February 12, 2014
Where the Remaining Free Agents Would Matter the Most
It was new and exciting in November, mundane in December, and comforting and familiar in January. But by mid-February, speculating about likely landing spots for attractive free agents is as tired as publicly celebrating the Beatles.*
Granted, the alternative would be talking about the sort of stuff that otherwise occupies us early in spring training: what players look like; what players look like from afar; what players might look like from afar, if we could see them; what players look like upside-down; meaningless quotes about team chemistry. There’s only so much we can do to combat the boring until real baseball begins.
Still, we’ve reached the part of the baseball calendar at which we’re not accustomed to seeing impact players unsigned. On the morning of February 12, 2013, we were down to two fairly high-profile free agents, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. News of Bourn’s signing broke later that day, leaving only Lohse, who lingered into late March. This year, six top-20 free agents from R.J. Anderson’s Top 50 remain on the market.
That increase probably has no larger significance; it’s a combination of the Pax Tanaka that preceded the Japanese starter’s signing, the volatile performance history of the other available arms, and the positional limitations of Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales. Nonetheless, the hot stove has outstayed its welcome, so it’s time for someone to step in, slap some wrists, and tell teams and free agents to make up their minds and stop fretting about inconsequential things like many millions of dollars, or where they’d “prefer” to play.
Today, I’m playing the part of that person, which means that I’m forgetting about budgets, draft picks, and whether teams have expressed interest in so-and-so or said they’re almsot certainly finished spending. If you want to know where the latest rumor says these players will sign, look elsewhere. This is about where they would sign if they had to go to the team where A) they’d be the biggest upgrade, and B) their presence might make the difference between a playoff team and a team that’s not playing. We'll take it from the top:
Ervin Santana (no. 5 on the top 50 FA list): Washington Nationals
Jon Heyman recently reported that the Nats could make a move for a starter if a “’value’ materialized,” and Santana’s asking price is much closer to “value” than it once was. The solution is as simple as it is extravagant: slot him in behind Doug Fister, move Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan and Roark to Triple-A, and watch the Nationals steamroll their opponents en route to the season many thought they’d have last year. It’s more likely that Santana will end up with the Orioles, of course, but this article isn’t about plausibility, it’s about impact. Even if he’d be a bigger upgrade for the O’s, Santana would be more likely to make the difference in a divisional race between the Braves and Nats than that he would to make Baltimore the best team in the AL East.
Bringing back Burnett is an obvious way to offset the slide. Even given a full season from Gerrit Cole and the impending arrival of Jameson Taillon, the Pirates are asking a lot of their starters: Francisco Liriano, to have second consecutive successful season for the first time; Wandy Rodriguez, to be healthy; Charlie Morton, to be above average; Jeff Locke and Edinson Volquez, not to be terrible. Burnett’s presence would make it much less vital for all of those pitchers to hit their happy percentiles. As an added bonus for Burnett, if he doesn’t switch teams, he won’t have to be recertified as a clubhouse leader.
Orioles DHs hit .234/.289/.415 last season, with most of that slugging coming from the since-departed Danny Valencia and a few cameos from Chris Davis. The current plan for the position looks a lot like last year’s—it rhymes with Swollen Thigh Mold—but relying on an injury-prone player to stay healthy for the first time since 2011 would be a dangerous decision for a team PECOTA projects to have the AL’s worst offense outside of the White Sox, Twins, and Astros. Adding Morales—voted the 2013 Qualifying Offer Class’s Most Likely to Lohse—would upgrade the offense and give the switch-hitter his first taste of a power-friendly park.
That makes the Yankees the best possible fit for Drew from a performance standpoint. Not only is New York’s offense so old that he’d be one of its junior members, but with Kelly Johnson, Derek Jeter, and Brian Roberts all slated to start, the Yankees, at any given point in the season, figure to have a hole at any position that Drew could conceivably play. If he’s willing to pitch in wherever he’s needed, he’d be worth a couple of wins, which the Yankees could use as much as any other potential contender. Drew’s contract would cost the Yankees a 50 percent financial premium and the 56th-overall pick, but the alternative—starting the season with the 2013 Mets outfield of infields—could cost them even more.
*Celebrating the Beatles in private is always okay.