Each Top Free Agent's Likely Suitor Who Would Be a Nightmare Fit

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2018

Each Top Free Agent's Likely Suitor Who Would Be a Nightmare Fit

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    We've already highlighted the best landing spot for some of the top upcoming MLB free agents.

    Now it's time to look at the opposite end of the spectrum, as we name the worst possible landing spot for the top players set to hit the open market.

    Whether it's a poor track record at a specific ballpark, a poor fit from a roster standpoint or something else, each of these potential destinations has at least one notable strike against it.

    Only teams that are expected to be a suitor for a player's services were included, though that's still largely speculative at this point.

    For now, let the following serve as a cautionary tale.

          

    Until he makes a decision on his opt-out clause, Clayton Kershaw can't be officially considered a free agent, so he was not included here. Charlie Morton also deserves to be mentioned among the elite of this year's free-agent class, but his age (34) and destination requirements limit his potential landing spots enough to exclude him from this exercise.

LF Michael Brantley: Seattle Mariners

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    In theory, the Seattle Mariners could open the 2019 season with an outfield of Denard Span, Dee Gordon and Mitch Haniger.

    At the same time, they could also decline their $14 million option on Span and opt to move Gordon back to second base, with Robinson Cano replacing Nelson Cruz as the primary designated hitter.

    In that case, they would likely be players in the outfield market, where Michael Brantley is one of the top options after a healthy 2018 season.

    The 31-year-old hit .309/.364/.468 with 36 doubles, 17 home runs and 76 RBI after playing just 101 total games in 2016 and 2017.

    Brantley is a career .295/.351/.430 hitter over parts of 10 big league seasons.

    However, he's hit a dismal .233/.295/.256 with just two extra-base hits over 95 plate appearances in 21 career games at Safeco Field.

    It's also worth mentioning that the Mariners' offseason focus should be on the pitching side of things, so if they invest heavily in Brantley, he could find himself playing for a non-contender.

SP Patrick Corbin: Los Angeles Angels

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    The Los Angeles Angels are expected to be aggressive in free agency once again as they try to surround superstar Mike Trout with a contending team in the final two years of his contract.

    Starting pitching is the glaring weakness after the team finished 19th in starters' ERA (4.34) and 18th in quality starts (79). Only Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney and Jaime Barria appear locked into rotation spots for 2019, while Shohei Ohtani recovers from Tommy John surgery.

    A run at signing Patrick Corbin would not be surprising, especially considering his history with the team.

    Corbin, 29, was originally drafted by the Angels in the second round in 2009 before he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the 2010 deadline as part of the Dan Haren deal.

    While he'd be a welcome addition for the Angels, it doesn't look like the best landing spot for Corbin.

    Most expect the left-hander to get at least five, and perhaps six, years this offseason with a contract in excess of $100 million.

    Who knows where the Angels are going to be two years from now when Trout can potentially jump ship. Corbin could be signing on to an eventual rebuilding project, and with teams lining up for his services, there will be better options.

DH Nelson Cruz: Minnesota Twins

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    It looked like the Minnesota Twins scored one of the biggest steals of the offseason when they added Logan Morrison on a one-year, $6.5 million deal last winter.

    Instead, he nursed a hip injury for much of the season and wound up playing just 95 games, hitting a dismal .186/.276/.368 with 15 home runs for a 73 OPS+ and minus-0.3 WAR. As a result, what once looked like a team-friendly $8 million option now appears likely to be declined.

    That would leave the Twins in search of a middle-of-the-order bat who could assume the full-time designated hitter role, and there's no bigger fish in this year's free-agent pond than Nelson Cruz.

    The 38-year-old has been one of the game's most consistent and durable sluggers over the past five seasons, posting a 145 OPS+ while averaging 41 home runs, 104 RBI and 153 games.

    It would make sense for the Seattle Mariners to move Robinson Cano into the DH spot, so expect Cruz to be looking for a new team this winter. The Twins should be among those that inquire about him.

    While Minnesota offers some intriguing upside with a solid young core, Target Field did not play well as a ballpark for home run hitters last year, and Cruz is a player who generates much of his value with over-the-fence production.

    It's also a somewhat volatile destination for a player who is still searching for his first World Series ring. While the Twins were a playoff team in 2017, they're far from a safe bet to contend in 2019.

3B Josh Donaldson: Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Tampa Bay Rays don't have the financial resources to pursue Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but an injury-plagued season could limit Josh Donaldson's earning power to the point that he becomes an option for them.

    The Rays, after all, were willing to make a two-year, $12.5 million commitment to Wilson Ramos two years ago, despite the fact that he was recovering from a major knee injury.

    After a surprising 90-win season and a strong second half, the Rays could be more aggressive than usual, and a healthy Donaldson could be a real difference-maker for an offense that lacked punch last season while finishing 27th in the majors with 150 home runs.

    However, it doesn't look like the best fit for Donaldson.

    The 32-year-old is a career .207/.318/.415 hitter over 157 plate appearances in 38 games at Tropicana Fielda park that skewed to being pitcher-friendly in 2018.

    If Donaldson does end up slipping into Tampa's price range, he'll likely be seeking a short-term, prove-it deal, and a pitcher-friendly park is not the ideal place for him to rebuild value.

    Taking that one step further, staying healthy will be the single biggest factor in Donaldson boosting his stock, so playing half of his games on artificial turf at the Trop could prove too big of a risk for a player who dealt with a nagging calf injury.

C Yasmani Grandal: Boston Red Sox

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    The catcher position has been a black hole offensively for the Boston Red Sox this season.

    Sandy Leon (87 games), Christian Vazquez (75), Blake Swihart (28) and Dan Butler (two) posted a .533 OPS that ranked dead last at the position while hitting a combined .194/.246/.288 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI.

    It would make perfect sense then for Boston to target Yasmani Grandal.

    The 29-year-old posted a career-high 121 OPS+ this season and has averaged 19 doubles, 22 home runs and 61 RBI in his four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    He's also one of the best pitch-framers in baseball and is generally regarded as a solid receiver, despite his struggles in that department during the playoffs.

    While Boston would present an appealing landing spot from a contention standpoint, the threat of having his job usurped could be enough to scare Grandal away.

    Despite a disappointing season at the plate, Vazquez remains an excellent defensive backstop. He's thrown out 42 percent of base-stealers and racked up 31 DRS in his four seasons in the majors, and that earned him a three-year, $13.55 million extension in March that includes a $7 million team option for 2022.

    Grandal watched last postseason as Austin Barnes seized the lion's share of the playing time thanks to his strong defensive work, and he might not want to risk a similar situation with Vazquez in Boston.

RF Bryce Harper: Washington Nationals

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    It's time for a change.

    The Washington Nationals looked like the team to beat in the National League more than once between 2012 and 2017 while posting six straight winning seasons and making four playoff appearances.

    However, all they have to show for that run is four disappointing NLDS exits.

    With Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg both locked into lucrative long-term deals, re-signing Harper would likely max the Nationals out financially, leaving little room to further improve a roster that had some obvious holes in an 82-80 season this year.

    Further, it could also prevent them from re-signing one or both of Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark, who are set to reach free agency after 2019. So it's not off-base to think the Nationals could actually be worse when 2020 rolls around as a direct result of bringing back their homegrown star.

    For Harper, the No. 1 priority should be to find a team that can be a perennial contender, especially if he's onboard for a good chunk of the next decade.

    It seems inconsequential to talk about additional revenue streams when discussing a player who might secure the first $400 million deal in MLB history, but Harper is also not maximizing his marketing potential in Washington D.C. A move to somewhere like Chicago, New York or Los Angeles would present him with more opportunities to build his brand, so to speak.

    So while there appears to be a very real possibility that Harper will re-up with the Nationals, it doesn't look like the right move for player or team.

SP Dallas Keuchel: Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Milwaukee Brewers have leaned heavily on an excellent relief corps this season, and that's been a big reason behind their success.

    While the bullpen-centric approach makes sense in the condensed environment of postseason baseball, it remains to be seen if it's sustainable over a full 162-game slate, so it shouldn't exclude the Brewers from pursuing the market's top starting pitchers this offseason.

    Dallas Keuchel would essentially be a luxury version of stopgap starters Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez—both free agents this offseason—and his ability to eat innings would really help lighten the bullpen's load.

    However, there are some factors worth considering.

    For one, Keuchel saw his ground-ball rate go from 66.8 percent in 2017 to 53.7 in 2018, and that trend could spell disaster for a pitcher who doesn't light up the radar gun.

    And while the sample size is small enough to be deemed irrelevant, it's also worth mentioning that he's 0-3 with a 12.75 ERA and 2.83 WHIP in three career starts in Milwaukee.

    The Brewers found a terrific bargain when they signed Jhoulys Chacin to a two-year, $15.5 million deal last offseason, and they might be best served taking a similar approach this winter.

    Meanwhile, the Astros, Angels and Yankees all look like better hypothetical landing spots for Keuchel.

RP Craig Kimbrel: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Craig Kimbrel should benefit greatly from the record-setting deals signed by Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million), Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million, with an option) in recent offseasons.

    The 30-year-old leads active pitchers with 333 saves, and he was lights-out once again this season, nailing down 42 saves with a 2.74 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 63 appearances.

    His overpowering stuff will play anywhere, so there's not a bad fit from a ballpark standpoint.

    The St. Louis Cardinals could be a tough landing spot for a number of reasons, though.

    Despite a talented roster, there's no guarantee the Cardinals will be able to keep pace with the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. Assuming that pitching for a contender features prominently on Kimbrel's wish list, that could be a strike against the Cards.

    There's also the presence of Jordan Hicks.

    Kimbrel is one of the best closers in baseball and has been for several years, but nothing is guaranteed for a pitcher on the wrong side of his 30th birthday.

    The flame-throwing Hicks has the stuff to be a dominant closer if he can trim his walk rate, and Kimbrel might not like the idea of a closer-in-waiting breathing down his neck.

SS/3B Manny Machado: San Diego Padres

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    Jim Duquette of MLB.com listed the San Diego Padres as potential entrants in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, and after last year's surprise addition of Eric Hosmer, it's certainly a possibility.

    Aside from the $21 million that Hosmer will earn, there's not much in the way of significant financial commitments on the Padres' books, so fitting Machado into the payroll wouldn't be an issue.

    Neither would the question of whether he plays shortstop or third base.

    The team could slot Machado at shortstop from the onset, then decide whether he slides over to third base once Fernando Tatis Jr. arrives in the majors or if the highly touted prospect heads to the hot corner.

    The question here is whether Machado would embrace the idea of joining a team that's still in the process of building, especially after getting a taste of winning baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    He'd also be asked to serve as a mentor to the team's young up-and-coming talent and given his recent "not my cup of tea" comments on the subject of hustling, that might not be a role the 26-year-old is suited for or ready to embrace.

    Big picture, Machado is probably best off joining a team with an established culture, rather than trying to be a foundational part of something still being built.

CF A.J. Pollock: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Despite his recent struggles staying healthy, A.J. Pollock still figures to secure a lucrative multiyear deal this offseason as the top center fielder on the market.

    His rare mix of power and speed was on full display during a monster 2015 season when he posted a .315/.367/.498 line that included 39 doubles, 20 home runs and 39 steals en route to 7.2 WAR.

    While he's averaged just 79 games in the three years since, including 113 games in 2018, he still posted a 106 OPS+ with 47 extra-base hits and 13 steals in 2018, and that should be good enough to generate plenty of interest.

    However, for the Philadelphia Phillies, he would likely represent a Plan B.

    Most expect the Phillies to be major players in the market for Bryce Harper—to the point that their fanbase almost certainly has some level of expectation that it will happen.

    That would make it a tough situation for Pollock to walk into, as he might be viewed as more of a consolation prize than an impact addition.

    Add to that the fact that he could be forced to an outfield corner in favor of Roman Quinn in center, and there will likely be more attractive destinations for Pollock, who turns 31 in December.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.