The 8 Show: Late, great finds in free agency

Finding homes for those who wait on open market

January 20th, 2016

Some prominent players have fallen off the board: Alex Gordon, Wei-Yin Chen, Denard Span, Ian Kennedy, Chris Davis and, most recently, Justin Upton have all recently agreed to deals.

The "where" in Janu-"where"-y, in other words, is getting an inevitable response.

Hot Stove Tracker

We're still not done, though. Not by a long shot. And while you would think that, by this late date in the Hot Stove season, predicting where the remaining notables will land would be more than a mere guessing game, that's really not the case.

So let's guess away and find homes for eight who continue to wait.

1. Yoenis Cespedes

With Upton in Motown, we now can safely rule out a return to the Tigers for Cespedes. Detroit had long possessed the look of a sleeper in the Cespedes sweepstakes, so now you've got to wonder if any other "mystery" teams might surface.

The Orioles had a five-year offer in to Cespedes, but the Davis signing was a huge investment, and the O's still need pitching (though the offer of free crabcakes is presumably still on the table). The recent rumblings about the Braves make little sense, as they're obviously not in enough of a win-now mode to go after 30-year-old power hitters with huge paychecks. The Astros rumors must also be taken with a grain of salt, as they'd have to move another outfielder to accommodate Cespedes. The Rangers probably can't stomach another big contract right now. The Angels, despite a glaring need in left, have always been an iffy proposition here because they are rubbing up against the luxury-tax threshold. The Cardinals have the cash, but they appear adamant about seeing what they have in Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty in a full-season setting.

The White Sox don't seem likely to make a major free-agent foray here, but the continually rising stakes in the American League Central could compel them to act. Everybody knows how much Cespedes loved his time in New York, but the Mets' financial stance has been unshakable, and they like their long-term options with Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.

Despite the public proclamations from general manager John Mozeliak, I just can't believe a Cardinals team with a glaring need for power (and with Matt Holliday a year from free agency) is going to let so much of its fate ride on Grichuk and Piscotty (neither of whom has played a full season yet), as well as Brandon Moss and Matt Adams. Cespedes' leverage isn't what it was at the outset of the offseason, and the Cards, with their offers to David Price and Jason Heyward, have made it clear they have money to spend (they could also do an Upton-like opt-out clause after two years). With the Cubs having clearly upped the ante in the already competitive National League Central, the Cardinals ought to be taking advantage of this opportunity to add an impact bat at a reduced price.

Prediction: Cardinals

2. Dexter Fowler

He's a high-OBP leadoff option coming off a career year, but the slow development of the outfield market and the Draft-pick compensation issue have kept things cloudy here.

Fowler isn't going to command as much money as Upton did and Cespedes will. The Cubs could bring back Fowler if they wind up trading Jorge Soler. Maybe this is the guy the Angels would stretch their budget to sign, as the luxury-tax hit wouldn't be as punitive (Fowler can make the transition to left; some scouts think that transition to the corners would be best no matter where he signs), and Fowler's switch-hitting skills would add necessary balance. But again, the Draft-pick issue is a huge one -- especially for a team with a pick in the teens.

The White Sox make a lot of sense. Their first-round Draft pick is protected, Adam Eaton's center-field defense didn't grade out very well in 2015 (he could shift to right), and Fowler's price tag would fall more in line with what we've seen from this club in free-agent forays. Maybe Fowler will stay in Chicago after all.

Prediction: White Sox

3. Yovani Gallardo

He's the last man standing from the list of starting pitchers tied to Draft-pick compensation, and he just turned in the lowest ERA of his career despite the move to the AL and what is considered a hitter-friendly home ballpark. If Kennedy can command a $14 million-per-year guarantee, Gallardo certainly could or should, too.

The Orioles still need starting help, but they've held tight to the 14th overall pick so far. The Astros could use the native Texan, but they'd have to give up the 18th overall pick to their in-state rival (the Rangers, by the way, appear to have moved on from Gallardo). The Marlins still have a need beyond Jose Fernandez and Chen, but the Chen deal was probably their last major expenditure.

2016 Draft order

The Blue Jays have had some contact with Gallardo, but it remains to be seen if they're willing to extend themselves much beyond last year's payroll level. Clearly, though, they could benefit from some added rotation depth, and losing the 23rd overall pick to sign Gallardo isn't the end of the world.

Prediction: Blue Jays

4. Ian Desmond

A down year, a distinct shortage of teams looking for a starting shortstop and the Draft-pick attachment have all conspired to make Desmond play the waiting game this offseason.

Of course, it's well within the range of possibility that this is the guy the Sox will sign, as he could be the bridge to shortstop prospect Tim Anderson. Or maybe the Dodgers think Desmond can make the transition to second base. We've seen the Rays make some opportunistic additions late in the winter in the past, and Desmond is from nearby Sarasota, Fla. But the A's, who could employ Desmond as a utility type and help him rebuild his value, are another opportunistic organization, with the added benefit of having a protected pick.

Prediction: A's

5. Howie Kendrick

Either L.A. team -- the Dodgers or Angels -- could bring Kendrick back and be better for it, though the latter would have to fork over a Draft pick to make it happen. The Dodgers reportedly value the pick they'd recoup more than they value Kendrick himself. The Royals could certainly use an upgrade over Omar Infante, but they're already paying Infante and their payroll has already climbed to "yowzas" levels with the return of Alex Gordon and the signing of Kennedy.

In terms of pure need, the D-backs make by far the most sense, which is why I'm predicting them here. That said, I can totally understand Arizona's reluctance to part with another Draft pick and take on more salary for an aging second baseman whose defense declined in 2015. Honestly, Kendrick might be one of those guys who has to wait for a Spring Training injury or -- gulp -- the Draft to pass (let's hope it doesn't come to that) before he finds a fit.

Prediction: D-backs

6. David Freese

A really solid option at the hot corner, but two teams with a glaring need -- the White Sox and his own Angels -- filled that need via the trade market (Todd Frazier and Yunel Escobar). So Freese's market has -- ahem -- been frigid, and you wonder if he might be trending toward a value-building one-year deal.

While a Pablo Sandoval-Freese platoon looks good on paper, this isn't fantasy baseball, so the Red Sox probably don't have the roster room to go that route. The Indians could probably offer Freese the most playing time, because they don't know for certain what to expect from young Giovanny Urshela.

Prediction: Indians

7. Austin Jackson

The much more affordable -- and much less attractive -- alternative to Cespedes, Upton and Fowler, so you can cast a wide net that includes all of the clubs listed above who are in need of outfield help. But actually, there's a lot to like about Jackson on a short-term deal, with the thought that a 29-year-old three seasons removed from a .300/.377/.479 slash line can turn it around with the right tutelage.

Though both of these teams would benefit more from a left-handed bat, Jackson could shift away from center to go to the Angels or Orioles. I like Baltimore here as a place where Jackson's power would play up. His hard-hit percentage last year was higher than his career average. And the O's made efforts to obtain Jackson from the Mariners at the Trade Deadline last year.

This of course leaves the Angels still looking for left-field help, but they might be able to match in a trade for one of the Rockies' available options.

Prediction: Orioles

8. Doug Fister

He finished in the top 10 in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2014, then pitched himself out of the Nats' rotation by the end of '15. Untied to a pick, Fister is the belle of the bounce-back candidate ball right now. The Astros and Blue Jays are clear contenders who could add Fister to the back end of their rotation. The Orioles could keep him near the Beltways. But if there's any place for Fister to rebuild his value on a short-term deal (particularly after a year in which his homer rate spiked), it's Marlins Park.

Prediction: Marlins