By Ryan Decker
Yesterday I gave you my predictions for where the top pitchers in this year’s Major League Baseball free agency class will end up.
Today I ditch the flamethrowers and talk about the guys that have to hit the pitches those fire ballers deliver.
A lot of big names make the list of the Top 10 Hitter free agents, including Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Dexter Fowler and Mark Trumbo.
All of these hitters have the potential to help their new team take the next step forward, and make their old team take a step or two backwards.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF
Prediction: Arizona Diamondbacks
Yoenis Cespedes will try to do something he’s never done – get a long-term deal and stay the full length of his contract.
For one reason or another, the 31-year-old outfielder has never stayed in one city for more than 2 ½ years, making it extremely likely he’ll begin his sixth MLB season in his fifth major league city.
That city will be Phoenix, Arizona.
Arizona doesn’t have a lot of money already on the books, with only Zack Greinke, Yasmany Tomas, and Paul Goldschmidt locked up through the next two seasons.
The Diamondbacks not only have the money to sign Cespedes, but they also have the need to fill in another outfield spot with an exceptional talent. However, he is better suited in left field, which would mean moving Tomas to the other corner outfield spot in right field, where he has his best fielding percentage.
The addition of Cespedes’ bat in the lineup – with a career slash line of .325/.494/.819 and showing more plate discipline last year (more walks, less strikeouts) – would be a big help to Goldschmidt and Tomas as well.
Edwin Encarnacion, DH
Prediction: Texas Rangers
This is going to be the last chance Encarnacion has at getting a long-term deal.
And not that there’s anything wrong with this, after all baseball is a business, but I expect the slugger to go where the money takes him.
In this scenario, it will help that the money is being offered by a team that’s been division champs four times since the start of the 2010 season.
Texas has a couple of other key pieces from its postseason run this past season that are free agents, but Encarnacion’s bat alone can arguably replace each of those three players.
Encarnacion had possibly the best season of his career, registering career highs in runs (99), hits (158), RBI (127), and walks (87), while having top-tier numbers in home runs (42) and doubles (34).
Global Life Park in Arlington is spacious enough to keep his numbers near those marks, and the Rangers are in need of a true DH.
Justin Turner, 3B
Prediction: re-signs with Los Angeles Dodgers
Simply put, Justin Turner is too important to the future of the Dodgers for the front office to let him walk.
Turner has easily had his best years in LA, and the combination of him and Corey Seager on the left side of the infield needs to stay in tact for years to come.
Turner is strong defensively, and considering the Dodgers don’t have many good options in house to replace him, re-signing turner is the best option for everyone.
He could command up to a five-year deal, but I would expect more of a four-year contract worth an average of between $15-17MM annually.
Dexter Fowler, OF
Prediction: Texas Rangers
Last offseason, Fowler nearly signed with the Baltimore Orioles, but instead returned to Chicago on a one-year dal and won a championship.
He doesn’t make the return trip to the Windy City this winter, instead he goes south to Arlington.
Texas will have two spots open in their outfield heading into spring training, one of them being center field – Fowler’s natural position.
He is definitely a top half of a lineup guy, and can be a leadoff hitter with power or be a more average-oriented hitter from a 3-5 spot in the lineup.
Despite being just 30-years-old, I don’t think Fowler get’s a deal of more than three years, maybe four years at most.
A dark horse contender for Fowler could once again be the O’s, that being if Fowler goes unsigned deeper into the winter than the next player on this list.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF
Prediction: re-signs with Baltimore Orioles
Most Orioles fans understand that starting pitching should be a main priority this offseason.
But with a thin batch for starting pitching on the open market, Baltimore might as well make sure it can still hit the baseball into orbit close to a pace it did in 2016.
Retaining Mark Trumbo is a big piece to that.
In an ideal world for the O’s, Trumbo could be the everyday DH as long as Joey Rickard stays healthy, or if Christian Walker makes a big step in his development. Or, with money left over after re-singing Trumbo, Baltimore heads back to the market to get another corner outfielder.
However, after the season he had, getting Trumbo back will be no easy task, but it can’t be understated what it should mean to the slugger that his best season of his career came playing his home games in Camden Yards.
Dan Duquette and company have learned over the past few winters you have to spend money to make money, they keep that up by bringing back Trumbo.
Ian Desmond, Util
Prediction: Cleveland Indians
Desmond is mainly looked at as a shortstop, but he proved this season he can have value in the outfield, as he ranged the spacious outfield grass for the Rangers.
Desmond could fit in in Baltimore if Trumbo doesn’t return, but two other landing spots seem a little more likely to happen: Cleveland and St. Louis.
The Cardinals will be in need of a corner outfielder, with Brandon Moss being a free agent. Desmond could fit in there, and work either at the top or bottom of the lineup. He hits for average, meaning he could be a table setter from the leadoff spot and slide Matt Carpenter down a spot or two, or be a guy at the bottom of the order that helps turn the lineup over for the guys at the top.
But the better fit might be in Cleveland for some of the same reasons, but also for another.
Desmond’s flexibility both in the order and the field would do wonders for AL Manager of the Year Terry Francona. He can take over in center, or play one of the corner outfield spots, none of which saw a consistent starter in the playoffs for Cleveland.
But Desmond can also serve as a mentor for the Indians young budding star at Desmond’s former position, Francisco Lindor.
Jose Bautista, OF
Prediction: re-signs with Toronto Blue Jays
Short and sweet with Jose Bautista:
He’s made himself a household name while playing in Toronto. He’s had a trio of 40+ HR seasons in Toronto. His sub-par fielding in right field has went under the radar in Toronto.
Canada is where Bautista will stay.
My prediction is, Baustista will take much of the same route to a new contract that Chris Davis took a season ago. He will expect a big market, never really see it materialize, and end up taking the home deal.
This process, though, could be sped up or slowed down depending on Encarnacion’s decision.
Wilson Ramos, C
Prediction: Chicago White Sox
Coming off an ACL injury, Ramos won’t be as attractive a piece as he normally would be.
But, he’s still the best catcher on the market. That being said though, it may be in his best interest to sign a short-term deal this time around and then wait for a bigger contract the next time he becomes a free agent.
A short deal this winter can help him prove his worth as he works off the rust due to the injury, and it could make him a trade asset around the trade deadline if a playoff team is in need of a backstop.
The White Sox provide a big enough market for Ramos to stay relevant, while also giving him the possibility of making the playoffs if a lot of things go right.
Matt Wieters, C
Prediction: Miami Marlins
It’s a similar story for Matt Wieters I just spelled out for Ramos, just a slightly different timetable.
Wieters injury, which required Tommy John surgery, happened well over a year ago. He started 111 games behind the plate for the O’s, and despite hitting 17 home runs, had another lackluster season hitting-wise given the potential that he supposedly had as a young player.
Again, Wieters, who turns 31 in May, might be forced into signing a shorter-than-desired deal just because of lingering questions about his arm given the injury, and because the bat has never fully materialized.
Miami could be a good fit.
The Marlins play in a big, spacious ballpark, which could help his hitting numbers. And going to Miami would also reunite him with former teammate Wei-Yin Chen.
Mike Napoli, 1B
Prediction: re-signs with Cleveland Indians
After helping lead the Indians to their first World Series appearance in nearly two decades, Mike Napoli deserves a friendly deal from the Tribe.
Following a season in which Napoli hit 34 home runs, and drove in 101 runs, he should likely receive a two-year deal.
MLB Trade Rumors is projecting a deal with an average annual value of $14 million, that may be a little steep for most 35-year-olds, but as valuable as he was the the club in 2016, don’t be surprised if he signs for much less than that.