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Your 2017-2018 Free Agent Preview

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Beginning today at 5PM, baseball’s free agents will be eligible to sign with any team they want. Unlike football and basketball free agency, baseball free agents don’t all sign in a rush. Some of them may sign soon, but others will be looking for work for weeks, so don’t cancel your evening plans or anything.

As has been the case for a few years now, the free agent class is lacking in franchise players. Clubs are super aggressive about locking up young, promising players to long term deals before they reach free agency and, in some cases, before they even get to arbitration. As a result, most of the players who are on the market this winter are over 30 or past their prime or are one-dimensional or are role players or are some combination of all of the above. Next year could prove to be exciting because of a couple of exceptions to this rule — Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be free agents — but for now clubs will have some tough calls when it comes to the free agent market.

There are a lot of people who are ranking the top available free agents, but obviously every team values players differently based on their needs and where they are on the continuum of rebuilding and contending, so let’s just break them down by position, with some special attention paid to the top guys at each spot:

 

Starting Pitchers

What’s available: Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex CobbJhoulys Chacin, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Andrew Cashner, Tyler Chatwood, Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia and lots and lots of back-of-the-rotation guys and dudes with injury histories.

Analysis: Darvish was a far more interesting name before he imploded in the World Series, but I doubt any club will put too much weight on those starts. For fans of teams courting him, it’s far more important to know that he’s fallen off over the past couple of years and is not the sort of number one ace he was before he had Tommy John surgery. He’s good to be sure, but not a guy who will single-handedly change your team’s fortunes. Arrietta is similar, though without the injury history. He’s unlikely to pitch like he did in 2015 going forward, but he’s still a guy who can help a winning team. Tyler Chatwood could be an intriguing choice for a team that does not call Coors Field home. Lance Lynn may be a better signing for a lot of teams, at least pro-rata, than Darvish or Arrieta if he continues to show post-Tommy John durability.

 

Relief Pitchers

What’s available: Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Pat Neshek, Brandon Morrow, Juan Nicasio, Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson, Bryan Shaw, Addison Reed, Mike Minor, Anthony Swarzak, Jake McGee, Steve Cishek, Joe Smith, Tyler Clippard, Fernando Rodney and a gabillion other guys because teams now carry, like, 14 relievers at any given time, almost none of them on long term deals.

Analysis: There were several big time closers on the market. This year it’s basically Wade Davis and, if you think he’s not breaking down, Greg Holland. It’s still a pretty good relief pitcher market, though, as teams generally get good value from the guys who aren’t big time closers. Bryan Shaw and Pat Neshek were super valuable as setup/middle inning guys and could work in higher-leverage situations. The converted starters — Morrow, Nicasio, Minor — all have made a nice transition into relieving, though it’ll be interesting to see how Minor and Morrow adapt to pitching multiple times a week beyond one season. Overall, the hot stove season has turned into “a new reliever signs someplace every day” season, so expect the most acton with relievers.

 

Catchers

What’s available: Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Avila, Chris Iannetta, Nick Hundley, A.J. Ellis, Miguel Montero and lots of dudes who will likely roam MLB forever, because backup catchers never die.

Analysis: Lucroy is the big name here and would’ve gotten a big deal if he were a free agent a year ago but took a step back with a poor 2017, both on offense and defense. Avila and Iannetta had really nice 2017 seasons, but both seemed like outlier years. This is a bad market for anyone looking for an everyday catcher, with Lucroy standing out above them all, even following his poor year.

 

First Basemen

What’s Available: Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana, Yonder Alonso, Logan Morison, Mitch Moreland, Lucas Duda, Mark Reynolds, Adam Lind, Danny Valencia

Analysis: Hosmer picked a good time to have a career year and, at 28, is one of the few younger free agents available. The question for any buyer is whether they think the big spike in average and on-base percentage he experienced in 2017 is sustainable or a one-year fluke. Carlos Santana, in contrast, has been consistent, even if he didn’t have the kind of 2017 Hosmer had. Figure whoever is in on one will be in on the other as a backup option, though Santana will likely come cheaper due to his age (he turns 32 in April). Alonso had a breakout season but fell off in the second half. There are so many 1B/DH guys available these days. Most of these guys, with the exception of Hosmer, Santana and Valencia, who has played other positions, should probably be DHs.

 

Middle Infielders

What’s available: Zack Cozart, Neil Walker, Brandon Phillips, Chase Utley, Alcides Escobar J.J. Hardy

Analysis: Second and short are outrageously thin positions. Cozart is far-and-away the best available — probably one of the top 5 free agents available at any position — as he’s coming off a career year. He’ll do well even though, at 32, it’s unlikely that he’ll replicate his 2017 numbers several times. Walker is OK when he’s healthy, but he hasn’t been for two years running and may not rate as a plausible second baseman anymore, defensively speaking. Everyone else is . . . not someone you want your team to sign unless you’re more interested in rooting for a team with good name recognition than one that wins baseball games.

 

Third Basemen

What’s available: Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez, Yunel Escobar and . . . uhhh . . . Pablo Sandoval?

Analysis: Moustakas, like Hosmer, is in a great position this winter, as he’s coming off a big year and he’s one of the few top free agents under 30. Frazier has settled in to the “lots of homers, low average but good-on-base-percentage” mold of hitters that seems to proliferate these days, but he’s still an above average defender, so that’ll get him some good offers. Nunez could profile as someone’s Ben Zobrist/Marwin Gonzalez-esque utility player. After that it’s a lot of chaff.

 

Center Fielders

What’s available: Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay, Austin Jackson, Cameron Maybin, Rajai Davis

Analysis: Cain is, somehow, about to turn 32 but he’s still a solid defender, an above-average hitter coming off a really nice year and he’s great on the base paths. That makes you a star if you can play center. He is likely to slow down over the next couple of years, of course, but he’s also going to be the top center fielder on the market. Everyone else is a big step down from him, but could be had far more cheaply. Gomez is an interesting case as he had a fairly decent bounce back campaign. Dyson is still speedy and flashes good leather, even if he’s not a plus-bat. John Jay is a platoon guy, but he’s pretty good in a platoon.

 

Corner Outfielders

What’s available: J.D. Martinez, Jay Bruce, Howie Kendrick, Curtis Granderson, Seth Smith, Andre Ethier, Nori Aoki, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista

Analysis: Martinez has the best bat, by far, on the free agent market and made himself millions with the power surge he exhibited after his trade to Arizona. He’s not a good defender, so don’t be surprised if he’s pursed by clubs who need a DH more than a right fielder (cough) Boston (cough). Bruce raised his stock in a major way in Cleveland and is healthy again after battling various ailments for a couple of years. He could likewise DH and/or serve as the lefty half of an amazing corner platoon. My guess, though, is that he’ll get signed to play the outfield full time. Granderson is getting up there in years and was terrible after being traded to L.A. It looked like he aged five years between August and October. Two big, big names — Carlos Gonzalez and Jose Bautista — might have to settle for one-year deals heavy on incentives. If you looked ahead to this offseason’s market back in, like, 2013, you’d think they’d be in line for $100 million deals. Alas, time remains undefeated.

So those are the highlights. They’re not particularly high, but hopefully there will be enough heat in that hot stove to get us through the winter.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 6, Nationals 1: Max Scherzer tossed six shutout innings and the pen blanked the Nats in the seventh, but Washington clung to only a 1-0 lead thanks to an almost-as-good start from Jacob deGrom. In the eighth, Dave Martinez called on Kyle Barraclough to hold things down. He got two out but also put two runners on, so Martinez called on Sean Doolittle to get a four-out save in a tight game. Tough order, but Doolittle’s good. Usually.

Doolittle hit the first batter he faced to load the bases, gave up a bases-clearing double to Juan Lagares, intentionally walked a guy and then gave up a three-run jack to Rajai Davis. The best part: Davis was just called up the Mets mere hours before. Hell, he had already taken batting practice for Syracuse, who was playing at Lehigh Valley. He took an Uber to New York, got there by the third inning, got lost and was finally suited up not long before entering the game as a pinch hitter.

As I wrote once upon a time, an essential part of living life is dealing with stuff when you’re basically unprepared. When you’re just thrown into a situation for which you didn’t have time or opportunity to gear up. Here’s a salute to Rajai Davis, who may not have been prepared to face a big league pitcher in a big league stadium when he woke up yesterday morning but who rose to the occasion because, really, what else can you do?

Cubs 8, Phillies 4: Cole Hamels took on the Phillies for the first time but, more importantly, he took on Cole Irvin in what I’m going to assume was a “Highlander” situation. Hamels didn’t pitch that well or get the win but he did a lot better than Irvin, so I assume Irvin’s head was cut off. There can only be one. Albert Almora Jr. hit a grand slam. Anthony Rizzo hit a three-run bomb to help the Cubs get out of an early hole. Let’s call it a Cole hole.

[Ed. — Let’s not]

White Sox 9, Astros 4: Not a great night for Coles. The White Sox beat up on Cole, Gerrit for six runs on seven hits. Eloy Jiménez hit two homers in this one and the Chisox even turned a triple play. A good one, too! Around-the-horn, bang-bang-bang, not one of those janky “baserunner screwed up and stood in the baseline as a guy caught a pop fly, stepped on the bag, and tagged out the confused runner” things. Watch:

Brewers 11, Reds 9: Zach Davies, with a 1.54 ERA, faced off against Luis Castillo, owner of a 1.90 ERA. So naturally 20 runs were scored. The Reds led 6-1 and blew it, then led 8-6 and blew it before the Brewers pulled away. The 8-6 lead went away when Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run homer to tie it. He also started a double play when, with the bases loaded, a strikeout pitch got past him but ricocheted right back to him. The guy on first took off but no one else did because they saw the ricochet. Grandal threw down to first to retire the struck out batter then the Brewers got the baserunner out in a rundown. Just how they drew it up.

Yankees 7, Orioles 5: The Bombers hit five more homers against an Orioles pitching staff that is going to do some ghastly things to the record books before this season is out. Thairo Estrada, D.J. LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres went deep in the first three innings go give New York a 5-0 lead. Gary Sánchez homered in the fourth to make it 6-1 and Torres homered again in the fifth to make it 7-2. Sánchez has homered in three straight games. Torres has 12 homers on the year. Ten of them have come against the Orioles.

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 5: This thirteen-inning game ended twenty minutes before midnight. Today they get started at 12:37PM. Look for some super crisp play from the Sox and Jays today! Here Michael Chavis hit a tiebreaking homer in the 13th inning to give Boston the win. Rafael Devers homered earlier for his third blast in as many games. That gave Boston a lead that Marcus Walden could not hold thanks to a ninth inning rally from Toronto that made everyone stay up late. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel was, I imagine, tucked into bed back wherever he calls home and will be a fresh as a daisy this morning.

Athletics 7, Indians 2: Jefry Rodríguez didn’t fool A’s batters, who touched him for five runs in four innings while Frankie Montas blanked the tribe for six while striking out nine. Mark Canha homered and drove in three and Nick Hundley on a three-hit day as the A’s won their sixth game in a row and took their 10th of 14 overall.

Royals 8, Cardinals 2; Cardinals 10, Royals 3: New rule idea: when teams split a doubleheader the team which outscores the other in the aggregate gets some sort of bonus in the standings. So, here, since the Cards “beat” the Royals 12-11, each team gets one win and the Cards get, um, a point on top. Wait, that would require some sort of hockey-style points system too. OK, we can work with that. It might require some more changes. Like, when you lose a getaway day game in under two and a half hours, you lose a point as a “phoning it in tax.” There are all kinds of variations we can come up with here. Let’s blow this dang game up!

Oh, here: Brad Keller tossed two-hit, two-run baseball and the Royals — boosted by a Jorge Soler three-run homer — beat up on Michael Wacha in the first game. In the second game Homer Bailey got shelled, failing to make it out of the second inning, while Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler and Kolton Wong all went deep. Adam Wainwright was shaky but John GantAndrew MillerCarlos Martinez and John Brebbia combined for four innings of scoreless relief to disabuse Kansas City of any notions of a comeback.

Rockies 9, Pirates 3: For the second time in a couple of weeks Josh Bell hit a homer into the Allegheny River on the fly. That was nice but, at least until my points-system rules changes come into effect which would provide Bell a “cool factor” bonus, it was just a solo shot. Meanwhile, Rockies batters Daniel Murphy and Tony Wolters each hit three-run homers in the early going. Rockies starter Jon Gray allowed three runs and seven hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings. One of those strikeouts was of Bell, on three pitches no less, in his next plate appearance after the splash homer. That would take a half point away, by the way.

Rangers 2, Mariners 1: The sweep. And the seventh win in eight games for Texas. Hunter Pence homered. Seattle is now in last place where most people expected them to be. That opening series in Japan seems like a thousand years ago.

Padres 5, Diamondbacks 2: Eric Lauer allowed one run on four hits over seven frames Eric Hosmer drove in a couple. Kirby Yates got his 20th save of the year. That’s a 65-save pace for a team that’s just above .500.

Rays 8, Dodgers 1: A couple of solo homers had this one tied at one entering the bottom of the seventh, with Dylan Floro taking over for the Dodgers to start the inning. He hit a guy, gave up two straight singles, then a homer and just like that L.A. was down 5-1. The homer — a three-run shot — came from Avisail García and chased Floro. Caleb Ferguson then came in, walked a guy, struck out two, then hit a guy and surrendered a three-run bomb to Kevin Kiermaier. Not what you want out of your bullpen.

Marlins 6, Tigers 3: The Marlins were down 3-0 entering the sixth before coming back. Brian Anderson hit a two-run shot for Miami, Neil Walker doubled in a couple and Garrett Cooper hit his first career homer to power the comeback. That’s five straight wins for the Fish. Eight straight losses for the Tigers, whose early season friskiness has long since passed.

Braves 9, Giants 2: Jeff Samardzija allowed six unearned runs but, as we said the other day, not all unearned runs are created equally. He put a couple of guys on and the would-be out number three of the inning was postponed due to an error, but before it was finally recorded he gave up a run on a wild pitch and coughed up homers to Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman. So, yeah, take that “unearned” stuff with a grain of salt. The Giants couldn’t do much against Max Fried, who allowed two over six, and nothing against the Atlanta pen which tossed two shutout innings.

Twins vs. Angels — POSTPONED:

Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven
Didn’t think before deciding what to do
Oh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies
Rang true, sure rang true
Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours