MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Guessing game: Landing spots for free agents

Guessing game: Landing spots for free agents

We love playing free-agent matchmaker. Trust us when we tell you that every executive is doing the same thing, and that's what we love about the offseason.

By Opening Day, at least 25 teams will see a reasonable path to the postseason, which is a byproduct of baseball's new landscape. If eight franchises can win the World Series in the past 10 seasons, then your favorite team can win, too.

Predicting these things is tricky. For one thing, the moving parts. Do the available free agents match up with the needs of the teams looking to spend? That past part is cyclical depending on budgets, players under contract, etc.

Hot Stove Tracker

This market could be intense given the availability of impact players at virtually every position and so many teams seeing what the Twins, D-backs and Rockies did in getting to October in 2017.

Let's take a crack at predicting who goes where. Players are listed in order of how I'd rank them, with my "best guess" for their 2018 team included.

1. J.D. Martinez, OF
Age:
30
Key stat: .936 OPS past four seasons
Best guess: Giants

This is a perfect marriage in what could be bull market for sluggers, with the Red Sox, Cardinals, Angels, Brewers and Phillies all searching for offense. After a season in which the Giants were 29th in runs and 30th in home runs, they may be among the offseason's most aggressive shoppers.

2. Yu Darvish, RHP
Age: 31
Key stat: 3.70 ERA, 1.146 WHIP in 48 starts since returning from Tommy John surgery
Best guess: Cubs

Those two tough World Series starts make his free agency more interesting, but they will not keep Darvish from being the No. 1 target for several teams. If he's seen as enhancing a team's chance of signing pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, so much the better. The Cubs will see Darvish as an important first step to fixing a rotation that has multiple openings.

Where will Darvish land?

3. Jake Arrieta, RHP
Age: 31
Key stat: 2.67 ERA over past four seasons is the second lowest in Major Leagues
Best guess: Rangers

Arrieta's 2.28 ERA after the All-Star break relieved concerns that a huge workload (426 innings in 2015-16) had caught up with him. He'll have his choice of destinations, but his Texas roots -- attended TCU, lives outside Austin -- would make returning home especially appealing. For a team still in a win-now mode, Arrieta would give the Rangers an elite right-hander to pair with Cole Hamels atop the rotation.

4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
Age: 28
Numbers: .799 OPS past five seasons
Best guess: Red Sox

Hosmer's opposite-field power is a perfect fit at Fenway Park. His .882 OPS (along with 31 doubles and 25 home runs) and Gold Glove work at first make him arguably the most well-rounded first baseman in the game.

5. Mike Moustakas, 3B
Age: 29
Numbers: Averaged 21 doubles, 22 home runs, .824 OPS past three seasons
Best guess: Angels

The Angels are closer to catching the Astros than any other American League West team, especially if their front-line starters stay healthy. Moustakas would be the perfect guy to join Justin Upton in building a solid lineup around Mike Trout.

6. Lorenzo Cain, CF
Age: 31
Numbers: Averaged 27 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs, 24 stolen bases, .789 OPS past four seasons
Best guess: Giants

Royals extend qualifying offers

Yes, we're saying the Giants are going to sign both Martinez and Cain. Would that fix everything that went wrong past season? Well, it might, depending on how Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Madison Bumgarner, etc., bounce back. The National League West could be baseball's best division in 2018.

7. Wade Davis, RHP
Age: 32
Numbers: 76 saves, 1.65 ERA, .998 WHIP past three seasons
Best guess: Cubs

Some of his numbers regressed past season, but Davis is still the best available closer and did average 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings while allowing just over a baserunner per inning. He also made good on 32 of 33 save chances in 2017. If that's a bad season, plenty of others will be signing up.

8. Greg Holland, RHP
Age: 31
Numbers: 41 saves, 1.151 WHIP
Best guess: Cardinals

Plenty of teams are kicking themselves for not giving Holland a chance when he remained on the market until January past offseason. He made a full recovery from Tommy John surgery and looks good for another 50,000 miles. Holland would be a nice fit for the Cardinals, who are committed to upgrading their bullpen, beginning with the ninth inning and working back from there.

9. Lance Lynn, RHP
Age: 30
Numbers: Averaged 189 innings, 3.39 ERA in five full seasons
Best guess: Brewers

Lynn will have a long list of suitors, including the Cubs in the NL Central. His fearless approach and raging competitive fire make him a nice fit anywhere, but the Brewers are an ideal fit in their pursuit of pitching depth.

Sleeper free agents

10. Zack Cozart, SS
Age: 32
Numbers: 52 doubles, 40 home runs, .831 OPS past two seasons
Best guess: Royals

Cozart is the consummate professional, the consummate teammate -- one of those guys universally respected by those who play with him and also those who compete against him. He would be perfect for the Orioles, Padres and a long list of others. But he would be a huge addition to the Royals in a season of change.

11. Alex Cobb, RHP
Age: 30
Numbers: Allowed three runs or fewer in 15 of past 17 starts as he made a complete recovery from Tommy John surgery
Best guess: Twins

Health is the only issue since Cobb has yet to make 30 starts or pitch 200 innings in a season. So there's some projection involved given the number of years and dollars involved. He gave every indication down the stretch past season that his health issues were behind him and that he's close to becoming the top-of-the-rotation starter he was once projected to be.

12. Carlos Santana, 1B
Age: 31
Numbers: .365 OBP for career; averaged 98 walks past seven seasons; 37 doubles, three triples, 23 home runs in 2017
Best guess: Indians

The Indians have some tough decisions with reliever Bryan Shaw and outfielder Jay Bruce also becoming free agents. Santana, who has been an on-base machine for his career, makes the most sense as someone who fits perfectly and may not require a long-term contract.

Will Santana return to Indians?

13. Logan Morrison, 1B
Age: 30
Numbers: Career-high 38 home runs and .868 OPS in 2017
Best guess: Mariners

Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto prefers trades to free-agent signings, but Morrison, a former Mariner, would fit perfectly in the middle of a lineup with Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.

14. Jay Bruce, OF
Age: 30
Numbers: Averaged 31 doubles, 30 home runs, .787 OPS past seven seasons
Best guess: Blue Jays

Toronto has been linked to Bruce in trade discussions forever. Now with Jose Bautista's departure, this is a marriage whose time has come.

15. Mike Minor, LHP
Age: 29
Numbers: 65 appearances, 2.55 ERA, 1.017 WHIP in 2017 after missing all of 2015-16
Best guess: Astros

Minor has settled nicely into life as a late-inning reliever and could be a hot commodity sought by several teams, including the Cardinals, Dodgers and Red Sox. But the Astros make the most sense in constructing a bullpen to give them another run at the World Series.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.