After two winters of pretty stagnant free agent movement, it is somewhat remarkable that 48 of the players on MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list have already found new teams by February 2. We look back at all these signings and the nonstop array of misses in our — okay, my — set of picks in the free agent prediction contest, only two players remain available, both former All-Stars: the controversial Yasiel Puig (37th in our rankings) and longtime Red Sox utilityman Brock Holt (41st).
Jeff Todd examined Puig’s market earlier this week, listing a wide range of teams that could still be speculative fits for the outfielder. The problem facing Puig, however, is that “speculation” is all we have to go on after an offseason that has been short on hard news about the former Dodger. The Marlins and White Sox were both linked to Puig at various points, though those clubs seem to have already addressed their outfield needs, as Miami signed Corey Dickerson and Chicago acquired Nomar Mazara in a trade with the Rangers. An argument could be made that Puig might still be a fit for the Sox as a platoon partner with Mazara, though the Pale Hose seem committed to seeing if Mazara can still blossom as an everyday player (and if necessary, another right-handed outfielder could potentially be found at a lower price tag than Puig).
The Tigers were our pick for Puig’s next team back in November, though GM Al Avila recently said that Puig was “not a priority” for the club, despite Detroit’s lack of outfield depth. It could be a bit of gamesmanship on Avila’s part if there are some negotiations going on with Puig’s representatives, though it could also reflect a potential league-wide truth — Puig isn’t seen as a must-have option. He might not receive many looks until we get deeper into Spring Training, and opportunities develop due to injuries, or teams becoming dissatisfied with their in-house outfield choices.
Puig hasn’t been his biggest ally due to some of his off-the-field antics, though that focus on his personality tends to obscure the fact that he is still only 29 years old, and still a productive player. Even acknowledging that 2019 was a down year, Puig still batted .267/.327/.458 with 24 homers over 611 PA with the Reds and Indians, good for a league-average 100 OPS+ and 101 wRC+. You have to figure that some team will eventually take the leap to sign Puig because of what he has demonstrated over his seven MLB seasons.
Holt is older (31) than Puig and seemingly has none of the baggage, as Holt was popular with both teammates and fans over seven years with the Red Sox. Holt has been a classic jack-of-all-trades over his career, making at least nine starts at every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher and filling in whenever a need has arisen. For instance, Holt has primarily played second base over the last two years due to Dustin Pedroia’s ongoing knee problems. Over 2295 plate appearances, Holt has also provided a solid average (.271) and on-base percentage (.340), even if his .374 slugging percentage doesn’t promise much pop.
Given the trend towards multi-positional players in today’s game, it is somewhat surprising that Holt is still looking for a new team. With so many clubs seemingly trying to develop a young player into their own version of a super-utilityman like Holt, you’d think one team would have moved to sign the 1.0 version now that he has hit the open market. Then again, the catch-22 of Holt’s versatility is that while it makes him a fit on virtually any team in baseball, it also (like Puig’s situation) doesn’t make him a “priority” of a signing. As in, teams will turn to Holt to fill roster holes, but only after they see if their current utility candidates can pan out.
The Reds and Blue Jays have both shown interest in Holt this winter, and the Red Sox also had some talks about a reunion early in the offseason, though there hasn’t been any news on that front since Chaim Bloom was hired as Boston’s chief baseball officer.
We still have time before Spring Training opens, so it might yet be a while before either Puig or Holt put pen to paper on a new contract. But which do you think will be the first to land with a team?(Poll link for app users)