Now that the Houston Astros have won the World Series, we have officially entered the “hot stove league” portion of the baseball season. According to MLB.com, “In the early days of baseball, Hot Stove Season referred to an actual baseball season: Hot Stove Leagues, in which MLB players would stay in shape by playing baseball in their hometowns while staying warm with actual hot stoves. The term soon expanded to become a kind of predecessor to the water cooler — on a cold day, fans would gather around the hot stove to discuss their favorite team.” With that in mind, here are 14 free agents that are sure to be the talk around the water cooler … or rather, the hot stove.
Hot Stove Preview
J.D. Martinez, OF
Very few hitters have been better than Martinez over the past few years. To cap off the 2017 season, Martinez hit 29 home runs in 62 games after Detroit dealt him to the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the trade deadline. He finished the season with 45 home runs in just 119 games. He also put up the seventh-best OPS (.936) of any player in the past three years. Martinez is set to have a big payday just four years after he was dropped from the Astros’ 40-man roster and subsequently went unclaimed by the 29 other Major League teams. Arizona would love to keep him, but he may be out of their price range, as he’s reportedly seeking a seven-year deal worth more than $200 million. The Red Sox and Dodgers figure to be major contenders for his services.
Jake Arrieta, SP
Back in 2015, Arrieta posted a 22-6 record for the Cubs to go along with a 1.77 ERA. Unfortunately, the 2017 version of Arrieta was unable to duplicate those numbers, as he finished the year with a 14-10 record and a 3.53 ERA, his highest ERA since 2013. Arrieta may not be the pitcher he was in 2015, but he is still more than capable of being a top-tier hurler and is one of the best starting pitchers on the market. He likes Chicago, but if he leaves, he could end up with the Dodgers, Nationals, Brewers or Phillies to help bring along their young staff.
Yu Darvish, SP
Darvish had his worst full season as a Major League pitcher in 2017. That does not include his less-than-impressive postseason performance. That said, he will still be one of the more sought-after pitchers this offseason. The 31-year-old right-hander owns a 3.42 career ERA and was a four-time All-Star for the Rangers before being traded away to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 deadline. A reunion with the Dodgers is appearing less likely, but a return to Texas isn’t out of the picture.
Shohei Otani, SP/OF
This may be the most interesting player to monitor offseason, especially for fantasy. Otani is the reigning Pacific League MVP, and he sports a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings over five seasons. He also owns a .286/.358/.500 slash line with 48 home runs and 166 RBI in 403 games and 1,035 at-bats. You read that right. He is a pitcher who also looks like a potentially elite hitter. We know that he will be considered a starting pitcher in fantasy, but he should be outfield-eligible, as well, so will our league settings be able to accommodate his dual play? It’s certainly a situation to monitor. The Rangers have the most “international money” to spend, but the Yankees and Twins will also be in the mix, as both teams have a significant amount of international pool money.
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Hosmer is a career .284 hitter who finished the 2017 season with 25 home runs, 94 RBI, and a .318 batting average. The 28-year-old is one of the most valuable position players available in this year’s free agent crop. The Royals would love to have him back, but the Red Sox, Yankees, and Mariners may also be competing for his services.
Lorenzo Cain, OF
Cain has the stat line to be one of the more coveted free agents on the market and is one of very few center fielders available. However, age is one of his drawbacks. He will turn 32 in April, and that could dampen interest in the former All-Star this winter. He played in a career-high 155 games in 2017, batting .300 with a .363 OBP and 15 dingers. The Giants, Mets, and Mariners would be nice fits for Cain.
Alex Cobb, SP
Cobb reinvented himself by adjusting his repertoire after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2015. After missing most of 2016, Cobb rebounded last season with a 12-10 record to go along with a 3.66 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 29 starts. New Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey has been quoted as saying that the Cubs should pursue Cobb. Unless Cobb re-signs with the Rays, a reunion with Hickey and former manager Joe Maddon seems likely, although the Twins and Dodgers among others may have something to say about that.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) November 11, 2017
Jay Bruce, OF
Bruce cracked a career-high 36 homers in 2017 while scoring 82-plus runs and topping 100 RBI for the first time since 2013. That said, he’s still a liability against left-handed pitching, as he mustered just a .222/.285/.433 slash line versus southpaws in 2017. He’s best-suited to be on the long side of a platoon, and his defensive inefficiencies make him a better fit in the American League, where he can DH. The Blue Jays and Indians have indicated interest in Bruce.
Wade Davis, RP
Davis was 32-for-33 in save chances in 2017 and was one of the only reliable pitchers in the Cubs bullpen, so they may overpay to keep him around. The downside for Davis was that he put up a career-high walk rate (4.30 BB/9) and got hit harder in the second half of the season. In addition to the Cubs, the Cardinals, Braves, Twins, and Astros could be possible destinations.
Lance Lynn, SP
Coming off Tommy John surgery, Lynn threw 186 1/3 innings and didn’t miss a start in 2017. That said, his 7.4 K/9 was a career-worst and his home rate nearly doubled from 2015. Lynn’s 4.82 FIP also suggests that his 3.43 ERA wasn’t fully earned. Regardless, he has proven himself to a be workhorse and owns a 3.38 career ERA over 977 career innings. He’d be a solid addition to any rotation.
Greg Holland, RP
Holland put up strong numbers after missing all of 2016. He finished the season with a 3.61 ERA, although that was largely inflated by a rough August (13.50 ERA). The right-hander struck out 11 batters per nine innings while walking 4.1. His 41 saves were an NL-best. Reports have stated that Holland loves Colorado, but the Cardinals, Cubs, and Royals all figure to be suitors.
Carlos Santana, 1B
Santana finished the 2017 season with a .259 average, 23 home runs, 79 RBIs, 90 runs scored and five stolen bases. Even at age 32, Santana has posted five straight seasons of playing more than 150 games with a career 121 OPS+. It also might surprise you to learn that he led all AL first basemen in defensive runs saved last year. It seems likely that Indians will try to re-sign Santana, though the Mariners and Red Sox also figure to have interest in the slugger.
He led AL first basemen in:
Defensive Runs Saved
Double plays started
— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) November 10, 2017
Zack Cozart, SS
This is a tough time to hit the free agent market, as it does not appear many top teams are in need of a shortstop. Cozart slashed .297/.385/.548 in 2017 and posted career-highs in home runs (24), ISO (.251), and BB% (12.2). Some experts have suggested that Cozart could make himself more marketable by being willing to play second base. Regardless, the Reds seem likely to pursue the 32-year-old along with the Blue Jays, Pirates, and Padres.
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Moustakas made history in 2017 by slugging 38 home runs and breaking the Royals franchise record of 36 set by Steve Balboni in 1985. Moustakas tied for fifth in the American League in home runs and also set career highs with 75 runs, 85 RBI, and a .521 slugging percentage. He finished with 2.6 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. If he leaves Kansas City, top destinations could include the Yankees, Giants, Angels, and Cardinals.