-- We're now within a month of the official opening of spring training, and we're still waiting for the mechanic to come fix the decidedly lukewarm hot stove. Of Keith Law's top 50 free agents coming into the winter, 30 remain unsigned, including eight of the top 10 players.
Rather than bemoan this year's winter inaction, let's start placing some of these free agents in their best possible locations. These don't have legal force -- at least not until commissioner Rob Manfred lifts the restraining order and allows me to present my proposal to be named baseball's first philosopher/king -- so consider these simply exuberant suggestions.
Each player's projection is based on if he signed with the team in question.
There was a brief moment when this looked like it was a done deal, until the pitcher himself shot down and then mocked on social media the reports that he had come to an agreement with the Cubs. Still, it's hard to see many better fits. The team has lost Jake Arrieta from 2018, and ZiPS currently projects the team to have only the 10th-best rotation in baseball based on the current roster. With two of the usual suspects in Large Contract Signings, the Yankees and Dodgers, focused on getting under the salary cap, the Cubs might have a clearer field than usual to sign Darvish for big money and avoid a brutal bidding war.
CF Lorenzo Cain, San Francisco Giants
ZiPS: .282/.337/.401, 10 HRs, 53 RBIs, 3.7 WAR (573 PA), 100 OPS
Yes, the Giants made a significant improvement to their outfield by picking up Andrew McCutchen?from the Pirates for the erratic young Kyle Crick and an A-ball outfielder with promise (Bryan Reynolds). But San Francisco's situation is so weak that the Giants have two more outfield holes to fill. Realistically, they're going to give Hunter Pence every opportunity to make one last comeback, but that still leaves the third spot available, and nobody in their system is a good short-term candidate.
That leaves Lorenzo Cain. While McCutchen is likely penciled in initially at center field, without a decade of history between the Giants and Cutch, there's less of a need for the team to pretend to believe the fairytale that the former Pirates star is a good option in center. Who is a good option, however, is Cain, who's still a top-notch defensive player. Turning 32 in a frozen free-agent market, Cain isn't likely to get a five- or six-year contract. Yes, the Giants would prefer to stay under the luxury tax threshold, but with the yawning abyss beckoning for the team's aging core, it can't be avoided. We're talking about a team, after all, that needs to find 30 wins this year, and gravity isn't going to close that gap for them.
RHP Jake Arrieta, Los Angeles Angels
ZiPS: 14-9, 3.15 ERA, 171? IP, 144 H, 15 HRs, 47 BB, 162 K's, 3.8 WAR, 128 ERA
On paper, the Angels have a solid, if unspectacular, rotation headed by one of this winter's biggest prizes, Shohei Ohtani. Realistically, however, up and down the depth chart, the rotation has been plagued by injuries, and the team hasn't made all these offseason moves just to have them stymied by reliance on a theoretical rotation. With an infield that now has Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart in addition to Andrelton Simmons, Arrieta feels like a perfect fit for the team at the top of the rotation.
1B Eric Hosmer, Boston Red Sox
ZiPS: .299/.363/.471, 22 HRs, 100 RBIs, 2.3 WAR (646 PA), 120 OPS
Widely expected to be heavily involved in the Eric Hosmer bidding, Boston has been fairly quiet, at least publicly, leaving the pursuit to teams such as the Royals and Padres that have few actual good reasons to sign Hosmer. Yes, the team brought back Mitch Moreland, but Moreland is a stopgap, not a solution, and Hosmer's lack of loft and preference to go the other way might result in a billion doubles in Fenway, where a better slugger would see fly balls die (Fenway hasn't been a home run park in 20 years).
RF J.D. Martinez, Colorado Rockies
ZiPS: .308/.372/.633, 41 HRs, 111 RBIs, 3.2 WAR (540 PA), 147 OPS
It has been an odd offseason for the Rockies in which they made major additions to their bullpen (keeping it a top-10 pen, at least according to ZiPS). But it almost seems like they haven't noticed that the offense was in fact the team's largest problem in 2017. Colorado was 11th in OPS in the National League, and that's with two serious MVP candidates in Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon in the lineup. In fact, outside of that duo, Rockies position players combined for 2.9 WAR for the season. A contending team shouldn't be entering a season with Gerardo Parra and Ian Desmond or Raimel Tapia as its corner outfielders, and even a healthy David Dahl -- which we need to see before we believe -- isn't going to take both of those jobs. Martinez's defense is ... interesting ... but on Planet Coors, he could put up video-game numbers.
RHP Alex Cobb, Baltimore Orioles
ZiPS: 11-9, 4.16 ERA, 158 IP, 165 H, 21 HRs, 42 BB, 112 K's, 2.2 WAR, 103 ERA
Baltimore's rotation was so abysmal in 2018 that a Cobb salad would be an upgrade, so Alex Cobb is even better. Baltimore appears to not be fully invested in trying to move Manny Machado before the season, so if the Orioles are going to try to compete, they need to get serious about a rotation upgrade rather than puttering around the edges, hoping a magical bargain starting pitcher will fall into their laps. The team is unlikely to invest in a Darvish or Arrieta, and Cobb is the most interesting starting pitcher otherwise.
3B Todd Frazier, New York Mets
ZiPS: .244/.330/.450, 26 HRs, 87 RBIs, 3.5 WAR (573 PA), 110 OPS
I think we've finally hit the year when the team realizes, in no uncertain terms, that David Wright will never be a Plan A at third base again. He will be merely a nice surprise if he can overcome his medical issues enough to be a regular player again. That means it's time to stop having the Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes types serve as stopgaps and find someone who can put up 2-3 WAR for a few years at the position. Frazier fits the bill, as an underrated defensive third baseman who puts up reasonable offensive numbers (despite a low batting average). In a buyer's market for third basemen, Frazier is unlikely to be out of reach for the Mets.
CF Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
ZiPS: .240/.313/.424, 16 HRs, 55 RBIs, 1.4 WAR (447 PA), 95 OPS
Although the Brewers might be more interested in a Lorenzo Cain reunion than one with Carlos Gomez, with Lewis Brinson the center fielder of the future, Gomez is the better fit and likely a thrifty short-term option. Gomez is likely better right now than Keon Broxton or Brett Phillips, and he can help bridge that gap until the team is comfortable writing Brinson into the lineup every day. Gomez would eventually revert to a fourth outfielder-type/veteran leader role, and he has already expressed a desire to retire as a Brewer.
1B Logan Morrison, Los Angeles Angels
ZiPS: .256/.342/.478, 25 HRs, 75 RBIs, 2.0 WAR (510 PA), 125 OPS
I don't think the Angels would actually do this, but as long as I'm playing dictator, let's force the Angels to stop pretending that Albert Pujols can contribute to an MLB team in 2018. LoMo can't fake third like Valbuena still can, but he's a better offensive player.
3B Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
ZiPS: .267/.317/.485, 28 HRs, 77 RBIs, 2.5 WAR (537 PA), 112 OPS
It seems unlikely that the Royals really want to move on from all their free-agent talent, and if they bring one of their free agents back, Moustakas might be the best pick for them at this point. Moustakas has very little leverage, considering how third basemen are distributed well among the contending teams right now, and a two-year pillow contract allows him to hit free agency one more time still close to his prime and not have to compete with Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson next winter.
RHP Lance Lynn, Minnesota Twins
ZiPS: 11-9, 4.02 ERA, 168 IP, 172 H, 21 HRs, 67 BB, 139 K's, 2.6 WAR, 106 ERA
Minnesota appears to be making a run at Yu Darvish, but since I gave Darvish to the Cubs, I can hardly give him to the Twins as well. The Twins are still developing the pitchers who will join Jose Berrios as the future core of the rotation, and last year Lynn returned to being a dependable innings-eater after an injury-ruined 2016.
C Jonathan Lucroy, Arizona Diamondbacks
ZiPS: .282/.349/.430, 10 HRs, 55 RBIs, 2.6 WAR (474 PA), 103 OPS
I think you're legally allowed to call 911 if Jeff Mathis is the catcher at the top of your depth chart. Lucroy was terrible for the Rangers for the first two-thirds of the season, but he showed a pulse for the Rockies (his solid 115 OPS is already park-adjusted, so it wasn't just Coors). At 31, Lucroy's best seasons are behind him, but he's young enough to contribute for a few more years, and Arizona sorely needs a catcher.
1B Lucas Duda, Seattle Mariners
ZiPS: .229/.330/.481, 26 HRs, 70 RBIs, 1.7 WAR (451 PA), 121 OPS
The Mariners picked up Ryon Healy to start at first base, but the team could squeeze out more offense by letting Healy mash lefties and share time with the left-hitting Duda, who even in a down year put up an .867 OPS against right-handed pitchers (but just .658 against southpaws). With Seattle having the more pressing concern of figuring out how to find another starting pitcher or two, Duda could upgrade the position and is unlikely to cost much in a market that has little interest in first-base types.