The free agent market: a cruel, unpredictable, yet exciting aspect of many sports. The MLB market is now set, and teams know what they need. In a free agent market with a surplus of power hitters and pitchers, plenty of American League teams will want to dive into the market.
1 Boston Red Sox: JD Martinez
Despite winning the AL East and making it to the ALDS, the Red Sox need to find solutions to several questions this offseason. While they need at least one more bullpen arm, they desperately need another impact bat in the middle of the lineup. Boston lacked power last year as they had a .407 slugging percentage and hit 168 home runs as a team, good enough for second to last and last in the American League, respectively. Martinez hit 45 home runs and had a .690 slugging percentage in only 119 games last year, so he is an ideal fit for the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park.
2 New York Yankees: Alex Cobb
Although they are still looking for a new manager, the Yankees do not have many roster needs. An argument could be made to add another bat at third base, but signing someone would block top prospects Gleyber Torres, who the Yankees moved to third base and second base in Triple-A, and Miguel Andujar, who made a cameo for the Yankees in 2017. They will, however, need a direct replacement for CC Sabathia if the big lefty signs elsewhere. Cobb makes sense as a signing for the Yankees. He had a 3.16 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 4.24 xFIP last year, he knows the AL East already, and he does not give up a lot of fly balls. He is not the most dominant or most attractive option, but the Yankees do not need an ace. Moreover, the ace options on the market in Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish did not pitch like last year's free agent aces.
3 Tampa Bay Rays: Mark Reynolds
The Rays may appear close after finishing 80-82, but the record is deceptive. The Rays won their last four games which were pointless wins against the Baltimore Orioles and the Yankees. They need to make multiple moves to contend, but the front office has shown a desire to reduce the payroll. This is why they should not anchor themselves to massive contracts with Alex Cobb or Logan Morrison. They have bright young pitchers in Blake Snell (ERA: 4.04, FIP: 4.19, xFIP: 4.56) and Jake Faria (ERA: 3.42, FIP: 4.14, xFIP: 4.46) to go with ace Chris Archer, so this should be their chance to step up.
Meanwhile, Morrison is already drawing interest from multiple teams such as the Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals. Rather, a player such as Mark Reynolds would make more sense. He hit a modest .357 wOBA and 104 wRC+ last year, and he will not cost the Rays very much.
4 Toronto Blue Jays: Jay Bruce
The Blue Jays will lose Jose Bautista to free agency but given his drop in production last year, his departure comes as no surprise. To replace him, the Blue Jays should bring in Jay Bruce, who had a much better year in 2017 (.254 AVG, .324 OBP, .508 SLG, 118 wRC+) than Bautista (.203, .308, .366, 80). Bruce helps solve the Blue Jays’ issues against right-handed pitchers: as a team, the Blue Jays finished second-to-last in the AL with a .310 wOBA and 90 wRC+ against righties. Bruce, meanwhile, had a .369 wOBA and a 131 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers.
5 Baltimore Orioles: Andrew Cashner
The Orioles had some of the worst pitching in the AL, finishing second to last in team FIP (4.96) and ERA (4.97). They only have one year left until both Manny Machado and Adam Jones are free agents, so the team needs to add a lot of arms and they need to add it quickly if they want to make one last run. After Cashner produced a 3.40 ERA, 4.61 FIP and 5.30 xFIP, and a 1.9 WAR, he should provide stability to the Orioles' staff. He may not be the most attractive option, but he is a solid and attainable option for the Orioles.
6 Cleveland Indians: Carlos Santana
Retaining homemade stars is just as important as finding new pieces to fill weaknesses. Although Santana did not have a terrific first half, he bounced back during the second half of the season with a .287 AVG, .392 OBP, and .514 SLG. As a result, he transformed into one of the most valuable hitters to contributing runs with a 141 wRC+ and a .385 wOBA in the second half, tied for 11th and 13th in the AL.
7 Minnesota Twins: Lance Lynn
The Twins had one of the worst bullpens in the AL, owning a 4.40 ERA, 4.50 FIP, and 4.49 xFIP. The bullpen also struck out the second-fewest hitters (7.66 K/9) and gave up the second most home runs (1.32 HR/9).
Despite the statistics, the bullpen has promise in Trevor Hildenberger (3.21, 3.01, 2.92) and Tyler Duffey (4.94, 3.72, 3.80) but the Twins do not have a ready-made solution for their starters. Jose Berrios (3.93, 3.86, 4.51) and Adalberto Mejia (4.50, 4.65, 5.03) both have promise, and Ervin Santana (3.28, 4.46, 4.77) has turned into a solid performer, but the Twins still need one more consistent starter.
The front office looks prepared to spend money to acquire top-line talent and while they may not have the resources to compete for Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish, they could sign Lance Lynn (3.43, 4.82, 4.75). Lynn is not an outright ace, but he could prove himself as a solid two or three for the Twins.
8 Kansas City Royals: Lorenzo Cain
Kansas extended qualifying offers to Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain. That means they would have to pay all three of them a combined $52.2 million if they all accepted, and the likelihood of one of them accepting seems small, so the probability of all three accepting is almost zero.
Hosmer initially appears to be the one they should target. After all, he hit for a .318 AVG, .385 OBP, and .498 SLG and had the highest contribution to run scoring he has ever had in his career with a 135 wRC+ in 2017, but he has not consistently performed at this level. In 2014 and 2016, he was just below and just above run contribution with 98 wRC+ and a 102 wRC+, respectively. Furthermore, he remains a liability defensively, mainly due to his range, as he recorded a range runs above average (RngrR) of -4.4 and cost the Royals seven runs (-7 rPM) due to his poor range. Since Hosmer is the best hitter he will probably see the most money, but he is on track to become a designated hitter. The Royals do not have the money to shell out $100 million to pay for a player who might disappoint.
Keeping Moustakas would be less risky, but there are still some inherent risks with him. Moustakas has only hit above .270 twice (2015 and 2017) and he does not draw many walks (never had a BB% higher than 8 %). But he hit 38 home runs last year, so he is trending towards a low OBP-power type of player. As for defense, it already appears as though his range has already decreased. He only managed a -5.3 RngR and a -8 rPM.
Cain, on the other hand, can still provide a positive output in all aspects of play. At the dish, he had .300 AVG, .363 OBP, .440 SLG, and 15 home runs, leading to a 115 wRC+. Defensively, he still has value in centerfield with a RngR of 6.7 and a rPM of 11, even though those numbers are down from his 2016 RngR and rPM of 9.1 and 12.
9 Chicago White Sox: Trevor Rosenthal
The White Sox are in the middle of a rebuilding stage, so buying free agents to contend in 2018 makes little sense. Signing free agents for 2019 and 2020, however, does. After having Tommy John surgery in August, Rosenthal will not pitch again until 2019. Knowing this information, the Cardinals released him to bring him back for less money and sign him to a multi-year deal. By releasing him, Rosenthal can speak to and sign with another team. The White Sox should gamble on his recovery for the 2019 season. Closers of Rosenthal’s caliber rarely become available at such a low price and even though he will miss all of 2018, the White Sox will have in 2019 a closer with career 2.99 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 3.08 xFIP to go with a K/9 of 12.05.
10 Detroit Tigers: Pat Neshek
The Tigers had a bullpen last year that finished last in ERA, FIP, and xFIP with a line of 5.63, 5.10 and 5.01. The Tigers are also rebuilding and throwing enormous amounts of cash at a bunch of relief pitchers will not help, especially if those pitchers do not work out.
Neshek, even at age 37, had a fantastic season for the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies, pitching to a 1.59 ERA, 1.86 FIP, and 3.26 xFIP. He had a 9.96 K/9 and a 0.87 BB/9. Over the past four seasons, his ERA, FIP, and xFIP have all remained under 4, except for a 4.07 xFIP in 2016. Due to his age, he will not cost the Tigers a tremendous amount, and he has proven that he is still an effective reliever.
11 Houston Astros: Wade Davis
After winning the World Series this year, the Astros have officially entered a championship window. This means GM Jeff Luhnow should do everything to fix any issue the team has to win another, and the first order of business should be to find help for Ken Giles after he collapsed during the World Series.
The Astros had a severe problem on their hands when they could not close out games, and they turned to starters to pitch the ninth inning. Obviously it worked, but they need a reliable closer for the 2018 season and they should go for the best, no matter his price tag. Davis closed out 32 out of 33 games in the regular season and four during the post season. Even though Davis' average cutter velocity dipped from 92.2 miles per hour to 90.6 miles hour, his cutter had a linear weight of 8.0 (meaning he saved the Cubs 8 runs whenever he used his cutter) and recorded a 12.05 K/9 during the season, including the playoffs.
12 Los Angeles Angels: Yu Darvish
The Angels are not far from the playoffs but if they want to get there, they need to acquire an ace this offseason. Even though Garrett Richards has the potential to fill that role, he has only thrown 62.1 innings over the last two seasons. The starters finished with an overall 4.38 ERA (fifth in AL), 4.93 FIP (11th), and 4.70 xFIP (eighth).
Yu Darvish had a stellar year with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, recording a 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 3.65 xFIP. More notably, he improved in almost every single offensive category after his move to the Dodgers.
13 Seattle Mariners: Lance Lynn
Like the Angels, the Mariners could contend with better starting pitching. The Mariners were slightly worse, with a starter ERA, FIP, and xFIP of 4.70, 4.98 and 4.76, respectively. Unlike the Angels, they already have someone who looked like an ace last year in James Paxton (2.98 ERA, 2.61 FIP, 3.25 xFIP). With the mid-season addition of Mike Leake (3.92 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 3.91 xFIP with Cardinals and Mariners), they have a decent pair at the top of the rotation. But the middle and back end of the rotation needs repairs since it is a chasm of uncertainty, and Lance Lynn is the ideal number two.
14 Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish
The Rangers’ rotation with Darvish, like the other teams in the Angels and Mariners, ranked in the bottom half of the AL statistically. Ranking 4th in the AL during the first half with a 4.25 ERA, the Rangers’ pitchers overachieved, as they ranked tenth with a 4.90 FIP and 4.86 xFIP. But without Darvish during the second half of the season, the Rangers’ had one of the worst rotations in the AL, posting a 5.17 ERA (11th), 5.20 FIP (14th), and 5.16 xFIP (14th).
This rotation will also lose Andrew Cashner, so the Rangers now have a gaping hole at the top of the rotation. Signing Darvish would answer the question of “who is the ace?”, but it could also help them bring a viable option for a number two: Shohei Otani. The Nippon Ham-Fighters (also Darvish's old club) recently announced that they would post Otani. Darvish could help Otani adjust to life in the MLB, and the Rangers could use Darvish’s presence when negotiating with him.
15 Oakland Athletics: Jose Lobaton
The Athletics have an arsenal of young arms that need nurturing. Jharel Cotton (29 major league starts), Daniel Mengden (21), Daniel Gossett (18), Paul Blackburn (10), and Raul Alcantara (9) are all promising arms that need an experienced and intelligent catcher who is solid defensively. Jonathan Lucroy would be ideal, but he might be too expensive for Oakland and the likelihood he signs for a non-contender is minimal. Lobaton, although he does not bring a lot of promise offensively, was an understudy to Jose Molina while Joe Maddon was the manager in Tampa Bay and would be the ideal catcher to add for the A’s to add because of his experience, which could help all the young starters' development into a formidable rotation.
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