winter hasn't yet led to much.

    It figures the Brewers will still try, with the Dodgers or anyone else. As important as Braun has been to the club, their best hope to speed up the rebuilding process would be to trade him for younger talent. But it won't be easy.

    Prediction: Braun stays with the Brewers—at least for now.

6. Mike Napoli

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    It's hard to blame the Cleveland Indians for choosing Edwin Encarnacion once his price fell into their range. But they understood Mike Napoli's value, as most of his former employers have.

    The Texas Rangers are one of those former employers, and Napoli nearly won them their first World Series by driving in 10 runs against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. It's hardly a surprise the Rangers have shown interest in bringing him back, with MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reporting last week the sides were "moving closer" to a two-year deal.

    Texas needs offensive help after Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland all left as free agents.

    Prediction: Napoli signs with the Rangers.

5. Andrew McCutchen

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    After the Washington Nationals traded for Adam Eaton instead of Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said it was unlikely he'd trade McCutchen this winter, per MLB.com's Adam Berry.

    A trade was probably unlikely in the first place, and it may still be unlikely now. But the reasons Huntington had for exploring a deal remain valid. McCutchen is heading into his final two years of team control, and the budget-conscious Pirates are unlikely to extend a player who will be 32 at the end of his contract.

    Pittsburgh isn't giving up on contending in 2017, so McCutchen still has value to it. But as the free-agent market for outfielders becomes clearer, perhaps Huntington will find an offer to his liking. The Toronto Blue Jays could be a natural trading partner, especially if Jose Bautista ends up elsewhere. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick tweeted Christmas Eve that the Jays had "kicked around" McCutchen's name.

    Prediction: The Pirates trade McCutchen to the Blue Jays.

4. Brian Dozier

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    There's no trade deadline in the winter, which is one reason some of these sagas drag on and on. The Minnesota Twins apparently want to create some urgency in the Brian Dozier market, with La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reporting Friday they've asked teams for their best offer.

    Neal wrote the Twins are prepared to keep Dozier if they don't like any of the offers, and perhaps they will. But he's two years from free agency, which means this could be the best time to trade him, and he's one player who could bring back the young pitching Minnesota needs.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have long been mentioned as a good trade partner for the Twins because they need a second baseman and right-handed power and have young pitching to offer. Neal noted Minnesota has asked for pitcher Jose De Leon and another prospect.

    Prediction: The Twins trade Dozier to the Dodgers.

3. Jose Quintana

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    Once the Chicago White Sox committed to rebuilding, Chris Sale was always going to be the big prize. But Jose Quintana isn't a bad second choice, especially in a winter in which the free-agent market for starting pitchers is so weak.

    The White Sox can keep Quintana, whose contract includes club options through 2020. The deal shouldn't limit the market, either, because Quintana makes only $6 million in 2017 and just $10.5 million in each of the two option years.

    Quintana is a harder sell than Sale as a staff ace, but he would be a significant front-end upgrade for many teams. The New York Yankees have been mentioned frequently, including by MLB.com's Jon Morosi, and ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted the Pittsburgh Pirates have worked hard on a possible Quintana deal. Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reported during the winter meetings that the Houston Astros asked about Quintana but found the initial asking price too high.

    That's normal in negotiations, and it still would make sense for the Astros and White Sox to come together. Houston has plenty of young talent, and while it's upgraded offensively with Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann, the rotation still isn't imposing.

    Prediction: The White Sox trade Quintana to the Astros.

2. Mark Trumbo

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    Mark Trumbo and the Baltimore Orioles ended up being a near-perfect fit in 2016 after the club got him in a bargain deal with the Seattle Mariners. He won't be as big a bargain this time around, even with a market that has developed so slowly that he's still available.

    On Wednesday, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports listed Trumbo as the best slugger still available. I have him second, but either way, he has big value. Heyman suggested Trumbo could still return to the Orioles, even after he turned down a four-year offer.

    While I could see that happening, I like the idea of Trumbo going to the Colorado Rockies to play first base, with Ian Desmond moving to his more natural spot in the outfield. Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said on MLB Network Radio two weeks ago that Trumbo remains on their radar.

    You would think Colorado would be on Trumbo's radar, too. In just 12 career games at Coors Field, he has hit eight home runs.

    Prediction: The Rockies sign Trumbo.

1. Jose Bautista

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    When the idea of the Baltimore Orioles signing Jose Bautista came up, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette dismissed it.

    "Jose is a villain in Baltimore, and I'm not going to go tell our fans that we're courting Jose Bautista for the Orioles because they're not going to be happy," Duquette told Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.

    Bautista is a villain in a lot of places, but he's also a free agent who hasn't found the market he would like and could be a late bargain for the team that signs him. Duquette has a history of finding such deals, and his Orioles will need a boost from somewhere if Mark Trumbo signs with another team.

    If they don't find that boost, then their fans really wouldn't be happy.

    Bautista could still end up going back to the Toronto Blue Jays, but Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports penned a few reasons why he thinks that's unlikely. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported the Tampa Bay Rays could be open to a one-year deal with Bautista, but only at a bargain price.

    At this point, Bautista's deal should look like a bargain for whichever team signs him, but perhaps that won't be enough of a bargain to interest the Jays or Rays. It may be enough of a bargain, however, for Orioles fans to welcome a villain.

    Prediction: The Orioles sign Bautista.