Predicting Where the Top Remaining MLB Free Agents Will Land for 2020 Season
Teams across Major League Baseball are nearly ready to report for spring training 2.0 on July 1—or "summer camp," if you prefer—yet there's still business that needs conducting.
Specifically, some free agents are still looking for work even after the league's transaction freeze was lifted last Friday.
We've rounded up the top 10 available players and taken a whack at predicting where they'll end up. Our predictions were guesswork for the most part, though there were was a solid rumor in one case.
Let's take it away, starting with seven pitchers and ending with three hitters.
RHP Arodys Vizcaino: Miami Marlins
If it feels like it's been a while since you last heard Arodys Vizcaino's name, that's because he's been out of the spotlight since undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in April 2019.
It's unclear how far along the 29-year-old is in his recovery, and he didn't have the healthiest track record even before 2019. When he has pitched, however, he's used a mid- to high-90s fastball to rack up a solid 3.01 ERA and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings in relief.
In a normal season, a rebuilder might sign Vizcaino with hopes of flipping him at the July 31 trade deadline. Though this year's deadline is August 31, that same strategy might still apply.
If so, the Miami Marlins are prime candidate to pursue it with Vizcaino. They have room in their 60-player roster pool and a need for an extra arm in their bullpen, so they might as well.
RHP Pat Neshek: Chicago Cubs
At his peak, Pat Neshek was an All-Star reliever who posted sub-2.00 ERAs in 2014 and 2017. Altogether, he boasts a rock-solid 2.82 ERA in 13 major league seasons.
More recently, though, he's coming off a 2019 season with the Philadelphia Phillies that was marked by a 5.00 ERA in just 20 outings. He had season-ending surgery on his hamstring in September, and the Phillies promptly declined their $7 million option on him for 2020.
There's been radio silence from the 39-year-old since then, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's retired. If he isn't, he might attract attention from contenders who could use experience at the back end of their bullpens.
The Chicago Cubs, for example, might like Neshek as a setup candidate and potential insurance for shaky closer Craig Kimbrel. And as luck would have it, they have openings in their player pool.
RHP Fernando Rodney: San Diego Padres
A baseball season without Fernando Rodney? Blasphemy.
The 43-year-old has pitched out of many different bullpens since he entered the league in 2002. And while the "Fernando Rodney Experience" isn't always fun, it can be when he taps into the form that put him in the All-Star Game in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Even last season, Rodney still had it. He started slowly with the Oakland Athletics, but an uptick in fastball velocity helped him find new life—and earn his first World Series ring—with the Washington Nationals in the latter half of the year.
Rodney would fit well with a contender that could use him as a complementary piece for an already strong corps of late-inning relievers. To wit, would fit well underneath Kirby Yates, Emilio Pagan and Drew Pomeranz in the San Diego Padres bullpen.
RHP Danny Salazar: Baltimore Orioles
Danny Salazar only made one appearance for the Cleveland Indians last year, and it wasn't pretty.
He lasted only four innings and gave up two runs on four hits and three walks. Just as alarming was how his fastball, which averaged 96.2 mph at its peak, was sitting at only 86.3 mph.
Given that this is also the only MLB appearance that the oft-injured 30-year-old has made since 2017, teams have reasons aplenty to wonder if he has anything left. Still, some clubs with little to lose might be drawn to the strikeout stuff that Salazar has featured when he's been fully healthy.
Any number of clubs match that description, but few need pitching as badly as the Baltimore Orioles. They could slot Salazar into their wide-open player pool and hope good health turns him into trade bait.
RHP Aaron Sanchez: San Francisco Giants
Generally, it suffices to say that the 28-year-old's stock has fallen quite a bit since 2016. He was an All-Star and the American League's ERA champion for the Toronto Blue Jays that year. But over the next three seasons, he battled frequent injuries and pitched to a 5.29 ERA.
But assuming Sanchez is healthy, he's a decent reclamation candidate. For instance, a pitching-needy team could look to revitalize his sinker and capitalize on his high-spin curveball.
The San Francisco Giants are already rolling the dice on former standouts Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly and Trevor Cahill. So if they were to add Sanchez to their player pool, it would be a variation on a theme.
LHP Jason Vargas: Washington Nationals
The ability to eat innings may not be as valuable in a 60-game season as it normally is in a 162-game campaign.
Yet that is the primary service Jason Vargas provides. Despite his peak as an All-Star and the American League leader in wins with the Kansas City Royals in 2017, he's mostly worked as a back-end starter who eats between 150 and 200 innings per season.
Vargas, 37, has been off the radar since the Phillies declined his option for 2020 last November. But until he officially retires, he's available to be Johnny on the spot for a team in need of a No. 5 starter.
After Joe Ross opted out of pitching this season, the Nationals match that description. For his part, Vargas might smell a chance to chase a ring if the defending champions come calling.
RHP Andrew Cashner: Los Angeles Angels
Early in his career, Andrew Cashner's high-octane fastball inspired all sorts of fantasies about what he might do as a top-of-the-rotation starter.
But despite flashes, Cashner only has a 4.10 ERA to show for his 10 seasons in the majors. According to Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors, he was last known to be marketing himself as a reliever in February.
In the 33-year-old's defense, that's not a bad idea. He got a taste of relief work for the Boston Red Sox toward the end of 2019, and it saw him post a respectable 3.86 ERA with the help of a 95.4 mph heater.
Because he could also start in a pinch, Cashner would fit well with a contender that just needs pitching, period. The Los Angeles Angels, for example, might take the same kind of flier on him that they already are on Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran.
2B Scooter Gennett: Colorado Rockies
It's impossible to overstate what a catastrophe last season was for Scooter Gennett.
His overtures for an extension with Cincinnati Reds went nowhere, and he then severely strained his groin toward the end of spring training. He never really recovered, as he played in only 42 games with the Reds and Giants and ended up with just a .568 OPS.
Hopefully, however, the 30-year-old is fully healthy. If he is, there's a chance he'll rediscover the form that led him to an .859 OPS and 50 home runs across 2017 and 2018.
The ideal team for Gennett is one that could start him as a platoon option at second base and maybe give him the full-time job if he plays well. The Colorado Rockies have space and, given how poorly Garrett Hampson has played, the need for such a player.
C Russell Martin: Oakland Athletics
If he wanted to, Russell Martin could have already called it a career.
As of February, however, the 37-year-old wasn't ready to do that. Though he's been an All-Star, a Gold Glover and a Silver Slugger since he entered the majors in 2006, that may be because he still lacks a World Series ring.
Granted, Martin hasn't been an everyday catcher since 2016. But as a platoon option, he still offers loads of experience and a decent ability to hit left-handed pitching.
It's easy to look at the Oakland Athletics and see a fit for Martin. They're out for a championship after back-to-back 97-win seasons, and they have some young guys—namely fellow catcher Sean Murphy and left-handers Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk—who could learn some things from Martin.
OF Yasiel Puig: San Francisco Giants
Yasiel Puig entered the winter as one of the bigger names on the open market, yet he's still a free agent and very much ready to get to work.
For better and worse, Puig isn't the player he was when he first took the baseball world by storm with the Dodgers in 2013. Though he's matured since then, the years have also watered down his once-explosive talent.
Even still, the 29-year-old boasts a pretty good career OPS of .823. And after starting slow with the Reds last year, he recovered to hit .288 with an .843 OPS and 20 homers over his last 120 games.
Puig was frequently linked to the Giants this past offseason, and Jim Bowden of CBS Sports tweeted on June 23 that they're still in the mix for him. With left field available for Mike Yastrzemski, Puig would fit nicely into right field if San Francisco pounces on him.