As busy as this Hot Stove season has been, we still entered 2020 with a lot of unfinished business on the table. And while teams and players (and their agents) are plenty capable of locking hands in free-agent matrimony on their own, sometimes it takes a calm, impartial, persuasive third party to get two sides to realize they are truly meant for each other and to take the plunge.
Let’s usher some players and teams down the aisle with these matchmaker marriages. I now pronounce you free agent and team.
Josh Donaldson and the Braves
C’mon, now. Let’s stop wasting everybody’s time. You two love each other and are meant for each other. You just had a wonderful year together -- Donaldson joined the team he grew up rooting for and banged out a .379 OBP and .521 SLG for the National League East champs to prove to everybody that he’s still got it.
Oh sure, there might be some squabbles about money at the moment, but that’s something many couples have worked through before. I know the Braves might be tempted to find somebody younger (Donaldson’s departure could open up at-bats for Austin Riley and Johan Camargo), but the bottom line is that there’s familiarity, fun and continued attraction here.
Atlanta, if you like it, put a ring on it. And you just might get one in return.
Nicholas Castellanos and the Cardinals
A left-handed bat (a Joc Pederson trade, perhaps) would be the ideal fit, and a reunion with Marcell Ozuna still makes sense. But beggars can’t be choosers. And if the Cardinals aren’t begging for a middle-of-the-order bat, they ought to be. The Cardinals ranked 23rd in the Majors in slugging percentage last season. It didn’t stop them from winning the NL Central and advancing to the NL Championship Series, but, as we saw on that stage, it was a lineup that proved more beatable in the postseason than you’d like. Paul Goldschmidt, Harrison Bader, Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez all fell short of expectations in 2019, so the Cards could improve from within in ‘20. And this is a club that tends to be greater than the sum of its parts.
But there still seems to be a screaming need for a B-A-T bat here, and Castellanos would fit the bill. He’s relatively young (28 this coming season), he’s a pure hitter and he hit 58 doubles last year. Think that kind of output wouldn’t help a St. Louis club that ranked 28th in the Majors in doubles last year? Welcome to St. Louis, Nick. Now go get yourself some toasted ravioli to celebrate.
Ozuna and the Rangers -- two parties with a lot to prove -- could become a proper pairing in Texas. The Rangers are, aggressively and understandably, trying to get better as they move into a new ballpark. Ozuna is trying to secure a deal that reflects his future projection based on Statcast’s hard-hit data, not his good-but-not-elite past performance.
Having missed out on Anthony Rendon and been reluctant to go all-in on Josh Donaldson, the Rangers could turn to the outfield as a means of amplifying their offense, and Ozuna will bring authority and upside to the heart of the order.
As for Chirinos, the Rangers, with Jeff Mathis and Jose Trevino, presently sit at the very bottom of FanGraphs’ depth charts-projected Wins Above Replacement at catcher, and that’s precisely where they finished in the WAR rankings in 2019. The Rangers probably should have picked up Chirinos’ option after ‘18, but sometimes couples need to forgive and forget. Here’s a chance for the Rangers to right a wrong and further improve their outlook.
Yasiel Puig and the Indians
“The Wild Horse” is a wild card. He takes a circuitous route to production that is just a bit better than league average, going hot and cold in equal turns. He’s matured over the years, but you’ll still get occasional lapses in judgment, like when he did not run out a ground ball in the September playoff race pretty much immediately after the Indians had a team meeting harping on the need for focus. So if the Indians ultimately shy away, it’s understandable.
But look, you can’t marry somebody in the hope that they change. Try to see the best in each other at all times. Puig isn’t perfect, but he can carry a lineup in stretches, and he’s marketable. The Tribe’s outfield, even with nine outfielders on the 40-man, is iffy. And given the other realistic options in free agency, the one-year gamble it’ll likely take to get Puig is worth the risk.
Kevin Pillar and the D-backs
Non-tendered by the Giants, Pillar would be a worthwhile pickup for another NL West club that is hoping to stabilize Ketel Marte’s spot in the field. The D-backs could add a second baseman and keep Marte in center, or they can add a center fielder and move Marte back to second.
Marte, coming off an MVP-caliber 2019, can ably handle either role, but bringing in the rangy Pillar, who could cover the wide expanse of Chase Field while also providing solid offense, would make this club sturdy up the middle and clear Marte’s palate from defensive distractions.
Ben Zobrist and the A’s
It’s still unclear if Zobrist will play in 2020 after taking time away from baseball for much of last season due to a family situation. But let’s hope the two-time World Series winner returns, and why not return to an Oakland A’s team that, while replete in young options for second base (Franklin Barreto, Jorge Mateo, Sheldon Neuse and Rule 5 acquisition Vimael Machin) could use more stability at that spot as they look to challenge the Astros in the AL West and avoid the whims of the Wild Card?
The A’s getting back with an ex is … not exactly a novel concept. Come to think of it, a trade for Jed Lowrie to signal his third stint with the team almost feels inevitable, doesn’t it? But if the A’s don’t go that route, Zobrist is a fit on a one-year deal.