Spring training is still more than a month away, but there’s been plenty of action in free agency across the baseball landscape. Here are some of the big names that have exchanged uniforms, as well as one tantalizing slugger that remains on the market.
Edwin Encarnación: Cleveland Indians- With more and more teams favoring a new-age approach to roster building based around advanced analytics, versatility and youth, there wasn’t a huge market to be had for a 34-year-old plodding DH, even if that guy has been one of baseball’s best hitters over the past five years. Coming off a 2016 season in which he set or matched career highs in runs, homers and RBI, Encarnación will provide a potent right-handed bat and an upgrade from Mike Napoli to the defending American League champs.
Meanwhile, his former club, the Toronto Blue Jays, must have to be scratching their heads at their inability to keep their cleanup hitter, as Encarnación reportedly turned down Toronto’s four-year $80 million deal to sign one worth just three years and $60 million.
Aroldis Chapman: New York Yankees- Chapman may have struggled in the postseason by his own lofty standards, but that didn’t stop the game’s hardest thrower from signing the most lucrative relief pitcher contract in history at five years, $86 million. It’s a bit of a puzzling investment given the current state of the Yankees, who before the signing had appeared to be buckling down on mediocrity and development of the “Baby Bombers” in preparation for emptying their coffers on the loaded 2018-19 free agency class.
Even for a team with pockets as deep as the Yankees, $86 million is a lot of money to spend for the possibility of a contending piece a couple years down the road, especially given the historically fickle long-term success of closers.
Ian Desmond: Colorado Rockies- One of the biggest surprises of the 2016 season, Desmond enjoyed a resurgent year for the Rangers despite moving from his natural position of shortstop to centerfield. It’s expected that he will continue to man the cavernous outfield confines of Coors Field, a far more difficult task than playing in Arlington, but Desmond flashed Gold Glove-caliber leather in his first year on the job. He will join an already stacked lineup and the most promising Colorado rotation in years. Don’t be surprised if the Rockies make a push for a Wild Card spot in 2017.
Dexter Fowler: St. Louis Cardinals- An unsung hero of the Cubs’ historic season, Fowler emerged as one of the best center fielders in the game, finishing with a career-high 4.2 WAR despite missing nearly 40 games due to injury. The 6’5” stringbean will take his great speed, glove and batting eye to the Cubbies’ biggest rivals in St. Louis, and while he may no longer be a World Series favorite, Fowler certainly won’t be lamenting his $82.5 million contract.
Mark Melancon: San Francisco Giants- It’s an interesting dichotomy in the world of analytics: even as we are placing ever greater value on bullpen depth and the increasingly rare inning-eating starter, individual relievers are making more than ever before. Melancon’s four year, $62 million deal was the richest ever for a reliever until Chapman and Kenley Jansen topped it a few days later. Melancon is a good pitcher to be sure; he’s got a whopping 98 saves over the last two years, a career ERA of 2.60 and is still in his prime at 31 years old.
And the Giants could certainly use some help in high-leverage situations, coming off a season in which they blew an unfathomable 30 saves. Still … it’s Mark Melancon. The guy isn’t exactly an all-time relief specialist in the mold of Chapman, Craig Kimbrel or Mariano Rivera, and we see anonymous relievers break out in spectacular fashion every year (Zach Britton of all people just turned in the greatest season by a reliever in history, for crying out loud!) Even in the absolute best case scenario, it’s hard to imagine Melancon being worth this much in the end.
José Bautista: Unsigned- Bautista is a patient hitter with a thundering stroke, the face of the Toronto Blue Jays, and will likely go down as one of the best players of the decade. He’s also on the wrong side of the age curve at 36 years old, losing range in right field every year, and was plagued with knee issues that limited him to just 112 games in 2016.
Still, nobody denies Bautista’s talent and he will likely find himself on a team looking to cash in and compete right now. Possible destinations include the Indians, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Astros and Rangers.