This Major League Baseball season was nothing short of spectacular, and the playoffs we just witnessed will go down as arguably the greatest of all-time. Not just the World Series either; we as fans were treated to more tightly contested Championship, Division, and Wild Card Series than I’ve ever witnessed. There were few if any games that proved to be true blowouts, and many of the ones that began with large leads quickly saw real competition ensue in later innings.
You can point to the incumbent Free Agent class as being mediocre, and merely an appetizer to the main course slated to hit the open market a year from now. But if this season taught us anything at all, a seemingly minor addition can make all the difference down the stretch.
So let’s dive in to some of the top catches on the open market this winter (and a certain Marlin who will likely be headed to new waters). As I examine what they’ll bring to the table, I’ll also try and predict where it is they’ll call home in 2018.
Now I know what you’re saying: “Nick why do you keep doing these prediction pieces, you’re always terrible at them.” To that I merely state…I’m a grown ass man and I do what I want. So here goes:
Yu Darvish, P
Yu Darvish was slated to be the undisputed, prized possession of this years Free Agent class. While he still arguably holds top-billing among pitchers, his stock was understandably damaged by a painful World Series in which Astros batters tagged him for 8 Earned Runs in just three and a third innings (that’s his total contribution over 2 different starts). For a man who spent a majority of his MLB Career as an ace for the Texas Rangers, and briefly as the wing-man to Clayton Kershaw in LA, these numbers are hardly becoming.
In terms of what he can be expected of him going forward, I see Darvish being tagged as an ace for a below-par rotation on a burgeoning contender. Or as a top-tier 2nd or 3rd option on a club who already has a solid pitching core.
As far as potential suitors go I have the Phillies, Twins, Astros, and Cubs as the best potential options in the likelihood that the Dodgers do not choose to re-up on the 31 year old righty. With the Phillies he’d immediately be tabbed as the ace and be expected to shoulder the load as the rest of their very young pitching staff still tries to get their legs under them in the big leagues. On the 2017 Cinderella-story Twins, he would be a rare big name splash for a team that has traditionally preferred in-house options and lower-tier signings. The Astros’ biggest weakness during the 2017 regular-season was their starting rotation until Justin Verlander was brought in to lead the staff. This is arguably my favorite option as it would see Darvish become one of the best middle of the rotation starters in all of baseball, and I selfishly want to see him and Yuli Gurriel make-up and become the strangest of best friends.
Final Prediction – Chicago Cubs
As evidenced by the fact that I mentioned them above but didn’t really dive into them as an option…the Chicago Cubs are my prediction for Yu Darvish’s new home. The Japanese-born pitcher would be able to play option 1B to Jon Lester’s 1A in Wrigley, after the painful departure of former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. The Cubs are under a lot of pressure after failing to reach the World Series after coming into the 2017 campaign as heavy favorites. That pressure could manifest itself in the Cubs being major players in free-agency and trade talks this off-season, as they look to sure up some gaps and make another run at the big dance in 2018.
J.D. Martinez, OF/DH
Now it is very important to understand something when it comes to the free swinging Martinez: I listed him as an OF/DH because quite frankly he isn’t very good defensively. Thus far in his seven year career (primarily utilized in Right Field), he has managed to accumulate a negative 35 in Defensive Runs Saved Above Average. That means in his tenure as an outfielder with the Astros, Tigers, and Diamondbacks he has cost teams greatly in the field.
That being said his offensive contributions have been dynamite wherever he has gone in the league. He has proven to be a primary slugging option in nearly every lineup he has graced, protecting the likes of perennial All-Stars Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt. Any team in the Majors would be excited to bring this long-ball threat aboard for the upcoming year, and while he might be better suited for the AL, the lack of true stars this winter could result in some NL teams paying big money for the Slugger.
The top contenders in the hunt for Martinez are the D-Backs, Giants, Cardinals, and Red Sox. Arizona would love to return Martinez after they made the move for him near the deadline this past July, and for all intents and purposes it appears as though he enjoyed his stay in the desert. The Cardinals and Giants are both desperately seeking a big bat for the middle of their lineup as they try and claw their way back in to the postseason picture, the team that doesn’t win the Stanton-sweepstakes will undoubtedly be considered the front runner for Martinez…and he isn’t exactly a terrible consolation prize.
Final Prediction – Boston Red Sox
This isn’t easy to admit as a fan of the Yankees, but when it comes to free-agent acquisitions few team in professional sports are ever as hungry as the boys from Bean-Town. It can be said that the Red Sox’s only whole in 2017 was their lack of a true power bat. In the absence of David Ortiz, a strong lineup lacked the kind of game-changing power that J.D. Martinez would be able to bring to Fenway. Playing half his game in Boston, the Green Monster will only stand to further improve Martinez’s slugging numbers in 2018. This move just makes sense.
Jake Arrieta, P
Had you asked me a year ago who the biggest name on this list would’ve been and I would have undoubtedly said Jake Arrieta. Without question the man has an impressive resume, complete with the 2015 NL Cy Young and a World Series ring from 2016 with the Cubs. But 2017 was a down year for Arrieta (and the rest of the Cubs’ roster too I guess).
Most signs point to Arrieta leaving Chicago this Winter, and in a year with few better options, he still stands to earn a substantial payday. Look for a team in need of a legitimate ace, possibly with a young core surrounding him that can pick his brain and learn from the veteran righty.
The Brewers, Phillies, Twins, and Angels are my early cast of candidates to secure the services of the 31 year old starter. The Brewers are a team who got off to a surprisingly hot start in 2017 but unfortunately fell to Arrieta’s Cubs down the stretch run. A well established veteran like Arrieta would be the perfect addition to a team in need of that brand of leadership. The Phillies are a team desperate to climb into playoff contention after spending years in the National League cellar, and with their young core starting to turn the corner a star like Arrieta would be an ideal way to change the losing culture established in Citizen’s Bank Park. The Twins are again in the hunt for that one piece that’ll make them a mainstay in postseason contention for the next few years, and with his track record being what it is you could argue he’s an even better fit than Darvish for a winning ball club.
Final Prediction – Los Angeles Angels
If you thought the ridiculous contract extension that the Angels handed to Justin Upton would be the end of their frivolous spending this Winter than you are sadly mistaken. This is a team who loves to spend big, and few if any free agents this winter could command as much money as Arrieta will. He fits the mold of what the Angels look for in their big offseason splashes, quite frankly the only thing that would make him more appealing to them would be if he used to play for the Rangers. In the Angels are looking to dethrone Houston out West this is the kind of move that they need to make.
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Eric Hosmer for my money is the best all-around position player to hit the open market this winter. He posted a career best slash line of .318/.385/.498 while playing Gold Glove defense (for the fourth time in 5 years) in all 162 of his squad’s regular season games. He has become the heart of the Kansas City Royals, a franchise who with Hosmer’s help, captured the World Series crown just 2 years ago.
Regardless of where he ends up going this winter, the 28 year old is just reaching his prime. That will be reflected in both the years and dollar value of his new contract as well as his inevitable place at the heart of whichever lineup he gets plugged into. The Batting Average, On Base Percentage, and sheer athleticism allow him to produce as a consistent top of the order hitter. But should a team opt to push him into the 4 or 5 hole his 25 round-trippers (two seasons in a row) and consistent 90+ RBI showings could only stand to further improve. Had he hit free agency even a year sooner I don’t think that there would be any doubt about the native-Miamian signing with the Marlins. But in the Derek Jeter led regime I think we’ll be hard pressed to see that kind of frivolous spending for a long time.
The front-runners for the first baseman are the Red Sox, Mariners, Cardinals, Rockies, and of course the Royals. The Red Sox again are in play here because of their need for power, so you should consider Hosmer another contingency plan for a team likely looking to participate in the Stanton-sweepstakes. While Hanley Ramirez has proved serviceable during his stretch at first for Boston, there’s little doubt that Hosmer would bump him into the DH spot instantly. The Mariners were a disappointment in 2017, and should look to bounce back and contend for a playoff spot by signing the best option for their open job at first base. The Cardinals for my money are going to be the biggest players this Winter regardless of whether they can truly secure any big free agents. Hosmer would be a great fit for a team hungry to get back to the Postseason in 2018. I think the Rockies are the best option for the Hos. Joining a young core in a hitter friendly ballpark could only serve to satisfy him immensely.
Final Prediction – Kansas City Royals
You can argue that sticking by the Royals is hardly the best move for Eric Hosmer. Every team listed above likely has a better shot at getting him another World Series ring in the near future, but it’s hard to walk away from recent success. Though it might seem like a distant memory given how the 2017 Royals performed, but KC was crowned World Series champs in 2015; that’s just 2 years ago. The Royal faithful have pinned their hopes on Hosmer sticking around, and if nothing else he strikes me as a loyal guy.
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Much like his fellow Kansas City corner-infielder, Mike Moustakas is slated to make big bucks in the coming weeks as Free Agent frenzy kicks into high gear. The 29 year old slugger is fresh off of setting the Royals’ franchise record with 38 dingers in 2017. The power is definitely there and while he isn’t one of the game’s elite defenders at the hot corner, he is certainly no slouch at third either.
While many Royals fans are also invested in Moustakas as a cornerstone of their franchise, it’s no secret that the free swinging third baseman isn’t held in quite the esteem that Hosmer is. His injury-plagued 2016 campaign remains a sore spot for a Kansas City team who was looking to repeat as champs or at least return to the World Series for the third consecutive season.
I see the Royals, Mets, Cardinals, and Angels as the teams most keen on Moustakas in the early goings. More than anything else, the Royals’ brass will have pressure applied to return as much of their World Championship core as possible by the fans. All signs point to the New York Mets finally coming to terms with the end of David Wright’s run as their everyday third baseman, and they could choose to get aggressive in their pursuit of a replacement as early as this winter. The Cardinals are again in the running for a top tier free agent (told you they’d be here a lot), and Moose is another name on their lengthy wishlist.
Final Prediction – Los Angeles Angels
Put quite simply, the call to return home to Los Angeles will be far too strong for Mike Moustakas to resist. Also it won’t hurt that the call will have close to $20 Million a year on the other end of it. The Angels are big on two things at the moment: Mike Trout…and spending money to protect Mike Trout. Adding one of the better middle of the order options to protect the perennial MVP candidate in the lineup likely has the front office in Anaheim salivating.
Lorenzo Cain, CF
Wow I didn’t realize until I actually started writing this piece how painful this off -season might be for the Kansas City Royals. To watch your young core grow and develop, win a title, and then 2 years later be unable to return all of them because of the salaries they’ll inevitably command. I’m going to treasure my Yankees core a little more from here on out after this realization.
For all intents and purposes, Lorenzo Cain is the far and away the best outfielder available on the open market this winter. Yes I realize J.D. Martinez is also technically an outfielder, but he’s more of an outfielder the same way Big Papi was technically a first baseman. Cain is a dynamite athlete and someone who can be relied upon heavily in just about every facet of the game.
His potential suitors this winter are the Royals, Blue Jays, Mariners, and Giants. Cain was arguably the best player on the 2015 World Series Championship team, and I fully expect the Royals to be keen on trying to return one of the franchise centerpieces. The Blue Jays will be searching for a means to return to relevance after a painful 2017, and strengthening up a lackadaisical outfield would certainly help them catch up to the Yanks and Sox in the AL East. The Mariners are looking up at the Astros and are likely willing to spend some money to close the gap, and Cain might very well be their investment of choice.
Final Prediction – San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants lacked something major in 2017…hitting. It’s understandably hard to win some games if you can’t score any runs. They have lacked a true power threat since the early 2000s and while Lorenzo Cain isn’t the answer to that dilemma (but don’t worry we’ll tackle that) he can definitely supply the bay area’s NL representative with some much needed run support for their crop of top tier starters.
Shohei Otani, P/OF/DH
If you haven’t heard much about the man being hailed as the Japanese Babe Ruth, here’s a 22 minute video highlighting why you should get to know him in a hurry…
Otani is something of a mythical being in baseball’s modern era. He is arguably the most dominant Japanese pitcher to come out of Japan since Daisuke Matsuzaka (probably not the best comparison given how he turned out). It can be argued though that his skill on the pitching mound can be rivaled only by his prowess in the batters box. He’s become the most must-see non-MLB player in quite some time and the most exciting part about him to many scouts…he’s only 23!
As far as fit goes there are many schools of thought on how Otami’s talents would be best utilized around Major League Baseball. If he were to join a National League club he’d undoubtedly be able to contribute as a dominant starter and show off his offensive repertoire once every 5 games, but it would be understandably be difficult to rationalize playing him in the field for the other 4 games. That means a major aspect of his game would be going to waste. In my eyes the best fit would be an American League squad, particularly one with an already strong pitching staff. In that case he’d be able to be a dominant starter for about 5 or 6 innings per outing (so as to avoid wearing him out) and be relegated to the less taxing DH spot for the remainder of the games.
Because of the $20 Million posting fee, it can already be assumed that a wide range of teams will be bowing out of the Otani sweepstakes. Traditionally we don’t see many bottom-tier teams attempting to splurge in the international market for an already established name. But with many of the league’s traditional spenders tied up in penalties for already exceeding their budgets on international players, the top options at the moment appear to be (in order of spending capability): Rangers, Yankees, Twins, Pirates, Marlins, and Mariners.
Final Prediction – Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
In case you didn’t know (and it’s alright I didn’t either), that is the team in Japan that Shohei Otami currently plays for. The MLBPA has essentially handed the International superstar a deadline for his club to post him: Monday, November 20th. The Fighters will almost certainly be alright with posting him to MLB, as they stand to gain $20 Million in the process. For Otami though, he might be a bit more inclined to want to hold off on the jump to the U.S. for another 2 years. Because of his current age, there is a cap on what any MLB club would be allowed to offer him. If he gets posted in 2019 however, once he turns 25, the amount of money he will be slated to make will be limited only by the imagination. So while the pull to the Majors might be strong, there’s a big difference between $10 Million and the $30 Million plus he could be slated to make if he holds off for a bit.
Giancarlo Stanton, RF
For fans of my earlier fishing reference, this is that big Marlin I was talking about. Now before you start with the “but Nick he’s not a free agent” crap, let me just say that there’s about 295 Million reasons why I can’t possibly forget that fact. Giancarlo Stanton has been the most desirably, and admittedly costly, trade candidate since roughly the All-Star break.
While his 2017 National League MVP award was certainly an exciting and unifying achievement for all the tens of Marlins fans in the world, it only served to make him that much more trade-able for Jeter and company. He can be a major asset for the right organization, but on a Miami squad looking to rebuild in the coming years, it doesn’t make sense to be paying a perennial MVP-candidate big bucks to endure more losing.
Now in order to be deemed a viable trade destination for the slugger it’ll take more than initial interest to be taken seriously. If that’s all it took, then my nephew’s 4th grade baseball team I coach is very interested (hell I’ll trade my nephew for him today, sorry Adrian). It’ll take a large availability in the salary department, and an array of young talent and prospects to get the behemoth on your roster for the 2018 campaign.
It’s safe to assume at this point that the relationship of Stanton and the Marlins is far too damaged to see him return for next season. Among some early favorites as landing spots this winter I’ve got the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, and Giants. The Red Sox have the need, the money, and the prospects necessary here. Their glaring hole in the power category means that this will be their primary target this winter. The New York Yankees have had their eyes fixated on Bryce Harper next off-season but you have to believe that the unexpected success they had in 2017 might lead to them wanting to pull the trigger on a superstar a bit early. The Cardinals desperately want to hunt down the Cubs in the NL Central, and in a pretty underwhelming free agent market this trade would surely make them contenders. Harming both the Red Sox and Cardinals’ chances however is the fact that the Stanton has openly expressed his unwillingness to join those franchises. While I know everything can change in an instant, that certainly isn’t an ideal start considering he has the ability to veto a trade.
Final Prediction – San Francisco Giants
All things considered, the Giants are the team that most need Giancarlo Stanton in order to rebound from a horrendous 2017. The Yanks and Sox are both already playoff teams, and the Cards aren’t in that much of a whole considering the step backwards taken by the Cubs this year. So need will undoubtedly drive the Giants to create the best trade package for the Marlins. I don’t really see this as a matter of if at this point…more so a matter of when.
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