Spring training is underway and the regular season is set to begin in only a few short weeks. But the free-agent market is still far from bare, as several familiar faces have yet to sign new contracts and could still find new homes in the coming days.
We took a look at the five most intriguing names available and tried to determine their best landing spots.
Los Angeles Dodgers: A late re-emergence in the Harper sweepstakes has added a little life into the most interminable offseason story. The Dodgers have made the World Series in consecutive years but came up short both times, and simply reaching the biggest stage is no longer acceptable. It’s championship-or-bust time, and signing the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player at least shows a clear intent to win now, and later. That 2015 season has set expectations impossibly high for Harper, so it’s easy to be disappointed if he doesn’t put up Herculean numbers. Look beyond the batting average last season, though. Despite hitting just .249, Harper put up a .393 OBP, swatted 34 home runs, and stole 13 bases. The Dodgers already cleared salary and roster spots by trading away Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, and the A.J. Pollock signing shouldn’t prevent targeting Harper. The only hitch – beyond creating a luxury-tax squeeze – is top outfield prospect Alex Verdugo would likely become expendable, but that’s an easy pill to swallow. – Wilson
Philadelphia Phillies: By now, everyone has heard the infamous quote from Phillies ownership, in which John Middleton said his team planned to spend a “stupid” amount of money this winter. That was over three months ago, and while the Phillies have made splashes, they have been outspent by the Dodgers, San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and Minnesota Twins, according to Spotrac. As of this moment, Nick Williams is slated to be an everyday outfielder for a team with playoff aspirations in a difficult division. Opening the wallet for Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson while making trades for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura is nice, but to fall short when they had a chance at landing a generational talent? C’mon, Philly. – Bradburn
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have done a nice job building a rotation essentially from scratch this offseason, acquiring Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark via trade. And, while anything is an improvement from the rotation they trotted out the previous two seasons (5.28 ERA and 5.13 FIP since 2017), it’s not good enough to compete in the NL Central. Adding expert ground-ballist Keuchel would bring them one step closer and solidify a rotation which currently sees Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Mahle, and Sal Romano competing for the fifth and final spot. The lineup is good enough, so Cincinnati might get that wild-card berth if it adds one more piece to the rotation. – Bradburn
San Diego Padres: Yes, the Padres already went out and spent big on Manny Machado. That solved the team’s most pressing concern, as the hot corner was a bit of a wasteland in 2018. Now, the starting rotation needs help, and Keuchel is the best option available. The Padres’ farm system is overflowing with pitching talent, including MacKenzie Gore, Logan Allen and more, but their major-league arrivals are uncertain and their ability to immediately perform is hardly a guarantee. They need a player like Keuchel. Adding Machado suggested a commitment to contend sooner rather than later, and an experienced hurler with a strong pedigree in a pitcher-friendly park only helps those efforts. – Wilson
Atlanta Braves: The Braves don’t exactly need a new closer with A.J. Minter and Arodys Vizcaino manning the back end of the bullpen, but Kimbrel is a different beast. He has more saves than any active pitcher (333), a career ERA of 1.91, and is only a season removed from striking out 16.4 batters per nine innings. And as good as he was with the Red Sox, his numbers were even more ridiculous with the Braves. This isn’t about nostalgia, though, as the Braves are entering a contention window in earnest. With young stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman anchoring the lineup, and plenty of starting pitchers on the horizon, adding the best closer of a generation would go a long way toward capturing the top spot in the competitive NL East. – Wilson
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox have a lot of looming financial questions. Xander Bogaerts and Chris Sale are among the players able to test free agency next winter, and Mookie Betts is up following the 2020 season. From the get-go, Kimbrel hasn’t seemed to be in the team’s plans going forward, as the front office opted to retain nearly everyone else from the championship roster, including Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce, and promptly exceeding the luxury-tax threshold once again. The financial situation might not be perfect, but the Red Sox are already above the tax and should just go for it. Do the defending World Series champions really want Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier pitching in the ninth inning? The Yankees are breathing down their necks and the Tampa Bay Rays look as though they will do some damage, as well. Boston has won the division every season since trading for Kimbrel and shouldn’t jeopardize that streak to save a few dollars. – Bradburn
Chicago White Sox: They missed out on Machado because they apparently didn’t want to guarantee him $300 million, which the Padres did. And now, they’re apparently unwilling to make a run at Harper. There’s no way around it, this doesn’t look great. However, the silver lining is the White Sox don’t have to settle for only Jon Jay, Yonder Alonso, and Kelvin Herrera. Chicago can bolster its outfield with a five-time All-Star in Jones. The 33-year-old isn’t what he once was – a four-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder – but the charismatic star can certainly improve a unit that ranked last in baseball in 2018 with a truly abysmal .282 on-base percentage. – Bradburn
Cleveland Indians: The Indians – the presumed favorites in the American League Central – have a problem in the outfield. It’s possible they’ll enter the season with the trio of Leonys Martin, Tyler Naquin, and Greg Allen as the starters, with non-roster invitee Matt Joyce having an outside chance at usurping a spot. Jones would represent an upgrade, even if his skills are diminishing. The team refused to even try to retain Michael Brantley, and Jones is a more cost-effective (read: cheaper) option. And other than last year when his power evaporated, he’s consistently been a threat to hit around 25 home runs each season. With the Central being as weak as it is, this would also give Jones another realistic shot at playoff glory. – Wilson
Oakland Athletics: A reunion in Oakland would be a mutually beneficial arrangement for Gonzalez and the Athletics. Over his final two seasons with the A’s, the lefty established himself as a workhorse – a reputation that has stuck over the intervening years, as he has only once thrown fewer than 170 innings. At 33 years old and coming off one of his more inconsistent campaigns, teams have been slow on the draw, which could benefit the cash-strapped A’s. While Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, and Brett Anderson likely represent the end of Oakland’s moves, Gonzalez could slot in nicely in place of fifth starter Frankie Montas. He’s the perfect stopgap while Sean Manaea works his way back from Tommy John surgery and Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk get a little more seasoning in the minors. – Wilson
Seattle Mariners: Jerry Dipoto loves making trades, and there is perhaps no better move to make right now than signing a veteran left-hander who can be flipped at the deadline for some sort of prospect. The Mariners are not going to be competitive, but they’re also not tanking. Plus, the 33-year-old southpaw was dominant down the stretch as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, posting a sterling 2.13 ERA over five starts after being traded by the Nationals for two minor-leaguers. Gonzalez would slot nicely into the back end of a Seattle rotation which currently features Yusei Kikuchi, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, rookie Justus Sheffield, and the ghost of Felix Hernandez. – Bradburn