This is the latest installment in our Market Snapshot series. Today, we move the discussion to the outfield grass.
Teams In Need
A number of contenders and 2019 hopefuls will lose quality corner outfielders to free agency this season, including the Nationals (Bryce Harper), Braves (Nick Markakis), Indians (Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall), Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra) and perhaps the Mariners (Denard Span). The Yankees are set to lose Andrew McCutchen and could potentially bid adieu to outfield stalwart Brett Gardner, though the organization has ample outfield depth to withstand those subtractions. The A’s rode a patchwork corner outfield mix to the postseason and could look at adding a more established upgrade.
Meanwhile, a number of clubs coming off disappointing 2018 campaigns will look to reload and try again in 2018, with the Giants, Pirates, Cardinals and Phillies among the teams that could look to add a corner outfield bat with hopes of contending in 2019. St. Louis, in particular, could be in the market for a left-handed-hitting right fielder based on president of baseball operations John Mozeliak’s recent comments. The Pirates, meanwhile, traded away Austin Meadows and have since lost Gregory Polanco into next summer following shoulder surgery. The Phillies are open to trading virtually anyone on the roster, so changes in the outfield are easy to imagine. How the Giants operate won’t be known until a new GM is in place, but their outfield mix leaves plenty to be desired regardless.
There are even several non-contenders who’ll simply need a veteran bat to plug in as a stopgap or an upside play; the White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Marlins and Orioles may simply want a low-cost veteran to join their rebuilding efforts.
Potential Regulars: Harper joins Manny Machado as a rare, star-caliber, 26-year-old free agent and will be a highly sought-after target by the market’s biggest spenders. The Nationals will surely at least consider a bid to retain him, but teams like the Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs and Giants will all be connected to Harper to varying extents. The Cardinals, too, could be in play for him, though they’ve never spent at that level in the past.
Teams that can’t afford Harper or don’t wish to commit a likely precedent-setting contract to the former NL MVP will still have plenty of options from which to choose. Michael Brantley rebounded from a pair of injury-plagued seasons to remind teams that he’s among the game’s best pure hitters (.309/.364/.468 with a 9.5 percent strikeout rate). Andrew McCutchen’s overall numbers in San Francisco didn’t stand out, but his output was suppressed by the cavernous AT&T Park. Beyond that, he posted excellent hard-contact numbers, giving some hope for better days ahead, and turned things on during his late-season run with the Yanks. Nick Markakis got off to a blistering start in 2018 before settling to hit like the Nick Markakis one would expect over the final five months of the year. He’s still a useful semi-regular even if he couldn’t maintain his torrid April. A.J. Pollock would provide quality glovework and a solid bat in a corner, but most teams probably prefer to install him in center — at least for the first couple seasons of a surefire multi-year deal.
Brett Gardner would bring another quality glove to the corner market if the Yankees buy out his option, though he could also be a trade candidate. Denard Span showed he can still hit in 2018 and even hit lefties well, but there are questions about his glove. Adam Jones has fallen well shy of his former star-level production in recent seasons, but his track record could earn him significant at-bats even if his OBP woes and defensive question marks are more significant than ever.
Could Marwin Gonzalez fit into this bucket, too? Houston’s Swiss army knife can play all over the diamond, and while he’s more of an infielder, he has plenty of left field experience and could hold down the fort as a stopgap before moving to an infield spot or a super utility role down the line.
Platoon/Bench Bats: Some players, such as Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra, aren’t that far removed from being quality regulars but seem more likely to find themselves in limited roles next year. Jon Jay has emerged as something of a fourth outfielder extraordinaire in recent seasons, logging significant at-bats without a set role. The venerable Curtis Granderson can still hit righties, and perhaps that’s true of Matt Joyce as well, though injuries wrecked his 2018. Melky Cabrera showed he can still hit a bit, but doesn’t have much to offer in the field. Cameron Maybin had somewhat of the opposite issue. It’s also not impossible that someone gives Jose Bautista another look, though he’s more of a minor league deal candidate.
Corey Dickerson’s projected $8.4MM arbitration price tag might be a bit steep for the Pirates, especially considering his pedestrian second half of the season. He’s only controlled for one more year and didn’t have much value in last year’s trade market, though. As noted above, perhaps the Yankees will dangle Gardner ($12.5MM club option), given the depth they have surrounding him.
Arizona’s David Peralta is another productive but at least relatively expensive corner option who could hit the market. With a $7.7MM arb projection and two years of club control left for a D-backs team that’ll have to take a hard look at some degree of rebuild this winter, Peralta is a logical piece to market — especially considering his career year in 2018.
Kyle Schwarber’s name, at this point, feels to be a perennial fixture on the rumor circuit, and while his improved defense in 2018 makes him a better fit for the Cubs (and the NL in general), it also makes him more appealing to other clubs.
The Tigers have reportedly tried to extend Nicholas Castellanos on multiple occasions without success. He only has one year of club control remaining, so perhaps if they can’t work something out this time around they’ll more seriously consider moving him. His glovework is arguably the worst in baseball, but Castellanos can rake at the plate. Sticking in the AL Central, the ChiSox may have to sell low on Avisail Garcia, whose injury woes and dreadful 2018 season make him a non-tender candidate at this point.
Meanwhile, the Padres have more outfielders than they know what to do with. Wil Myers is best suited there or at first base but has been pushed to third by Eric Hosmer’s presence at first base and a bevy of other outfield options, including Franchy Cordero, Franmil Reyes, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot and Travis Jankowski. It’d be more surprising if the Friars didn’t move an outfielder than if they did.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels has been candid about the possibility of moving a left-handed-hitting outfielder, with Nomar Mazara, Willie Calhoun, Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Gallo and Drew Robinson all fitting that bill. There’s a logjam in Philly, too, where the Phils could look to move any of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams or Aaron Altherr as they remake their lineup.
Similarly, the Brewers won’t have the luxury of stashing Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana in the minors in 2019, as both are out of options. Either or both could be shopped to other clubs, and the same is true of Eric Thames, who been squeezed out a bit by last offseason’s additions and the emergence of Jesus Aguilar. Elsewhere in the NL Central, the Cards will very likely be open to moving Jose Martinez, though his defense grades out terribly.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Dexter Fowler round out this section as albatross contracts their current clubs would jump at the chance to jettison, but it’s hard to see any team taking on that level of overpay. Fowler is owed $49.5MM through 2021, while Ellsbury is owed nearly the same sum ($47.28MM) through the end of the 2020 season.