by Rob Joyce
The confetti has settled in Houston – at least in the front office – and all eyes in baseball are locked into 2018. The free agent class isn’t nearly as glamorous as the one upcoming in 2019 (it would admittedly be hard to top next winter’s crop) but there are still plenty of big names available. Whether it’s a top-end starter, a big bopper or, in one case, maybe even both rolled into one (?!), here are the five biggest names available as the free agency period begins:
5) Shohei Otani:
The next great talent to come from Japan, the 23-year-old poses a unique problem for whatever team is willing to pay the Nippon Ham Fighters $20 million. He is a starting pitcher that regularly hits 100 miles per hour with his fastball. He is a batter that hit .336 last season and has top-end speed on the bases. It begs the question: where does he play in the majors? If he went to an American League team it’s plausible that he could be the designated hitter on days when he wasn’t scheduled to pitch, but scouts worry about one skill-set (or both) degrading over time as his body wears down.
4) Jake Arrieta:
The overall 2017 numbers don’t look great: a 3.53 earned run average, with a WHIP and home run rate going up and the strikeout rate remaining stagnant. That was largely due to a poor April and May, and over the final half of the season he returned to his All-Star form, with a sub-2.30 ERA. Turning 32 in March he’s likely not going to be the dominant force the 2015 Cy Young winner was, but any starter-needy team will be acquiring a top-two rotation guy. A Plano, Texas native and TCU alum, the Rangers seem like a natural fit.
3) Eric Hosmer:
The 28-year-old picked the perfect time to have a career season. He matched his career-high in home runs (25), raised his batting average 50 points from two years ago (.318) and locked up his fourth Gold Glove at first base. It’s a mass exodus in Kansas City, with nine free agents hitting the market, and Hosmer is due to cash in the most from that group. A team like the Red Sox, power-starved and with an opening at first base, would figure to be in the running.
2) Yu Darvish:
Forget his World Series dud and understand that he’s the best free agent pitcher out there. His half-season in the National League treated the 31-year-old nicely, as his strikeout rate returned to his pre-Tommy John levels of over 11 batters per nine innings. He’s only logged 200 innings in a season twice, but his injury concern appears to be a thing of the past. If Arrieta doesn’t re-sign with the Cubs, Darvish would fit in nicely on the North Side.
1) J.D. Martinez:
It’s time for Martinez to become the star his stats say he is. In three-and-a-half years in Detroit he hit .300 with 99 home runs, but was overshadowed by Miguel Cabrera. Last year he was traded mid-season to Arizona and hit 27 home runs in 62 games, but played second fiddle to Paul Goldschmidt. Now the 30-year-old is set to cash in and be paid like a middle-of-the-order presence. Over the last four years he’s hit .300 with 128 home runs, 122 doubles and has an increasing walk-rate. His defense in right field is average at best, and a stop in the American League would likely translate nicely as he ages into the DH role. Boston would be a good AL fit, but if stays in the NL, the Giants could use the boost.