We have entered some kind of phantom zone of the offseason, where nothing is happening, save the stray signing of Colby Rasmus by the Rays earlier today. So let’s take a moment to look at the best players left on the free agent market at every position, and why they’re still stuck.
If your GM is still shopping at this point, it must feel like they’re at the second day of a garage sale, after it’s been picked over and the good stuff is all gone. Still, there are some useful guys out there, though none that are likely to be stars in 2017.
Catcher - Kurt Suzuki
In three years in Minnesota, Suzuki hit .263/.316/.364 with 16 homers, which is an 88 OPS+, and is pretty good for a catcher. When you limit his playing time to keep him fresh, he responds with a pretty ok offensive performance. You’d think that would be in demand, but Suzuki’s defensive skills are very much in question in an era where pitch framing is highly valued. He’s unlikely to get more than a one-year deal, perhaps back in Oakland or in Colorado.
First Base - Mike Napoli
Napoli hit more than 30 homers last year for the AL Champs. A return to Cleveland was effectively blocked by the Tribe’s acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion. At this point, he’s a Chris Carter-type with more patience and better defense, and at 35 he is likely to have to settle for another one-year contract. He was last connected with the Rangers in late December, but there hasn’t been a peep in the last week and a half.
Second Base - Chase Utley
Utley, who hit .252/.319/.396 last year, is a shadow of his former self, especially in a league where the offensive output of second basemen has skyrocketed. It’s really hard to see a fit out there for him right now, unless he’s willing to serve as a backup. But, even then, with 13 man pitching staffs and his inability to handle shortstop, he’s an imperfect utility guy.
Shortstop - Daniel Descalso
This speaks to how utterly bereft the shortstop market was and is this offseason. Descalso had a surprisingly good 2016 as a utility guy in Colorado. He’s likely to find a one- or two-year deal in the same role somewhere.
Third Base - Luis Valbuena
Valbuena’s weird career path has stalled somewhat this offseason. In two years in Houston, he slugged 38 homers and hit .238/.329/.446 and seemed to establish himself comfortably as a two-win player. In a just world, he would have signed somewhere by now, but the third base market has stalled for the second straight year, and tweeners like Valbuena are getting squeezed. He could be a valuable corners-only utility player who gets deployed against righties.
Left Field - Michael Saunders
A strong start (.298/.372/.551 and 16 homers in the first half) propelled Saunders to the All Star Game in 2016, but his dismal (.178/.282/.357) second half and lengthy injury history is likely scaring teams away from a long commitment. Toronto and Baltimore are still the most likely landing spots for him, and he’s going to start on opening day.
Center Field - Angel Pagan
The center field market has been picked almost clean, with Pagan really the best option still out there. He’s got a league-average bat, but his defensive skills have atrophied to the point where he’s likely stretched in center. Only the really desperate, like the Tigers, should view him as an option there.
Right Field - Jose Bautista
Whoever signs Joey Bats is going to lose a draft pick, which is definitely dragging down the market of the 36 year old, who missed time with injuries in 2016. His declining health and defense are particularly worrisome, but he likely will wind up in Toronto or Baltimore when the dust settles. Still, I think we’re all rooting for him to be a Ranger.
Designated Hitter - Mark Trumbo
Am I cheating? I’m probably cheating. Trumbo played right field for most of 2016. But he played it like a DH. Power is really Trumbo’s only plus skill, but it’s a great one to have. With a return to Baltimore seeming unlikely, it’s looking more and more like someone’s going to get a relative bargain. But they will have to surrender a draft choice for it.
Starting Pitcher - Jason Hammel
We thought the Cubs did Hammel a solid and let him become a free agent at the end of 2016, but he’s barely gotten a nibble. He’s a league average starter who has made 90 starts over the last three years and we haven’t seen a drop in velocity, so it’s a little unclear what the hold-up is. There’s a report that no one wants to go more than a year for him, which seems ridiculous. Someone is going to pony up that second year and get a hell of a deal.
Relief Pitcher - Joe Blanton
God help us, nobody expected this, but Blanton has effectively remade himself into a reliever over the last two years and is one of the last really good relievers left standing, depending on how you feel about Neftali Feliz. Now that all the big players are off the board, Blanton’s market should really start to heat up, and he should merit a multi-year deal somewhere shy of what Ryan Madson got last year.