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Available FAs could form a playoff contender

It would cost money, but such a team could compete
January 9, 2018

Spring Training camps open in about five weeks, yet more than 120 free agents remain unsigned. The 30 Major League clubs will snap them up at some point, but what if the players gathered together to form an expansion team?Would it be competitive?MLB.com decided to play the role of fake

Spring Training camps open in about five weeks, yet more than 120 free agents remain unsigned. The 30 Major League clubs will snap them up at some point, but what if the players gathered together to form an expansion team?
Would it be competitive?
MLB.com decided to play the role of fake expansion general manager and see what kind of team could be put together from the pool of available free agents.
We constructed the roster as if it was an actual team, complete with backups, bullpen roles and everything in between. As it turns out, it would be a pretty darn good club.
Starting lineup
C: Jonathan Lucroy
Lucroy regressed offensively in 2017, though an .865 OPS during his 46-game stint with Colorado restored the belief that the 31-year-old has something left in the tank. In a thin catching market, he's the best of the remaining bunch.

1B: Eric Hosmer
Hosmer's résumé isn't in question: durable All-Star with a World Series ring, four Gold Gloves and a reputation as a clubhouse leader. The fact that the rebuilding Royals and upstart Padres are competing for his services shows that he's the kind of player teams want to build around.
2B: Neil Walker
Walker has been an above-average offensive player at his position, but he's missed an average of 50 games in each of the past two years, leading some to question his durability. He won't come close to the $17.2 million he made from the Mets' qualifying offer last year, but he should land a multiyear pact.
SS: Eduardo Nunez
Nunez is the type of player teams love these days -- able to take the field at second base, shortstop, third base and even in the outfield. We're listing him at short because he's played more games there than any other spot -- and because he's the best of the available options at the position.

3B: Mike Moustakas
The relative lack of buzz around Moustakas has been surprising following his 38-homer season, but teams seeking help at the hot corner have seemingly focused their attention toward the trade market (Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Evan Longoria). The two-time All-Star could take a one-year deal and hit the market again next year, though he would then be competing with Machado and Donaldson, who are both slated to become free agents after 2018.
LF: Carlos Gonzalez
Speaking of one-year deals, CarGo may be wise to secure a pillow contract to reestablish his reputation as a productive player. Gonzalez had a terrible first half in 2017, though a strong stretch after the break (.921 OPS over his final 62 games) was more reminiscent of his previous All-Star form. The 32-year-old struggled badly against lefties, so a platoon situation could be in his future.
CF: Lorenzo Cain
The well-rounded center fielder posted good numbers in his walk year (.300/.363/.440), and although he'll turn 32 in April, he's the best pure center-field option out there. Many teams have kicked the tires, but none have been willing to make the commitment yet. Somebody will, and when they do, they'll get a strong contributor.
RF: Jay Bruce
Bruce mashes righties (.883 OPS in 2017), though his production against left-handers (.718 OPS) remains respectable. He's also been one of the most consistent power bats in the game over the past decade, averaging 28 home runs with a .790 OPS since breaking into the Majors in 2008. For teams looking to add some thump without writing a nine-figure check, Bruce is a terrific option.

DH: J.D. Martinez
Martinez is technically a right fielder, but we're listing him as a designated hitter because that's where he would likely play in Boston. The Red Sox continue to be the logical landing point for the 30-year-old slugger, whose 45 homers last season were nearly twice as many as Mookie Betts, who led Boston with 24. If the two sides can't come to a deal, a return to Arizona remains possible.
Bench
1B: Logan Morrison
3B: Todd Frazier
Utility: Howie Kendrick
OF: Jonathan Jay
C: Alex Avila

Morrison, who swatted 38 homers in his breakout 2017 season, would provide power off the bench, as would Frazier, who has been a consistent source of home runs his entire career and is a great clubhouse presence. Kendrick can play a variety of positions in both the infield and outfield, while Jay can play strong defense at all three outfield spots. Avila is a good bat and an above-average glove behind the plate, while his lefty-righty splits make him a good choice to play against tough right-handers.

Rotation
RHP Yu Darvish
Darvish's substandard showing in the World Series may have scared off some potential suitors, but not significantly enough to keep him from being one of the most sought-after arms on the market. Darvish has no fewer than four teams vying to add him to their rotation and should get the biggest pitching deal this offseason.

RHP Jacob Arrieta
Arrieta won't be far behind Darvish, bringing some things to the table -- namely a National League Cy Young Award and tremendous success in the postseason -- that Darvish does not. Arrieta could return to the Cubs, or make one of their NL Central competitors (Brewers, Cardinals) that much stronger.
RHP Lance Lynn
Lynn has averaged 14 wins and a 3.39 ERA over his five full seasons, providing a consistent presence for the Cardinals. Many teams have shown interest in Lynn, who may wait for the top two starters to sign before making a decision.
RHP Alex Cobb
Like Lynn, Cobb is a notch below Darvish and Arrieta, but the right-hander is attractive to a number of teams looking to improve their rotations without shelling out more than $100 million. Cobb proved he's healthy after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2015, throwing 179 1/3 innings last season while pitching to a 3.66 ERA.

LHP Jaime Garcia
Garcia remains a good option at the back end of a rotation, capable of eating innings while keeping his team in the game. The 31-year-old can still induce ground balls with regularity and provides a veteran presence.
Bullpen
Closer: Greg Holland
Setup man: Addison Reed
LHP Tony Watson
RHP Matt Albers
LHP Brian Duensing
LHP Fernando Abad

With Wade Davis off to Colorado, Holland -- the Rockies' former closer -- is the top closer available on the free-agent market. Reed has proven his ability to close, so while it's possible he could sign somewhere to pitch the ninth, he would be a closer-like presence in the seventh or eighth. Watson would serve as the lefty specialist, though fellow southpaws Duensing and Abad balance out the bullpen. Albers, who posted a 1.62 ERA for the Nationals last season, can fill in a gap anywhere from the fifth through the ninth.
The bottom line
So how much would such a team cost? Well, that's where things get tricky. Attempting to put together a team consisting entirely of free agents would cost approximately $300 million for next season, because our club would not have the benefit of any pre-arbitration or arbitration-eligible players to help keep the payroll in check. Is it realistic to think a team made up entirely of free agents could ever happen? No, of course not. But it's certainly fun to consider.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.