Pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training in less than a month. Players will show up about a week later before Spring Training kicks off on February 22. As was witnessed by the slow starts by guys like Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, Spring Training is important, and holding out for the ideal contract may cost free agents valuable parts of the regular season.
There are several notable free agents outside of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but the problem for these free agents is that their market is dictated by these two. If the guys who are currently a tier below them continue to push their free agency along, it could impact their regular season production which gives teams less of an incentive to pay them. It also means that this season will once again have a few cases of players who have a decent track record underperforming for the first one or two months of the season.
Life as the best remaining pitching asset has not been kind to the southpaw who is the rare groundball specialist in the game today. However, Keuchel has probably been wishing that he had hit free agency after his 2015 Cy Young campaign rather than a 2018 season that saw him go 12-11 and be the fourth-best pitcher on a loaded staff. Keuchel’s biggest competition, Patrick Corbin, seems to have signed ages ago, and the longer he stays on the market, the more likely it is that he won’t get the deal he wants. However, Keuchel is a valuable addition to whichever team he chooses as he finally stayed healthy for an entire season and pitched over 200 innings while starting a career-high 34 games. The main factors that will concern teams will be his rising walk total, he set a career-high by walking 58 batters, his 18 home runs surrendered, and a WHIP that went from 1.12 two years ago to 1.31 this past year. The most concerning stat may be his hard contact percentage which was 28.1% last season which means that he is being barreled up at one of the highest rates in baseball. The things that weigh in his favor are his 3.74 ERA that he accumulated despite lots of negative statistics (although he was slightly unlucky with his defense as his FIP sits at 3.69). His durability seems to be back as well which projects well for his contract negotiations after he saw 2016 and 2017 shortened by a series of injuries. His velocity also rose slightly after declining for the past few seasons which means that he should be able to maintain a high-80s low-90s fastball to pair with his changeup and slider which also gained some velocity.
Although his market does seem to be limited by the number of teams willing to foot his bill, he seems likely to sign somewhere very soon as there are more reports that are linking him to teams as of late.
Predicted landing spot: Milwaukee Brewers (would it be too much to ask the Texas Rangers to sign him)
This is a great fit because Milwaukee desperately needs an ace, and Keuchel could prove himself as the anchor of a rotation that could benefit from the change of pace he brings, much like they did with Wade Miley last year.
Unfortunately for Pollock, he is caught in the same middle ground as Moustakas and Keuchel. He is not the best option on the open market, but he is a downgrade from Harper which means that teams looking to sign him are waiting to see what Harper gets. It was also reported that he was seeking a contract similar to the pact that Lorenzo Cain signed with the Brewers a year ago. Not to rain on Pollock’s parade, but Cain is better in almost every aspect of the game and is more durable than the injury-plagued Pollock. Personally, I would max out an offer for Pollock at three years/$50 million because of age and the durability question. Pollock has only played a full season in two years out of his entire career, 2013 (137 games) and 2015 (157 games). Since 2015, he has maxed out at 113 games which he played in last season. Pollock is also below-average when it comes to defense as he has a below-average arm for a center fielder and his range is also below-average. His arm score is -5.2 and his UZR comes in a -0.9. What that means is that he has a poor arm for center field and that his range is no longer at its 2015 highs before injuries derailed his career. His value really comes in at the plate where he posted an OPS of .800 (good enough for an OPS+ of 106) in only 113 games. He also managed to steal 13 bases to go along with 21 homers and 65 RBI in an injury-shortened campaign.
At this point in his career, teams will be paying for a guy that they pray will stay healthy, but a solid offensive player who drops off on defense. That shouldn’t dissuade teams, but he may be better served playing left field given his defensive liabilities and offensive prowess.
Predicted landing spot: Chicago White Sox (another player I wish my Rangers would sign, so they could finally move on from Delino DeShields)
The White Sox are looking likely to lose Avisail Garcia in free agency which means that they need a guy that they can plug into one of their outfield spots. He will also offer a great starting center field option in the place of Adam Engel who is the complete reverse of Pollock.
Moustakas is very similar to Pollock in the regard that his market is being defined by another superstar, this time it’s Machado. The positive thing is that Moustakas seems to have landing spots lined up, if reports are to be believed. Similar to Pollock, Moustakas is a candidate who is more likely to get better production at the plate rather than the field. His defensive metrics did rebound this past season, but his UZR is only at 1.0 meaning his range isn’t all that great. He is still very competent when it comes to fielding, but he will be limited by his mobility at the hot corner. The other negative part of his game is the decline he saw in his OPS this past season as it dropped about 60 points from 2017. Again, he took a long time to sign and got off to a very cold start before he got back into top form playing around May. The best value will come from his ability to hit for power and drive in runs while limiting strikeouts. This past season he hit 28 home runs, drove in 95, and only struck out 103 times, which is only the second time in an eight-year career that he eclipsed 100 strikeouts in a season. He managed to compile these numbers in both leagues which demonstrates an ability to function in either league, and he is one of the most underrated, consistent free agent options still available, although his price tag could deter certain teams from making a stronger play for his services.
Predicted landing spot: San Diego Padres (another guy I wish would fill the black hole at third base for the Rangers)
Following the sale of Christian Villanueva overseas to Japan, the Padres desperately need a third baseman. He would also be reuniting with former teammates Eric Hosmer and Matt Strahm. He would add some significant pop to a lineup that seems devoid of it at times, and offer another steady veteran presence for a franchise bristling with young talent in the minor leagues.