It’s hardly a surprise that the winter meetings have been notable for trades, both finalized and speculative, because this year’s free-agent market features more questions than immediate answers. 

Yoenis Cespedes did take some of the drama out of this week by re-signing with the New York Mets early, though it never felt like another significant team was in the sweepstakes for him. 

Talented players who can make an impact for teams in 2017 are still available, but questions of age and/or position value make it hard for a front office to justify handing out a lucrative four- or five-year deal. 

It’s a buyer’s market with prices for top players seemingly coming down each day, so here are the major names teams will look to get friendly deals on based on the latest rumors floating around. 


Two Suitors for Encarnacion

Edwin Encarnacion is the big hitter left on the market. At nearly 34 years old and largely limited to designated hitter, a position American League teams don’t seem to be prioritizing this offseason, his value has dropped enough for two surprising team to enter the mix. 

According to ESPN Deportes’ Marly Rivera, the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians are in talks with Encarnacion. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted that Encarnacion has taken a wait-and-see approach because of the limited market, adding that no team has even made an offer of at least three years and $60 million. 

Passan also passed along this comment from a general manager:

This is the best thing that could have happened to a team like the Indians, who are in search of someone to alternate at DH and first base with Carlos Santana next season.

Mike Napoli is a free agent whose future is uncertain, and the Indians don’t have the ability to get in a bidding war for top players, so their approach has always been to let the market work in their favor.  

The Rangers have openings at first base—assuming they don’t just give Joey Gallo a shot to play the position, where his immense power would fitand designated hitter.

Based on past production, Encarnacion would warrant a deal close to $20 million per season.  

The problem, though, is that Encarnacion has to be evaluated for what he will do in the future. A soon-to-be 34-year-old with “old-man skills” (power, walks) doesn’t tend to age gracefully. Players like David Ortiz are the exception to the rule. 

A three-year deal, while still posing some risk, looks better for the team than a four- or five-year pact. 

The Rangers and Indians have motivation to get a deal done, especially after watching the Boston Red Sox boost their starting rotation in a big way by trading for Chris Sale.

If the bidding remains between those two teams, the Rangers have the edge because they aren’t as constricted by finances as the Indians are. 

If the Rangers decide they are comfortable going into the season with Gallo as their primary DH and Jurickson Profar playing first base, that would knock another suitor off the board and give Cleveland the opening it couldn’t have anticipated when the offseason started. 

Since the Rangers have shown little faith in Profar or Gallo over the previous two seasons, don’t bet on them being comfortable starting a season with those two penciled into the starting lineup. 

Prediction: Encarnacion signs with the Rangers.


Fowler’s Budding Market

After settling for a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs last offseason, Dexter Fowler appears to have a more robust market this winter. 

Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Toronto Blue Jays made Fowler a contract offer in the range of four years and $60 million.’s Mark Saxon noted that the St. Louis Cardinals made an initial offer “in the same range as the four years and $60 million” the Blue Jays offered. 

The Blue Jays and Cardinals are interesting suitors for Fowler for different reasons. 

Looking at things from Toronto’s perspective, Kevin Pillar is one of the best defensive center fielders in MLB. By FanGraphs‘ defensive value, he was the best at the position last year and led MLB center fielders with 21 defensive runs saved. 

Fowler is a superior offensive player to Pillar, though. Fowler’s on-base percentage was .393; Pillar’s was .303. Fowler slugged .447; Pillar slugged .376. 

The Blue Jays are looking for ways to supplement their offense with Encarnacion and Jose Bautista both being free agents. Fowler is a different kind of hitter than that duo, but his ability to hit at the top of a lineup and set the table for Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales boosts his value. 

The Cardinals are desperate for a new center fielder. Randal Grichuk has nice power, especially for the position, but a .302 on-base percentage doesn’t work unless you are an elite defender like Pillar. 

Versatility is also something the Cardinals need, as they finished 29th in stolen bases and had the second-worst baserunning value last year, per FanGraphs.

Fowler isn’t a speed demon, reaching 20 stolen bases in a season just once since 2010, but he brings the threat of running more than anyone else on the Cardinals. He fits exactly what they need to get back in the playoff chase in 2017.

Based on team needs, Fowler makes too much sense for the Cardinals not to sign him. 

Prediction: Fowler signs with the Cardinals.


The Joey Bats Agenda

Like Encarnacion, Bautista’s market seems to be taking its time developing. It’s more understandable in his case because he’s older (36) and has missed at least 44 games three times in the previous five seasons. 

It doesn’t help that Bautista’s OPS went from .928 in 2014 to .817 in 2016. He was also horrendous defensively last year, costing eight runs in right field by FanGraphs‘ metrics and struggling with velocity and accuracy on throws from right field.

As a result of Bautista’s limited market, Heyman reported that the Blue Jays met with him at the winter meetings about a possible reunion. 

Heyman added that the Indians started talking to Bautista right before the Blue Jays got into contact with him. 

The Baltimore Orioles, who also need to supplement some offense with Mark Trumbo being a free agent, could be a match for Bautista, though the team seems to be good at holding a grudge. 

“We told [Bautista’s] agent that we are not interested because our fans don’t like him,” Orioles general manager Dan Duquette said on Sportsnet Radio 590 The Fan, via “Our fans don’t like [Bautista], with good reason.”

The Blue Jays are an interesting fit because everything they’ve done so far this offseason would seem to indicate they have moved beyond Encarnacion and Bautista. Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce and Dalton Pompey can play right field. Pearce and Morales also figure to split time at DH and first base, along with Justin Smoak. 

The Indians need to find a right-handed power hitter to serve as their DH. Bautista will almost certainly come cheaper than Encarnacion, which helps Cleveland’s chances. 

Bautista does cost extra because whichever team signs him will have to give up a first-round draft pick, but if his price continues to diminish, a contender such as the Indians would make perfect sense if they sign him to a one- or two-year deal. 

Prediction: Bautista signs with the Indians.

Read more MLB news on