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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:

Braves 10, Marlins 9: The Braves rallied for six runs, all with two outs, in the bottom of the ninth to walk off winners on getaway day against the Marlins. The Marlins took a 6-0 lead in the fourth inning after Lewis Brinson cracked a grand slam down the left field line. Miguel Rojas hit a two-run homer in the seventh to bring the Marlins’ lead back to six runs at 8-2. The Braves entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 9-4, but Marlins relievers Brad Ziegler and Tayron Guerrero both melted down. Here’s what happened. It’s the Braves’ largest ninth-inning comeback in exactly eight years, when this happened:

Red Sox 5, Orioles 0: J.D. Martinez homered twice, tying teammate Mookie Betts for the major league lead in home runs with 15. Andrew Benintendi also homered and picked up three hits. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven. The Orioles had their opportunities, racking up 13 hits, but went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and only one of their 13 hits went for extra bases. The Orioles’ 13 hits were the most compiled by a team that was shut out since August 25, 2008 when the Dodgers racked up 13 while being shut out by the Phillies. It’s only the 22nd time it’s happened dating back to 1908, according to Baseball Reference.

Athletics 9, Blue Jays 2: Daniel Mengden was magnificent for the A’s, tossing seven scoreless frames on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts. Marcus Semien hit a two-run home run and Matt Chapman picked up three hits. The Jays committed four errors on what was a very forgettable afternoon.

Cubs 6, Reds 1: Things haven’t been going well this year for Yu Darvish, but they did go well at least on Sunday afternoon. The right-hander held the Reds to a lone run on two hits and three walks with seven punch-outs across six innings, lowering his ERA on the season to 4.95. Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez hit back-to-back homers in the second inning off of Tyler Mahle. Joey Votto was the only Red to have more than one hit.

Mets 4, Diamondbacks 1: Clay Buchholz made his first start in over a year and it went well. He held the Mets to one run, which came on Amed Rosario‘s solo home run in the top of the sixth, ultimately the hit that knocked Buchholz out of the game. Rosario added another homer in the seventh, when the Mets scored three runs to take a lead they’d never relinquish. Noah Syndergaard fanned seven in seven innings, giving up one run on six hits and a walk. D-Backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt remains mired in a season-long slump. He went 1-for-4 with a single and now owns an uncharacteristic .690 OPS.

Padres 8, Pirates 5: The Padres rallied for four runs in the top of the ninth, turning a 5-4 deficit into an 8-5 lead. They rapped out five singles and benefited from an error as well. Christian Villanueva hit his 12th homer of the season, a two-run blast in the fourth inning. Austin Meadows knocked his first major league homer.

Dodgers 7, Nationals 2: This was mostly a clinic on power, as the Dodgers hit three homers, one each from Yasmani Grandal, Enrique Hernandez, and Yasiel Puig. Trea Turner hit one for the Nationals. Alex Wood pitched well, holding the Nationals to two runs on three hits and a walk with four strikeouts, but left the game after apparently injuring himself warming prior to the bottom of the seventh inning. Stephen Strasburg gave up three runs on five hits and four walks with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.

White Sox 3, Rangers 0: This one was all Reynaldo Lopez. The 24-year-old fired eight shutout frames, yielding only two hits and two walks while striking out eight. In doing so, he lowered his ERA to 2.98. The three runs came on a solo homer from Welington Castillo in the second and a two-run Leury Garcia single in the third.

Yankees 10, Royals 1: Tyler Austin blasted a pair of homers, giving him eight on the season. Miguel Andujar and Austin Romine also homered for the Yankees in what was a drubbing of the lowly Royals. Sonny Gray went eight innings, giving up a lone run on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts. The Yankees now have a major league-best 30-13 record while the Royals drop to 14-32. Only the White Sox (.302) have a worse winning percentage than the Royals (.304).

Cardinals 5, Phillies 1: Jack Flaherty was phenomenal for the Cardinals, striking out 13 batters while limiting the Phillies to a run on two hits and a walk over 7 2/3 innings. 21-year-old Freddy Peralta also struck out 13 earlier this season. Before Flaherty and Peralta, the last pitcher younger than 23 years old to strike out 13 in a game was Noah Syndergaard nearly three years ago against the Diamondbacks. Aaron Nola, who has been ace-like all year for the Phillies, didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday, surrendering four runs over six innings to the Cardinals. Rhys Hoskins homered but Odubel Herrera‘s on-base streak finally ended at 45 consecutive games. It’s tied for the fourth-longest in Phillies history.

Twins 3, Brewers 1: Logan Morrison knocked in two runs with a single to right field in the bottom of the eighth, breaking a 1-1 tie. That proved to be the game-winning hit as Fernando Rodney came in and struck out the side in the top of the ninth to seal the deal.

Giants 9, Rockies 5: The Giants scored nine runs for a second consecutive day. Gorkys Hernandez, Brandon Belt, and Nick Hundley each homered, accounting for six of the nine runs. Nice. The Rockies got three hits each from Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story but it wasn’t enough. Starters Ty Blach and Tyler Anderson both had forgettable days on the mound, giving up five and four runs in 5 1/3 and 4 1/3 innings, respectively.

Angels 5, Rays 2: Shohei Ohtani continued to pitch well, holding the Rays to a pair of runs on six hits and a walk with nine strikeouts. With seven major league starts under his belt, he’s sporting a 3.35 ERA. He’s also batting .321/.367/.619. Sergio Romo started for the Rays for a second day in a row. He pitched an inning yesterday before giving way to Ryan Yarbrough. This time, he got four outs before Matt Andriese relieved him. Martin Maldonado homered for the Angels; Johnny Field went yard for the Rays. Matt Duffy collected three hits as well.

Tigers, Mariners (11 innings): Mitch Haniger hit a game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the game into extras. Jean Segura broke the 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 11th with an RBI single. Tigers starter Francisco Liriano brought a no-hitter into the seventh inning but lost it when Haniger singled to center. Liriano ended up giving up the one hit and walking three while striking out five on 102 pitches over eight scoreless innings.

Astros 3, Indians 1: Lance McCullers had his best stuff working, bringing a bid for a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He ended up going seven frames, giving up just a hit and two walks with eight strikeouts. Brian McCann broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh with a two-run home run off of Carlos Carrasco.