MLB Free Agents Who Would Be Foolish to Change Teams
Though Major League Baseball free agents technically have their pick of all 30 teams, sometimes the best they can do is go home again.
Out of the hundreds of free agents for the 2020-21 offseason, there are eight who we think are best off re-signing with their former clubs.
In some cases, it's because they fit well in the given club's ballpark. In others, it's because they meshed well with their former teammates. In others still, it's because organizations simply might not value them as highly as the one that knows them best.
We'll start with four hitters and end with four pitchers.
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.: Boston Red Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr. played for the Boston Red Sox for eight years between 2013 and 2020, during which time they enjoyed his Gold Glove-winning defense in center field.
Especially after Bradley ranked second in the American League with seven outs above average in 2020, other teams are bound to be drawn to his glove this winter. The Red Sox should want to be at the front of the line, however, because nobody knows or plays Fenway Park's difficult center field dimensions as well as Bradley.
Yet Bradley himself also has at least one incentive to eye a return to Boston.
Offensively, he's at his best when he hits the ball the other way to left field. The Green Monster is obviously an alluring target in that respect, so it's little wonder that he's had a much higher slugging percentage to the opposite field at home (.794) than on the road (.621) throughout his career.
3B Justin Turner: Los Angeles Dodgers
Justin Turner is the kind of free agent whom teams can be both intrigued by and wary of.
While other clubs might have reservations about the latter, the Los Angeles Dodgers apparently aren't one of them. Despite their rumored interest in Colorado Rockies superstar Nolan Arenado, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that re-signing Turner to play third is their first choice.
If nothing else, Turner should have mutual interest given the possibility of earning a second World Series ring after he and the Dodgers won it all this past season. The Dodgers also present a good fit for an aging player like him, as he'd be able to platoon with Edwin Rios and Max Muncy if he slips as an everyday star.
LF/DH Michael Brantley: Houston Astros
According to Rosenthal, the Houston Astros are very much interested in re-signing Michael Brantley. They darn well should be, and his interest in returning should be just as strong.
Granted, Brantley surely has other suitors on account of his stellar offensive track record. Yet these suitors might be at least a little skeptical about his home/road splits during his two seasons with Houston:
- Home: .324/.386/.541 with 16 HR
- Road: .294/.355/.454 with 11 HR
Brantley's elite bat-to-ball skill—he's struck out in only 10.8 percent of his career plate appearances—would obviously play anywhere. His power, however, plays better in Houston than elsewhere. He tends to cluster his fly balls to left field and right field, where Minute Maid Park has short porches in both directions.
2B DJ LeMahieu: New York Yankees
Re-signing DJ LeMahieu is arguably the biggest priority the New York Yankees have this winter, but they're bound to have stiff competition in that arena.
All LeMahieu has done over the last two seasons is slash .336/.386/.536. Like Michael Brantley, he's demonstrated an elite contact skill by striking out only 111 times. Unlike Brantley, he's showed off genuine pop by amassing more hard-hit balls than everyone except Jose Abreu.
If there's a catch with LeMahieu's power, it's that it's mostly focused to the opposite field. Of the 83 total extra-base hits he's collected since the start of the 2019 season, more than half (43, to be exact) have been to right field.
SP Adam Wainwright: St. Louis Cardinals
Whether Adam Wainwright, who's now 39 with a basically empty list of things to prove, even wants to keep playing in 2021 is a good question.
If he does, other teams might have a window to steal him from the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom he's spent all 15 seasons of his career. As Wainwright himself said of the Cardinals, per ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "We just don't know what they're going to be offering—or if they will offer."
Yet other teams might be limited in their enthusiasm for Wainwright. Because while he's coming off a 3.15 ERA in 2020, he did so while striking out only 54 batters in 65.2 innings.
A pitcher like that needs a good defense behind him. Wainwright enjoyed exactly that in St. Louis this past season, specifically with regard to an outfield that ranked third in the majors in outs above average.
RHP Alex Colome: Chicago White Sox
It was virtually impossible for opposing offenses to do damage off of Alex Colome* in 2020.
He faced a total of 90 batters and handled 22.1 innings, yet his final line for the season included just 13 hits and two earned runs allowed. His 0.81 ERA was the third-lowest among pitchers who made at least 20 appearances in relief.
That asterisk is there for a reason, though. Because Colome struck out only 16 batters all season, he had to come by dominance through other avenues.
He aided his own cause by allowing only two barrels—i.e., balls hit with an ideal combination of launch angle and exit velocity—throughout the year, yet he also benefited from a Chicago White Sox defense that led the American League in outs above average. He should want that defense behind him again.
SP Garrett Richards: San Diego Padres
After working exclusively in a starting role through his first 10 appearances of 2020, the San Diego Padres moved Garrett Richards to the bullpen for the rest of September and the postseason.
It would be understandable if Richards has hard feelings about that and thus wants to give other teams the first shot at signing him. And between his elite fastball velocity and spin rates, he definitely has qualities to attract suitors.
The Padres did, however, do a good job of keeping Richards healthy in 2020 after four straight injury-shortened seasons. They also have an opening for him in their rotation following Mike Clevinger's Tommy John surgery, plus a defense that easily led the majors in outs above average in 2020.
Because Richards whiffed only 46 batters in 51.1 innings, he surely benefited from that defense. He shouldn't turn his back on the opportunity to do so again.
SP Masahiro Tanaka: New York Yankees
Masahiro Tanaka may be finished with the seven-year, $155 million deal he signed with the Yankees in January 2014, yet it's frankly hard to imagine the two parting ways.
Tanaka proved to be an ideal No. 2 starter behind Gerrit Cole in 2020, notching a 3.56 ERA in 10 starts. The Yankees might value him more than most simply for that reason, yet there's also the matter of Tanaka's elbow.
Rather than undergo Tommy John surgery, Tanaka has been pitching through a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament since 2014. Though he insists his elbow isn't an issue whatsoever—and to be fair, it hasn't been—the Yankees are the only team with firsthand knowledge of that reality.
As far as Tanaka should be concerned, that's all the more reason to angle for a reunion with the Yankees.