Outfielders Will Rule the Winter (Plus, Free Agent Predictions)

Do you like pitchers? Sure you do. Everyone likes pitchers.

I have some good news. This year’s free agent class has got some pitchers, boy. We’ve got your classic Jordan Zimmermann, for instance. He may not be the flashiest, but he’s about as solid and reliable as they come. A perfect balance between price and performance. But hey, maybe you prefer something with a little more high-end potential? Today must be your lucky day. I just so happen to have a Jeff Samardzija and a Johnny Cueto right here in the shop. They’ve gotten a little dinged up this past year, sure, but when they’re running right they’re second to none. Of course, if you’re looking to go more affordable then we’ve got endless options. Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, Scott Kazmir, Yovani Gallardo, John Lackey…here, just take this brochure. What’s that? You’re from out west? That’s your Brinks security van outside? With the SCULLY 4 LIFE bumper sticker? Why didn’t you say so? I do indeed have what you’re looking for. A David Price and a Zack Greinke, nearly mint condition. Please, follow me to the vault, and try to keep your voice down. There’s a man from Philadelphia browsing in the Mike Pelfrey section and I don’t want him to get wise.

Every team needs pitchers, even the teams that don’t think they do. Hey, you. Yeah, you…St. Louis Cardinals. It looks like you have a nice, full starting rotation there. It’d be a real shame if something happened to it. Like, say, Lance Lynn suddenly needing Tommy John surgery. If you’re not hunting for a pitcher, you’re fearfully counting down to the next moment that you will be. Pitchers are like gold, except the gold is likely to vanish or explode or turn to sludge at a moment’s notice. So when a smorgasbord of pitchers all become available at once, it’s easy to make that the focus of the baseball offseason.

I could end this article right here. I considered it. But I already wrote that outfielders would rule the offseason up there in the title, and I suppose you want this article to mention some outfielders. Fine.

Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Chris Davis and Ben Zobrist are all available on free agency this winter, which arguably makes the outfield market even richer than the pitching one. Davis and Zobrist won’t necessarily be signed to play the outfield, but they both can, and including them makes the list look more impressive. Four of those guys (Heyward, Upton, Cespedes, Davis) are basically guaranteed to land contracts worth upwards of $125 million, and a fifth (Gordon) should be flirting with nine figures as well. How rare is this? Here are all the position players to reach the $100 million benchmark over the past decade.

That’s 14 names over ten years. We have a chance to see a third of that number just this winter alone. Of course there’s nothing inherently special about $100 million. It’s just a nice round figure. I could have easily included Pablo Sandoval’s $95 million-dollar contract last offseason, or Adrian Beltre’s $96 million in 2010, or Torii Hunter’s $90 million in 2007. And inflation was not considered because I am poor at math. But the point still stands. We have a special crop of free agent outfielders this offseason and they’re all going to get filthy stinking rich.

Heyward headlines the class as a 26-year old who has been worth an average of 4 to 5-wins per year through his first six seasons in the big leagues. Every team in baseball should have interest in a player like that, but there are likely only a few teams who can afford to dish out the 8-10 year contract in the $200 million dollar range that Heyward is likely to get. The Cardinals are being viewed as the favorites to retain Heyward, but with the injury to Lynn, their shopping list just got a little longer. St. Louis could conceivably be pushed out of the Heyward sweepstakes if they decide to bolster their rotation via free agency, as even the mid-tier starters are being projected to sell for between $50 and $80 million in this market. As annoyingly successful as the Cardinals are, they don’t have money to burn in the same way that a team like, say, the annoyingly successful Yankees do.

The Bombers have been speculatively tied to several of this year’s outfield options, but it remains to be seen if they’ll make a major move at all. They already have a terrible roster crunch with Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran making up the would-be 2016 outfield and Aaron Hicks, acquired earlier this week in a trade with Minnesota, serving as a fourth outfielder. With an additional logjam at first base between Mark Teixeira and Greg Bird, plus A-Rod locked into the DH spot, the Yanks would have to get pretty creative to fit a Heyward or a Justin Upton into their 2016 plans. Still, they’re the Yankees, so rule them out at your own risk.

The Angels, by contrast, are a team that has room to spare for someone like Upton…or Heyward…or Cespedes…or a number of other free agents. With major holes across the diamond, the Angels will need to decide whether to break the bank for a Mike Trout tag-team partner or spread their money around a little more judiciously. Carlos Gonzalez would have looked really good in Angel red, an ideal power-lefty to slot between Trout and Albert Pujols in the lineup, and he’ll almost assuredly be available on the trade market. But in the midst of writing this, the Halos traded for Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons, digging every last prospect out from between the couch cushions to do so. If the Angels are going to add a major outfield piece, it appears it’s going to have to come via free agency.

Like Gonzalez, Chris Davis is also a power-lefty, but he requires no prospects to acquire…just several suitcases of cash. The Angels already dished out a $125-ish million dollar deal to a high-strikeout lefty slugger somewhat recently though, and, well…let’s just say it didn’t turn out so great. The Astros, on the other hand, don’t give a damn about strikeouts and they think power is pretty dreamy. I had a funny little thing written here about how Davis could have formed one hell of a 1B-LF-DH merry-go-round with Chris Carter and Evan Gattis that would have combined for ten thousand homers and strikeouts. But then (again, in the midst of writing this piece) Colby Rasmus went ahead and became the first player in history to accept a qualifying offer. So Rasmus is back in Houston on a one-year deal to play left field, and this paragraph is probably a waste of both your and my time. 

The Mariners, provided they don’t bring Jay Buhner out of retirement before I finish writing this, have money to spend and might not mind sticking Davis back in the outfield, where he was surprisingly competent last year in Baltimore. If you’re looking for a darkhorse in the Davis-race though, you might not even have to look outside the AL East. The Blue Jays first priority this offseason will be to find pitchers (surprise!) to fill out their rotation. But if Toronto should whiff on re-signing David Price, they could opt to hit every home run of the 2016 baseball season themselves by throwing that money at Davis instead. Davis doesn’t fit on a team like the Red Sox as currently constructed, but new team president Dave Dombrowski has never shied away from making blockbuster trades. If the Sox are able to deal out of their commitments to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez or both, Davis could make sense at first base in Fenway. Maybe the most sensible answer is the boring one, though. Free agency has hit the Orioles harder than just about anyone, with expired contracts leaving the roster littered with uncertainty. Bringing Crush back to Camden Yards for the next five or so years would go a long way to stabilizing the Baltimore lineup.

There hasn’t been much speculation about where Alex Gordon might wind up, but that’s probably because most people expect him to return to the Royals. After all, he spent his entire career with the organization; a journey that culminated in a World Series championship just a few weeks ago. Still, Royals beat writer Andy McCullough has expressed doubt as to how committed Kansas City is to bringing back their left fielder. Should he leave KC, plenty of teams would be interested. The Dodgers and Giants could be two of them. There has been wide speculation that Los Angeles will look to move Yasiel Puig this offseason. That would not only add another stupidly-talented outfielder to the market, but would free up a spot in LA’s lineup that the versatile Gordon could fill.

San Francisco is being talked about as a major player for any and all of the elite free agents this winter, as their two biggest needs are this market’s specialty: pitching and outfield. Gordon would make a lot of sense for the Giants in left field, as would Yoenis Cespedes, who had a turbulent final few months of 2015. Upon arriving in New York at the trade deadline, he scorched earth to the tune of .287/.337/.604 (BA/OBP/SLG). He was garnering some wacky MVP consideration, analysts were saying he’d fetch more than $150 million in free agency; his stock was through the roof. Those were fun times, back in September of 2015. We were all drunk on Yo. Then, after a postseason in which he hit .222/.232/.352, we all woke up with a wicked hangover and immediately began to regret all the things we’d said the month before. “Oh my God, dude. I tweeted that Yo should be the National League MVP! He was only in the National League for two months!!! I told you to take my phone away from me when I’m drunk.”

Cespedes is still going to get paid with a dump truck of money this winter. It likely won’t come from the Mets though, who will turn their attention to middle infield upgrades and a finding true centerfielder that can platoon with Juan Lagares. Cespedes checks many of the same boxes that Upton does, as a power-hitting righty, and one would expect him to garner interest from the same types of teams. The Rangers and Tigers are two teams not yet mentioned that could conceivably make a run at either of the two. Texas would create a bit of an outfield crunch for themselves, with Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton and Delino DeShields Jr. already under contract. Still, the Rangers could strike while the market is ripe, add a dangerous righty to slot behind Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder in their lineup and figure out the logistics later. Detroit, meanwhile, has had a vacancy in left field since they traded Cespedes away last July. They’re yet another team whose focus should be on pitching this offseason, but they have both the history with Cespedes and the need to make something happen.

Got all that? Good. Now forget everything you read, because the Padres, Marlins and Phillies are going to sign three of those guys and one will probably go play in Japan. For the sake of completeness, though, here are my predictions for MLB Trade Rumors’ top 50 free agents.

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