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2018-19 Free Agency Preview: Outfielders

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Beginning this Saturday, baseball’s free agents will be eligible to sign with any team they want.

We’re in the process of breaking down the best available free agents by position, with some special attention paid to the top guys at each spot. We’ve already done starting pitchers, relief pitchers and corner infielders. Now let’s do outfielders.

At the outset, let us acknowledge that Nelson Cruz is a DH, obviously, but let’s also put him here anyway because there aren’t enough DHs to justify their own entry in this series. We have Marwin Gonzalez in here because he plays a lot of outfield, but he’s capable of infield work too, of course. And, though we’ve broken it down between corner outfielders and center fielders, there is obviously a lot of fluidity involved in this stuff. For some teams, Adam Jones might still make some sense as a center fielder field. For others, he’s far better suited for a corner at this point in his career. Same goes for several of these dudes.

Who’s Available?

 

Corner Outfielders

Bryce Harper
Nelson Cruz
Michael Brantley
Andrew McCutchen
Nick Markakis
Carlos Gonzalez
Marwin Gonzalez
Denard Span
Jose Bautista
Curtis Granderson
Jon Jay
Lonnie Chisenhall
Craig Gentry
Cameron Maybin
Melky Cabrera
Matt Joyce
Brandon Guyer
Matt Holliday
Gerardo Parra
Carlos Gomez
Chris Young
Gregor Blanco
Hunter Pence

Center Fielders

A.J. Pollock
Adam Jones — he’d look better in a corner at this point I suspect
Eric Young Jr.
Rajai Davis
Austin Jackson

Who’s Shopping?

It’s probably worth asking “who’s shopping for Bryce Harper” first and then, once that question is answered, to move on to “who is looking for outfield help in general.”

Given the kind of money he’s going to command, the Harper market, which we will no doubt be talking about at great length over the next month or two, seems pretty limited in terms of the number of teams:

  • The Nationals, of course, have the first crack at Harper and have not suggested that they are not interested in retaining his services;
  • The Yankees are always a candidate for a top free agent and he would make a lot of sense in the Bronx;
  • The Cubs have long been suspected as a possible suitor, though that has long been based on people reading in to Harper’s friendship with Kris Bryant. Those sorts of things — or proximity to the town where someone grew up, etc. — tend not to drive the market as much as people like to think they do. The Cubs’ clear need for offense and their deep pockets, however, make Chicago a prime candidate;
  • The Dodgers have a ton of dough too, and have worked to get under the luxury tax threshold presumably because they may want to sign someone like Harper; and
  • The Phillies have a clear need, are close to becoming a contender, have a lot of money and have not pushed back very hard on speculation that they will attempt to go after Harper.

I suppose there will be “mystery teams” in the mix as well — a lot more teams can afford Harper than they are prepared to admit; they’re simply not interested in carrying that kind of payroll — but obviously Harper’s free agency will be the lead story off the offseason. The big money clubs in need of offense will likely not address their outfield needs until he comes off the board, even if the teams with no intention of paying Harper the, what, $300 million he’s probably asking for, begin their 2019 team building while all of that is going on.

Beyond the unsuccessful Harper suitors, all of whom will likely attempt to snag an outfield bat if they don’t get him:

  • The Indians, who seem poised to let Michael Brantley go, are in need of outfield help;
  • The Mariners could use a center fielder given that Dee Gordon seems better suited for second base and Robinson Cano could slide to a corner or, if Nelson Cruz is not retained, see time at DH. The M’s will likely attempt to keep Cruz too, of course;
  • The Braves have prospects in the pipeline, but Nick Markakis was a big part of their 2018 division title. Part of me suspects they’ll try to keep him because of how much they like him personally, but if they don’t, I can still see them going after a corner outfield bat;
  • The Cardinals could use a big middle-of-the-lineup bat;
  • The Giants need offense and it may be easier to find with outfielders than anywhere else;
  • The Rockies need more offense to complement Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon.

Not that just the contenders need outfielders. Everyone needs outfielders. If you don’t have three of them, you tend to give up a lot of triples.

Nationals GM Rizzo won’t reveal length of Martinez’s new contract

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WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez spoke Saturday about managing the Washington Nationals for “many, many years” and over the “long term” and “quite some time,” thanks to his contract extension.

Sharing a table to a socially distanced degree with his manager on a video conference call to announce the new deal – each member of the duo sporting a 2019 World Series ring on his right hand – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo referred to the agreement’s “multiyear” nature, but repeatedly refused to reveal anything more specific in response to reporters’ questions.

“We don’t talk about terms as far as years, length and salaries and that type of thing. We’re comfortable with what we have and the consistency that we’re going to have down the road,” said Rizzo, who recently agreed to a three-year extension of his own. “That’s all we want to say about terms, because it’s private information and we don’t want you guys to know about it.”

When Martinez initially was hired by Rizzo in October 2017 – his first managing job at any level – the Nationals’ news release at the time announced that he was given a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.

That 2021 option had not yet been picked up.

“The partnership that Davey and I have together, our communication styles are very similar. Our aspirations are similar, and kind of our mindset of how to obtain the goals that we want to obtain are similar. I think it’s a good match,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t have hit on a more positive and enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse. I think you see it shine through even in the most trying times.”

The Nationals entered Saturday – Martinez’s 56th birthday – with a 23-34 record and in last place in the NL East, which Rizzo called “a disappointing season.” The team’s title defense was slowed by injuries and inconsistency during a 60-game season delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg threw just five innings because of a nerve issue in his pitching hand and players such as Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Adam Eaton and Carter Kieboom finished the year on the IL.

“This year, for me, we didn’t get it done. We had a lot of bumps in the road this year. But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship,” Martinez said. “I know Mike, myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys we think can potentially help us in the future. And we’ll be back on the podium. I’m really confident about that.”

Rizzo was asked Saturday why the team announces contract lengths for players, as is common practice around the major leagues, but wouldn’t do so in this instance for Martinez.

“The reason is we don’t want anybody to know. That’s the reason,” Rizzo said, before asking the reporter: “How much do you make? How many years do you have?”

Moments later, as the back-and-forth continued, Rizzo said: “It’s kind of an individual thing with certain people. I don’t want you to know what I make or how many years I have. Davey doesn’t want you to know. And I think that it’s only fair … when people don’t want certain information out there, that we don’t give it.”

There were some calling for Martinez to lose his job last season when Washington got off to a 19-31 start. But Rizzo stood by his manager, and the team eventually turned things around, going 74-38 the rest of the way to reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card team.

The Nationals then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where they beat the Houston Astros in Game 7.

Washington joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams in major league history to win a World Series after being 12 games below .500 during a season.

“Everything from Day 1 to where he’s gotten to now, he’s grown so much. He’s really become one of my favorite managers of all,” three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer said after helping Washington win Saturday’s opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. “Davey really understands how to manage a clubhouse, manage a team. We saw it in the postseason. He knows how to push the right buttons when everything is on the line.”