Sports

Klein ’20: Where the MLB’s stars will go this offseason

By
Sports Columnist
Thursday, November 16, 2017

JD Martinez, who hit 45 home runs in his 2017 campaign, hits free agency this summer and already has a multitude of teams looking to sign him.

The Major League Baseball offseason has arrived, and that means another crop of free agents hitting the open market. While next year’s free agents, a group that includes Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, have garnered more attention, there is still quite a lot of talent available over the next few months for teams in title contention. The following are the top three free agents and predictions of their respective destinations.

Yu Darvish

The right-hander last left Los Angeles Dodgers fans disappointed after a short start in game seven of the World Series, as he was thoroughly eviscerated by the Houston Astros offense. In two series starts, he surrendered eight earned runs on nine hits in only 3.1 innings pitched, for a 21.60 ERA and 3.30 WHIP. While Darvish was apparently tipping his pitches, his final appearances were simply not the best way to kick off free agency. Darvish’s stamina has been a concern for some time, and his postseason track record — he owns a career 5.81 playoff ERA — has done nothing to alleviate these worries.

Even if Darvish pitched terribly in the playoffs, at least he was not injured. The pitcher missed the end of 2014 with an elbow injury, spent the entire 2015 season receiving and recovering from Tommy John surgery, suffered a shoulder strain in 2016 and dealt with a period of back tightness in August 2017. Darvish is already 31 years old; it remains to be seen how many teams will offer him the contract he desires with so vast an injury history. Signing aging players has been a formula for disaster in recent years — one has only to witness Albert Pujols limp around for the Los Angeles Angels to understand the risk involved. Any team that signs Darvish will be taking a massive leap of faith.

Nevertheless, even with all the potential negatives, Darvish is still one of the most talented pitchers in the game. His 2013 season, in which he recorded 277 strikeouts and a 2.83 ERA, speaks for itself. Darvish boasts a sharp slider that is often unhittable and an array of other impressive secondary pitches, which he can mix in at any time. His 2017 season, aside from the back issue and postseason, was nothing short of a success. Darvish pitched 186 and two-thirds regular season innings, striking out 209 batters and accumulating a 3.86 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.

Darvish has a number of interested teams and will be free to pick a contender to try his luck with and reverse the current postseason narrative of his career. Darvish’s two former teams — the Dodgers and Texas Rangers — reportedly want the righty back, but the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins will all make convincing cases for Darvish to jump ship.

But I think he’ll stay with the Dodgers. Darvish will want another chance at World Series glory and playing with the Dodgers presents his best chance to do so. A World Series win back in Los Angeles would be all the sweeter.

J. D. Martinez

The outfielder has turned into one of the game’s most feared sluggers after a 2014 swing adjustment that kept his bat in the strike zone for a longer period of time. Martinez hit 23 home runs in 2014, 38 in 2015, 22 in an injury-shortened 2016 season and a career-high 45 in 2017. His remarkable .690 slugging percentage led the majors last year. Acquired mid-season by the Arizona Diamondbacks from the Detroit Tigers, Martinez helped to anchor Arizona’s lineup around Paul Goldschmidt on the way to a playoff appearance.

Martinez, represented by the famous agent Scott Boras, is seeking a massive $200-plus million contract. In this golden age of home runs, teams may not be willing to give up that much to sign Martinez. Over the past couple of offseasons, sluggers like Mark Trumbo and Nelson Cruz have been forced to sign for less than expected. Power is a surplus in baseball at the moment, so the market for home run hitters has been depressed. Still, Martinez stands out among the rest of baseball’s sluggers and can play the field adequately, unlike Trumbo or Cruz.

The St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox are the teams currently in the mix for Martinez’s services. Others may follow, but those four teams already represent a breadth of opportunities for Martinez. He could return to a situation in Arizona that has already worked — though the Diamondbacks are unlikely to give him $200 million. On the other hand, hitting at Fenway Park provides Martinez yet another power boost — the right-handed hitting Martinez could hit more than 50 homers over the Green Monster. The Cardinals and Giants, meanwhile, are traditional National League contenders. San Francisco has shown an enthusiasm for big moves this offseason after a rough 2017, attempting to trade for Giancarlo Stanton.

I predict Martinez will end up with the Boston Red Sox. The chance to hit a plethora of home runs and contend for a championship is too good to pass up.

Eric Hosmer

The first baseman was the leader on the 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals and has been a dependable part of their lineup for years. Hosmer totaled 25 HR and 94 RBI with a .318 BA  and .883 OPS last year, in his finest big league season yet. At only 28 years of age, Hosmer has several prime seasons ahead of him and will see a lot of generous offers.

While 2017 saw a star-quality season from Hosmer, his overall body of work is less encouraging. He hit only .266 with a .761 OPS in 2016, and though his 2013 and 2015 campaigns were better, his OPS figures of .801 and .822 still fall well short of this year’s mark. Hosmer’s 2012 and 2014 seasons were even worse — .663 and .716 OPS numbers respectively — which put the first baseman at the level of a replacement-level player.

Hosmer cited a hitting adjustment, learning to lay off inside fastballs, as the reason for his improvement. If that change holds, Hosmer can play at an All-Star level for years to come and move past the sometimes-shaky beginning of his career.

Teams interested in Hosmer include the Red Sox, Royals, Mariners and New York Mets. The Royals are the sentimental choice, but will not be able to offer Hosmer the contract he wants. The New York Mets may not have enough talent healthy on the field to entice the first baseman. It may come down to the Red Sox and Mariners. While Seattle may seem like a dark horse candidate, the team has been willing to spend big in the past and could form a dominant infield with Hosmer, Cano, Jean Segura and Kyle Seager.

Hosmer will travel west to play for the Mariners. With the addition of Hosmer, the Mariners can set themselves up for a playoff run in 2018.

George Klein ’20 can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.