Tag: MLB Free Agency

Predicting Landing Spots for Top 10 Available MLB Offseason Targets

No player enters free agency hoping to sign in January. No team wants to let half the winter go by with significant needs unfilled.

But here we are in the new year. Free agents remain unsigned. Deals that had to be made remain undone.

And Jose Bautista wonders where it all went wrong. Or maybe he doesn’t.

If Edwin Encarnacion waited forever before landing with the Cleveland Indians on a three-year, $60 million deal, Bautista has waited forever and two weeks to find his next employer. The Minnesota Twins have waited forever to get a Brian Dozier trade done. The New York Mets still have too many outfielders, and the Atlanta Braves still haven’t improved behind the plate.

Oh, and after trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in two much-praised deals, the Chicago White Sox have gone nearly a month without more rebuilding.

There’s plenty still to do as we wait for Hall of Fame voting results and the start of spring training.

Reporting day is just six weeks away. Now these guys just need to know where to report.

We’re here to help, with Bleacher Report’s predictions for where the top remaining winter targets will land.

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MLB Free Agents 2017: Rumors and Predictions for Top Available Players

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. 

ESPN.com’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 ESPN.com. “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.

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2017 MLB Free Agents: Rumors, Predictions for Dexter Fowler, Rich Hill and More

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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MLB Free Agency 2016-17: Early Clues to Where Top 10 Players Will Land

The dominoes generally don’t start falling on the MLB offseason until the winter meetings roll around, but the rumor mill is already in full swing.

Offseason markets are so intertwined that one signing can often trigger a trickle-down effect and spark a flurry of activity with teams scrambling to lock down plan B after missing out on plan A.

For now, all we have is a spattering of rumors from around the MLB community to hold us over until the hot stove really heats up a month or so from now.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the early clues on where the top 10 free agents could wind up signing.

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World Series 2016: Biggest Offseason Questions for Cubs and Indians

An epic 2016 World Series ended with one of the most memorable games in recent baseball history. The Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year championship drought with an 8-7, 10-inning win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7.

While the elation is through the roof in Chicago, the disappointment is deep in Cleveland. Both teams, however, have plenty to address this offseason to ensure they make it back to the Fall Classic. Each club is facing important departures and obstacles that could affect the chances of a rematch in 2017.

Let us take a look at two major questions facing the Cubs and Indians, respectively, as they head into a significant offseason.


Can Chicago Re-Sign or Replace Pending Free Agents?

The Cubs went wire-to-wire as the best team in baseball, thanks to a loaded lineup and deep pitching staff that resulted in the seventh-highest payroll in the sport. Yet, the club may be forced to part with several key pieces of its championship squad.

Chicago has four significant players who could become free agents this winter in Aroldis Chapman, Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler and Jason Hammel. How the team handles these situations could have a tremendous impact on next season.

Fowler signed a one-year deal worth $9 million last offseason with an option to initiate a $5 million buyout to decline the second year, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. The 30-year-old could decide to opt out after he posted a .276 average with 13 homers and 48 RBI this season,. Those were his best numbers since 2012. Fowler was also a hero in Game 7, going 3-for-5 with an RBI, thanks to a historic swing, per Bleacher Report:

Perhaps more important to Chicago’s postseason run was Chapman, a trade-deadline acquisition who solidified the team’s pitching staff. Since Chapman’s arrival from the Yankees, the Cubs converted 16 of his 18 save attempts with a 1.55 ERA in the regular season. He also became the only bullpen member manager Joe Maddon trusted near the end of the World Series. Chapman pitched 5.1 innings with 97 pitches thrown in the last three games.

Coghlan and Hammel are less significant, as the former served as a reserve outfielder this season while Hammel won 15 games before failing to make the postseason roster. Given the value of starting pitching in MLB, it is hard to imagine Chicago making any legitimate effort to keep Hammel signed, as he could command some solid money.

The same could go for Fowler, as he could be in for a payday after his strong playoff finish. His .276 average was the second-highest of his career. As such, Chicago could be better suited to keep Coghlan in the outfield rotation. The Cubs then could promote a younger guy such as Javier Baez or Addison Russell to replace Fowler at the top of the order.  

This would end up saving the Cubs a long-term deal that could top $10 million a year for Fowler.

Lastly, Chicago should try to retain Chapman, but it has to be smart. The 28-year-old could command one of the biggest contracts ever for a reliever. Meanwhile, the Cubs have young players such as Baez, Kris Bryant, Russell and Kyle Schwarber who will eventually require hefty new deals.

For the right price, Chapman would be a perfect fit for a Cubs team that needs bullpen help. But that cost could end up being too high, as John Harper of the New York Daily News expects the Yankees to make a serious run at the closer.


Should Cleveland Bring Back Mike Napoli?

After outfielder Michael Brantley’s season ended due to a shoulder injury early in the season, it seemed Cleveland would have a massive hole in the middle of its lineup. Luckily, first baseman Mike Napoli came through for the Indians.

In 2016, Napoli experienced a career renaissance with his power at the plate, which Cleveland desperately needed. Even with Napoli‘s 34 dingers, the Indians still finished 18th in homers in the majors. However, the 35-year-old is a pending free agent, and it is not clear how the team will handle this situation.

Prior to Game 6, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported that the Indians have interest in bringing back Napoli, and the team believes the player shares that intrigue. 

“We have a desire to have him here, and my sense is that he has a desire to be here,” said Cleveland general manager Mike Chernoff, per Crasnick. “That’s something we’ll have to address once the World Series is over.”

Napoli will likely expect a raise from the one-year, $7 million deal he played on last season, given his production. But is this something Cleveland should want? Napoli is not a young player, and this past season was an outlier compared to his previous five campaigns:

His postseason numbers were also dreadful. Napoli posted a .173 average, one homer, three RBI, 21 strikeouts and just four walks. During Game 6, Sports Illustrated‘s Jonah Keri noted that Napoli‘s production was even worse, considering where he was hitting in the lineup:

The Indians do not have the payroll of big clubs such as the Cubs or Yankees. It cannot afford to be risky with players battling inconsistency such as Napoli. With Brantley set to return and the team having the option to re-sign Carlos Santana, Cleveland can make up for Napoli‘s production. It should move on unless he decides to stay at a discounted rate.


Can Both Teams Return to the World Series?

Chicago was the best team in baseball this season, and it could be better in the coming years. The team could even challenge this historic mark, courtesy of MLB.com:

Cubs President Theo Epstein has done a magical job of creating an influx of young talent, which sets the team up for a potential dynasty. Anthony Rizzo is the oldest member of Chicago’s offensive core moving forward at 27 years old. The remaining position players are all 24 years of age or younger. For being so young, this group still put up impressive numbers this season:

Other than Rizzo, the guys above—as well as Schwarber—have not even hit the peak of their primes yet. When they do, this lineup will be downright scary.

The rotation is also in good hands, as its top three arms still have plenty in the tank to propel another championship run. Jake Arrieta is 30 years old; Jon Lester is still 32. And 26-year-old Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA in the regular season and added a sparkling 1.42 mark in the postseason.

All three players are locked up until at least 2018, which makes the top of this Cubs rotation arguably the best in baseball next season. The bullpen could use some work, but this unit cannot be fully evaluated until the Chapman issue is resolved.

Cleveland also has plenty of reason for optimism because of the boost it will receive next season from players returning from injury.

Not only will Brantley return next season, but the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman reports that the star could be available for the entire season.

“He should be fine for spring training next year,” Chernoff said, per Sherman.

The Indians could deploy him with emerging superstar Francisco Lindor to solidify a lineup that still ranked fifth in MLB in runs without Brantley.

Cleveland was able to make this postseason run without several other key parts, as Tom Withers of the Associated Press noted:

Those two pitchers are Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. The latter returned for some relief work in the World Series, while Carrasco was shelved for the entirety of the playoffs. Here is what the Indians were missing behind ace Corey Kluber:

Having these two dynamic arms could have made the difference in this series for Cleveland. Yet, their absences gave 25-year-old Trevor Bauer some valuable experience. Bauer’s development in his fourth full season could give the Indians a formidable rotation of their own.

Napoli and possibly Rajai Davis are the only impactful free agents with a chance of leaving. Cleveland will return its sensational bullpen of Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw to go with its returning healthy players.

Given what each team is bringing back, Chicago and Cleveland look to be the favorites to emerge from their respective leagues. The volatility of MLB makes it unlikely that this will happen, but there is a chance the world could be treated to a sequel of this memorable matchup.


Statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Contract and free-agency information are courtesy of Spotrac.com. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2017 MLB Free Agents: Rumors, Predictions for Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, More

Even with the MLB playoffs ongoing, many MLB fans are beginning to look ahead to the offseason and speculate where the biggest stars might land.

Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Edwin Encarnacion are three of the most talented players available. They’re all still playing in the postseason, but that hasn’t stopped a flurry of rumors regarding their respective futures.

Below are updates on Turner, Jansen and Encarnacion‘s impending free agency.


Justin Turner

Turner had the best regular season of his career in 2016. Even at 31 years old, he’s poised to receive a hefty contract when he enters free agency in the offseason.

Rather than being excited about his future payday, Turner said in September he’ll be happier when it’s over, according to the Orange County Register‘s Bill Plunkett:

I guess everyone’s cut from a different cloth. I personally don’t look forward to it. Obviously, I’ll be excited when it’s over with. But that whole process is the part of baseball I could do without. The process of playing the game, the preparation of getting ready for the games—that’s what I love about it. The process of the off-the-field stuff is not very fun.

In the same interview, Turner confirmed he had had preliminary contract talks with the Dodgers but didn’t make any long-term commitment to Los Angeles: “There’s been some dialogue back and forth, but it didn’t go anywhere. I was open to it to see what they had to say. I let my agent do most of it. I’m not trying to worry too much about it.”

On Sunday, Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reported the signs point to Turner hitting the open market.

For the right price, re-signing Turner makes sense for the Dodgers. He tied for the team lead in home runs (27) and runs batted in (90). According to FanGraphs, he also finished sixth among qualified third basemen in defensive runs saved (seven) and first in ultimate zone rating per 150 games (17.2).

Los Angeles will have to think long and hard about for how much and how long it’s willing to commit to Turner, though. His performance shouldn’t drastically decline in 2017, but he’s unlikely to improve significantly over the next few years.

The Dodgers weren’t willing to match the Arizona Diamondbacks’ contract for Zack Greinke, and it looks like they dodged a major bullet. Although bidding for Turner won’t reach Greinke-like levels, it’s easy to see Los Angeles opting against re-signing him if he’s receiving significant offers elsewhere.

In terms of his next possible destination, this could be a chance for the Atlanta Braves to make a statement, similar to when the perennially mediocre Washington Nationals inked a 31-year-old Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal.

The Braves are moving into SunTrust Park next year, so it’s important for the team to show fans that it’s taking steps in the right direction. Another 60-win season will quickly blunt the excitement of the new ballpark.

Signing Turner wouldn’t make the Braves a contender overnight, but he’d be a massive upgrade at third over Adonis Garcia. His arrival would also be a sign from ownership that it’s willing to spend what’s necessary to turn Atlanta around.

Prediction: Turner signs with Braves.


Kenley Jansen

Ever since Guggenheim Baseball Management took ownership of the Dodgers from Frank McCourt in 2012, the group has spared no expense to bring a World Series to Los Angeles.

Here’s a look at where the team’s total payroll ranked each year from 2013 to 2016, per Spotrac:

According to Heyman, though, the Dodgers may be looking to trim their spending slightly in the years to come, which could mean allowing free agents such as Turner, Jansen, Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to walk in free agency:

Anyway, it’s reasonable to think that the Dodgers, with their emphasis on youth, their collection of top prospects and their consideration to be below the threshold in the future, could be outbid for one or more of their top free agents. One rival official who has some familiarity with their inner workings predicted they could wind up re-signing none of them, though in a later conversation seemed to amend that, saying, ‘I don’t know who’s going to close if they don’t keep Kenley.’

Between the regular season he had and postseason he’s having, failing to re-sign Jansen would be a mistake for the Dodgers.

Beyond his 47 saves, Jansen averaged 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings and posted a 1.83 earned-run average. His 1.44 FIP was second-lowest among qualified relievers behind Aroldis Chapman, per FanGraphs.

The 29-year-old melted down in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, which was a non-save situation. In his 15.2 innings outside that appearance, he has allowed zero runs in the 2016 playoffs.

Of course, the importance of an elite closer can be overstated at times. It’s also fair to question how much longer Jansen can continue pitching like he has this season. Craig Kimbrel’s last few seasons are evidence as to how quickly things can take a turn for the worse for a top-end closer.

With that said, the Dodgers will be a World Series contender again in 2017, even if they plan on relying on some of their talented prospects. As such, Los Angeles will need to have somebody upon whom it can rely in the ninth inning.

Failing to re-sign Jansen would force the Dodgers to find a replacement who in all likelihood would be a major downgrade.

Unless another team comes in with a crazy offer for the 2016 All-Star, Los Angeles should do everything it can to ensure he remains with the team for the long term.

Prediction: Jansen re-signs with Dodgers.


Edwin Encarnacion

This will be an interesting offseason for the Toronto Blue Jays. Both Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are free agents. The former is 33 and the latter is 35.

In June, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported Toronto doesn’t plan on re-signing either player to long-term deals in the offseason.

If the past is any indication, both sluggers will be playing elsewhere in 2017.

During his time with the Cleveland Indians, Blue Jays team president Mark Shapiro routinely traded or declined to re-sign the team’s priciest veterans. According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, Shapiro was upset then-general manager Alex Anthopoulos offloaded so many top prospects in trades to acquire David Price and Troy Tulowitzki.

While Shapiro is unlikely to want a complete rebuild in Toronto, he may instruct general manager Ross Atkins—another Indians transplant—against spending extravagantly on two hitters in their mid-30s.

Should Encarnacion hit the open market, he may not have to change divisions. The Boston Globe‘s Nick Cafardo reported on Oct. 8 the Boston Red Sox could make a push to sign the first baseman/designated hitter.

On Saturday, Cafardo pictured a future in which Boston used Encarnacion to supplement Hanley Ramirez:

When [president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski] said at his postmortem press conference last week that [Ramirez] could play both first base and DH, that’s probably because [Encarnacion] can do the same. You could have this pair alternate between DH and first base. Encarnacion likes to play the field. Like Ramirez, he’s a below-average first baseman but serviceable. The important thing is both are powerful righthanded bats, especially at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox couldn’t find a better replacement—at least in the short term—for the retiring David Ortiz. Over the last five years, Encarnacion has averaged a little over 38 home runs and 110 RBI a season. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he’s also a .286 hitter with 14 homers and 41 RBI in 50 games at Fenway Park.

Dave Dombrowski has rarely shied away from making major moves to help his teams in the present, which is how he turned the Florida Marlins and Detroit Tigers into World Series contenders. Last offseason, he signed off on committing $217 million to David Price.

Should the Blue Jays turn down the chance to bring Encarnacion back, the Red Sox will likely be first in line to sign him.

Prediction: Encarnacion signs with Red Sox.

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2017 MLB Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for Underrated Assets

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 MLB.com 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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2017 MLB Free Agents: Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion Rumors, Predictions

The MLB offseason is here for the majority of teams around the league, and all of those squads are looking to see how to improve toward next season.

Although there aren’t many impact free agents available in the 2017 class, a team can add a game-changing talent if it is willing to pay the price.

Here are some of the latest rumors surrounding the top players on the market.


Yoenis Cespedes, OF

In a weak year for free agents, all eyes are going to be on Yoenis Cespedes.

The outfielder signed a three-year contract before the start of the 2016 season with the ability to opt out after the first year. It gave him protection against an injury or poor performance, but the smart financial decision is to become a free agent and see what he can get on the open market.

According to ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin, the Mets “fully expect” Cespedes to become a free agent.

This goes against what he said about honoring his three-year contract back in August, per Bob Klapisch of NorthJersey.com, although he wouldn’t be the first player to say one thing and change his mind later in the year.

Cespedes was also thinking about returning after the wild-card loss to the San Francisco Giants, per Mike Puma of the New York Post:

However, the Mets front office might not be willing to give the talented player what he can get in other places. Rubin explained the team’s thought process:

The belief is that the Mets will offer a similar arrangement to Cespedes‘ current contract — a front-loaded, short-term deal with an opt-out after 2017, which would give Cespedes extra incentive to perform. General manager Sandy Alderson generally is averse to longer-term deals, and there is particular concern that Cespedes might not provide maximum effort for the duration of a lengthy contract without the carrot of an opt-out clause.

After Cespedes hit 48 home runs with 130 RBI in 189 games over the last year and a half with the Mets, he deserves a long-term deal. Plenty of other teams will likely offer him that type of contract.

While the 30-year-old might want to return to New York, another team that is willing to pay will be able to get him signed.

Predicted destination: Houston Astros


Edwin Encarnacion, DH

Few sluggers have been as underappreciated over the past few years as Edwin Encarnacion.

The Toronto Blue Jays star has 193 home runs over the last five seasons with at least 34 each year. This season, he led the American League with 127 RBI.

Although he might not be the most well-rounded player, Encarnacion is clearly a big-time middle-of-the-order hitter.

This is going to lead to a hefty contract for the 33-year-old veteran. Jon Morosi of MLB.com believed he could end up with $25 million per year for four or five seasons. Jeff Blair of Sportsnet also explained Encarnacion will have a bigger list of suitors because teams believe he can play first base every day.

It doesn’t seem likely the Blue Jays will be able to afford him, but there will be no shortage of teams interested in a player of his ability.

One is the Kansas City Royals, who had a disappointing follow-up season to their World Series title in 2015. As Jim Bowden of ESPN.com wrote, “The Royals’ top priority this offseason is to add a bat, preferably a right-handed slugger.”

Encarnacion appears to be the perfect fit for a team that should be back in contention next season.

Predicted destination: Kansas City Royals


Lourdes Gurriel, INF

Every team is looking for the next great young international player, and Lourdes Gurriel could be that target.

The brother of Houston Astros infielder Yulieski Gurriel, Lourdes is just 22 years old and possesses plenty of talent, leading to a lot of interest around the league.

According to Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball, the Cuban is “in the process of setting up private workouts for a half-dozen or so teams.”

He lists the Boston Red Sox, Astros, Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals as interested teams. 

Nick Krueger of SEC Country noted the player had a slash line of .344/.407/.560 against the best competition Cuba had to offer last year. While it is obviously a step up to the major leagues, there is a lot of potential in this young hitter.

Considering he can also play a premium position at either shortstop or second base, Gurriel could end up landing a big deal right out of the gate.

Predicted destination: Miami Marlins


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2017 MLB Free Agents: Updated Rumors, Predictions on Top Stars Available

While the top teams in the league are focused on the postseason, the rest of Major League Baseball is looking toward the future for players who can turn around fortunes next year.

Unlike the past few years, the 2017 free-agent class lacks many high-profile names who are going to steal headlines for the next few months. Yoenis Cespedes would be the top player available if he chooses to opt out of his current contract, but there is no guarantee of that. Beyond that, the players looking to cash in all have some sort of question marks.

With this in mind, here is a look at some of the biggest stars set to become free agents at the end of the 2016 season.


Wilson Ramos, C

This will be one of the biggest storylines in free agency.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was in the midst of his best year as a professional, hitting .307 with 22 home runs and 80 RBI, all of which were career highs.

Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com predicted a multiyear deal with a $12 million annual salary this offseason, with the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves all considered possibilities.

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Ramos had reportedly declined a three-year, $30 million contract earlier this month.

However, everything changed when the catcher went down with a torn ACL.

While there will certainly be interest for the talented player on the open market, the price is going to significantly drop as teams take the risk that Ramos never reaches his previous form.

The 29-year-old player recently discussed his time with the Nationals and the possibility of returning next season, per Castillo:

I feel happy, very proud of the opportunities they’ve given me. My career grew in this organization and I would like to stay here for a lot of years. Unfortunately, this happened with my knee and it’s very difficult at my position to be in the National League, but I’d really like to be here for a lot of years. I hope to get out of the operation fine and get back very strong to stay here with this team.

Moving to the American League would provide Ramos a chance to spend time as a designated hitter, something unavailable with the Nationals (with the exception of a few interleague games each year).

This will limit the opportunities for the catcher, although it will give him a chance to extend his career as long as possible. The AL teams will then dictate the market once the extent of the injury is revealed.

Predicted destination: Chicago White Sox


Ian Desmond, OF

Free agency came at the wrong time for Ian Desmond a year ago. After three straight Silver Slugger awards as one of the premier offensive shortstops in the game, he struggled throughout 2015 and ended the season with a .233 batting average.

He ended up with a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers, although it was a chance for him to re-establish himself as a top offensive player.

Desmond has done just that in 2016, converting to an outfielder and hitting .284 with the fourth 20 home run-20 stolen base season of his career.

Although he was hitting even better in the first half of the season to earn a spot on the All-Star team, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post noted he leveled out to his normal solid season:

These are still quality numbers and ones that will be valuable on the open market this offseason. One team that will likely have interest is the Philadelphia Phillies, who need to upgrade their offense dramatically if they want to improve for next season.

Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball listed Desmond along with Martin Prado as targets for the Phillies, with the team looking for “veterans experienced enough to positively influence their ultra-young team but young enough where they could be there when the Phillies contend.”

With Prado recently signing a three-year extension with the Miami Marlins, Desmond represents the best option to fit this category.

The 31-year-old hitter has plenty of experience in the NL East and should be a quality addition right out of the gate for Philadelphia.

Predicted destination: Philadelphia Phillies


Matt Wieters, C

Although Matt Wieters was once considered a savior for the Orioles, his time with the organization appears to be running out.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe provided the latest buzz from Baltimore:

All signs point to the Orioles cutting ties with the backstop. Wieters accepted a qualifying offer last offseason but the Orioles won’t be as generous this time. … There will be a lot of catching available in free agency and the Orioles may opt for someone cheaper than the switch-hitting Wieters. The Braves and Rays could be good fits for Wieters.

Wieters was named an All-Star this season for the fourth time in his career, although his numbers don’t generate a whole lot of excitement. He’s an above-average defensive catcher, but he isn’t worth the nearly $16 million qualifying offer he accepted to remain with the Orioles this season.

On the plus side, he has remained relatively healthy this season. He has already appeared in 121 games after being limited to just 101 in the last two years combined due to Tommy John surgery.

There should be plenty of interested teams looking for a solid defensive catcher with some pop.

Unfortunately, the Orioles will have too many other needs to fill before giving Wieters the type of long-term deal he will want.

Predicted destination: Atlanta Braves


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2017 MLB Free Agents: Predictions for Top Pitchers Set to Hit Open Market

With the end of the MLB regular season only days away, teams around the league can start to make plans about how to attack a free-agent market that is light on starting pitchers but loaded with impact relievers.

Clubs in dire need of upgrading their rotations should not expect to add anything more than a No. 3 starter. However, contenders looking to solidify their pitching staffs with a stud reliever could be in luck with several players available who could make a difference in tight games. These types of players are certainly valuable, as they were centerpieces in some high-profile deals at this year’s trade deadline.

With that in mind, take a look below at a list of notable pitchers with expiring contracts who could draw significant interest in the 2017 class, along with predictions and breakdowns for three of the top options available.

A full list of the upcoming free-agent pitcher class can be found at Spotrac.com.


Andrew Cashner

As one of the biggest names available at this season’s trade deadline, Andrew Cashner has been a bust with the Miami Marlins.

Since being traded to Miami from San Diego on July 29, the 30-year-old is 1-4 with an abysmal 5.73 ERA. Making matters worse, the team ended up giving starter Colin Rea, also involved in the deal, back to the Padres after medical issues, and the Marlins are without promising pitching prospects Carter Capps and Jarred Cosart and top first baseman prospect Josh Naylor, which WINZ Radio’s Andy Slater noted:

After the 2013 and 2014 seasons, where he posted 3.09 and 2.55 ERAs, respectively, Cashner has not been the same guy who looked like a potential power pitcher who could help anchor a rotation. He hasn’t posted an ERA under 4.00 since 2014 while also accumulating double-digit losses in every season in that span. The Marlins still gave up plenty to bring him in, but that relationship could end this offseason.

Cashner has not been a good fit, which is evident by his subpar numbers. There are also other issues with him and the team, as he is not thrilled by the Miami policy that forced him to shave his full beard, per the Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson.

“Cashner said ‘I still hate’ the Marlins’ no-beard rule and ‘that is a big deal to me in free agency,'” per Jackson, which could indicate some personality clashes as well. 

The Marlins would probably be wise to use their money elsewhere, and Cashner would benefit from a change of scenery. Expect him to sign with a different club in free agency.


Aroldis Chapman

Unlike Cashner, closer Aroldis Chapman is continuing his dominant ways in a new home.

Chapman was a star reliever, along with Andrew Miller, whom the New York Yankees used to acquire a slew of young talent at the trade deadline. Since joining the Chicago Cubs, Chapman has been electric with a 1.09 ERA and 16 saves in 18 opportunities. He is 36-for-39 on save attempts for the season.

Chicago has been the best team in baseball throughout this season, which is why it brought in Chapman to secure its bullpen for a World Series run. However, the team is not completely sold on re-signing the hard-throwing closer. Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune indicated on Monday that Chapman is expecting to field the biggest contract ever for a closer, which the Cubs may not be willing to dish out.

The 28-year-old insisted he is not paying much attention to his pending free agency, per Sullivan.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “Everyone in the world is asking me, but right now I don’t really know.”

While Chapman is not focusing on his future, one team certainly is:

Today’s Knuckleball’s Jon Heyman originally reported this news, but Chapman also said he would be open to a return to New York after he was traded, per NJ.com’s Brandon Kuty. This move makes sense for both parties.

With Mark Teixeira set to retire and CC Sabathia’s contract expiring after next season, the new youth-powered Yankees have plenty of money to spend. Giving a monstrous deal to a sensational closer who could anchor the bullpen for the next seven or eight years seems like a strong investment.

As the New York Post‘s Ken Davidoff notes, Dellin Betances has not been outstanding as the Yankees closer, and having him in a setup role for Chapman could be a more ideal situation for the New York bullpen.

Chicago already has several big contracts on its books, and with young stars like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell soon needing substantial deals, the team could opt against paying up for Chapman. The Cuban is already comfortable in New York, and the team has the funds and the fit to add him to the exciting mix of talent within the organization. Look for the Yankees to emerge as the favorite to land this big fish in free agency.


Kenley Jansen

In one of the more unknown pending free-agency situations, Los Angeles Dodgers star closer Kenley Jansen has proven to be noncommittal regarding his offseason plans.

Jansen is arguably the top closer in the National League, including Chapman, as he is posting career highs in ERA with 1.86 and saves with 47 and counting. Jansen has posted at least 35 saves in each of the past three seasons. Yet he did not seem fully on board with returning to Los Angeles when speaking with Heyman on Sept. 15.

LA’s nice. LA’s great. LA gave me the opportunity. LA converted me when I failed as a catcher. I’m grateful about it, and will never forget LA. But at the same time, we’ll have to see what’s good for the family. …

It’s going to be a tough decision. It’s not going to only be me.

The Dodgers have made it known to Jansen that he is a top priority for them this offseason, per the Orange County Register‘s Bill Plunkett, and the 28-year-old gave slightly more encouraging comments on Sept. 17.

“That means they showed respect, that they know it’s up to them to keep me here,” Jansen said, per Plunkett. “After we hold up that trophy at the end of the year, we can all sit down and talk.”

Los Angeles’ current roster gives the team NL pennant hopes for the next few seasons, and keeping Jansen would enhance that sentiment. Yet the team does have other free agents to account for this offseason, including Justin Turner, and big contracts on the horizon for Joc Pederson and Corey Seager.

Expect Jansen’s playoff performance to have a significant impact on where he lands. He allowed two runs in only 4.1 innings in Los Angeles’ run to the National League Championship Series in 2013, but he did not give up any runs in 4.1 combined innings in the last two postseasons. If Jansen plays well during a long playoff run, he could stay. If not, he very well could be in a different uniform in 2017.


Statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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