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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: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Orioles 6, Yankees 3: Tim Beckham hit two homers and drove in three to help the Orioles come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the game and avoid the series sweep. Baltimore finishes the year 7-12 against the Yankees which, given how bad they are overall, is actually pretty dang good. If the Yankees fall behind the A’s in this last week and end up having to travel to Oakland for the Wild Card game, I think the Orioles should take credit for that. Print up t-shirts and everything.

Rays 5, Blue Jays 2: Blake Snell tossed shutout ball into the seventh, struck out 11 dudes and won his 21st game on the season. His ERA went down to 1.90 too, and his Cy Young chances, I suspect, went up to about 98%. Snell has not lost since before the All-Star break. C.J. Cron and Brandon Lowe homered for the Rays and Tommy Pham reached base three times. The season will, effectively, be over for them in the next couple of days, but it has been a hell of a second half. That’s worth celebrating if you’re a Rays fan. It’s probably also worth wondering if they couldn’t have done a couple of things differently early in the season to have made them a few games better. Rays fans get pissed at me for saying stuff like that, but sorry, fans of every team should think that way in these sorts of situations. To not do so is to be a fan of a front office, not the fan of a baseball team.

Cardinals 9, Giants 2: Miles Mikolas had no trouble with a Giants lineup which looked like it was already in offseason mode, Matt Carpenter homered and St. Louis swept San Francisco. They’ve won six of seven overall. They’re two back of the Brewers and host them for three games starting tonight. I’m in St. Louis right now and I caught the game in Busch on Saturday. I’m here tagging along with my wife who’s on a conference for work and I have to play dutiful spouse at various social functions in the evenings so I don’t think I’ll get to any of these games before I go home, but the cool thing about St. Louis is that Cards games are on virtually everywhere you go. Living in Columbus, where you have to beg bartenders in sports bars to devote even one TV to a baseball game, I forget that that’s not the case everywhere else. Seriously: in Columbus, if there is no football on, the TVs will put on ESPN talk shows and crap before baseball. Even with the sound down. Which, now that I think about it is probably an improvement, but still. Not the case in St. Louis of course. I feel like I watched the whole game yesterday simply by walking around and in and out of places.

Royals 3, Tigers 2: Brad Keller allowed one run over seven, Adalberto Mondesi homered and Cam Gallagher hit a two-run single to give the Royals the win. Thus ends the Tigers home season. It wasn’t great. As I write this I’m watching the Lions game. They’re at home and they’re leading the Patriots in the fourth quarter. I have no idea why I’m watching this — I’m in a hotel room and everything is weird right now, so that’s probably why — but I can’t remember the last time the Lions had more to be proud of than the Tigers. Maybe it’s the End Times? I dunno. Maybe me just watching football is a sign of the End Times.

Marlins 6, Reds 0: It must’ve been “dude most of you have never heard of tossed seven shutout innings” day yesterday because it feels like several of them did so. Here it was Trevor Richards doing it. Yes, THE Trevor Richards. Chad Wallach hit a three-run homer. I probably should’ve known that Tim Wallach’s kid was a ballplayer but I did not and I do this for a living, so don’t feel too bad about you not knowing who Trevor Richards was. Also: the Marlins had traded Wallach to the Reds back in 2014 in the Mat Latos deal. They got him back on waivers last winter. It’s gotta hurt Cincinnati a little to have a castoff beat you like this.

Braves 2, Phillies 1: The Braves put out the post-clinch hangover lineup against the Phillies ace and still finished off the sweep. Gotta say, I thought the Phillies were gonna have more fight than this but the late season whimper from this club has been quite the thing. Lane Adams homered and drove in both of the Braves’ runs and Anibal Sanchez of all people got the win after allowing just one run five innings. The Braves have a chance to earn home field for the NLDS against, probably, the Dodgers by holding up in the final week. If they have a great week and the Cubs crater they could get home field in the NL playoffs. Doubtful, but still possible.

Mets 8, Nationals 6Michael Conforto hit a go-ahead, bases-loaded triple in the fourth inning and just piled on from there. Jeff McNeil had four hits too, and the Mets took three of four from the Nats. This offseason a lot of people are going to note that the Mets, absent their disastrous May and June, were actually not terrible for most of the year and that with a little more luck with health and some help from the front office they could be a contender in 2019. Then the front office won’t make any moves and they’ll disappoint next season and everyone will act as if it was inevitable even though it isn’t.

Brewers 13, Pirates 6Christian YelichTravis Shaw and Mike Moustakas all hit homers to help Milwaukee win three of four and maintain its two game lead over the Cardinals for the top Wild Card spot. They are two and a half behind the Cubs. Fun play — the Brewers scored three runs on a wild pitch:

My favorite part of that highlight is watching Clint Hurdle chew his gum. I’d be punching walls but I guess that’s why he’s been around so long.

Cubs 6, White Sox 1: Kyle Hendricks pitched one-run ball into the eighth. Kyle Schwarber homered. Ben Zobrist had three hits. Kanye West threw out the first pitch for some reason:

It was also White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson’s final game. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he was an institution for the Sox.

Astros 6, Angels 2Yuli Gurriel hit a two-run homer and Evan Gattis had three hits and two RBI as the Astros sweep the Angels, but the real story here was Charlie Morton, who left early due to shoulder discomfort which is not what you want this close to the playoffs.

Rangers 6, Mariners 1: Texas put up a four-run sixth inning to take a lead they would not relinquish and Joey Gallo hit a two-run homer in the eighth. Once the Rangers had a safe lead, they took Adrian Beltre out of the game. It may very well have been his final game in Texas, and the fans gave him an ovation for it:

Twins 5, Athletics 1Kyle Gibson allowed one run while pitching into the eighth, Jake Cave hit a two-run homer and the Twins prevented the A’s from celebrating a Wild Card clinch at home. The need one more win or one Rays loss to be ensured of a game next week. They remain one and a half games back of the Yankees and need to catch up in order for that one game to be in Oakland rather than the Bronx.

Dodgers 14, Padres 0: It was Matt Kemp‘s birthday and it was a pretty good one: he went 3-for-4 with a single, double and a homer and drove in three. Everyone on the Dodgers partied yesterday, in fact, as the team banged out 16 hits in a walkover. Even Hyun-Jin Ryu got into the act, pitching six scoreless innings and getting three hits of his own. Max Muncy drove in four runs and he didn’t even start in the game.

Rockies 2, Diamondbacks 0: Kyle Freeland tossed seven shutout innings, scattering seven hits, as the Rockies keep their playoff hopes alive. They remain a game and a half behind both the Dodgers in the NL West and the Cardinals in the Wild Card race. The good news for them is that they get to take on Philly and Washington, each of which is sort of mailing things in right now, in their final two series and they’re at home. The bad news is that they need some help.

Indians 4, Red Sox 3: Greg Allen hit a bases-loaded single to give the Tribe a walkoff win. It was the second 11th inning walkoff win for Cleveland in as many nights, in fact, with Michael Brantley doing the honors on Saturday. There’s a chance these two teams could meet in the ALCS — Boston will have to beat the Wild Card winner in a division series and Cleveland will have to beat Houston — but if this past weekend was any indication, such a matchup could be kinda fun.