It has taken a while for some of the biggest free agents to come off of the board, and while I expect things to pick up soon, here are a half-dozen players who I think will be among the last free agents to sign. (Ages listed are as of Opening
It has taken a while for some of the biggest free agents to come off of the board, and while I expect things to pick up soon, here are a half-dozen players who I think will be among the last free agents to sign. (Ages listed are as of Opening Day 2018.)
1. J.D. Martinez, OF, age 30
He's legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball, posting a .943 OPS over the past three years. That said, it often takes a little longer for the market to take shape for a guy who is seeking a major long-term deal. The decision for him is whether or not he will settle for one year less on his contract to go play for a National League team that doesn't have the luxury of making him a designated hitter later in his career. The D-backs were satisfied with his defense, but he had -5 Outs Above Average in 2017, which was near the bottom of the league.
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There isn't a better hitter on the market, and the Red Sox and Giants seem to be the most likely suitors. It remains to be seen who will blink first -- Boston, which has a huge need for his bat and a DH spot warming, San Francisco, which needs offensive help, or a "mystery team." Martinez appears willing to wait for that competition to emerge.
2. Mike Moustakas, 3B, age 29
Moustakas received a qualifying offer, and while the new penalties for signing a guy who received a QO aren't as stringent under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it could impact the level of interest for a few guys, including Moustakas. In addition, the third-base market has been flush with other options: We've already seen Evan Longoria traded to the Giants, the Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson trade rumors haven't gone away and Todd Frazier is also available as a free agent.
Moustakas' age -- and the fact he is coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 38 homers -- makes him a very good option for teams needing a corner infielder, but the abundance of supply could mean a long wait. Look for the Cardinals and Royals to keep an eye on him, and the Mets could jump into the mix if he's still out there in late January.
3. Lorenzo Cain, CF, age 31
Like Moustakas, his former teammate, Cain also received a qualifying offer and is faced with a market where center fielders are not in high demand. Although his defense could help a number of clubs (as MLB.com's Mike Petriello documented), Cain, who turns 32 in April, may be feeling the effect of conservative front offices that don't want to commit to long-term deals with players into their mid-30s. The Giants have long been considered a fit, but they have luxury-tax complications to deal with.
4. Jacob Arrieta, RHP, age 32
Shohei Ohtani is off the board, but the rest of the top free-agent starters are still out there, including Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. In addition, we've seen Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer floated as trade bait, which further slowed the starting-pitching market.
Arrieta is arguably the top starter available, and there is interest from the Dodgers, Cubs, Rangers, Phillies and Mariners, among others. Sorting through the offers and finding the team willing to give him a deal of five or six years could take time. Look for him to sign in late January.
5. Wade Davis, RHP, age 32
There are not a lot of closers more dominant or as consistent as Davis, and his numbers are similar to Albertin Chapman over the past two seasons. The main issue for Davis is there are not many teams that need a closer, and the Rays have been dangling a less expensive Alex Colome, who has the second-most saves in MLB over the past two seasons and is under team control for the next three years.
The best fit for Davis is back in Chicago with the Cubs, but they have also hedged their bet if his price tag gets too high by signing Brandon Morrow and publicly saying they are comfortable with him filling the closer role, if necessary. This may take time to sort out, but look for Davis to sign toward the middle of January, with the Rockies also being a sleeper team for Davis.
6. Lucas Duda, 1B, age 32
He is an under-the-radar player who never seems to get much attention, but his power and command of the strike zone should make him a player who gets a multi-year deal. Kendrys Morales is a good comparison, and he got a three-year deal from Toronto last offseason, while Yonder Alonso -- whose track record is not as good as Duda's -- got a two-year deal with the Indians earlier this week.
Yet with high-end guys like Eric Hosmer still out there, and Matt Adams signing a one-year deal with the Nationals, the places that Duda could land are starting to fill up. A return to Tampa Bay is a real possibility if the price is right, but that will take until later in the winter for the Rays to jump.
Jim Duquette, who was the Mets' GM in 2004, offers his opinions as a studio analyst and columnist for MLB.com.