This offseason in Major League Baseball has been a peculiar one to say the least, especially in the realm of free agency. Pitchers and catchers have now begun to report to their respective training camps all across baseball and yet over 100 free agents are still without a team, a record for the part of the calendar we are in now.
There have been several reasons that have been contemplated as to why this is. Some think it is the homogenization of the way that the baseball operations of teams think. Others have gone so far as to accuse teams of colluding with each other to not sign players and drive down the prices. I don’t buy that, but that is not what this post is about.
This post is about the free agents themselves, specifically where I think they should sign. To be clear, this isn’t a piece predicting where each player will sign, rather it is where I think that each player should sign.
In the name of brevity and practicality, I will narrow my discussion to the top 10 free agents in my estimation. Now, enough explanation, let’s get to the list!
J.D. Martinez, Outfielder/Designated hitter- Boston Red Sox
Martinez is undoubtedly the biggest fish left in the free agent pond. Coming off of a season in which he lead MLB in slugging percentage, his stock has arguably never been higher. He has reportedly been offered a 5 year, $125 million contract from the Boston Red Sox, which he has also been reportedly not thrilled with. Martinez needs to realize that he doesn’t have the leverage in negotiations here. Not very many other teams have been linked to Martinez this offseason, in my estimation due partly to his age, he is 30 years old, and partly because he isn’t a great defender and will likely have to move to DH as he ages.Teams now just aren’t doling out long term contracts to players 30 or older anymore. Martinez should sign with the Red Sox for the five years, perhaps with an opt-out clause after two or three years. Boston could certainly use Martinez. The team finished the 2017 season ranked last in the American League in home runs and Martinez it 45 last season.
Jake Arrieta/ Starting pitcher- Seattle Mariners
Arrieta is a weird case. He is coming off of a season in which he pitched to a 3.53 earned run average, a pretty decent number, but also his peripheral stats have declined each of the last two seasons. His strikeout and ground ball rates have gone down since his Cy Young winning campaign and his home run per fly ball rate has increased. That being said, pitching is always in demand somewhere. Arrieta reportedly turned down a substantial offer to return to the Cubs and since Yu Darvish signed with Chicago, it seems that ship has sailed. I could see Arrieta fitting well in a couple of places. Minnesota, Philadelphia, Seattle, Milwaukee, New York Yankees and Baltimore all would be good suitors. The team that makes the most sense to me is Seattle. The Mariners have the other aspects of the team pretty well handled. The offense will be good, the defense is really good and the bullpen ranked in the top half of the major leagues last season. Arrieta would fit in nicely in the rotation behind Felix Hernandez and James Paxton as a third starter. Seattle would be well served going after Arrieta hard.
Eric Hosmer, first baseman- San Diego Padres
Eric Hosmer is an intriguing player. Coming off arguably his best season as a major leaguer with the Kansas City Royals, Hosmer could really help out a few teams out, but there is one team that he has reportedly offered Hosmer a big contract and would be a great fit, the San Diego Padres. The Padres aren’t expected to compete for the playoffs in 2018 but they do have one of the higher rated minor league systems in all of baseball. If Hosmer signs for say, 5-6 years at $23-25 million a year, he will still be in his prime when the Padres are expected to be ready to contend, which could be as soon as next season according to some prognosticators. Hosmer has good gap to gap power and could thrive well in Petco Park with its short porch in right field, with him being a left handed hitter. He tied his career high in home runs in 2017 with 25 after hitting 25 in 2016. He could be just now tapping into his natural power. He just needs to decrease his ground ball rate and aim for more fly balls and line drives. He does that and he could end up a 30 home run guy for multiple years.
Mike Moustakas, third baseman- Atlanta Braves
Moustakas, the other Royals corner infielder hitting the market this offseason, is a big power hitting third baseman approaching the age of 30, which could explain why he isn’t signed yet. While doing the research for this piece, one team kept coming to mind time and time again, the Atlanta Braves. Much like the Padres, the Braves aren’t expected to compete in 2018, but have one of, if not the best farm system in the game today. Moustakas would fit right in and be a good veteran leader for a group of young guys coming up. Moustakas is an extreme pull hitter and his game would be a good fit for Atlanta’s new ballpark that has a short-ish right field fence. If they can snatch him up for 4-5 years, the Braves would set themselves up nicely in the future with a proven power hitter to lead them into the next great era of Braves baseball.
Lance Lynn, starting pitcher- Minnesota Twins
When I was kicking this around in my head, I once again kept coming back to one or two teams that really stood out to me. For Lance Lynn, the one team that makes the most sense is the Twins. In 2017, Minnesota had a surprisingly successful season, making the playoffs one year after losing over 100 games. It’s no secret that they are in dire need of starting pitching help, and that was before they lost their best starter Ervin Santana due to an injury to his middle finger on his throwing hand that caused him to have surgery and will keep him out for 10-12 weeks. Lynn pitched well for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017 as he had a 3.43 ERA. Target Field in Minnesota is a pitcher friendly park which should help him supress his elevated home run per nine innings rate of 1.30 in last year. He would fit well right behind Santana when Santana comes back. I like Lynn on a 3-4 year deal for around $50 million to the Twins.
Alex Cobb, starting pitcher-Baltimore Orioles
Alex Cobb is a good pitcher, not great, but good. That is what the Orioles are lacking right now. Actually, they are lacking pitchers, period. I like Cobb going there because he would have good defense behind him, particularly up the middle of the field at second base, shortstop and center field. Also, he doesn’t walk a lot of batters and gets grounders at nearly a 50 percent rate. He may have his home run rate go up a little bit because Camden Yards is home run friendly but his good changeup will be a weapon to keep left handed hitters off balance. He also has an interesting trait of inducing a higher than average infield fly rate. Cobb to Baltimore for 2-3 years makes sense to me.
Logan Morrison, first baseman- Boston Red Sox
Logan Morrison is coming off of a career year in 2017 with the Mariners. The lefty slugger had his best home run total with 38 and a career high slugging percentage of .516. He is a dead-pull hitter and I could see him wrapping more than a few home runs around the Pesky pole in right field. In Boston, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit about 40 home runs again with an uptick in his slugging numbers as well, especially if he can maintain his fly ball percentage in the mid 40’s.. Fenway park also was a hitter friendly park in 2017, ranking 11 out of 30 parks in runs per game. He likely would split his time at DH and first base because he isn’t the best defender but Morrison to Boston on a 3 year deal would be a good deal for both sides.
Greg Holland, relief pitcher- San Francisco Giants
Giants general manager Bobby Evans has done quite an impressive job overhauling his teams roster over the offseason, adding outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson and third baseman Evan Longoria, two areas of major need. But there is still one spot that needs to be addressed and that is the bullpen. The Giants bullpen was bad last year, to put it kindly. Hard throwing right handed relief pitcher Greg Holland would be a good fit with the city by the bay. Holland pitched much of the 2017 season very well but did have a rough two month stretch where he did get lit up by opposing offenses. Keep in mind though, he was pitching half of his games in the notoriously hitter friendly ballpark Coors Field in Denver. Take him and put him in the polar opposite confines of AT&T Park, a very pitcher-friendly park and you should see very good results. Holland did maintain a healthy 10.99 strikeouts per nine innings rate which is a good indication that his pitches still have good movement, especially his nasty slider. Getting Holland on a 2 year deal for $13-15 million would yield a good return on investment for a team looking to rebound from it’s worst season by record in franchise history.
Carlos Gonzalez, outfielder- Toronto Blue Jays
This one was a tough call, because of the tale of two seasons that Carlos Gonzalez had in 2017. The first four months of 2017, Gonzalez looked like he was on his way out of the league. The once former MVP candidate was downright pitiful in the batters box. I don’t know what it was but once August hit the calendar, he started mashing again. It was too little too late to save his overall season numbers from looking ugly, but they were on their way to looking way worse. Toronto needs a power hitting right fielder to take over for the departing Jose Bautista and Gonzalez fits the bill. You should see his power numbers go back up in a very hitter friendly park in the Rogers Center. Not much of a defensive player anymore, Gonzalez would have an easier time playing in the Rogers Center that isn’t particularly big in the outfield. It also definitely wouldn’t hurt that he would have the great center fielder Kevin Pillar to help him by getting to some of the balls in the gap that he wouldn’t get. It’s hard to say what he would get on the open market because it all depends on what people think is the real Gonzalez. The one who struggled badly early on or the one who came back with a vengeance toward the end. Either way, he would fit right in wearing Blue Jays baby blue.
Jonathan Lucroy, catcher- Oakland Athletics
Jonathan Lucroy had a season pretty similar to the man I just mentioned, Carlos Gonzalez. Lucroy started the season in what is considered itself a pretty hitter friendly park in Texas but was horrible. The veteran backstop had a .297 on-base percentage and slugged .338, a number that you might expect from a light-hitting second baseball from the 1980’s. I know, I know, catcher is primarily a defensive position but Lucroy for years had been a very highly productive offensive player in Milwaukee. Lucroy did bounce back after being traded midway through the season to Colorado where he too was able to take advantage of the ideal hitting environment of Coors Field. He was a 15 percent better than league average hitter while there and that should give whatever potential suitors some confidence that he may return back the all-star form he was in Milwaukee. Oakland has a young team that could stand to have a veteran leader like Lucroy leading their pitching staff and provide stability at a very important position. He probably wouldn’t get a huge contract as far as dollar amount, but I could see him signing for 3 years and $30 million from the A’s.