Stay Away! 1 Free Agent Each MLB Team Should Avoid This Offseason
Jason Miller/Getty Images
The MLB playoffs are in full swing, but the offseason will arrive before we know it.
That means hot-stove speculation is lurking, too.
Let’s get a head start and examine one free agent each team should avoid. In making these determinations, we considered each club’s status as a buyer or seller, their roster needs and their financial constraints.
Credible rumors and actual offseason action are on the horizon, so this is all based on informed speculation.
Players with an opt-out clause weren’t tossed into the mix, since we don’t yet know whether they’ll be part of the free-agent pool.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Anibal Sanchez
The Baltimore Orioles finished with an MLB-worst 47-115 record. A tear-it-down rebuild is the only way to go.
At the same time, the O’s need to bolster a starting rotation that finished dead last in MLB with a 5.48 ERA.
Baltimore won’t sign a top-shelf ace such as lefty Patrick Corbin, but it could be tempted to pursue a lower-profile name such as right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who posted a 2.83 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 136.2 regular-season innings for the Atlanta Braves.
The counterpoint? Sanchez is 34 years old and posted a 6.41 ERA in 2017 with the Detroit Tigers. He’s exactly the type of buy-high veteran the Orioles should avoid.
Boston Red Sox: RHP Craig Kimbrel
Craig Kimbrel has made three All-Star appearances in his three seasons with the Boston Red Sox. His Beantown tenure has been an unmitigated success.
Should Boston re-sign the veteran closer? That’s less clear.
Kimbrel’s ERA ballooned from 1.77 in the first half to 4.57 after the break. He’ll turn 31 in May, which means any long-term deal will carry him into the years when relievers go from sure thing to “ruh roh.”
That said, Kimbrel is the top bullpen option on the market. Take the five-year, $86 million pact the New York Yankees gave Aroldis Chapman in December 2016 and go from there.
The Sox should extend a qualifying offer to Kimbrel, take the compensatory draft pick if and when he refuses and ink an experienced but less expensive name such as David Robertson instead.
New York Yankees: INF Manny Machado
Manny Machado is an excellent baseball player. Whichever team signs him this winter will become exponentially better with him in the fold.
The Yankees are the Yankees, so they will be mentioned in conversations regarding any marquee free agent, including Machado.
With that said, the Yanks would be much better spending their money elsewhere.
New York is set on the left side of the infield with shortstop Didi Gregorius and third baseman Miguel Andujar.
You can always make the “sign him and figure out where to put him” argument, but New York needs to allocate resources to its starting rotation before it even begins to think about splurging on a redundant superstar who could easily command north of $300 million.
Tampa Bay Rays: OF Carlos Gomez
The Tampa Bay Rays sold at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, yet they finished with 90 wins. They missed the playoffs but were the sneakiest unsung squad of 2018.
This winter, the Rays should be buyers within their small-market limitations, resisting the urge to deal top pieces such as budding ace Blake Snell and making ancillary additions.
Incumbent outfielder Carlos Gomez is a two-time All-Star and is set to test free agency. Should the Rays bring him back?
In a word: No.
Gomez slashed .208/.298/.336 last year. He turns 33 in December. The Rays count on unearthing diamonds in the rough, but Gomez is all rough.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Marco Estrada
Like the Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays are fluttering toward a full-on rebuild in the top-heavy AL East.
Marco Estrada was an All-Star in 2016 and a top-10 AL Cy Young Award finisher in 2015 for the Jays. In 2018, he posted a 5.64 ERA in 143.2 innings.
He turned 35 in July. As such, Estrada is a piece of Toronto’s past and not its future.
Hopefully the Blue Jays get the message and avoid any inkling to bring back old friends in favor of building around budding star and top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
American League Central
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Chicago White Sox: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
The Chicago White Sox’s rebuild took a step back when top pitching prospect Michael Kopech underwent Tommy John surgery.
The South Siders need to fill out their rotation. They could be tempted to sign a flawed-but-enticing pitcher to a longish contract, but that’s the wrong play for Chicago.
Consider Hyun-Jin Ryu. Yes, he posted a 1.97 ERA in 15 starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers and tossed seven shutout innings in his division series start against the Atlanta Braves. But he’ll also turn 32 in March and has wrestled with various injuries.
As tempting as it may be for the White Sox to roll the dice and attempt to accelerate their rebuild, patience and restraint are the operative words.
Cleveland Indians: 3B Josh Donaldson
Josh Donaldson was the AL MVP in 2015. He’s a three-time All-Star who was perhaps the best third baseman on the planet at the height of his powers.
After Donaldson limped through a dreary 2018 season with a lingering calf injury, the Cleveland Indians snagged him from the Blue Jays at the waiver deadline for a player to be named later.
In 60 regular-season plate appearances with the Tribe, Donaldson hit .280 with a .920 OPS and appeared rejuvenated.
He went 1-for-11 as the Red Sox swept Cleveland in the division series. Still, the Indians might be enamored with the notion of bringing him back via free agency.
The wet blanket: Donaldson turns 33 in December. Given his recent injury history and the distinct possibility of age-related decline, the budget-conscious Indians should steer clear.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Lance Lynn
Much like the White Sox, the Detroit Tigers are in full-on rebuild mode. Also like the White Sox, they have a ho-hum starting rotation that posted a 4.65 ERA and is riddled with question marks.
The Tigers could go shopping for a reclamation project to eat innings. Lance Lynn, an All-Star back in 2012, appears to fit that bill.
Lynn vacillated between mediocre and bad in 2018 en route to a 4.77 ERA. His more-respectable 3.84 FIP suggests a bounce-back is possible.
But he doesn’t make sense for a team that’s years away from contention.
Kansas City Royals: 3B Mike Moustakas
The Kansas City Royals re-signed third baseman Mike Moustakas to a one-year deal last winter, but they traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers when it became clear their season was a lost cause.
Might the Royals consider bringing Moose back this winter?
That seems irrational for a club that finished last in the AL Central and obviously needs to rebuild. But the Royals are keeping manager Ned Yost around despite their 2018 nosedive. As long as they’re being nostalgic, why not go for a Moustakas reunion?
For one, they need young players on the rise, not veterans who may have passed their apex. Secondly, Moustakas is a one-dimensional slugger with poor on-base abilities who won’t be the difference-maker for anybody in 2019.
Minnesota Twins: 1B Joe Mauer
Joe Mauer has put together a borderline Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Twins. He’s made six All-Star teams and won the AL MVP in 2009.
This season, he posted a .729 OPS with only six home runs in 127 games.
He’s mulling retirement but has yet to make a decision. If he decides to come back, should the Twins make the sentimental move and sign him?
After a surprise postseason appearance in 2017, Minnesota backslid this season and finished below .500. As painful as it is to say goodbye to a beloved former star, it’s time for Mauer and the Twinkies to part ways.
American League West
Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images
Houston Astros: C Matt Wieters
The Houston Astros need to acquire a catcher this winter. The troika of Brian McCann (.212 average), Max Stassi (.226 average) and Martin Maldonado (.231 average) didn’t cut it.
There are multiple options on the trade and free-agent fronts. One to avoid: Matt Wieters.
Yes, the 32-year-old is a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner. But he also hit .238 in a scant 76 games for the Washington Nationals in between extended disabled-list stints.
Wieters’ days as an elite backstop are behind him, so the Astros should shop elsewhere.
Los Angeles Angels: RHP Garrett Richards
Garrett Richards hasn’t pitched more than 76.1 innings (his 2018 total) since 2015. He’s been beset by an array of injuries and underwent Tommy John surgery in July.
So, why would the Los Angeles Angels bring him back?
Richards was once an emerging star for the Halos. They know his potential.
With that said, the Angels already have a Tommy John recovery project in two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani. It’s time to move on from Richards and let him become someone else’s buy-low gamble.
Oakland Athletics: C Jonathan Lucroy
The Oakland Athletics were the surprise team of 2018. They tallied 97 wins and grabbed an AL wild-card slot.
They should be buyers this winter despite their usual payroll constraints. At the same time, they should let veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy walk.
Say what you will about Lucroy’s two-time All-Star pedigree or his handling of Oakland’s young pitchers. The guy is entering his age-33 season and posted a .241/.291/.325 slash line.
Even on a short-term contract, he isn’t worth the Athletics’ limited dollars.
Seattle Mariners: DH Nelson Cruz
The Seattle Mariners boast the longest active playoff drought in the majors at 17 years and counting. It’s time for a new direction in the Pacific Northwest.
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz wasn’t part of the problem. He hit 37 home runs and made his sixth All-Star appearance.
Then again, Cruz turned 38 in July. The Mariners’ best move is to extend him the qualifying offer and, assuming he doesn’t accept it, reap the compensatory draft pick and seek power elsewhere.
Texas Rangers: 3B Adrian Beltre
Adrian Beltre hit a respectable .273 with 15 home runs in 119 games for the Texas Rangers last season. It’s possible he’s still got some gas left in his tank.
Assuming he doesn’t retire, Beltre will catch on somewhere with his veteran leadership and possible Hall of Fame credentials. It shouldn’t be with the Rangers, though.
Texas is a bottom-feeder in need of a rebuild. Youth and draft picks should be the priority, not a fading veteran in the twilight of his brilliant career.
National League East
Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press
Atlanta Braves: C Matt Wieters
The Atlanta Braves blossomed ahead of schedule and won the National League East behind a strong young core. A division-series defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers may have temporarily dampened their spirits, but this squad is on the rise.
They’ll be in the market for a catcher with Kurt Suzuki and Rene Rivers entering free agency.
Like the Astros, the Braves could be tempted by Wieters. There may be mutual interest considering Wieters hails from neighboring South Carolina.
However, the same injury and regression red flags apply, so Atlanta should go another route.
Miami Marlins: RHP Matt Harvey
Wouldn’t this be a classic Miami Marlins move?
Last winter, they dealt uber-slugger Giancarlo Stanton and possible NL MVP Christian Yelich, among others. This winter, they might look to add an arm to a starting staff that posted a 4.34 ERA.
What about Matt Harvey? He’s familiar with the NL East from his days with the New York Mets, and he showed flashes of being decent after a trade from the Mets to the Cincinnati Reds.
Someone should sign Harvey, assuming he’ll accept a short-term prove-it contract. But it shouldn’t be the Marlins, who have enough dysfunction as it is.
New York Mets: C Matt Wieters
Are we picking on Wieters? Maybe. But the Mets are another club that will hunt for catching this winter.
Wieters might look like an attractive target, as he has experience within the division and might be willing to take a short-term deal to rebuild his value.
But after another injury-riddled, also-ran season, New York needs to be moving toward youth and rebuilding, not rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.
His resume aside, Wieters is a deck chair.
Philadelphia Phillies: 2B Asdrubal Cabrera
Asdrubal Cabrera notched 23 home runs and 60 extra-base hits in 2018, solid numbers for a middle infielder.
After a trade from the Mets to the Philadelphia Phillies, however, he slashed a paltry .228/.286/.392 in 185 plate appearances. He also adds nothing on defense, as evidenced by his abysmal minus-17 DRS at second base.
The burgeoning Phils ought to pursue veteran bats to augment their youthful lineup. Given his notable limitations, Cabrera should be out of the running.
Washington Nationals: OF Bryce Harper
After years of anticipation, Bryce Harper is about to hit free agency. He’s a six-time All-Star who claimed NL MVP honors in 2015. And he turns 26 on October 26, which means he’s just entering his prime.
Despite hitting a so-so .249 in his contract year, Harper will surely garner interest from deep-pocketed suitors including the Yankees, Chicago Cubs and, well, basically anyone with two nickels to rub together. After all, he is a generational talent who swatted 34 homers and drove in 100 runs ths season.
So, why should the Washington Nationals let Harper go?
The Nats don’t have a bottomless budget, and the untold dollars it would take to win a Harper bidding war could cripple them financially. Plus, they have a budding star in 19-year-old outfielder Juan Soto ready to assume the franchise-player mantle.
National League Central
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Chicago Cubs: 2B DJ LeMahieu
Depending on how they handle Addison Russell’s 40-game domestic violence suspension, the Cubs could have a hole to fill at second base heading into 2019. If so, they may look to fill it with DJ LeMahieu, a plus defender who won a batting title in 2016.
Now, for the fly in the ointment: The 30-year-old posted woeful home-away splits with the Colorado Rockies.
In games played outside the confines of Coors Field in 2018, LeMahieu hit .229 with a .698 OPS.
Even factoring in his solid glove work, that should give pause to any club toiling below mile-high altitude.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Matt Harvey
We discussed the fall and modest rise of Matt Harvey, who left the Mets in disgrace and went 7-7 with a 4.50 ERA with the Reds. Not great, but certainly respectable.
“We definitely will stack Matt up against the available options,” Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams told reporters. “The fact that he’s been here and we’ve seen how he interacts with our coaches and our players will certainly work in his favor.”
Working against his favor: the fact that Cincinnati is not close to contention in the NL Central and should be focused on youth over wobbly, baggage-toting veterans.
Milwaukee Brewers: 3B Mike Moustakas
The Brewers have charged into the National League Championship Series, and they’ve brought trade pickup Mike Moustakas with them.
Moustakas contributed to the cause, with eight home runs in 54 regular-season games for the Brew Crew. And he adds valuable postseason experience to the roster.
Milwaukee’s highest priority this winter, however, should be signing a bona fide ace to front its rotation.
If there’s money left over and Moustakas is willing to return on an affordable one-year deal, fine. But the Brewers should place him low, low on their list even if he helps them hoist a Commissioner’s Trophy.
Pittsburgh Pirates: INF Jordy Mercer
According to Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic, the Pittsburgh Pirates could “give a long look” at re-upping infielder Jordy Mercer for 2019. If so, it probably wouldn’t be on a large contract.
Then again, the Bucs are a spendthrift organization stuck between gears. They traded ace Gerrit Cole and outfielder Andrew McCutchen last winter but acquired veteran right-hander Chris Archer from the Rays at the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline.
After a distant fourth-place finish, the Pirates should commit to a rebuild. Bringing back the 32-year-old Mercer doesn’t align with that strategy.
St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Adam Wainwright
No one disputes Adam Wainwright’s place in St. Louis Cardinals history. Four top-10 Cy Young Award finishes and a 3.03 career ERA in 89 postseason innings cemented his legacy.
He’s battled multiple injuries in recent years, however, and turned 37 years old in August.
The Cards could contend next season. They nearly made the playoffs this year despite firing manager Mike Matheny in July and selling at the deadline.
Unfortunately, nostalgia aside, Wainwright isn’t a part of St Louis’ future.
National League West
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Arizona Diamondbacks: OF A.J. Pollock
Since hitting his apex in 2015, A.J. Pollock has battled a raft of injures and hasn’t played in more than 113 games in any subsequent season.
When he did play last season, he slashed .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs and 13 stolen bases. He’s going to command significant years and dollars from someone.
It shouldn’t be the Arizona Diamondbacks, who missed the playoffs in 2018 and will be looking to spend their capital on pitching this offseason, either bringing back ace Patrick Corbin or signing his replacement.
Colorado Rockies: LHP Zach Britton
The Colorado Rockies signed Wade Davis to the richest-ever per-year relief-pitcher contract last winter. Despite that, Colorado’s bullpen finished 26th in the game with a 4.62 ERA.
The Rockies may be tempted to double down on that strategy and sign another top-tier reliever. If so, they should avoid Zach Britton.
Yes, the lefty rebounded from injury to post a 3.10 ERA in 40.2 innings between the Orioles and Yankees. But his 4.22 FIP is a blinking warning light, as are his 4.6 walks per nine innings.
Los Angeles Dodgers: SS/3B Manny Machado
The Los Angeles Dodgers rented Manny Machado at the trade deadline in hopes of winning their first title since 1988. They’re back in the National League Championship Series; so far, so good.
Whether or not they hoist a Commissioner’s Trophy, they might be tempted to enter the Machado sweepstakes this winter.
Really, though, it would make little sense. Assuming Corey Seager returns healthy next season, the Dodgers are set on the left side of the infield with Seager at shortstop and Justin Turner at third.
Los Angeles always has money to spend, but it needs to aim its focus on other matters—including Clayton Kershaw’s looming, likely opt-out.
San Diego Padres: SS/3B Manny Machado
The San Diego Padres may have a need at shortstop next season and they could use a big bat. That said, they should also stay away from Machado, albeit for very different reasons.
Last offseason, the Friars signed first baseman Eric Hosmer to a franchise-record eight-year, $144 million deal.
Hosmer finished with minus-0.1 WAR.
That’s not to say Machado would similarly fail to produce. But the Padres aren’t close to contending. This isn’t the time to hand out another gaudy contract.
Instead, they should develop cost-controlled talent and bolster a farm system that’s already ranked No. 1 in the game by Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter.
San Francisco Giants: OF Adam Jones
The San Francisco Giants added veteran pieces last winter in an effort to make one more magical, even-year run.
Instead, they finished in fourth place and fired general manager Bobby Evans.
With key players such as catcher Buster Posey and left-hander Madison Bumgarner in the fold, San Francisco could again seek to retool. Outfielder Adam Jones, a respected veteran and five-time All-Star, seems like precisely the type of player the Giants would covet.
Then again, inking a declining player entering his mid-30s would be fruitless.
San Francisco is at a crossroads, and it’s time to take the painful-but-necessary road less traveled.