It seems January is the new December in baseball, as teams bent on drawing a line on long-term contracts have turned this into the slowest-moving free-agent winter ever.
While the in-demand middle relievers signed quickly, only a few big-name free agents know where they’ll be playing next season.
Meanwhile, the likes of J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish are still on the market, which should make for a busy January, as well as an opportunity to re-visit my Top 20 free-agent predictions from two months ago:
1. J.D. Martinez
Slow as the market may be for outfielders, Martinez’s timing is perfect as the one difference-making slugger out there at a time when the Red Sox are desperate for power — and desperate to respond in a splashy way to the Yankees’ trade for Giancarlo Stanton.
So while it doesn’t seem a bidding war among multiple teams has developed, the Sox reportedly have offered a five-year deal, which is what I thought Martinez would get.
Old Prediction: Phillies, five years, $130 million.
New Prediction, Red Sox, five years, $120 million.
2. Eric Hosmer
This guy can’t be happy that the Padres seem to be the only team willing to give him the type of mega-deal he expects. After all, Hosmer’s high-intensity competitiveness is part of what everybody loves about him, and the rebuilding Padres are probably a few years away from serious contention.
He’s only 28 but teams are shying away from those long-term deals more than ever — hence the Phillies signing Carlos Santana at $20 million per over three years, as opposed to Hosmer wanting eight years. All of which I think leads him back to Kansas City.
Old Prediction: Red Sox, seven years, $160 million.
New Prediction: Royals, seven years, $140 million.
3. Jake Arrieta
By spending big on Santana for only three years, the Phillies have signaled an expectation to contend by at least 2019, and they’ll need an ace to do that. For all the buzz about next winter’s free-agent class, it’s not deep in starting pitching, even if Clayton Kershaw opts out of his deal with the Dodgers.
At age 32, coming off a dominant 2017 season, Arrieta might be the Phillies’ best bet for that.
Old Prediction: Phillies, four years, $100 million.
New Prediction: Phillies, four years, $100 million.
4. Yu Darvish
Reports have the Yankees sniffing around on Darvish, but it seems hard to believe Darvish’s price will fall low enough for Brian Cashman to swoop in and sign him when the priority in the Bronx this winter remains getting under the $197 million luxury tax threshold.
If anything, he makes more sense for the Angels after they won the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. Darvish is Ohtani’s idol and friend, and pairing the Japanese stars at the top of the rotation could make the Angels serious contenders.
Old Prediction: Angels, four years, $76 million.
New Prediction: Angels, four years, $84 million.
5. Mike Moustakas
The Giants’ trade for Evan Longoria crashed the third-base market, leaving precious few landing spots.
The Cardinals apparently tried hard to trade with the Blue Jays for Josh Donaldson, and if they’re willing to wait until he’s a free agent next winter, Moustakas may not get the long-term deal he was expecting, coming off his 38 home run season for the Royals.
More likely the Cards will seize an opportunity to get Moustakas at a reasonable price.
Old Prediction: Cardinals, five years, $90 million.
New Prediction: Cardinals, five years, $80 million.
6. Wade Davis
No surprise, but apparently the Mets weren’t moved by the case I made — repeatedly — for them to sign the only elite closer on the market. Instead, the Rockies are building the super-bullpen I envisioned for the Mets, signing Davis as well as Bryan Shaw, and re-signing Jake McGee.
Old Prediction: Cubs four years, $68 million.
Signing: Rockies, three years, $52 million (very reachable vesting option would make it four years, $66 million).
7. Shohei Ohtani
After all the Yankee talk, turns out nobody knew anything about what Ohtani wanted. The West Coast was his preference, and beyond that it seems that Billy Eppler’s relationship with the star pitcher, which goes back to his days scouting in Japan as the Yankees’ former assistant GM, was an important factor as well.
Of course, had he been a true free agent, who knows where he might have landed.
Old Prediction: Yankees, $5 million.
Signing: Angels, $2.3 million.
8. Jay Bruce
I think the Mets could be in play here if Bruce has to settle for a three-year deal, but if that’s the case he’ll probably have other options. The Blue Jays have expressed interest in him and he’s starting to look like a logical fit in right field, replacing Jose Bautista.
Old Prediction: Mets, four years, $60 million.
New Prediction: Blue Jays, three years, $51 million.
9. Lorenzo Cain
Another guy the Mets might take a run at if his price falls low enough, but I think he still has plenty of teams interested. If the Giants get Billy Hamilton in a trade, something they’ve discussed with the Reds, it would hurt his market, but they have little in the way of prospects to deal, especially after getting Longoria, so Cain still makes a lot of sense in San Francisco.
Old Prediction: Giants, four years, $60 million.
New Prediction: Giants, four years, $60 million.
10. Lance Lynn
If the Mets react to all the criticism they’re receiving for their apparent plan to lower the payroll, Lynn is the perfect signing to stabilize their rotation and make them less vulnerable to injury and give them more options for their bullpen from the likes of Robert Gsellman and perhaps even Zack Wheeler. Unfortunately for Mets fans, it’s probably wishful thinking.
Old Prediction: Cubs, four years, $76 million.
New Prediction: Twins, four years, $68 million.
11. Alex Cobb
Yankees like him a lot but much as the case with Darvish, Cobb’s price may not fall enough for them to fit under the luxury-tax threshold.
The Cubs’ interest seems genuine, with Joe Maddon having managed Cobb, and new pitching coach Jim Hickey coming over from the Rays.
Old Prediction: Braves, four years, $64 million.
New Prediction: Cubs, four years, $68 million.
12. Eduardo Nunez
A Yankee reunion is starting to look possible. Cashman is going to sign someone to make sure he’s covered at either second or third, depending on the progress of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, and the Yankee GM always liked Nunez, once envisioning him as Derek Jeter’s successor at short. Nunez doesn’t have the glove for short, but he has proven to be a dynamic offensive player, sparking the Red Sox down the stretch last season. And his versatility could make him a good fit, depending if he’ll take a short-term deal.
Old Prediction: Mets, four years, $44 million.
New Prediction: Yankees, two years, $24 million.
13. Greg Holland
Second-half slide in his comeback season has some teams worried about giving Holland a multi-year deal, which may explain why Rockies elected to sign Davis instead. Still, relievers are in such demand that someone will take a chance on him.
Old Prediction: Cardinals, three years, $39 million.
New Prediction: Rangers, three years, $39 million.
14. Jonathan Lucroy
Perhaps to save money they decided to spend on their bullpen, the Rockies chose not to bring back Lucroy, instead signing Chris Iannetta to a two-year, $8.5 million deal. Lucroy played well in Colorado after being traded from Texas at the deadline, but a down year overall may have hurt his value.
Old Prediction: Rockies, three years, $40 million.
New Prediction: Diamondbacks, two years, $26 million.
15. Todd Frazier
Everybody loves him, but Frazier doesn’t appear to have much of a market for a multi-year deal. The Giants’ trade for Longoria and the Angels’ signing of Zack Cozart have filled two third-base holes, which could force Frazier to settle for a short-term deal in his home area.
With Manny Machado on the horizon next winter, the Yankees won’t offer him more than one year, but the Mets might see him as a bargain for two years, knowing they could move Asdrubal Cabrera to second.
Old Prediction: Giants, three years, $39 million.
New Prediction: Mets, two years, $26 million.
16. Zack Cozart
The Angels are gambling that Cozart’s career-best .933 OPS at age 31 was no fluke, and by moving the ex-Reds’ shortstop to third-base, next to Andrelton Simmons, they should have great defense on the left side of the infield.
Old Prediction: Reds, three years, $42 million.
Signing: Angels, three years, $38 million.
17. Neil Walker
Could still wind up back with the Mets, as he doesn’t seem to have a lot of options for a multi-year deal as a second baseman, but there seems to be some lingering bad blood over last February’s contract extension talks. Versatility seems to make him a good fit to stay in Milwaukee.
Old Prediction: Brewers, two years, $24 million.
New Prediction: Brewers, two years, $24 million.
18. Logan Morrison
As was the case last winter, teams don’t seem willing to pay nearly as much for power, especially for a player like Morrison, who offers little else in value. Still, 38 home runs for the Rays last year should get him paid eventually, though probably not by the Mariners, my original pick, who traded for Ryon Healy.
Old Prediction: Mariners, three years, $39 million.
New Prediction: Padres, three years, $39 million.
19. CC Sabathia
This made too much sense for both sides. Sabathia might have been able to get a two-year deal somewhere, but he loves playing for the Yankees.
Old Prediction: Yankees, one-year, $12 million.
Signing: Yankees, one-year, $10 million.
20. Brandon Kintzler
Thought he might be a good fit in the Mets’ pen, but they went for Anthony Swarzak instead, and Kintzler re-signed with the Nationals.
Old Prediction: Mets, two years, $25 million.
Signing: Nationals, two years, $10 million (with an option likely to make it two years, $15 million).
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