MLB Free Agency 2017: Top free agents each team should keep

By The Sports Xchange
Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnation, 33, equaled his career best with 42 homers and added 127 RBIs. He will be an appealing player to such teams as the Red Sox and Yankees. Photo by Darren Calabrese/UPI
Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnation, 33, equaled his career best with 42 homers and added 127 RBIs. He will be an appealing player to such teams as the Red Sox and Yankees. Photo by Darren Calabrese/UPI | License Photo

The Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets have the most to lose as baseball's free agent market opens for business.

All three teams gave $17.2 million qualifying offers to a pair of players Monday, meaning they would receive draft-pick compensation if those players change teams.


While the future selections would be nice, losing those stars would leave hefty holes in their current rosters.

Blue Jays sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen, and Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and second baseman Neil Walker all have the security of a $17.2 million, one-year deal awaiting if they can't land mega-contracts.


Here is a team-by-team look at the available free agents, with The Sports Xchange's national network of baseball writers analyzing which players will be most strongly pursued by their 2016 team.



FREE AGENTS: RHP Daniel Hudson, OF Rickie Weeks Jr.

Hudson touches 97 mph with his fastball and has command of an off-speed pitch, and he could help anyone's bullpen. He spent the final month as the D-backs' closer. Hudson has expressed a desire to remain with the team, but the new general manager will have a lot to say about that. Weeks hit .284 against left-handers, but the transition to left field did not go smoothly. He would be a better fit on a contender.


FREE AGENTS: LHP Jorge De La Rosa, INF Daniel Descalso, C Nick Hundley, LHP Boone Logan, OF Ryan Raburn, 1B Mark Reynolds

The Rockies will have interest in re-signing Reynolds and Descalso, both of whom liked playing for the team. Descalso, who completed a two-year, $3.6 million contract, played more than anticipated following SS Trevor Story's thumb injury. But Story, 3B Nolan Arenado and 2B DJ LeMahieu play regularly, so Descalso might find more at-bats elsewhere and will have to weigh that with any Rockies offer. Reynolds, 33, played a better first base than the Rockies expected while departing from his past and hitting more for average than power. He had a one-year, $2.6 million deal and likely will seek a two-year contract. De La Rosa, 35, won't be back after showing his age while making $12.5 million and finishing a two-year, $25 million contract. The Rockies are likely to part with Hundley, 33.



FREE AGENTS: RHP Kenley Jansen, 3B Justin Turner, 2B Chase Utley, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Joe Blanton, RHP Jesse Chavez, LHP Rich Hill, LHP J.P. Howell, LHP Scott Kazmir, OF Josh Reddick

With the exception of LHP Aroldis Chapman, Jansen will command the most attention and possibly the largest contract of any closer during the offseason. Jansen had his best regular season, earning a career-high 47 saves and fanning 104 batters in 68 2/3 innings. He also became the Dodgers' all-time saves leader this season, surpassing Eric Gagne. Turner had a career year with 27 homers and 90 RBIs. Before the 2015 season, when Turner hit 16 home runs, he had never reached double digits in that category. Though the Southern California native would love to return to the Dodgers, he will have plenty of suitors. Utley's status is in jeopardy because of the team's crowded outfield, which could force Los Angeles to return INF/LF Howie Kendrick to a full-time spot at second base. However, if Turner bolts, the Dodgers could bring back Utley for another campaign and move Kendrick to third base.



FREE AGENTS: RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Brandon Morrow, RHP Carlos Villaneuva, LHP Clayton Richard, OF Jon Jay, INF Adam Rosales

The Padres would like to retain Richard, Rosales and Jay both for their abilities and the veteran influence they bring to what will be a young team. However, none would be considered a marquee signing. San Diego will make offers to Jackson and Morrow, possibly as minor league free agents.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Jake Peavy, RHP Santiago Casilla, RHP Sergio Romo, LHP Javier Lopez, RHP Joe Nathan, INF Gordon Beckham, LF Angel Pagan, OF Gregor Blanco

Peavy and Lopez could be headed for retirement, and there is almost no chance Beckham and Nathan will be back. With a bunch of young relievers primed to take a next step, it is almost a certainty Castilla or Romo won't be back, especially if a new closer is signed. The versatile Blanco is a better candidate to be re-signed than Pagan if the team uses free agency to import a new left fielder.




FREE AGENTS: LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Joe Smith, OF Chris Coghlan, RHP Trevor Cahill, CF Dexter Fowler, RHP Jason Hammel, INF Munenori Kawasaki, C David Ross, LHP Travis Wood

The Cubs will have to decide if Chapman was a rent-a-player or if they want a more permanent association. His 16 saves in 18 opportunities after joining the Cubs in late July and blazing fastball could allow him to command more than the $11.3 million salary he made this year. Coghlan, 31, is a versatile utility player who played two seasons with the Cubs and was brought back from Oakland earlier this year. Smith is a sidearm-throwing reliever and late-season acquisition from the Angels. Cahill made 50 regular-season appearances and posted a 2.74 ERA. Fowler declined his $9 million mutual option is search of greater riches. Ross retired after the World Series.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Alfredo Simon, RHP Ross Ohlendorf

The signing of both Simon and Ohlendorf was necessitated by injuries to the rotation, which destabilized the bullpen. Simon posted a 9.36 ERA in 15 appearances, including 11 starts. Ohlendorf went 5-7 with a 4.71 in 63 appearances. With plenty of depth coming into next spring training, neither is expected to be brought back.



FREE AGENTS: LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Blaine Boyer

Both were non-roster invitees who earned bullpen jobs during spring training. Capuano was performing well until he sustained an arm injury in May. He never returned. Boyer appeared in 61 games for the Brewers, going 2-4 with a 3.95 ERA. Capuano's career is likely done, and the Brewers aren't expected to bring back Boyer for another go-round.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Neftali Feliz, INF/OF Sean Rodriguez, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, INF/OF Matt Joyce

The Pirates would love to re-sign Nova in particular, but after he became one of their best pitchers following an Aug. 1 trade, they very well won't be able to afford him. The same goes for Rodriguez, who probably earned himself a regular spot with another team. Feliz would fit next year, but only if the cost works. Vogelsong, 39, has vowed to pitch somewhere next season, but it probably won't be with Pittsburgh.


FREE AGENTS: LF Matt Holliday, OF/1B Brandon Moss, RHP Jordan Walden, RHP Jerome Williams


Holliday is basically gone, but Moss is a different matter. His monstrous slump in the final month -- he was 7-for-95 at one point -- might have cost him money in the open market and could make him more affordable for St. Louis. Moss actually had a great season going until then. Walden hasn't pitched since April 2015 due to a right shoulder strain. Williams was a bit player out of the bullpen this year.



FREE AGENTS: C A.J. Pierzynski, LHP Eric O'Flaherty, OF Emilio Bonifacio

The club has no meaningful players eligible for free agency. Pierzynski is expected to retire. The Braves must make a call on O'Flaherty (1-4, 6.91), who couldn't stay healthy enough to contribute as a situational lefty in 2016. Bonifacio hit .211 in 24 games with Atlanta, so he isn't likely to strike it rich with the Braves or elsewhere.


FREE AGENTS: LHP Mike Dunn, C Jeff Mathis, OF Jeff Francoeur, RHP Dustin McGowan, RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Fernando Rodney, INF Chris Johnson


Dunn has survived six seasons with the Marlins as a middle reliever. Because of that longevity and generally solid production there is a good chance he returns. Mathis also is likely to return. He doesn't hit much (.601 OPS), but he is a good leader in the clubhouse and is sound defensively and working with pitchers. Francoeur is worth retaining as a bench piece depending on the salary terms. McGowan would only return on a minimum contract. Cashner almost certainly won't be back. Despite good stuff, he was just 5-11 with a 5.25 ERA this year, wasting his talent.


FREE AGENTS: LHP Jerry Blevins, OF Yoenis Cespedes, RHP Bartolo Colon, OF Alejandro De Aza, INF Kelly Johnson, 1B James Loney, LHP Jon Niese, RHP Fernando Salas, 2B Neil Walker

Cespedes opted out of the final two years of the three-year, $75 million deal he signed in January. The Mets hope to bring him back. The toughest decision here involves Walker, who provided solid defense and steady leadership while cruising toward a 30-homer season before undergoing back surgery. The Mets likely would prefer a short-term deal, but Walker could get four years in a depressed market. Colon came back expecting to fill a swingman role but ended up as the Mets' most reliable starter. He loves the Mets, and vice versa, but the team has more than a half-dozen hard-throwing 20-something starters, so even at 43 years old, Colon could get more money and a safer rotation spot elsewhere. Johnson could return this winter on a reasonable deal. The Mets also have interest in retaining the versatile Blevins as well as Salas, who emerged as the seventh-inning man following his acquisition on Aug. 31.



FREE AGENTS: 1B Ryan Howard, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Charlie Morton, C A.J. Ellis, RHP David Hernandez, OF Peter Bourjos, INF Andres Blanco

Howard was bought out of his contract, getting $10 million to be a former Phillie. Assuming he does not retire, a stint as a designated hitter in the American League seems possible. Hellickson wants to stay, but do the Phillies want to give him a multiyear deal or does he like the city so much he will accept the one-year qualifying offer? Morton made four starts before a season-ending hamstring injury, and the Phillies have a $1 million buyout on his $9.5 million option for next season. It is possible Morton could be brought back on a cheaper deal filled with incentives. Hernandez, who made 69 appearances this year, could be offered a contract by the Phillies. Bourjos plays good defense and has speed, but the Phillies might not think he is worth keeping because of a quiet bat. Ellis was acquired in August for Carlos Ruiz and could be re-signed since he was viewed as a positive influence with the young pitching staff.



FREE AGENTS: C Wilson Ramos, RHP Mat Latos, INF Stephen Drew, LHP Marc Rzepczynski, RHP Mark Melancon, RHP Matt Belisle, LHP Sean Burnett, OF Chris Heisey, RHP Yusmeiro Petit

Ramos reportedly turned down a three-year contract in the closing days of the season. A few days later, he tore an ACL in his right knee when he jumped for a relay throw from 1B Ryan Zimmerman. He ended the year hitting .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBIs, all career highs, in 131 games. "This was the most inopportune time for this to happen," manager Dusty Baker said of his injury. Drew was a valuable bench player. Latos and Rzepczynski were midseason acquisitions whose stay in Washington could be brief.



FREE AGENTS: C Jason Castro, RHP Doug Fister, OF Colby Rasmus, 3B Luis Valbuena


Valbuena was enjoying the best season of his career (.816 OPS) but was lost to a hamstring injury after 90 games and supplanted by top prospect Alex Bregman. Despite his popularity and good fit in the clubhouse, his future in Houston is murky. Castro has been a stalwart since his debut in 2010, but he remains a subpar offensive catcher (.660 OPS from 2014-16) and could become expendable given that lack of production and the return to catching by Evan Gattis. Both Fister and Rasmus appear to be as good as gone, with neither offering much in the second half.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Jered Weaver, LHP C.J. Wilson, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, C Geovany Soto, RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Andrew Bailey

Weaver, a rotation mainstay for a decade, fought nagging injuries and declining velocity the past three years. Chacin's position will depend on whether Weaver re-signs. Bailey, who signed a minor league contract Aug. 12, converted all six of his save opportunities. Despite Lincecum's poor performance, GM Billy Eppler said he wants to monitor the veteran's progress during the offseason. Soto played just 26 games due to knee injuries and likely will not be back. Neither will Wilson, who last pitched in the majors in July 2015 because of elbow and shoulder injuries.



FREE AGENTS: OF Sam Fuld, LHP Ross Detwiler

Fuld missed the season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder. Detwiler, acquired from Cleveland during the season, did a decent job after being called up from Triple-A Nashville. Neither one will be a high priority for Oakland to re-sign.


FREE AGENTS: 1B Adam Lind, 1B Dae-Ho Lee, OF Franklin Gutierrez, RHP Drew Storen, C Chris Iannetta

Gutierrez is a productive veteran who has deep ties to the organization, so it makes sense that he might be back -- if he wants to continue playing. The Lind-Lee platoon was a boon at times and a bust at others, so the Mariners appear likely to try something new at that position. Storen turned his season around after being acquired from Toronto at midseason, although it is unlikely that Seattle would pay out big to bring the veteran back. Iannetta is likely gone with the Mariners adding C Carlos Ruiz in a trade.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Colby Lewis, OF Carlos Beltran, OF Carlos Gomez, 1B Mitch Moreland, OF Ian Desmond, LHP Derek Holland


This will be the fourth consecutive winter Lewis is a free agent, and there is interest on both sides in keeping the veteran in Arlington. Beltran will still have demand on the open market. The play of Desmond probably put him above what the Rangers can afford to pay. Gomez is interesting because he was a great fit in Texas after getting released by Houston. Moreland's time is likely done after an erratic season in which he earned $5.7 million. His departure frees up time at first base for Joey Gallo or Ryan Rua. The Rangers declined Holland's $11 million option after he went 7-9 with a 4.95 ERA this year.



FREE AGENTS: OF Austin Jackson, C Alex Avila, 1B/DH Justin Morneau, RHP Matt Albers

Jackson impressed the coaching staff in 54 games until a knee injury ended his season in early June. He could return on a short-term deal if the White Sox are willing to give him another chance at a full season. Avila and Morneau are respected veterans in the locker room, but they might prefer to sign with teams that have a better chance at postseason success.



FREE AGENTS: 1B Mike Napoli, OF Rajai Davis, OF Coco Crisp, OF Marlon Byrd

The Indians would like to bring back Napoli, who had a career year (34 home runs, 101 RBIs). He does strikeout a lot (a team-record 194), but he was a great fit in the clubhouse and an instant team-leader. However, he probably will get a multiyear deal elsewhere, and Cleveland historically has trouble re-signing its own pricey free agents. Davis, 36, became the first Indians player to lead the American League in stolen bases since Kenny Lofton in 1996. Cleveland is likely to offer him a one-year deal. Crisp was a late-season addition who had some big hits down the stretch and in the postseason. It would not be a surprise if Crisp is not back next year.


FREE AGENTS: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, INF Erick Aybar, 3B Casey McGehee

Aybar was a late-season pickup to help fill in for injured 3B Nick Castellanos. He is not likely to be back because he still thinks of himself as a regular and Detroit sees him as a reserve. Saltalamacchia isn't likely to return because the Tigers can't pay him what his service time requires. Detroit paid him minimum wage this year because Atlanta was picking up the tab on his old contract. McGehee signed a minor league contract with Detroit last winter and is not likely to be offered anything better.



FREE AGENTS: DH Kendrys Morales, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Peter Moylan, RHP Luke Hochevar, RHP Kris Medlen, C Drew Butera

With starting pitching scarce on the free agent market, Volquez, despite his 10-11 record and 5.37 ERA, figures to attract ample attention. The Royals probably won't get in a bidding war to keep him. Neither Volquez nor Morales was given a $17.2 million qualifying offer, a sign of where the team's limit will be on their services. Manager Ned Yost said he wants Moylan back in the bullpen, but with Hochevar coming off surgery, the Royals may have to turn Moylan loose.


FREE AGENT: C Kurt Suzuki

Suzuki is the team's only free agent after he didn't reach the point of vesting his 2017 option. The 33-year-old veteran is almost certain to sign elsewhere next season. Suzuki said geography will be a consideration, as the Hawaii native has family in California. John Ryan Murphy was supposed to take over for Suzuki eventually this year after he was acquired from the Yankees, but Murphy hit just .146. The Twins could look to free agency or fall back to Murphy or Suzuki's backup, Juan Centeno.




FREE AGENTS: C Matt Wieters, DH/OF Mark Trumbo, DH Pedro Alvarez, OF/IF Steve Pearce, OF Nolan Reimold, LHP Brian Duensing, RHP Tommy Hunter, OF Drew Stubbs, OF Michael Bourn, RHP Logan Ondrusek

Trumbo led the major leagues in homers, but his defense isn't great. The Orioles still gave him a $17.2 million qualifying offer. Wieters hit 17 homers this season, two years removed from Tommy John surgery. He remains one of the top defensive catchers in baseball but will turn 31 next year, and the question is if the Orioles want to hand him the kind of long-term deal he is seeking. Catching prospect Chance Sisco could be ready in 2018. Alvarez came on late and gave the team a good left-handed bat, but prospect 1B/DH Trey Mancini could fill that role. Pearce would be a big help, and manager Buck Showalter wants him. Reimold's time might be up if Bourn gets re-signed. Same with Stubbs, especially if OF Joey Rickard is back and healthy.



FREE AGENTS: INF Aaron Hill, RHP Koji Uehara, RHP Junichi Tazawa, RHP Brad Ziegler, C Ryan Hanigan

Free agency is not a problem with this team, which has younger talent mixed with veterans under long-term deals. Neither Hill nor Tazawa is an indispensable piece. Uehara, who will be 42 by the start of the new season, shook off an injury to become important again down the stretch. Ziegler was hot and cold after coming over in a trade. Boston declined Hanigan's $3.75 million option.


FREE AGENTS: 1B Mark Teixeira, OF Billy Butler

Teixeira decided to retire after the season. The Yankees were unlikely to re-sign him since they have Greg Bird waiting in the wings following shoulder surgery with the possibility of using him and Tyler Austin next season. Butler hit well for the Yankees (.345, one homer) in a 12-game cameo after he was acquired in a mid-September trade with the A's.


FREE AGENTS: 1B Logan Morrison, RHP Kevin Jepsen, SS Alexei Ramirez


Morrison had 15 home runs, but his first base playing time diminished with Brad Miller moving there full time. Jepsen, re-acquired late in the season, could be back in the bullpen. Ramirez was a late-season addition who is unlikely to return for 2017.


FREE AGENTS: RF Jose Bautista, RHP R.A. Dickey, 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Scott Feldman, LHP Brett Cecil, OF Michael Saunders, RHP Gavin Floyd, C Dioner Navarro

A combination of advancing age and high price likely will break up the dynamic duo of Encarnacion and Bautista. Encarnacion, 33, equaled his career best with 42 homers and added 127 RBIs. He will be an appealing player to such teams as the Red Sox and Yankees. Bautista, 36, struggled with injuries that twice put him on the disabled list this year, hurting his value as a free agent. His defense has dropped off. He still came up with some big hits down the stretch. Bautista might consider accepting the Blue Jays' $17.2 million qualifying offer. With the emergence or a strong rotation, Dickey likely will not return. Cecil was mostly disappointing, despite a late-season resurgence, and the team probably feels it can do better. Saunders has a needed left-handed bat, but had only 15 of his 57 RBIs after the All-Star break, so the Blue Jays might let him sign elsewhere.


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