Playing Matchmaker with MLB Free Agents and These Needy Teams

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist IApril 21, 2022

Playing Matchmaker with MLB Free Agents and These Needy Teams

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    With the MLB season in full swing, there's just enough information to get a bead on what certain teams need to reach their full potential. 

    It could be an extra bat in the lineup, another arm in the rotation, bullpen help or positional depth. 

    Without overreacting to the small sample size of about a dozen games in 162, you can still get a sense for what a team is missing. 

    On the other side of that, think about all of the players out there who remain unsigned. 

    For context, B/R's Joel Reuter covered the free-agency big board after the lockout ended in March. Our colleague Zachary D. Rymer followed up with this list of underrated free agents who were still available. 

    Now, let's play matchmaker with some remaining free agents and needy teams. Feel free to drop your suggestions as well.  

Trevor Rosenthal to Texas Rangers

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    For all the money the Texas Rangers spent this offseason, their pitching is still lacking. 

    Texas has the highest ERA in baseball and the second-highest WHIP through 10 games. The Rangers activated their best pitcher, Jon Gray, on Tuesday after he spent the last week-plus on the injured list with a blister. 

    But they need more than Gray's return for this to be a passable staff. The bullpen has struggled with a league-high 5.68 ERA and league-worst -0.8 FanGraphs WAR

    That's where Trevor Rosenthal comes in. He's been up and down since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017, and thoracic outlet surgery and a hip injury held him out of all of last year too. 

    Due to his poor health in recent years, Rosenthal should come at a reasonable price (not the one-year, $11 million he got from Oakland last year).

    The last time he was healthy in 2020, the righty reliever posted an elite 41.8 strikeout percentage. 

Brian Goodwin to Philadelphia Phillies

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    It might seem like the Philadelphia Phillies would be overdoing it if they signed outfielder Brian Goodwin after bringing in both Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos during the offseason.

    But after starting the campaign 4-8, the NL East's worst record, Philadelphia could use a spark. The Phillies' offense is top-10 in OPS and WAR and ranks 11th in wRC+. 

    Still, they have been held to three or fewer runs in six games, and one run or fewer in four of those games.

    Goodwin played his best baseball in 2019, when he was the Angels' second-most valuable outfielder after Mike Trout, per Baseball Reference. He's been mostly quiet since then in stints with Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox. 

    At the very least, Goodwin would improve the Phillies' hitting against right-handed pitching, where he was 25 percent better than average, as measured by wRC+, in 2021.

    Meanwhile, the Phillies held a .914 OPS against lefties after 12 games, which ranked third in baseball, versus .660 OPS against righties after 12 games, which ranked 18th. 

J.A. Happ to San Diego Padres

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    At 39 years old, J.A. Happ doesn't have a lot left in the tank. 

    Rymer previously pointed to the left-handed starter's alarming whiff rate and exit velocity. But Happ was an important piece of the St. Louis Cardinals' late-season run to the playoffs in 2021. 

    He was able to do that after changing his pitch mix to better play into the Cardinals defense, which led the league in outs above average

    Logically, Happ could do the same for another excellent defensive team with plans of contending this year. Right now, that looks like the San Diego Padres, who have tremendous pressure to live up to the unfulfilled expectations of 2021.

    The Padres lead baseball in defensive runs saved and rank second in outs above average. If Happ once again limits his four-seamers and throws more sinkers, he could provide some value in San Diego.

Justin Upton to Minnesota Twins

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Justin Upton's role is clearly as a reserve at this point in his career. The 34-year-old outfielder has been a replacement-level player since 2019, and his OPS has steadily dropped since 2017. 

    His .705 OPS last year was his lowest since he was a rookie in 2007.

    The appeal in signing Upton is the potential depth he could provide in a part-time role.

    He could still help a team like the Minnesota Twins, who ranked 25th in OPS as of Tuesday (.627). While hitting looked to be their strength coming into the season, the lineup has been one of the worst in baseball. 

    Minnesota checked in on Upton earlier this month, per 5 Eyewitness News' Darren Wolfson. Adding an experienced hitter would not hurt.

Michael Conforto to Boston Red Sox

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    The Boston Red Sox are one of at least two teams to reach out to Michael Conforto, per Univision's Mike Rodriguez, and the fit makes sense. He would play primarily in right field and is a better option offensively than Jackie Bradley Jr. or Christian Arroyo. 

    Conforto suffered a shoulder injury while training in January, which part of the reason it's taken so long for him to sign. The acquiring team would also have to give up draft compensation if he signs before the July 17 draft. Still, he's the best free agent available, and most teams looking to improve their offense should be checking in. 

    While Conforto had a down year in 2021, he had improved strikeout and walk rates, is only 28 and has plenty of talent in his bat.

    Boston ranks 19th in OPS after 11 games, though it has not prevented the Red Sox from hanging at the top of the AL East.


    Stats via Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant unless otherwise noted.