Saturday, November 7, 2020

One Position That Every MLB Team Needs to Upgrade in Free Agency


 

       The World Series is over. As the Dodgers celebrate with champagne and sickness, MLB front offices are looking towards free agency. With the economy down thanks to COVID-19, teams are expected to spend less money towards free agents. This could mean that some teams go bargain hunting this offseason. But, every team has a need right now, so let's see what they are, and who should fill that role. The only rule is that re-signatures are not allowed. 

Arizona Diamondbacks - Bullpen

The Diamondbacks had some quality relief performances in 2020, especially where they least expected it. Junior Guerra, Stefan Crichton, Keury Mella and Riley Smith all had good seasons, and while he struggled, Yoan Lopez had an overachieving 2019. With Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin gone (you could likely add Hector Rondon to that list soon), Arizona could use a reliever. While I don't see them going into the first or second tier of relievers, I think they will add one or two guys.

One possibility - Keone Kela

Kela is an intriguing option that has not been talked about much. He closed out games for the Rangers in 2018 before a trade to Pittsburgh, and has been successful throughout his career. Since that trade to the Pirates, Kela has an 11.1 K/9 with a 2.49 ERA. The main concern with him is that he pitched in just three games in 2020 due to right forearm inflammation, losing a season where he was supposed to be a full-time closer. But, in a year where most free agents are entering their age 30 season or older, Kela will turn 28 in mid-April. He can be an effective late-inning guy for the Diamondbacks if healthy.

Atlanta Braves - Rotation Depth

The Braves lost Mike Soroka for most of 2020 with a torn Achilles, but they should be optimistic about a return somewhere near the start of the season. In his absence, Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson were dominant. Kyle Wright had a 5.21 ERA in eight starts, and his two playoff starts were wild, with one being very good, and one leading to an eventual elimination. While those spots are set, Touki Toussaint and Robbie Erlin came close to a 9.00 ERA. They could use a veteran guy on a one year deal, similar to what Cole Hamels was supposed to be for them this year. 

One possibility - Adam Wainwright

An article in The Athletic by David O'Brien and Ken Rosenthal stated that the Braves have interest in the 39, who they drafted in the first round of the 2000 draft. While Wainwright never played for Atlanta (he was traded in 2003 for JD Drew and Eli Marrero), he is from Georgia, and you would have to think the Braves would be his preferred destination if he actually leaves St. Louis. In 2020, "Waino" proved that he can still throw, with a 3.15 ERA in 10 starts. A one year deal makes too much sense.

Baltimore Orioles - An innings eater

The Orioles are in a weird place with their rebuild, where the lineup doesn't have many standouts, but if you signed a veteran, kind of like what the Tigers did a year ago with CJ Cron and Jonathan Schoop, a player with some potential would be blocked. So, I don't see them shaking up their position players. The rotation could be a whole other story. John Means, Alex Cobb and Dean Kremer will probably all have spots, but you could see the Orioles work on getting a starter with the intentions of him eating up innings, or to be traded. Look at Tommy Milone for an example, who was dealt to Atlanta after a 3.99 ERA in six starts.

One possibility - Mike Foltynewicz

General Manager Mike Elias came from Houston, who drafted Foltynewicz in 2010. However, Elias was still with St. Louis at that time. A year before Elias was promoted to assistant GM, Foltynewicz was traded to Atlanta. But, Rio Ruiz, who was traded to the Braves as well in that deal, was brought in by Elias to Baltimore. After an embarrassing DFA last year, "Folty" could be open to a minor league deal with a bad team like the Orioles to build back his reputation. 

Boston Red Sox - Outfielder

This may seem like a weird pick, considering the awful rotation Red Sox fans attempted to endure in 2020. But, that may be unique to 2020. Chris Sale will return from Tommy John surgery, and Eduardo Rodriguez will hopefully be able to make a full return after a season of sickness. Nathan Eovaldi was Boston's best pitcher last year, and both Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck showed promise in short stints last  year. They may throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks in the bullpen, but they need an outfielder. Jackie Bradley Jr. may leave in free agency, which would leave a hole in center field. A 3rd/4th outfielder is needed, and there's a perfect guy available for them.

One possibility - Jake Marisnick

Alex Cora is back, and Marisnick is a guy who played under him in Houston. He can be viewed like a right-handed Bradley, with the glove, speed and some power, but also the strikeout-heavy game. I'd be surprised if the Red Sox had no interest in Marisnick. 

Chicago Cubs - A third starter

Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks had great seasons, but after that, the rotation isn't great. Adbert Azolay is young, but can he really be a legitimate 4th starter? Alec Mills threw a no-hitter, but he didn't have a special season. With Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood headed for free agency, the Cubs need another starter, preferably a southpaw.

One possibility - Mike Minor

The veteran led pitchers in WAR in 2019, but he had his worst season since he was 22 in 2020, with a 5.56 ERA in 12 games. He still had a 9.8 K/9, so there's hope. Like many other players on the open market, Minor would be a cheap get for a team. I've mentioned him already in this article, but Minor could be another Cole Hamels: a lefty who was an all-star with the Rangers coming to the Cubs. It worked out well in scenario one, it could again in scenario two. 

Chicago White Sox - A backup catcher

Yeah, it isn't the sexy option, but James McCann is too good not to start, and he will leave in free agency. Former first round pick Zack Collins seems like the obvious choice to be the replacement, but his .599 OPS in 36 MLB games suggests that he could use a little bit more minor league team. With Tony La Russa not managing for the last nine years, maybe he could use an old friend to assist him.

One possibility - Yadier Molina 

It is hard to believe that Molina and Wainwright would both leave the Cardinals. But, I think that the White Sox would love to bring Yadi aboard. He was managed by La Russa from when he debuted in 2004 until 2011. While like McCann, Molina may be too good to be a backup, he could get a lot of time with the White Sox not having a clear DH. That could be where Collins fits. But the future Hall-of-Famer would be a great mentor for the young Chicago team. 

Cincinnati Reds - Shortstop

Freddy Galvis is a free agent, and the Reds should look for an upgrade instead of bringing him back. The offense cost them their wild card series versus the Braves, and it should be the Reds' first goal, besides trying to bring back Trevor Bauer. There are only two shortstops available who would be a legitimate offensive upgrade, so they should get one of them, maybe the one with some familiarity. 

One possibility - Didi Gregorius

It should come down to Gregorius or Marcus Semien for Cincinnati. Gregorius is coming off of a better season, playing in all 60 games for the Phillies with an .827 OPS. A took a one year bet on himself a year ago, and now he's the best on the market at his position. He debuted with the Reds back in 2012, playing in eight games. 

Cleveland Indians - An entire outfield

It feels like the Indians have always had a terrible outfield. 2020 was no different, as the best OPS by an OF for them was .662, belonging to Jordan Luplow. The Indians are pretty cheap, and this isn't a new fact. With Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber out the door, Brad Hand, Carlos Santana, Cesar Hernandez and maybe Francisco Lindor will likely soon join them. In general, the entire offensive except for Jose Ramirez struggled. Josh Naylor was great in two playoff games, and he should have one spot, but an outfield of Naylor, Tyler Naquin and Oscar Mercado is unacceptable. 

One possibility - Adam Eaton

A Springfield, Ohio native, Eaton attended the University of Miami in Ohio, so joining the Indians makes sense. Marcell Ozuna or a reunion with Michael Brantley or Jay Bruce would make sense, but that would be a huge sacrifice on defense with Franmil Reyes hogging up DH. Eaton hit just .226 with a .669 OPS in 2020, but he frequently can hit in the .280-.300 range with an OPS around .800. He has some speed, and can play multiple outfield positions. 

Colorado Rockies - An unhealthy amount of bullpen depth

Wade Davis looks washed and Scott Oberg missed the entire season with blood clots. Daniel Bard and Yency Almonte were the lone bright spots in the 'pen, with nine pitchers finishing at least four innings, and an ERA over 7.00. 

One possibility - Mark Melancon

For some reason, a lot of free agents play a position that a team that they grew up near needs. The 35-year old Melancon went to high school in Golden, Colorado, about 25 minutes away from Denver. He has played for seven teams, but the Rockies have not been one of them. Melancon had a successful 2020 acting as the Braves' closer, with eleven saves and a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings. He shouldn't be the only reliever Colorado adds, but maybe one of them.

Detroit Tigers - Catcher, but only for one year

The Tigers hope that Jake Rogers, the 25 year old acquired in the Justin Verlander trade, can be the catcher of the future, and his defense is highly touted. But, he doesn't look ready yet to be a starter. The Tigers best option may be to ditch Austin Romine, Grayson Greiner and Eric Hasse, the three catchers who all had an OPS under .600 last year, and sign someone better. 

One possibility - Wilson Ramos

In the past, Ramos has proven that he can be a premium offensive catcher. His two years with the Mets, especially the second one, didn't go as well as he would have liked. Ramos had a .684 OPS with five home runs in 2020. With the Tigers looking for a one year bridge catcher who they could possibly deal at the trade deadline, and Ramos looking for a one year, prove-it deal, the match seems great.

Houston Astros - Outfielder

Also integrity. Ok, I'm sorry Astros fans, I had to. But in all seriousness, the Astros are in danger of losing George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick this offseason, and while re-signing Springer would be the best case scenario, it doesn't seem guaranteed now, and I already said no incumbents. They need a backup plan, so maybe they'll pick someone up who I previously compared to an old friend of theirs.

One possibility - Jackie Bradley Jr. 

If I said that Bradley is almost like a left-handed, better Marisnick, then why don't the Astros just bring back the familiar face? Well, Bradley is better. He has the speed, he's got a great glove, and he probably should have been a Gold Glove finalist this year in center field. He also is coming off of his best offensive season in years, with a .283 average and an OPS of .814. 

Kansas City Royals - Outfielder

With Alex Gordon retiring, a spot opened up in left field. The Royals could probably also use a center fielder, as Bubba Starling does not seem to be the answer there. The pitching was surprisingly good for Kansas City in 2020, so if they spend money, I don't see it being there. They are another team that I don't see making too many moves this offseason, but left field should be on the list.

One possibility - Matt Joyce

The leader at OBP for the Royals in 2020 was Salvador Perez, coming in at .353. For the Marlins, Joyce finished at .351, although he did not have a great season, with an OPS of .682. While he doesn't fit the speed mold that the Royals love, neither did Gordon, and he was there for a long time. The veteran journeyman can play both corner outfield positions, and he has some power from the left-handed batters box. 

Los Angeles Angels - A frontline starter

We've been here before, as another offseason comes where the Angels really need starting pitching. They actually got some production this year from Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning and Andrew Heaney. This could be the year that they go all out on pitching, as they need a very good starter, a back-end starter, a whole bunch of relievers, and even a middle infielder. Like most offseason in Anaheim, disappointment seems inevitable. 

One possibility - Marcus Stroman

While Trevor Bauer is better and from Southern California, Stroman will be cheaper, so the Angels can divert money to other locations. Stroman did not pitch in 2020, so there is some risk involved there. In 2019, he threw 184.1 innings, with a 3.22 ERA. While the Yankees might be his preferred destination, coming to Los Angeles isn't bad for Stroman either. 

Los Angeles Dodgers - An outfielder who would mainly DH, if that comes back to the NL

The Dodgers have a potent offense. And a potent rotation. And bullpen. It probably isn't fair how good they are. Their two big free agents this offseason are Justin Turner and Joc Pederson, and Turner seems likely to stay. Pederson could be the one to go, and knowing the Dodgers, they'll find a way to upgrade from him. But there's no way that they could, right?

One possibility - Michael Brantley 

*Insert Jim Carrey "Oh Come On!" GIF*. Yeah, it might not be likely, but the possibility of Brantley going to the Dodgers isn't good for about 29 other teams. He has hit at least .299 in his last six full seasons (or at least full-ish). His OPS has been over .800 in those seasons as well, and he has 20 home run potential. There is one condition, though. MLB must announce that the designated hitter will return to the National League in 2021 for the Dodgers to consider Brantley. 

Miami Marlins - Second baseman

The Marlins don't have a clear answer at second. Jonathan Villar is gone, and Jon Berti is better off as a utility man. Isan Diaz missed most of 2020 after opting-out and later returning, but he did not have great offensive numbers. I could see the Marlins, looking to keep some of that 2020 magic, going out for a right-handed bat to platoon with Diaz. 

One possibility - Jonathan Schoop

Schoop has value, but I have a feeling that with this year's market, he will not be paid well. With 20+ home run potential, Schoop had a .799 OPS for the Tigers last year, and he is only 29, young for a current free agent. He's perfect on a one year deal, tradeable for if the Marlins are bad again. 

Milwaukee Brewers - A corner infielder

Both first and third base are needs for the Brewers entering free agency. They probably need third base more, as Dan Vogelbach was successful in his short stint with the team. Assuming Justin Turner returns to the Dodgers, the third base market is not as great as the first base market, which I wouldn't call good either. If they don't trust Vogelbach to keep it up, or if the DH returns to the NL, there is a good answer at first for them.

One possibility - Carlos Santana

Santana had his option declined by the Indians after a .199 average in 2020. However, Santana is still a good player. He played in all 60 games, and led the league with 47 walks. In a full season, there is a good chance that Santana will walk 100 times, and hit about 25 home runs. He is also a switch-hitter. Santana's durability has gone under-the-radar, as from 2011 to 2019 the least amount of games he played in one season was 143. 

Minnesota Twins - Another starter

The Twins have a really good team. The offense underperformed in 2020, while the pitching over performed. The bullpen was very good, and some depth could be used, with Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard hitting free agency. But with Homer Bailey, Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill on their way out, another starter could be used to close out the rotation, with Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, Randy Dobnak and Michael Pineda coming back for 2021.

One possibility - Garrett Richards

While I considered James Paxton here, I think that Richards is a cheaper, and maybe even better option. He finally was healthy in 2020, and the former Angels ace posted a 4.03 ERA over 14 games (10 starts). He is someone that I could see a good team going to scoop up, and if it's the Twins, it will be a good decision for them, as Richards has always performed when healthy. 

New York Mets - catcher

It's Steve Cohen's town now, maybe. The billionaire now owns the Mets, and it seems like they are willing to make a big splash immediately. With Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos both free agents, there's a certain guy that could fill the void behind the plate. While the Mets could use pitching, I think that getting the best free agent out there will be more important to them first.

One possibility - JT Realmuto

Getting the best catcher in the game, signing him to what will likely be a record breaking deal for a catcher, and taking him away from the rival Phillies will be a huge start to Cohen's ownership of the Mets. Realmuto can be the real deal for New York. He is amazing defensively, he's great offensively, and he will be very expensive. The Mets will be fun to watch in 2021, although they hope that things don't get Metsy again. 

New York Yankees - Surprisingly a lot

The Yankees have a lot of holes, although mainly they have to deal with pitching. If they can re-sign DJ LeMahieu, the offense will stay the same. But, the bullpen depth tailed off after Chapman, Britton and Green, as Adam Ottavino fell out of Aaron Boone's circle of trust. Masahiro Tanaka could come back, but even if he does, the Yankees will have Gerrit Cole, Tanaka, Deivi Garcia, Jordan Montgomery and Clarke Schmidt for their rotation. That... isn't great. The Yankees will need to bring back LeMahieu, fix up their bullpen, and add two starters, with one preferably being Tanaka, all while trying to cut back on their payroll. It won't be easy.

One possibility - Corey Kluber

After that grim start, here is some positivity. The Yankees could pick up the two-time Cy Young winner, who has familiarity with pitching coach Matt Blake and has worked out with Eric Cressey, who oversees the Yankees training staff. However, it is now time to get negative again. Kluber isn't the pitcher he once was anymore. He has basically missed the last two seasons with injuries, so success isn't guaranteed with him. But, hopefully he can regain somewhat close to form in 2021. 

Oakland Athletics - Reliever

The A's had a successful bullpen in 2020. However, that could change, with Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria and TJ McFarland ready to become free agents. If Hendriks walks, the A's could use another closer. Luckily for them, there are a lot of available options, so they can't go wrong with the guys that are out there.

One possibility - Brad Hand

With Alex Colome, Kirby Yates and Ken Giles all free agents along with Hendriks, I chose Hand because he is a lefty. This could allow Jake Diekman to move more into a situational lefty, while Hand is the southpaw of the back end. While he has struggled with consistency at times, Hand has closed games out for the Indians and Padres over the years. He saved a league-leading 16 games with a 2.05 ERA and 11.9 K/9 in 2020. 

Philadelphia Phillies - Bullpen, bullpen, bullpen

The 'pen was an absolute embarrassment for the Phillies in 2020. Even when they tried to improve it, acquiring Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from Boston, they fell flat, as both those guys are leaving town. I could see the Phillies going after and signing multiple high-end guys, but their best bet may be to go after the best on the market, and maybe even the best reliever in the game.

One possibility - Liam Hendriks

While losing the best catcher in Realmuto will hurt, gaining Hendriks will ease that a little bit. Hendriks had a 13.1 K/9 in both 2019 and 2020, with similar ERAs, finishing with a 1.78 mark in 2020. He became Oakland's closer, and the Phillies will go after him hard, hoping that he will become theirs. 

Pittsburgh Pirates - Outfielder

The Pirates were very, very bad in 2020, with top prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes serving as their only bright spot. Right fielder Gregory Polanco showed that his tenure in Pittsburgh should be ending soon, with a .539 OPS. While it wouldn't make sense to make a big upgrade here, I think that finding a platoon option for Polanco is worth it.

One possibility - Domingo Santana

To criticize Polanco's play then suggest bringing Santana aboard isn't really fair. Santana had a .583 OPS in 2020, not much better than Polanco. However, he has shown power in his career, and he could be a quality platoon option to Polanco if he can figure things out offensively. There is much to be desired about his defense, though. 

San Diego Padres - Another starter

The Padres don't have a bad rotation. Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger had very good seasons, and Chris Paddack had a great rookie season before a sophomore slump. With Garrett Richards leaving, the Padres have an open spot in the rotation, and while going in-house may be smarter, AJ Preller has dished out big contracts before, and there is a guy available that would make them a serious World Series contender.

One possibility - Trevor Bauer

First, I want to say that my prediction for Bauer isn't San Diego, but he is the best case scenario for the Padres. Bauer is good friends with Mike Clevinger, who was acquired in August. He will win the 2020 NL Cy Young award, and while we thought that Clevinger would be the ace that the Padres needed, maybe it actually is Bauer. 

San Francisco Giants - Starter

The Giants will probably retain Kevin Gausman, who would be foolish not to accept the $18.9 million qualifying offer that was offered to him. The rotation depth is not great. The other two starters with ERAs under 4.00 in 2020 are both free agents, in Drew Smyly and Trevor Cahill. Jeff Samardzija is also one. The Giants will look for cheap, veteran options on the free agency market, just like they did last year with Gausman, Smyly and Cahill. 

One possibility - Jake Odorizzi

I like the fit with this one. Odorizzi has some similarities to Gausman, as both had some success before a rough contract year hurt them. Odorizzi had a 3.51 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 2019. He made just four starts in 2020, and allowed 10 runs in 13.2 innings. The Giants could look to trade him mid-season if they get him. 

Seattle Mariners - Outfielder

Kyle Lewis surprised the Mariners, finishing with an OPS above .800. But to his right and to his left in the outfield, not much was happening. Jose Marmolejos did hit six home runs, but Phil Ervin, Braden Bishop and Jake Fraley all struggled to hit, as right field became a weak spot for the Mariners. Tim Lopes can play all of the outfield positions, but him or Marmolejos could DH. So could a veteran that they could bring in to add a bat to a bad lineup.

One possibility - Ryan Braun

It looks like Braun will finally leave the Brewers after his option was declined. While he will soon be 37 and his defense is faltering, Braun still has a good bat. He hit eight home runs with a .769 OPS in 39 games last year. The Mariners would love to add his bat to the lineup, and he would return to the west coast, where he is from. 

St. Louis Cardinals - Outfielder

The Cardinals need a very good outfielder. Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler all had bad seasons in 2020, and while Dylan Carlson is the future, there's not much around him. This year, there is a prominent outfielder on the market, and the Cardinals are likely the favorite to acquire his services. 

One possibility - George Springer

Even in a year where most of his teammates struggled, Springer had a great year. He hit 14 home runs with an .899 OPS. Springer is one of the only center fielders in baseball with 30 home run potential, and he is a three time all-star, and has won two Silver Sluggers, which isn't easy considering Mike Trout is always a lock for one. It seems like Springer is moving on from Houston, and St. Louis looks like a reasonable destination.

Tampa Bay Rays - Catcher

While they would love to retain Charlie Morton, catching seems to be the Rays' biggest need right now, after Mike Zunino's option was declined. They can't afford to get into the JT Realmuto sweepstakes, so I could see them going into the second or third tier of catchers. But knowing the Rays, they will get someone who you have barely heard of, and he'll become a perennial all-star. 

One Possibility - James McCann

Even McCann could fall out of their price range, but with the market down, he could have a reasonable want for the Rays. McCann was an all-star in 2019, and when it looked like an outlier, he did it again, hitting seven home runs in 31 games as a backup, with an .896 OPS. While I could see McCann's value going up after Realmuto signs, the Rays could scoop him up.

Texas Rangers - Catcher

The Rangers are also a team that I could see signing McCann. They are much worse than the Rays, though, so I could even see Tampa willing to spend more money. The catching market after Realmuto and McCann isn't great, but it isn't like their are too many great catchers in the league anyways. The Rangers will need an upgrade at the position offensively after Jeff Mathis started for them in 2020.

One possibility - Kurt Suzuki 

Suzuki has been a much better player in the second half of his career. In 2020, he hit .270 with a .745 OPS, and in 2019 he won a World Series, while hitting 17 home runs with an .809 OPS. The Rangers could flip Suzuki, or keep him at the top of their lineup.

Toronto Blue Jays - Left-handed reliever

The Blue Jays had some pretty good bullpen performances in 2020. Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis, Ryan Borucki, AJ Cole, Tom Hatch and Jordan Romano all had good seasons. But, only Borucki is left-handed of the group. I could see the Blue Jays look to improve their 'pen by getting another good left-handed reliever. Maybe not as a closer, but in a set-up role or middle relief.

One possibility - Justin Wilson 

After two quietly good years in an awful Mets bullpen, Wilson is a free agent again. He appeared in 23 games in 2020, posting a 3.66 ERA, and striking out 23 in 19.2 innings. He has struck out guys at a good rate in his career, as starting in 2016, his K/9 has always been above 10.0. What he brings to the table is exactly what the Blue Jays need to help keep them competitive. 

Washington Nationals - Starting pitching depth

Oddly enough, starting pitching really hurt the Nationals in 2020, and that is what won them a World Series. Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin had down years, while Stephen Strasburg made just two starts. Anibal Sanchez is a free agent, and both Erick Fedde and Austin Voth aren't great options. There are about two guys in the tier that I think the Nationals will be shopping in, so I see them getting one of them.

One possibility - James Paxton

The other guy in that tier with Paxton is Charlie Morton, although who knows if he even wants to come to DC. Paxton struggled with velocity and injury issues in 2020. He made just five starts, with a 6.64 ERA. He still struck out batters at a high rate, with an 11.5 K/9. A healthy Paxton as a fourth starter with a healthy Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin in front of him would get the Nationals back in the playoffs. 

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