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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.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Diamondbacks 4, Braves 1: 🎶Stop me, oh-oh-oh, stop me . . .stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before . . .🎶

Sorry. Just waylaid by this Braves bullpen. Nothing’s changed. It’s enough to make a shy, bald, Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder. Me watching the game: 🎶 I drank one. It became four. And when I fell on the floor I drank more.🎶

Christian Walker hit a two-run homer in the seventh off of Chad Sobotka, who, didn’t get an out and who has given up five runs in his last two outings. The Diamondbacks have won four straight.

Nationals 4, Giants 2: Patrick Corbin took a one-hitter into the eighth inning and ended having allowed only one run on two hits while punching out nine. Not literally, though. If he punched out nine guys he’d probably be arrested.

Tigers 9, White Sox 7: Detroit ends a five-game skid. Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera led the way, with the former going 3-for-4, the latter 2-for-4 and both driving in two runs. Dustin Peterson and Grayson Greiner also each drove in two, but they don’t get to be characterized as “leading the way” because baseball has a pretty strict seniority system and if you get too loosey-goosey with it you got a big hassle with the union and I’ve already had too many fires to put out this week, OK?

Blue Jays 7, Twins 4: Randal Grichuk, who got all “play the game the right way” on Tim Anderson on Wednesday, hit a homer. After which he gently laid his bat down parallel to the base line, assumed an expression which suggested mild pleasure but copious humility and then stoically ran the bases at a speed which reflected his obvious reverence for players past, present and future. I’m assuming at least.

Here’s what he actually said:

“I’ve never been one to flip a bat or do anything like that. I run out of the box always. I’ve hit some pretty far homers and I’ve sprinted out of the box like it was a wall-scraper. It’s just who I am. (Other) guys are different.”

Someone give that guy the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Justin Smoak and Teoscar Hernández hit home runs too. No word on whether Grichuk silently judged them afterwards. The Jays took three of four from the Twinkies.

Royals 6, Yankees 1: Homer Bailey — Homer Bailey? — yes, Homer Bailey held the Bombers to one run over six. Jorge Soler and Ryan O'Hearn hit dingers. New York got four singles in the game. That’s it. I guess with the Red Sox and Cubs being off someone had to step up and satisfy the “big money teams stinkin’ up the joint” quota for the evening.

Dodgers 3, Brewers 1: Before the game Dave Roberts announced that Julio Urías would head to the bullpen after this start since the Dodgers will soon be getting a couple of veteran pitchers back. Then Urías goes out and tosses six one-hit shutout innings while striking out nine. There are teams that would kill to have the sort of depth that would allow this kid to be shuffled off to long relief after a start like this. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy homered in a winning cause. Christian Yelich homered in a losing cause.

Orioles 6, Rays 5: Joey Rickard drove in the winning run in the 11th inning with an RBI double. To even get him up to bat required Chris Davis to hit a two-out RBI single, and I wonder what the odds of that happening were. RIckard himself was no sure bet to play the hero here after coming into the game on an 0-for-15 skid, but he reached base five times and drove in two on the night. Dude used to be a Ray, too. Or at least in their system. Baltimore swiped him from Tampa Bay in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. Here’s another killer for the Rays: Tommy Pham, who was 4-for-5 with two driven in, was on second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth and the score tied but . . . got picked off while trying to steal third base. Ouch.

Rockies 6, Phillies 2: Ryan McMahon homered twice and had five RBI. Kyle Freeland pitched six scoreless innings but had to leave with a blister, so that’s worth watching. Colorado was won four in a row.

Mariners 11, Angels 10: The M’s had a 10-2 lead heading into the seventh and totally blew it when the Angels scored seven runs on seven hits in the seventh and got a David Fletcher homer in the eighth to tie things up. Seattle rallied in the ninth, though, with pinch hitter Jay Bruce singing in Mitch Haniger for the winning margin. Before all of that messiness the M’s bottom of the order, in the form of Omar Narváez and Ryon Healy, combined to drive in nine. Healy homered twice. Narváez hit a three-run shot. Speaking of shot, all the pitchers in this one probably should’ve been.

Reds 4, Padres 1: Joey Votto led off in this came, which was odd, and he hit a homer to start the game. Padres starter Chris Paddack said after the game that he “thought I could blow a heater by him.” Bless his heart. Fernando Tatís Jr. led off too, which is also new, and went 2-for-4. Tucker Barnhart and Jesse Winker also homered, helping Cincy snap a four-game losing skid.