Where will [fill in player’s name here] sign? That’s undoubtedly the most popular question asked early in the offseason, while the Hot Stove is just getting lit.
Well, what if you could have an answer — maybe not the answer, but an answer — and not just for one player, but for 10 of the biggest names on the open market? Sounds pretty good, right?
MLB Trade rumors conducted a poll in which respondents selected the team they thought certain free agents would sign with this offseason. A poll was conducted for free agents ranked in the top 10 according to MLB Trade Rumors earlier this month, and the latest poll was for free agents ranked Nos. 11-20. The results are in, they’re fascinating, and they’re below — along with analysis for each player-destination prediction.
Andrew McCutchen, OF
MLBTR reader prediction: Indians (13.6%)
Other teams receiving votes: Braves (9.3%), Cubs (9.2%), Pirates (5.4%), Phillies (4.9%), Yankees (4.8%), Nationals (4.3%), Mets (4.3%), Cardinals (4.0%), White Sox (3.6%), Mariners (3.4%), Giants (3.2%), Rockies (3.2%), D-backs (3.1%)
Following a rough season in 2016, in which his OPS+ dropped from 144 to a career-low 104, McCutchen has bounced back the past two seasons. Though it wasn’t up to his standards from ’12-15, when he was a perennial Most Valuable Player Award candidate and won the National League MVP Award in ’13, McCutchen slashed .279/.363/.486 with 28 homers in ’17 for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh traded him to San Francisco, and after the Giants fell out of contention, San Francisco traded him to the Yankees in August. Altogether, he hit .255/.368/.424 (118 OPS+) with 20 homers. The question about the veteran outfielder is whether he will remain productive, return to the player he was at his peak (he’s 32 years old), or decline from here.
Several teams got votes as to where McCutchen will land, but the Indians winning makes sense given that they could use an outfield upgrade. Currently, it looks as though the Tribe would have Jason Kipnis in left field, Leonys Martin in center and Tyler Naquin in right.
Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
MLBTR reader prediction: Padres (18.6%)
Other teams receiving votes: Mariners (12.0%), Dodgers (11.5%), Angels (9.7%), Giants (4.8%), Yankees (4.5%), Red Sox (4.4%), Phillies (3.4%), Rangers (3.2%)
With a fastball that can touch 96 mph, Kikuchi has been dominant for the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball organization the past couple of years, and the team has agreed to post him so he can sign with an MLB club. Though a shoulder injury slowed him somewhat in 2018, he returned to the mound before the end of the season and pitched well.
The Padres certainly make sense as a destination for Kikuchi, given San Diego’s reported pursuit of top pitchers on the trade market such as the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard. The organization is in the middle of a rebuild, but could perhaps be aiming for contention sooner than expected. The Mariners, Dodgers and Angels have signed prominent Japanese players in the past, most recently when Shohei Ohtani joined the Angels.
This one was a blowout, with the Cardinals running away in a landslide. St. Louis is the club that has perhaps been linked to Donaldson most in rumors this offseason, needing more power in the middle of the lineup and with third base being a position at which it could use an upgrade.
Donaldson’s age (32) and recent injury history make him a bit of a risk, but the Cardinals or another club could certainly make the 2015 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner an offer to see if he returns to form. He’s only a year removed from posting a .944 OPS with 33 homers in just 113 games for the Blue Jays.
Charlie Morton, RHP
MLBTR reader prediction: Astros (35.6%)
Other teams receiving votes: Phillies (13.0%), Nationals (5.9%), Brewers (5.1%), Braves (3.4%), Angels (3.2%), Athletics (2.8%)
Morton continued to defy his age with another strong season in 2018, after getting the final out for the Astros to clinch Houston’s first World Series title the prior October. The 35-year-old right-hander posted a 3.13 ERA over 30 starts, and he could be an asset in any team’s rotation.
Nevertheless, the voters felt he’d return to Houston. It could certainly be in the cards given that the Astros might lose Dallas Keuchel to free agency, and have other starters nearing free agency in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
Wilson Ramos, C
MLBTR reader prediction: Nationals (16.8%)
Other teams receiving votes: Astros (13.4%), Braves (10.1%), Dodgers (10.1%), Mets (7.3%), Phillies (6.3%), Angels (6.0%), Brewers (3.6%), Mariners (3.6%), Rays (3.0%), Rockies (2.7%), Athletics (2.5%)
Several clubs went into the offseason looking to upgrade at catcher, including the team Ramos played seven seasons for earlier in his career, the Nationals. But Washington addressed that need by signing Kurt Suzuki to a two-year deal on Tuesday. The team that came in second in the MLBTR poll, the Astros, are another logical fit. Houston declined veteran backstop Brian McCann‘s $15 million team option, and Martin Maldonado is also a free agent.
Ramos, 31, was an All-Star in 2016, and following an injury-plagued ’17 season, he became an All-Star again in ’18, hitting .306/.358/.487 with 15 homers in 111 games split between the Rays and Phillies. If he stays healthy, Ramos could provide a veteran presence behind the plate, as well as a productive one at the plate.
Marwin Gonzalez, INF/OF
MLBTR reader prediction: Astros (10.3%)
Other teams receiving votes: Twins (7.0%), Cubs (6.7%), Yankees (5.7%), Mets (5.5%), Giants (5.1%), Rockies (4.7%), Brewers (4.7%), Angels (4.4%), Indians (4.2%), Braves (4.0%), Phillies (4.0%), Dodgers (3.5%), Nationals (3.4%), Athletics (3.2%), Cardinals (3.2%), White Sox (3.0%), Blue Jays (3.0%)
Gonzalez’s case is fascinating given the number of clubs that could use his positional flexibility. The voters went with the 29-year-old returning to Houston, but he could easily be seen landing with some of the other teams receiving votes, particularly the Rockies, Cubs and Indians.
Colorado could use a versatile player given its relatively low offensive output from first base, where Ian Desmond has played despite his ability to play in the outfield. The Cubs’ offense went silent in the second half last season, and Gonzalez could add a good bat to the lineup while also moving all around the field. And Cleveland is definitely in the market for outfielders, with Michael Brantley on the free-agent market.
Gonzalez took a step back offensively last season (103 OPS+), but he had a breakout campaign in 2017, hitting .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers in 134 games.
Jeurys Familia, RHP
MLBTR reader prediction: Athletics (12.4%)
Other teams receiving votes: Mets (9.5 %), Twins (6.9%), Cubs (6.7%), Cardinals (6.2%), Red Sox (5.6%), Braves (5.5%), Dodgers (4.5%), Phillies (4.4%), Angels (4.1%), Indians (4.1%), Nationals (3.8%), Brewers (3.8%)
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In Oakland, the bullpen was a very big reason the A’s stunned the Baseball world by winning 97 games and reaching the postseason. Familia was a key cog in that machine, coming over in a midseason trade with the Mets. Still only 29 years old, the right-hander posted a 3.13 ERA in 70 appearances between New York and Oakland.
Another fit would be the Cubs, who are looking to upgrade their bullpen after it faded down the stretch in 2018, but might not want to spend the kind of money it would take to sign someone like Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox will need to fill some bullpen vacancies if they’re unable to re-sign free agents Kimbrel, Nathan Eovaldi and Joe Kelly.
Zach Britton, LHP
MLBTR reader prediction: Astros (11.1%)
Other teams receiving votes: Red Sox (11.0%), Yankees (10.9%), Cubs (9.8%), Cardinals (8.0%), Dodgers (7.0%), Phillies (6.4%), Braves (5.8%), Mets (5.2%), Nationals (3.6%), Indians (3.4%)
The vote for where Britton would land was razor-thin, with the Astros and Red Sox in a virtual tie, and the Yankees and Cubs right behind them. Houston’s closer situation was somewhat unsettled for a time last season, as Ken Giles was demoted before ultimately being dealt to Toronto for Roberto Osuna. Though Osuna was very good down the stretch, the Astros can never have enough relief depth as they try to get back to the World Series.
The Red Sox could potentially lose multiple key relievers, and the Cubs need bullpen depth after late-season struggles in 2018. The Yankees have a strong bullpen, but they have had a tendency to stock up as much relief pitching as possible in past offseasons, and Britton spent the latter half of ’18 in The Bronx. Entering his age-31 season, Britton has been good since a return from an Achilles injury — though nowhere near his dominance in ’16, when he posted a 0.54 ERA in 69 appearances.
David Robertson, RHP
MLBTR reader prediction: Yankees (28.8%)
Other teams receiving votes: Mets (11.7%), Red Sox (9.0%), Cubs (4.7%), Braves (4.5%), Cardinals (4.5%), Indians (3.5%), Dodgers (3.4%), Phillies (3.4%), Nationals (3.2%)
The voters see a New York return for Robertson, as the Yankees and Mets finished first and second, respectively, in the poll. The right-hander has spent nine of his 12 Major League seasons with the Yankees, which makes a return to The Bronx and a stellar Yankees bullpen more than plausible. The bullpen is an area of need for the Mets as well, and the Red Sox, who finished third in the poll, certainly are in the market.
Though he’s entering his age-34 season, Robertson has continued to pitch well. Over the past two seasons, he owns a 2.54 ERA and has struck out 35 percent of the batters he’s faced.
Adam Ottavino, RHP
MLBTR reader prediction: Yankees (11.4%)
Other teams receiving votes: Rockies (11.2%), Cardinals (7.9%), Dodgers (7.5%), Mets (7.1%), Red Sox (7.0%), Cubs (6.3%), Braves (4.9%), Nationals (3.4%), Phillies (3.4%), Indians (3.2%), Brewers (3.2%)
In another close vote, the Yankees narrowly edged the Rockies in Ottavino’s case. New York makes sense for Ottavino given that he hails from Brooklyn. And adding his arm to an already strong bullpen would further the Yankees’ goal of eclipsing the Red Sox in the AL East.
Ottavino had a tremendous season for the Rockies in ’18, finishing with a 2.43 ERA and 36 percent strikeout rate. A return to Colorado is certainly possible, but general manager Jeff Bridich has said the club will focus more on the offense this offseason after investing $106 million in the bullpen last winter.