Which teams have a need — and would be willing to spend — for remaining top free agents? – The Athletic

By Chad JenningsFeb 26, 2024

Where else was Cody Bellinger going to end up?

After months of waiting, the market’s best remaining free-agent position player signed a three-year, $80-million deal with the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. It wasn’t quite a forgone conclusion, but the Cubs were always a logical landing place, and Bellinger’s market had only dwindled over time.

The Giants? They signed Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee. The Yankees? They traded for Juan Soto and shifted Aaron Judge to center field. The Blue Jays? Brought back Kevin Kiermaier. The Mets? Signed Harrison Bader. The Rangers, Red Sox and Angels? All have signaled a reluctance to spend.

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That’s not to say some other team couldn’t have signed Bellinger, but half of the league was more or less set in center field (Mariners, Yankees, Braves, Angels, White Sox, Mets, Twins, Giants, Dodgers, Orioles, Cardinals, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Reds, Astros), and nearly a third either had publicly downplayed its potential to add payroll (Rangers, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Guardians, Tigers) or had little reason to do so (Nationals, Pirates, Athletics, Rockies).

So, unless the Rays were going to suddenly splurge in free agency, the Phillies were going to push payroll to unforeseen heights, the Padres were going to start adding rather than subtracting, or some other contender was going to change course and make a splash, the Cubs were pretty close to the last team standing.

So, what about the other superstar free agents still on the market? Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Matt Chapman and J.D. Martinez would be huge additions, especially this late in the game. But how many teams need them, and how many are willing to spend what it will take to sign them?

Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery

Jordan Montgomery had a 2.90 ERA in six playoff games on the way to winning the World Series with the Rangers last year. (Matt Kartozian / USA Today)

Every team would improve by replacing its No. 5 starter with one of these two, but which teams would improve the most?

The 10 worst rotations, as projected by FanGraphs Depth Charts, are the Rockies, Nationals, Athletics, White Sox, Pirates, Royals, Angels, Mets, Tigers, and Guardians.

In theory, those 10 teams need Snell and Montgomery the most. But aside from maybe the Mets — who seem to be resetting rather than restocking — none seems positioned to spend. The Tigers and Royals have already added to their rotations, but will they add more? Seems unlikely, though perhaps not impossible.

So, what about the next 10 rotations — Nos. 20 through 11: Rangers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Brewers, Orioles, Giants, Padres, Rays, Cubs and Marlins.

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Interesting group. If not for the Rangers, Red Sox and Giants publicly downplaying their willingness to spend significantly more money, those might be the teams best positioned to make a move for Snell or Montgomery. All three need help and should be motivated to win, but each would have to change course to make such a move at this point. Maybe one of them will. Such an addition would make sense for any one of them.

As for the current top 10 rotations according to FanGraphs projections, it’s mostly a list of current contenders who could strengthen their chances with one more big addition: Diamondbacks, Astros, Reds, Blue Jays, Yankees, Twins, Mariners, Braves, Phillies and Dodgers.

These should be the teams that need Snell and Montgomery the least — half have already added a notable starting pitcher this offseason — but adding impact to any one of these rotations could make that team awfully interesting come October. The Yankees are often linked to Snell but have their own financial issues to sort out. Is a team or a player going to blink first?

Matt Chapman

As with Bellinger in center field, Chapman’s market seems limited by the fact half of the major-league teams already have everyday solutions at third base. In order of FanGraphs WAR projections: Guardians, Astros, Braves, Red Sox, Twins, Padres, Cardinals, Pirates, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, White Sox, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Rockies.

FanGraphs Depth Charts gives the Twins the fifth-highest projected WAR at third base, and even if they had money to spend, they don’t really have another place to play Royce Lewis. The Phillies and Diamondbacks are projected to have underwhelming third-base production but don’t have alternative positions for Alec Bohm and Eugenio Suárez. That doesn’t mean one of these teams couldn’t sign Chapman, it’s just not a perfect fit, which leaves the other 15 teams.

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Have indicated they won’t spend: Blue Jays, Giants, Mariners, Tigers, Nationals, Reds, Angels
Presumably won’t spend: Rays, Royals, Athletics
Could upgrade: Cubs, Mets, Brewers
Could get creative: Orioles, Marlins

 

Matt Chapman was tied for fifth among all third baseman with 3.3 fWAR last season. (Nick Turchiaro / USA Today)

The Tigers and Reds aren’t projected for a ton of production at third, but both have addressed the position this offseason. The Angels don’t have much reliability in Anthony Rendon, but they are going to pay him almost $40 million. The Cubs, Mets and Brewers could upgrade from multiple third basemen to one everyday solution, but they might be content with their existing options. Same for the Rays, who always have positional flexibility and are projected for top-10 third-base production as it is.

That doesn’t leave a lot of ideal landing spots for Chapman, despite his resume. Would the Orioles move Gunnar Henderson to shortstop every day? Would the Marlins play Jake Burger at first? Are the Blue Jays, Giants and Mariners bluffing when they suggest all additional moves will be at the margins?

J.D. Martinez

He turns 37 in August, but Martinez is coming off his third straight All-Star selection in a resurgent season that saw him hit 33 homers with an .893 OPS. The problem is, he’s strictly a DH, and again, more than a third of teams already have that role filled. Again, in order of FanGraphs projections: Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays, White Sox, Braves, Giants, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Pirates.

Sure, the Astros could play Yordan Alvarez in left field, the White Sox could maybe deploy Eloy Jiménez in right field, and the Yankees could stick Giancarlo Stanton on the bench, but are any of those things really going to happen? The Dodgers (Shohei Ohtani), Blue Jays (Justin Turner), Giants (Jorge Soler), Mariners (Mitch Garver), Diamondbacks (Joc Pederson), and Pirates (Andrew McCutchen) have already signed free agents to be their primary DHs. So, who’s left?

Have indicated they won’t spend: Rangers, Red Sox, Guardians, Twins, Reds, Tigers, Angels
Presumably won’t spend: 
Rays, Athletics, Nationals, Rockies
Could upgrade: Padres, Cubs, Brewers, Royals, Marlins, Mets
Could get creative: Orioles, Cardinals

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The potential for a one-year deal might put some more teams financially in play compared to Chapman. The Red Sox have been in the market for a right-handed bat all winter, the Padres don’t really have a go-to DH, and the Rangers could end up with a rookie (Wyatt Langford) in that role. There’s room for those teams to make a move if they’ll spend the money. The Twins and Angels might prefer to keep the DH spot open to keep Byron Buxton and Mike Trout rested, while the Rays (Harold Ramirez) and Guardians (Josh Naylor) have solid DH solutions as it is.

So, again, what’s the market for Martinez? Plenty of teams could use his bat, but few teams have both a dire need and a clear willingness to spend. There’s no obvious match — like Bellinger and the Cubs — so sorting through the potential fits requires imagining a team doing something it so far hasn’t done.

In many cases, that thing is spending money.

(Photo of Blake Snell: Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Chad Jennings is a staff writer for The Athletic covering the Boston Red Sox. He was on the Red Sox beat previously for the Boston Herald, and before moving to Boston, he covered the New York Yankees for The Journal News and contributed regularly to USA Today. Follow Chad on Twitter @chadjennings22

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