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Best of the bats: Breaking down FA hitters

Martinez, Hosmer, Santana among top names on the market
MLB.com

This year's free-agent class may not be as loaded as the potential class for next offseason, when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (among others) are set to hit the market, but there are still plenty of game-changing names available. On the offensive front, that includes star players like J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and more. There's plenty of talent up for grabs.

• Hot Stove Tracker

This year's free-agent class may not be as loaded as the potential class for next offseason, when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (among others) are set to hit the market, but there are still plenty of game-changing names available. On the offensive front, that includes star players like J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and more. There's plenty of talent up for grabs.

• Hot Stove Tracker

Teams will need to shop carefully, however, to make sure their money is going to the right places. With that in mind, here are some facts about some of this winter's top free-agent hitters that could convince teams to sign them, or walk away. (For MLB.com's breakdown of the top free-agent pitchers, go here.) Ages listed are as of Opening Day 2018, and players are listed alphabetically by last name.

Jay Bruce, RF, age 30
Why teams would sign: Bruce has brought consistent power from the corner outfield, with five 30-home-run seasons since 2011 -- tied for second-most of any player this decade (Edwin Encarnacion has six). The 36 long balls he hit in '17 were eighth-most among MLB outfielders and a personal best, and he added a pair of big home runs for the Indians in the American League Division Series. Bruce was traded during the season, so he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, and that should help him on the open market.

Video: Bruce's bat available on the free agent market

Why they could walk away: Bruce is reportedly seeking a five-year deal, and that would be a significant commitment in both time and salary for a team that might hope to sign him, especially with the corner-outfield market being relatively slow recently, at least on the trade front. Bruce also has significant platoon splits -- he hit .222 with an 88 wRC+ against left-handers this year, and he's been below league average against lefties by wRC+ in each of the past five seasons.

Lorenzo Cain, CF, age 31
Why teams would sign: Cain is the best defensive outfielder available. He was 15 Outs Above Average in 2017, according to Statcast™, which ranked in the top five in the Major Leagues. (Cain had a 12 OAA in '16, which ranled among the top 10 in MLB.) Cain also had a strong offensive campaign. He had a 115 wRC+, hitting an even .300 with a career-high .363 on-base percentage and 15 homers, one off his career high. He stole 26 bases, marking his third time in the past four seasons with more than 25 steals.

Video: Cain's blend of speed, defense up for purchase as FA

Why they could walk away: He'll turn 32 soon after Opening Day, so there will be some questions as to how long he can maintain his speed. Statcast™ has shown speed declines with age, with the clear dropoff beginning around age 33. Cain received a qualifying offer, but the compensation rules are less severe under the new CBA, and they should not be a major detriment for a player like him.

Zack Cozart, SS, age 32
Why teams would sign: Cozart had a breakout 2017 season and looks like the best shortstop available. He earned his first career All-Star nod and hit .297/.385/.548 with 24 home runs and a .933 OPS, all easily career bests. His 141 wRC+ ranked second among MLB shortstops behind only Carlos Correa, as did his on-base percentage and slugging. Cozart was above-average at a premium defensive position by both DRS (2) and Ultimate Zone Rating (3.7 runs above average).

Why they could walk away: Cozart isn't young -- he's entering his age-32 season -- and teams will have to decide if they think Cozart can sustain the success he had in 2017, which exceeded what he had done in any other year of his career by a wide margin. Cozart had never even graded as an above-average hitter in a full season, with his previous best wRC+ being 91 in '16.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, age 28
Why teams would sign: Hosmer is coming off the best season of his career, playing all 162 games and hitting .318/.385/.498 (all career highs) with 25 home runs (tying his career best, set in '16). He won the AL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards at first base. He had a 134 wRC+ in '17, second-best among AL first basemen. Among regular first basemen, only Joey Votto had a better batting average. Hosmer and Votto were the only two first basemen in the Major Leagues not to miss a game all year.

Video: Hosmer enters free agency at top of first base crop

Why they could walk away: Hosmer hasn't provided a ton of power in his career while playing a power-heavy position. (His 25 homers in 2017 tied for 19th among first basemen.) He hits a lot of ground balls -- his 56.3 percent ground-ball rate last year was third-highest of the 100 hitters who put at least 400 balls in play. And despite the Gold Glove Award, some defensive metrics don't look kindly on Hosmer -- he had negative-7 Defensive Runs Saved last season (with zero being average), ranking 17th among 21 qualifying first basemen.

J.D. Martinez, RF, age 30
Why teams would sign: Martinez is the biggest bat on the market. His 45 home runs last season ranked third in the Majors, and his 1.066 OPS ranked second for players with as many as his 432 plate appearances. Martinez's .690 slugging percentage was the highest by a player with at least 400 at-bats since Barry Bonds in 2002. His one home run per 9.6 at-bats was also the best for a player with at least 400 at-bats since '02 (Bonds, 8.76, and Jim Thome, 9.23). Martinez had the third-highest weighted runs created plus in baseball in '17 -- 166, meaning he was 66 percent better than league average offensively. Like Bruce, Martinez was traded during the season, which means he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, and that should help him on the open market.

Why they could walk away: Three reasons -- price tag, injury history and defense. Martinez could reportedly be seeking a $200 million deal, which would put him out of many teams' price range. He's only played as many as 125 games once in his seven-year career -- in 2015 -- and he has spent time on the disabled list in each of the past two seasons. In addition, Martinez is not a strong defender in right field. According to Statcast™'s metric for outfield defense -- Outs Above Average -- Martinez rated as five outs below average in '17, tied for 185th out of 210 qualifying outfielders. In '16, he had a negative-10 OAA, ranking 200th out of 208 qualifying outfielders.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, age 29
Why teams would sign: Moustakas was honored by his peers as the American League Comeback Player of the Year for 2017 in the Players Choice Awards after he returned from a torn ACL that cost him almost all of '16. He mashed a career-high 38 home runs, which also set the Royals' single-season franchise record. Those 38 homers were tied for eighth-most in the Majors, and only Joey Gallo had more among regular third basemen.

Video: Moustakas hits market after making Royals history

Why they could walk away: Even with his 38 homers, Moustakas was worth just 2.2 Wins Above Replacement in 2017, per FanGraphs, tied for 21st among third basemen. He doesn't walk often (34 free passes, .314 on-base percentage), and he didn't grade well defensively in 2017 (negative-8 DRS, 18th among 21 qualified third basemen). There's also the injury history, and the fact that his home run total this season blew out of the water anything he'd done in previous years (his career high had been 22 in '15). Like Cain and Hosmer, Moustakas also got a qualifying offer, but that won't affect his market value much.

Carlos Santana, 1B/DH, age 31
Why teams would sign: Santana has been a rock in the Indians' lineup and a key contributor to a team that's become a powerhouse over the past couple seasons. Since he became a full-time player in 2011, Santana has played at least 140 games every year -- one of just six Major Leaguers to do so in that timeframe -- and he's hit the 150-game mark six times. Santana has a 122 wRC+ over that seven-year span while averaging 24 home runs and 81 RBIs, and he has MLB's third-highest walk rate at 15 percent. This season, he even chipped in above-average defense at first, winning the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award at first base with his 10 DRS tied for second among qualifying first basemen.

Video: Santana bring his switch-hitting power to free agency

Why they could walk away: Like Hosmer, Santana is another first baseman who has the Draft-pick penalty attached to him that comes with the qualifying offer. And like Hosmer, while Santana has posted solid homer totals, he has not been an elite power-hitting first baseman, having only once exceeded the 30-homer mark, in 2016 (34). He's one player whose market could be affected by the QO due to his age and the fact that he is limited to first base or DH.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Jay Bruce, Lorenzo Cain, Zack Cozart, Carlos Gonzalez, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Carlos Santana