Well over 150 free agents remain unsigned, and so there's still plenty left to be decided on the Hot Stove. Teams will scoop these players up in due time, but what if we formed our own expansion club with the best available free agents? Could it hang with fellow Major
Well over 150 free agents remain unsigned, and so there's still plenty left to be decided on the Hot Stove. Teams will scoop these players up in due time, but what if we formed our own expansion club with the best available free agents? Could it hang with fellow Major League teams?
The offseason gives us some time to play around, so indulge the fantasy for a moment as MLB.com suits up as a hypothetical general manager and creates a 25-man roster out of the top talent left in the free-agent pool. Below is an effort to mimic an actual club, with starting position players, a bench, a rotation and a bullpen (with each player's current 2019 Steamer WAR projection in parentheses).
At first glance, our hodge-podge collection doesn't look too bad.
C:Yasmani Grandal (3.5)
Can't shake Grandal's poor postseason showing from your mind? Use this as a reminder that he was baseball's best framer (15.7 runs, per Baseball Prospectus) while tying for the third-best hitting catcher by wRC+ (min. 400 plate appearances) during the regular season. He's one of the best two-way backstops in the game alongside J.T. Realmuto.
1B:Wilmer Flores (1.0)
Roller-coaster platoon splits and various roster roadblocks kept Flores from reaching full-time status with the Mets, but nonetheless he's coming off three straight seasons with an above-average hitting line. We can start with Flores at first and move him around our infield as needed.
2B:Jed Lowrie (2.3)
Did you know Lowrie's 8.5 WAR over the last two seasons outranks Bryce Harper? He found his stroke as a line-drive specialist with below-average strikeout rates in Oakland, and we'd look forward to Lowrie's quality at-bats if this team ever took the field.
SS:Manny Machado (5.2)
If you haven't heard, Machado is still available. He's the game's most consistent hard-contact hitter who's still getting better, he can play two premier positions on the left side of the infield and he's still only 26. We'll set all hustle concerns aside and put Machado right in the middle of our lineup. Onward.
3B:Mike Moustakas (2.8)
Moustakas signed with the Royals about two weeks before Opening Day last spring and still managed a 105 wRC+. His on-base ability may keep declining, but he's still a decent bet to rack up 25-30 homers.
LF:Marwin Gonzalez (1.6)
Gonzalez brings a ton of value as a Swiss army knife in the field, and he's one of just four players (along with Machado) who began with a league-average hard-hit (95 mph exit velocity or harder) rate in 2015 and improved on that every year since. Gonzalez recorded MLB's fourth-best hard-contact rate in the second half of '18, in fact, and looks like he could be on the verge of a career season for whomever he plays for next.
CF:A.J. Pollock (3.1)
Pollock was a National League MVP frontrunner before he broke his thumb in May, and by WAR he's been more valuable than stars like Charlie Blackmon and Khris Davis over the last five seasons. His injury history is the elephant in the room, of course, but if he's able to take the field, he is one of the most complete center fielders, without question.
RF:Bryce Harper (4.9)
The fact that Harper still compiled 3.5 WAR in what many considered a lost season for him says a lot. And of course, there's a sizeable chance he returns to his 2015 level -- which, if you forgot, was one of the better MVP years in history -- as early as next season. Even if Harper replicates his '17 campaign (.319/.413/.595, 155 wRC+), that's a star who can carry this club.
DH:Nelson Cruz (2.5)
Cruz's power doesn't need much explanation; no one has hit more homers since 2014, and he's also knocked the second-most barrels (the most potent batted balls) behind J.D. Martinez since Statcast™ came online four years ago.
OF:Nick Markakis (1.1)
2B:DJ LeMahieu (2.5)
1B/2B:Daniel Murphy (2.5)
INF:Asdrubal Cabrera (2.0)
C:Martin Maldonado (1.0)
It might surprise you to know that Markakis put more hard-hit balls in play last year than anyone not named Machado, while LeMahieu finished 17th in that category. That's a good amount of pop to build our bench around, and Murphy (better down the stretch than his final 2018 numbers showed) looms as an overqualified pinch-hitter. Cabrera can play around the infield -- though perhaps not full-time anymore -- and Maldonado is one of baseball's premier defenders behind the plate.
LHPDallas Keuchel (3.2)
We've already seen Keuchel anchor the Astros staff when he won the 2015 American League Cy Young Award, and he's the easy choice here as staff ace. Few starters in the game generate as much soft contact as Keuchel, and his three 200-plus inning seasons (an increasing rarity) over the last five years prove he can likely be counted on to give this team a chance to win every fifth day.
LHPWade Miley (1.0)
Miley went from being nearly out of the league to a postseason ace for the Brewers in the span of a year after going all-in on his cutter, and we're hoping he can maintain that level for our hypothetical club. Miley improved his ERA by more than three runs between 2017 and '18, second only to Sanchez among pitchers with 80 innings in each season.
RHPMike Fiers (1.2)
This rotation is filled with reclamation projects, including Fiers, but this offseason's starting-pitching market was thin to begin with. Still, maybe Fiers uses the adjustments he made to his high-spin fastball-curve combination while he was in Oakland to launch toward bigger things in 2019.
Closer:Craig Kimbrel (1.4)
Setup man:Adam Ottavino (0.5)
RHP:Player Page for David Robertson (0.8)
LHP:Andrew Miller (0.8)
LHP:Zach Britton (0.4)
LHP:Oliver Perez (0.1)
This is a back-end unit that any contender would love to have, though it would cost them a pretty penny just to net Kimbrel (reportedly seeking a nine-figure contract) and Ottavino (projected to receive a three-year deal from anywhere from $25 million to $45 million) alone. Our team would feel like a win is imminent if it brought a lead to that duo, but before we get to them, there's a pair of pitchers with closing experience in Britton and Robertson, a potential innings eater in Miller (if healthy) and a southpaw in Perez who was actually tougher on righties than lefties last year .
The bottom line
All told, our collection of free agents adds up to 48.3 WAR through their Steamer projections. That would rank fifth on Fangraphs' current Depth Chart standings behind the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees and Astros, but a rough payroll estimate says we'd pay well over $300 million just for this 25-man roster next season. Again, we're playing with fantasy money here. But the main takeaway: There's a remarkable amount of talent still waiting to be signed.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.