A.J. Pollock is probably the third-best position player left on the free-agent market, and yet his corner has been quiet in recent weeks. Perhaps his camp is waiting to see where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado end up, or perhaps it hopes one team will jump out and match his original asking price: A deal somewhere near the five years and $80 million Lorenzo Cain got from the Brewers last winter.
Cain had to wait until the end of January to sign with Milwaukee, so maybe the same timeline will hold true for Pollock. But it might not be easy for Pollock to get that kind of deal; injuries have caused him to miss nearly 250 games over the past three seasons, and he also has Draft pick compensation attached since he rejected the D-backs' one-year qualifying offer in November. Still, this is someone who was a National League MVP candidate through the first six weeks of 2018, and a player who made the hardest contact of his career at the plate last season while maintaining his stellar defense in center field.
Fangraphs' Steamer system projects Pollock to be a 3-WAR player next season, which might be conservative if he can log a full season and play anywhere near his 7-WAR peak in 2015. As he looks for his next home, let's do the same and run through nine clubs who could be a good fit for Pollock, counting down in reverse chronological order.
Could definitely use him, but not currently in the free-agent mix
Outfield has been a glaring hole in San Francisco for years now, and the Giants' current projected trio of Austin Slater in right, Steven Duggar in center and Chris Shaw in left could struggle to conjure up 2 WAR combined. Pollock's power and defense would be more than welcome by the Bay, but new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has seemed extremely lukewarm about signing top-end free agents as he implements his vision for the club.
Pollock is already 31, and the Giants' recent acquisitions of veterans Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen didn't pay off in 2018. So it's likely they pass on Pollock and either try for a cheaper option or see what they have in-house.
This isn't a case of positional scarcity, because the Padres actually have too many outfielders between Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero, Travis Jankowski, etc. The trouble is that none of those players have developed into stars. If general manager A.J. Preller wants to accelerate the timeline and make the Padres actual contenders beginning in 2020, perhaps the time is right to see what he could get in the trade market for a player like Renfroe or Cordero and then sign Pollock to anchor the outfield for San Diego's next competitive window.
Would need to shuffle pieces
Atlanta was heavily linked to Michael Brantley before he became an Astro, and while Adam Duvall is a capable defender, he's coming off a career-worst season at the plate (.195/.274/.365, 69 wRC+) and presents an obvious opportunity for a right-field upgrade. The Braves could hold on to Ender Inciarte -- who tied St. Louis' Harrison Bader for the highest Outs Above Average (OAA) of any outfielder last season -- in center and install Pollock as an overqualified right fielder, thus daring opponents to try and land any ball into an outfield that would also boast Ronald Acuna Jr. in left.
MLB.com's Mark Bowman recently reported that the Braves won't be deterred by Draft pick compensation, but Pollock's asking price would probably need to drop significantly to make this a reality.
New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen revealed in December that he had been in touch with Pollock's camp, telling MLB Network Radio that Pollock would fit the Mets "really well." Indeed, it's not hard to see Pollock equaling Juan Lagares' defense with a more capable bat in center field, but the question comes down to who would flank him in the corners. Yoenis Cespedes is due to return at some point midway through the season, meaning Van Wagenen would likely need to trade either Michael Conforto or Brandon Nimmo to make room for Pollock. But there's still time for one of those two trade chips to be involved in a deal for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, and if the Mets are seriously all-in on 2019, perhaps they go and get Realmuto and Pollock.
The Mets traded forKeon Broxton, a fantastic defensive center fielder, on Saturday. But Broxton remains unproven as a hitter, and his acquisition shouldn't necessarily keep New York from going after Pollock, too.
Excellent fits, but would they actually make the move?
Cleveland's outfield was its underbelly last season, and it's projected to be much worse in 2019 now that Brantley is gone. Sure, the Indians could still win the AL Central with some combination of Greg Allen, Jason Kipnis, Jordan Luplow, Leonys Martin andTyler Naquin, but that's an outfield group that's shouting out for a star to lead it. Cleveland has been noticeably absent from just about all free-agent rumors, dealing away pieces instead as it looks to trim payroll, but on paper this club needs another stud or two in the lineup to compete with the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros come October. Pollock would be one major expenditure that would make sense for the Tribe's roster.
General manager Nick Krall and president of baseball operations Dick Williams took a significant step toward contention with their blockbuster trade for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood. But there's still obvious holes on the 40-man roster, including a missing frontline starter (hello, Dallas Keuchel?) and a center fielder now that Billy Hamilton is a Royal. Puig wouldn't be manager David Bell's first choice to man the middle, and while Scott Schebler was a league-average right fielder last year, he's probably not the long-term solution in center.
The Reds already contacted the Braves about Enciarte in December, so they're not blind to their center-field hole. Opening the purse strings for Pollock could help them get even closer to the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals.
Signing Daniel Murphy was a good first step in addressing the Rockies' offensive needs, but Colorado shouldn't stop there. Murphy's addition sets up a likely starting outfield of Charlie Blackmon in left, Ian Desmond in center and David Dahl in right. That might look OK at first glance … until one considers Dahl's trouble with staying on the field, Desmond readjusting to center at cavernous Coors Field and Blackmon learning a new position after ranking as one of MLB's worst outfield defenders last year. Pollock would boost the Rockies' lineup, lock down center field defensively and likely improve either Dahl or Desmond's value as roving utility men. Pollock's injury history is a risk, but it seems like one worth taking as Nolan Arenado's free-agency clock keeps ticking.
The very best fits
This fit is pretty simple. The Phillies are obviously in on Harper and Machado, but there's also a decent argument to be made that neither superstar would be enough to put Philadelphia over the top in the NL East. Perhaps general manager Matt Klentak follows suit with his acquisitions of McCutchen, Jean Segura and Player Page for David Robertson and zags away from the big two to sign another mid-range star in Pollock. That would slide Odubel Herrera over to right (where he might be better suited anyway) and give the Phillies a much better core to build around for next year's free-agent crop, headlined by Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Chris Sale, Paul Goldschmidt and many more.
1. WHITE SOX
Chicago's involvement in the Harper and Machado sweepstakes means it clearly has money to spend, but the club is slight underdogs in both pursuits. If it becomes clear that they won't land either superstar, the White Sox could easily turn their attention toward Pollock -- and maybe other marquee free agents like Keuchel, too.
The White Sox would have an enviable decision of putting either Pollock or the super-athletic Adam Engel in center, while keeping another corner open for top prospect Eloy Jimenez. That's the makings of an excellent unit to build around as Chicago looks toward its next competitive window.