Late addition? Best fits for 5 notable free agents
It took all winter and a little bit of spring, but we've finally achieved something resembling momentum in the free-agent marketplace. I speak on behalf of the more than 60 still-unsigned players when I say: Let's keep it going!
Here are five free-agent fits that still make sense at this late stage.
1. Jake Arrieta to the Nationals
There is a strong argument in favor of teams like the Phillies, Brewers or Twins signing Arrieta to take a step forward and elevate their stature. There is an equally strong argument that, given his diminished velocity and the increased home run rate we saw from Arrieta last year, it's dangerous to assume he can step into the ace role for an up-and-coming club.
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But with the Nationals, it's not about being in the front of the line; it's about lengthening an already October-caliber rotation and reducing the susceptibility to injury risk (Max Scherzer has thrown more innings than anybody in baseball since the start of 2013, and Stephen Strasburg has just two seasons of 30 starts or more) on a team that needs to win right now. (A multi-year deal with Arrieta also provides cushion for Gio González's upcoming free agency.)
If we go by FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement projections, Arrieta is a 2.3-win upgrade over potential fifth starter A.J. Cole. Before you even get to the strong relationship between Arrieta's agent, Scott Boras, and the Nats' ownership, this is a clear contender with ample incentive to maximize their 2018 effort, especially given Bryce Harper's pending free agency. Speaking of which, the possible departures of Harper and Daniel Murphy mean there could be considerable money coming off the books after '18. And the Nats are already in luxury-tax territory, so while paying an extra 30 cents on every dollar for a player like Arrieta isn't ideal, it's not like it would prevent the club from resetting the penalty. The payroll, as calculated for luxury-tax purposes (average annual value of player contracts, as opposed to 2018 value), already works out to around $199 million, with the threshold set at $197 million.
2. Carlos González back to the Rockies
The game of outfield musical chairs has not been kind to CarGo. When the D-backs traded for Steven Souza Jr., that took away a really nice potential landing spot for him to have a bounceback season on a one-year deal. And then the Rays filled their newfound outfield hole with a different Carlos -- Carlos Gómez.
So I'm circling back to the Rox here. General manager Jeff Bridich spoke with MLB Network Radio this week about how there's "a lot of trust and a lot of respect" between Colorado and CarGo after nine years together. And while his 2017 (.262/.339/.423 slash, 87 OPS+) has cratered his market, there were some positive signs and strides in the September stretch run (.377/.484/.766), and there was obviously quite a bit of track record that preceded that awful walk year.
The Rockies have clear questions on their outfield corners, with Ian Desmond coming off a frustrating first year with the club, Gerardo Parra nursing a broken hand and David Dahl coming off a lost year due to injury. They've also got rookie Ryan McMahon penciled in at first base. The Rockies typically rank high in the Majors in run production as a product of where they play, but when you adjust for league and park factors, they had the fourth-lowest Weighted Runs Created Plus mark (87) in baseball last year. They still need another bat, and while returning Mark Reynolds or adding Logan Morrison are options at first, I'd rather take my chances on a CarGo comeback. He's projected by FanGraphs at 1.2 WAR this year, with the Rockies' current right-field setup projected at minus-0.1 (worse than every club but the Marlins).
3. Greg Holland to the Angels
The oft-cited clear landing spot for Holland is the Cardinals, but their recent organizational history of stumbling into closing solutions makes me doubt it happens. (There is some industry thought that trade acquisition Dominic Leone could be the guy who stumbles into the role this year.)
But as good as we might feel about the Angels' offseason acquisitions of Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart, not many among us could honestly assert unshakable confidence in the overall state of the pitching staff. I don't blame the Halos for taking a wait-and-see approach with their starting staff, because there is so much upside in the arms of Ohtani, Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, etc., if they're all simultaneously healthy. The bullpen, though, lost two important pieces of surprising 2017 importance in Yusmeiro Petit and Bud Norris (the latter of whom went to the Cards) and is projected by FanGraphs to finish in MLB's lower-third in the WAR tally.
It says here that, even if the Angels sign Holland, Blake Parker is perhaps more likely to occupy the ninth inning the better part of the year, but that doesn't mean the Angels shouldn't be trying to augment an area that currently reads as a weakness on a club otherwise built to climb up the American League West standings.
4. Mike Moustakas to the Braves
Moustakas' offseason was quiet before the Yankees -- an oft-rumored landing spot -- added Brandon Drury this week. So much for all that "pillow talk" -- the thought of Moose taking a one-year "pillow" deal to bash homers in the Bronx and potentially score a better deal next offseason.
Whether for one year or otherwise, Moose's options are pretty limited. The White Sox and Cardinals are speculative fits, but the former is in rebuild and the latter has prioritized versatility. Yes, the Braves are in rebuild, too, but I'm marking them down as the best fit for Moustakas because I feel better about their 2018 ceiling given the base of Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran, the upside of Ronald Acuña Jr. and all the young talent in their rotation picture. I recently wrote that while the Braves' floor is low, their ceiling is high, and signing Moustakas would shore up what is projected to be the worst third-base situation in baseball (0.6 WAR) and lend a little more credence to the idea that the Braves could be a frisky club in the National League Wild Card race, a la the Brewers a year ago.
5. Alex Cobb to the Twins
Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said he hasn't turned off his phone in the wake of the Jake Odorizzi and Aníbal Sánchez acquisitions, nor should he. Maybe the Twins, who made instant analytical leaps with Falvey's arrival prior to 2017, can fix the issues that have led to a 6.09 ERA over the last two seasons for Sanchez, but, contrary to some reporting out there, his $2.5 million contract for this year is not guaranteed. And while the swap for Odorizzi was nice, it's still not enough to dramatically improve the outlook for a rotation that will be without Ervin Santana for at least the first month of the season.
The Twins know they're second in the AL Central pecking order right now, but their young offense (which scored the most runs in the Majors in the second half last season) has them smelling blood. The possibility that the Indians, who used only seven starting pitchers last season, have trouble repeating a relative run of good health in the rotation is real. And anyway, the Twins could stand to improve their projection in the Wild Card realm. They don't have major financial obligations on the books aside from the $13.2 million owed to Phil Hughes in 2019, so they could do a Cobb contract that gets him something a little bit better than the three years, $38 million Tyler Chatwood got from the Cubs. (In this market at this stage, that might be as good as it gets for Cobb.)