With the exciting 2016 baseball season over, this winter is going to hold another offseason filled with plenty of executive scanning the free agent market to try and make their clubs contenders. Although this free agent class is not as strong as the 2014 free agents class that had studs like Jon Lester and David Price switch teams, some interesting names will be popping up next winter.
To start, if you’re an executive looking to load up your bullpen, this is the winter to do so. The importance of a solid bullpen was put in the spotlight this post-season, highlighted by Indians closer Andrew Miller receiving the ALCS MVP, and the San Francisco Giants bullpen blowing a 3-run lead in the top of the ninth inning in game 4 of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs, which allowed them to advance to the NLCS. Standing a top of the reliever market are Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, possibly two of the best closers in baseball. Chapman’s future with the Cubs is not a certain one, and many executives and baseball writers think the Cubs acquisition of Chapman was for a half season rental. The odds Jansen leaves LA are not great, but the Dodgers did allow Zach Greinke to leave last off-season, so it’s no guarantee he stays in Hollywood. It is definitely rare for a 100 mile per hour cannon (Chapman) and a cut fast ball expert (Jansen) to be on the free agent market, so plenty of teams will emerge as suitors. For one, the Giants will definitely throw their name into the hat for one of these two. Santiago Casilla was tied for the major league record with nine blown saves, and throughout the second half of the season, manager Bruce Bochy never had a go-to guy in the ninth inning, and was forced to mix and match frequently, which hurt the Giants more than it helped. Another team to watch for would be the Chicago White Sox, a team always looking to buy some immediate help in the offseason. Nate Jones was tied with Casilla for nine blown saves, and 2014 free agent acquisition David Robertson blew seven saves as well. It was not just those two either. Matt Albers and Chris Beck also posted ERA’s of 6.57 and 6.39, with a combined 13 home runs allowed, 10 only by Albers. It remains to be seen if Jansen stays in LA or the Sox take a risk with Chapman and his past history of domestic violence, but if they decide not to, Travis Wood, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Joe Blanton and Marc Rzepczynski remain intriguing options for a White Sox team that cannot get much worse as a bullpen. Other teams to watch out for on the reliever market are the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Yankees.
Although the reliever market will dominate this upcoming baseball offseason, teams looking for a first baseman may be in some luck. Edwin Encarnacion is the big fish in this first base free agent market. Toronto will make a huge push to re-sign their slugger, who hit 42 home runs and 127 RBI’s. However, a team like the Yankees would LOVE to have Encarnacion in their hitter friendly ball park 81 games a year, and with Mark Teixeira finally coming off the books and retiring, expect those two teams to vie for the slugger. Expect teams like the the Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, and Washington Nationals to maybe through their names into the Encarnacion discussion, but likely be priced out and have to look for alternatives. Mike Napoli had a resurgence with the Indians this year, who will likely be forced to choose between re-signing Napoli, or picking up Carlos Santana’s team option. Mitch Moreland and Adam Lind are not world beaters at the first base positions, but are easy plug and play guys that will guarantee you 20 HR’s and at least a .715 OPS without costing a fortune like Encarnacion. Those two are more temporary options for a team looking for any sort of production at the spot.
Although the infield market is likely going to be a quiet one, there are some intriguing names on the list that will garner attention. Alcides Escobar has had a solid six year career with the Kansas City Royals, which includes one trip to the all-star game, a gold glove, and a world series ring all in 2015. Teams looking for a guy who can play 162 games a year, play great defense, and bat an easy .260 will find Escobar an attractive commodity at shortstop, especially in a league short on great shortstops. Rueben Tejada is a name that won’t excite many front offices, but he’s a guy in the past who’s consistently gotten on base and would fit nicely at the seven or eight spot in the lineup, while playing solid defense up the middle. He is still just 27 years old, which is not something that the baseball free agent market sees very much. Somebody will at least take a chance on him maybe finding his 2015 form with the Mets. Justin Turner definitely stands out as the best third baseman on the market, as he has consistently gotten better in his time with the Dodgers, who will have free agent focuses on trying to bring back Kenley Jansen.
The outfield market consists of a few big names in Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista, Carlos Gomez, and Dexter Fowler. All are likely to find themselves on new teams, but Bautista is aging and had a down 2016 season, Gomez had a terrible year with the Astros, and Cespedes always seems to find a new team every year. Fowler is probably the most consistent out of all of these guys, but he has never been a difference maker in the lineup like Cespedes and Bautista have been in the past. Buyer’s in this market have to beware the risk, as these free agents point to many signs of them not working out.
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