The Winter Meetings proved to be the kick in the pants this market needed to get moving. But even after a particularly wild week across MLB, not every prominent free agent has found a fit.
So let’s step in and play matchmaker. Here are six impact players still there for the taking, where they’d be an especially interesting fit and where, ultimately, I expect them to sign.
Carlos Correa, SS
He’s the top free-agent shortstop left standing, and there’s a good argument to be made that he was the top free-agent shortstop to begin with. Last year, Correa ran out of teams willing to do a top-dollar, long-term deal in the game of shortstop musical chairs. He figures to fare better this time around, with the Giants (spurned by Aaron Judge), Cubs and Twins involved. Perhaps the post-Xander Bogaerts Red Sox or a mystery team (Yankees? Orioles?) will be in the final mix, as well.
Most interesting fit: The Red Sox can’t possibly like the blowback they are receiving in Boston now that another homegrown superstar has departed. The only way to cure that is to win, and the quickest path to victory is with good players. Correa is a great one. The Red Sox were obviously reluctant to pay Bogaerts his market value, but Correa is two years younger and even more productive. And unlike some others who have come to regret going to the Red Sox, Correa wouldn’t shy away from the scrutiny of the Boston spotlight.
Most likely destination: Though the positional fit might be imperfect depending on how committed the Giants are to playing Brandon Crawford at shortstop for one more season, it just seems natural that Correa would be a stellar Plan B after San Francisco missed out on Judge.
Carlos Rodón, LHP
With Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom and Kodai Senga off the board, Rodón is the last remaining ace in the market. He’s also younger than those other guys, having just turned 30. If we’ve learned anything about the cost of quality starting pitching in this particular market, the price could be extraordinary. But fits abound, because there are plenty of legit contenders who could still stand to upgrade the top end of their rotations with a guy who posted a 2.67 ERA and 157 ERA+ over the past two seasons.
Most interesting fit: Rodón could change the way we look at the Orioles overnight, from fun and fringy contender to a more legit threat. With a projected 2023 payroll around $74 million for 2023 and no commitments on the books beyond that, Baltimore can certainly take on the built-in risk that comes with monster pitching pacts.
Most likely destination: Re-signing Aaron Judge was great, of course, but, as far as actually improving upon the 2022 product, the Yankees would sure benefit from another high-end starter to improve their odds of advancing in October, and the lefty Rodón would fit them perfectly.
Dansby Swanson, SS
A Georgia boy is traded to his hometown team and proves himself a lineup linchpin for a World Series-championship winner. That was storybook stuff for Swanson and the Braves, but the story has taken a swift – and some would say strange – turn, with no “legit negotiations since the offseason began,” according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. With all the above scenarios involving Correa applying here (and perhaps additional teams, given that Swanson isn’t likely to land a deal as rich as the ones given Bogaerts and Turner), it sure seems there is a decent chance of Swanson walking.
Most interesting fit: Though the Dodgers have been quiet this winter in their bid to reset their luxury-tax-threshold penalty, we can’t shake the storyline of a Braves hero leaving Atlanta for L.A. two years in a row. How weird would it be for both Swanson and Freddie Freeman to be in road gray when the Dodgers visit the Braves in May?
Most likely destination: Swanson just got married to Mallory Pugh, a star for the Chicago Red Stars of the Women’s Professional Soccer League, and the Cubs are in the market for a star shortstop. Let’s kick this one into the net (that is what they do in soccer, right?).
Benintendi has not reached the level of stardom he seemed headed for as a top prospect and then as the Rookie of the Year runner-up to Judge back in 2017. But he’s a solid player who delivers good defense, good contact and walks. He didn’t hit for much power in 2022, and he's coming off the broken hamate that abruptly ended his time with the Yankees shortly after a midseason trade. But at only 28 years old with a bankable skillset, Benintendi can help a lot of teams.
Most interesting fit: If the White Sox are serious about shaking off last season’s disappointment and returning to the top of the AL Central, a left-handed left fielder makes all the sense in the world for their lineup.
Most likely destination: After investing heavily in pitching (and in the middle infield last year), the Rangers still have major question marks in their outfield outside of Adolis García. It stands to reason that they would add Benintendi to what would now qualify as a legitimate contender.
Nathan Eovaldi, RHP
Though health is perpetually a concern with Eovaldi, who has had two Tommy John surgeries, another procedure to remove loose bodies from his elbow and dealt with shoulder inflammation in 2022, he remains an effective rotation weapon when able to take the mound. In the last three seasons, he has a 120 ERA+ (20% better than league average) with 350 strikeouts and 62 walks in 340 innings. He averaged 95.8 mph with his four-seamer last year. A complicating factor in his market is that he turned down the qualifying offer and is therefore tied to Draft pick compensation.
Most interesting fit: The Cardinals have the option of going with what they’ve got in the rotation (Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Montgomery, Steven Matz and Dakota Hudson). But it says here that they could still use another dose of velocity and playoff pedigree, and Eovaldi can provide it without St. Louis totally breaking the bank.
Most likely destination: Though there have been reports that the Red Sox aren’t being as aggressive in targeting Eovaldi as some other clubs, the Draft pick compensation issue, his value and familiarity with the franchise and the basic fact that Boston can’t afford to take any steps back in the rotation make a reunion seem pretty plausible.
Michael Conforto, OF
Remember this guy? After a down 2021 and a season-long absence in 2022 thanks to shoulder surgery, he’s still looming as a really interesting free-agent option. A team that rolls the dice just might come out with the version of Conforto that posted an .864 OPS, 97 homers and 86 doubles from 2017-20. He’ll be 30 years old next season. And unlike a year ago, he’s not tied to Draft pick compensation.
Most interesting fit: Though the Mariners have already added Teoscar Hernández to their Julio Rodríguez-led outfield, there are still considerable question marks attached to corner-outfield options Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammell and Sam Haggerty. Not that Conforto isn’t a question mark in his own right, but he does have an All-Star past, and – bonus – he’s a Seattle native!
Most likely destination: Bringing in Benintendi or returning Michael Brantley, who is also coming off shoulder surgery might also work. But the Astros have the resources and lineup depth to take the gamble on Conforto, who could help them at all three outfield spots and DH.