1 Realistic Free-Agent Fit for Each MLB Team Ahead of Spring Training

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2021

1 Realistic Free-Agent Fit for Each MLB Team Ahead of Spring Training

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Though the start of spring training is upon Major League Baseball, every team still has holes in its roster that need filling.

    Luckily for them, the free-agent market is still at their disposal.

    We've highlighted one realistic free-agent fit for each of MLB's 30 teams. This mostly involved looking for square pegs to put into square holes, though teams' budgets and contention timelines were also of importance.

    We'll proceed in alphabetical order by city.

Arizona Diamondbacks: 2B Jonathan Schoop

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Following a 2020 season that saw them sink to last place in the National League West, the Arizona Diamondbacks have unsurprisingly laid low this winter.

    Yet they might contend for a wild-card spot in 2021 if they upgrade their offense. More specifically, they could use more power after ranking 29th in the majors with 58 home runs in 2020.

    Because Ketel Marte could play center field on a full-time basis, second base is the best position for the Snakes to upgrade. Of their available options, Jonathan Schoop stands out.

    He averaged 25 homers per year between 2016 and 2019 and made it to a respectable eight in 44 games last year. That's the kind of power the D-backs need, and they could acquire Schoop for less than the $6.1 million he signed for last winter.

Atlanta: LF Joc Pederson

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    Atlanta has bolstered its starting rotation through deals with Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly, yet there's still a Marcell Ozuna-sized hole in its lineup.

    By putting up a 1.067 OPS and 18 homers in 2020, Ozuna put himself in line for a lucrative multiyear contract this winter. Indeed, he's likely beyond Atlanta's price range.

    Rather than simply trust Ozuna's vacated spot to an incumbent, Atlanta could try to repeat the strategy with which it scored on Josh Donaldson in 2019 and then Ozuna in 2020: sign a fallen star to a one-year deal and hope he bounces back.

    Joc Pederson matches this description after struggling offensively last season. Atlanta could promise him an everyday gig in left field and wait for him to tap back into the power that produced 36 homers as recently as 2019.

Baltimore Orioles: RHP Collin McHugh

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    The Baltimore Orioles probably still have one more year of rebuilding ahead of them, but that doesn't mean they have to neglect their pitching in the meantime.

    The O's need depth in both their rotation and bullpen. If they want to try for the ol' two birds, one stone trick by signing a guy who could start or relieve, they might consider Collin McHugh.

    Because of elbow soreness in 2019 and last year's opt-out, McHugh hasn't appeared in a major league game since August of '19. Orioles general manager Mike Elias might nonetheless have fond memories of McHugh from their time with the Houston Astros, particularly regarding his ability to spin the ball.

    In light of how long he's been on the sidelines, the Orioles might be able to nab McHugh for the league minimum.

Boston Red Sox: LHP Matt Moore

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    After getting under the luxury tax in the process of finishing last in the American League East in 2020, the Boston Red Sox initially looked like a candidate to spend big bucks this winter.

    Instead, they've played it safe on deals with Hunter Renfroe, Matt Andriese, Martin Perez, Enrique Hernandez and Garrett Richards. More safe moves are likely in order as they seek to round out their depth.

    There is, however, an interesting name reportedly on Boston's radar: Matt Moore.

    Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom is plenty familiar with Moore from when they were both with the Tampa Bay Rays. And while Moore hasn't pitched in the majors since 2019—and frankly hasn't had a good year in MLB since 2016—he may have found something while posting a 2.65 ERA in Japan last year.

Chicago Cubs: RHP Brandon Workman

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Though they made the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons last year, the Chicago Cubs are now in something resembling a rebuild.

    However, the nature of the NL Central is such that a spot in the 2021 playoff field might still be within the Cubs' reach. Especially if they upgrade their bullpen.

    The Cubs could potentially reunite with Jeremy Jeffress, but his market is probably too robust for them to bank on it. Instead, an upside play might be their best bet.

    For instance, Brandon Workman. His 2019 campaign saw him dominate with a 1.88 ERA and one home run allowed in 71.2 innings. In the wake of his less dominant 2020 campaign, the Cubs might get him for less than the $3.5 million he earned last year.

Chicago White Sox: LF Eddie Rosario

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    After trading for Lance Lynn and signing Adam Eaton and Liam Hendriks, the Chicago White Sox already look set for a World Series run in 2021.

    They should keep piling on anyway.

    For instance, the White Sox might add yet another slugger to an offense that led the AL with 96 home runs in 2020. They could put one at designated hitter or in left field if they'd rather not play Eloy Jimenez in the field anymore.

    If it's the latter, they could consider Eddie Rosario. He isn't much of a defender in his own right, but his 96 homers since 2017 provide evidence of the power he packs from the left side. After he was non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins, the White Sox might be able to sign him for less than $10 million.

Cincinnati Reds: SS Didi Gregorius

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    The Cincinnati Reds haven't had the most inspiring offseason, as reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer remains a free agent and Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo have been mentioned as trade bait.

    But because of the aforementioned nature of the NL Central, the Reds might only be one or two moves away from contending for a second straight postseason berth in 2021.

    In light of the minus-0.1 rWAR they got out of the position in 2020, shortstop is an obvious area of need. If they make a move there, it would ideally be for a hitter who could also boost the club's all-or-nothing offense.

    Because he's an elite contact hitter with 20-homer power, Didi Gregorius is their best bet. The Reds just better be ready to pay him eight figures per year in a multiyear deal.

Cleveland: OF Kevin Pillar

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    In the wake of its trade of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets, whether Cleveland should still be considered a contender for 2021 is a good question.

    But if contending is indeed the club's plan, the least it could do is find another bat for its outfield.

    Said outfield produced an MLB-low .575 OPS and 11 home runs last season. Complicating matters now is that its projected starters for 2021 (Josh Naylor, Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Johnson) all bat from the left side.

    Kevin Pillar, who boasts a respectable .784 OPS against left-handers for his career, could platoon with any one of them. He should also be within Cleveland's modest price range after earning just $4.3 million in 2020.

Colorado Rockies: INF/OF Jonathan Villar

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    At least in theory, the Colorado Rockies could trade Trevor Story or Nolan Arenado any day now.

    Or not, if the team is ultimately more enthused with its contention chances for 2021 than it is by any of the offers it receives for either star.

    In that case, the Rockies would be best served deepening an offense that was the third-worst in baseball last year by way of OPS+. But because the club's budget seems maxed out, they likely won't pay for a magic bullet such as Marcell Ozuna.

    Instead, they might buy low on Jonathan Villar after he had a down year on an $8.2 million salary in 2020. He can play any number of positions, and the 24 homers and 40 stolen bases that he put up in 2019 reflect his offensive upside.

Detroit Tigers: C Wilson Ramos

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    Even though they ended up in last place once again, the Detroit Tigers began to see their bright future come into focus last season.

    In order to make further progress in 2021, it would help if the Tigers brought aboard a veteran catcher who has been there and done that over the years. For instance, somebody like Yadier Molina.

    But since him signing with anyone other than the St. Louis Cardinals appears to be a long shot, Wilson Ramos would suffice as a Plan B.

    Ramos has twice been an All-Star in his 11-year career, and he's caught such luminaries as Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Blake Snell and Jacob deGrom. He thus has plenty of wisdom to impart on Detroit's young hurlers, and presumably for much less than the $10.3 million he earned last year.

Houston Astros: CF Jackie Bradley Jr.

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    The Houston Astros may have lost George Springer to the Toronto Blue Jays, but they avoided a doubly cruel fate by keeping Michael Brantley from also heading north.

    In Brantley and Kyle Tucker, the corners of Houston's outfield are in good hands. But unless the club is ready to trust speedster Myles Straw, center field is a different story.

    It might be time to call Jackie Bradley Jr., who was reportedly on the club's radar back in November.

    Bradley is one of the best pure defenders in baseball, and his opposite-field stroke would play well in tandem with the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. He'll need a multiyear deal but potentially for no more per year than the $11 million he earned in 2020.

Kansas City Royals: RF Nomar Mazara

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    Though they've never had center stage all to themselves, the Kansas City Royals are one of the most improved teams of the offseason.

    Through deals with Mike Minor, Greg Holland, Carlos Santana and Michael A. Taylor, both their lineup and their pitching staff have gotten upgrades. Of the needs they have remaining, perhaps the only pressing one is in their outfield.

    The Royals might bring aboard a right fielder so they can slot Whit Merrifield into a regular gig at second base. Preferably, this right fielder wouldn't be too expensive yet would have real upside.

    Nomar Mazara, for example. He's never lived up to the hype that accompanied him when he was a top prospect, yet he's still only 25 years old. The Royals could pick him up for cheap and try to strike sparks.

Los Angeles Angels: RHP Trevor Bauer

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    The Los Angeles Angels made a modest improvement to their starting rotation last week, signing left-hander Jose Quintana to a one-year, $8 million deal.

    Yet they shouldn't be content to stop there. They are, after all, coming off a year in which their starters ranked 29th in MLB with a 5.52 ERA. And while they have solid starting depth lined up for 2021, they could use a co-ace for Dylan Bundy.

    Meanwhile, Trevor Bauer is still looking for work.

    As he's coming off a brilliant 2020 campaign marked by a 1.73 ERA and 83 more strikeouts than walks in 73 innings, he'll likely cost at least $30 million per year. Yet the Angels' pockets go plenty deep, and Mark Feinsand of MLB.com hears they are indeed a favorite for the Southern California native.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 3B Justin Turner

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    Though the Los Angeles Dodgers have been connected to plenty of big names throughout the winter, their main priority is reportedly to simply re-sign a familiar favorite: Justin Turner.

    Well, why not?

    Hypothetically, the Dodgers could fill their need for a right-handed-hitting third baseman by nabbing a younger, potentially better player off the trade market. For instance, they reportedly have Kris Bryant and Eugenio Suarez on their list of options.

    But even if the 36-year-old Turner is getting a little long in the tooth, only he, Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman and Nelson Cruz have topped a 120 OPS+ annually since 2014. As far as the Dodgers are apparently concerned, it's hard to let go of that kind of consistency.

Miami Marlins: INF/OF Marwin Gonzalez

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    Though their long-term books are about as clean as they come, the Miami Marlins apparently aren't willing to spend big bucks in free agency after snapping a 17-year playoff drought in 2020.

    Still, they're aware that they need another bat for an offense that had a subpar 92 OPS+ last season.

    Specifically, they're reportedly on the lookout for a left-handed-hitting right fielder. Veterans like Josh Reddick and Nick Markakis match that description, but the Marlins would be better off going for Marwin Gonzalez.

    He mostly bats left-handed and he can indeed play right field, but he also bats from the right side and is capable of playing just about every position. And after his step back to a 68 OPS+, he would likely cost Miami less than the $9 million he made in 2020.

Milwaukee Brewers: 3B/1B Todd Frazier

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    The Milwaukee Brewers had a hard time offensively in 2020, ranking fourth from the bottom of MLB in runs per game.

    On the plus side, the Brewers can hope for bounce-back seasons on the part of Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura and Lorenzo Cain (who opted out early in 2020) in 2021. Yet GM David Stearns said earlier in the winter that he still wanted to add offense, particularly at the corner infield spots.

    If the Brewers fancy a low-cost addition solution, they should dial up Todd Frazier.

    The 34-year-old is no longer an All-Star-caliber hitter at this stage of his career, but his ongoing strength against left-handers would make him a good platoon partner for first baseman Daniel Vogelbach. He could also slide over to third base as needed.

Minnesota Twins: DH Nelson Cruz

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    The longer the Minnesota Twins wait to re-sign Nelson Cruz, the more likely it may be that he takes his slugging talents elsewhere.

    And yet, the chances of Cruz actually leaving the Twin Cities still feel slim.

    Both he and the Twins were openly expressing their fondness for one another after the Twins' season ended last October, and there's still a place for him as the club's everyday designated hitter. It's also not as if the Twins can do better at that spot than Cruz, who posted a 168 OPS+ and 57 homers in 2019 and 2020.

    Though the 40-year-old reportedly wants a two-year deal, the Twins might talk him down to one with an option if they grant him a nice raise on the $12 million he made in 2020.

New York Mets: LHP Justin Wilson

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    Once the Wilpons officially sold the New York Mets to billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen in November, the club was clearly in for a wild offseason.

    So far, so good. The Mets have scored Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco off the trade market and James McCann and Trevor May off the free-agent market. And they may not be done yet, as they're reportedly another favorite to land Trevor Bauer.

    But if it's a question of what the Mets simply need at this point, a left-handed reliever would suffice.

    They should go ahead and re-sign Justin Wilson. He pitched well for them to the tune of a 2.91 ERA—not to mention a .181 average against left-handers—over the last two seasons, and there's still a need for him in a bullpen that leans heavily to the right.

New York Yankees: RHP Blake Parker

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    The New York Yankees have recently filled some major needs by signing DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber and trading for Jameson Taillon.

    The Yankees' roster now looks pretty well set for 2021. And it's a good thing it is, as their projected payroll is now less than $1 million away from triggering the $210 million luxury-tax threshold for this season.

    If the Yankees have just one more signing in them, the guarantee will likely be for less than $1 million. That limits their options, but they might be able to land an additional arm for their pen.

    For instance, maybe Blake Parker. The 35-year-old was originally on a minor league contract for 2020 but eventually pitched well to the tune of a 2.81 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 16 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Oakland Athletics: SS Freddy Galvis

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    The Oakland Athletics stood to lose a handful of key players to free agency when the winter began, and two of them are now officially gone: closer Liam Hendriks and outfielder Robbie Grossman.

    The A's might still save face by re-signing Marcus Semien, whose value is way down after he followed an MVP-caliber 2019 season with a brutal 2020 campaign. But since he reportedly has options elsewhere, the Berkeley grad doesn't have to take a hometown discount.

    If Semien does indeed walk, the A's will need a low-cost fix at shortstop. Those pickings are slim, but Freddy Galvis could work.

    He's no star, yet he's a capable everyday shortstop who's shown 20-homer pop in the past. He should also come cheaper than the $5.5 million that he earned in 2020.

Philadelphia Phillies: C J.T. Realmuto

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    Knowing how much trouble the Philadelphia Phillies have had breaking through in the NL East over the last few seasons, it suffices to say they can't let the best catcher in baseball get away.

    Nor do they mean to.

    According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Phillies indeed want to retain J.T. Realmuto and are believed to have a five-year, $110 million offer out to him. If he accepts, he'll become only the third catcher to ever land a nine-figure deal after Joe Mauer and Buster Posey.

    Though Realmuto arguably deserves better based on the catcher-high 17.4 rWAR that he's posted since 2016, his corner of the free-agent market has been oddly quiet so far. That could prove to be good news for the Phillies.

Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Aaron Sanchez

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    Through trades of Josh Bell and Joe Musgrove, the Pittsburgh Pirates have thrust themselves headlong into a badly needed rebuild.

    They're thus not going to make any major splashes on the free-agent market. Whatever additions they make will be low-cost, low-risk players who could potentially develop into trade bait this season.

    To pick just one name out of a hat, Aaron Sanchez is such a player.

    The 2016 All-Star and AL ERA champion hasn't appeared in a major league game since undergoing shoulder surgery in September 2019. Yet he's still only 28 years old, and Pirates GM Ben Cherington previously had a chance to see him up close while he was working in the Toronto Blue Jays front office.

San Diego Padres: RHP Trevor Rosenthal

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    At least on paper, the San Diego Padres might be the best team in MLB after all they've done this winter.

    An offense that was elite in 2020 has Jurickson Profar back, plus an exciting new infielder in Korean star Ha-Seong Kim. And by trading for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, the Padres have made their starting rotation into baseball's best.

    Perhaps the only thing the Padres are missing is a closer, but they could remedy that by bringing back Trevor Rosenthal.

    Following a dominant 2020 season that included a 0.00 ERA in nine appearances with San Diego, it'll likely take a multiyear deal worth eight figures per year to sign Rosenthal. But with a World Series run within reach, the Padres should be of the mind to spare no expense.

San Francisco Giants: RHP Keone Kela

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    Following a year in which their offense was low-key excellent with a 115 OPS+, the San Francisco Giants now also have a pretty good starting rotation lined up for 2021.

    By accepting the club's qualifying offer, Kevin Gausman decided to stick around after a rebound season in 2020. He's since been joined by newcomers Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood, who are rebound candidates in their own right.

    The Giants might now consider yet another reclamation project for their bullpen, and few available relievers match that description as well as Keone Kela.

    He needs a fresh start after his time in Pittsburgh was marked by behavioral problems and, more recently, forearm inflammation. When he's right, though, he easily misses bats with a fastball that has touched 100 mph.

Seattle Mariners: OF Jake Marisnick

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    Following a year in which they went a respectable 27-33, the Seattle Mariners may be primed for a breakout in 2021.

    It would help if Jarred Kelenic—who's our No. 10 prospect—immediately lived up to the hype upon his inevitable arrival. It was only two years ago that he racked up a .904 OPS, 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases as a mere 19-year-old in the minors.

    In the meantime, the Mariners would do well to find a stopgap solution for left field who could subsequently shift into a role as a fourth outfielder when Kelenic gets the call.

    Few players are suited to such a role like Jake Marisnick, whose athleticism has traditionally made up for his .281 OBP. He should also cost less than the $3.3 million he made in 2020.

St. Louis Cardinals: C Yadier Molina and RHP Adam Wainwright

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    If one strictly looks at the numbers, the St. Louis Cardinals' most pressing need is for a slugger who could help the team improve on last year's MLB-low 51 home runs.

    But maybe that can wait until after they re-sign Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.

    Those two were with the Cardinals from 2005 all the way through 2020, in which they were still going strong. Molina caught 42 games last season, while Wainwright turned in a 137 ERA+ in 10 starts.

    The Cardinals have offers out to both players, albeit for less guaranteed money than they would have earned if last year had featured a full season. If neither is quick to accept what's on the table, surely the Cardinals can bump the numbers up a little for the sake of keeping a good thing going in 2021.

Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Chris Archer

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Blake Snell and Charlie Morton had a big hand in getting the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series in 2020, but both are gone now via a trade and free agency, respectively.

    The Rays limited the damage to their rotation by signing former All-Star Michael Wacha in December, but they would do well to sign another veteran starter. They just have to do it on the cheap, as their typically diminutive bottom line wasn't exactly helped by last year's shortened schedule.

    How about a reunion with Chris Archer?

    Archer was an All-Star twice in seven seasons with the Rays before he went to Pittsburgh in an all-time robbery of a trade in 2018. A homecoming to a familiar environment might be what he needs after missing 2020 because of surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

Texas Rangers: RHP Roberto Osuna

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    With their trade of Lance Lynn to the White Sox in December, the Texas Rangers made it clear that 2021 is going to be a rebuilding year for them.

    Accordingly, they should be on the lookout for low-cost acquisitions who could potentially turn into trade bait. In particular, their bullpen is probably the most practical place for new bodies.

    Since somebody will have to take a chance on Roberto Osuna, it might as well be the Rangers.

    It was only three years ago that he was suspended 75 games for domestic violence, and he may yet need Tommy John surgery. But if he can stay on the mound and dominate like he did between 2015 and 2019—see his 158 ERA+ and 6.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio—he'll be a golden trade chip come July.

Toronto Blue Jays: LF/DH Marcell Ozuna

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Toronto Blue Jays scored one of the biggest prizes of the winter last Wednesday, agreeing to sign George Springer to a six-year, $150 million contract.

    The Blue Jays tried to double down by subsequently inking Michael Brantley, but a reported agreement fell apart and he instead re-upped with Houston. Nevertheless, that the Jays were apparently prepared to sign him could indicate that they want their lineup to be a veritable Death Star.

    If so, Marcell Ozuna awaits their call.

    He could mostly work at DH while also sharing time with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left field if he were to sign with Toronto. It's also not a stretch to think that the Jays can afford him, as their $116 million projected payroll for 2021 is still well below what they were spending in the mid-2010s.

Washington Nationals: SS/INF Marcus Semien

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    The Washington Nationals have loaded up on former Central stars by adding Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to their lineup and Jon Lester and Brad Hand to their rotation. 

    That might be enough to return them to contention in 2021, but their lineup could use another solid hitter at either third base or second base.

    Rather than play it safe with a Cesar Hernandez or a Tommy La Stella, the Nats might take a cue from other teams and gauge Marcus Semien's willingness to move off short. Because of how few teams actually need him at shortstop, he just might as long as the offer is good.

    If the Nats do land Semien, they would stand to gain a superstar if he can regain the form that led him to a 139 OPS+, 33 home runs and 8.9 rWAR in 2019.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.