Each MLB Team's Grand Slam Pitch to Recruit Biggest Free-Agent TargetNovember 28, 2018
Each MLB Team's Grand Slam Pitch to Recruit Biggest Free-Agent Target
Any Major League Baseball team willing to make the right offer stands a pretty good chance at signing whatever free agents it wants.
It's not entirely about the money, however. The team needs to fit the player just as much as the player needs to fit the team.
With this in mind, we looked at how each of MLB's 30 teams can pitch themselves to their top free-agent targets. Included within is all that big-money teams can offer to, say, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Also included is how small-market teams and rebuilders can convince their targets to come aboard.
We'll proceed in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Clay Buchholz
Ever since preempting Eduardo Escobar's free agency by extending him in October, the Arizona Diamondbacks have seemingly been focused on trading Zack Greinke and/or Paul Goldschmidt.
According to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com, they are interested in adding Daniel Descalso and Clay Buchholz to their list of returnees.
Buchholz is the more interesting player because of how he teased a return to his old All-Star form in 2018. He made 16 starts and put up a 2.01 ERA over 98.1 innings.
Because Buchholz is now 34 and well beyond his on-again/off-again stardom with the Boston Red Sox, a major league contract and a rotation spot may be good enough for him. Such things may not be forthcoming outside out of Arizona.
As a bonus, the Diamondbacks can also offer two important comforts for a pitch-to-contact hurler like Buchholz: a newly pitcher-friendly home park and a strong defense.
Atlanta Braves: Nathan Eovaldi
Now that they've added Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, the Atlanta Braves would do well to bring in an experienced ace.
Per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the best pitcher confirmed to be on Atlanta's radar is Nathan Eovaldi. Unfortunately for them, his own radar is crowded with at least eight other teams to choose from.
Working in the Braves' favor, however, is that not all of Eovaldi's suitors can offer him a position atop their rotations. The Braves can, as it wouldn't be upsetting the apple cart too much to make him their No. 1 ahead of Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb.
Moreover, the Braves can sell Eovaldi on throwing to Tyler Flowers and in front of their defense. The former rates as one of baseball's best framers. The latter led the National League in efficiency in 2018.
Altogether, Atlanta can offer Eovaldi a real chance to put an up-and-coming contender over the top.
Baltimore Orioles: Ian Kinsler
The Baltimore Orioles are barely a week removed from tapping Mike Elias to oversee their rebuild. So, they can be forgiven for not being too active on the free-agent front.
According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the Orioles are monitoring at least one player: Ian Kinsler.
Kinsler fits the profile of a player Baltimore would be interested in at this point. He's a 36-year-old veteran with a long track record of success, but whose recent fall from grace leaves him with few avenues to explore in free agency.
Whereas other teams might only be willing to offer him a platoon role, the Orioles can offer Kinsler a full-time job at second base. And following a year in which they finished dead-last in efficiency, they truly need his Gold Glove defense.
Last but not last, there's this: Signing with them could mean a chance to end up on a World Series contender via a midseason trade.
Boston Red Sox: Nathan Eovaldi
There have been reports that the Boston Red Sox are interested in re-signing Craig Kimbrel, but their interest in re-signing Eovaldi seems to be more serious and mutual.
Per Cafardo: "Eovaldi would love to stay in Boston, and the Red Sox will take their best shot."
Unlike the Braves, the Red Sox can't offer Eovaldi the top spot in their rotation. They also can't match the allure of Flowers' catching or of the Braves defense.
So, it's a good thing the Red Sox can offer Eovaldi a chance to once again be a part of the best team in Major League Baseball.
The Red Sox were just that while winning 108 games in the 2018 regular season. They got even better as they went 11-3 en route to a World Series championship. Eovaldi was an especially big part of the latter effort. As long as the price is right, he might enjoy doing it again.
Chicago Cubs: Zach Britton
There might not be anything suspicious about how quiet the Chicago Cubs have been this winter. Their payroll is bloated and their list of serious needs is short.
And yet, GM Jed Hoyer has granted that the team needs relief help, ideally from the left side. To this end, Patrick Mooney of The Athletic noted that they tried to trade for Zach Britton in 2017 and 2018. Now's their chance to just sign him.
It may matter to Britton that he would have a chance to rack up saves on the north side. That was his job when he was with the Orioles, and he excelled at it between 2014 and 2016.
What probably matters more to Britton at this point, however, is pitching in front of an infield that can handle his extreme ground-ball habit.
Thus, Chicago's trump card: no team has allowed a lower batting average on ground balls since 2016.
Chicago White Sox: Bryce Harper
It's unclear if the Chicago White Sox are actually interested in signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Nonetheless, Morosi is right to note that they can afford to sign both.
By virtue of being a former No. 1 pick who turned into a Rookie of the Year and MVP who's still only 26 years old, Harper would be the bigger get for the White Sox. And if the Cubs aren't interested, then the White Sox are Harper's best hope for landing in his apparently beloved Chicago.
The White Sox's rebuild, meanwhile, is closer to the end than the beginning. Harper could be the new face of the franchise alongside such talents as Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech. And with the Cleveland Indians coming to a fork in the road, the AL Central could soon be Chicago's for the taking.
If none of this lands, there's always the reality that Guaranteed Rate Field is an excellent park for left-handed sluggers.
Cincinnati Reds: Patrick Corbin
To provide some sorely needed stability to their rotation, Morosi reports that the Cincinnati Reds are casting a wide net that includes Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ.
Following a year in which he posted a 3.15 ERA and struck out 246 batters over 200 innings, Corbin is the best starting pitcher on the market. He should have options, and not all of them will have the same disadvantages as the Reds: a bandbox home park and a last-place finish in their immediate wake.
Beyond making a good offer, the Reds' best hope of landing Corbin involves pitching him on being for them what Jon Lester was for the Cubs after 2014: the ace who helps usher in a contender.
For their part, the Reds already have several star hitters (Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett) and the beginnings of a shutdown bullpen (Raisel Iglesias, Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen). Eventually, from their farm system will come Nick Senzel and Hunter Greene.
Cleveland Indians: Andrew Miller
The Cleveland Indians have seemed more interested in cutting from their payroll than adding to it. But sooner or later, they must see to a list of needs that includes outfielders and relievers.
According to Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com, there's "nearly a zero chance" that Michael Brantley will return. But Pluto's colleague Paul Hoynes granted it could be "possible" that they bring back Andrew Miller
As far as rumors go, this is admittedly a reach on our part. In all likelihood, Miller is only coming back to the Indians if the market allows them to be opportunistic with a smaller-than-expected offer.
If it comes to that, Miller might at least be enthused to returning to a team and city he knows well. The Indians might also ease his mind by ensuring him they have a plan to avoid the hamstring and shoulder injuries that befell him in 2018. That alone could lead him back to his 2014-2017 dominance.
Colorado Rockies: Marwin Gonzalez
The Colorado Rockies need bats more than a team that plays at Coors Field should ever need bats, so it's odd that they haven't popped up in more rumors about heavy hitters.
But for what it's worth, it's hard to disagree with MLB.com's Thomas Harding's suggestion for the Rockies: Marwin Gonzalez.
The Rockies could sell Gonzalez on being even more of a super-utilityman for them than he was for seven years with the Houston Astros. They primarily need him at second base as things stand now, but he could also play the outfield and fill in at first base. Eventually, he may also be needed at third base in place of Nolan Arenado after 2019.
Gonzalez also has a stroke that would play well at Coors Field. Its thin air beckons fly-ball hitters and its wide gaps beckon line-drive hitters. Both suit Gonzalez, who doesn't hit many ground balls these days.
Detroit Tigers: Freddy Galvis
It'll be a while before the Detroit Tigers are ready to flex their financial muscle again. In the meantime, Morosi reports that they're looking at cheap free-agent shortstops.
Freddy Galvis is the best of the bunch. He offers a bit of power and speed on offense, having totaled 45 homers and 39 stolen bases over the last three seasons. His defense is harder to pin down, but it's mostly rated well.
If nothing else, the Tigers can offer Galvis a starting job. He may have trouble finding similar opportunities elsewhere, and it's unlikely that any will be a contender. Few of them have needs at shortstop.
There is, however, the possibility that Galvis could join the Tigers only to end up on a contender down the line. Like Kinsler, he would be a midsummer trade candidate if he signs a one-year deal.
Houston Astros: A.J. Pollock
The Houston Astros need starting pitchers above all else, but their efforts on the free-agent market are reportedly centered on outfielders.
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, A.J. Pollock is among them. His star no longer burns as brightly as it did during his All-Star breakout in 2015. Nonetheless, he would still bring power, speed and good defense to the Astros.
Pollock may jump at the chance to join a team that's won 204 regular-season games over the last two years, not to mention a World Series title. He'd be an important piece, too, as he's more of a true center fielder than George Springer.
Minute Maid Park should also have some appeal to Pollock. It has less fair territory than he was used to in Chase Field, which means less ground for him to cover. It also has a short porch in left field for him to take aim at from the plate.
Kansas City Royals: Justin Wilson
As they look to rebuild, the Kansas City Royals are in for a quiet winter that won't feature much activity on the free-agent market.
And yet, they do need bodies for their bullpen. Ideally, they'd get a guy who could close for them in the first half before being swapped to a contender in the second half.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com mentioned Justin Wilson as a possibility. He's bound to field offers from contenders, but he might gravitate to the Royals for two reasons: a chance to close and Kauffman Stadium.
With its deep fences and even dimensions, Kansas City's home yard is a notoriously unforgiving park for home run hitters. That makes it a great place for fly-ball pitchers. Over the last two seasons, Wilson has become exactly that.
Los Angeles Angels: Wilson Ramos
If the Los Angeles Angels are going to make the most of the final two years of Mike Trout's contract, they need to start by adding a catcher.
According to Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times, Wilson Ramos is a top candidate to man the position for the Halos. They're presumably interested primarily in his bat, which produced at an All-Star level in 2016 and again in 2018.
Traditionally, Angel Stadium of Anaheim hasn't been kind to power hitters. But lowering the right-field fence seemed to change that in 2018, as the Angels' digs were suddenly quite kind to sluggers. That should appeal to Ramos, who has good power to right field.
Beyond that, he'd have a chance to hit alongside Trout and Shohei Ohtani and to elevate an unspectacular, yet interesting pitching staff with his catching. Altogether, his presence could greatly improve a borderline contender.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Bryce Harper
The Los Angeles Dodgers tried to add Bryce Harper via a waiver trade in August. When asked if the team is still interested in the 2015 NL MVP, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman didn't say no.
So, let's make a match between one of baseball's biggest franchises and brightest superstars.
For all we know, Harper doesn't have as much love for Los Angeles as he does for Chicago. But it is as close to his native Las Vegas as he's going to get. It's about four hours by car and only an hour by plane.
Harper may be just as enthused by the idea of being the Dodgers' very own Kevin Durant. As in: the superstar who comes in and transforms them from a great team to a downright unstoppable one.
If Harper were to hit alongside Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager and in support of Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, the Dodgers could become exactly that.
Miami Marlins: Jeurys Familia
The Miami Marlins will be rebuilding for a while still. But to hear it from Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, they know they need to do something about a bullpen that too often blew up in 2018.
Among their options on the open market is Jeurys Familia. He was one of baseball's most dominant closers in 2015 and 2016, but his performance has slipped over the last two years. He also served a 15-game suspension in 2017 that stemmed from an assault charge.
After all this, Miami would be a good place for Familia to seek a fresh start.
He would get to be the guy in the Marlins bullpen. And as a former member of the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic squad, he would fit right in with the organization's efforts to recapture the energy that the tournament brought to Marlins Park back in 2017.
Milwaukee Brewers: Nathan Eovaldi
The Milwaukee Brewers have plenty of pitchers, but none really resembles an ace. That explains their interest in J.A. Happ, per Morosi, and more so their interest in Eovaldi, per Cafardo.
Chances are Milwaukee's pitch to Eovaldi would sound a lot like Atlanta's.
He could come in and be the team's No. 1 starter, and he'd have great catchers (Erik Kratz and Manny Pina) and a fine defense on his side. These are just the things he needs to build the star power he established in 2018.
If the Brewers have a trump card, it's that they're more of a World Series contender than the Braves. They just won 96 games and fell one win short of going to the Fall Classic in 2018, and they're equipped to improve on that effort as is. Add in Eovaldi, and the proverbial sky's the limit.
Minnesota Twins: J.A. Happ
The Minnesota Twins rotation isn't lacking for talented youngsters, but it could use a veteran to tie it all together. According to Morosi, J.A. Happ is a guy they like for the job.
The Twins couldn't keep up with the Indians in the 2018 AL Central race, much less the Red Sox, Astros and New York Yankees in the wider AL race. If Happ does hear them out, it'll be because he's amenable to a challenge and not just to an easy avenue back to the postseason.
Assuming the 36-year-old is amenable to such a challenge, the Twins could sell him on two things: Jason Castro's receiving would help him settle in as the team's resident strike-thrower, and his fly-ball style would fit well with the team's excellent outfield defense.
Ultimately, Happ could indeed help the Twins return to October. After that, anything's possible.
New York Mets: Yasmani Grandal
For all the talk about the New York Mets possibly trading Noah Syndergaard, their top priority should be finding a capable catcher.
Per Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, new GM Brodie Van Wagenen has had "fact-finding" talks with the agents for Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal. Either would fit well in New York, though the latter would come with more upside.
Grandal has averaged a .799 OPS and 24 home runs since 2016. The Mets badly need that kind of production behind the plate, not to mention the middle of their lineup. Thus, they can offer Grandal a chance to play a true starring role on offense.
The Mets may covet his receiving even more than his bat. Grandal rated as baseball's most valuable framer in 2018. A skill like that would make Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler all the more lethal, which is a frightening thought for other NL contenders.
New York Yankees: Manny Machado
Most teams with money to spend seem to be more interested in Bryce Harper than Manny Machado.
Not the New York Yankees. Whereas there's been little buzz connecting them to Harper, Jayson Stark of The Athletic (via Ken Rosenthal) heard that the Bombers are doing "particularly extensive work" on Machado.
In light of the negative press he attracted in October, such work is necessary. But if the Yankees come away convinced that Machado's reputation is salvageable, they might convince him that there's no better place for him to salvage it than New York. His turnaround would be seen by everyone.
Beyond that, it's quite simple.
Rumor has it, per Jon Heyman of Fancred and Bob Nightengale of USA Today, that Machado would very much like to be a Yankee. If his alleged dream were to come true right now, he'd get to be a main player on a team that's going to have World Series aspirations on an annual basis.
Oakland Athletics: Jed Lowrie
The Oakland A's typically aren't major players in free agency, and this winter probably won't change that. According to MLB.com's Jane Lee, however, they would like to re-sign Jed Lowrie.
This could be tough. Lowrie, 34, has done well for himself, but he's never gotten a truly big payday. Now is his best chance, as he's fresh off an All-Star campaign (his first) punctuated by an .801 OPS and a career-high 23 homers.
Still, the A's have familiarity working in their favor. Lowrie has spent five of his last six seasons in Oakland, and the times have mostly been good for him. He's played well, and the A's have thrice made the playoffs.
More of the same should be in order if Lowrie returns. The A's would be restoring an important piece from their 97-win squad and therefore safeguarding against a step back in 2019.
Philadelphia Phillies: Bryce Harper
According to Nightengale, here's the deal: "It's hard to find an executive, scout, or rival agent who doesn't believe that Harper will eventually sign with the [Philadelphia] Phillies."
The fit is indeed that obvious. Beyond having a lot of money to spend, the Phillies have a more dire need for offense than any other contender. They're fresh off finishing 11th in the NL in runs scored.
Harper can have a huge hand in solving that problem. He's a great hitter wherever he goes, but he'd fit in especially well at Citizens Bank Park. It's a great place for left-handed sluggers, and Harper has firsthand knowledge of that. His .930 OPS at CBP is the best for any park at which he's played at least 50 games.
Besides, the franchise hasn't yet found a face for its rise back to power. Harper can be that guy, and Philadelphia will love him forever if he and the Phillies get the job done in the future.
Pittsbugh Pirates: Jose Iglesias
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a shorter shopping list than most, but it wouldn't hurt to bring in an experienced shortstop. On that front, Feinsand pointed to Jose Iglesias as a possibility.
Iglesias could be a long shot for Pittsburgh, given that he's positioned for a fairly large payday. But if such a payday doesn't materialize, he'd be just the guy for the Pirates to target as an opportunistic pickup.
Iglesias would be sort of like Jordy Mercer, except better. He won't hit any better than Mercer did in his five years as Pittsburgh's everyday shortstop, but metrics such as defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating make it clear that Iglesias is a superior defender.
As far as Iglesias is concerned, getting a starting job on a contender may be good enough. But he could also look forward to getting more ground balls than he did with the Tigers, who finished last in ground-ball percentage in 2018.
San Diego Padres: Nathan Eovaldi
According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the San Diego Padres were in on Nathan Eovaldi before it was cool.
He may not be their first choice for a new ace. They're a regular in trade rumors for various name-brand starters. Per Rosenthal, Noah Syndergaard may be their top target.
As Syndergaard facsimiles go, however, the hard-throwing Eovaldi isn't bad. The hard part for the Padres would be convincing him to spurn offers from contenders to join a team in the middle of a rebuild.
If nothing else, they can pitch him on pitching to Austin Hedges, who's one of the best defensive catchers in MLB. The Padres can also point to what's coming. They're already building a core of exciting young talent at the major league level, and there's plenty more where that came from in MLB's best farm system.
In short, Eovaldi could play the Lester role if he comes to San Diego.
San Francisco Giants: Bryce Harper
It's not a given that the San Francisco Giants are seriously interested in Bryce Harper. But his agent hopes they are.
"I'll let them tell you that," Scott Boras said when asked about the Giants' interest in Harper, according to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. "Certainly, Bryce is a perfect fit in a lot of cities, and San Francisco would be one of them."
Harper doesn't mind the city itself. Indeed, he's frequently gushed about San Francisco on social media. Given how expensive it is to live there, such an attitude is necessary for potential newcomers.
As far as the team itself goes, the Giants would be counting on Harper to revive a dying dynasty. That's a challenge he may jump at, and AT&T Park might not stand in his way. Harper's power is big enough to conquer it. In particular, he's just the guy to be taking regular aim at McCovey Cove.
Seattle Mariners: Martin Maldonado
The Seattle Mariners seem more focused on sending out players than bringing them in. But at some point, they'll need to find a replacement for departed catcher Mike Zunino.
Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal are possibilities, according to Greg Johns of MLB.com, but somebody like Martin Maldonado is more likely.
Maldonado has some power at the plate, and he's one of the better defensive catchers in the sport. These talents would make him a fine replacement for Zunino.
Frankly, Maldonado may not have many other places to turn. The Mets have "strong interest" in him, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post, but he's certainly one of their lesser targets. If they move on and no other contenders come calling, Seattle might be Maldonado's best chance for a starting job.
St. Louis Cardinals: Bryce Harper
There may be no darker horse for Bryce Harper than the St. Louis Cardinals.
As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported: "The 26-year-old outfielder is intrigued by overtures from the Cardinals, multiple sources confirmed, and another source referred to the Cardinals as 'in a better position than maybe they realize.'"
The Cardinals represent an opportunity for Harper to put a borderline contender over the top. They had good individual hitters in 2018, yet they lacked a proper partner in crime for Matt Carpenter. Harper could be that guy.
The Cardinals are also in a better position than most to downplay Harper's defensive question marks. He'd get to play alongside Harrison Bader, who might be the single rangiest outfielder in the National League.
One more thing: As a student of the game, Harper might love the idea of going to a city with quite a rich history with baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays: Nelson Cruz
The Tampa Bay Rays actually have some money to spend this winter. According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, they'd like to spend it on a slugger.
Nelson Cruz is the pie in the sky. The 38-year-old may be getting up there in years, but he's nonetheless averaged an .897 OPS and 41 homers per year since 2014.
True, Tropicana Field isn't the best park for right-handed sluggers. But Safeco Field isn't either, and Cruz thrived in Seattle. And the AL East is home to more slugger-friendly parks than the AL West, even though one of them isn't in Tampa Bay.
All told, Cruz could be a boon to an offense that finished ninth in the AL in runs this past season. As such, the Rays can offer him the chance to be the veteran who takes a borderline contender across the line.
Texas Rangers: Garrett Richards
The Texas Rangers are in a no man's land of not wanting to tank but also knowing they can't contend just yet. In either case, they need to accumulate as much pitching as they can.
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News had an interesting suggestion: Garrett Richards.
He had Tommy John surgery in July, so the Rangers would have to sign him to a two-year deal in which the second would be his proper comeback season. Sort of like what the Rays did with Nathan Eovaldi in 2017, which ended up working out A-OK.
The offer itself may be good enough for Richards. Beyond that, it's not out of the question that he would return to pitch for a contender in 2020. If not, at least he'd be working close to his native Oklahoma.
Toronto Blue Jays: J.A. Happ
According to Cafardo, the Toronto Blue Jays are yet another team with interest in Nathan Eovaldi. But it sounds like their hearts are mainly with ol' friend J.A. Happ.
GM Ross Atkins told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca: "J.A. is one of my favourite people in baseball ... We'd love to have him back here. I would imagine there would be a great deal of competition for him."
Happ has already had two separate stints with the Blue Jays, so there's no need for the organization to sell him on Toronto. He knows his way around.
The team itself, meanwhile, is coming off a lifeless 89-loss season. But the Blue Jays have some interesting young players (Danny Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.) already in place, and it's just a matter of time before Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio arrive.
If Happ rejoins the Jays, a turnaround could come quickly.
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals organization have been together since 2010. Despite reports of Harper rejecting a $300 million extension in September, the two sides may prefer not to part ways.
"I think about other cities, but I love it here," Harper told Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post at the end of September. "Am I in the plans, you know? I don't know."
"Of course he's in our plans," Nats GM Mike Rizzo told reporters. "He's a guy we would love to have. He's a part of our family. He's a big part of this roster, performance-wise."
Assuming the Nats can ultimately come forward with a satisfactory offer, this raises the question of why the two sides wouldn't stay together.
One possibility is that Harper senses doom for Washington's day as a NL East heavyweight after the team's disappointing 82-80 season. But if the Nats bring him back, they'll once again have an excellent core of him, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner, plus up-and-comers Juan Soto and Victor Robles.
With a few more pieces, they could be as dangerous as anyone.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Savant.