MLB Hot Stove Report: Who Will Acquire A Quality Hitter This Offseason?
by 18 November 2017, 10:00 AM
Is Stanton destined to go west? Can the Red Sox strike big? The MLB hitters market is full of potential solid, if not franchise-altering players.
With the GM Meetings finally underway, the MLB Free Agency period has opened. Teams are able to discuss possible contract terms with free agents as well as discuss trades with other clubs.
The 2017 Free Agency period sees many sluggers and above-average hitters hitting the open market. Considering last year’s weak market for hitters, it will be curious whether teams invest significant money in a middle-of-the-order slugger. At the outset of the Winter Meetings, there has also been a significant flurry of trade rumors regarding several sluggers, most notably Giancarlo Stanton, and what it would take to acquire them via a trade.
As the offseason unfolds, there are a list of six sluggers, three of them Kansas City Royals, that are worth keeping an eye on not only because of their potential value to the club that signs them but also because they can dictate how other teams make their own free agent decisions. Let’s start with the lone trade candidate before moving into the top five sluggers that are unrestricted free agents.
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Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins’ franchise player, is arguably one of the best hitters in baseball. Although not a free agent, he is the most widely discussed trade candidate for obvious reasons. At 28, he led the National League in three major offensive categories: home runs (59), RBIs (132), and slugging percentage (.631). He also just won his first National League MVP Award.
With those type of statistics and offensive output, it makes sense for any club to have some interest in acquiring Stanton. Considering that the Marlins want to shed salary to $90 million, their desire to unload Stanton is widely known. Despite signing a 13-year extension with the Marlins, the fact remains that the Marlins are not championship contenders as currently constructed, and Stanton’s wish is to play for a contender. The Marlins, therefore, are expected to be aggressive in shopping Stanton, who still has 10 years and $295 million left on his deal, which contains an opt-out after 2020 and a full no-trade clause.
This makes a trade rather difficult for the Marlins. Although there are several teams expected to be interested in acquiring Stanton, which include the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, it is most likely that the Marlins will have to eat some of that salary in order to make a trade work.
What further complicates matters is that Stanton has a no-trade clause. Therefore, even if the Marlins get a great offer from a club, Stanton can easily veto it, making a potentially good deal a moot point. Stanton has already expressed an interest to play on the West Coast, and multiple sources say that he would veto a trade to the Red Sox and the Cardinals.
What Will Happen: Stanton to Giants. I believe that the Marlins will be able to work out a deal with a West Coast club and send Stanton away from Miami. While the Giants were one of the worst teams in 2017, they do have a solid core in place and are a strong candidate to bounce back. While the Dodgers and Padres are also possible options, the Padres are nowhere near contending and the Dodgers already have a solid outfield and do not seem interested in taking on a long-term contract such as Stanton’s.
What Should Happen: Stanton to Cardinals. I am on the #Stanton2STL bandwagon. The Cardinals will be able to offer the Marlins the best package of pitching prospects plus have the ability to take on the salary. They are in win-now mode with their current core and are in desperate need of a slugger in the heart of their lineup. However, Stanton will reject a trade there and force his way out west.
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The Indians’ leadoff hitter was in a lineup filled with young star players and is consistently overlooked. He may not have the most attractive profile to teams, but what he does offer is durability and consistently above-average on-base skills. He has tallied more than 600 plate appearances in all seven of his full seasons while reaching base at least 35% of the time. This past year, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and 79 RBIs.
While he plays a position that requires a little more power than what he consistently generates, Santana’s on-base skills should make him a high demand free agent.
What Will Happen: Santana to Red Sox. The Red Sox have been missing a power bat since David Ortiz retired. While Carlos Santana is not the best power threat on the market, he fills the first base need for the Sox. Do not be surprised if Santana is quickly signed by them immediately once the Stanton domino falls.
What Should Happen: Santana to Red Sox. Seattle would have been another obvious fit, but after the team traded for Ryon Healy, they no longer have a need for a power bat at first base. It would be a shame to see him leave the Indians though.
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J.D. Martinez is perhaps the best free agent slugger on the market. After being traded midseason from Detroit to Arizona, he helped the Diamondbacks secure home-field advantage in the National League Wild Card Game while sporting the best offensive statistics of his career. He finished the 2017 campaign with a slash line of .303/.376/.690 with 45 home runs and 104 RBIs.
His offense alone appears to be sustainable since this is the fourth straight year Martinez has hit at least 20 home runs. 2017 was also an improvement over Martinez’s 2015 Silver Slugger season when he hit 38 home runs to go with a .282/.344/.535 batting line. In the middle of his prime at age 30, there is optimism that Martinez can continue to put up offensive numbers similar to this season for at least a few years.
However, the main concern regarding Martinez is his defense. In 2016, he tallied a minus-22 in defensive runs saved. He significantly improved in 2017 but still tallied a minus-five runs saved. Do not be surprised if Martinez has a hard time convincing teams to meet his contract demands of seven years and $210 million.
What Will Happen: Martinez to Red Sox. The team strikes out on Stanton, but they get a pretty good consolation prize. Fenway Park will be a perfect fit for Martinez as he continues to mash home runs. As a hitter’s park, Fenway will be able to mask Martinez’s deficiencies on defense while playing to his strengths. If Martinez’s defense slips, new manager Alex Cora will always have the option at slotting him in a designated hitter role, which may be the role he is destined for a few years into this contract. Martinez will not get the contract his agent Scott Boras is pushing for, but he will be handsomely paid.
What Should Happen: Martinez re-signs with Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks would hate to lose Martinez, who was such an important piece contributing to their return to the postseason. However, Boston will be able to outbid Arizona and give Martinez the best offer, not to mention one that will come from a team that could potentially compete for a World Series crown.
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Eric Hosmer was the best all-around player on the Royals this year, playing a good defensive first base while slashing a .318/.385/.498 line with 25 home runs and 94 RBIs. At 28 years old come the 2018 season, Hosmer has a lot of good baseball left in him. The argument can certainly be made that he could even get better. That’s a possibility that many teams pursuing him can get excited about. Expect his contract to be over $100 million easily.
What Will Happen: Hosmer re-signs with Royals. The Royals are committed to bringing back Hosmer the most out of their free agents. Even if the Royals fail to contend, Hosmer would be a great team leader for the small-market club.
What Should Happen: Hosmer signs with Red Sox. The Red Sox are in need of a first baseman since Mitch Moreland is leaving via free agency. Although Santana is a more realistic outcome, Hosmer should be a top target for Boston. He would slot easily in the middle of the lineup that already has intriguing young talented players in Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Xander Bogaerts and established veterans like Dustin Pedroia. Do not be surprised if the Cardinals also make a huge push for him. He could be the middle order bat that they need, and Stanton most likely will not be going there.
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The third baseman had a resurgent year in 2017, which was good timing for him after suffering a torn ACL in the 2016 season. Moustakas clubbed a team-leading 38 home runs that set the Royals’ franchise record and finished with an .835 OPS. As a result of his offensive output, Moustakas’s 2016 season is firmly in the past.
At age 29, Moustakas also benefits from being in his prime, which means that he can potentially command a large contract of five or six years and potentially in the nine figures. What can potentially hurt his ability to secure a long-term deal is his walk rate, which was lower than his 2015 breakout season. His defensive metrics also suggest that he was not quite as great as in previous seasons. However, given his relative age and power-hitting ability, there is no reason to think that he cannot find a team willing to pay him a rich five-year deal.
What Will Happen: Moustakas to Angels. The Angels are looking for an upgrade at third base while giving Mike Trout more support offensively. Moustakas checks both boxes for them. There is also a level of sentimentality to this as Moustakas is a Southern California native and may decide it is time for a homecoming. Look for the Angels to offer Moustakas a five-year deal around $90 million or so.
What Should Happen: Moustakas to Mets. The Mets have a pitching staff that should rebound from a poor 2017 season. New manager Mickey Callaway should be able to maximize the Mets pitching. However, the Mets need another solid bat to support Yoenis Cespedes. Since they cannot count on David Wright ever returning from his injuries, the Mets should seriously consider adding Moustakas to take over at the hot corner in order to try and make one more postseason run. Don’t count out the Royals just yet either.
Image Credit: John Sleezer- The Kansas City Star
Lorenzo Cain would be an asset to any team’s outfield as long as he does not receive a contract for more than four years. He would instantly make the team that signs him more athletic, improve their outfield defense, and add a championship pedigree.
Cain’s 2017 statistics show that he is still capable of being a big-time threat in the middle of a lineup. He sported a slash line of .300/363/.440 with 15 home runs, 49 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases. When it comes to his defensive metrics, he was a +0.9 dWAR. A team that acquires him may want to consider starting him as their right fielder which may increase his defensive value.
What Will Happen: Cain to Blue Jays. The market for Lorenzo Cain could surprise us. Although the Blue Jays had a rough 2017, do not expect to see them start to rebuild, particularly when they have a solid core of quality (yet older) players and ranked high in attendance this past year. Do not be surprised to see the Blue Jays offer Cain three years for significant money. With Kevin Pillar in center, Cain could take Bautista’s spot in right field and be incredibly effective defensively. Plus, Toronto fans would appreciate this win-now move.
What Should Happen: Cain to Giants. The Giants are in need of a center fielder. Their poor outfield defense and offensive production was noted over the course of the season. For the Giants to make a huge turnaround, they need fielders who can play in a spacious ballpark. Cain is an above-average center fielder and as long as he’s not given a huge contract, he would be a significant upgrade at a position the Giants need improvement at most. The Mets also make sense, but they will probably not be willing to spend the money for a 31-year-old outfielder despite the fact that his defensive prowess would transfer well to Citi Field.
While big names such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado do not become free agents until 2018, the 2017 free agent class offers many sluggers that can be franchise-altering. However, do not be surprised if the hitters market takes a while to develop. Expect Giancarlo Stanton to be the first domino to fall and then other teams who lose out will begin their spending spree.
*All statistics are from ESPN.com, Baseball-Reference.com, or FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise stated.
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