Whether it’s analytics, financial conservatism, the law of supply and demand or all of the above, the surprise of this Major League Baseball offseason has been the logjam of still-available free agent sluggers.
They read like a who’s who of first base/designated hitter veterans. Big, burly guys who can send baseballs deep into the night, but suffer from fatal flaws such as strikeout totals that have soared near or past 200 and resulting penchant for slumps.
Mark Trumbo. Mike Napoli. Chris Carter. Adam Lind. Pedro A?lvarez. Ryan Howard. They’re all hanging around waiting for their phones to ring.
Granted, they are not clones. The first three are clearly more desirable whether due to age or productivity. And they are not alone. Other viable position players and pitchers have become jobless longer than expected as well. But such is the trend in Major League Baseball. Inactivity drives free agent costs down. One should not be surprised if some don’t sign until after spring training begins.
Here is a snapshot of the current market and the most likely destinations of those deemed the 10 premier free agents (in alphabetical order):
JosA� Bautista (DH/RF)
Bautista picked the wrong year to collapse statistically. His slugging percentage dropped 84 points. He has also been described as the most hated man in baseball. It is certainly possible that his 2016 production was a portent of things to come, but the view here is that it was an aberration. It would be surprising if Bautista did not rebound with 35 home runs and 100 RBI next seasona��or thereabouts. Reports that he will be returning to Toronto make this prediction easy. Likely destination: Toronto Blue Jays.
(Editor’s Note: This deal is very, very close.)
Chris Carter (1B/DH)
The ultimate all-or-nothing hitter has received all but nothing in the way of offers this offseason. Moreover, Carter will probably have to wait until Trumbo and Napoli are signed before finding an interested suitor on a one-year deal. He batted a disturbing .170 with runners in scoring position last season, which explains his 94 RBI despite a league-high 41 home runs. And, Carter also led the National League with 206 strikeouts. There is no reason to believe that number will shrink markedly. Desperate need for a slugging first baseman or DH will drive his signing and there is one team that stands out like a sore thumb. Likely destination: Seattle Mariners.
Doug Fister (SP)
The market for this tall drink of water has been evaporating since he worked his way to the periphery of Cy Young Award contention with Washington in 2014. His ERA has nearly doubled since, peaking at a career-worst 4.64 with Houston last year. The control that had marked his career deserted him, ultimately resulting in a 1.45 WHIP. No pitcher peaking at 88 miles an hour can survive without pinpoint control. But perhaps Fister can thrive in a pitcher’s ballpark. Thus… Likely destination: San Diego Padres.
Greg Holland (RP)
This one-time dominant right-hander who fell victim to Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched since 2015 will be hard-pressed to find a team that will automatically plant him in its closer role in 2017. But perhaps he can compete for one. It remains to be seen if Holland has lost a few miles per hour off a once-blazing fastball. It is also unclear if his drop-off in performance with Kansas City in 2015 was the result of injury or instead the penchant of closers to have the lifespan of your average housefly. But the new appreciation for talented short relievers will land Holland somewhere. Likely destination: Colorado Rockies.
Mike Napoli (1B/DH)
This guy stopped hitting around September 1 and never regained his stroke. Too bad, too, because it might have cost the Indians their first World Series title since 1948. When Napoli struggles, he stirs up quite the breeze. His career-high 194 strikeouts motivated only a one-year offer from the Indians and their signing of Edwin EncarnaciA?n instead. Napoli did produce career-bests with 34 home runs and 101 RBI in 2016 and proved once again to be a beloved clubhouse leader. He revived a terrible 2015 season after a trade landed him in Texas. A return at this stage is quite possible. Likely destination: Texas Rangers.
A?ngel PagA?n (LF)
Why is PagA?n ranked ahead of the likes of Lind and A?lvarez on this list? Because he is among the most underrated and consistent contact hitters in the sport. PagA?n rarely slumps, managed his career-high with 12 home runs in 2016, and cut down on strikeouts as well. He would be an ideal fit for a power-laden team that needs an outfielder with a steady on-base percentage. The only drawback is that PagA?n can’t seem to remain healthy. One team that has already expressed interest is an ideal fit. Likely destination: Baltimore Orioles.
Sergio Romo (RP)
Romo returned from an elbow injury to perform well in the second half for a Giants bullpen that otherwise collapsed. He allowed just three earned runs in 19 innings from August 3 forward. Though he hasn’t served as a closer since 2014, he remains a viable pickup for any team that values a right-hander. And, he boasts a career WHIP of 0.955 to boot. Several teams have reportedly shown interest, but one seems quite possible given its need to add setup men. Likely destination: New York Yankees.
Mark Trumbo (1B/DH/LF/RF)
The prize of the free agent market with EncarnaciA?n gone probably wishes now that he had accepted the qualifying offer from Baltimore. His value lessens by the day. Trumbo has a few strikes against him, the most damaging being that he too often has a few strikes against him. Strike one is that he fanned 170 times last year and did not make up for it with walks, as his poor .316 OBP for the second straight season attests. Strike two is that, though he led the American League with 47 home runs, he had never previously displayed that level of power. And strike three is that, though he can play the outfield, his defensive abilities limit him to a DH role. Trumbo seems destined for a one- or two-year contract worth far less per season than what he turned down.
A return to Baltimore is possible, but can you imagine how many dingers he would hit at Coors Field? Likely destination: Colorado Rockies.
Matt Wieters (C)
Injuries and poor production have turned a once-promising career into a disappointment. Granted, Wieters is a four-time All-Star, but that is more a reflection of a weak position in the American League and fan voting than his own numbers. Wieters hasn’t enjoyed a full season since 2013, though he did rebound to put up respectable stats last year. Several teams are in the market for a veteran catcher. Washington and Atlanta, the latter of which got some use out of A.J. Pierzynski and is seeking to improve greatly in an attempt to draw fans to its new ballpark, are two of them. Likely destination: Atlanta Braves.
Travis Wood (RP/SP)
An inconsistent stint in the rotation motivated the Cubs to move Wood into the bullpen with some success. He managed his finest season since 2013 a year ago, but control and consistency remain an issue. Wood seems no more than a glorified middle reliever at this point with the stuff of a setup man. The need of the team that signs him will determine where he pitches. He could even return to a starting role, or at least compete for one. His former employer has explored a six-man rotation, which might open the door for Wood to return. Likely destination: Chicago Cubs.