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The winter meetings have come and gone, but Major League Baseball’s free-agent market has hardly been plucked clean just yet.
Notables such as Andrew McCutchen, J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, Jeurys Familia and Joe Kelly came off the board this week, pending physicals for some. Still out there for the taking, however, are Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and plenty more stars.
We have an updated set of predictions where the top 15 remaining free agents will sign. These are based on rumors that came out during the winter meetings—of which there were plenty—as well as plain ol’ speculation.
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As a quality switch-hitter who can play multiple positions, Marwin Gonzalez’s profile makes him a fit for just about every team.
Per Dennis Lin of The Athletic, the San Diego Padres are interested in Gonzalez as a stabilizing force for their infield. If he’d prefer not to sign with a rebuilder, Gonzalez might gravitate to the Los Angeles Angels (Jon Heyman of Fancred) or Washington Nationals (Mark Zuckerman of MASN).
However, the New York Yankees still loom as the most ideal fit for the 29-year-old. They could use him at all four infield positions as well as in left and right field.
Gonzalez also fits well with New York’s payroll situation. After re-signing J.A. Happ, the club’s 2019 luxury tax payroll now projects at $187.2 million. They’ll have additional breathing room once they dump Sonny Gray. But for now, they’re fairly close to the $206 million threshold for penalties, which they don’t want to cross.
The Yankees may well settle for Gonzalez at, say, $10 million per year rather than go for Machado at $30 million-plus per year.
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Zach Britton dominated to the tune of a 1.38 ERA between 2014 and 2016. But injuries took their toll on him in 2017 and 2018. All told, he put up a 3.00 ERA in 79 appearances.
Nonetheless, the 30-year-old left-hander should do better than Joe Kelly ($25 million) and at least as good as Jeurys Familia ($30 million). Britton does offer tremendous upside, after all. He also appears to have a robust market.
Re-signing with the Yankees is an option, but a move to the National League could be in order for Britton. Per Mark Saxon of The Athletic, the St. Louis Cardinals prefer Britton to fellow southpaw Andrew Miller. According to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Phillies are also in on both pitchers.
The Phillies can outbid anyone for Britton if they decide they really want him. However, they’re also a candidate to aim even higher in their search for a closer. That could be an opening for the Cardinals, who need someone more experienced to pair with Jordan Hicks in the late innings.
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Pretty much everything that can be said about Britton can also be said about Miller.
The 33-year-old was an overwhelming force between 2014 and 2016, but he’s broken down since then. Especially in 2018, when he made only 37 appearances and finished with a 4.24 ERA.
Nevertheless, it’s apparent that teams are just as enthused by Miller’s upside as they are with Britton’s. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, as many as nine teams are in pursuit of the lefty.
The Phillies and Cardinals are obviously among them, though both seem to prefer Britton. Mike Puma of the New York Post highlighted the New York Mets as a fit for Miller, but they don’t need him so much now that they have both Familia and Edwin Diaz.
This could amount to good news for the Minnesota Twins. Per La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune, they like Miller as an upgrade for their lackluster bullpen. They also have plenty of payroll space to work with.
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Despite the allure of his bat, Jed Lowrie’s value is complicated by his age (he turns 35 in April) and his crowded injury history.
Lowrie would like to return to the Oakland A’s, but they have internal (Franklin Barreto) and external alternatives (DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki). The Twins have talked to Lowrie, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, but they don’t need him after adding Jonathan Schoop.
There would seem to be an opportunity here for a team with money to spend and a need for a good bat at second base. To this end, the Angels may be just the candidate.
The Angels have been surprisingly active in free-agent pursuits, according to Rosenthal. They added Justin Bour to their infield mix Wednesday—pending a physical—but he’s no help to a second base spot that produced a modest .668 OPS in 2018.
Lowrie, who’s put up an .804 OPS and 37 homers since 2017, would be.
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According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, A.J. Pollock is looking to match Lorenzo Cain’s five-year, $80 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers.
That may be a stretch, but Pollock’s market is heating up anyway. Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen acknowledged his interest in Pollock on MLB Network Radio. Other suitors reportedly include the Houston Astros (Buster Olney of ESPN), Los Angeles Dodgers (Olney) and Atlanta Braves (David O’Brien of The Athletic).
If there’s a dark horse in the Pollock race, it may be the Cincinnati Reds. They’re interested in the 31-year-old center fielder, according to Heyman. They’re also motivated to be active.
Though the Reds need pitching first and foremost, they opened up a big hole in center field when they non-tended Billy Hamilton. More so than the other teams after Pollock, they may be willing to spend aggressively to fix that hole.
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Perhaps he doesn’t have the same appeal as Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka, but Yusei Kikuchi is certainly The Next Big Thing™ to come from Japan.
The left-hander put up a 2.81 ERA in eight seasons with the Seibu Lions. He comes with something of a Patrick Corbin profile: a low-to-mid 90s fastball and sharp slider, plus a curveball and changeup.
A scan of Kikuchi’s MLB Trade Rumors page indicates that it would take less time to list the teams that aren’t interested in his services. But for the most part, his market seems to be centered on the West Coast.
To this end, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the San Francisco Giants might be Kikuchi’s first choice. The interest is mutual, as new GM Farhan Zaidi is on record that he’s a fan of the 27-year-old. As it happens, Zaidi also has money to spend and pitching to acquire.
There may be no tougher race to call than this one. But for now, the Giants look like the leader in the clubhouse.
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Out of 30 teams, only 11 got so much as a .700 OPS out of their catchers in 2018.
This should bode well for Wilson Ramos. He comes with defensive limitations, but he’s proved to be an elite offensive catcher when healthy. He hit at an All-Star level in 2016 and again in 2018. He slugged 15 homers and led qualified catchers with an .845 OPS.
The Mets have an obvious need behind the dish, and Puma reports that they’ve checked in on Ramos. Also interested are the Angels (Jerry Crasnick), A’s (Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle), Twins (Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN) and Milwaukee Brewers (Adam McCalvy of MLB.com).
Of those teams, the Brewers are the most likely to view Ramos as a sort of final puzzle piece. They don’t have many needs to address coming off their surprising 96-win season. But a catching upgrade is in order, and they wouldn’t need to break their limited budget for Ramos.
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Now that Yadier Molina and Buster Posey have vacated the throne, there’s room for debate about who’s the best of baseball’s catchers.
Yasmani Grandal deserves a place in that debate. He’s fresh off leading all catchers in Baseball Prospectus’ version of WAR. It helped that he slammed 24 homers with an .815 OPS. He was also the best pitch-framer in MLB.
The market for Grandal, 30, nonetheless seems to be limited. The Chicago White Sox are considering him, according to Olney. Otherwise, Andy Martino of SNY reports that the Mets are a “strong possibility” for Grandal, but only if they miss out on a trade for J.T. Realmuto.
By all accounts, the Mets are trying really hard to pry Realmuto—who’s a safer pick as baseball’s best catcher—from the Miami Marlins. They and the Marlins don’t exactly match up as trading partners, however, so it’s possible that they’ll have to pivot to Grandal.
On the bright side, they could ask for much worse Plan Bs.
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Right now, Adam Ottavino is otherwise known as “That Guy Who Thinks He Would Strike Out Babe Ruth Every Time.”
Such talk is bold, but perhaps not crazy. Ottavino is coming off a 2.43 ERA and a rate of 13 strikeouts per nine innings. And have you seen his slider? There’s nothing else like it in baseball now, much less a century ago.
Theoretical Bambino matchups aside, Ottavino is a candidate to pull in upward of $10 million per year in a multiyear deal. It’s just a question of who’s going to give it to him. Per Morosi, the White Sox are a candidate. The Mets are another, according to Martino.
But since the former is rebuilding and the latter already has a full bullpen, Ottavino may be the Yankees’ to lose. He’s high on the team’s wish list, according to Sherman, and they need a pitcher like him to fill the space vacated by Britton and David Robertson.
For what it’s worth, joining Ruth’s former team would be a good way for Ottavino to win over any Yankees fans who aren’t big fans of his at present.
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Whoever signs Nelson Cruz will be bringing in a guy who’s averaged an .897 OPS and 41 homers per year over the last five seasons.
The catch is twofold. Cruz is 38 years old and pretty much restricted to designated hitter duty. His market is limited to American League clubs looking for a short-term rental.
Not many clubs match that description, but Heyman listed four that do: the Astros, Rays, Twins and White Sox.
After signing Charlie Morton to a team-record $30 million contract Wednesday, the Rays are probably out on Cruz. For their part, the Astros need arms a heck of a lot more than they need bats.
If Cruz is forced to choose between the White Sox and Twins, the latter may have the edge. They have the money to satisfy him. They also have a better chance to win in the near future.
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Kimbrel is aiming high in his search for a contract. Really, really high.
It had previously been reported by Olney that the 30-year-old closer was looking for a six-year contract. Per Jayson Stark of The Athletic, Kimbrel is also asking for a guarantee north of $100 million.
Frankly, there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of Kimbrel actually getting his wish. He’s older than Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen were when they secured five-year deals. He’s not getting six years, which takes him out of the running for $100 million.
Still, something like four years and $80 million could be in order for Kimbrel. He does, after all, boast a 1.91 career ERA and the highest strikeout rate in history. These things are worth a few pretty pennies.
Only one team is a likely candidate to give Kimbrel such a huge contract, however, and that’s the Phillies. He began the winter on their radar, according to Morosi, and they’re still in a position to spend big on a closer.
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Michael Brantley deserves a robust market.
Though age and injuries have chipped away at the MVP-caliber talent he displayed in 2014, the 31-year-old is still going strong. He’s made the All-Star team in each of the last two seasons, and he’s fresh off a .309/.364/.468 batting line with 17 homers and 12 stolen bases.
Yet, Brantley’s market could be looking better.
The Phillies are in play, per Sherman, but they passed over Brantley to sign McCutchen. The Astros are also in play, according to Morosi, but they’re wary of blocking Kyle Tucker. Morosi also reported that the Cardinals were interested, but that was before they traded for Paul Goldschmidt. The Braves have always made sense, yet MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported that they’ll only pounce if Brantley’s price comes down.
All this could add up to an opportunity for the White Sox.
Brantley is on their radar, according to Stark. He’s not the biggest star they’re considering, as they’re also in on Harper and Machado. However, he’s probably the most realistic option for them as they seek to end their rebuild.
Prediction: White Sox
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With Corbin, Morton and Nathan Eovaldi off the board, there isn’t much question that Dallas Keuchel is the best starter left on the market.
Though the 30-year-old isn’t the same pitcher he was when he won the American League Cy Young Award in 2015, he’s coming off a solid 3.74 ERA over 204.2 innings. He was one of only 13 pitchers to have at least 200 innings.
With Morton and Eovaldi off their table, it’s hard not to wonder if the Astros will circle back to re-sign Keuchel. It may be either that or a deal with one of three teams on the hunt for him, per Heyman: the Braves, Reds or Phillies.
The Braves are the best fit of those three. Keuchel’s ground-ball style would mesh well with their excellent infield defense. Having him aboard would also help tone down the wildness that their rotation displayed in 2018.
The only question is if the Braves are comfortable spending on Keuchel. With as much as $60 million to add to their 2019 payroll, according to Bowman, the answer should be yes.
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Harper needs no introduction, so let’s cut to the chase and look at his market.
Perhaps it’s indicative that there seems to be a real possibility of the 2015 National League MVP ending up with the White Sox. His higher-profile suitors—namely the Phillies, Cubs, Yankees, Nationals and Dodgers—have either downplayed the possibility of signing him or settled in to play hardball with Scott Boras.
The White Sox, on the other hand, have both the glaring need and the mountain of funds to be a fit for Harper. If the money’s right, he might take a leap of faith on their contention chances for the near future.
However, it’s easy to imagine the Dodgers crashing that particular party.
There isn’t room in their outfield or their payroll for Harper right now, but the Dodgers seem determined to change that. According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, they’re trying to trade Matt Kemp and/or Yasiel Puig. Feinsand also reports that Alex Wood is on the chopping block.
If the stars align just right, the Dodgers could clear roughly $40 million in payroll and still be one great player away from becoming the clear team to beat in the National League. Enter Harper, mission accomplished.
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For Machado, meanwhile, it seems to be up to the Yankees and Phillies.
According to Heyman, however, the Yankees don’t want to spend as much as $300 million on Machado. That reeks of posturing, but it might be sincere. They’re supposedly worried about the luxury tax, after all, and team owner Hal Steinbrenner has some doubts about Machado’s character.
In any case, there’s a greater need for Machado’s bat—which produced a .905 OPS and 37 homers in 2018—in Philadelphia. And while Harper’s bat would be a similar upgrade, Sherman reported that Machado “appears” to be Philly’s preference.
As for the money, well, the Phillies have more to spare than the Yankees do. Even after the additions of McCutchen and Jean Segura, their 2019 payroll is projected at just $124.1 million. The Phillies might add Kimbrel and Machado and still be short of their all-time peak of $177.7 million.