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The best free agent no one is talking about

December 17, 2018

While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper have rightfully dominated the headlines this offseason, some other free agents seem to be flying under the radar.Count A.J. Pollock among that group.The center fielder was considered to be one of the top 10 players available on this year's market, the No. 2 outfielder

While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper have rightfully dominated the headlines this offseason, some other free agents seem to be flying under the radar.
Count A.J. Pollock among that group.
The center fielder was considered to be one of the top 10 players available on this year's market, the No. 2 outfielder behind only Harper. Yet aside from a mention here or there, Pollock's name has been noticeably absent from the Hot Stove rumor mill.
Hot Stove Tracker
Pollock, who turned 31 earlier this month, is reportedly seeking a contract similar to the five-year, $80 million deal Lorenzo Cain signed last offseason with the Brewers. Cain was nearly a year older than Pollock when he signed his deal, though the former Royals All-Star had something Pollock does not: a track record of staying on the field.
Cain played 133 games or more in three of the four years leading up to free agency, while Pollock has missed 341 games over the past five seasons. Aside from his 157-game breakout in his All-Star 2015 season, Pollock hasn't played more than 113 games in a year since 2013, sustaining a variety of injuries including elbow, groin and hand issues.
"He's going to have trouble getting the deal he wants because he hasn't been able to stay on the field," one industry source said. "The Draft pick [compensation for declining a qualifying offer] doesn't help, either."
As's Andrew Simon noted last month, Pollock's 469 games played since the start of 2014 are tied for 218th among position players, placing him behind the likes of Peter Bourjos, Brandon Guyer and Ben Revere. Yet his 17 Wins Above Replacement during that stretch rank 41st in that group, ahead of many big-name players, including Charlie Blackmon, Khris Davis, Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley.

By comparison, Cain had a 27.2 WAR during the five years leading up to his free agency, a significantly higher number than the one Pollock has accrued. Can Pollock convince teams he's worth the same kind of contract Cain received? McCutchen's three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies should help Pollock's cause, though it remains to be seen whether he can get $80 million or more.
Here's a look at nine clubs potentially in the mix for Pollock's services.
The Favorites
General manager Brodie Van Wagenen has been bullish on Pollock, who would fit nicely into the Mets' outfield, settling in between Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. Van Wagenen has been ultra-aggressive already this offseason, adding Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Wilson Ramos, leaving center field as his top priority.
One issue for them is what to do when Yoenis Cespedes -- who is signed through 2020 -- is back on the field after surgeries on both of his heels. If the Mets sign Pollock, it's probably a sign that they don't expect to see much of Cespedes this season, and will worry about potential outfield "overcrowding" in 2020 when the time comes.
Harper and Machado remain the Phillies' primary targets, but Pollock figures to be a solid Plan B if they're unable to land either star. Philadelphia, which moved Rhys Hoskins from left field back to first base, has already traded for shortstop Jean Segura and signed McCutchen, though the latter deal won't preclude the club from going after another outfielder such as Harper or Pollock.
Having already spent $25 million on Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann this offseason, the Braves remain in the market for an outfielder to replace Nick Markakis. Atlanta appears to have the money to sign another notable player such as Pollock, who would join Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ender Inciarte to form a superior defensive outfield. The Braves -- who had interest in McCutchen before he signed with the Phillies -- could also address their outfield need in a trade with the Dodgers, for whom GM Alex Anthopoulos worked before taking over in Atlanta last year.
The Dark Horses
The idea of the Dodgers adding another outfielder seems outlandish at first, but with Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Matt Kemp and Alex Verdugo all being floated as trade candidates, anything is possible. Los Angeles has seen Pollock up close in the National League West for years, and if the Dodgers are able to move multiple outfielders in other deals, there could be a fit.
Cincinnati seems to be involved in a number of scenarios, from free agents such as Dallas Keuchel and Pollock to trade options including Puig and Trevor Bauer. It seems clear that the Reds have money to spend and want to make a splash to some extent, so why not add the best pure center fielder on the market? After cutting ties with Billy Hamilton, the spot is wide open.
Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall are gone, leaving openings in the Indians' outfield. If Cleveland can make a move to clear some salary -- something the Indians appear to be attempting with potential trades of Corey Kluber and/or Bauer -- it could pave the way for Pollock to join the Tribe, who could use his right-handed bat in the outfield.
The Field
Pollock is a better defender than Blackmon, who could move to a corner outfield spot. The Rockies could be hesitant to sign a big contract, though, as Nolan Arenado is set to become a free agent next year.
Houston's biggest need is starting pitching, but with many of the top arms already signed, the Astros could turn their attention to adding another bat. Putting Pollock in the outfield with George Springer and Josh Reddick would make the Astros even more of a force to be reckoned with. But with Brantley reportedly nearing a free-agent deal with the Astros, it remains to be seen whether they would also sign Pollock.
White Sox
Chicago is pursuing one of the two mega-stars (Machado, Harper), but like the Phillies, the White Sox could turn to Pollock if they're unable to land either of the big fish.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined as a reporter in 2001.