Predicting destinations for the top remaining free agents
By Richard Justice
This is when a different kind of fun starts in baseball's offseason free-agent marketplace. This is also where plenty of personnel moves have won and lost pennants. Despite all the comings and goings over the last week, there are still difference-makers on the free-agent market.
It's a matter of identifying the players who would be the right fit for your team at the right price. It's more of an art than a science. While there are big-ticket free agents like Max Scherzer and James Shields who remain on the market, there are many other players who would be a nice fit for some teams but not others.
This is where your friendly columnist helps the process along. Every general manager loves being told how he should spend his money. So let's take a crack at finding a team for the top 10 remaining free agents.
Scherzer: Red Sox
He would turn a very nice offseason into a potentially great one, and almost certainly position the Red Sox for another worst-to-first season. General manager Ben Cherington has had a tremendous offseason, bringing Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley aboard. All he lacks is a true No. 1 starter, a guy who'll help rest the bullpen, stop the losing streaks and be at his best when the lights are brightest.
Also making sense: Giants, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers. In the end, Scherzer helps every team. That's the bottom line for a guy who has averaged 32 starts, 197 innings and 209 strikeouts the last six seasons. His price will be high, but he's only 30 years old and should be able to perform at a high level for a long time.
His makeup, toughness, leadership and production would fit well in a clubhouse with Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, etc. He's like Scherzer, in that he would make every team better. The Royals will tell you that Shields changed them the moment he walked in the door. If there's a concern, it's that he'll be 33 years old and has had a massive workload -- averaging 223 innings over the last eight seasons. But he's coming off a season in which he pitched 227 innings and had a 3.21 ERA. Shields is one of those players who the team that signs him will like even more as it gets to know him.
Also making sense: Rangers, Yankees, etc. It'll be interesting to see if Shields signs before Scherzer and what the final dollar total ends up being. Whatever that number is, anyone who has played with or managed him will tell you he's worth it.
Headley was healthy again by the time he was traded to the Yankees in July, and down the stretch, New York was very happy with a .768 OPS and solid defense. He's also a great clubhouse guy, a perfect fit on any team. The Yankees want him back so badly that they appear to have set aside their other work to await his decision. If they don't get him, they'll move Martin Prado from second to third and let Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder compete at second. Meanwhile, the Giants, who were unable to re-sign Pablo Sandoval, offer a nearly-perfect fit. Whether they can afford both Shields and Headley is the question.
This is a nice fit, even with shortstop being one of the strongest positions in the Mets' system. They're in a win-now mode, and Lowrie puts them in position to do that. At 30, he's coming off a season that wasn't his best, but his defensive metrics remain good. His career .741 OPS and age say he should still be able to perform at that level.
Aoki has been an on-base machine (.353) during most of his three seasons in the big leagues. Though his defense is not the best part of his game and despite the fact he hit just one home run for the Royals last season, he's a guy who will get on base. That one home run is 39 fewer than the Orioles got from Cruz last season, but there's value in having a on-base percentage guy in front of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, etc.
You gotta believe. In the end, it's that simple. Once upon a time, the A's projected Anderson as a top-of-the-rotation guy. And for long stretches, he has been exactly that -- a tall lefty with nice stuff and command. But he has had trouble staying healthy. Anderson has made more than 19 starts just once in his career. However, he's healthy at the moment -- and if he stays that way, he can be a great bargain. For a team like the Indians that believes it's good enough to contend in 2015, he might be an important addition.
This isn't complicated. Volquez's career got back on track in Pittsburgh last season, thanks, in part, to pitching coach Ray Searage. His 3.04 ERA in 31 starts and 192 2/3 innings was by far the best of his career. The Pirates want him back, too, believing that a rotation with Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Volquez would be plenty enough to lead the Pirates to a third straight postseason appearance.
Morrow is said to be healthy, after spending most of the 2014 season on the disabled list. But he's also a risk. He should also be affordable. He's not that far removed from being a first-rate starter, having compiled a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts for the Blue Jays in '12. Walks have been a problem at times, but he's also one of those intriguing starters who won't cost a lot of money and could provide a big payoff.
Drew hit just .162 after sitting out the first two months of the regular season. Still, he's worth a gamble. His defense is very good, and he began last season with a very respectable .764 OPS. If your team is looking for an affordable player with a good track record who is committed to re-establishing himself, this is your man. With 20-year-old Carlos Correa not yet ready to join the Astros, Drew might be the perfect bridge.
Also making sense: Tigers
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.