The freezing cold winter has left us with a frozen free agent market. Players will have to start signing soon (right?), so we’ll review what each National League team should do with so many players left on the board.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Sign Lorenzo Cain
Unfortunately, J.D. Martinez—who hit 29 homers for the D-backs in 62 games—is probably too expensive for Arizona, but the Diamondbacks can more likely afford Cain. The catch will be if Cain is willing to surrender centerfield and move to left so A.J. Pollock can hold down center. The Yasmany Tomas experiment appears to be a bust—he’s worth -2.2 WAR since joining the team in 2015 despite a decent 2016 season—and the lineup will need stability once Martinez departs. To best protect Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and a glut of other promising young hitters, Arizona should sign a trusty veteran like Cain to solidify its lineup.
Atlanta Braves: Start printing Ronald Acuna posters
By shedding Matt Kemp’s onerous contract from their books, the Braves created a lane for baseball’s top prospect in outfielder Ronald Acuna. The 20-year-old won Arizona Fall League MVP honors after slashing .325/.414/.639 with seven homers in just 23 games. He might not be on the opening day roster, but he’ll be one of the most exciting player to arrive in Atlanta in years once he gets the call.
Cincinnati Reds: Stockpile low-budget starting pitching
This team is nowhere close to competing for the NL Central crown in 2018, but they do have a handful of promising young players (Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler, Amir Garrett) who might be one season away from being strong everyday contributors. The best thing they can do now is to sign affordable veteran starting pitching who can take some pressure off of their younger arms and eat innings in what will be a difficult year. There won’t be huge markets for players like Ricky Nolasco and Wade Miley, so the Reds may as well float offers to them to try and stabilize a rotation that was horrendous in 2016.
Chicago Cubs: Sign Yu Darvish
There’s almost no chance that Chicago will bring back Jake Arrieta, so Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would be wise to invest in Darvish, whose price may not be quite as high after two horrific World Series starts. The word on Darvish is the same as it has always been: he might have the best raw stuff of any pitcher in the big leagues, but he’s never been able to put it all together to become a true ace. The Cubs don’t need that with Jon Lester anchoring the rotation, so Darvish would slot nicely as their second starter. Epstein may be loath to sign another unpredictable veteran to a long-term contract (remember Jason Heyward is owed $134 million over the next six years), but Darvish is too good a pitcher to ignore for a team looking to return to the World Series.
Colorado Rockies: Sign Charlie Blackmon to a long-term deal
The Rockies should prioritize signing Nolan Arenado (who is arbitration-eligible in 2019 and a free agent the season after that), but Blackmon is a free agent next year and the marriage between the two is strong. Blackmon is entering his age-31 season and finished fifth in MVP voting last year, but the home/road splits are worth noting. Blackmon finished with a .391/.466/.793 slash line with 24 homers at Coors Field and a .276/.337/.447 line with 13 homers on the road.
Given how tough of a time power-hitting free agents are having securing contracts in this offseason, Blackmon likely won’t secure an enormous deal with players like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper on the market. He and the Rockies would be smart to pair up now and sign a deal until his age-36 or -37 season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Find the new Brandon Morrow or Joe Blanton
In 2016, Joe Blanton re-emerged from general obscurity to become a central cog of the Dodgers’ bullpen. Brandon Morrow went from a forgotten big league starter into one of the big leagues’ most dominant relievers at age 33. Blanton signed with the Nationals last year (and had an awful season). This year, Morrow signed with the Cubs presumably to become their closer.
The Dodgers signed Tom Koehler to a one-year deal either to provide rotation stability or to be the next starter converted into a reliever. L.A. has succeeded finding lottery-ticket relievers in the past, and it’ll need to find another to perfect the bridge to closer Kenley Jansen.
Miami Marlins: Free Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto
Do these promising young players a favor and don’t subject them to the horrendous teardown taking place in Miami.
Milwaukee Brewers: Sign Jake Arrieta
The Brewers are legitimate contenders in the NL Central but they won’t compete for a pennant with Zach Davies, Yovani Gallardo, Jhoulys Chacin and Chase Anderson headlining the rotation. Arrieta’s form has declined since his 2015 Cy Young campaign, but he’s still a legitimate top-tier arm who can front a postseason rotation. Adding a significant second starter (Alex Cobb? Jason Vargas?) would put Milwaukee in an even better position.
New York Mets: Spend as much as the Wilpons will allow
It’s a shame that the Mets will have to penny-pinch their way through another offseason. If Michael Conforto returns from injury, Yoenis Cespedes produces the way he’s capable and the pitching staff stays healthy, New York can compete in the NL East. The way they can do this is to approach this offseason the way the Angels have—be aggressive and sign trusty veteran bats. Sign Adrian Gonzalez to play first base and keep a lane open for Dom Smith. Determine David Wright’s health and consider signing Mike Moustakas. Interview Lorenzo Cain. The Mets probably won’t do any of these things until the Wilpons sell the team, but the fans can dream.
Philadelphia Phillies: Sign Alex Cobb
The Phillies have enough money to sign a frontline starter (Darvish, Arrieta) to improve an awful pitching staff (think the way the Cubs signed Jon Lester), but perhaps they’re better off saving some of their money for the next offseason to pursue Manny Machado. By signing Carlos Santana to play first base and moving rookie sensation Rhys Hoskins to the outfield, the Phillies starting lineup is set for the conceivable future. What the team needs is stable starting pitching. If he’s healthy, Cobb is one of the trustiest finds in baseball.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Trust Ray Searage
A lot of folks think that the Pirates’ window has closed and that they should sell off their best assets (Gerrit Cole, Andrew McCutchen). There is enough evidence, however, that the Pirates can make one more run at the postseason. McCutchen looked done in the beginning of last season, but surged to compile a .279/.336/.467 slash line with 28 homers. The team stumbled to a 75–87 finish, but that was after losing star outfielder Starling Marte for 80 games to a PED suspension. Former top prospect Gregory Polanco may be closer to a bust than a star, but he’s still a decent everyday outfielder.
Now, the Pirates need rotation depth and the wizardry of pitching coach Ray Searage to help them avoid any major pitching struggles in 2018. Whether that’s by signing Andrew Cashner or Jaime Garcia, the Pirates can compete from the outside if they get strong production from a veteran starter.
San Diego Padres: Sign Eric Hosmer
Hosmer is the player the Padres want. Between him, Wil Myers and a core of young talent headlined by Manny Margot and Hunter Renfroe, the Padres can lure fans to the ballpark for the first time in years, even if they won’t win too much in 2018.
San Francisco Giants: Find a centerfielder
The Giants managed to unload the struggling Denard Span to the Rays, and now they need to fill centerfield with a plus defender and a bat to energize one of baseball’s weakest lineups. The Giants have made one of the offseason’s biggest moves by acquiring Evan Longoria from the Rays, and are rumored to be talking to the Reds about acquiring Billy Hamilton. San Francisco probably isn’t going to unseat the Dodgers at the top of the NL West, but it can compete for a Wild Card spot if it fields a decent outfield and receives comeback performances from Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner.
St. Louis Cardinals: Keep trying to acquire Manny Machado
The Cardinals made one of the best moves of the offseason by acquiring Marcell Ozuna. To make a bigger run at unseating the Cubs at the top of the division, GM John Mozeliak should keep floating Luke Weaver and other prospects at the Orioles for Machado. The Cardinals are almost there, but they’re one power bat away from reaching the top tier of the National League.
Washington Nationals: Trade for J.T. Realmuto
The Nationals are set everywhere except for catcher. The Marlins may ask for top prospect Victor Robles, but the Nationals can say no and ask for lesser prospects. They received subpar packages for Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon … so why would the Nats have to deal their top prospect?