The best landing spots for top free agents

December 26th, 2020

We get it. Making decisions is difficult. When presented with too many options, as is often the case in our consumeristic culture, the mind can become incapable of reaching a conclusion.

(Unless the choice is salad or fries, in which case it’s pretty easy.)

So we are here to serve Major League teams and free agents at this still-unsettled occasion in the offseason. These are the best fits for the remaining free agents from our list of the top 25 going into the winter. And just to help as many teams as possible with this process, we’re going to limit ourselves to only one selection per squad.

and the Phillies
Yeah, it’s complicated. The Phillies’ financial picture looks a lot different today than it did at the time of the Bryce Harper signing. They are trying to lower a payroll that neared the luxury tax threshold in 2020, and they have needs other than just catcher. But we’re not here to figure all of that out. We’re here to point out the obvious, which is that the Plan B's here aren’t palatable, particularly given what the Phillies gave up (Sixto Sanchez) to get Realmuto in the first place. There are other teams that could stand to upgrade at catcher, but none with the emotional attachment that the Phillies have. Losing him would greatly compromise their competitive effort for 2021.

and the Mets
Mets president Sandy Alderson likes to remind people that baseball is an entertainment business, and sometimes we need that reminder in our hyper-analytical age. But Bauer checks both the entertainment and the analytical boxes. And while there may be an opportunity for Bauer to go home to Southern California via either the Angels or the Dodgers, Queens is calling his name. The Mets arguably already have an ample offense without a big-ticket item in free agency. The rotation needs this kind of boost. Mets fans are salivating for a splash from new owner Steve Cohen, and Bauer loves the limelight.

and the Blue Jays
The Blue Jays look to be one of the Hot Stove’s more fascinating and aggressive teams. It would be surprising if they don’t come out of this offseason with at least one major free agent or trade piece. You can take your pick from the top of the position-player board, because this team has the positional and financial flexibility to accommodate any of them. But if the Blue Jays sign Springer for the outfield, they can still swing that blockbuster swap so many want to see for Francisco Lindor in the infield (we pitched one here) and go into 2021 with arguably the best lineup in baseball.

and the Yankees
Understandably, LeMahieu is a hot item after two sensational seasons in pinstripes. He might be the best player in the market not just at second base but also first and third. Combine that with his low strikeout rate and what he brings to a clubhouse, and he’s a fit on just about any team. Knowing all of that, it would be absolutely nuts for a powerhouse like the Yankees to let him get away. Yes, there are other directions the Yankees could take in their infield (a totally pie-in-the-sky Giancarlo Stanton-for-Nolan Arenado proposal is a fun one to dream on). But sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.

and the Mariners
For now, teams have reportedly been told to assume the National League will not have the designated hitter in 2021. Of course, all of the reasons the rule was applied universally in '20 might still have merit in the coming year, so it could be a point of further negotiation. Ozuna’s market is greatly impacted by this dynamic after he proved to be an offensive force, so for now it’s safest to peg him to an American League team. If the Twins re-sign Nelson Cruz, there aren’t a lot of obvious fits, but here’s a perhaps non-obvious one to ponder. Seattle has some financial flexibility, is ready to take a step up in the standings and was terrible against left-handed pitching last season (their .609 OPS was last in MLB). Ozuna crushed southpaws (.867 slugging percentage) and crushed everybody, in general. He would reshape the way we think of the M’s in a wide-open AL West.

and the Dodgers
Yes, the Dodgers already have a pretty good shortstop by the name of Corey Seager. We’re not suggesting they replace him. But the Dodgers are smart enough to recognize that Semien’s 2020 offensive downturn was entirely weighted toward the first two weeks of the shortened season and that the 30-year-old is adaptable enough to be used in other infield spots on a team that values versatility. Signing him long term would be insurance should Seager depart in free agency after 2021. This would likely mean saying goodbye to one of the franchise’s signature stars in Justin Turner, as we’ll discuss below, but the Dodgers don’t let sentiment get in the way of building a great baseball team.

and the Reds
The Reds’ past tie to Gregorius, having signed him for $50,000 as an international amateur in 2007, is a fun storyline. But fundamentally, the Reds need help at this position, they need an offensive upgrade in general, and Gregorius would be great at Great American Ball Park.

and the Braves
If Ozuna becomes Josh Donaldson 2.0 -- i.e. the one-year rental who mashes and then dashes when the Braves aren’t comfortable with his price tag -- that will leave Atlanta with few enticing options in free agency and trade. But Brantley, at 33, fits the Braves' short-term formula in free agency. And while he’s not likely to provide the kind of slugging that Donaldson and Ozuna did, he’s one of the most reliable bats in the big leagues -- a steady stick that makes contact and keeps innings alive. He can also still do the job in left field, so there is not as much concern with him as there is with Ozuna should the National League not have the DH.

and the Nationals
Admittedly, this was a better fit before the Nats traded for first baseman Josh Bell than it is now. But if Washington is not totally sold on young Carter Kieboom at third, Turner, even at age 36, is a very viable option at the position now and a major roster asset should the DH be a reality again in 2021 or on a permanent basis in '22. With Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Bell and Turner, the Nats would suddenly have a monster middle of the order. It might seem sacrilegious to suggest that Turner end up anywhere other than L.A., but the Dodgers have the resources to do something bigger in their infield, perhaps in a trade market that includes Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor, or with the aforementioned Semien suggestion. The Nats, meanwhile, are not afraid of old(er) dudes who can still deliver. That’s Turner.

and the Angels
Given their glaring need for multiple starting pitchers and the enormous long-term commitments to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, it’s hard to advocate for the Angels to put all their eggs in the Bauer basket. Tanaka won’t come cheap, either, but his deal won’t require quite the annual commitment, and his impressive track record (a 114 career ERA+ and 0.98 WHIP in 10 postseason starts) would lend a lot of legitimacy to the Halos.

and the Padres
With Mike Clevinger on the shelf, injury questions surrounding Dinelson Lamet and an impressive stash of young arms not yet proven at or graduated to the big league level, the Padres could really benefit from an established veteran to contribute to their rotation in a meaningful way. Paxton would fit as the perfect stopgap measure for Clevinger’s lost year. Because Paxton's 2020 season was reduced to five starts due to a back issue and then a flexor strain, he might make sense on a one-year prove-it deal. If so, the Padres should pounce.

and the Astros
The Phillies’ need for bullpen help is the most pronounced in the big leagues. But they should probably spread their money around on multiple arms (especially if they re-sign Realmuto). The Astros, meanwhile, make sense for Hendriks given their extreme reliance on young (and walk-prone) arms in the ‘pen in 2020. Hendriks would pair with Ryan Pressly to give Houston an imposing back-end punch in the bid to keep the contention window open.

and the D-backs
The absolute best fits are probably the Phillies, Mets and Blue Jays, but we already made matches for them. The D-backs, who still view themselves as contenders after a disappointing 2020, might be a longshot to play in the upper realm of the free-agent field, but there’s no denying their need in center field. While they do have the option of moving Ketel Marte back to a swing role between second base and center, Bradley would give them an everyday center fielder who turned the corner offensively in the final month of '20. Of course, having recently been compared to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by his agent, Bradley could satisfy the appetite of a lot of teams, including perhaps, the Red Sox (even after the Hunter Renfroe signing).

and the Giants
We’re definitely in the dart-tossing part of the program here, but a 28-year-old arm coming off a breakthrough season would make sense for a Giants team in need of additional rotation help, and the Giants’ home park would suit Walker’s fly-ball tendencies well.

Ha-seong Kim and the Rangers
The Rangers won’t readily be counted as contenders in 2020, but they have to be opportunistic with young talent (Kim is only 25) and have made a big international splash in the past with Yu Darvish and already this offseason with Kohei Arihara. Opinion is mixed on whether Kim will stick at shortstop or move around the infield. Either way, with Elvis Andrus officially moved off the shortstop position, Kim and Isiah Kiner-Falefa would give Texas two young and versatile infielders to work with.

and the Cubs
Adding a pure second baseman with bat-to-ball skills who has an axe to grind with the Cardinals? Perfect.

and the Twins
Cruz legitimized this club in ways that go well beyond the 57 homers and 32 doubles he’s hit for Minnesota. As team president of baseball operations Derek Falvey has said, Cruz is a “special member of the Twins.” They shouldn’t go too, too crazy chasing Cruz, because, after all, he turns 41 years old in July. But overall, they should have the finances to meet his short-term contractual demands.

and the A’s
Semien will command a higher price tag because of his offensive track record. Simmons, who has produced a .680 OPS over the last two seasons (and an OPS+ 18% below league average over that span) should better fit the A’s bill. He remains an elite defender.

and the Cardinals
St. Louis desperately needs outfield production, in particular, and production against right-handed pitching, in particular. Their .722 OPS vs. righties over the last two seasons is sixth-worst in MLB during that span. If there’s one thing we know about Pederson, it’s that he does his best work against right-handers (.501 career slugging percentage). He also tends to step up on the postseason stage.

and the Red Sox
The Red Sox, who had a 5.34 starters’ ERA in 2020, need to bounce back. Odorizzi, a 2019 All-Star prior to being limited to four starts in the shortened season by non-arm injuries, needs to bounce back. Sounds like a match. Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom knows Odorizzi well from their Tampa Bay days.

and the Brewers
La Stella is a sort of LeMahieu Lite in this market -- a disciplined hitter who can be plugged in at second or third. He’s a fit on a lot of clubs, which means his price tag could go north of the Brewers’ comfort level. But the Brew Crew is targeted here because of their MLB-worst 71.9% contact rate in 2020 and their need for an infield bat.