By: Greg Goldstein
Even with Spring Training right around the corner, there are still a few free agents that have not been signed. This is mostly due to the qualifying offer system, but that’s a discussion for another day. Below I’m going to break down what teams should sign the top remaining free agents.
SP Yovani Gallardo
Gallardo is the best starting pitcher left on the market. Even with guys that have been former top of the rotation starters in the past like Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee and Mat Latos still available, Gallardo is still the top option available. The former Milwaukee Brewer had a nice season in 2015, becoming the ace for the Texas Rangers after Yu Darvish went down for the year. Gallardo was the top starting pitcher for thew Milwaukee Brewers for many years until he was traded to the Rangers last season. He has a career ERA of 3.66 and has only finished a season with a plus 4.00 ERA once in nine years of pitching in the major leagues. While this is very impressive, Gallardo has not really produced at an elite level throughout his career. In fact, Gallardo had arguably his best year in 2015, finishing the season with a 3.42 ERA and averaging 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Gallardo’s pure stuff has been declining over the past couple of seasons, though. This can be seen by his strikeout numbers declining over the past three seasons. Gallardo used to be able to throw his fastball in the mid-90’s, but he now sits mainly in the low 90’s. His walk numbers are not great, which makes for an interesting case that a pitcher who doesn’t strike many batters out, and doesn’t control his pitches that well has been so successful? Been only 29 years old is a positive for the free agent starter, but he does have a lot of mileage on his arm because he came into the MLB at a very young age. Gallardo remains on the market because a team will lose their first round pick if they sign him and they are outside of the top 10 in the draft order. Many teams are wary of signing him because they don’t feel that he is worth losing a pick, so a team inside the top ten would be the best option to sign him. A team like the Rockies would be a good fit because they are in need of starting pitching and would not lose their first round pick by signing him. The worst case scenario is that they are not competitive and can trade Gallardo to a team that needs to improve their rotation at the deadline. The Rockies would be wise to push for a 2-3 year deal.
Best Fit: Colorado Rockies
Contract: 2 years, $20 million
OF Dexter Fowler
Dexter Fowler had a good year in 2015 and many baseball pundits thought that many teams would be interested in his services even if he declined a qualifying offer. That has not been the case this winter. Even with having a good season last year, the 29 year-old outfielder still is having a difficult time trying to find a place to call home. He hit 17 home runs last year, a season-high for him, and had a .346 on-base percentage. He also provides speed on the bases, having stolen 20 bases in 2015. Fowler has a somewhat wild swing, but has been able to produce pretty consistent results over the course of his career and is definitely deserving of a starting spot for a club. The former 14th round pick of the 2004 MLB draft still offers some upside in that he is still in his prime and gets on-base at a high level, but there is still some risk there, especially that teams will surrender a pick if they sign him. But, there are many teams that could improve in the outfield, so he should be able to find a team to sign him before Spring Training starts.
Best Fit: Los Angeles Angles
Contract: 3 years, $32 million (opt-out after the first year)
SS Ian Desmond
It’s pretty crazy how far Desmond has fallen since the end of 2014 when he finished the year .255 and 24 homers. Many baseball people thought that he would be one of the highest-paid shortstops in the MLB because of the rare power he brought to the position. However, things have turned out much differently for Desmond as he remains on the free agent market because of a down season in 2015. Many players have their best season right before they become a free agent and are paid handsomely, but the 30 year-old Desmond has suffered the reverse fortune. Last year, started of the his season very poorly and just couldn’t fully recover. He ended 2015 with a .233 average, but he was still able to hit 19 fingers. He still has the potential to be one of the best hitting shortstops in the game, but there has been speculation that he should change positions in order to improve his chances of getting signed to a good deal. There are still teams that could improve at shortstop and I expect he’ll be signed soon, he just may not get the money he was expecting at the start of the season. I predicted at the start of the offseason that he would land a 6 year, $ 92 million contract, but that seems awfully generous at this point.
Best Fit: Chicago White Sox
Contract: 3 years, $40 million (opt-out after first year)
RP Tyler Clippard
This former National has been a very consistent relief pitcher during his career. While Tyler Clippard isn’t an elite reliever due to some incocnistency, he has had some very fine seasons and was clearly one of the best relief options that was available in free agency this offseason. The 30 year-old right hander was really good last season for both the Mets and the A’s. He ended the year with a 2.92 ERA after coming off a 2014 when he pitched to a 2.18 ERA. Clippard is mostly known for his whacky delivery, but this brings a deception to his pitches that helps him get swings and misses. Clippard doesn’t have overpowering stuff but his strikeout numbers have been solid. Teams are always in need of bullpen help and he is certainly capable of being a set-up man in this league. Clippard should be a valuable piece in any team’s bullpen in 2016. The Diamondbacks are in need of another back of the pen pitcher and I think Clippard fits in very well behind closer Brad Ziegler.
Best Fit: Arizona Diamondbacks
Contract: 3 years, $21 million