Predicting Landing Spots for MLBTR's 2019 Top-50 Free Agents (50-26)

Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to predict where an entire body of 50 players will land with any sort of accuracy.

It’s sort of like doing a mock draft. You can have all the information available at your fingertips, but when one team zigs, the rest of the league zags — and the whole thing is shot.

But it’s silly season, and that means instead of writing what’s happening between the white lines, we’re dodging white snowflakes while staring out the window wishing for it to be 70, nay, 50 degrees outside again.

So here’s what you get: a best-guess at some places that make sense for the top-50 guys as listed by MLB Trade Rumors. Don’t take it too seriously; it can be hard to project 50 players represented correctly across 30 teams, and sometimes it makes sense to predict two catchers to a catcher-needy team assuming one will be right rather than trying to assign two to separate teams and maybe missing both altogether.

It’s not a scientific exercise, but it’s a pretty fun one. Be sure to check back Tuesday for players 1-25:

50. SP Drew Smyly – Tigers

Maybe there’s a bit more of a market for the lefty after an uneven, but interesting stretch with the Phillies last season. Here, he goes back to where it all started in hopes that he pitches well enough to be flipped in July. You know, the kinds of moves teams like the Tigers should be making.

49. RP Pedro Strop – Rays

Does anything scream “RAYS” more than a veteran reliever coming off a tough season after a long stretch of being fairly successful? This is just another in a line of guys like Sergio Romo, Fernando Rodney, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hunter and certainly others.

48. SP Ivan Nova – White Sox

The White Sox need pitchers who can be pushed aside if/when guys like Dylan Covey, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning are ready, and honestly, Nova — who ate up innings and was about a two-win pitcher depending on which WAR you prefer — is a perfectly acceptable option as a No. 3-5 starter for how the team is currently constructed.

47. SP Michael Wacha – A’s

Wacha hits free agency with his only 180-inning season a full presidential team in the rear-view mirror, and it just felt like it was a good time for both the Cardinals and the righty to part company. Shoulder issues are no joke, but it seems like there’s still enough talent in here for a back-end starter, and the A’s are one of a handful of teams — kind of like the Astros — who seem pretty good at extracting that kind of value. Maybe he’s this year’s Matt Harvey, but there won’t be much harm in finding out and the A’s have some young kids to shoulder — gah, pun not intended — the load if he falters.

Sep 25, 2019; Phoenix, AZ, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) leaves the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with an injury during the second inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

46. SP Rich Hill – Dodgers

It’s really hard to imagine an aging Dick Mountain leaving the Dodgers. After averaging a little over 100 innings the last three years for a tidy $16 million per, the soon-to-be 40-year-old lefty seems likely to sign a deal for a tidy sum of up-front cash and incentives that’ll make sure he’s taken care of if his body cooperates. Would you believe he hasn’t thrown 150 innings in any season since 2007?

I don’t know if the answer to that is a resounding yes or what, really.

45. OF Shogo Akiyama – A’s

It’s always difficult to deduce where an international player will sign, but we should consider a few factors. First, Akiyama is very accomplished at the plate, including when it comes to drawing walks. He’s walked 70-plus times in each of the last four seasons for the Seibu Lions (JPPL), and the last three seasons have come with 20-plus homers. Various reports have him peaking as a terrific defensive center fielder though it’s unclear where he’s at as he moves into his 30s, but that likely means he should play a capable corner spot, at least.

March 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Japan infielder Hayato Sakamoto (6) reacts with Japan outfielder Shogo Akiyama (55) after he catches a fly ball against USA to end the top of the fourth inning during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

So how about the A’s, who are still constructed by OBP wizard Billy Beane and as of now cycling a lot of different players through their outfield. I’d have had more trepidation about this move if MLB hadn’t added a 26th man to rosters.

44. OF Kole Calhoun – Rays

To this day I still mix up Calhoun and C.J. Cron, and this won’t make it easier. So why Calhoun to Tampa? Because I’m not totally sure the market for a 32-year-old corner outfielder who is average defensively and offensively (career 105 wRC+) is going to be robust. Here Calhoun can hang out in right and at designated hitter, and who knows, maybe even mix some first base back into his repertoire. Calhoun may not be viewed as any sort of top-tier starter, but he shouldn’t be short of work when spring training starts thanks to deeper benches.

43. RP Dellin Betances – Mets

He’s a New York kid through and through, and who wants to stick it to the Yankees more than the Mets? A one-year deal makes sense for both sides so Betances can prove he’s healthy, and still possibly get that one big payout in free agency a year from now. Time is running out.

42. SP Josh Lindblom – Cardinals

You might remember Lindblom from previous films such as “Los Angeles in 2013” and “Pittsburgh in 2017” or even his lesser-known stint in Indianapolis in 2017 as well. But Lindblom went to Korea, came back and signed once already — and it did not go well! He spent 2015-16 with Lotte in the KBO and posted middling results — 3.56 ERA one year, 5.28 the next — before returning. After his 2017 return stateside resulted in just under 50 innings in the Pirates system, he went back to Lotte and was terrific the rest of that season (3.72 ERA in 72.2 innings).

May 19, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Josh Lindblom (47) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

He’s been absolutely brilliant the last two seasons for Doosan in the same league — 2.88 ERA in 168.2 innings in 2018, 2.50 in 194.2 frames this year — and will come back older, and most likely wiser. After their success with Miles Mikolas, why not go back to the same well — well, Mikolas was Japan but overseas for the sake of comparison — for Lindblom if you’re the Cardinals?

41. UTIL Brock Holt – Diamondbacks

I kept trying to talk myself out of this but couldn’t shake the idea. There are plenty of Red Sox types in the Diamondbacks front office, they’ve had success using guys like Holt — remember Daniel Descalso? — before and right now they have Ketel Marte listed as a starter at both second base and center field.

40. SP Adam Wainwright – Cardinals

This one feels like easy money.

39. SP Alex Wood – Braves

The Braves’ rotation is young and nasty — Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz. But as of right now, that’s it. Wood gets to go back where it all started — he’s a UGA Bulldog, as well — and this gives them a high-ceiling reclamation project to go with three high-octane young arms. If he even hits 75 percent of his potential in a comeback, that’s a dandy No. 4.

38. DH Edwin Encarnacion – White Sox

I badly wanted to make this pick for the Rays, but I think Calhoun makes more sense for what they’re trying to do. Then again, the Rays were the runners-up in the Nelson Cruz sweepstakes, and this is sort of like the D2 to Nelly’s Mighty Ducks. So maybe that happens, but I think it’s more likely that the White Sox a. need to spend and spend now and b. are desperate for offensive talent. An offense with Jose Abreu (shh, be surprised when you read that later), Encarnacion, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez is way, way more exciting than it was at any point in 2019.

Oh….and by the way…

37. OF Yasiel Puig – White Sox

…Puig just strikes me as a south-side kind of player. Someone who flat-out just wants to kick your ass and have some fun while doing it. The White So would be immensely more fun in 2020 with Puig and the aforementioned players on the roster. That might be the most entertaining Latin contingency in a long, long time.

Sep 22, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) looks on from the dugout against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at Progressive Field. The Indians won 10-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

36. RP Steve Cishek – Giants

With relievers in this middle tier, it’s all sort of guesswork. The Giants had a solid bullpen last year (3.85 ERA ranked fourth in MLB), but it’s now going to be short an entire season of Sam Dyson and ostensibly Will Smith from last year’s bunch.

35. RP Craig Stammen – Nationals

Stammen might be the steadiest, most unassuming middle reliever in the game today. Since the start of the 2011 season, Stammen has a 2.93 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 and a WHIP of 1.18.

He did miss some time due to injury, but he hasn’t missed a beat since returning with the Padres over the last three seasons: 3.06 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 1.13 WHIP.

Oh, and he was a member of the Nationals before getting hurt.

34. C Jason Castro – Angels

Every ship needs a steadying commander, and if it makes any sense for the Angels to pursue any top-end pitching, they should also make the investment behind the plate to get a solid defender. Castro had a nice offensive year splitting time behind the plate with Mitch Garver for the Twins in 2019 (.232/.332/.435), but it’s his defense where he draws sterling marks — especially as a framer. Castro’s 6.1 framing runs ranked 16th among MLB catchers in 2019 and as recently as 2016 — keeping in mind he missed almost all of 2018 — he ranked third with 18.5 framing runs.

Signing him to a two-year deal worth $8-10 million total won’t derail any potential plans with Max Stassi, who isn’t expected to be ready for opening day, either.

33. C Robinson Chirinos – Rangers

No team had less production from its catchers last year than the Rangers, who got a combined slash line of .203/.251/.301 from backstops — good (?) for a combined minus-3.5 fWAR. Meanwhile, Chirinos hit a stellar .238/.347/.443 while playing slightly above-average defense. Sam Huff’s path to Texas will be much clearer a year from now, and a one-year-plus-an-option reunion with Chirinos makes sense in the interim.

32. OF Brett Gardner – Yankees

Should be 2-for-2 with this and Wainwright, honestly.

31. SP Rick Porcello – Twins

This one won’t be popular, but it really does make sense. He’s not terribly old (31 in December), is coming off a tough season and yet has still been a durable innings-eater for his entire career. He just completed his 11th MLB season and he’s never thrown fewer than 162.2 innings in any of them.

So you roll the dice on a guy with that kind of durability and a pitch mix that allowed him to fan nearly a batter per inning in a good, but not great 2018.

One need not squint too hard to see a potential plan here with an already durable, not terribly old but coming off a tough year pitcher who could be a tweak away from something truly special. Is turning a 31-year-old pitcher into something new a terribly likely proposition? No. But on a modest contract for a guy who can still chew up some innings even without any potential jump, it’s not a terrible idea. Don’t forget, the Twins have to cover like 800ish innings from their rotation this offseason.

30. IF Howie Kendrick – Nationals

Why mess with what worked? Howie had a brilliant season, the Nationals have literally one starting infielder currently under contract and even if he was going to be a bench bat again — which was extremely likely — the 26th man means he can still be a prominent part of the plan even though the team likely holds modest hopes in Wilmer Difo and perhaps even higher ones in someone like Carter Kieboom, among others.

29. OF Avisail Garcia – Giants

The Giants depth chart in the outfield right now is Alex Dickerson, Kevin Pillar and Mike Yastrzemski and while that has the makings of a tremendous sandwich shop trio or an east coast law firm, it needs some work.

Garcia needs a place to stretch out his legs, and what better place than the vast expanses in San Francisco? Garcia has elite sprint speed, and fairly good other marks across the board via Statcast, yet shouldn’t require a pretty penny to lock down until he completely taps into that skillset — a dwindling proposition at age 28.

28. RP Daniel Hudson – Nationals

Again, why mess with what worked? The Nationals bullpen was brutal last season, and was bailed out by not being used much in October. But to get to October, one must get through the rest of the season — necessitating bringing back Hudson and probably a fair amount of other help this winter.

27. RP Chris Martin – Rangers

No Coldplay jokes, just a reliever returning to where he pitched the previous two seasons before a midseason trade. He’s the kind of reliever who could sign anywhere and it’d make sense. Try not to overthink it.

26. C Travis d’Arnaud – Rockies

The Rockies have eschewed offense for defense behind the plate for quite some time now. They haven’t had a wRC+ of 80 or better behind the plate since 2016, haven’t been above 90 since 2015 and have been over 100 just once dating back to the turn of the century.

D’Arnaud popped 16 bombs, hit .251/.312/.433 and played almost exactly dead even defense — minimally above average at framing and throwing, below it at blocking — while getting his career back on track.

For a platoon partner with Tony Wolters — typically capable defensively but took a big step back in 2019 — behind the plate, this feels like a good fit.

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Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

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