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Hot Stove Reset: The top 10 remaining free agents on the market

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Hi, everyone. Hope your holidays were happy.

If you’re like me you ate too much, drank too much, slept too little and spent too much money and now you’re contemplating starting the new year with mindfulness and an effort to embody the concepts of simplicity, minimalism, temperance, frugality and overall healthy habits. Then the football playoffs will start and you’ll drink a lot of beer while dipping chicken wings in blue cheese dressing and vow to start again in the spring. We should probably just skip this whole mindful period and order a pizza.

If you’re also like me, the lack of hot stove news in the past couple of weeks has caused your baseball brain to atrophy. To remedy that — and to take our minds off of our personal failings — let us take a fresh look at the free agent market to see who remains and what, if anything, is happening with them at the moment. Other than their experiencing sheer panic over not having a job:

Jose Bautista: There have been conflicting reports as to whether Bautista is talking to the Blue Jays or not, but there seems to be at least some momentum for the slugger to return to Toronto. It may be on a short deal, possibly even a one-year deal, as Bautista’s sub-par and injury-plagued 2016 season harmed his chances at a big long term pact. If Bautista is amenable to a one-year deal, however, there are a lot of clubs who might be willing to sign him, as the biggest question about him isn’t whether a healthy Bautista can be useful — he likely has a lot of dingers left in that bat — but whether anyone wants to commit to the 36-year-old for multiple years.

Mark Trumbo: There were rumored talks with both the Orioles and the Rockies for the 2016 Home Run King, but those talks have been quiet for a while. It would be amazing to see Trumbo in Colorado — he’s hit eight homers in 12 games there — but his low OBP and poor defense would make it hard for an NL team to sign him (he got the start at DH 59 times in 2016). Of course the Rockies do things like give Ian Desmond multiple years to play positions he’s never really played before, so maybe they don’t care.

Matt Wieters: I’m so old that I remember a time when Georgia Tech alum Wieters wasn’t reported to be “coveted” by the Atlanta Braves, but it was a very, very long time ago so it remains fuzzy nonetheless. The Diamondbacks and Nationals have been reported to be keeping an eye on him as well. His offense took a dip in 2016, but he was durable and remains a top defensive catcher. At 30, you figure a player with that profile has, approximately, 27 years left in Major League Baseball.

Mike Napoli: Since Edwin Encarnacion signed with Cleveland, Napoli has been reported to be very close to a deal with the Texas Rangers, for whom he has played on two previous occasions. The smart money has him going back to Arlington, but the Oakland A’s, who reportedly made a big offer to Encarnacion could be in the mix as well, even if it’s only as a source of bargaining power for Napoli.

Jason Hammel: Hammel posted a 3.83 ERA in 2016 in 166.2 innings for the Cubs last season, but had some elbow issues late and saw a degradation in his strikeout and walk rates. That, it is reported, is limiting him to one-year offers. Just about anyone could use a guy like Hammel on a short deal, of course, so it may be a bit before Hammel (a) figures out if he’s cool with a one-year deal; and (b) decides among what would likely be several offers for said one-year deal.

Michael Saunders and Brandon Moss: It’s been pretty quiet for the market for these two so far this offseason. It makes sense, of course, as they are viewed as fallbacks for the clubs which don’t get the Edwin Encarnacions, Jose Bautistas and Mark Trumbos of the world. Saunders made the All-Star team after hitting .298/.372/.551 in the first half of the year, but stumbled to a line of .178/.282/.357 in 185 at-bats after the break, along with poor defense. Moss is what he is: a lot of power with low OBP and defensive limitations. A poor man’s Trumbo, I suppose.

Travis Wood: The lefty worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the Cubs in 2016, but started a bit the year before and, of course, was a full-time starter before that. Rumor has it that he wants to start again. If that’s so, it’s more likely second division teams would be his likely landing spot, while true contenders would likely want him to work out of the pen. He throws with his left arm, however, so there are approximately 30 teams which likely would have a place for him. His deal won’t be a big one, but he’ll probably sign when he wants to sign as opposed to having to play musical chairs like the remaining second-tier sluggers will.

Pedro Alvarez: Did I mention second-tier sluggers? I dunno, maybe Alvarez is a third tier. He hits right-handed pitching, is severely compromised against lefties and cannot play defense at all. Is there a place for that? Probably, but it’ll be on a short, low-money deal. If Trumbo goes elsewhere, he could return to Baltimore. The Royals have had a reported interest too, having lost Kendrys Morales to the Jays.

Jonathan Papelbon: He has had a mysterious few months, reportedly rejecting offers to work as a setup man in a couple of places after his release by the Nationals and, early in December, reportedly not engaging with any teams due to an unspecified personal matter. There’s a chance he could be toast after his poor 2016 season, but there’s a better chance that some team will take a chance on him to see if he can’t return to form in 2017.

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

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ST. LOUIS — Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.