6 of the best available MLB free agents this hot stove season

J.D. Martinez Arizona Diamondbacks
J.D. Martinez steps in to bat against the Colorado Rockies during the seventh inning. –Ross D. Franklin / AP, File

With Major League Baseball’s winter meetings beginning in earnest on Monday, and Shohei Ohtani officially off the market, the focus has shifted to what trades could materialize.

The expensive fate of Giancarlo Stanton has now been determined, too, as he is headed to the Bronx, but teams with prospects to spare have other options to consider.

For instance, Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles, who is just a year from free agency. The versatile Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates appears to be available, as does Martin Prado of the Miami Marlins (basically, if a player on the Marlins is not on a minimum-salary contract, he is extremely available).


The outsize attention that centered on Ohtani, as well as on Stanton, will now turn to trade possibilities in part because this year’s free-agent class is not exactly overwhelming. Players have been free to sign since shortly after the World Series, yet the top 15 free agents — other than Ohtani — are all still available, perhaps because teams feel they could find comparable players who are cheaper, younger or better — or all three — through other means.

With that in mind, here is a look at the best of the free agents. Each of them could help teams, but they all carry enough flaws, and high-enough price tags, that teams could be forgiven if they are not quite ready to give up the thought of making a trade instead.

Top batters

Lorenzo Cain, 31, CF

Three-year Wins Against Replacement: 15.4

Cain was a finalist for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2015, and although he missed 59 games in 2016, he was mostly back to form last season for Kansas City. Baseball Info Solutions rated him as having 11 defensive runs saved, making him a true positive in center field, and while he mostly maintained his typical performance as a batter, his 54 walks were a career high. The biggest knock against him is the concern that his reliance on his speed could limit his effectiveness as he ages.


J.D. Martinez, 30, RF

Three-year WAR: 10.9

It is easy to become mesmerized by Martinez’s 45 home runs in 119 games last season, for Detroit and Arizona, and in fairness to him, his performance as a batter was not that unexpected considering his adjusted On-base Plus Slugging (OPS) percentage has been 49 percent above league average over the course of the last four years. But once you factor in his below-average fielding and baserunning, Martinez trails Cain in value by a fairly decent margin. He has also missed 128 games because of injury and rest in that four-year span.

Eric Hosmer, 28, 1B

Three-year WAR: 8.7

As the market’s designated young person — with the exception of Ohtani — he has produced a good year (2015) and a great year (2017) wrapped around one that was fairly mediocre. In his walk year, Hosmer managed to transform himself into a nearly top-shelf hitter, with career highs in all of the statistics that matter. He may not quite live up to that in the future, and he is not nearly as good a fielder as Kansas City’s fans would have you believe, but if he finally realized his potential last season, then the team that signs him will get a bargain.

Top pitchers

Yu Darvish, 31, RHP

Three-year WAR: 6.5 (sat out 2015 season)

Darvish has been an All-Star in four of his five seasons in the United States, and he has deserved it. His only season with a WAR below 3 came in 2016, when he produced 2.5 in just 100 1/3 innings pitched. He strikes out a lot of batters, has excellent control, and has a 3.42 career ERA despite slightly more than half of his innings coming in the hitter-friendly environment of Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Most important, he started to generally pitch like an ace again after his trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, indicating the lingering effects of Tommy John surgery appeared to be abating.


Jake Arrieta, 31, RHP

Three-year WAR: 13.9

He is not the bust he appeared to be in his days with Baltimore, and he is not the elite ace that he looked like in the second half of 2015 for the Chicago Cubs. Somewhere in the middle of those extremes, Arrieta has proved to be a valuable starter who will take the hill 30 times a year, produce a better-than-league-average ERA, and will strike a bunch of people out. The hits and home runs he surrendered per nine innings were both up fairly drastically in 2017, and the statistic Fielding Independent Pitching indicates he may have been lucky to come away with a 3.53 ERA last season. But he is still good enough to be a No. 3 starter for most teams, which carries a lot of value.

Alex Cobb, 30, RHP

Three-year WAR: 1.6 (sat out 2015 season)

It is a rather steep drop-off in free-agent pitchers beyond Arrieta. Cobb and Lance Lynn are the best starters available, while Wade Davis and Jake McGee are the best relievers. Of that group, Cobb had the best 2017 season, producing 2.4 WAR by throwing 179 1/3 innings for Tampa Bay and coming away with a 3.66 ERA. He did not look nearly as sharp as he did before his Tommy John surgery, which cost him all of 2015 and most of 2016, but he looked sufficiently recovered to make him a viable starter for the next few years.