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MLB Free Agency 2020: Predictions for Yasiel Puig and Top Available Stars

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJune 26, 2020

Cleveland Indians' Yasiel Puig runs against the Los Angeles Angels during a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

As Major League Baseball teams prepare to begin spring training 2.0 on July 1 leading up to the start of the 2020 season, there are several notable players still searching for a home. 

Free agency had mostly wrapped up when MLB suspended play on March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league's mandated transaction freeze that took effect on March 27 will officially end on Friday, allowing teams to sign any free agents still on the market. 

Even though most clubs will head into second spring training with their rosters set, injuries will certainly happen along the way and replacements will have to step in. 

Here are predictions for where the best available free agents will land now that the transaction window has opened up.

     

Yasiel Puig, OF

The most likely player to secure a deal is Yasiel Puig. He's already been linked to the San Francisco Giants, per The Athletic's Jim Bowden

That connection was brewing in the early stages of spring training in February. The Athletic's Robert Murray noted the Giants had "interest" in Puig four months ago, noting the outfielder's connection with San Francisco president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. 

Zaidi was general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers for Puig's last four seasons with the organization from 2014-18. 

There are obvious reasons for the Giants to pursue Puig. Their right fielders hit a collective .245/.302/.412 with 21 home runs last season. The 29-year-old hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 homers in 149 games between the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians. 

Around the same time as those Giants rumors were starting, MLB Network's Jon Heyman told the Big Time Baseball Podcast (h/t Connor Byrne of MLB Trade Rumors) that the Miami Marlins may have offered Puig a contract. 

The Marlins also have a connection to Puig from his Dodgers days. Manager Don Mattingly served the same role in Los Angeles for Puig's first three seasons from 2013-15. 

Neither team seems likely to be a factor in the playoff race with rebuilding rosters, but Puig could be used as a potential piece in a deal with the trade deadline set for Aug. 31. 

If all things are equal, the Giants are the more likely landing spot than Miami for Puig simply because their ownership has shown a willingness to spend money in ways that the Marlins rarely do. 

Prediction: Puig signs with Giants

     

Aaron Sanchez, RHP

After Puig, there's not a lot of potentially significant contributors remaining for teams to choose from. Injured players might benefit the most from the delayed start to the season because it has given them more time to recover without missing games. 

One of those injured players is former All-Star pitcher Aaron Sanchez, who had right shoulder surgery last September to repair a torn capsule. 

Sanchez told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle at the time that he was unsure about his status for 2020: "I could come back mid-next year is kind of what (the doctor) said. ... I'll definitely miss the first part of next year, but I will pitch next year."

Rome noted the similarity between Sanchez's surgery and the procedure Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias had in June 2017, and he didn't return to the big leagues until September 2018. 

Not surprisingly, there's been little speculation around Sanchez because of his injury and being unable to show teams where he's at in his recovery process to this point. 

It certainly wouldn't be a surprise if Sanchez went unsigned all season, but teams in need of help in the bullpen should keep his phone number around. 

Sanchez's stuff was still good last year, with a fastball that averaged 93.6 mph. 

A potential playoff contender like the Philadelphia Phillies desperately need relief help with David Robertson out until 2021 after having Tommy John surgery last August. Their bullpen finished 15th with a 4.38 ERA and 23rd in FanGraphs wins above replacement in 2019.

Sanchez wouldn't dramatically change the fortunes of Philadelphia's bullpen, but he's a low-cost risk that could pay off if he is able to pitch and stay healthy this season. 

Prediction: Sanchez signs with Phillies

       

Tony Cingrani, LHP

Tony Cingrani is another pitcher coming off an injury who struggled to generate much interest during the winter. He hasn't appeared in an MLB game since Sept. 22, 2018, because of a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery last June. 

There was optimism about Cingrani finding a new home right before the start of spring training. Heyman reported on Feb. 19 that the left-hander was "drawing a ton of interest" from teams.

Cingrani has been erratic since the 2014 season after a promising start to his career. Since posting a 2.87 ERA in 26 appearances with the Cincinnati Reds between 2012-13, he's put up a 4.56 ERA in 190 appearances over his past five seasons. 

The best way for a team to use Cingrani in 2020, assuming he gets signed, is as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. The 30-year-old has limited lefty hitters to a .693 OPS with a 3.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his career. Right-handed hitters have a .746 OPS and 1.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio against him. 

Some of the notable teams in need of relief help include the Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros. 

From that group, the Dodgers and Reds could be at an advantage by virtue of familiarity. The Reds drafted Cingrani in the third round of the 2011 draft. The Dodgers acquired him on July 31, 2017, and kept him for two years before dealing him to the St. Louis Cardinals midway through last season. 

Given the urgency for the Dodgers to win this season, especially with Mookie Betts only under contract for one year, their front office needs to make any move, large or small, to increase their chances of getting back to the World Series. 

Prediction: Cingrani signs with Dodgers

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