Slowly but surely, the free-agent dominoes are beginning to fall around Major League Baseball. It should make for an intriguing December as the marquee names still available make their decisions about where to play in 2017 and beyond.

As always, there are some eye-popping numbers being thrown around during the early stages of the offseason. But that’s all part of the roster-building process. Sometimes front offices are forced to overpay a bit in order to fill a void on their rosters with a coveted target.

That’s a trend likely to continue for at least another month before some reasonable value may finally begin to emerge after the new year. For now, let’s take a closer look at some of the latest buzz surrounding notable names still on the market.


Dexter Fowler Heading North of the Border?

Dexter Fowler made a last-minute decision to rejoin the Chicago Cubs last offseason. The decision paid off in a massive way as he helped the organization win its first World Series title in 108 years. Now he’s back in free agency and should command a lucrative, long-term deal.

Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported the Toronto Blue Jays have emerged as a top contender for the outfielder given their likelihood of losing Jose Bautista. It’s noted the longtime center fielder would likely slide over to a corner spot to accommodate defensive wizard Kevin Pillar in center.

More importantly, Fowler would give the Jays somebody to consistently get on base atop the lineup. He posted a .393 on-base percentage last season. That’s 60 points better than the .333 mark accumulated by the various players who filled the leadoff role in Toronto in 2016, per ESPN.

Those numbers show why swapping Fowler for Bautista is an ideal move. The Jays desperately need somebody to set the table for the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales. They should have enough power even without Joey Bats.

Bruce Levine of WSCR-AM previously pointed out Fowler’s camp is seeking a four-year contract, which is a reasonable demand for a 30-year-old player still in his prime. Other teams will likely make a push, but Toronto feels like the best fit.

Prediction: Blue Jays


Rich Hill Market Heating Up

Rich Hill was one of the league’s most overlooked pitchers in 2016. The 36-year-old lefty posted a 2.12 ERA and 1.00 WHIP across 20 starts with the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers. He also struck out 129 batters in 110.1 innings.

What makes him unique is that he posts those terrific strikeout numbers without the benefit of an upper-90s fastball like so many other starters in the current era. Instead, he relies on a wipeout curveball he threw 42.4 percent of the time this past season, according to FanGraphs.

Jim Bowden of ESPN reported there are currently four teams highly involved in the sweepstakes: the Dodgers, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. He also listed the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles as other teams keeping tabs on the situation.

That’s an awesome list for Hill from a financial perspective. Whenever the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox are all involved, the player’s leverage is through the roof and, in this case, it should ensure the aging starter is able to land at least one more high-dollar contract.

That said, don’t sleep on Houston. The Astros should be able to compete with those big-spending franchises since it should be a short-term deal. And Hill is the perfect pitcher to bolster an already-promising roster by adding some depth to the rotation.

Prediction: Astros


Edwin Encarnacion Generating Ample AL Interest

Edwin Encarnacion is one of the most reliable power producers in baseball, but it has nothing to do with playing in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. Over the past three seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger hit 57 homers at home and 58 on the road, so his pop clearly travels.

While his power presence can upgrade any lineup, his defense is a concern. FanGraphs noted he’s racked up minus-17 defensive runs saved at first base and a minus-52 DRS mark at third, though he hasn’t played there since 2013 and probably won’t shift back across the diamond.

The market for his services reflects those two sets of numbers. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported the teams most active in pursuit of the slugger are the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers and Astros—a similar group to those interested in Hill.

While he’s still likely to play some first base regardless of his landing spot, the team’s defense should improve the more time he spends at designated hitter. That’s the main reason for almost exclusive interest from the American League, even though plenty of National League teams could use his bat, too.

No team has a bigger void to fill at DH than Boston following the retirement of David Ortiz. It’s created a logical link between Encarnacion and the Red Sox for quite a while now, and it still feels like that’s where he’ll end up despite the competition.

Prediction: Red Sox


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