The main actors of this year’s Hot Stove drama have largely taken their bow and signed their contracts. But don’t sleep on how much talent remains available.
As we did last year, MLB.com is sweeping through and compiling a fantasy team featuring the best remaining free-agent players. The landscape is different this time around; Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal and Nelson Cruz were all unsigned at this point last year. But impact players can still be had in this year’s market.
Below is our attempt to build the best roster possible out of the remaining free agents, with a starting lineup, bench, full rotation and bullpen. Each player’s Steamer WAR projection for 2020 is listed in parentheses.
C: Jason Castro (1.7)
Castro had one of the better half-seasons in the game last year, and his health is obviously the big question mark after he’s logged just 98 games since the start of 2018. But Castro was once again an above-average pitch framer this year, by Statcast’s measurements, and it could be worth seeing if his power breakout (he finished with MLB’s sixth-highest barrel rate, min. 150 batted balls) sustains at all into ’20.
1B: Edwin Encarnación (1.5)
You wouldn’t actually want Encarnación to be your everyday first baseman, but we’re using our fantasy liberties to free up the DH for another subpar defender (more on that in a second). While Edwing’s bat looked slow in the American League Championship Series, he can still be penciled in for at least 30 homers until time proves otherwise -- and that’s pretty remarkable for a slugger entering his 16th big league season.
2B: César Hernández (1.9)
Hernández is still just 29, so there’s time for him to return to the player who combined for 7 WAR from 2016-17 instead of the one the Phillies non-tendered this year. Steamer projects him to return to a .350-plus OBP, and that would be a decent start toward a rebound.
SS: Asdrúbal Cabrera (1.6)
A full season of Cabrera at shortstop could be tough after he struggled to -5 defensive runs saved (DRS) in just 31 games there for the Phillies two seasons ago. But the difference between Cabrera’s bat and runner-up José Iglesias (84 wRC+ in 2019, projected for an 80 wRC+ in ’20) was enough for us to sacrifice some defense.
LF: Marcell Ozuna (3.1)
Defensive questions aside, we feel pretty good positioning Donaldson and Ozuna back-to-back in the heart of our lineup. Statcast’s xwOBA metric, which factors in batted-ball quality, identified Ozuna as MLB’s unluckiest full-time hitter of 2019, so perhaps he can still mash his way back toward his massive ’17 performance with Miami.
CF: Kevin Pillar (1.4)
A league-average batting line is probably out of reach for Pillar at this point. But he hovered right around the median as an outfielder in 2019 and he’s remained durable, suiting up in at least 142 games in each of his five seasons as a full-time player.
RF: Yasiel Puig (1.9)
Puig's up-and-down swings over the last four seasons might make him less of a sure thing than Ozuna or Nicholas Castellanos, and his power outage after he was traded to Cleveland (two homers, .423 SLG in 49 games) is slightly concerning. But he'll likely be a better defender than those two in the coming years, and when he's hot he can help carry a club for several weeks.
DH: Nicholas Castellanos (1.5)
We’re stationing Encarnación at first and putting Puig’s cannon in right to let Castellanos do what he does best: Mash. Castellanos rarely ever has a stretch of games in which he’s a below-average hitter, and that consistency is a skill. If his hot stretch with the Cubs carries into the start of 2020, even better.
C: Robinson Chirinos (0.7)
INF: Brian Dozier (1.7)
OF: Corey Dickerson (1.4)
Having an above-average offensive catcher in Chirinos on the bench is a bonus for our squad. Dozier probably still has several 20-homer seasons left in his bat. And Dickerson could probably start for our squad as one of the most underrated free agents out there; he’s one of just 23 hitters with an above-average OPS+ in each of the last six seasons (min. 200 PA per year).
LHP: Alex Wood (1.6)
With Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu recently coming off the board, Wood is our ace. Back pain dogged him throughout this year, and depending on him to make 30 starts might be a reach. But he’s only one year removed from being very good for the Dodgers (3.20 ERA across 304 innings from 2017-18).
RHP: Homer Bailey (1.6)
Who knows if Bailey can repeat his steadiness from 2019 (163 1/3 innings, 4.11 FIP, 2.9 WAR after going 1-14 with a 6.09 ERA in ‘18), but someone will take another one-year flier on Bailey -- and maybe it will pay off again.
RHP: Ivan Nova (1.3)
Nova profiles as a classic back-of-the-rotation innings eater who throws strikes, and that translated to a 2 WAR season in 2019.
LHP: Rich Hill (1.3)
Hill won't be back until June at the earliest after undergoing elbow surgery, but his results when he's able to take the mound (135 ERA+ since the start of 2016) are elite. He could boost any contender's chances down the stretch.
RHP: Jhoulys Chacín (1.2)
He went from key member of the 2018 Brewers (15-8, 3.50 ERA) and 2019 Opening Day starter to getting released in August and finishing the year with Boston. Chacin's 6.01 ERA overall was forgettable, but coming off two strong seasons before that, he should get another shot to hold down a rotation spot.
Harris is the surest remaining bet in the relief market by far -- he and Aroldis Chapman are the only relievers in baseball with five straight seasons of a 115 ERA+ or better (min. 40 innings per season). Betances, who compiled over 100 more strikeouts than any other reliever from 2014-18, presents the most upside.
Hudson and McHugh contributed to pennant-winning bullpens this year, Cishek still gets ground balls and Stammen has been a true workhorse in San Diego. Liriano is still neutralizing lefties (.659 OPS in ’19) after 14 seasons.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Our collection of free agents adds up to 33.3 WAR by Steamer projections, putting them …. exactly in the middle of the pack when compared to actual big league rosters. That’s not bad, considering that many of this winter’s biggest names have already signed the dotted line. Plenty of talent remains for the highest bidder.