MLB Hot Stove matchmaking: A free-agent fit for all 30 teams ahead of the Winter Meetings

Happy week before the Winter Meetings! It’s been a slow free-agent signing season so far, with only six players from my top 25 list off the board. José Abreu and Tyler Anderson landed three-year deals with the Astros and Angels, respectively, while Edwin Díaz, Anthony Rizzo, Clayton Kershaw and Martín Pérez (accepted the qualifying offer) re-signed with their teams. Now, as people around baseball pack their bags and get ready to fly to San Diego for the meetings, we’re all eagerly waiting for the next free-agent shoe to drop, which could happen soon.

In the meantime, I decided to play matchmaker and find new teams* for 30 of the remaining free agents, placing them where I think the fit would work for both parties (*In a few cases, I have players re-signing with their current clubs). Please note: Although I give contract estimates, these are not predictions, nor am I implying that any of these players are close to signing with these specific teams. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun debating potential moves until the Hot Stove warms up. In the comments section, feel free to share your free-agent fits or let me know which one of these you like or don’t like. Here we go …

Arizona Diamondbacks — LHP Andrew Chafin (3 years, $30 million)

The Diamondbacks’ biggest need this offseason, besides a right-handed hitter and a backup catcher, is bullpen help. Chafin is one of the best left-handed relievers on the free-agent market, and although the Diamondbacks already have an elite lefty reliever, Joe Mantiply, this signing would give them flexibility at the 2023 trade deadline to deal one or both pitchers for more building blocks. Chafin has attracted interest this offseason, and it would be a coup if Arizona could land him.

Atlanta Braves — SS Dansby Swanson (6 years, $154 million)

The Braves have made re-signing Swanson their top offseason priority but the two sides remain a significant distance apart on a deal. This signing could also take a while because Swanson probably has to wait until Carlos Correa, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts agree to terms before his free-agent value is really established. However, the Braves seem more interested in retaining him than pursuing the other top free-agent shortstops. In fact, they appear to be OK with handing rookie Vaughn Grissom the shortstop position if Swanson signs elsewhere.

Baltimore Orioles — RHP Jameson Taillon (4 years, $70 million)

The Orioles are being as aggressive as any team in MLB in the free-agent starting pitching market. They are not involved at the “top tier” of the market — Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón — but they are bidding for the second- and third-tier free-agent starters. I have them landing Taillon, who went 14-5 with a 3.91 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 177 1/3 innings last season for the Yankees.

Boston Red Sox — C Willson Contreras (4 years, $78 million)

Willson Contreras (Matt Marton / USA Today)

The Red Sox missed out on first baseman José Abreu and they need another bat. I think Contreras would be a good fit because he could catch, be the designated hitter and even play some first base for Boston. Contreras, 30, posted a 3.9 WAR last season, according to Baseball Reference, with 22 home runs and a 128 OPS+ for the Cubs.

Chicago Cubs — RHP Kodai Senga (3 years, $72 million)

The Cubs are ready to play checkbook baseball and they really want and need to improve their rotation. They are bullish on Senga, as are many other teams. Having outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who is friends with Senga, helps their recruiting efforts. Last offseason, the Cubs signed Marcus Stroman. This winter, I believe they’ll land another free-agent starter, with Senga the most likely signing, but they face stiff competition from teams such as the Padres and Rangers.

Chicago White Sox — OF Michael Conforto (2 years, $34 million with a player opt out after Year 1)

The White Sox lost José Abreu in free agency as expected, which allows them to move Andrew Vaughn to first base and use Eloy Jiménez as the DH most of the time. They could use another left-handed hitter to better balance their lineup, even with outfielder Oscar Colas, a left-handed-hitting top prospect, expected to make the team in 2023. Conforto is a perfect fit for the White Sox in the other outfield corner. He has 20-to-25 home run power and is a solid defensive player. Conforto missed the entire 2022 season after having right shoulder surgery in April and I could see the White Sox signing him to a value type short-term deal.

Cincinnati Reds — RHP Michael Fulmer (3 years, $32 million)

The Reds are not expected to be involved much in free agency, but adding a reliever such as Fulmer makes a lot of sense as they try to put their prospects in competitive positions. Fulmer, 29, is coming off a solid season in which he posted a 3.39 ERA and 3.57 FIP in 67 combined appearances with the Tigers and Twins. He’s kept his ERA in the low 3’s over the past two seasons (119 appearances). Fulmer would also give the Reds a solid trade chip to use at the deadline.

Cleveland Guardians — 1B/DH Josh Bell (3 years, $39 million)

The Guardians need another power bat, which Bell could provide as a DH/first baseman. Bell reached base at a 36 percent clip with 14 home runs and 71 RBIs in a season split between the Nationals and Padres. He was worth 3.0 bWAR and posted a 128 OPS+. His strong make-up would fit nicely with Cleveland’s young group of up-and-coming players. His switch-hitting ability is another plus.

Colorado Rockies — LF Andrew Benintendi (5 years, $75 million)

Andrew Benintendi (Jeff Curry / USA Today)

The Rockies’ No. 1 offseason priority is to land a left-handed hitting outfielder. Although Brandon Nimmo is their first choice, Benintendi would be a solid fit. Benintendi hit .304 last season and posted a combined .373 OBP for the Royals and Yankees (3.2 bWAR, 120 OPS+). Playing half his games at Coors Field would enhance Benintendi’s chances of rediscovering the 20 home run power he displayed early in his career. (He hit five homers last season and 17 in 2021.)

Detroit Tigers — OF Mitch Haniger (1 year, $15 million)

The Tigers need more offense if they want to have a chance to climb out of last place in the American League Central. Haniger, if healthy, can provide that. In 2021, Haniger hit 39 home runs, drove in 100 runs and finished 20th in the AL MVP voting. Last season, he dealt with injuries and played only 57 games, hitting 11 homers and driving in 34 runs. He’ll need to sign a one-year contract and re-establish his value. If Haniger has a strong first half of the 2023 season, he could be dealt at the trade deadline.

Houston Astros — CF/DH/1B Cody Bellinger (1 year, $17 million plus a club option with a $3 million buyout)

The world champs have already signed José Abreu, so why not keep pushing the envelope and upgrade center field with Bellinger? Since his 2019 National League MVP season (47 home runs, 115 RBIs, 167 OPS+) Bellinger has not hit for average while struggling with injuries and making drastic mechanical changes. However, he’s only 27 years old and is a plus-plus defender in center field and at first base. If you put Bellinger with manager Dusty Baker and veteran players like Abreu, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, I bet he’ll find his way back. In addition, the new infield shift ban will help him. I also like how this signing would give the Astros more positional flexibility and lengthen their lineup.

Kansas City Royals — RHP Noah Syndergaard (1 year, $14 million)

The Royals would like to sign a veteran starter and Syndergaard would be a good addition. The 30-year-old righty is no longer the power pitcher he was with the Mets, but he’s found a groove with lesser stuff and seemed to make strides toward the end of the season, including a nice outing in the Division Series against the Braves. Overall, Syndergaard went 10-10 last season with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.255 WHIP in 134 2/3 innings with the Angels and Phillies. He was worth 1.8 bWAR.

Los Angeles Angels — SS Elvis Andrus (1 year, $12.5 million)

The Angels have been aggressive this offseason, landing lefty starter Tyler Anderson in free agency and trading for corner outfielder Hunter Renfroe. Next on their to-do list: shortstop. They could be a surprise suitor for one of the top four free agents (Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson), but if signing one doesn’t end up being an option, taking a chance on Andrus with a one-year deal makes some sense. Andrus, 34, batted .249/.303/.404 last season with 17 home runs, 66 runs scored, 18 stolen bases and 3.0 bWAR.

Los Angeles Dodgers — RHP Justin Verlander (3 years, $135 million)

Justin Verlander (Troy Taormina / USA Today)

The Dodgers have always made starting pitching their top priority, as all teams should, and I won’t be surprised if they land Verlander, Jacob deGrom or Carlos Rodón in free agency, especially considering how much money has come off their books this offseason. Verlander just completed his third Cy Young Award-winning season after going 18-4 and leading the majors with a 1.75 ERA and 0.829 WHIP. He was worth 5.9 bWAR. Verlander will turn 40 in February, but his arm is fresh, he stays in great shape, and he wants to pull a Tom Brady in MLB. I refuse to ever bet against him and believe he will get a three-year deal in free agency.

Miami Marlins — CF Kevin Kiermaier (1 year, $10 million)

The Marlins have been trying to draft, trade for or sign a true center fielder for years, but they always seem to come up short. Kiermaier, 32, would be a stopgap solution, biding them time until they find their long-term answer. A three-time Gold Glove winner, Kiermaier would help the Marlins’ young pitching staff with his strong defense. But can he stay healthy? Kiermaier had season-ending hip surgery this summer after playing with hip discomfort for years.

Milwaukee Brewers — RHP Taijuan Walker (3 years, $48 million)

The Brewers are looking to add more pitching as they realize their potential path to the postseason will be paved by pitching and defense. Milwaukee has one of the best rotations in the league, led by Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Lauer and Freddy Peralta. However, at some point, the Brewers will probably have to trade one or two of them because they will all be free agents after the 2024 season. (Peralta has club options for 2025 and 2026.) Walker (12-5, 3.49 ERA in 29 starts last season) is a sensible signing that, along with the developing Aaron Ashby, would put the Brewers in a better position for those unpopular trades in the future.

Minnesota Twins — SS José Iglesias (1 year, $7.5 million)

The Twins are working to re-sign Carlos Correa and might even consider Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson or Trea Turner if that doesn’t work out. However, the bidding war for the star shortstops could get out of hand and if that happens, Iglesias could make sense as a worst-case scenario backup plan. Iglesias is still an above-average defensive player and he hit .292 last season for the Rockies (including .315 in games away from Coors Field).

New York Mets — LHP Carlos Rodón (5 years, $144 million)

I strongly believe the Mets will land Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodón. I’m not sure they’re going to offer deGrom the contract length he seeks, though it will come down to the medical reports, or that Verlander will choose the Mets over the Dodgers and Astros. But I do think Rodón will take the most money he’s offered, which could very well be from the Mets. Last season, Rodón went 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA and 237 strikeouts in 178 innings with the Giants. In 2021, he went 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings with the White Sox. Rodón is in line for a long-term contract, and I could see the Mets giving it to him.

New York Yankees — RF Aaron Judge (8 years, $330 million)

Aaron Judge (Tim Heitman / USA Today)

All rise. I’ve always believed Judge would finish his career in pinstripes and that his next contract will be his final one in MLB. Judge is the Yankees’ top priority, and I believe they will do everything they can to keep him a Yankee for life. Judge is coming off arguably the greatest offensive season in MLB history — a performance that included a slash line of .311/.425/.686 and leading the league in runs (133), home runs (62), RBIs (131), walks (111), total bases (391) and OPS+ (211) — and now the Yankees must pay up.

Oakland A’s — INF Brandon Drury (1 year, $8.5 million)

The A’s need to improve in every area outside of catcher, and Drury would be a good fit for them because of his positional versatility (infield, outfield) and because he’d represent a nice trade chip for next season’s deadline. Drury slashed .263/.320/.492 last season with a combined 28 home runs, 87 RBIs and 87 runs scored for the Reds and Padres.

Philadelphia Phillies — SS Xander Bogaerts (7 years, $196 million)

The NL champions could be without superstar Bryce Harper for the first half of the 2023 season as he recovers from his recent Tommy John surgery. They could use another bat while Harper’s out, but also when he returns, because they need to lengthen their lineup. The Phillies developed a special bond in the clubhouse last season and Bogaerts would contribute to that while adding to the veteran leadership they get from Kyle Schwarber, Harper and Nick Castellanos. Team president Dave Dombrowski has a personal relationship with Bogaerts from his Red Sox days, and that should help in negotiations. If the Phillies do land him, they can move Bryson Stott to second base to replace Jean Segura, who is a free agent.

Pittsburgh Pirates — RHP Zach Eflin (3 years, $36 million)

The Pirates could use a veteran starter to join Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller and JT Brubaker in their rotation, and Eflin would be an affordable option. Eflin can pitch as a starter or reliever, but he told me during the World Series that he prefers to start. He’s made 115 starts and 12 relief appearances in the regular season in his seven-year career, but this past postseason all 10 of his appearances came out of the bullpen, where he landed late in the year after recovering from a knee injury. (He had a 3.38 ERA in the postseason with 12 strikeouts and two walks in 10 2/3 innings.) Eflin has been hampered by injuries in recent years. His best season came in 2019 when he went 10-13 with a 4.13 ERA in 28 starts and four relief appearances (163 1/3 innings).

St. Louis Cardinals — LHP José Quintana (2 years, $28 million)

José Quintana (Jeff Curry / USA Today)

The Cardinals’ biggest need is at catcher, but I think they’ll solve that through the trade market rather than free agency, although I did consider going with Willson Contreras or Christian Vázquez here. They made a good trade to acquire Quintana from the Pirates at the deadline, and the veteran pitched so well for them that I could see him returning on a short-term deal. Quintana posted a 2.93 ERA overall last season in 32 starts (165 2/3 innings), including a stellar 2.01 ERA in 12 starts with St. Louis.

San Diego Padres — RHP Chris Bassitt (4 years, $74 million)

The Padres need a first baseman, another bat and a starting pitcher to help put them over the top. I thought they were a good fit for Abreu, but he signed with the Astros. I’ve heard the rumblings about them chasing Xander Bogaerts and a first baseman such as Cody Bellinger and/or Dominic Smith. However, for this exercise, I was trying to decide between Kodai Senga and Bassitt for my Padres match because I think they need another starter to go with Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove, which would allow Nick Martinez to pitch out of the bullpen, where he’s so valuable. Bassitt has a close relationship with manager Bob Melvin from their Oakland days and Padres owner Peter Seidler has never been afraid of playing checkbook baseball, so I decided to place him here. Bassitt went 15-9 last season with a 3.42 ERA in 30 starts (181 2/3 innings) for the Mets.

San Francisco Giants — SS Carlos Correa (10 years, $327 million)

The Giants made a strong pitch to Aaron Judge, who is their top free-agent target; however, once he turns them down and signs with the Yankees, I could see San Francisco quickly pivoting to Correa. Correa, who put up 5.4 bWAR and a 140 OPS+ last season, is arguably the next-best free agent on the market. He’s a winning player, a great teammate and he loves the biggest stage, where he’s a proven performer. He’s an above-average defender at shortstop with range to both sides and a strong arm. Newly hired general manager Pete Putila knows Correa well from their time with the Astros, which could help the negotiations. Correa wants a deal in line with what Corey Seager received from the Rangers (10 years, $325 million) and Francisco Lindor got from the Mets (10 years, $341 million), and it’s hard to argue against that.

Seattle Mariners — 2B/SS Trea Turner (8 years, $264 million)

Trea Turner (Dale Zanine / USA Today)

The Mariners have made second base or shortstop (they could move J.P. Crawford to second base) their next offseason priority. They’ve tried to trade for Gleyber Torres of the Yankees and Kolten Wong of the Brewers. However, they’d prefer to land Turner, who last season hit 21 home runs, reached base at a 34 percent clip, stole 27 bases, scored 101 runs, drove in 100 and posted a 4.9 bWAR. Just imagine Turner and Julio Rodríguez at the top of their lineup for years to come. This would be a game-changing signing for the Mariners.

Tampa Bay Rays — CF Brandon Nimmo (6 years, $127 million)

Last season, the Rays were “all-in” on trying to land Freddie Freeman in free agency before he finally signed with the Dodgers. This winter, they are aggressively pursuing Nimmo, who would give them a much-needed left-handed hitter. Nimmo had a .367 OPB last season with 16 home runs.  He was worth 5.1 bWAR. His above-average defense in center or left field fits the Rays’ blueprint for how to win. Nimmo has as many teams bidding on him as any free agent, and it might take a sixth year to sign him at this point. It would be a surprising signing for Tampa Bay, but I could see them doing it in this instance.

Texas Rangers — RHP Jacob deGrom (5 years, $200 million)

DeGrom has not made more than 15 starts in any of the past two seasons. But when he’s healthy and on the mound, he’s the best pitcher on the planet. However, considering the health risks, I think most teams will offer shorter-term deals, loading the contract with incentives, opt outs and buyouts for both sides. That said, it only takes one team to make a long-term commitment and if the Rangers step up and offer a five-year, $200 million deal, I think he takes it. GM Chris Young and manager Bruce Bochy know how to win and would love to land an ace. The question is, how much of a health risk is deGrom, and how much of ownership’s money are they willing to bet, especially since the contract would not be insurable.

Toronto Blue Jays — RHP Nathan Eovaldi (4 years, $90 million)

The Blue Jays are working to acquire a left-handed hitting outfielder such as Brandon Nimmo or Andrew Benintendi, but since I already placed those players with the Rays and Rockies, respectively, I moved on to starting pitching, which is Toronto’s other big need, along with more swing-and-miss relievers. When healthy, Eovaldi has proven he can pitch at the top of a rotation; more importantly, he’s shown he can win in the AL East. The Blue Jays have the resources to add another impact starter and Eovaldi would fit nicely in their rotation, which is led by Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman and José Berríos.

Washington Nationals — Aroldis Chapman (1 year, $8 million with significant incentives)

(Editor’s note: Signing Jeimer Candelario to a one-year deal was the original choice for the Nationals. But before this story was published, Candelario agreed to a one-year contract with Washington on Tuesday.) 

For 12 consecutive years, Chapman posted an ERA of 3.60 or lower, and for eight of those 12 years, he put up an ERA under 3.00. For his career, he has 315 saves, a 2.48 ERA, 667 appearances and seven All-Star nods. However, injuries and command and control issues contributed to Chapman’s worst season this year, as he tallied a 4.46 ERA and 6.9 walks per nine innings. Chapman will still go down in history as one of the best left-handed closers of his generation and he’s made more than $132 million in his career. But, at age 34, that stellar career doesn’t have to be over. With the right conditioning program and fixes to his mechanics and pitch sequencing, he could rebound and even be a Comeback Player of the Year in 2023 because the raw stuff is still there. It’s a long shot for the Nationals, but it would be a worthwhile gamble to sign Chapman to a contract with a low base salary and significant incentives. Then, if he gets back on track, they could trade him at the deadline for more players to help their rebuild. It’s important for the Nationals to sign some veterans this winter to give them more trade bait for the summer.

(Top photo of Carlos Rodón: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)


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