Leftovers: they’re what’s for dinner.
Luckily there’s still some meat left on MLB’s free-agency bone. A lot of that meat comes courtesy of erstwhile Toronto Blue Jays as the juicy thighs of both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista remain unsigned. Sorry, that was gross. But it’s true, nonetheless. They’re not the only sluggers left on the market. The 40-plus-homer bats of Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter are also available.
The market is drier for pitching. The rehabbing Tyson Ross is about the choicest cut left in the meat locker. Same goes for defensive outfielders, where Rajai Davis is probably the best of the rest.
Where are the most coveted of the apparently least coveted free agents going to land? With an assist from Matt McEwan (MM) and Eric Thompson (ET), I set the odds.
2017 “Leftover” MLB Free Agent Odds
St. Louis: 5/1
Unsigned by March 1: 200/1
“Double E” is the best player left on the market, and multiple teams are interested. The Cardinals opened up their wallets to sign Dexter Fowler, but they still have some plastic available for a big bat who can play first base. St. Louis has been rumored to be in talks with Mark Trumbo, as well, and it is likely they’ll make a serious push for one of the two in the near future. Colorado is also still active in the market despite already made a big addition of its own (Ian Desmond). There are rumors of the team looking to trade center fielder Charlie Blackmon, or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, to allow Desmond to play in a position of comfort. This would also allow the Rockies to bring in another free agent slugger to play first base. Enter Edwin.
Financial capabilities have squandered the talks between Edwin and the AL’s top two teams from last season. Neither the Rangers nor Indians appear to have the money to reel-in an upper-tier free agent like Encarnacion. When Edwin and his agent turned down a four-year, $80 million contract from Toronto, the Jays made it clear they weren’t going to bend. The additions of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce have made a return to Toronto very unlikely. Ross Atkins won’t close the door on it, though. – MM
Unsigned by March 1: 8/1
The light-hitting Indians are keen to have Napoli (.239/.335/.465) back. The hurdle is contract length. Napoli wants a multi-year deal. The Indians want a one-year term because his age (35) is a major concern, even though he set career-highs in both home runs (34), RBIs (101), and games played (150) just last year.
Most years, it would be unthinkable that a 30-plus homer, 100-plus RBI guy would go unsigned before the mandatory reporting date. This year’s market is flooded with Napoli-like players. It’s possible that no one takes a chance on Napoli if he doesn’t show more flexibility on term.
St. Louis: 4/1
Unsigned by March 1: 100/1
As mentioned, the fact that mashers Encarnacion, Bautista, Napoli, and Trumbo are all still FAs means it’s a buyer’s market. Trumbo strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough, so he’s not going to fetch the same money as Encarnacion. That said, he led the AL with 47 homers last year and he’s a relatively youthful 30. An AL team makes more sense as a landing spot due to the DH spot and the incumbent Os know they need some big bats in the lineup to keep up with the Bo-Sox and Jays. The Cardinals are in the same boat as they have to keep pace with the Cubs in the years to come.
Unsigned by March 1: 15/1
The now 30-year-old catcher has spent his entire career with the Os. He was relatively healthy last season, playing 124 games (versus 101 combined in the two seasons prior) and his defensive play was decent (1.1 defensive WAR) but his batting numbers were down almost across the board (.243/.302/.409). He’s probably looking for something in the neighborhood of four years/$50 million. The Orioles need a catcher, but won’t be willing to pay that much. The Braves do, too, and he’s from Atlanta; the team isn’t making a big push for the local boy though.
While Wieters will likely stay on the market for a while, he’s not going to go unsigned. There’s a serious dearth of catchers available. Someone will snag the veteran.
St. Louis: 6/1
Unsigned by March 1: 7/1
Many of the same teams that are interested in Trumbo are likely interested in fellow first baseman Carter. That includes Baltimore, which needs to be prepared for Trumbo’s potential departure, but Carter would be a clear second (or maybe, like, fifth) choice. He is basically Diet Trumbo: he hit fewer home runs (41 vs 47), struck out more (206 vs 170), and had a lower average (.222 vs .256). He might be the last of the power-hitting FAs to sign. Still, 40 dingers is 40 dingers, and he won’t command Trumbo-like cash. He’ll find a home. The rarefied air of Coors Field could be a nice fit given that Colorado is lacking a real first baseman.
Kansas City: 11/2
Unsigned by March 1: 50/1
Looking at the free agent market, Alvarez finds himself positioned as one of the dominoes near the end of the stack. Any team that is interested in a big bat is currently in talks with either Edwin Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo. Once those two dominoes fall, the market for Alvarez will pick-up. However, he loses a lot of appeal due to his lack of defensive capabilities (no appearances in the field in 2016). And I doubt anyone believes the 250-pounder can play a corner outfield position, which is why there hasn’t been much interest from NL teams. If the O’s lose Trumbo, they’ll make a strong push to at least keep one slugger in town. If they wait too long, though, a team like Boston or Texas may swoop-in and lock up one of the cheaper sluggers. – MM
Chicago White Sox: 20/1
Unsigned by March 1: 100/1
Things went south for Bautista pretty quickly. Before the season, he appeared to be one of the prized free agents, coming off two straight seasons with an OPS over .900. But an injury-riddled 2016 has given clubs already squeamish about signing a 36-year-old a real reason to pause. The slugger wants a long-term deal, but with his years as a productive outfielder already behind him, that leaves only AL teams, or really down-on-their luck NL squads as suitors.
With some teams avoiding Bautista out of principle, and others worried about giving up a draft pick, it seems more and more likely that he’ll return to the Jays, tail between his legs, and hope their original offer is still on the table. – ET
Unsigned by March 1: 5/1
Unlike with the big-hitting infielders, Davis is one of few remaining FA outfielders. He upped his profile with some playoff heroics (that were ultimately for naught). Like with many of his free-agent counterparts, the biggest stumbling block in his negotiations is contract length. Davis wants more than one year; teams don’t. A return to Cleveland is the most likely scenario at this point, but his low price-tag makes the field the favorite. No one’s really priced out of his services.
Don’t be surprised if Davis doesn’t sign until after the mandatory reporting date, though. Light-hitting, average defensive outfielders just don’t attract the same fervor, seller’s market or otherwise.
Chicago Cubs: 5/1
San Diego: 7/1
Unsigned by March 1: 19/1
Former Padre Ross has the most talent of any pitcher left on the market (evidenced by the fact that he’s the only pitcher we bothered including here). The concerns surround his health. He’s coming off back surgery and has only made 30 starts three times in his seven-year career. There’s no clear frontrunner for Ross at this point. A lot of teams remain interested because his stuff is legit. Whatever deal he gets will be filled with incentives tied to durability.
Photo credit: Indiknits [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.