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MLB: Predicting where the best free agents will land this winter

The hot stove is about to kick off in earnest as the free agency period closes in.


Free agency has officially begun in Major League Baseball, and the hot stove will have fired up.

This year’s free agency class is not as ballyhooed as the one that will come next year—think Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Clayton Kershaw among others—but there are good players in this group, both hitters and pitchers.

There will be fierce competition for the players at the top of this class as some will be useful to clubs looking for the piece to take them over the top and get to the place newly occupied by the Houston Astros: World Series Champions.

Where will the top free agents wind up? Here, we look into the crystal ball and try to predict just that.

  1. 1 Eric Hosmer

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    Position: 1B

    Bats/Throws: Left

    2017 Stats: .318/.345/.498, 25 HR, 94 RBI

    Previous Team: Kansas City Royals

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Boston Red Sox

    The entire core of the Kansas City Royals teams that won two pennants and a championship in 2014 and 2015 is on the market, but no player will be coveted as much as Hosmer.

    The first basemen tied his career high with 25 home runs this year and set one in total bases with 300. He and his teammates were celebrated in the Royals' season finale this year as it was expected that most if not all of them will ply their trades elsewhere.

    Hosmer will probably be one of them. According to Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports, the Boston Red Sox are likely to be involved in the race for the lefty bat.

    This move makes perfect sense. Mitch Moreland played decently at first base this year for Boston, but Hosmer will be a clear upgrade to a lineup still trying to figure itself out after the retirement of David Ortiz last winter.

    This is a clear area of need for the BoSox, who aren't likely to get much in the way of competition from the archrival New York Yankees considering Greg Bird is penciled in at first in the Bronx.

    

  2. 2 JD Martinez

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    Position: OF

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: .303/.376/.690, 45 HR, 104 RBI

    2017 Teams: Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks

    Predicted 2018 Destination: St. Louis Cardinals

    There were few better right-handed power hitters in baseball this season than JD Martinez. The outfielder has been an established middle-of-the-order slugger for several seasons, but this season was a true breakout. He hit the third-most home runs in the majors this season, 29 of them after his July 18 move from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks.

    Arizona would love to keep him around, but they must win a fierce bidding war, especially since he is ineligible for a qualifying offer having been traded midseason. The San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Angels are all potential targets, but keep special eyes on the Cardinals.

    The Cards aren't known for splashing free agent cash but after missing the playoffs the last two years, St. Louis will look for major reinforcements to push them back up into the upper reaches of the NL Central with the Chicago Cubs. A power bat in the outfield will greatly improve the offense and free up other outfielders to use as potential trade chips for other upgrades.

  3. 3 Mike Moustakas

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    Position: 3B

    Bats/Throws: Left/Right

    2017 Stats: .272/.314/.521, 38 HR, 85 RBI

    2017 Team: Kansas City Royals

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Los Angeles Angels

    Another of the Kansas City walk brigade, third baseman Mike Moustakas set the Royals single-season record for home runs with 38, put up career bests in RBI, runs scored (75), and slugging percentage (.521).

    The lefty-swinging slugger would be a good fit with several teams. The Yankees, in particular, would be a great fit with Todd Frazier out of contract, Chase Headley out of favor, and that short right field porch at Yankee Stadium sitting there poised to bump his power numbers even further.

    That said, the Yanks are determined to get under the luxury tax to position themselves for next year's free agent class, particularly Bryce Harper, so unless they suddenly give in to any pressure created by some big moves in Boston that's not a realistic destination.

    What is realistic is the Angels. Moustakas hails from southern California, and third base was a real vacuum in the lineup for Mike Scioscia this year. Angels GM Billy Eppler and owner Arte Moreno will be desperate to give Mike Trout reason to stay in Anaheim two years from now and with LA's farm system in the state it's in, they will have to do that with pieces from outside. With Justin Upton now solidly in the fold for three more years, Moustakas would help form a good foundation to convince the game's best player that the team that drafted him can bring him a championship.

    

  4. 4 Jose Bautista

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    Position: RF/DH

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: .203/.308/.366, 23 HR, 65 RBI

    2017 Team: Toronto Blue Jays

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Seattle Mariners

    The market for Jose Bautista wasn't strong at all last winter, forcing him to come back to Toronto with his tail between his legs on a one-year deal with an option the team declined over the weekend.

    It's tough to figure where Joey Bats may wind up. A DH spot is likely although he has also shown a willingness to play first base. While nowhere close to his All-Star peak, he could still provide power in the 20-30 home run range for a fringe contender.

    Perhaps a team like Seattle could be a fit. The Mariners could lose centerfielder Jarrod Dyson to free agency, but the organization is comfortable moving internal pieces like Guillermo Heredia from a corner to center, making the acquisition of a corner outfielder more likely. The DH spot could also open with Yonder Alonso and Danny Valencia both out of contract.

    This is the sort of signing Seattle has made in the past and can probably afford it, and with Bautista set on continuing his career such a move would make sense.

  5. 5 Yu Darvish

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    Position: RHP

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: 10-12, 3.86 ERA, 1.163 WHIP, 10.1 K/9

    2017 Teams: Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Los Angeles Angels

    Darvish's World Series dud may have knocked a few million off the top of his next contract, but he'll be in high demand as the best starting pitcher in this year's class.

    Almost any contender would love to kick the tires on a deal for Darvish, especially since he won't come saddled with a qualifying offer after his midseason trade. The Cubs, who are likely letting Jake Arrieta walk, could view Darvish as a replacement, the Washington Nationals could splash cash to create a super-rotation as they try one last time to win before Bryce Harper hits the market, and the Mariners may leverage the major Japanese presence in the city as a way to fold him into their rotation along with Felix Hernandez.

    The Angels will lurk too. Their rotation is talented but injury-prone, and Darvish could buttress that core and again give Eppler and Moreno ammunition in their quest to keep Trout in place. It would also put him back in the familiar confines of the AL West, which could only be a plus.

  6. 6 Lorenzo Cain

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    Position: CF

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: .300/.363/.440, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 26 SB

    2017 Team: Kansas City Royals

    Predicted 2018 Destination: San Francisco Giants

    The last of the Royals diaspora (at least in terms of position players), Cain is one of the best outfielders in baseball. Defensively he's superb, he's hit .287 or better every year since 2014, and has hit at least 15 home runs and stolen at least 25 bases in each of the last two.

    That's the skill set teams pay for, especially teams that have massive swaths of grass in their outfield and are reeling from one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

    Teams like the Giants.

    San Francisco is coming off a 64-win season, their worst total in a non-strike season since they went 62-100 in 1985. They've cleaned house in their coaching staff and need some serious roster upgrades.

    Denard Span isn't done, but moving him to a corner spot and giving Cain center field would be an instant defensive upgrade in the cavernous AT&T Park and it would give Bruce Bochy a badly needed piece at the top of the order for Buster Posey and Brandon Belt to drive home.

    

  7. 7 Jay Bruce

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    Position: OF

    Bats/Throws: Left

    2017 Stats: .254/.324/.508, 36 HR, 101 RBI

    2017 Teams: New York Mets, Cleveland Indians

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Arizona Diamondbacks

    If, as predicted earlier, the Diamondbacks lose JD Martinez, they will need someone to replace that production, lest they leave a gaping hole in their lineup behind Paul Goldschmidt.

    Enter Jay Bruce. Also pursued by the Toronto Blue Jays, the D-Backs could make a big play for the outfielder if Martinez departs. The 30-year-old has rebounded after two difficult years in 2014-15 to hit 69 home runs and drive in 200 runs in the last two seasons.

    His best days as a defender are behind him, but he's a good (and much cheaper) option to protect their MVP candidate at first base if Arizona doesn't want to shell out the big bucks for Martinez.

  8. 8 Andrew Cashner

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    Position: RHP

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: 11-11, 3.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.6 K/9

    2017 Team: Texas Rangers

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Philadelphia Phillies

    Andrew Cashner had something of a career renaissance in Texas this year, but he's looking at a mid-tier contract rather than a lower-tier one. While he posted a strong 3.40 ERA and the third-best WHIP of his career (1.32), his strikeout rate plunged nearly seven points from 19.1% to 12.2% and won't be a good look for the new wave of analytics-minded GMs.

    He'll still get several calls, but expect the Phillies to be the ones to land him.

    In Philly, he can play the role filled by Jeremy Hellickson before he was traded last July and mentor the Phillies' stable of young arms. Aaron Nola has finally broken out and looks like a potential ace, but other youngsters like Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez took steps back this year and both ended the year on the disabled list with odd injuries to their hands—Eickhoff a nerve issue and Velasquez a vascular problem.

    Both pitchers have the potential to stay in the rotation and become staples in it. Velasquez has ace stuff if he can ever harness it properly and the Phils will want an experienced arm for him and Eickhoff to lean on during the season. It also won't hurt that Cashner would almost automatically be a candidate for the Opening Day start as the Phils tend not to give young pitchers an accolade like that to use in arbitration hearings.

    Of all the pitchers on this list, Cashner is the best fit for that role on a team that looks to improve in 2018, but probably not contend until 2019.

  9. 9 Zack Cozart

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    Position: SS

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: .297/.385/.548, 24 HR, 63 RBI

    2017 Team: Cincinnati Reds

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Pittsburgh Pirates

    Zack Cozart had a career year in 2017 for Cincinnati, posting career highs in almost every category as seen above. There is a dearth of fantastic shortstops out there but with his lack of track record and his age (31), it will be tough for him to get much more than a two or three-year deal.

    There have been rumors that the Nationals may be interested if they move Trea Turner to the outfield, but the best bet is that he stays in the NL Central and moves to Pittsburgh.

    The Pirates got burned last year when Jung Ho Kang got denied a work visa after a DUI arrest, and there are no guarantees he'll get one this year. It would behoove the Bucs to err on the side of no and snap up Cozart to play shortstop. If Kang becomes available, they'll be in a position to use another infielder like Josh Harrison as a trade chip to help elsewhere and clear payroll.

  10. 10 Yonder Alonso

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    Position: 1B/DH

    Bats/Throws: Left/Right

    2017 Stats: .266/.365/.501, 28 HR, 67 RBI

    2017 Teams: Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Mariners

    The power finally came for Yonder Alonso in 2017 after years of being saddled with the supposed negative of a corner infielder who hit for average but not power. He only hit six after the waiver-wire deal that sent him from Oakland to Seattle, but his season total of 28 more than tripled his career high.

    The Mariners are bound to keep one of Alonso and Danny Valencia, their two primary first basemen, around this season. The market for Alonso will not be too big. The Indians may need to replace Carlos Santana if they lose him (more on that later), but I think the most interest will come from where he is now. Expect the Mariners to sign him and shuttle him between first and DH, with Robinson Cano playing a little first as well to keep the wear off his legs.

  11. 11 Jake Arrieta

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    Position: RHP

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: 14-10, 3.53 ERA, 1.218 WHIP, 8.7 K/9

    2017 Team: Chicago Cubs

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Los Angeles Dodgers

    The whole point of the Yu Darvish trade was to give the team a second ace to take the pressure off of Clayton Kershaw come playoff time.

    That almost worked until Darvish imploded in the World Series, but it's not a bad strategy and the Dodgers may need another top-level starter if Kershaw misses time during the regular season.

    Assuming Darvish leaves, the next best option will be Arrieta. The righty's fastball velocity dropped from 94.3 miles per hour to 92.6 according to Fangraphs, but his good recovery to a slow start looks like evidence he's adapted to that and his postseason pedigree over the last three years is unquestioned.

    Any team interested in Arrieta will probably have to overpay, but luckily for the Dodgers they have more money than God. Combined with Kershaw and Alex Wood, the Dodgers would have a scary rotation as they look to make another World Series run.

    

  12. 12 Carlos Santana

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    Position: 1B/DH

    Bats/Throws: Switch/Right

    2017 Stats: .259/.363/.455, 23 HR, 79 RBI

    2017 Team: Cleveland Indians

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Indians

    There is still something special going on in Cleveland. The Tribe still has a window to claim a long-awaited world title, and Carlos Santana has been a constant presence in the team's rise.

    It just seems weird to see him go anywhere else.

    Yes, Edwin Encarnacion could play first base, but Santana has developed into a Gold Glove-level first baseman. He is a key leader in Terry Francona's locker room and losing him would be a severe blow to the clubhouse. Our money says he stays put.

  13. 13 Wade Davis

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    Position: RHP

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: 4-2, 2.30 ERA, 32 SV, 1.142 WHIP, 12.1 K/9

    2017 Team: Chicago Cubs

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Washington Nationals

    Wade Davis is one of the best closers in baseball and will be paid accordingly this winter.

    The Cubs will be strong contenders to bring him back considering the way the bullpen behind him wobbled in the playoffs, but there may be a team willing to overpay to lure him over.

    That would be the Nationals, who will do everything in their power to win a World Series before Bryce Harper hits the market next year. They could use bullpen help, and Davis would provide it in spades and make the NL East powerhouse even stronger. Their zeal to get a title with Harper would be more than enough motivation to offer Davis insane money that no one would want to match.

  14. 14 CC Sabathia

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    Position: LHP

    Bats/Throws: Left

    2017 Stats: 14-5, 3.69 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, 7.3 K/9

    2017 Team: New York Yankees

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Yankees

    It's incredible to think it's been nearly a decade since Carsten Charles Sabathia first pulled on Yankee pinstripes.

    There have been major ups and downs in that time. Going into 2017, most considered Sabathia done. His velocity had deserted him years ago, and he had never made the change to become effective without it. But he finally turned the corner and surprised everyone in 2017 by going 14-5 and posting his lowest WHIP since 2012.

    He turned into the team's most reliable stopper, going 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 10 starts following a Yankee loss, and he posted a 2.37 ERA in the postseason although he faded around the fifth inning of every game he started.

    Sabathia is no longer the pitcher the Yankees signed in 2009 but if he can remain this effective and his regular season workload is limited to conserve his strength for the playoffs, he can still be more than effective. Sabathia recently told the Players Tribune he wouldn't be upset if the Yankees didn't bring him back but given the Yankee's rotation, it would be silly not to. He'll stay in New York.

  15. 15 Lance Lynn

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    Position: RHP

    Bats/Throws: Switch/Right

    2017 Stats: 11-8, 3.43 ERA, 1.229 WHIP, 7.4 K/9

    2017 Team: St. Louis Cardinals

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Chicago Cubs

    Lance Lynn did not look like a man that wanted to stay in St. Louis after he sounded off on the team's front office in the aftermath of the Mike Leake trade. Lynn shot down the idea that the move was made to free up payroll to extend his contract and didn't really sound like a person happy with his work situation.

    That might make Lynn, who came back from Tommy John surgery to post his best WHIP (1.22) since transitioning from the bullpen to the rotation, open to a move that would stick it to his former team: signing with the Cubs.

    The Cubbies have made no sign they intend to fight to keep Jake Arrieta in town, and will need replacements with him and John Lackey departing. Lynn would be an excellent addition to the rotation with Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, and the Cubs would diminish a division rival in doing so. Throw in that Lynn will be nowhere near as expensive as Arrieta would be, and it seems like a match made in heaven.

  16. 16 Lucas Duda

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    Position: 1B/DH

    Bats/Throws: Left

    2017 Stats: .217/.322/.496, 30 HR, 64 RBI

    2017 Teams: New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Minnesota Twins

    Lucas Duda fell heavily out of favor with the Mets over the last two years, and the team finally dealt him to Tampa Bay this July. Duda can still play adequate first base, and he showed this year with 30 homers between the Mets and Rays he can still blast the ball.

    That will be good news for the Twins, who have Joe Mauer at first but had pitiful power production from their DH spot this season—only five homers.

    With Duda on board to give the Twins' offense a shot in the arm and a little experience of what going deep into the playoffs is like, this young team could take another step forward and become a real contender after this year's surprise AL Wild Card berth.

  17. 17 Alex Cobb

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    Position: RHP

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: 12-10, 3.66 ERA, 1.221 WHIP, 6.4 K/9

    2017 Team: Tampa Bay Rays

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Texas Rangers

    Alex Cobb had a solid season for the Rays this year after spending a year-and-a-half on the sidelines after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He started a career-high 29 games and put up good numbers for a bad team in Tampa.

    According to CBS Sports, the Rangers have identified him as a priority target this winter. The move makes sense since Cobb's durability issues will drive down his price, and he has plenty of room for growth alongside Cole Hamels in the Texas rotation. He could be a potential bargain for a team like the Rangers that is looking to retool and maybe sneak in as a wild card team behind the Astros next year.

  18. 18 Greg Holland

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    Position: RHP

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: 3-6, 3.61 ERA, 41 SV, 1.151 WHIP, 11 K/9

    2017 Team: Colorado Rockies

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Chicago Cubs

    If, as we predict, the Cubs fail to hold on to Wade Davis, they'll need a replacement from outside the organization, because no one in the setup roles proved that they can handle the closer's job in 2017.

    Enter Greg Holland.

    After a year out of the game following an injury in 2015, Holland reestablished himself as a premier closer in 2017, locking down 41 games and striking out 70 in 57.1 innings.

    The Rockies made the NL Wild Card Game this year but have a lot of question marks, and Holland declined his player option to look for a longer-term contract with a serious contender. If the Cubs are without Davis, he's their man. If Davis stays in Chicago, look for the Nats to come knocking here.

  19. 19 Todd Frazier

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    Position: 3B

    Bats/Throws: Right

    2017 Stats: .213/.344/.428, 27 HR, 76 RBI

    2017 Teams: Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees

    Predicted 2018 Destination: Yankees

    With the Yankees unlikely to unload cash for Moustakas this winter in their quest to stay under the luxury tax, Frazier makes sense as a stopgap at third base in 2018. Chase Headley won't be trusted with the job full-time, and Frazier had a small bump in productivity after his trade from the White Sox and hit .222 in pinstripes compared to .207 in Chicago.

    This should be a relatively straightforward deal, probably a one-year job to make sure the position is covered until the Yankees can find a long-term solution in the hot corner.

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Sam Lopresti

Baseball fanatic and die-hard Phillies Phan since age 5.  Sportswriter since 2012 at outlets like Bleacher Report.  To see my columns and game reports about Juventus FC, check out Black and White and Read All Over on SB Nation.

MLB: Predicting where the best free agents will land this winter

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