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Inside Baseball | Destinations for top-25 free agents-to-be

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 07: Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) crosses the plate after hitting a home run during the MLB interleague game between the National League St. Louis Cardinals and the American League Kansas City Royals on August 7, 2017 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

Eric Hosmer didn’t get off to the best of starts in his walk year, but as has been the case throughout his brief career, it’s been some kind of finish for him. He probably won’t end up in the World Series this year, but it should be a very lucrative winter for him.

While some inside the game are predicting another rough offseason for “corner hitters,” Hosmer, his teammate Mike Moustakas and the red-hot J.D. Martinez should still do extremely well.

Hosmer, with an all-around game, speed and several ways to beat you, seems especially beloved as we head toward the winter. While his defensive metrics aren’t great, to a man, baseball executives say that first base metrics are unreliable and that Hosmer is a fine-or-better defender.

We will attempt to do something that shouldn’t be tried at home (or even here, really) in predicting where each free agent will land. Of course, it’s an impossible game, and until the trading game is complete, no one really knows, of course. (Could anyone have predicted the Indians would sign Edwin Encarnacion last year?)

We’ve already adjusted our top-60 free agents from a few weeks ago to move Hosmer to the top. Between his hot second half, seemingly universal popularity and the possibility of a big-market derby, Hosmer is our new leader, with Martinez also moving up, and Yu Darvish, who’s been struggling with the others in Dodgerland (9.49 ERA over his last three starts heading into Wednesday), moving down.

Here is a look at a new top-25, and where they could wind up, with the many fine, non-closing relievers not included, as a dartboard would be needed to guess their new teams.

(*Shohei Otani has his own separate category under MLB since he will be restricted financially by the new CBA rules as a 24-year-old.)

1. Eric Hosmer, Royals 1B. Could he possibly benefit from a Yankees-Red Sox battle? It isn’t out of the question. Boston seems like an obvious choice. But how about the Yankees? They are talking about trying to get below the luxury tax threshold, will need pitching and still seem to hope that Greg Bird will overcome his myriad injuries and become a dependable first-base solution.

“They could be in play,” one person close to the team said.

But the Yankees are said to love Hosmer, who brings the kind of clutch and leadership they seek. Though, one person with ties to the team suggested they’d give Bird a chance, and Yankees people say they are indeed endeavoring to get below the luxury tax threshold (which could mean waiting for the even bigger stars next winter, such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and others).

The Royals are believed to have Hosmer at the top of their list of five big free agents (the other four follow on this list, as well), and while he would seem to be beyond their price range, the Royals surprised us before by signing Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy to lucrative long-term deals.

Hosmer entered play Thursday hitting .328 with 24 homers and 85 RBIs. He’s hitting .450 this month, and has turned a .500 OPS on April 25 into a .910 OPS today.

Best guess: Red Sox, Royals, Yankees

2. Jake Arrieta, Cubs SP. It’s harder to guess with a pitcher, especially one who’s expected to find a new team such as Arrieta. His big second half before going down with a calf injury should mean he’s priced out for several teams. He’s certainly been pretty good at Dodger Stadium in the past, so that could be a possibility. The big question is who’ll get more between Arrieta and Darvish, and here are the key factors:

Darvish is seen as having better stuff and an international following, while Arrieta has come up bigger in big games, has fewer innings as a pro counting even Arrieta’s first career in Japan and never has had major arm surgery.

Best Guess: Dodgers, Rangers, Cardinals.

3. Yu Darvish, Dodgers SP. It’s believed it won’t be his old Rangers team, and he’s been seen as just a rental with the Dodgers (while Clayton Kershaw can opt out after next year, it’s hard to see him leaving).

Best Guess: Red Sox, Cardinals, Mariners.

4. J.D. Martinez, Diamondbacks OF. Arizona is expected to try to keep the mid-year pickup that has absolutely raked for them (22 home runs since going there with a 1.080 OPS compared to 1.018 mark in Detroit), and he’s said recently that he’d like to return. And while their revenues would suggest he’s likely to wind up elsewhere (and obviously beloved home-grown Paul Goldschmidt has to be their priority), let’s not forget they did find the loot to beat the Dodgers and Giants by about $40 million for Zack Greinke. He’s actually had the best year of all the free agents, and that’s saying something considering Hosmer and Moustakas, but the big issue for him is that his type has underperformed in recent markets.

Best Guess: Diamondbacks, Giants. The Giants are desperately in need of an outfielder, as we all know. 

5. Mike Moustakas, Royals 3B. He’s also had a big walk year, and the all-time prep record-holder for dingers may be coming into his own. While the Red Sox appear to have found their third baseman in the precocious Rafael Devers, there are two obvious big-market teams that are expected to be clamoring for a third baseman. One is the Angels, who have been connected to the L.A. product Moustakas for a year now. The other is the Giants, who are giving old friend Pablo Sandoval a virtual tryout this month. Considering the Giants’ wherewithal, desire to win and hope for more power, they seem to be the fashionable guess.

“The Giants will be all over (Moustakas),” predicts one rival.

Best Guess: Giants, Angels, Yankees.

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) rounds third base after hitting a solo home run during a MLB game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals, June 02, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, MO. The Royals won, 4-0. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

6. Justin Upton, Angels OF. He wasn’t included on this list last time as the thinking was that he wouldn’t leave $90 million on the table for an outside chance to get more. And even now, as one rival exec says, “It’s a large risk for a medium reward.”

However, his big finish has us thinking he may now be leaning toward opting out. The Giants are believed to like him. He’s believed to much prefer the West Coast, and one person familiar with the situation suggested he believed the Angels were his first choice last time. His no-trade lists generally have been populated by East Coast teams, so Anaheim/LA/SF make sense. The way he’s going, he could get an extra year. But leaving might be a bit of a surprise at this point.

Best Guess: Angels, Giants.

7. Alex Cobb, Rays SP. The Rays tried twice previously to sign Cobb, but he’ll have better options, and they have more pitching coming. He’s come up big in his walk year and should have several fine options.

Best Guess: Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees (Cobb has ties to both LA president of baseball ops Andrew Friedman and Chicago manager Joe Maddon)

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8. Wade Davis, Cubs closer. The Cubs seem to like closers on short-term deals, so presumably he will have better choices elsewhere.

Best Guess: Angels, Cardinals

9. Greg Holland, Rockies closer. He will surely not exercise his new $15 million option and will instead likely decide to become a free agent after his third 40-save season, but he and the Rockies appear to be in a lovefest. He has a great rapport with pitching coach Steve Foster, bullpen coach Darren Holmes and others already. The Nats came close last time, but the Rockies could keep him.

Best Guess: Rockies, Angels, Cardinals.

10. Lance Lynn, Cardinals SP. The Cardinals have more pitching coming, so it’s hard to see them outbidding others, and his solid season has put him in a pretty good position. A mid-market team like the Mariners could make sense, so perhaps he joins his old rotation-mate there.

Best Guess: Mariners, Rangers, Red Sox.

11. Lorenzo Cain, Royals OF. Yet another top Royals free agent, he should do well off another exceptional year. Though, the expectation is that he will do better elsewhere.

“He’s gone,” said one person familiar with past negotiations, which ended with the sides far apart.

Joc Pederson has struggled this year, so maybe L.A. could work. With Carlos Gomez a free agent, perhaps Texas could find a spot for him. 

Best Guesses: Dodgers, Rangers.

12. Carlos Santana, Indians UTIL. The Indians would love to have him back (more on that here). But with his big second half, he should not be hurting, even if the corner bat market continues to be depressed. The man they call Slamtana is very versatile, being a switch hitter who can bat leadoff or cleanup (or play the outfield or third in a pinch). The Indians appreciate those traits.

Best Guess: Royals, Indians. 

13. Jason Vargas, Royals SP. The very serviceable pitcher has had a very nice walk year. With all their rotation issues, the Angels will be looking for help this winter.

Best Guess: Pirates, Blue Jays

14. Zack Cozart, Reds SS. It’s a wonder they never found a trade for him (I should say another trade for him since one they had with Seattle was canceled). Shortstop is a funny spot. Is it possible that he could wind up going back there on a short deal?

Best Guess: Reds, Diamondbacks.

15. Jay Bruce, Indians OF. He performed great in New York, and is coming up big in a pennant race. Terrific player. The only question is the corner outfield market.

Best Guess: Orioles, Phillies.

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 18: Cleveland Indians right fielder Jay Bruce (32) watches the progress of his two-run home run in the first innng during a Major League baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals, August 18, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

16. Jonathan Lucroy, C. He’ll probably be best served re-setting following an uncharacteristic year. With Welington Castillo possibly opting out, how about Baltimore as a good place to do it?

Best Guess: Orioles, Rockies

16. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies OF. Some saw it as a mistake for him to turn down a four-year Rockies suggestion, but he wasn’t anxious to be a free agent in his mid-30s, which is understandable. He still could wind up taking a one-year deal to reset, as Adrian Beltre once did in Boston. But CarGo may wind up doing fine after rediscovering his swing/grip.

Best guess: Phillies, Orioles. (Citizens Bank Park and Camden Yards aren’t bad places to re-set if he decides to go that way.)

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18. Todd Frazier, Yankees 3B. He’s fit in nicely with the Yankees, as you’d expect. So it could be there, or one of the second-place finishers for Moustakas. The Angels could make sense.

Best Guess: Angels, Giants, Yankees, Mets

19. CC Sabathia, Yankees SP. The Yankees are believed willing to bring him back on a one-year deal, for something in the neighborhood of $8 million to $10 million. He may have found a permanent home.

Best Guess; Yankees, Mets.

20. Neil Walker, Brewers 2B. The Angels, Rays and Blue Jays all seem like possibilities for Walker, as are his current Brewers.

Best Guess: Angels, Rays, Brewers, Blue Jays.

21. Logan Morrison, Rays 1B. Perhaps he could go to his hometown Royals if they can’t hold onto Hosmer, as they hope. The Mariners may also be in the market for a first baseman.

Best Guess: Mariners, Royals.

22. Lucas Duda, Rays 1B. The power numbers are there, but a stocked position makes things tricky.

Best Guess: Mariners, Rays.

22. Carlos Gomez, Rangers OF. He’s upped his on-base percentage substantially in his full season in Texas, and that should help.

Best Guess: Orioles, Giants.

23. Eduardo Nunez, Red Sox UTIL. He could help just about anyone with his speed/hitting combo.

Best guess: Yankees (they always liked him.)

24. Yonder Alonso, Mariners 1B. His second-half slippage and position could make it dicey, but he was onto something in the first half.

Best Guess: Rays. (Maybe he and Duda will switch teams.)

25. Mark Reynolds, Rockies, 1B. He had a huge year in Denver and turned out to be one of the better free-agent signs.

Best Guess: Rockies

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