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We’re at that fun point in the MLB offseason when the picture is getting clearer but rumblings and speculation still abound.
Multiple marquee free agents and trade candidates have fallen off the board, yet an array of top-tier players remain available via swap or the open market.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top 10 MLB targets along with predictions of where they’ll be when the hot stove goes cold and spring training begins.
Our top 10 is admittedly subjective. But we based it on a combination of stats, potential and pedigree—as well as recent, credible rumors when it came to trades.
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If only 2017 had been Marwin Gonzalez’s contract year. He hit .303 with a .907 OPS and picked up stray MVP votes.
Unfortunately for Gonzalez and his bank account, he followed that up with a .247 average and .733 OPS in 2018.
That said, he’s 29 years old and has logged big league innings at every non-pitching position except catcher. And his 38.4 percent hard contact rate was well above his career average of 31.8 percent last season. He could be a significant asset for a contender seeking infield help.
Enter the New York Yankees, who could use depth while they wait for shortstop Didi Gregorius to recover from Tommy John surgery. Sure, the Yanks could swing for the fences and sign Manny Machado. But they might view Gonzalez as a viable “backup plan,” per Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports.
It makes sense. He’d afford them flexibility without breaking the bank and be able to assume a super-utility role once Gregorius comes back.
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The Washington Nationals are going for it in the crowded National League East. That much is clear after they signed left-hander Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal.
They might lose franchise icon Bryce Harper to free agency, but the Nats want to hang with the up-and-coming Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies and the retooling New York Mets.
They have holes to plug, including at second base, where Wilmer Difo and his .669 career OPS tops the depth chart.
There are multiple options on the trade and free-agent fronts, but none more decorated than DJ LeMahieu.
The 30-year-old boasts three Gold Gloves and won a batting title in 2016 with the Colorado Rockies. Even adjusting for the Coors Field bump, he’s an asset with the leather and in the batter’s box.
Washington could cross its fingers and await the arrival of 21-year-old prospect Carter Keiboom. But if the Nationals want to win now, inking a proven commodity such as LeMahieu is the prudent play.
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The Philadelphia Phillies have been featured in various rumors for both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. They have a need in the outfield and possibly the infield, plus a burgeoning young nucleus and money to spend. It adds up.
That said, the Phils are not alone in their pursuit of those superstars and could lose out to other suitors, as we’ll explore shortly.
If so, they could turn their attention to A.J. Pollock. The 31-year-old has battled injuries in recent years but posted an .800 OPS in 113 games last season along with six defensive runs saved in center field.
MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand termed Pollock “a solid Plan B” if the Phillies miss on Harper and Machado. We concur.
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The Los Angeles Angels need to build a playoff-caliber roster around superstar Mike Trout, who’s due to hit free agency after the 2020 season. They have multiple areas to address, including the starting rotation, but they also need a catcher.
At the moment, Jose Briceno, who hit .239 as a rookie in 2018, and waiver pickup Kevan Smith top the depth chart. That won’t do.
Meanwhile, Yasmani Grandal is dangling in free agency. Grandal had some hiccups offensively last season but finished with an .815 OPS and rated as the second-best pitch-framer in baseball, per StatCorner.
He rejected a four-year, $60 million offer from the New York Mets, per Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times. If the Halos play the waiting game, Grandal’s asking price may come down. Remember, the Mets ultimately pivoted to Wilson Ramos, an All-Star backstop in 2018, and landed him for two years and $19 million.
If Grandal is willing to accept fewer years and less money than his previous ask, a marriage with the Angels makes a lot of sense.
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Speaking of catchers, J.T. Realmuto remains on the trade market. We’ve heard all winter from an array of sources that the Miami Marlins’ asking price is sky high. We also know the Marlins are open for business after they traded a gaggle of stars last winter.
And we certainly know Realmuto is a prized commodity after he posted an .825 OPS in 2018 and emerged as arguably the best catcher in the game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are in a win-now window after losing the last two World Series. They have a need behind the plate after Grandal rejected the qualifying offer and became a free agent.
They have a couple of highly rated catchers in their farm system in Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith. One of them, paired with outfield prospect Alex Verdugo, ought to pique Miami’s interest.
It would be a lot to give up, but catchers of Realmuto’s caliber aren’t available every winter, and the Dodgers should spare no expense in their quest for a title.
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The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen finished 18th in baseball with a 4.19 ERA in 2018. If they want to contend in the competitive National League East, that number needs to improve.
There are multiple impact relievers on the market, but none with a better resume than Craig Kimbrel. A seven-time All-Star, Kimbrel averaged 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings last season with the Boston Red Sox while nailing down 42 saves.
He’ll turn 31 in May and is seeking a six-year deal in excess of $100 million, per Jayson Stark of The Athletic. Seeking and getting aren’t the same thing, but the sticker shock will be real.
Philadelphia can afford it. According to MLB.com’s Richard Justice, “inside the industry, there’s a feeling the Phillies are going to sign [Kimbrel],” who spent the first five seasons of his career in the National League East with the Atlanta Braves.
A long-term pact could sting on the back end, but there’s no question it would make the Phils measurably better in 2019.
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Dallas Keuchel is the best starting pitcher remaining on the free-agent market. He’s also a client of superagent Scott Boras. Not surprisingly, his price tag is “currently prohibitive,” per Dennis Lin of The Athletic.
Keuchel, Lin added, “isn’t expected to sign until late in the offseason.”
He will sign eventually, however, after posting a 3.74 ERA in 204.2 innings and putting his injury issues in the rearview. The Cincinnati Reds are a logical landing spot.
The Reds signaled their intent to contend in 2019 by acquiring outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp and left-hander Alex Wood from the Dodgers. They can’t stop there if they want to hang with the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.
Keuchel’s 58.8 career ground-ball percentage would play well in the homer-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park, and he’d anchor a Reds rotation that ranked 25th with a 5.02 ERA in 2018.
There would be risk in paying Boras-level years and dollars for a player entering his age-31 season. But there would be ample reward as well for Cincinnati.
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The Cleveland Indians have featured in a bevy of offseason trade rumors regarding their starting pitchers, specifically right-handers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. It’s possible they’ll keep both heading into 2019 as they seek to remain atop the weak American League Central.
The rumors persist, however. On Dec. 26, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported the Dodgers and San Diego Padres were both engaged with Cleveland on Kluber, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner. The asking price, per Morosi, involved a pair of young outfielders: the Dodgers’ Alex Verdugo (age 22) or the Padres’ Manuel Margot (age 24).
Margot could fit the Indians’ needs nicely. The Tribe have a thin outfield depth chart, and Margot is a toolsy talent with two-plus MLB seasons under his belt who posted nine defensive runs saved in center field in 2018.
Kluber is signed through 2021 with a pair of team options, making him a good fit for the rebuilding Friars, and he could thrive at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. If the Pads are willing to part with premium talent, this has all the makings of a match.
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Now we get to the first of the two biggest fish. Bryce Harper needs no introduction, but we’ll recite his resume anyway: six All-Star selections, an NL Rookie of the Year Award and an NL MVP trophy. Oh, and he turned 26 in October.
He’s battled injuries and had some peaks and valleys along the way, but he’s a generational talent and highly marketable personality that would instantly transform any franchise.
Paging the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s an almost-too-perfect fit. Bryce in Tinseltown. Los Angeles opened the door wide by trading Puig and Kemp to the Reds and clearing space in their outfield. We know Harper likes the idea, at least on Instagram.
The Dodgers desperately want a Commissioner’s Trophy and now could use an outfielder. Harper belongs in a massive market. Round peg, meet round hole.
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Like Harper, Manny Machado is a generational player who’s 26 years old. He can capably play third base or shortstop. He’s going to want a massive deal.
The New York Yankees have featured in many Machado rumors, and the Bronx may be where he ends up. Consider the Chicago White Sox, however.
The ChiSox don’t boast the glamor and championship-strewn history of the Yankees. But they’re an up-and-coming club loaded with young talent that might be a few pieces away from contending in the winnable AL Central. They also employ Yonder Alonso, who happens to be Machado’s brother-in-law.
Machado was recently “wooed” by the White Sox as well as the Yankees and Phillies, per ESPN.com’s Coley Harvey. They have the second-least committed payroll for 2019, per Spotrac, meaning they can back up the Brink’s truck if they want to.
Assuming Machado is amenable to the South Side, Chicago is a dark-horse suitor to bet on.