In yesterday’s MLBits, we discussed the ongoing free agent Spring Training camp and how they’ve collectively scheduled an exhibition game against a Japanese amateur team, so that the remaining players can get some live game action as we approach March.
Yes, we’re still talking about the free agent market on the final day of February.
Indeed, despite several of the big-time free agents finally coming off the board – Yu Darvish (Cubs), Eric Hosmer (Padres), J.D. Martinez (Red Sox) – many others still remain. So let’s take a closer look at who’s out there, not to see if the Cubs might find a bargain (while that’s always an option, they’re pretty full up right now), but instead to reset things before another month gets peeled off the calendar.
Using the MLB Trade Rumors Free Agent Tracker, I count 66 free agents still searching for homes, many of whom are very significant players. Here’s how each position group breaks down:
Starting Pitchers: 15
Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, John Lackey, Matt Garza, Brett Anderson, R.A. Dickey, Alex Cobb, Scott Feldman, Clay Bucholz, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Jeff Locke, Chris Smith, Jake Peavy, Ricky Nolasco.
Swing Men: 4
Mike Pelfrey, Tyler Pill, Cesar Valdez, Trevor Cahill
Relief Pitchers: 14
Trevor Rosenthal, Robbie Ross, Eric O’Flaherty, Bryan Morris, Josh Smith, Josh Collmenter, Zach Putnam, Greg Holland, Jason Grilli, Typer Clippard, Chad Qualls, Koji Uehara, Houston Street, Drew Storen,
First Basemen: 4
Tyler Moore, Mark Reynolds, Danny Valencia, Adam Lind
Second Basemen: 4
Neil Walker, Brandon Phillips, Aaron Hill, Mike Aviles
Third Basemen: 4
Yunel Escobar, Jhonny Peralta, Mike Moustakas, Conor Gillaspie
Stephen Drew, J.J. Hardy
Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Ruiz, Geovany Soto
Arismendy Alcantara, Justin Ruggiano, Alejandro de Aza, Jon Jay, Franklin Gutierrez, Andre Ethier, Chris Coghlan, Ichiro Suzuki, Jayson Werth, Melky Cabrera, Seth Smith, Carlos Gonzalez
Designated Hitter: 4
Matt Holliday, Lucas Duda, Rickie Weeks, Jose Bautista
If you’re wondering why some of the names listed above are bolded, it’s because each of those eight players (Cobb, Arrieta, Lynn, Holland, Moustakas, Walker, Lucroy, Gonzalez) were ranked as top 25 free agents coming into the offseason, by at least one (and in most cases, all) of FanRag, MLB Trade Rumors, and Yahoo Sports. EIGHT.
That’s nearly one-third of the TOP 25 free agents still lingering on the free agent market come March 1. I know the market has made some progress and that the Cubs’ successful efforts have mostly pushed this out of your mind, but it’s still a really crazy and significant matter as the season approaches.
The reason we don’t want to let this fall too far off your radar is because, while the Cubs have fulfilled all of their needs (three relievers, two starters, a backup catcher, and some depth/flyer types), the rest of the NL Central could still improve.
In fact, guys like Arrieta, Cobb, Lynn (Brewers/Cardinals), Moustakas (Cardinals), and Holland (Cardinals) could dramatically change the landscape of the NL Central before the season begins. They’re definitely going to sign somewhere, and the longer it takes, the more likely they are to land on a team-friendly deal. And that’s just the high-impact guys. As you can see, the rest of the list is filled with useful Major League players, including young guys, veterans, and former All-Stars. So, yes, this is extremely important and perhaps as frustrating as ever.
Right now, the Cubs (94-68) are projected to finish tied for the second best record in baseball with the Yankees and Dodgers, but the Cardinals (87-75) are not particularly far behind. And while the Brewers (79-83) appear sufficiently low in the projections, I think we can all agree that those numbers seem especially conservative for that group.
My point, in any case, is that while the cushion seems sufficiently large for the moment, we must remember that the offseason is far from over (no matter what the calendar says). Either team can still sign an ace and an all-star closer tomorrow if they wanted, and both teams could use the help. Worse, given how far the Brewers and Cardinals have already pushed their chips in, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them double down when the deals finally come.