David Freese, Third Baseman
Former Team: Los Angeles Angels
While Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and Yovani Gallardo are clearly in a tier by themselves, these next four players also deserve some serious consideration. First is David Freese, who is coming off a quietly decent season in Los Angeles with the Angels. Freese isn’t really going to ‘wow’ anyone at this point in his career, but was a consistent major league third baseman last season. Even with solid production, and no draft pick compensation attached, Freese still finds himself without a 2016 home. It originally seemed like there was a possibility for him to head back to LA, but the trade of Yunel Escobar and the unwillingness of the Angels to exceed the luxury tax seems to have scuttled that opportunity.
At this point, Freese is the best offensive player on the market not named Fowler or Desmond. The issue for Freese seems to be similar to the one with Desmond: finding a team with an actual need that wants to spend the requisite money to get a deal done. The White Sox seemed like a likely landing spot, but the acquisitions of Brett Lawrie, and later Todd Frazier, ended any chances of this happening. With him clearly not headed back to Los Angeles, only a handful of viable options remain. Chief among those are the Pirates and Indians. The Pirates would make a lot of sense, especially given the trade of Neil Walker and the move of Josh Harrison to second base full time. Jung Ho Kang could slide over to shortstop, sending Jordy Mercer to the bench (where he seems like a better fit) and allowing Freese to slide into the lineup at third. This move would provide the Pirates with slightly more offense and versatility, and may be a sneaky good move to end their offseason.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Pirates
Juan Uribe, Third Baseman
Former Team: New York Mets
Perhaps just below David Freese in terms of decent third base options available on the free agent market, is Juan Uribe. Coming off a season in which he played for three different teams following two midseason trades, Uribe was a contributing member of the New York Mets World Series run. Obviously Uribe is nowhere near the player he used to be, but he could still provide strong depth for a number of teams. It is unclear whether Uribe can be an everyday starter at this point in his career, but it seems like he is looking for an opportunity for consistent playing time. Similarly to Freese and Desmond, the market is not as robust as Uribe and the others would have hoped.
With mere weeks until Spring Training games begin, Uribe will find somewhere to play in 2016. He is simply too good as a spot starter/bench option to be left without a team to play for next season. With that being said, he seems to be running out of time and options, and may be better off being more flexible with his demands for consistent playing time. The Indians are the most obvious fit, and seem interested. It may be hard for the team to commit to giving Uribe much playing time, given the team currently has Giovanny Urshela and Jose Ramirez slated to share the position for next season. Uribe would be an upgrade over either, and a decent depth/bench option at worst. Freese would be an even better fit for the Indians, but Uribe seems like the likelier option.
Prediction: Cleveland Indians
Austin Jackson, Outfielder
Former Team: Chicago Cubs
Only slightly behind Dexter Fowler in terms of outfield free agent value is Austin Jackson. Jackson pales in comparison to Fowler in terms of monetary value, and will likely be worth quite a bit less, but the players are more similar than most would think. The biggest thing Jackson has going for him over Fowler is the lack of draft pick compensation attached. That should be the main determining factor driving the prices of those two players even closer together. For a team unwilling to give up the money and draft pick for a player like Fowler, Jackson provides a fantastic alternative.
Coming off an up and down year, Jackson may not be worthy of being a starting outfielder on a big league roster in 2016. With that being said, he does deserve a job next year as a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement type of player. Outfield help is something that teams have payed rather significantly for this offseason, making Jackson’s position even better. Jackson does come with some question marks, especially given his poor start to the season in Seattle. With that being said, he still should find a decent contract for at least next season in the next week or so. In terms of likely fits, the White Sox seem like the team with the most obvious need and desire, as they wouldn’t have to part with a draft pick to sign Jackson, as is the case with Fowler. The Indians or a rebuilding team like the Phillies/Braves could also take a shot on Jackson in 2016.
Prediction: Chicago White Sox
The final two players in the second tier of the free agent market are grouped together because they play the same position, and seem to have similar values, albeit for vastly different reasons.
Pedro Alvarez is coming off a season in which he found himself benched to start the National League Wild Card game, and then non-tendered once the season had reached it’s conclusion. It was a quick end to Alvarez’s time in Pittsburgh and appeared to be a smaller sign of a larger trend around baseball. A similar story went down in Houston with Chris Carter. Teams just are not wiling to pay the price, either monetarily or the price of a roster spot, for players with a one dimensional, specifically power, skill set. More and more teams are trying to find the competitive advantage in all around hitters, good runners, and strong defenders. Alvarez and Carter do not fit that bill in the slightest. This has left Alvarez out of a job in 2016.
Alvarez may be the most questionable player on this entire list. While all the others have some notable value, Alvarez is a one dimensional player with a minimal skill set that is no longer desirable. For that reason, it is very difficult to make a prediction on where he ends up. I would say Houston is a fit, but they got rid of the same player this offseason in Chris Carter. Gun to my head, I would say the best fit for Alvarez is in the American League as a DH. While the Orioles would make sense, Mark Trumbo should probably be their DH. That leaves the Chicago White Sox as the only team that makes any sort of sense. That is if they can get rid of Adam Laroche while they are at it.
On the other hand, while Pedro Alvarez is having trouble finding a job because of an obsolete skill set, Justin Morneau is having the same trouble because of injury concerns and age-related decline. Coming off an injury plagued season in Colorado, it is unclear whether Morneau will be able to find a job, or will just retire instead. While the Pirates seemed to be an interesting potential fit earlier this offseason, the signing of John Jaso filled their need. The only remaining fit that makes any sort of sense is the Houston Astros, who have a void to fill until A.J. Reed is ready for the big leagues, which likely won’t be until midseason.
Prediction: Chicago White Sox/Houston Astros