The heat gets turned up on baseball’s hot stove season when Major League Baseball’s 30 general managers convene for their annual winter meetings, which began Monday in Scottsdale, Ariz.
New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has already kicked things off when he told reporters his team was interested in two of the most-prized pitchers on the market, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.
“Of course, we’re going to talk to Strasburg. We’ll talk to Cole. We’ll talk to the higher-end guys, clearly, and have conversations, and we’ll also talk about some surprise guys, I’m sure,” he said.
Some of those “surprise guys” could be position players, of which there aren’t as many marquee names as we will find among the free agent pitchers. Still, every team has needs, and below you will find the best player available at each position, along with teams that could be a fit.
Position players were selected according to their estimated value in 2020. Figuring out the future worth of any player isn’t an exact science, but we can use WARcels, a simple forecasting system created by baseball analyst Tom Tango, to get a projection for 2020 performance and beyond.
Catcher: Yasmani Grandal, age 31 years old
Teams with a need: Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays
Grandal hit .246 with an .848 OPS, creating runs at a rate that was 21 percent higher than the league average after you take into account league and park effects. The latter was the best rate at the position. Behind the plate, he converted 51 percent of non-swing pitches into called strikes in the shadow zone (the region that borders the strike zone), the eighth-best rate of any catcher in baseball receiving 1,500 or more pitches in 2019.
First base: Justin Smoak, 33 years old
Teams with a need: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays
Smoak had an off year offensively, he batted a career-low .208 with a .748 OPS, but some of that could be attributed to a quad injury in June and a below-average batting average on balls in play (.223).
Based on the launch angles and exit velocities of those hits, we’d expect a batter such as Smoak to produce a .250 average and .495 slugging, which would be more in line with what we saw during his 2017 campaign, a season worth 3.6 wins above replacement.
Second base: Starlin Castro, 30 years old
Teams with a need: Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics
During his two seasons with Miami, Castro batted .274 with 34 home runs and 103 total extra-base hits. After the 2019 all-star break, he created runs at a rate that was 29 percent higher than the league average after you take into account league and park effects, making him the ninth-best hitting second baseball over that span.
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius, 30 years old
Teams with a need: Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers
Tommy John surgery limited Gregorius to just 82 games this season and he was underwhelming when he did step up to the plate: .238 average with a .276 on-base percentage. However, he flashed power (16 home runs with .441 slugging) and improved his rate of hits on the sweet spot of the bat, also known as the barrel, to a career-high six percent of balls put in play. His hard-hit rate also reached a career high (35 percent).
Third base: Anthony Rendon, 29 years old
Teams with a need: Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals
According to Dan Szymborski’s 2020 ZiPS projections, not only is Rendon expected to be the best-performing player from this group, he is expected to be the best-performing free agent available among all position players. Early estimates see Rendon batting .288 with 28 home runs and a 1.010 OPS, producing a projected 5.6 wins above replacement in 2020.
Center field: Cameron Maybin, 32 years old
Teams with a need: Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets, New York Yankees
The former first-round pick batted .285 with 11 home runs in 82 games with the Yankees and saved the team two runs defensively while playing center field, his best fielding performance since 2014.
His speed wasn’t always on display — he stole just nine bases last year — but his sprint speed of 28.7 feet per second was the third-best on the team and good enough to put him in the 87th percentile of major league players.
Left field: Marcell Ozuna, 29 years old
Teams with a need: Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays
Ozuna’s hard hit rate (49 percent) in 2019 was in the 96th percentile, putting him among the league’s 12 hardest hitters. In addition, his walk rate (11 percent) was a five-point improvement from 2018 and a career high. Those two factors, plus his ability to hit better away from Busch Stadium, make him a valuable addition to any outfield in 2020.
|Marcell Ozuna (2019)||AVG||SLG||ISO|
Right field: Nick Castellanos, 28 years old
Teams with a need: Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays
Castellanos set career highs in slugging percentage (.525) by hitting 58 doubles, three triples and 27 home runs in 2019. He hit .321 with a 1.002 OPS for the Chicago Cubs, who acquired him at the trade deadline, producing runs at a rate that was 54 percent higher than average for his new team, the same rate as Rendon over that two-month span.
|Nick Castellanos (2019)||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||wRC+|
Designated hitter: Jose Abreu, 33 years old
Teams with a need: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays
The 32-year-old all-star hit .284 with 33 home runs and a league-leading 123 RBI. The latter was largely due to opportunity — no batter had more plate appearances with runners on base in 2019 — but among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances with runners on base last season, only Rendon, Rafael Devers and Bryce Harper drove in a larger share.