By Ryan Decker
Over the next three days I’ll be taking a look at this year’s Major League Baseball free agent class and giving you my predictions for where those players will end up.
I’ll start with pitchers today, move to hitters tomorrow, and finish with other free agent predictions on Thursday.
Even though it’s fairly well-known that this isn’t the best free agent class, there are still plenty of big-name players that could help teams take the next step at claiming the World Series crown.
We all saw this year what a good mix of home grown talent and good free agent acquisitions can do, as the Cubs won it all.
One of the key FA pickups for the Cubs is at the top of the list of the best free agent pitchers available this offseason.
Aroldis Chapman, RP
Prediction: New York Yankees
Coming off a World Series title, and one of the best seasons of his career (4-1, 1.55 ERA, 36 SV, 90 K), Chapman is looking for record money for a relief pitcher.
The flame-throwing lefty is looking for $100MM.
He won’t get it, but he could get close to it.
The Yankees have money to spend, and are gearing up with a lot of young talent to make a run at the postseason in the coming years. And if there is one thing that any good playoff team needs, it’s a lights out closer at the back of the bullpen.
Chapman returns to New York, and in the coming years, the Yankees will likely return to the Fall Classic.
Kenley Jansen, RP
Prediction: San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants tried to lure a Dodger pitcher away from Chavez Ravine last offseason, when they made an unsuccessful run at starting pitcher Zack Greinke.
San Fran will make another pitch to a Dodger pitcher this year, but this time it will work.
Jansen will bolster a pitching staff that already includes Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto in the starting rotation, and Hunter Strickland and Charlie Heston in the bullpen. Plus, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has the reputation as being one of the best in the game at managing a bullpen.
The problem for the Giants, other than injuries, in 2016 was its bullpen, and Jansen clearly helps fix that problem after his best season (3-2, 1.83 ERA, 47 SV, 104 K).
MLB Trade Rumors is projecting five years and $85MM is what it will take for a team to sign Jansen. That may be more than the Giants are willing to spend on a closer, but it’s about what it will take to sign one of Jansen’s caliber.
Mark Melancon, RP
Prediction: Washington Nationals
At 32-years-old Melancon, the third of the top closers in this year’s FA class, is older than both Chapman and Jansen. But he is also more experienced and more proven.
He’s been a lockdown closer for four years now, posting a combined 1.80 ERA since 2013 in over 290 innings.
He’s clearly had his best year’s in the National League, and has some experience with the Nationals after being traded there in July.
Melancon re-signs with the Nats to keep them as top dog in the NL East.
With Bryce Harper’s free agency date creeping closer with each year, it’s important the Washington organization shows him its committed to winning in the offseason, and capable of winning during the season.
The first step in that is bringing back Melancon.
Ivan Nova, SP
Prediction: re-signs with the Pittsburgh Pirates
It won’t be a long term-deal, but Nova heads back to Pittsburgh.
Here’s the reason:
The Cubs are really good (obviously); the Cardinals are still competitive, meanwhile, the Pirates stayed stagnant in 2016. This coming season is looking like a make or break year for the Buccos.
Nova re-signs with Pittsburgh because he had an amazing second half of the season there last year, and because he can keep Pittsburgh competitive. If the Pirates fall out of contention by the All-Star break, they can move Nova around the same time they likely shop Andrew McCutchen.
If they’re a good team, Nova will be one of the reasons. If they aren’t, he’ll be one of the pieces they trade to a contender.
Rich Hill, SP
Prediction: Houston Astros
Rich Hill pitched some incredibly important innings in the postseason for the Dodgers this fall. He showed he’s still got something left in the tank at age 36.
So who’s going to sign the veteran starter? The Houston Astros.
Houston is one of the youngest teams in baseball, and in my opinion, is just a few pieces away from being a serious contender for a World Series title.
If he stays healthy, Hill can both provide both quality innings and veteran leadership to help this young team.
I wouldn’t expect more than a two-year deal for Hill, unless a lot of interest drives up the asking price.
Jason Hammel, SP
Prediction: Baltimore Orioles
I think he trades in his Windy City blue uniform for an orange and black one from the Charm City.
Hammel is a fly ball pitcher, which normally isn’t a recipe for success in hitter-friendly Camden Yards, but he has plenty of experience pitching there and against the rest of the AL East, so it’s not as if he’d been going in blind.
Normally a pitcher of Hammel’s age and caliber wouldn’t command a big contract in free agency, but considering he is arguably the third-best starting pitcher in this year’s class of free agents, Hammel does have something to bargain with.
Baltimore, although ready to make a full commitment to their young arms in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, still needs a proven arm to go along side those two and Chris Tillman.
Greg Holland, RP
Prediction: Chicago Cubs
Holland was one of the league’s most consistent closers for three straight seasons – prior to having Tommy John Surgery in October 2015 – starting in 2013.
His 125 saves between 2013-2015 were just second behind Craig Kimbrel’s 136.
Holland will likely take longer to sign than the other three aforementioned closers, but once one or two of them are off the market (and set the going rate for quality closers) he should get more buzz.
That buzz will mainly come from the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, both of which will need a closer given how I predict free agency to go.
Boston needs a closer, but coming off a World Series title (and after likely losing Chapman to a higher bidder) Epstein and the Cubs will outbid the Sox for Holland.