Teams around baseball that venture into the offseason free-agent market looking to upgrade their lineup, bench or bullpen should be able to find some useful assets. The same can’t be said for those clubs hoping to improve their rotation with extremely limited options at starting pitcher.

In turn, finding value among the starter group will be difficult because even the middling targets are going to generate plenty of interest. So getting any bang for the buck, which is hard in free agency to begin with, will likely have to come on the hitting side.

So let’s check out some early buzz and discussion involving situations worth watching in the weeks and months ahead. Each section includes a prediction for where the player will land.



Edwin Encarnacion


Encarnacion isn’t underrated in the tradition sense, but he’s rarely mentioned when talking about the league’s best sluggers, a conversation where he should be at the forefront. He’s slugged 193 home runs over the past five years with the Toronto Blue Jays, including 42 in 2016.

The lack of mainstream attention figures to end this winter. The powerful DH, who’s also capable of playing first base, can be a game-changing addition for the large number of teams looking to get more pop from the middle of the order.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported the Boston Red Sox are interested in Encarnacion as a potential replacement for the retiring David Ortiz, but the Jays are going to remain in the mix:

The Red Sox also will have a DH vacancy, but they’re expected to fill that from the outside, with Edwin Encarnacion the leading candidate. There are rumblings in Toronto that the Blue Jays may make Encarnacion an offer given that he’s been so productive.

The amount of leverage Encarnacion will have is directly related to whether Ortiz does officially walk away from the game. He’s stayed on the path toward retirement throughout the season, but it will be interesting to see whether his strong year and Boston’s early playoff exit changes anything.

If Big Papi doesn’t change his mind, it’s hard to see another team being more aggressive in their pursuit of Encarnacion. Being able to take him out of the lineup of a division rival is even more incentive for the Red Sox to make a lucrative offer.

Prediction: Red Sox



Lourdes Gurriel


Gurriel is the younger brother of Yulieski Gurriel, who signed with the Houston Astros in July after defecting from Cuba. The 22-year-old prospect is eligible to sign with a team at any time and is an intriguing option for teams that might not be able to afford high-priced players like Encarnacion.

Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball noted there’s still a sizable group of interested organizations following the shortstop’s open showcase. Now he’s in the process of going through private work with those teams before making a decision:

Following a successful open showcase, Cuban talent Lourdes Gurriel will hold about a half-dozen private workouts for interested teams in the near future. The Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and Miami Marlins are amongst the teams setting up private workouts.

One factor that adds to his value is that he’s still a raw talent with a lot of athleticism that can get molded as a team sees fits. Though he’s a natural infielder, he’s got the physical tools to play just about anywhere and plug a void for a team in the near future.

Gurriel, who posted a .362 on-base percentage in 305 games in the Cuban National Series (via Baseball-Reference), is still working to improve his power stroke. Going to Houston to eventually play alongside his brother on an improving team seems like an ideal fit to continue his development.

Prediction: Astros



Steve Pearce


Pearce is a solid player on the surface. He finished the 2016 campaign with a .288 average to go along with 13 homers in 85 games split between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. He’s particularly impactful against left-handed pitchers, though.

The 33-year-old veteran has an .852 OPS against lefties in his career, highlighted by a 1.028 mark this season, compared to a .728 OPS against righties, per Yahoo Sports. That could make him a terrific weapon as a starter against LHP and a bench asset.

Bob Dutton of the News Tribune believes it makes him a possible target for the Seattle Mariners:

Here’s another name to watch: Steve Pearce, a pending free agent at Baltimore who underwent surgery Sept. 21 to repair flexor tendons in his right forearm.

[General manger Jerry] Dipoto showed a fondness last winter for bounce-back cases, and Pearce, 33, should be fully recovered prior to spring training and appears to fit the club’s preferred profile in numerous ways.

The Orioles placed Pearce on the 60-day disabled list in September because of a a right flexor mass strain. Ryan Baillargeon and Cash Kruth of noted the recovery timeline was between four and six months, which is within the window to get back to full strength before Opening Day.

Seattle will face some competition for his services, especially if the Orioles remain interested after he’s enjoyed success with the organization in recent years. But there’s no doubt he’s a good match for Seattle, which ranked 14th in OPS against lefties, according to ESPN.

Prediction: Mariners


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