This article serves as a follow up to my first free agent matchmaker write up where I speculated on the best landing spots for the top five free agents on the market.
6) – Mike Moustakas (3B)
It is easy to look at the franchise record 38 home runs that Moustakas hit last year and automatically assume that he is going to strike it rich on the free agent market. After all, “Moose” is still just 29 years old, plays a serviceable 3B, and doesn’t have any major red flags in his game. Moustakas would slot nicely into the middle of just about any order and could move to designated hitter if his defense declines during the latter half of his contract.
With all this being said, why has there been such few suitors for Moose’s services this offseason? The answer has many parts. First, the market for power-hitting corner infielders/outfielders increasingly becomes more saturated as players with this power-focused skill set are a dime a dozen these days. Consider that 58 different corner infielders or outfielders eclipsed the 25 home run mark in 2017, while just 26 such players reached that mark just five years ago. Of course, 25 home runs is a rather arbitrary endpoint, but this fact nonetheless proves that the value provided by a power hitter is not as sought after as it once was.
Moustakas is not without his flaws either, as his free-swinging ways and heavy set body type might give teams pause as to whether he will maintain his value towards the back end of his contract.
The second major factor working against Moustakas is the dearth of contending teams in the market for a first baseman. When the offseason began, the Angels made perfect sense given their vacancy at the hot corner and the chance for Moose to return to play for his hometown team, but the Halos opted to sign Cozart and convert him to third base instead. The next best match was probably the Giants, but with Brian Sabean insistent on avoiding players who are tied to draft compensation, he decided to address the hole at 3B through trade instead.
With the top two suitors off the board, I believe the Braves and Cardinals are the most likely matches more Moustakas, but I am also not ruling out the possibility of a return to Kansas City.
On paper, it makes sense that the Braves would pursue an upgrade over Johan Camargo at third base, but sacrificing a draft pick in order to make this move might be too big of a pill for new General Manager Alex Anthopoulos to swallow, especially after he raved about top third base prospect Austin Riley during an interview at the Winter Meetings.
It is no mystery that the Cardinals are also intent on upgrading at the hot corner, but it seems as if Moustakas is nothing more than a contingency plan in the event that the Cards can’t swing a deal for sluggers Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado.
Considering all of this, I believe that the most likely scenario is that Moustakas remains unsigned well into the offseason before eventually returning to Kansas City. I can’t imagine that this scenario is what Moose envisioned when he was setting home run records this past season, but with seemingly all hitters possessing at least 20 homer power these days, the prodigal power that Moose has built his career is no longer as sought after as it once was.
The proliferation of sluggers is not the only reason the market for Moustakas is on the decline though. The Royals All-Star third baseman also lacks a disciplined approach at the plate, a skill set that is more valuable now than ever. To his defense, Moose is one of the few players who is actually better when employing his hyper-aggressive approach. Last season, Moose ranked in the top 10 in the MLB in O-Swing%, Total Swing%, and Z-Swing%. Put in simpler terms, he swung a lot regardless of location.
It is hard to argue with Moustakas’s free-swinging tendencies given his offensive production, but in an era where high on-base percentages lead to higher earnings on the free agent market, this might be another reason why the powerful third baseman will remain unsigned for a while.
Suitors: Braves, Royals, Cardinals
Final Destination: Royals
Contract: 4 years, 58 million
7) – Lance Lynn (SP)
Few pitchers in the MLB have fit the bill of a “workhorse” more than Lance Lynn in recent years. I know he missed the 2016 season with Tommy John, but that’s pretty much a given these days. Aside from the 2016 campaign, Lynn has started no fewer than 29 games per season in every year since 2012, eclipsing 200 innings twice and averaging 188 innings pitched per season. In an era where starting pitchers are more susceptible to injuries than ever, Lynn is a dying breed that could stabilize pretty much any rotation.
Lynn is more than just a reliable innings eater though. Over the last five seasons, his 3.37 ERA ranks just behind Carlos Martinez and just ahead of Justin Verlander in that timespan. While he is rarely mentioned with the league’s top-of-the-rotation starters, his consistent success over the last half decade makes him a very valuable commodity on the free agent market.
Despite this success, he is not exempt from the usual reservations teams generally have about signing a 30 year older starter to a long-term commitment. For one, despite a respectable 3.43 ERA in 2017, his peripheral numbers were more indicative of a pitcher who might be experiencing early stages of decline. Not only were his FIP and xFIP over a full run higher than his ERA in 2017, but he also lost some of his ability to miss bats.
Entering the 2017 season, Lynn’s K% of 22.7% was about 10% higher than the league average, but his ability to punch out hitters waned considerably last season as the husky right-hander’s K% fell to 20%. While this could be cause for concern for a guy recovering from Tommy John surgery, this decline may not necessarily represent a downward trend.
While Lynn’s strikeout totals fell, he actually experienced a spike in his SwStr%, a decline in Z-contact% and O-contact%, all of which suggests that his ability to induce whiffs remained constant, even if fewer of the whiffs he induced produced strikeouts.
Overall, there will always be a market for reliable starting pitchers so Lynn will surely have a number of teams in need of his services.
With playoff contenders such as the Mariners and Twins in desperate need of some consistency in their rotations, I would label these clubs the frontrunners to sign Lynn. With that being said, I would not count out Philadelphia, who also needs a veteran presence that can anchor their youthful starting rotation.
This is a tough one to predict simply due to the fact that Lynn would be the perfect fit for so many teams, but if I had to single out a team with the highest likelihood of signing Lynn, I would put my money on the Minnesota Twins.
Suitors: Twins, Phillies, Mariners, Brewers
Final Destination: Phillies
Contract: Four years, 60 million
8) – Jonathan Lucroy (C)
For the first half of the decade, Jonathan Lucroy was widely regarded as one of the top defensive backstops in the game, due in large part to his elite framing ability. As major league analytic departments developed metrics measuring the value of framing, this skill that was previously overlooked quickly became one of the most important measures of a catcher’s defensive ability. This development in analytics boosted Lucroy’s value more than any other player in the game and catapulted him to elite status amongst MLB catchers. While Lucroy regularly lead the league in advanced framing metrics, he was also one of the premier offensive catchers in the game.
All of that changed last season when Lucroy’s offensive game took a huge dive as he developed a contact-oriented approach that was devoid of his previous power. He also fell off in terms of framing, which was perhaps his most valuable asset. Many believe that the primary reason for his decline in framing was a loss of flexibility in his knees that prevented him from framing the low strike. All of this led Lucroy to be swapped for a player to be named later at the trade deadline a year after being the most prized trade piece during the 2016 deadline.
Lucroy recouped a small amount of his value after posting a wRC+ of 117 in Coors Field, but obviously, that offensive uptick will be taken with a grain of salt seeing as it occurred in Colorado.
There aren’t a ton of catching options on the free agent market, so a team will take a chance on Lucroy as he is just a year removed from being one of the premier backstops in the game. Arizona seems like a logical landing spot given their reliance on a trio of catchers lack season. The D’Backs have yet to show their cards this offseason, but bringing in what could be a premier catcher in a low risk, high reward move could add some veteran stability to a young pitching staff.
Final Destination: D’Backs
Suitors: Rockies, Athletics, D’Backs
Contract: Two years, 18.5 million
9) – Alex Cobb (SP)
Although the Cubs have been connected with Cobb for years now, I could see the Twins swoop in late to sign the veteran right-hander. The Twins are in need of some stability in their rotation and Cobb would fit nicely behind ace-in-waiting Jose Berrios and All-Star Ervin Santana.
Now I could see some Twins fans being against signing Cobb as he just came off a season in which he posted a career low K% given that the Twins as club ranked 29th in the majors in that category last season. Cobb also was able to keep the ball in the ballpark, giving up roughly one HR/9 innings last season en route to a 2.4 WAR.
Cobb threw 180 quality innings coming off an injury and would represent a low risk, stabilizing investment for a pitching staff that needs just that.
Final Destination: Twins
Suitors: Twins, Cubs
Contract: 3 years, 38 million
10) – Jay Bruce (RF/LF)
I have spoken at length in prior articles why Jay Bruce would be the perfect fit for the Giants, who are hellbent on competing in 2018. Despite hitting 36 home runs a year ago, Bruce will likely have to wait due to the saturation of power-hitting corner outfield types in the market. Despite it seeming like owners are collectively holding out on free agents to drive prices down, a player of Bruce’s caliber will find a home eventually, and I believe it will be at AT&T Park. Here is a snippet I wrote about Bruce in my article titled “Fixing the Worst Outfield in Baseball”:
“As a left-handed hitter moving to AT&T Park, fans shouldn’t expect him to approach the 36 home runs that he hit last season, but adding a veteran bat that can be slotted in after Posey and Longoria could give the Giants a much more feared middle of the order. Advanced fielding metrics are surprisingly favorable to Bruce as the perceived-to-be slow-footed outfielder had 6 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) last season and ranked above league average in UZR/150. Bruce would also get to play left field at AT&T Park, which is a much easier to ask than trying to navigate triples alley on the other side of the outfield.”
Final Destination: Giants
Suitors: Blue Jays, Orioles, Rockies, Royals, Giants
Contract: 3 years, 36 million