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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.