2017-18 Free Agent Predictions

The 2017 MLB season has come and gone. The Houston Astros are celebrating the first World Series Championship in franchise history while 29 other teams are going back to the drawing board and seeing what they can change. Some teams will take a swing at trades or aim towards the June draft, while others may ultimately lean towards Free Agency. With that, let’s take a look at the Top 20 Free Agents and see where they might end up this coming season (all rankings as per MLBTradeRumors).

1. Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish had a ghastly performance in the World Series. The Dodgers key mid-season acquisition accounted for a 21.60 ERA in the Fall Classic in just 3.1 frames of work, giving up nine runs on nine hits. Still, he remains the top-rated pitcher in free agency after five years of consistent work (a career 3.42 ERA and averaging 265 K’s per season). He should have plenty of suitors, mainly the Cubs who will likely lose Jake Arrieta to free agency, so they could be in the market for a top-line starter. Don’t be surprised if the rebuilding Phillies look to add the Ace, or if the Cardinals, or an unexpected team like the Twins get involved. The Cardinals could go after Darvish as they likely won’t retain Lance Lynn, and Adam Wainwright’s best days are behind him. Having Carlos Martinez and Yu Darvish as the one-two punch in St. Louis could be deadly in the NL Central. The Twins could use the rotation help, too, and adding Darvish would be a big splash. I can certainly see the Angels make a play for the Japanese right-hander, though that may be less likely after already committing $106M to Justin Upton early in the offseason.

Prediction: Cubs. Five years, $130M

2. J.D. Martinez

Where do we start with Martinez? He was arguably the best hitter in baseball in the second half of the year, hitting 19 HRs in a 29 game stretch from August 26 to September 27. He had the best year of his career to date, hitting 45 HRs for 104 RBI and a 166 OPS+ (all career highs). Still only 30 years old, teams will be clawing for a piece of the slugging corner outfielder. He has two detractors, though: his defense has declined drastically, amounting to a -27 Rdrs from 2016-2017, a trend that would likely force him to be limited to a DH within the next two or so years. That would likely eliminate most NL teams from courting him. The second detractor comes as reports have said that his agent, Scott Boras, is looking for a $200M contract for his client. That, again limits the possible number of teams who could go after him. The Red Sox could come calling, as they always love to add an impact bat to the line-up. The Giants seem to have a need for a power-hitting corner outfielder (they’ve been linked as a possible trade partner with the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton). I think one particular dark-horse team could attract Martinez: the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto needs some protection for Josh Donaldson in the line-up, and a signing of Martinez could also convince Donaldson to work out an extension with the team before becoming a free agent next offseason.

Prediction: Blue Jays. Seven years, $180M

3. Eric Hosmer

As was mentioned in my previous post, Hosmer is coming off of the best season of his career, and is now a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, although I believe the win for this year is completely undeserved, considering his negative dWAR and Rdrs this past season. However, with a career high OPS+ (132) and wRC+ (135), he is primed for a big pay-day and has expected to turn down a Qualifying Offer from the Royals. I would not rule out the Royals making a strong push to keep him. I imagine that the Red Sox will make a run for Hosmer if they miss out on Martinez. I would have imagined that the Cardinals would be in on the first baseman, but Derek Goold of the St. Louis Dispatch suggests that the Cards are more likely to acquire an impact bat through a trade rather than free agency. The Mariners are another team that likes to spend and Hosmer could be the offensive piece that puts them over the hump.

Prediction: Red Sox. Six years, $165M

4. Jake Arrieta

Arrieta wasn’t great this season. He sported a respectable 3.53 ERA, but his strikeout rates are down while his hit, walk, and home run rates are up. Still, teams will come spending in hopes that he can get back to form and repeat his 2015 season in which he went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and 215 ERA+ en route to the NL Cy Young Award. He may not go too far from Chicago. The Brewers have money to spend and a young pitching staff who could benefit from a strong veteran presence. The Phillies, Rangers, Mariners, Braves, Twins, Cardinals, and Angels are all teams looking for a top-of-the-rotation arm. If they can make it work monetarily, someone will go after the Cy Young Award winner.. I imagine that Arrieta has more suitors than not.

Prediction: Phillies. Five years, $110M

5. Mike Moustakas

Coming off a knee injury this year, Moustakas hit a career high 38 HRs (also a Royals franchise record). His defensive work has always been average to above-average. He doesn’t walk all that much, which lends to a usually low on-base percentage. Still, his power from the left-side of the plate is something many teams will fight for. The Braves may be one of those teams, as they don’t have any prominent third base prospects coming up and have a major hole at the hot corner. The Angels could also look to add another bat to go along with Mike Trout and Justin Upton. In my opinion, the biggest fit is in Queens. The Mets need to accept the fact that David Wright’s playing career is over and they need to find a replacement at third base…and soon.

Prediction: Mets. Four years, $74M

6. Lorenzo Cain

The third Royals free agent on this list and we’re not even out of the Top Ten, yet. A career .290 hitter and a dynamic defensive center fielder, Cain could be in for a modest payday after another good year. Cain is a fantastic number two hitter, with a career .307 batting average and .361 BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play); I expect Cain’s agent to have a busy winter fielding calls and offers. The Mets, again, immediately stand out. Unless they view Brandon Nimmo as the center fielder of the future, I think Cain is a can’t-miss acquisition for the Mets. Otherwise, the Mariners, Rangers, and Giants make sense, as they all have money to spend and need major upgrades at center field.

Prediction: Mariners. Four years, $68M

7. Wade Davis

Though his walk numbers were a career high in 2017 and he was used in multiple innings several times in the postseason to less than stellar results, Davis finds himself as the top closer on the market. With the recent release of closer Trevor Rosenthal, Davis could find himself donning Cardinals red next season. Other than that, the rebuilding Braves could be an appealing fit, along with the Angels, Twins, Rangers, Nationals (further bolstering the bullpen and possibly moving closer Sean Doolittle to a set-up man role), or the World Champion Astros. All of those teams could look for a significant upgrade at closer.

Prediction: Braves. Five years, $70M

8. Lance Lynn

Lynn comes off a typically solid year with the Cardinals, and kicks off the second-tier of free agent starters behind Darvish and Arrieta. He reached 33 starts this year, one of only 12 pitchers to accomplish that feat. Though his strikeout and walk rates were career worsts. He somehow still managed a very respectable 3.43 ERA. He should have interest from some teams who can’t afford Darvish or Arrieta’s asking prices. Contrastingly, Lynn’s asking price is 5 years/$100M which seems incredibly unrealistic. I expect teams like the Rangers, Orioles, Twins, Braves, Brewers, and Phillies to have interest as all of those teams need rotation help. The Phillies have the money, however, to sign two starters. Therefore, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if that were to transpire.

Prediction: Brewers. Three years, $45M

9. Greg Holland

Holland is an interesting case. After spending a year away from baseball following elbow surgery, he returned to the league on a one-year deal with Colorado. He led the NL with 41 saves, though he had a 3.61 ERA thanks to a rough eight-game stretch in August. Still, he proved that he can be a very effective late-innings arm, and he should be paid handsomely for his efforts. Expect the same teams as Wade Davis to be interested in Holland.

Prediction: Cardinals. Four years, $48M

10. Alex Cobb

The 30 year old Cobb, to me, is one of the most interesting free agents. After finishing the season with a 3.03 ERA over his final 17 starts, he has momentum on his side. The question is whether or not Cobb can replicate that late success and translate it to a full season. I think he’ll have quite a few teams coming his way. The Orioles seem like the most obvious, as they have a desperate need for starting pitching. Again, I would add the Twins, Rangers, Angels, Mariners, and Braves to that list of teams.

Prediction: Orioles. Five years, $67M

11. Carlos Santana

Santana seems like the second-best Free Agent first baseman after Eric Hosmer, and could get a big payday once Hosmer is off the market. He averages 105 walks per year, with a great career .365 OBP. On top of that, he hits for power and plays a very good first base. Still, teams could look at him as a DH option. He’s not getting younger (32 in April, so his body could break down soon, but that remains to be seen). A reunion with Cleveland is certainly plausible, though he could be in for more money elsewhere. An interesting landing spot that I haven’t seen mentioned much: the Yankees. They have a clear need at DH and he could spell the young Greg Bird if he needs a day off at first base. On top of that, the Royals, Angels, Twins, or Red Sox could have major interest. The Angels will likely look to upgrade from CJ Cron at first base, while the Red Sox could also look at Santana at first base or DH.

Prediction: Yankees. Four years, $62M

12. Zack Cozart

Cozart could not have picked a better time to hit free agency for the first-time in his career. Coming off a 4.9 WAR and putting up the best offensive numbers of his career (a slash-line of .297/.385/.548 with a 141 OPS+), Cozart finally put it all together and became a complete player. Already known for his great defense at shortstop, he is now seen as a huge commodity: a power-hitting middle infielder (a career high 24 HRs in 2017). There are few teams with openings at shortstop, but if he opens up to the idea of becoming a utility infielder and playing second or third base as well, then the interest level could increase greatly. Those teams with interest could be the Mets, Blue Jays, Braves, Angels, Nationals and Padres. The Padres might want a veteran presence on a young rebuilding team. The Mets, Blue Jays, Braves, and Angels need second basemen, and considering there are not many free agent second baseman available, this makes Cozart more valuable if he plays multiple positions. The Nationals are an interesting case, as they don’t have a need at shortstop but they do have an opening in left field. Hear me out: they can move Trea Turner from shortstop back to center field, shifting Adam Eaton to left field and putting Cozart at shortstop. A little crazy, but it could work. Don’t forget about the Rays as a dark-horse candidate, though, as they too need an upgrade at second base (Brad Miller hit a measly .201 this season).

Prediction: Blue Jays. Three years/$42M (club option for a fourth year)

13. Jay Bruce

Bruce was a major part of the Indians run to a 22-game winning streak. He offers some versatility with the ability to play right field and first base, as well as DHing. I don’t expect him to go to an NL team, as he could be very useful as a DH in the coming year or two. What hurts him is his asking price: ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweeted that Bruce is seeking a five year deal worth $80-90M which I don’t believe to be realistic. This could hurt his chances of returning to Cleveland (where I believed he would re-sign). I wouldn’t totally rule out a return to the Indians, but I think the chances are much slimmer if that asking price is true. Perhaps some teams like the Royals, Orioles, Red Sox, or Giants could make sense for reasons mentioned prior.

Prediction: Royals. Five years, $75M

14. Logan Morrison

Morrison was probably the most surprising player in baseball in 2017. Following seven disappointing seasons in which he did not live up to his offensive potential, he finally broke out this year with Tampa in the tune of 38 long balls, 85 RBI, and a .516 SLG%. His offensive output will attract the same teams that will go after Hosmer and Santana.

Prediction: Twins. Three years, $38M

15. Addison Reed

Reed will be looking to get a contract similar to Andrew Miller. Having been one of the more dominant set-up men in all of baseball over the last two seasons, he has a good chance to do so. He has an extremely low walk rate, with a 1.6 BB per nine innings pitched. That kind of control makes Reed a very popular target for teams looking to bolster their bullpens. I would say the Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, Twins, Angels, and Red Sox could come with some big offers as all look to bolster their bullpens in the late innings.

Prediction: Cardinals. Four years, $40M

16. Todd Frazier

Frazier is a mid-level free agent option who will come in as a cheaper alternative to Mike Moustakas. I don’t believe Frazier has been very good over the last two years, slashing .220/.322/.448 from 2016-2017, though he offers above average defense at third base. What helps his market is that he is a great clubhouse leader, a reputation he has carried through his entire big league career. If the Mets don’t sign Moustakas, I think they would sign Frazier as a much cheaper back-up option. Otherwise, there should be interest from the Angels, Braves, and Royals. I don’t see a return to the Yankees being likely.

Prediction: Braves. Two years, $24M

17. Mike Minor

A former starter with the Braves, Minor recharged his career in the bullpen with the Royals in 2017. After missing two years due to a shoulder injury, Minor helped out the Royals to the tune of a 2.55 ERA, 10.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. To put it simply, he was excellent this past season and the 29 year old should be one of the highest paid relievers in the league. The Royals could look for a reunion, while teams like the Cardinals, Dodgers, Twins, Astros, and Nationals could make a strong push for the lefty.

Prediction: Twins. Four years, $32M

18. Brandon Morrow

Morrow is one of the best stories in baseball. A former pitching prospect with the Mariners, he never caught on in Seattle before being traded to the Blue Jays where he found some moderate success (even coming within one out of a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010). Injuries would pile up and force him to miss major parts of the 2012-2016 seasons. The Dodgers signed him to a minor league deal this past season and called him up in May, at which point he became the team’s set-up man to closer Kenley Jansen. Morrow pitched to a stellar 2.06 ERA with a 204 ERA+ and a 10.3 K/9 ratio. The 33 year old flamethrower will be paid handsomely, and he’ll have plenty of offers. Ryan Madson, another pitcher with an injury history who got a three year deal last year, probably set the stage for the type of contract that Morrow will get. Expect interest from the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Giants, Red Sox, Cardinals, Mets, or Braves.

Prediction: Giants. Three years, $26M

19. Jonathan Lucroy

Lucroy picked the worst possible time to have a bad season. From 2010-2016, Lucroy slashed .284/.343/.441, and was worth a 19.6 WAR over that timeframe. He was always an average defender behind the dish, but he was more known for his bat – being considered one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. That all changed this year, when he hit .242/.297/.338 with a 66 OPS+ with the Rangers before being shipped to Colorado. While he was better with the Rockies (.310/.429/.437 in 46 games after the trade), the power never showed up, only hitting 6 HRs this season. He’ll have to prove himself on a one or two year deal. If the Rockies don’t re-sign him, the Athletics or White Sox might give him a try as a veteran presence on a young, rebuilding team.

Prediction: Rockies. Two years, $20M

20. CC Sabathia

CC enjoyed a bounce back year in the Bronx, with a 3.69 ERA (his lowest since 2012) and some dominant performances in the postseason, putting up an ERA of 0.96 in the ALCS. Sabathia has stated that he would like to return to the Yankees, who could feasibly give him a one year deal while they wait for prospects Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield to continue developing. If the Yankees don’t want him back, he could go across town to the Mets or back home to California with the Angels.

Prediction: Angels. One year, $10M

In the coming weeks and months, we will see who stays and goes, who is wearing new colors, which teams are improved or worsened, and most importantly, if I got any of these right.

UPDATE:

Shohei Otani

“The Japanese Babe Ruth” is coming to Major League Baseball, as it was announced on Friday that the Nippon Ham Fighters would be posting pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani. Jon Heyman of FanRag tweeted that Otani would be posted for the $20M maximum, but there could be a hiccup in the posting process as the MLB Players Association could have a problem with that deal. In the new collective bargaining agreement, an international player cannot sign the same kind of deal as another free agent.

Otani has a career 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA in the Japan Pacific League, as well as a career slashline of .286/.358/.500 with 48 HRs and 166 RBI. 2016 was his best season in which he hit 22 HRs and drove in 67 runs, while pitching to a 2.12 ERA. If Otani were to sign with an American League team, he could be used as a starter every fifth day, while playing the field or DHing the other days. It remains to be seen how he will be used, though. Still, because he can be offered so little, literally every team in the league will be in on this kind of talent. Though, only six teams have enough money in uncommitted international pool that can offer him seven figures: the Rangers ($3.535M), Yankees ($3.25M), Twins ($3.245M), Pirates ($2.2M), Marlins ($1.74M), and Mariners ($1.57M).

Prediction: I have none. This kind of free agent is completely unprecedented and it is literally anyone’s ballgame.

(All predictions as of 11/9)

By: Chris Perkowski

 

 

 

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