Stay Away! 1 Free Agent Each MLB Team Should Avoid This Offseason
Because it's never too early to whip everyone into a fuss about Major League Baseball's hot-stove season, now is as good a time as any to do exactly that.
We've pinpointed one 2019-20 free agent each team should stay away from. For contenders, this involved looking for big-name players who wouldn't necessarily be the instant fixes they might seem to be. For everyone else, it involved looking for lesser names who might not have much hidden value.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Jhoulys Chacin
The Baltimore Orioles are still in the early stages of a rebuild, so anyone expecting them to be major players on the offseason market needs to think again and then, oh, 100 more times.
Still, the O's don't have to accept more of the same from a starting rotation that surrendered an MLB-record 179 home runs this season. They might bring in a low-cost veteran who has a track record as an innings-eater and ground-ball specialist.
Chacin matches these descriptions in theory, but the Orioles should give the 31-year-old a wide berth. In light of his freshly posted 6.01 ERA and diminishing ground-ball and hard-hit rates, he doesn't have a clear path back to the 3.69 ERA he posted over 373 innings between 2017 and 2018.
Boston Red Sox: RHP Jake Odorizzi
Yet with Rick Porcello about to enter free agency and Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi coming off injury-marred seasons, the Red Sox will need to bring in at least one starter this winter. It'll likely be a mid-rotation type who can offer some reliability.
With an All-Star season marked by a 3.51 ERA fresh in his wake, Odorizzi will be such an option. But lest the Red Sox get too excited about the 29-year-old, they'll need to consider the dangers of putting an extreme fly-ball pitcher in Fenway Park on a regular basis.
New York Yankees: RHP Zack Wheeler
Rather than a solution for clubs in need of a dependable top-of-the-rotation ace, Wheeler is more a fit for teams with room for upside in their rotation. Which is to say, not the New York Yankees.
Their rotation was notoriously lacking in reliability as it struggled with injuries and home runs en route to a 4.51 ERA in the regular season. If they make a big signing this winter, it might as well be a splurge on Gerrit Cole, who could soon have an AL Cy Young Award in his collection.
Tampa Bay Rays: RF Nicholas Castellanos
Though they shouldn't have too many regrets from their 96-win season, the Tampa Bay Rays will probably be on the lookout for power this winter. They have a lot of catching up to do in the dinger department.
Assuming he's first pushed into their price range by an indifferent market, Nicholas Castellanos could be a fit. The 27-year-old is fresh off an outstanding showing with the Chicago Cubs, and he's sitting on a whopping 234 extra-base hits since 2017.
Castellanos does come with defensive limitations, however, and he might not be the home run hitter the Rays need. He has a modest peak of 27 long balls, and Tropicana Field wouldn't be the best place for him to chase higher numbers.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Kyle Gibson
Though they aren't yet out of the woods, the Toronto Blue Jays are closer to the end of their rebuild than Baltimore.
According to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca, the Blue Jays figure to go shopping for a "middle-tier" starter who could stabilize their rotation ahead of top prospect Nate Pearson's arrival. To this end, there will be pickings aplenty on the open market.
However, Toronto should beware of Kyle Gibson. The 31-year-old will need favorable ground-ball conditions if he's going to improve on his 4.84 ERA. The Blue Jays have a weak infield defense, and they play in a stadium with an artificial (i.e., fast) infield.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: RHP Rick Porcello
The chances of the Chicago White Sox re-signing veteran first baseman Jose Abreu are roughly 99.9 percent. Otherwise, the club's offseason focus will presumably be on starting pitching.
After they stuck at least one foot into the bidding for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado last winter, perhaps it's not unthinkable that the White Sox will make a run at Gerrit Cole.
However, it's more reasonable to expect a more modest deal on a veteran innings-eater such as Porcello, though the White Sox shouldn't zero in on him specifically.
The 30-year-old is durable, but he's given up a lot of hits (611) and homers (96) since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2016. His homeritis wouldn't be cured by the launching pad that is Guaranteed Rate Field.
Cleveland Indians: RF Yasiel Puig
Now that the Cleveland Indians have decided to pick up Corey Kluber's option for 2020, they must turn their attention to a right-field spot that's about to be vacated by Puig.
The Indians could re-sign Puig, who clearly enjoyed his time in Cleveland after coming over from the Cincinnati Reds in a July trade. If they do, they'd secure a source of 20-homer power and good right-field defense from someone who's only 28 years old.
Yet the Tribe would also be settling by re-signing Puig. Alternatively, they could splurge a little and potentially gain more from Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna or Avisail Garcia, each of whom had a better season than Puig in 2019.
Detroit Tigers: 1B Mitch Moreland
The Detroit Tigers have a long way to go with their rebuild. In the meantime, they can at least salvage a little dignity by avoiding a repeat of this season's 114 losses.
Moreland and Justin Smoak stand out as two potential low-cost solutions. But if the Tigers are going to pick one of the two, it should be Smoak. Though he didn't outhit Moreland this season, he was healthier, and he's seemingly due for a luck rebound next season.
Kansas City Royals: LHP Brett Anderson
The Kansas City Royals also have a long way to go with their own rebuild, and it will only get longer if expected new owner John Sherman's first act is to wipe the slate clean by jettisoning payroll and talent.
Regardless, the Royals will be in the market for low-risk contracts on potential trade chips. They might specifically have it in mind to rehab pitchers' value amid Kauffman Stadium's huge dimensions.
Anderson, however, should give the Royals pause. The 31-year-old might cost a pretty penny after posting a 3.89 ERA over 31 starts in 2019, and his ground-ball style would be wasted on the Royals' shoddy infield defense.
Minnesota Twins: LHP Cole Hamels
Come the winter, the Minnesota Twins will find themselves with three holes to fill in their rotation after Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda go splashing into the free-agent waters.
With basically nothing on their long-term books, the Twins' preferred solution may be to make a splash of their own. If not on Gerrit Cole, then perhaps on Zack Wheeler or one of the market's top left-handers: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Cole Hamels.
Hamels would be the most disappointing pick out of the latter four. In light of his injury issues in two of the last three seasons and his diminishing velocity, the 35-year-old's prime is in the past.
American League West
Houston Astros: LHP Madison Bumgarner
The Houston Astros have a World Series championship to win in the meantime, but they're only weeks away from watching Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley and Will Harris become free agents.
Though re-signing Cole should be Houston's top priority in theory, owner Jim Crane is already tempering expectations. He may be content to sign a No. 3 starter to slot in behind Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.
Yet the Astros need to be careful about favoring Madison Bumgarner for that role. The 30-year-old pitched a robust 207.2 innings this season, but he's more of a hard-contact magnet than he used to be. Further, the move from Oracle Park's huge dimensions to Minute Maid Park's small dimensions wouldn't help him.
Los Angeles Angels: RHP Zack Wheeler
The Los Angeles Angels have Shohei Ohtani's return to the mound to look forward to in 2020. But as far as their starting rotation is concerned, that's really the only thing they can be excited about.
This will change if the Angels throw their weight around in free agency. In particular, a deal with Cole would be a huge coup for them and perhaps an all-too-welcome homecoming for the Orange, California native.
If the Angels get pushed out of the bidding for Cole, they'll need to be wary of settling for Zack Wheeler as a consolation prize. Like the Yankees, they're in a position where they need to gravitate more toward proven dependability than raw upside.
Oakland Athletics: RHP Josh Tomlin
The Oakland Athletics could lose Tanner Roark and Homer Bailey to free agency, yet they might be happy lining up Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Frankie Montas for their 2020 rotation.
If so, Oakland's focus in free agency could be squarely on a bullpen that might lose lose Blake Treinen, who could be non-tendered if he isn't traded. The question then will be which misfit toy will catch the team's eye.
It could be Josh Tomlin, who's coming off a 3.74 ERA over 79.1 innings in only 51 appearances for the Atlanta Braves. However, the 84 home runs he gave up with the Indians between 2016 and 2018 should make the A's hesitant about bringing the 34-year-old back to the American League.
Seattle Mariners: RHP Ivan Nova
If general manager Jerry Dipoto has it his way, the Seattle Mariners may be more focused on trades than on free-agent signings this winter.
Still, the Mariners might scour the market for starters who could stabilize their rickety rotation before being cashed in for prospects ahead of the trade deadline. Ideally, they'd get guys who could fix the low strikeout and high home run rates that plagued their 2019 rotation.
Though the Mariners might be tempted by the 187 innings he logged this season, Ivan Nova isn't who they need in their starting five. The 32-year-old is by no means a strikeout artist, and he's been good for nearly 30 long balls per year since 2017.
Texas Rangers: LHP Dallas Keuchel
Between their modest breakthrough in 2019 and the new ballpark they have on tap for 2020, the Texas Rangers will have both the excuse and the means to spend big this winter.
They'll be candidates to sign either Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson to play third base. Or, if they'd rather upgrade their pitching staff, perhaps Gerrit Cole or one of the other top starters on the market.
But of the latter bunch, Dallas Keuchel would be a poor fit for Texas. He lives or dies by ground balls. Barring a massive improvement to their league-worst infield defense, the 31-year-old would likely have a hard time surviving atop the Rangers rotation.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: RHP Zack Wheeler
What the Braves have built for 2019 is fantastic, yet also not made to last. They have a veritable laundry list of players who are due for free agency in the winter.
Re-signing Josh Donaldson is sure to be a top priority, but there's a chance the Braves will hand third base to Austin Riley and invest elsewhere. To wit, they might replace Dallas Keuchel with a pitcher who could bring just as much or more stability to the top of their rotation.
Zack Wheeler, who's a Georgia native, might seem to be right up the Braves' alley. But in light of his career 4.04 ERA against them as a member of the New York Mets, they should have a better idea than most of how he's liable to underperform to his huge potential.
Miami Marlins: RHP Daniel Hudson
The Miami Marlins are yet another team with miles to go before they can put their rebuild to sleep. But if they're going to spend for the sake of salvaging some dignity in 2020, it will probably be on a closer.
The Marlins had one of the worst bullpens in baseball this season, after all, and Jose Urena didn't exactly nail his audition for the role in September. He gave up 10 earned runs in 10 innings.
If the Marlins fancy a splurge, they might target Daniel Hudson fresh off his strong finish (1.44 ERA in 24 appearances) with the Washington Nationals. But while Hudson certainly throws hard, the 32-year-old's rate of 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings is nothing special by modern standards.
New York Mets: RHP Tyler Clippard
Though the New York Mets could lose Wheeler and Todd Frazier to free agency this winter, they may be fine with letting both go and filling their spots with in-house options.
The Mets' bullpen, on the other hand, will certainly need outside help. It was a constant source of frustration throughout 2019, in large part because closer Edwin Diaz struggled with a 5.59 ERA and 15 homers allowed.
If the Mets do go shopping for upgrades, however, they'll need to be hesitant about a reunion with Tyler Clippard. The 34-year-old is coming off a solid season with the Indians, but his modest velocity and huge fly-ball rate amount to an ominous red flag.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Anthony Rendon
Every team should want to sign Anthony Rendon this winter. He was underrated even before 2019. Now he's entrenched as one of the game's best players after busting out with a 1.010 OPS and 34 homers.
But since signing Rendon, 29, is likely to cost well in excess of $200 million, only teams that truly need him should move to the front of the line. Which is to say, not the Philadelphia Phillies.
Granted, the Phillies are weak at third base. But that won't matter if they get more out of Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Rhys Hoskins going forward. A better idea would be for them to invest in a pitching staff that sorely needs both star power and depth.
Washington Nationals: 3B/1B Todd Frazier
Perhaps even more so than when Harper departed last winter, a palpable "end of an era" sense might hang over the Washington Nationals this offseason.
Even if Stephen Strasburg makes the unlikely choice to forgo his opt-out clause, the Nats may have to wave goodbye to Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman. The latter will join the former in free agency if the Nationals make the obvious call to reject his $18 million option for 2020.
If the Nationals don't splurge on Rendon, they might save face with deals for, say, Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak. But things will have gone awry if they end up with Todd Frazier. The 33-year-old has had a nice career, but his iffy durability and declining power indicate the end is nigh.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: LHP Cole Hamels
The firing of manager Joe Maddon is just the beginning. Many more familiar faces are likely to depart the Chicago Cubs as they try to prop up their failing dynasty.
Paradoxically, however, the Cubs might also try to bring back some familiar faces. They probably don't want to lose Nicholas Castellanos after what he did for them down the stretch of 2019. They may also be loath to part with Cole Hamels, who posted a 3.30 ERA over 39 starts in Chicago.
Yet Hamels is decidedly more expendable. Rather than a 35-year-old who's past his prime, the Cubs rotation needs a younger guy with more upside. For instance, this is one team with which Zack Wheeler would actually fit well.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Gerrit Cole
The Cincinnati Reds are in an awkward spot of being not good enough to compete in the NL Central in 2019 but also too good to bide their time as they wait for a brighter tomorrow.
The Reds' only recourse this winter will be attempting to narrow the gap between them and the top teams in the division. To this end, they should be willing to spare no expense with regard to either free-agent signings or trades.
So long, of course, as these efforts aren't focused on a rotation that already has Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani. For the price of, say, one Gerrit Cole, they could sign multiple hitters who could lift the team's undermanned offense from the depths of the National League.
Milwaukee Brewers: RHP Zack Wheeler
There's a strong likelihood that the Milwaukee Brewers' offseason efforts will be focused on re-signing Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas, who are all but certain to reject their mutual options for 2020.
No matter how those pursuits pan out, the Brewers may also try to sneak in the kind of rotation upgrade they neglected to make last winter. Ideally, they'd land a No. 1 or No. 2 who could anchor their starting five alongside rising ace Brandon Woodruff.
Once again, Zack Wheeler sticks out as a mistake waiting for happen in this case. If the Brewers are going to gamble on untapped potential, they might as well give Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta another shot at sticking in their rotation.
Pittsburgh Pirates: C Matt Wieters
The Pittsburgh Pirates' offseason will probably be defined more so by an exodus of talent than anything else. However, they might at least make room for a veteran catcher.
Pirates catchers struggled offensively in 2019 with a .609 OPS. They were also partially responsible for the club's disappointing returns from their pitchers. Specifically, Elias Diaz rated as the worst pitch framer in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus.
It's for these same reasons that four-time All-Star Matt Wieters is the last guy the Pirates want to court this winter. The 33-year-old's bat (.702 OPS) and framing skills (eighth-worst in 2019) make him strictly a backup at this stage of his career.
St. Louis Cardinals: RF Yasiel Puig
Though the St. Louis Cardinals stood atop the NL Central when the dust settled at the end of the regular season, it wasn't thanks to their offense. They were a below-average run-scoring team.
Marcell Ozuna was one of the Cardinals' better hitters to the tune of an .804 OPS and 29 homers. But with the free-agent market ready to call his name, the Cards will soon have to weigh whether they want to re-sign or replace him.
In any case, the Cardinals will want to steer clear of Yasiel Puig. He would be an unnatural fit as a replacement for Ozuna in left field. And if the Cardinals are going to spend on a right field upgrade anyway, Nicholas Castellanos' offensive upside would suit their needs better.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: RF Yasiel Puig
Speaking of contenders who shouldn't be in on Yasiel Puig, the Arizona Diamondbacks have at least that much in common with the Cardinals.
There might still be hard feelings in Arizona from the time Puig got on the organization's bad side as a rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. And even if the D-backs were willing to let bygones be bygones, it would still be an awkward fit.
Sure, the Snakes might want to pursue insurance for right field in lieu of penciling in Steven Souza Jr. at the position. But Nicholas Castellanos would be a better big-money investment, and Avisail Garcia might be just as good as Puig for significantly less.
Colorado Rockies: RHP Michael Pineda
The Colorado Rockies could hypothetically use funds from their new TV deal to fix the many things that ail them on the offseason market, but they don't want to do that.
Assuming they don't enter into a rebuilding phase either, the winter in Colorado figures to be as quiet as it will be cold. They might be content with snatching up low-risk depth pieces.
For instance, the Rockies might sniff an opportunity to get Michael Pineda for cheap while he's in the middle of a 60-game drug suspension. But sans his vintage velocity or a ground-ball habit to lean on, the 30-year-old would be in for a rude awakening at Coors Field on the other side of his suspension.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Will Harris
The Los Angeles Dodgers' much-maligned bullpen didn't keep them from winning 106 games in the regular season. And at least so far, it hasn't been their doom in the postseason.
Even still, they shouldn't want to risk another faulty pen in 2020. They could be in on the top relievers on the winter market, up to and including Will Smith and Will Harris.
The Dodgers will be making a mistake if they prefer Harris, 35, over Smith, 30. Though Harris is fresh off a 1.50 ERA, none of his peripherals jump out as much as Smith's rate of 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings over the last two seasons. Besides, the world deserves a Will Smith-to-Will Smith battery.
San Diego Padres: RHP Zack Wheeler
We come now to the conclusion of the "Hey, Don't Sign Zack Wheeler" thread that's been running through this space.
The San Diego Padres don't need to spend money on Wheeler if they want their rotations for 2020 and beyond to have more upside. They could just as easily trust that task to their menagerie of young hurlers, led by budding ace Chris Paddack.
If it's a legit No. 1 starter the Padres want, they could alternatively trade from their top-ranked farm system or dig deep for the money to sign Gerrit Cole, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner or Dallas Keuchel.
San Francisco Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner
After 11 years and three World Series titles, Bumgarner's time with the San Francisco Giants has seemingly come to an end.
Or has it? When he was asked in August about the possibility of re-signing the veteran southpaw, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said on KNBR, "I think there will be some mutual interest in at least having some conversations along those lines."
But while the Giants can afford to re-sign Bumgarner, they shouldn't. After three straight losing seasons, the last thing they need is another 30-something with a big contract. It's time to move on and put the club's next championship core together.