Best Landing Spots for the Top 2020-21 MLB Free Agents

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2020

Best Landing Spots for the Top 2020-21 MLB Free Agents

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The 16-team 2020 MLB postseason is in full swing. That's the focus of the baseball universe at the moment.

    But it's not too early to gaze ahead to the upcoming offseason and the list of impending free agents.

    Let's do exactly that and predict where each of the top 20 targets will land. Our rankings are subjective but were based on a combination of track record, age and this year's statistical outputs. Landing spots, meanwhile, were based on need, fit and a healthy dash of informed speculation.

    One other note: We left off players with opt-out clauses, including guys who might exercise them (Cincinnati Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos) and guys who almost surely won't (Boston Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez).

Nos. 20-11

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    20. LHP James Paxton

    Left-hander James Paxton experienced another injury-marred season and hasn't pitched for the New York Yankees since Aug. 20 because of a strained flexor tendon. Yet the 31-year-old still flashed bat-missing stuff with 26 strikeouts in 20.1 innings and could be an intriguing reclamation project on a short-term deal. The San Francisco Giants, who are straddling the line between rebuilding and contending and play in pitcher-friendly Oracle Park, are a logical destination.

    Best landing spot: San Francisco Giants


    19. LHP Jose Quintana

    Jose Quintana threw just 10 innings for the Chicago Cubs because of thumb and lat injuries, but he notched 12 strikeouts with a 2.99 FIP. He hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA since the Cubs acquired him at midseason in 2017, but the 31-year-old lefty is a reliable mid-rotation innings eater. He could benefit from a return to the South Side with the Chicago White Sox, with whom he enjoyed his best seasons from 2012 to 2016.

    Best landing spot: Chicago White Sox


    18. RHP Jake Odorizzi

    Jake Odorizzi bet on himself by accepting a qualifying offer from the Minnesota Twins after a solid 2019. The bet hasn't paid off, as injuries and inconsistency limited the right-hander to a 6.59 ERA in 13.2 frames. The 30-year-old should still draw interest and could be a back-of-the-rotation fit for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are always after more high-upside pitching depth.

    Best landing spot: Los Angeles Dodgers


    17. OF Joc Pederson

    After setting career highs in home runs (36) and OPS (.876) in 2019, Joc Pederson lowered his free-agent stock with an abysmal .190/.285/.397 slash line for the Dodgers this season. He won't land a lucrative long-term pact but could sign a show-me contract in an effort to rebuild his value in his age-29 season. The New York Yankees, with their potent lineup, their short right field porch and a possible need in the outfield, could be a good fit for the lefty-swinging slugger.

    Best landing spot: New York Yankees


    16. RHP Taijuan Walker

    Injuries limited Taijuan Walker to a combined 14 innings in 2018 and 2019, but he rebounded this season to post a 2.70 ERA in 53.1 frames with the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays. In a relatively thin pitching market, the 28-year-old righty should have suitors aplenty. Don't discount the possibility of another reunion with Seattle. Walker began his career with the M's in 2013 before he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in November 2016. They signed him in February and shipped him north of the border in August but could ink him again to boost their progressing rebuild.

    Best landing spot: Seattle Mariners


    15. LHP Mike Minor

    Mike Minor was an All-Star who finished eighth in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2019. This season, he wobbled to the tune of a 5.56 ERA in 56.2 innings with the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics. The 32-year-old lefty did average 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and will help solidify someone's rotation. Enter the Houston Astros, who will be without ace Justin Verlander (Tommy John surgery) and could benefit from Minor's arm and his familiarity with the AL West.

    Best landing spot: Houston Astros


    14. SS Andrelton Simmons

    The small-market A's will almost surely lose shortstop Marcus Semien via free agency and will be looking to fill his position with a less-expensive alternative. Andrelton Simmons hit .297 with the division-rival Los Angeles Angels this season and remains one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. The 31-year-old might require Oakland to stretch its budget, but he'd be a reasonably affordable option for a club in win-now mode.

    Best landing spot: Oakland Athletics


    13. RHP Alex Colome

    With just 6.4 K/9, Alex Colome didn't feature the same strikeout stuff as some other late-inning relievers. But his 0.81 ERA and 12 saves will make him one of the more sought-after bullpen arms on the market. The White Sox will likely try to bring him back, but they could be outbid by a relief-starved club such as the Washington Nationals, whose pen finished 23rd with a 4.68 ERA.

    Best landing spot: Washington Nationals


    12. 3B Justin Turner

    Third baseman Justin Turner suffered a hamstring injury this season but finished with a .307 average and .860 OPS in 42 games with the Dodgers. Los Angeles could bring him back, but it could also look to move Corey Seager to the hot corner and swing a trade for Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor. If so, Turner would be a fit for Atlanta, which won a third straight division title despite getting limited production at third. Even in his age-36 season, Turner would represent a solid offensive upgrade with ample postseason experience.

    Best landing spot: Atlanta


    11. DH Nelson Cruz

    Nelson Cruz defied Father Time yet again this season and swatted 16 home runs with a .992 OPS for the AL Central champion Twins. He'll turn 41 in July but could still net a high-dollar one- or two-year contract from an AL contender looking for a designated hitter. That list includes the Twinkies, who should do what it takes to retain their veteran lineup anchor.

    Best landing spot: Minnesota Twins

No. 10: SS Didi Gregorius

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery in October 2018 and played just 82 games for the Yankees in 2019.

    He signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies in December, hoping to rebuild his value—and rebuild it he did.

    In 60 games, Gregorius hit 10 home runs with an .827 OPS and emerged as a clubhouse leader. His defense, while not spectacular, is adequate enough for him to stick at shortstop.

    That'll be a position of need for the Angels if Andrelton Simmons signs elsewhere, and Gregorius would be a proven offensive weapon to support the tandem of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.

    Best landing spot: Los Angeles Angels

No. 9: RHP Masahiro Tanaka

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    For the first time since he signed a seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2014 season, Masahiro Tanaka will be a free agent.

    The 31-year-old Japanese right-hander posted a 3.56 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 48 innings and is one of the better starting pitchers in a relatively weak free-agent class.

    That means it'll cost the Yanks if they want to bring the two-time All-Star back to the Bronx.

    But spending is rarely an obstacle for New York, and it should pay what it takes to re-up Tanaka, possibly to a contract that will allow him to retire in pinstripes.

    Best landing spot: New York Yankees

No. 8: RHP Liam Hendriks

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Liam Hendriks followed his breakout, All-Star 2019 season with another superlative effort for Oakland. In 24 appearances, the right-hander posted a 1.78 ERA with 14 saves and 13.1 K/9.

    He should land a hefty, multiyear contract entering his age-32 season.

    Top bullpen arms are always sought-after commodities. We already mentioned the Nationals as a would-be contender in need of relief help. Others, including the Angels, Blue Jays and Astros, will be in search of pen reinforcements.

    But we'll toss a dart and pick the Phillies, who missed the postseason partly because of a relief corps that finished last with an ugly 7.06 ERA.

    Best landing spot: Philadelphia Phillies

No. 7: RHP Marcus Stroman

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Marcus Stroman suffered a torn calf muscle prior to Opening Day and subsequently opted out of the season, citing COVID-19 concerns.

    The injury shouldn't be a problem, and the 29-year-old Stroman, who was an All-Star in 2019, will be one of the more sought-after free-agent starting pitchers.

    The Yankees are a possibility for the New York native. But expect the New York Mets to make a strong play to bring Stroman back. Jacob deGrom is their ace, but there are questions after that, especially since Noah Syndergaard missed the 2020 campaign because of Tommy John surgery.

    If the Mets want to improve upon their disappointing 26-34, fourth-place finish, re-upping Stroman would make for an excellent start.

    Best landing spot: New York Mets

No. 6: 2B DJ LeMahieu

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    DJ LeMahieu hit .327 with an .893 OPS for the New York Yankees in 2019. This year, he won a batting title with a .364 average and led the AL with a 1.011 OPS.

    He'll turn 33 in July. But given his offensive output and defensive versatility—he logged innings at second base, third base and first base—he'll get a nice payday.

    New York will likely make a play to retain LeMahieu. But watch out for the Cubs, who may not be ready to hand the second base job to rookie Nico Hoerner, who slashed .222/.312/.259 in 48 games.

    The Cubbies could lose some key members of their core to free agency after 2021, including first baseman Anthony Rizzo, third baseman Kris Bryant, left fielder Kyle Schwarber and shortstop Javier Baez. Adding LeMahieu on a multiyear deal would eat up some budget but also cushion the blow of possible future defections.

    Best landing spot: Chicago Cubs

No. 5: LF/DH Marcell Ozuna

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    Marcell Ozuna rejected the St. Louis Cardinals' $17.8 million qualifying offer and signed a one-year, $18 million pillow contract with Atlanta.

    It worked like a dream for the 29-year-old, who led the National League in home runs (18) and RBI (56) and posted a 1.067 OPS.

    Ozuna's outfield defense is suspect, and he got the bulk of his action as a DH. But his market won't be limited to AL clubs even if the universal designated hitter goes away in 2021.

    In fact, Atlanta should do what it takes to re-sign Ozuna and keep him in the middle of a potent lineup that also features rising star Ronald Acuna Jr. and NL MVP candidate Freddie Freeman.

    Best landing spot: Atlanta

No. 4: SS Marcus Semien

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    In 2019, Marcus Semien posted career highs in batting average (.285), OPS (.892), home runs (33) and RBI (92) and put up 12 defensive runs saved at shortstop.

    This season, in a contract year, he regressed with the lumber and the leather.

    In 53 games with Oakland, Semien slashed a terrible .223/.305/.374 with minus-five DRS. Someone will still sign the 30-year-old, but it will be for considerably less than he'd have gotten following his '19 effort.

    Even with Semien's step backward, he'll be too costly for the penny-pinching Athletics. The Reds, on the other hand, are in a contending window and got minimal production from their shortstops.

    Cincinnati showed it was willing to spend on free agents last offseason and could do so again to upgrade a premium position.

    Best landing spot: Cincinnati Reds

No. 3: CF George Springer

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    George Springer posted a .974 OPS and finished seventh in American League MVP voting in 2019, and he followed that up with an .899 OPS and 14 home runs in 51 games with the Astros this year.

    After the Dodgers signed Mookie Betts to a massive extension in July, Springer became the top outfielder in a so-so free-agent group. As such, his agent's phone will be ringing this offseason.

    The 'Stros, meanwhile, are facing the prospect of losing Springer and fellow veteran outfielders Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick via free agency. Youngster Kyle Tucker enjoyed a breakout year, but this will be an area of need.

    Springer carries some of the stain from the Astros' sign-stealing scandal. Other clubs might be willing to let that go given his talent and production, but the 31-year-old is unlikely to find a more welcoming destination than Houston.

    Best landing spot: Houston Astros

No. 2: C J.T. Realmuto

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Other than missing some time with a hip injury, J.T. Realmuto did everything he could to boost his free-agent stock this season.

    In 47 games with Philadelphia, the 29-year-old backstop hit 11 home runs with an .840 OPS and rated as the second-best pitch-framer in baseball, according to Statcast data.

    He'll have his pick of landing spots this offseason and should vault past the four-year, $73 million deal fellow catcher Yasmani Grandal signed with the White Sox in November.

    That means the Phillies will have to open their wallet wide to bring him back, even as they spend to upgrade the bullpen and address other potential areas of need.

    They should be highly motivated, however, not only because Realmuto is a premium player at a premium position, but because he's close friends with franchise star Bryce Harper. Keep Harper happy, keep the fans happy, and keep a top-shelf talent. It simply makes sense.

    Best landing spot: Philadelphia Phillies

No. 1: RHP Trevor Bauer

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Trevor Bauer posted an NL-leading 1.73 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 73 innings for the Reds and looks like the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award.

    He's also 29 years old and about to hit free agency, which should mean a massive contract.

    In August 2019, Bauer stated his plan to sign only one-year deals. That might make even more teams interested.

    One obvious suitor? The Angels.

    Bauer is a Los Angeles-area native, and the Halos need pitching after finishing with a 5.09 team ERA. A chance to return to his roots and help get Mike Trout back onto the postseason stage could be tempting.

    As for the Angels, they simply can't afford to keep wasting Trout's prime and should be willing to pay what it takes to land an ace.

    Best landing spot: Los Angeles Angels


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.