Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Notable free agent position players remaining with Spring Training just weeks away
28 days ago
As January winds down, Major League Baseball is set to return with pitchers and catchers slated to report to their respective facilities mid-way through January (for the Blue Jays, that day is Feb/15).
This offseason has been unusual compared to recent years, as superstar Shohei Ohtani led the charge with a massive deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers before being joined by one of the top arms available in Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Numerous players have also found new homes, including Jeimer Candelario (Cincinnati), Joc Pederson (Arizona), Teoscar Hernández (Dodgers), and most recently Rhys Hoskins, who signed a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers.
However, quite a few players are still looking for a playing opportunity, including some of the top names on the free-agent market since the offseason began. With Spring Training quickly coming into focus, there are a few players who may be inking deals once training camps are already underway.
Let’s take a look at some of the players still available.
Cody Bellinger – OF/1B
Consistently featured towards the top of the free-agent rankings, outfielder Cody Bellinger is trying to turn a bounce-back campaign with the Chicago Cubs into a lucrative multi-year deal. The Scott Boras represented client is reportedly looking for a deal over $200+ million.
The former Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP struggled in his last few seasons with the Dodgers before taking his talents to the Cubs. Last year, he found a rhythm at the plate, collecting 26 home runs (tied for the team lead) while also driving in 97 RBIs, the highest single-season total for Bellinger since 2019. More impressively was his ability to walk back the strikeouts, dropping his percentage below the 20% mark for the first time since 2020, finishing with a 15.7% mark.
Defensively, Bellinger can suit up in centre field, right field, or first base for any perspective suitor and produced a five outs above average (OAA) last year, ranking in the 88th percentile.
The risk with Bellinger is whether he will revert back to his struggling ways similar to the twilight of his tenure with the Dodgers or whether his 2023 campaign is just the beginning of a new outlook for the former MVP.
Matt Chapman – 3B
One of the best gloves on the free agent market this past winter is still looking for a home. Matt Chapman turned down the qualifying offer from the Toronto Blue Jays as well as a reported extension from the club that surpassed the $100 million mark.
Last season was a rollercoaster for the righty-batter, as Chapman burst out of the gate and produced 1.152 OPS through the month of April while adding 15 doubles, five home runs, and 21 RBIs that had fans excited for what was to come. This hot streak fizzled quickly, as the California product struggled down the stretch to a .205 average, a .276 BAbip, and a .659 OPS while also battling a middle finger sprain late in the year.
Chapman’s underlying batting metrics were solid (95th percentile or greater in chase%, average exit velocity, barrel%, and hard-hit%) but he was unable to convert that into runs across the board, ranking fifth in runs (66) and sixth on the team in RBIs (54). The Boras client should cash in before the season starts as the top hot corner option heading this winter.
After five seasons with the Boston Red Sox, veteran slugger J.D. Martinez was looking for a new opportunity heading into the 2023 season.
With his fielding days likely in the rearview mirror beyond a spot start in the corner outfield, Martinez signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a one-year deal and was able to find some power back into his bat with his new club. With L.A., Martinez eclipsed the 30+ home run mark for the first time since 2019 and also added 103 RBIs, his highest mark since when he led the league back in 2018. His Baseball Savant page is more red than the Blue Jays Canada Day uniforms and he finished the season with a 28 batting run value, ranked 93rd percentile.
Any team looking for a short-term DH-only type of player will certainly be giving Martinez a call over the next couple of weeks.
Jorge Soler – DH/RF
Soon to be 32 years old, Jorge Soler and J.D. Martinez have become the last two prominent bats left on the free agent market with Spring Training so close.
The Cuban product has spent the past two seasons with the Miami Marlins and was one of the club’s brightest spots at the plate last season, holding a commanding lead on the club’s home run total with 36. He also added 24 doubles and 75 RBIs on the year and finished with a .512 SLG, ranking 16th in the league. Soler has more defensive ability compared to Martinez although he did post a -5 DRS in right field last season, so a move to the full-time DH role could be in his future.
Soler will be in the market for a multi-year deal and any team needing some power in their lineup will likely be giving him a call.
Justin Turner -3B/1B/DH
Outside of Chapman, veteran third baseman Justin Turner is also available this winter. He spent last season with the Boston Red Sox where he produced a .276 average and a 114 OPS+, the lowest mark for the right-handed batter since 2013. At 39 years old, Turner saw more time away from the hot corner with the Red Sox and more time at first base and in the DH spot, which makes sense given where he is in his career.
Michael A. Taylor – CF
Any club looking for a defensive-minded centre-fielder with some speed on the base paths will likely be interested in Michael A. Taylor. The Florida product owns a career 69 DRS through ten seasons in centre and posted a .990 fielding percentage with one outfield assist last season with the Minnesota Twins, which included an impressive grab in AL Wild Card against Toronto.
His bat has also been below average (04 OPS+ with a .220 average last year) but Taylor a the bottom of the order with additional speed threat potential is a plus.
Amed Rosario – SS/2B
The shortstop market is particularly thin this winter, with Amed Rosario one of the top names available. A former top prospect with the Mets, Rosario split last year between Cleveland and Los Angeles (Dodgers), putting forth a .263/.305/.378 slash line with 25 doubles, eight triples, and six home runs to the tune of a .675 OPS.
Rosario isn’t the most defensive-minded shortstop but he also got some reps at second with the Dodgers, where he put forth a 3 DRS with a clean fielding record as well.
Whit Merrifield – UTIL
Last season, Whit Merrifield did everything the Blue Jays asked of him, splitting time between second base and left field for the club while working throughout the lineup. He led the team in stolen bases (26) and put forward a .272 average with 27 doubles to the tune of a .700 OPS. Merrifield is still available but any team looking for some versatility and a speed threat on the base paths will have the former Royal in their crosshairs.
Brandon Belt – 1B/DH
After 12 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Brandon Belt was given his walking papers and later signed on with the Blue Jays on a one-year deal. While he dealt with some injuries that limited him to just 339 at-bats, the left-handed slugger led the team with his .858 OPS and added 23 doubles and 19 home runs to his career line.
The jury is still out on whether Belt will call it a career or not but should he consider keeping it going, the 35-year-old should have some suitors lining up for a short-term contract.
Joey Votto – 1B/DH
After 17 seasons, veteran Canadian slugger Joey Votto is a free agent after the Cincinnati Reds declined his option. Injuries have limited the former NL MVP in recent memory and at 40 years old, this is likely his swan song on what will be a potential Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Healthy heading into the year, Votto can still clear the yard with his plus power (10 or more home runs dating back to 2014) and he is close to catching Larry Walker on numerous offensive categories for Canadian-born MLB players.
Recent articles from Tyson Shushkewich