What is Toronto's long term plan for Donaldson?
It doesn’t hold a candle to the class that could be set free a year from now, but this year’s MLB free-agent market is headlined by a handful of front-of-the-rotation starters and a solid group of high-leverage relievers.
It’s a free-agent class that could get better, too, as starters Masahiro Tanaka (three years, $67 million), Johnny Cueto (four years, $84 million) and Wei-Yin Chen (three years, $52 million) are all weighing opt-out clauses in their contracts.
There is a prize at the top in Japanese star Shohei Otani, who’s still expected to go through the posting process this winter instead of waiting to make more money a year from now, but it still won’t rival the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado-Josh Donaldson group that teams may be eyeing up in 2018, and pinching pennies because of this off-season.
1. SP Shohei Otani, Japan
2017 salary: $2.4 million
Three fits: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners
Even if Otani hadn’t been dubbed Japan’s Babe Ruth by just about everyone who’s seen the right-handed ace and left-handed power hitter, his age alone would be a reason to chase. Not often do players with his production — Otani has a career 2.52 ERA in 543 innings and an .859 OPS in 1,170 plate appearances in Japan — and upside come along. Otani is telling teams he wants to pitch and hit, which could factor into negotiations. By all indications, he’s set to come stateside for 2018, despite MLB bonus pool restrictions limiting the type of money he’ll make initially. That could mean a creative contract – and a market that will allow for additional revenue streams – will be needed to secure Otani’s services.
2. SP Yu Darvish, Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 salary: $11 million
Three fits: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees
It’s not a strong free-agent class, but the top pitchers will still be getting paid in a big way – even if they faltered in a big way in the postseason. Darvish and Jake Arrieta are 1a and 1b on the market, and they’ll likely have the same suitors. Some believe Darvish could be a way to lure Otani.
3. Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
2017 salary: $15.6 million
Three fits: Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees
Arrieta salvaged his career on the north side of Chicago, but he might find more money and term elsewhere. Similar to Otani and Darvish, all of the deep-pocketed teams will be in on the right-hander and there are no more than five serious contenders for his services.
4. RF J.D. Martinez, Arizona Diamondbacks
2017 salary: $11.8 million
Three fits: Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants
Martinez has quietly been one of the five best offensive outfielders in baseball over the past four years, and he’s poised to cash in on that production. Martinez recently switched to powerhouse agent Scott Boras, who will obviously try to get every last penny he can for his client this winter.
5. 1B Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
2017 salary: $12.3 million
Three fits: Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals
After a slow start, Hosmer slashed .318/.385/.498 to hit the free-agent market at the age of 28 on a high note. Hosmer’s 135 wRC+ is sure to attract a number of teams, but clubs have been hesitant to give big money to first baseman recently, a trend that the sweet swinging lefty could buck.
6. 3B Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
2017 salary: $8.7 million
Three fits: San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals
Similar to Hosmer, “Moose” hits the market at an enviable age, and should do well considering the dearth of hot corner options available. An acceptable third baseman defensively, Moustakas doesn’t get on base a whole lot – career .305 on-base percentage – but he does have oodles of power, evidenced by his 38 bombs this past year.
7. CF Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals
2017 salary: $11 million
Three fits: Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners
Most of the core that got the Royals to back-to-back World Series earlier this decade is now being set free by the small-budget K.C. club. A little bit older than Hosmer and Moustakas, Cain provides an up-the-middle skillset and the most defensive ability of the trio. There are lots of teams looking for legit centre field chops and 15 homers and 26 steals to boot.
8. RP Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs
2017 salary: $10 million
Three fits: Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs
Davis was mostly terrific in his first – and only? – season with the Cubs, saving 32 games and pitching to a 2.30 ERA. While the peripheral numbers didn’t love him as much as they have in the past, Davis, who endured arm problems in 2016, has proven he’s a top-tier closer when healthy. The relief market cashed in last year – will it be similar this winter?
9. RP Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies
2017 salary: $6 million
Three fits: Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals
Holland bet on himself by signing a contract with a mutual option for 2018, and it worked out. After missing the 2016 season due to Tommy John, Holland returned to close out 41 games for the Rockies and prove he’s still an elite option out of the bullpen. He’ll be looking for a long-term commitment this time around.
10. SP Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals
2017 salary: $7.5 million
Three fits: Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox
Similar to Holland, Lynn missed the 2016 season with an elbow injury, but returned this past summer and still looked the part of mid-rotation innings eater. Contenders that have aces but are looking for a solid No. 3 or 4 option will be interested in the 6-foot-5, 280-pound horse.
11. 3B Todd Frazier, New York Yankees
2017 salary: $7.5 million
Three fits: New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees
There are a handful of contenders looking for an answer at third base this winter, leaving Frazier in a good spot. His 2017 season – .214 average with his home run total dropping to 27 from 40 in 2016 – wasn’t anything to write home about, but Frazier is at least an average option offensively who can still pick it at the hot corner.
12. 3B Eduardo Nunez, Boston Red Sox
2017 salary: $4.2 million
Three fits: Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals
Nunez has been above average offensively for two-straight full seasons now, but that’s not the most attractive aspect of the 30-year-old. He can play second, third, shortstop and the outfield, giving the team that signs him a shot of versatility both in the field and the batting order.
13. SS Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
2017 salary: $5.3 million
Three fits: Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals
Most teams have a shortstop they like, one of the reasons there wasn’t much of a market for Cozart at the trade deadline. But there’s no doubt Cozart, who slashed an impressive .297/.385/.548 with 24 homers this past season, is an upgrade for about two thirds of the league if he can keep up that sort of pace.
14. LF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
2017 salary: $20 million
Three fits: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays
One of the preeminent run producers of this decade, GarGo struggled to a .262/.339/.423 slash line this past season, homering just 14 times in the process. Gonzalez may need to consider an American League landing spot in order to save his aging legs, and he will also have to also look at a short-term deal in order to go out and rebuild his value. He could be a bargain with a bounce-back season.
15. RF Jay Bruce, Cleveland Indians
2017 salary: $13 million
Three fits: Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks
Over the past few seasons, Bruce has proven he is what he is. He’ll hit you 25-30 home runs, give you an average in the .250 range, and provide below-average defence. There wasn’t a whole lot of money available for this type of bat last winter, and Bruce should provide an interesting case study for how MLB teams are valuing this type of player.
16. 1B Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
2017 salary: $2.5 million
Three fits: Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays
A steal in 2017 at $2.5 million, Morrison’s hot start didn’t last for 162 games, but his overall production was still well worth the money, and then some. There might not be many teams betting he’ll repeat his 38 homers, but someone might bet that he’ll come close to matching his 130 wRC+.
17. 1B Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
2017 salary: $12 million
Three fits: Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees
Over the last seven campaigns, Santana’s 117 wRC+ this past year was his worst. That means he’s consistently provided above average offensive production, even if he’s limited to being a bad first baseman or a gloveless DH. Santana’s .365 career OBP will surely attract teams that value the stat.
18. SP Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays
2017 salary: $4.2 million
Three fits: Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees
Likely to be one of the most-coveted pitchers once the top tier of starters have signed, it will be interesting to see whether Cobb ends up being perceived as a bargain or as overpaid, especially if the starting pitching market gets crazy. Cobb is a perfect mid-rotation starter for a contender, meaning he’ll have many suitors.
19. C Jonathan Lucroy, Colorado Rockies
2017 salary: $5.3 million
Three fits: Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels, Washington Nationals
If Lucroy were available one year ago, he’d be popular. But the right-handed backstop suffered through one of the worst seasons in his career, even if he turned around in the altitude of Denver once he was traded mid-season. It’s not hard to envision Lucroy bouncing back and providing bang for someone’s buck.
20. RP Addison Reed, Boston Red Sox
2017 salary: $7.8M
Three fits: Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals
You’ll notice a theme with the top relievers, especially those deemed to be closer-worthy: Two contenders, the Cubs and Nationals, will be searching for legit options, leaving Davis, Holland and likely Reed atop their wish lists. They’ll all find beaucoup bucks on the free-agent market.
21. SP Jaime Garcia, New York Yankees
2017 salary: $12 million
Three fits: Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs
Traded twice this summer as a deadline rental, Garcia will still likely be in high demand this winter despite middling results with a 4.41 ERA. All of the contenders looking for backend starters will check in, but Garcia may find the most money from a second-tier team desperately looking to improve its rotation depth.
22. SP Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals
2017 salary: $8 million
Three fits: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs
An all-star in July thanks to a sparkling 2.62 ERA, Vargas imploded in the second half and pitched to a 6.38 mark. That’s not going to help his free-agent case, but there are more than a few teams who will remember the first half and be interested at a fair price.
23. RP Mike Minor, Kansas City Royals
2017 salary: $4 million
Three fits: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs
The last time we saw Minor, he was a starter for the Atlanta Braves in 2014. The Royals have enjoyed extreme success with pitcher reclamation projects and Minor is the latest example, turning into a shutdown lefty out of the bullpen last season, registering a 10.2 K/9 and a 2.55 ERA, piling up 2.1 WAR in the process. The lefty has some thinking he’s a poor man’s Andrew Miller.
24. RP Brandon Morrow, Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 salary: $1.3 million
Three fits: Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels
Same story as Minor. Morrow revived his career in 2017, and now he’s poised to cash in. He looks like a potential closer and the only reason he won’t be one is if a contender with an established shutdown option offers Morrow more money than he can refuse. The stars have aligned and he’s going to be highly sought after.
25. SP Tyler Chatwood, Colorado Rockies
2017 salary: $4.4 million
Three fits: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros
Pitching in the hell that is Coors Field for the majority of his career, Chatwood’s numbers have been completely reasonable over the past two years. With a career groundball rate of 54.7%, Chatwood could flourish outside of Denver, and there’s likely a team or two that’s willing to bet on that for backend starter money.
*Ages as of start of 2018 season
Other names to watch:
SP Hideaki Wakui, Japan
RP Yoshihisa Hirano, Japan
SP Andrew Cashner, Texas Rangers
SP Jeremy Hellickson, Baltimore Orioles
SP Michael Pineda, New York Yankees
2B Neil Walker, Milwaukee Brewers