I know we are in the heart of the NFL season, heading towards the playoffs, for fantasy leagues as well. But as far as I’m concerned, the baseball season will begin on Sunday. That is when the Winter Meetings kick off in Nashville, Tennessee.
The World Series has passed, and the Award Season is over…(how Spencer Strider couldn’t even crack the top three in Cy Young voting is crazy), and now we are at the Winter Meetings which begins the Hot Stove Season.
And this year shapes up to be the most exciting offseason baseball has ever seen, with Shohei Ohtani hitting free agency. The NFL has lost Tom Brady, and now has Patrick Mahomes as the face of the league. They had Tom and Giselle, and now they have Travis and Taylor, but baseball has Ohtani.
Of course every offseason has its share of trades, and there’s already serious smoke around whether Juan Soto will get dealt by the Padres, but for the most part, free agency is the focus of every offseason. And this year is no different. And although a small handful of free agents have already signed, the vast majority are still available.
I’ve put together a list of one free agent per team who is the most intriguing heading into Sunday, the kickoff of the Hot Stove Season.
Toronto Blue Jays, 2B/OF Whit Merrifield
Merrifield is entering his age 35 season but has been one of the most reliable, consistent, and versatile players in the game. He’s been a double-double guy every season other than the COVID year, getting at least 10 HRs and 10 SBs. He’s a career .284 hitter who will definitely add a veteran presence to a contending team.
As great as it is for the Dodgers to have Mookie Betts who can play the infield, ideally they’d like to see him in RF everyday. Merrifield would look great in Dodger Blue at 2B, and adds another versatile player on their roster.
Baltimore Orioles, RHP Shintaro Fujinami
His major league career began terribly in Oakland, but after his trade to Baltimore he definitely showed signs of improvement. Although his 4.85 ERA with the Orioles still wasn’t anything to write home about, he improved his WHIP to 1.21, and he struck out over a hitter per inning. He has a live arm and won’t cost a team too much of a financial commitment. He’s a swingman who would be ideal for a mid or small market team like the Guardians.
Tampa Bay Rays, LHP Jake Diekman
Diekman is now a 12 year veteran. He’s a valuable lefty bullpen arm who has a career 3.82 ERA and has struck out 11.4/9IP. A baseball season consists of 1,458 innings, and the 60ish innings that Diekman provides can be the difference between making the playoffs and staying home for the postseason.
Boston Red Sox, LHP James Paxton
The Big Maple is a talented lefty who, when healthy, is one of the best in the game. He has a 64-38 career record with a 3.69 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. And he averages 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. His biggest problem is that he’s never pitched more than 160 innings. The Red Sox should re-sign him.
New York Yankees, RHP Frankie Montas
Montas was a disaster for the Yankees. In two seasons, he made eight starts. For his career, he is over .500 with a 37-35 record. He strikes out over a batter per inning and has a sub 1.30 WHIP and 4.00 ERA. Baseball is starving for pitchers. Montas won’t cost a ton and feels like the type of pitcher a team like the White Sox focuses on.
Cleveland Guardians, RHP Lucas Giolito
Giolito feels like he’s been around forever but he’s still only 29 years old. From 2019-21, he had three very solid years with the White Sox. The powerful righty went 29-21 with a sub 3.50 ERA. He struck out over 200 batters in the two non-COVID years. Last year was a disaster for him, playing on three different teams. There’s too much talent there for a team not to take a flyer on him. He feels perfectly suited for a team like the Mets who have money to spend on upside guys. The Mets have already snagged Luis Severino.
Kansas City Royals, 3B Matt Duffy
Duffy has already been on five teams. And at this point, the 33 year old is basically a journeyman. He hasn’t had over 400 ABs since 2018.
Detroit Tigers, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
What E-Rod did to the Tigers last season was awful. To his defense, the Tigers did structure his contract the way they did, allowing him to balk on the trade that was proposed this past year. He’s an extremely talented lefty who will have multiple suitors. He could be a very acceptable replacement for Blake Snell with the Padres, and be reunited with Xander Bogaerts.
Minnesota Twins, Kenta Maeda
Maeda missed the entire 2022 season. Last year he returned with a decent 4.23 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He has a career 65-45 record and is still a viable pitcher. Maeda decided to stay in the AL Central by signing a 2 year/$24 million deal with the Tigers.
Los Angeles Angels, DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani
What can I say? Even with his injury, he stands to be the highest paid player in history. He could choose to go in a couple different directions. He could opt for the traditional long term deal, or pursue a shorter deal with a much higher AAV. He’ll be 30 years old on July 5th. He probably wants a 10-12 yr deal, but that would take him into his age 39 to 41 seasons, and for all his greatness, he most likely would only be a hitter for much of the back end of that contract. A team will want to stay within eight years.
I can see a team trying all routes to snag him…either a short deal, no more than 3years/$150 to $180 million. Or a long term deal, no longer than nine years which gets him to age 38 at $47.5M/9 years. That gives him the highest AAV and highest overall deal, at $427,500,000, surpassing Mike Trout’s $426,500,000 deal.
Houston Astros, RHP Hector Neris
Neris is a high end reliever. He has 89 career saves, with a low career ERA and WHIP, and strikes out 11.2K/9IP. A team like the Phillies will snag Neris, a World Series contender with deep pockets who can afford to spend on a bullpen.
Oakland A’s, OF/2B Tony Kemp
Kemp has never panned out as the player he was projected to be. He seemed like a perennial double-double guy, with his speed, but the power never materialized. In 279 ABs in 2019, he had eight HRs. In 397 ABs in 2021, he had eight HRs. With 558 ABs in 2022, he only had seven HRs. He did surpass 10 SBs each of the last two seasons. He may as well stay in Oakland.
Seattle Mariners, OF Teoscar Hernandez
Hernandez is a very serviceable second tier outfielder. He’s had over 20 HRs each year since 2018 other than the COVID season. His 162 game averages are 84 runs, 32 HRs, 94 RBIs, 8 SBs and a .802 OPS. It would be great to see him reunited in Toronto with his former team.
Texas Rangers, LHP Jordan Montgomery
The Big Lefty has been one of the most reliable pitchers in the last three seasons. He’s made 30, 32 and 32 starts. And although he’s only been around a .500 pitcher throughout his career, he is a bit more than just an innings eater. Like Hernandez returning to Toronto, Montgomery returning to the Yankees is a great fit, especially since they just lost Severino.
Atlanta Braves, OF Eddie Rosario
Rosario is having a sneaky nice career for himself as he enters his age 32, 10th season. I never understood why the Twins would let him go, and then I never understood why Cleveland would let him go. I may be saying the same thing about the Braves. From 2017-19, he hit 83 HRs with 264 RBIs. He played in 57 out of 60 games during the 2020 COVID year, hitting 13 HRs. He had a down 2021 and an injured 2022 season, where he only played 80 games. But he rebounded nicely last season, hitting 21 HRs, with a .755 OPS. He’s a solid fit in Atlanta and should stay there.
Miami Marlins, OF Jorge Soler
Soler is the ultimate risk/reward player. At 31 years old this past season, he hit his second most HRs with 36. In his career, he hits a HR every 17.8 ABs. He has a decent .243 career avg and .800 OPS. When he gets 500-plus ABs he produces, but he’s only done that three times in his 10 year career. I’d love to see him attack the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
New York Mets, RHP Carlos Carrasco
Carrasco will be 37 years old next season and has a ton of wear and tear on his arm. In his three years in Queens, he sandwiched one solid season with a 15-7 record with two subpar injury filled years. I’ve said this about a few players, but I’d love to see him reunite with the team he started out with, in Cleveland, where he spent the first 11 years of his career.
Washington Nationals, 1B Dominic Smith
After playing his first six years with the Mets, he bolted for Washington and now finds himself as a free agent again. By this point, the 28 year old is what he is. In back to back seasons with 177 ABs, he hit 11 and 10 HRs, which lent to the thought that with more ABs there’d be more power. In 2021, he had 446 ABs and had…you guessed it, 11 HRs. Last season, he had a career high 527 ABs, and had a career high, 12 HRs. He feels like the Andrew Benintendi of the NL. He seems like he should be better, but just never is.
Philadelphia Phillies, 1B Rhys Hoskins
Hoskins is a bona fide, second tier superstar. He’s now entering his age 30 season and coming off a major injury. Add to that, with the advent of Bryce Harper at first base, Hoskins isn’t as great of a fit in Philadelphia. His 162 game stat line is quite impressive. He averages 95 runs, 36 HRs, and 98 RBIs with an .846 OPS.
Milwaukee Brewers, LHP Wade Miley
Miley is now entering his 14th season and has entered that stage of his career where he can be considered a wily veteran. He has a decent 4.06 ERA for his career and is 10 games over .500, with a 108-98 record. He’s the perfect candidate for a mid market team, and would be great for any NL Central rival to steer away from the Brewers.
St. Louis Cardinals, RHP Drew VerHagen
VerHagen definitely found something last season with the Cardinals, posting his best year in the Majors. In 60 relief appearances, he posted a 5-1 record, 3.98 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. And opponents only batted .226 against him.
Chicago Cubs, OF Cody Bellinger
Bellinger was only four years removed from his MVP season, but was in a terrible tailspin due to a series of nagging injuries. He left the confines of Dodger Stadium to find himself, and indeed he did. He posted his first 20-20 season, hitting 26 HRs and stealing 20 bases. He’s still only entering his age 28 season, and if you look at his 162 game breakdown, you’ll see a stat line of a superstar. He averages 98 runs, 33 HRs, 96 RBIs, 15 SBs and an .829 OPS. I know there’s talk that the Yankees are making a move to trade for Juan Soto, but that will cost a ton of prospects and a boatload of cash to keep him long term. Why not keep their prospects and pay far less for Bellinger?
Pittsburgh Pirates, OF Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen will be 37 years old and is on the back nine of his solid career. He came back to Pittsburgh after a six year hiatus, and it wasn’t just a ceremonial reunion. He added stability and leadership, as well as some decent numbers. He’s sitting on 299 HRs and is a borderline Hall of Famer. He’s had over double digit HRs in each of his 15 year career, including the COVID year. He has over 1,000 runs and RBIs to go with an .835 OPS. And he has over 200 SBs. He belongs in Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati Reds, 1B Joey Votto
Votto is definitely well past his prime. He was always a .300 hitter, but his last few seasons have brought him down to .294. And he hasn’t been close to .300 since 2017. He’s entering his age 40 season, and the only team that even makes sense is the Toronto Blue Jays if they want to sign the Canadian to possibly help with ticket sales, because it would be a sideshow signing.
Arizona Diamondbacks, OF Tommy Pham
All of a sudden, Pham is 36 years old. He’s had a few productive seasons, even posting two 20/20 years. And last year he had his third 20 stolen base season. Stability has been Pham’s biggest downfall. Not his stability, but the teams he’s been on. In three out of 10 seasons, he’s been traded mid-year. He can help a team without them having to break the bank.
San Francisco Giants, LHP Sean Manaea
He’s now 32 years old and is what he is. Manaea has never lived up to his potential but can still be a serviceable middle of the rotation arm. The Yankees have tried one former A’s starter, with Frankie Montas, they could try another one in Manaea.
San Diego Padres, LHP Josh Hader
The Padres also have the reigning Cy Young, Blake Snell, who is a free agent; but I think Hader is as much of a difference maker…if not more than Snell. His loss will be felt much more. He appeared in 61 games which matched his career high. He had a ridiculous 1.28 ERA and solid 1.10 WHIP. His career WHIP is below 1.00. He has a career 165 saves and is still a premier closer. Did I mention that he strikes out 15/9IP?
Colorado Rockies, LHP Brent Suter
Primarily used as a reliever for most of his career, in 243 games he’s had 41 starts. He could be considered a swing man, but I’d still say he’s a reliever. With the game evolving and starters going fewer and fewer innings, pitchers like Suter are becoming more and more valuable. He’s only two seasons removed from a 12-5 record, where he was used exclusively as a reliever.