Typically one of the most exciting times of the MLB Offseason, the Winter Meetings have come and gone with hardly anything to show. With the eyes of the baseball world fixated on the baseball execs who had gathered together in the energetic Vegas atmosphere, the week saw plenty of hot takes and rumors but hardly any tangible results. It seems as though most of the General Managers present this year were more interested in testing their luck at the slots than at the negotiation table.
Coming out on the other side of a week typically dedicated to some of the biggest trades and free agent signings each year, we’ve already seen a number of acquisitions in the short-term. The Mets remained major players in the offseason with the signing of Wilson Ramos as their new Catcher, and the Phillies ponying up for Andrew McCutchen in the first of what many expect to be a lot of mid-Winter moves.
So as we continue to move along, and snowball into 2019 let’s take a look at the landscape of remaining big name free agents and where we might see them on opening day of the new season:
Marwin Gonzalez – INF/OF
New York Yankees
I know what you’re going to say, “Why do you keep doing these prediction pieces? They never work out for you and undermine your credibility as a sports writer because you’re always wrong”…and to that I say, stop it mom you’re embarrassing me in front of my readers again! Look I know these things usually go awry for me, and more often than not it stems from guys just like the aforementioned mid-tier talents like Gonzalez. His market is so wide open and limitless because of his utility man status that he could essentially sign with any ball club in baseball and wind up filling nearly any conceivable spot for them.
For my money though (and I guess his) I can’t really imagine him slotting into another bench-oriented role in 2019. He’s proven that regardless of where he’s standing on the field or slotted in the batting order he has the potential to contribute in a massive way on a nightly basis. So even if his day-to-day position might be in flex due to resting other guys or inevitable injury, he’s likely going to look to join a contending franchise who can guarantee him that he’ll see his name in the lineup card more often than not.
Obviously teams like the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs immediately come to mind because they have some glaring holes at the corner outfield spots that Gonzalez has proven he could fill. But instead I like him for the New York Yankees. Regardless of what happens in the Bombers’ pursuit of other names on this list, there’s a noticeable lack of First Basemen in this year’s free agent market, a position that the Yankees are so desperate to fill that they even took an extended look at Bryce Harper giving it the old college try in the midst of a battle for AL East supremacy with the Red Sox in 2019.
Gonzalez’s status as a switch hitter means that he could split time at the First Base bag with wunderkind Luke Voit who captivated the Bronx faithful last fall as a powerful late season addition. This would guarantee Gonzalez most starts at first seeing as Voit hits better against lefties, and on other days he can be used as a plug-and-play infielder and corner outfielder for resting the remainder of the lineup. I like this fit for him, and more importantly I like this fit for them!
Zach Britton – LHP
New York Yankees
I could give you a slew of teams interested in the services of one of the premier left-handed relievers on the open market. Literally every team in baseball, regardless of how good their bullpen might already be, will be clamoring for the services of more high-end relief pitchers.
Other favorites here to land Britton are the St. Louis Cardinals and the seemingly never-done shopping Mets front office. They’re teams who already have an established backend of the bullpen and wouldn’t necessarily be looking for Britton to fill the closer role from the outset.
At this juncture though, I like the odds of the Yankees hanging tight to their mid-season acquisition. Britton affords the Yankees another potent potential closer for Aroldis Chapman’s annual late August slump. His presence as a veteran late-inning guy will continue to add to the growing mystique and intimidation of the Yankees bullpen, and it’ll be great to see him get the chance at a full season with them.
With Britton’s re-signing however, it of course means that the Yankees will likely part ways with another powerful bullpen arm…
David Robertson – RHP
New York Mets
Lost in a busy and at times messy offseason spending spree by the New York Mets has been their innate desire to add one more closer-caliber arm to their historically weak bullpen. The Mets’ pen has been a source of doubt and dismay for the better part of the last two decades, emphasized by placing would be fifth starter, Robert Gsellman in the ill-suited closer role in the middle of the season. There are tons of reasons why asking a young and impressionable starting pitcher to alter his mechanics mid-season to try to fit in as your closer is a terrible idea…and I like to think that now Mets’ Manager Mickey Callaway can list them all for you.
Robertson, similar to Britton and the rest of the relievers on this list, has a pretty wide open market with nearly every team in baseball being eager to bolster their bullpen for 2019. One might assume that his longer history with the Yankees might lend itself to him re-upping in the Bronx instead of Britton, but the likelihood of him commanding a higher paycheck leads me to believe that he’ll be more than happy with moving to a new ball club.
My favorite aspect of the Mets’ early offseason trade with the Mariners wasn’t the return of longtime Yankee, Robinson Cano to the Big Apple. Rather I liked the idea of seeing Edwin Diaz, baseball’s reigning Saves leader, become the anchor to a retooled bullpen in Queens. Due to his young age (24) and his past inconsistencies however, there should always be some red flags surrounding him in the role of high-pressure closer. Enter, Robertson…who can play mentor to the young fire-baller as well as pickup the closing role should the Mets briefly lose confidence in Diaz over the course of the season.
San Francisco Giants
Fun Fact: Japanese Pitchers not named Masahiro Tanaka, love California. With the exception of the Yankees’ prized pickup of 2014, most Japanese arms have preferred the comfort of the west coast and it’s close proximity to their native land. The same certainly holds true for the latest foreign talent to be posted for a move to the Majors. Yusei Kikuchi has a long-standing love affair with the teams of the Bay Area in particular.
Rumors circulated early this offseason that his preferred landing spot for 2019 was either the Oakland A’s or the San Francisco Giants, and he only added fuel to the fire by professing his love for the history of starter-supremacy in San Francisco during an interview he did in November. With the A’s likely unwilling to shell out big money for a foreign starter (or anyone really) the dark horse to sign Kikuchi becomes the Los Angeles Angels. Never shy about throwing money around, and likely still high on the success of Shohei Ohtani’s rookie campaign for them…the Angels will certainly offer a sizable deal to another Japanese-born starter.
The Giants ultimately will lock down the services of the projected mid-rotation arm. This will allow them to boast a paper-champion rotation of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Yusei Kikuchi, and Dereck Rodriguez. Again, this rotation looks great in theory, but the combined injury struggles and poisonous contracts of those top three make this a little more complex and troublesome entering 2019. The only real bright spot being them potentially (long-shot because of age) returning to form, Yusei outperforming his MLB projections, and Rodriguez living up to his family legacy of baseball excellence (his father in Hall of Fame Catcher, Ivan Rodriguez).
Andrew Miller – LHP
Boston Red Sox
Now a long-standing veteran of the game, Andrew Miller got his start hurling late innings for the boys in Bean-town. He’s going to get a lot of looks from a lot of organizations, but in all likelihood no team will be as inclined to sign the aging lefty as the Red Sox. Their problematic bullpen has already lost out on perennial panic-initiating setup man Joe Kelly, and not to spoil anything too soon, I don’t think they’ll see their lights-out ninth inning guy back in Boston next year either.
Miller is at the tail end of his career and a pair of recent injury plagued campaigns will certainly knock a few dollars off of his price tag this winter. That’ll help the Red Sox out aplenty as they are already projected to dish out more money in luxury taxes than any other team in baseball. His potency and ability to break down opposing hitters is still very much intact when he’s healthy, making Miller still an incredibly valuable late-inning guy. Unless Boston has some hidden gems with closer potential, or plan to dish out even more big money to a guy like Adam Ottavino, we could see Miller suit up in the ninth inning to lock down wins for the reigning World Series champs in 2019.
The demand for relievers is pretty expansive but then again so is the supply. In all likelihood Miller could receive more contract offers than any other player on the open market because of his expansive resume and slightly diminished asking price. So he very well could be harder to predict than anyone this winter. That being said the sentimental reasoning behind returning to the place where his career began in what will likely be his final contract is a powerful thing.
Brian Dozier – 2B
Los Angeles Dodgers
If you want to have a discussion about why a guy like Brian Dozier is a legitimate commodity in baseball today, you needn’t ask anyone but Dodgers’ Manager Dave Roberts who has praised the Second Baseman endlessly since he joined the team at the Trade Deadline in 2018. His on the field numbers might not have been what many expected of the All-Star this past season, but his veteran presence have made him the ideal locker room personality for a Dodgers franchise in constant flux with superstar egos coming and going.
His personality is the reason the Dodgers will look to retain Dozier over opting for an alternative free agent up the middle. He can split time with the revolving door of talent the Dodgers boast on the infield, and can slot in as a DH for them when they play inter-league games. He also proved his worth as a potent pinch-hitter during the playoffs this year whenever LA called his number to bat up for a departing pitcher.
There is a market there for Dozier, with plenty of other interested teams in the market for a bat at Second Base. But with most of them looking at him as more of a secondary option to the better hitter in Lowrie, he’ll likely sign with the franchise who has chosen to make him a top-tier priority this offseason.
Jed Lowrie – 2B
Los Angeles Angels
There are a number of teams in baseball who should be all in on a guy like Jed Lowrie. His 2018 campaign was something of an offensive revelation, but if you take a deeper look at his stat line you can see this was something he’s been capable of for years now had it not been for his injury troubles and frequent-backup role. I mean seriously the man has been playing second fiddle to Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve for most of his career…the only two Second Basemen to win MVP awards since Jeff Kent did so back in 2000.
So now that Lowrie is no longer a hidden gem, riding the pine on a contending team, it’s more than likely we’ll see him cash in on a new deal in a market for second baseman that’s pretty limited in supply since Ian Kinsler signed pretty early on with the Padres. I’d love the fit of Lowrie with the reigning NL Champs, but the Dodgers love affair with Dozier will likely keep this from happening. Instead though, I see the other Hollywood based franchise swooping in to nab him.
The Angels have a lot of holes, primarily centered around their inability to cart a healthy rotation out on to the field…ever. But the one offensive gap that remains is at Second Base and Lowrie can fill that nicely. His solid bat allows him to slot in anywhere in the Angels already devastating lineup and be a factor. His defensive play isn’t his strong suit by any means, but he is capable at both second and third which would give the Halos some room to play around with Cozart at either spot and Andrelton Simmons playing short.
Mike Moustakas – 3B
Chicago White Sox
This pickup is going to surprise a lot of people around the baseball world this offseason and will undoubtedly signal the proverbial white flag from the ChiSox in the race to acquire Manny Machado. Chicago isn’t quite ready to turn the corner and contend in 2019 which is certainly something that Machado would like to avoid having spent so much time in a losing situation in Baltimore. So the White Sox will inevitably find themselves with some money to fool around with, and they’ll hand a good chunk over to a big bat, and Third Base stop-gap in the form of Mike Moustakas.
For a young team looking to build towards the top of their division, Moustakas isn’t exactly a long-term type of fit. The former World Series champ is at a stage in his career when he’s better suited to play the role of additional power bat to a pre-built contender looking to get over the hump. But he’ll likely settle for another one or two-year deal with Chicago in an effort to pad his stats in a lineup that offers little else as far as power. On the flip side, he offers his new team the chance to incrementally improve with a big bat now in the heart of the order. Plus as a man whose been a part of a home-grown World Series winner (in their very division no less) he can offer a great deal of veteran insight and mentor-ship to the young White Sox core.
Among my other favorites to ink the corner infielder: the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels, and New York Mets. For the Yanks and Phils he again plays the role of second prize in the Machado sweepstakes, and for the Mets and Angels he’s sort of act as a missing link on the infield that could turn them into contenders in 2019.
A.J. Pollock – OF
New York Mets
A lot of noise has been made about the unusually weak starting pitching market available this winter. But hardly anyone has alluded to the fact that beyond the prized asset known as Bryce Harper, there’s a pretty steep dropoff in the outfield free agent market as well. This has resulted in a number of OF talents already receiving pretty generous offers like Andrew McCutchen with the Phillies and Michael Brantley with the Astros.
Another man set to make a pretty penny in the coming weeks is long time D-Backs Center Fielder, A.J. Pollock. His ability and athleticism to man Center is something that puts him on a different tier than some of his fellow free agents. Couple that with a good bat and decent speed, and we very well could see a team dish out a salary near the Lorenzo Cain numbers that Pollock is asking for. A few teams have been rightfully interested in adding him to their outfield mix like the Phillies, White Sox, Reds, and Nationals.
Ultimately though I think that the Mets end their Winter spending spree right here with Pollock. He fills an immediate need for them in Center, without having to part ways with any more prospects via trade. This deal works great for the boys in Queens and might be just the final touch they need to contend for that NL East crown that seems to be relatively up for grabs at the moment. This move allows the Mets to routinely play Michael Conforto in Left, Jay Bruce in Right, and bounce Brandon Nimmo around as their spark plug fourth outfielder for 2019.
Yasmani Grandal – C
As the J.T. Realmuto situation works itself out in Miami, a number of teams are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Marlin’s asking price for the perceived top catcher in baseball. Most recently, we saw trade talks between the Marlins and Mets crumble, and the Mets opting to go out and sign journeyman catcher Wilson Ramos as their new starter behind the dish.
The Brewers are a team that many people have liked as a potential trade destination for Realmuto, especially considering the success they had in brokering a deal with the Marlins last winter for NL MVP, Christian Yelich. I definitely think that’s a real possibility, but in the event that the Brewers are unwilling to meet the steep demands being made by Miami, Yasmani Grandal becomes a not-bad second option.
Many will judge Grandal on his late season slide and absence in the postseason for the Dodgers when they would have needed him most. But all in all, that slump appears to be an anomaly and most teams will look to his blazing hot start a season ago as being more indicative of the player they’re signing. Teams like the Angels, A’s, and Twins are likely to enter the fray for Grandal in short order with the Angels being another favorite of mine to lock him down because they certainly don’t have the means (prospects) to trade for Realmuto.
Dallas Keuchel – LHP
Among all of the players listed here, Keuchel was truly my favorite to re-up with his former ballclub. All things considered he has a great relationship with the Astros’ front office, fan base, and the rest of the team. And with Charlie Morton accepting a deal to leave town and move to Tampa Bay, the stage seemed better set than ever for his return to Houston. But the Astros just inked Michael Brantley to a pretty hefty contract a few days ago, so I don’t exactly think they’ll be in a hurry to give Keuchel the kind of payday he’s looking for.
The 2015 Cy Young Award winner is currently being courted by the Braves, Phillies, and Reds. Many experts believe that other teams like the Yankees and Angels could be set to enter the fray shortly after striking out with pitching additions in trades recently. I genuinely like that first option for Keuchel though.
The Atlanta Braves proved to be one of baseball’s biggest surprises in 2018 and rode that wave of shock to a postseason berth and divisional crown. Competition seems to be abound in the NL East however, with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies loading up in a hurry to make a run at that top spot. The addition of Keuchel gives them a reliable option to slot anywhere in this rotation, and even if he isn’t able to recapture his form from a couple of years ago, he’s proven he can still be a winning pitching who eats innings…a necessity given the poor state of the Braves’ bullpen.
Adam Ottavino – RHP
St. Louis Cardinals
If you think that netting Ottavino as their prize in free agency is a major let down by the Cards, then you must not know that Ottavino humbly declared that he could strike out Babe Ruth in 10 out of 10 at-bats. Now we can argue all day about whether or not that’s true based on the fact that Ruth likely would have never before faced a pitcher with that kind of pitch speed or ball movement 100 years ago…but really we should be discussing the impressiveness of the Cardinals adding a backend reliever with balls to the wall confidence.
Sure the Cardinals would have loved to bring home Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, or Craig Kimbrel, but for some reason they just can’t seem to make that big splash in free agency. Instead, I have them coming away with one of the top bullpen prizes in baseball this winter. They’ll have to part ways with a hefty sum to lure in Ottavino from the clutches of a more exciting franchise like the Phillies, Red Sox, or Yankees; but that along with the promise of closing ballgames on a playoff contender should be more than enough to net the Cards their guy.
Adam Ottavino offers an insane ability to strike guys out, his K/9 rate nearly untouchable in 2018 thanks to his command and break on one of the nastiest sliders baseball has ever seen. He hasn’t gotten too much exposure to the last inning in Colorado, playing setup man to the more experienced Wade Davis in 2018. But without much of a question he can fairly easily pry that closer job away from Jordan Hicks in the St. Louis pen.
Craig Kimbrel – RHP
Can we just take a moment to criticize the fact that in countless Free Agency prediction pieces circulating the internet today, Craig Kimbrel isn’t given his due as the unquestioned third best player available in Free Agency this year. Actually given his effectiveness as baseball’s best closer, Harper no-showing 2018, and Machado falling apart in LA in the second half…he might have a legitimate claim to top billing this winter. Yet here we stand, in a world where I have seen more offseason coverage given to the exploits of Mets’ GM Brodie Van Wagenen, than baseball’s premier bullpen arm. In an era where late inning relief means everything, not covering the decision process of the best bullpen arm in baseball absolutely shouldn’t be acceptable.
Nonetheless, Craig Kimbrel will more than likely find himself a new home in 2019. Why would the premier closer in baseball want to leave the best team in baseball (as evidenced by their historic 2018 campaign) right after they partnered up to win a World Series, you might ask. And quite frankly, I’m sure that Kimbrel would love to stick around in Boston for a few more runs at the Commissioner’s trophy. The problem is, Boston can’t afford to pay him what he wants or deserves. We see the checks that teams are dishing out to closers and setup man the past few years, and there’s no way that the best of them all should settle for anything less. Heck if the Yankees can pony up $17 million a year for Aroldis Chapman to routinely miss the month of August because he can’t put the ball over the plate, any team should be willing to give Kimbrel at least the same to nearly be in Cy Young contention exclusively from 9th inning performances.
While many contenders might shy away from offering a contract to Kimbrel out of fear of rejection or being unwilling to contend with baseball’s bigger checkbooks, I can see the Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Phillies all throwing their names into the ring. I can even see the Yanks toying with the idea of a Kimbrel signing publicly just out of spite. Ultimately though it is the Phillies who will come away with a new Closer. They were in the market to sign two stars this winter, even parting ways with Carlos Santana in recent weeks in an effort to open up more salary room. While everyone else appears to be thinking that means Harper & Machado, I’m inclined it means that they’ll pair one of those big bats with a man who can literally take away an inning of baseball from an opposing lineup.
Bryce Harper – OF (and 1B…apparently)
About two weeks ago I was ready to dig out my old Brian McCann Yankees jersey from my closet, because there was going to be a new #34 in pinstripes this year but Brian Cashman dashed those hopes by saying that the Yanks were pulling out of the race for the former Nationals slugger. Truth be told I’m not sure if Yankee fans or Harper himself, were more devastated by this revelation. So instead I suppose we all have to turn away from fantasy and take a peak at reality with this one.
No matter how you slice it, the Philadelphia Phillies were going to come away with Machado, Harper, or both. I’m very much convinced that Kimbrel is going to sign here first in the coming weeks, leaving room for the Phillies to only make one superstar splash. And we can use their recent roster moves as a means to track which of the two players they’ve set their sights on. With Jean Segura being brought in to play shortstop, we can assume that barring a Manny Machado move back to Third Base, we’re going to see the Phillies push a whole lot harder to reel in Bryce Harper.
The move makes sense for them too, with Harper manning Right Field, the Phillies can play McCutchen in Left where he’ll have a much easier time at this stage in his career. Slotted between them will be the uber-athletic Odubel Herrera. This means Rhys Hoskins can return to his natural position at First Base and the rest of the defense shakes out as Cesar Hernandez, Segura, & Maikel Franco (2nd, Short, 3rd respectively). That’s definitely nothing to scoff at on the defensive end, and offensively it certainly packs a punch. With Hernandez/Segura/Herrera all having proven themselves suitable leadoff talents, Harper/Hoskins/McCutchen/Franco all being able to drive in runs and Jorge Alfaro behind the plate starting to come into his own offensively…this is a team who can make a run at the NL East crown.
Should Harper not go to the Phillies I think pretty much anyone on earth can tell you that he’s going to find his way to either Chicago team or the LA Dodgers in 2019.
Manny Machado – SS/3B
New York Yankees
Everybody still have those Alex Rodriguez jerseys lying around? If so, I think we can start getting that #13 Yankees jersey pressed and ready to go for 2019. That’s right, that thing that absolutely nobody in baseball wants to see happen (except Yankees fans) is absolutely going to come into fruition in the coming days. Now I think we’ve all toyed with this idea to great lengths in the past year or so, but I can give you an exact timeline of just how and why this one’s coming true…
- Last Winter – Remember around a year ago when rumors started running rampant that the Orioles were trying to shop their prized third baseman to their division foes just days after the Yankees had acquired Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins? Well that deal blew up almost exclusively because of fan backlash, but the seeds were planted in the head of a certain 25-year old superstar that the Evil Empire was calling his name.
- Shortstop for Life – Remember when Machado declared that for the remainder of his MLB career he wanted to return to his natural position at Shortstop, forcing the hands of all potential trade destinations and teams looking to sign him to open up space for him up the middle?
- All-Star Break – Remember how nobody paid attention to the actual results of the All-Star game or that weeks activities because they were too busy sounding off on Machado’s Instagram post…surrounded by only Yankee All-Stars? And remember when during an interview with the Baseball Tonight crew his nephew openly declared the family’s love affair with the Yankees?
- The Dodger Days – Remember how Machado got traded to the Dodgers instead of the Yankees, on what was obviously intended to just be a rental because they already had a superstar Shortstop who just so happened to be injured for the rest of the year?
- The Brewers Saga – Remember how the oh-so-lovable Machado took a very obvious turn to the dark side? From refusing to hustle because “that isn’t part of his game” to dirty slides at second base to kicking the leg of Jesus Aguilar at first base with the intent to injure?
- Didi to the DL – Remember how Didi Gregorious scratched and clawed his way through the playoffs for the New York Yankees despite being injured, and elected to hold off on surgery (that would’ve seen him healthy for Opening Day if done in August) so that he could help the Yanks’ World Series hopes in 2018, now forcing him to potentially be out all the way through June?
- Segura from Seattle – Remember when the Phillies traded for Jean Segura (I hope so, it literally happened 3 weeks ago) despite Manny Machado adamantly being against playing Third Base anymore, essentially nixing his desire to play for the franchise unless they’re willing to force the better defensive shortstop in Segura (he is better until Manny can prove otherwise) to try and learn to play the hot corner?
- He Can’t Grow a Beard – Remember how the Yankees have a no facial hair policy that’s tailor-made for baby faces like Machado?
I really hope I don’t have to keep going here…
Manny Machado is going to become the Yankees new Shortstop for years to come. Once Didi returns from the DL (conveniently around the Trade Deadline) either he or Miguel Andujar will end up being used as trade bait for a capable starting pitcher to bolster the Yankees staff down the stretch.
I suppose there are some other teams in play here like the Phils & ChiSox…but the fact remains that they can’t offer Manny what he really wants…to be a Yankee.