Winter Meetings warmup: 12 game-changing hitters and where they will land
There are a lot of big-time bats available this offseason through either free agency or trade. Many of these bats will have an immediate offensive impact on a lineup, much like Yoenis Cespedes did for the New York Mets down the stretch in 2015. Keep in mind this list is based strictly on offensive performance and is not accounting for defensive impact. Ages in parentheses reflect how old a player will be when the season starts.
1. Carlos Gonzalez (30)
With Troy Tulowitzki gone, it’s only a matter of time until Carlos Gonzalez is traded away as well. I think if Colorado had been offered the right package at the deadline he would already have been dealt, but the Rockies made the wise decision to wait until the offseason when more teams will have interest. He’s coming off a huge 2015 where he finally stayed healthy. As a result, he hit 40 home runs, so his value couldn’t be any higher. He’s still in his prime and has two years left on his contract.
The Indians are the team I see as the most likely candidate to land CarGo. They have the need and enough young talent to get the deal done. They’d likely have to give up one of their top three prospects in either Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier or Rob Kaminsky. I think the St. Louis Cardinals could be a destination for CarGo, as well. They traded for Jason Heyward last season, so who’s to say they won’t do the same for Gonzalez this year. To land CarGo, they’d likely have to part with Alex Reyes, which I’m not sure they’d be willing to do.
2. Justin Upton (28)
Justin Upton is one of the streakiest hitters in all of baseball, but at the end of the year, he always puts up his numbers. Over his nine years in the big leagues, he has a 162-game average of 26/.271/.352. In the last five years, he’s played in no less than 149 games, so he’s one of the more dependable bats on the market. Plus, he’s just now entering his prime, so we may not have seen his peak season just yet.
It’s really hard to say who Upton will land with, but the Baltimore Orioles seem a likely choice. I don’t think Chris Davis will be brought back, which leaves a huge power hole in the lineup. Upton would be the logical decision to replace Davis’ power. The Nationals are another possible destination if they feel the need to upgrade offensively, but they are hampered by that Jayson Werth contract.
3. Yoenis Cespedes (30)
It will be very interesting to see how teams value Yoenis Cespedes this offseason after the impact he had on the Mets at the end of the season, and how instrumental he was to revitalizing that offense and boosting them into the playoffs. He’s still in his prime, and his 162-game average has him at 30/103/.271/.319. Clearly that OBP is a bit of problem, but the power production is for real. He’s clumsy on defense at times, but he has one of the strongest arms in the game. I think he could be a very valuable asset to the middle of somebody’s lineup for the next three to four years.
The Los Angeles Angels need to make a move, and I think they will for Cespedes. They struck out mightily with Josh Hamilton, so they might be hesitant to sign Cespedes, but it would give them one of the most potent outfields in the league and put them back in the race for the American League West.
4. Jay Bruce (28)
If the Cincinnati Reds aren’t rebuilding, they need to start, and that start needs to begin with moving Jay Bruce. We’ve been waiting on him to breakout for a few years now, and it hasn’t quite happened. Over eight seasons, his 162-game averages are 30/92/.248/.319. Another hitter with amazing power, but you have to be willing to ignore the other aspects of his game that come along with those home run totals. He’s still just 28 years old, and he’s controllable for two more years. A team would most likely have to give up one of their top three prospects to get him, but it would sure be worth it for the pop he brings to a lineup.
Bruce can block any trade to the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Athletics or Twins. The Orioles and Mets have been rumored as teams interested in Bruce. I’ll say the Mets get it done and give up a young arm for the power-hitting outfielder.
5. Chris Davis (30)
Chris Davis is another interesting free agent as he’s been inconsistent the past couple of years, but you can’t deny the power he possesses. Over the past three seasons he’s hit 53, 26 and 47 home runs – two years ago he only played in 127 games – so you know he’s going to give you at least 35-plus homers if he stays healthy. Other than that shortened 2014 season, his average has been decent as well, sitting around .260 to .270; however, he’s going to swing and miss a ton as he led the league with 208 strikeouts in 2015. He’s still in his prime, and teams will pay big bucks for power these days, so I could see Davis getting a huge contract this offseason.
The Houston Astros would be a perfect landing spot for Davis, but I don’t see them making that move unless Chris Carter or Evan Gattis is traded. I really can only see him going back to the Baltimore Orioles unless a surprise team comes in and swoops him up.
6. Matt Kemp (31)
The Padres went for it all last winter, but they may be doing the exact opposite this winter. They’ve already moved Craig Kimbrel, which means the next player to go should be Matt Kemp. He’s been healthy and productive the past two years playing in at least 150 games, hitting at least 23 home runs and driving in at least 89 runs — that’s a solid middle of the rotation bat. The biggest problem with moving Kemp is he’s still owed $21.75 million per over the next four seasons, and he’s only got two more prime seasons left.
The Texas Rangers may need to focus more on pitching, but this seems like the type of move they would make. It would fill a void in the outfield and add another explosive bat to that potent lineup.
7. Yasiel Puig (25)
It’s becoming pretty evident that the Dodgers not only want to trade Yasiel Puig but need to trade him. A trade may also be the best thing for Puig as he could use a fresh start with a new team, and maybe one that’s not in such a big market. He’s the youngest player on this list, is controllable for five more years and may have the highest ceiling. His 162-game average puts him at 23 home runs, 73 RBIs, a .294 average and a .371 OBP.
There is no telling what team would be willing to take a huge chance on Puig as he comes with a lot of baggage. If the Cleveland Indians are indeed in the market for an outfielder, Puig makes a lot of sense. It gives them a young, controllable and affordable bat.
8. Jason Heyward (26)
All of these names are intriguing, but none are as intriguing as Jason Heyward. He’s quite possibly the best defensive right fielder in the game, but people are still waiting for him to reach his power potential. He’s only hit over 20 home runs once in an entire season – back in 2012 – and his average after six years in the league sits at .268. His .353 OBP is something to consider, and that’s an important number as he’s spent a lot of his career batting either first or second. Most teams would prefer he hit in the middle of the lineup and put up 20-plus homers a year for the next eight years. That’s why Heyward is so intriguing because we still aren’t sure what type of player he’s going to be offensively. Regardless, he’s a really good player who will elevate any team, whether it be on offense or in the field.
I see this coming down to two teams: Cardinals and Dodgers. He makes a lot of sense for both as he’s exactly the type of player these teams want – someone who does the little things. If it’s a bidding war and Heyward just cares about the money, then I think the Dodgers move an outfielder and land him.
9. Hanley Ramirez (32)
I think the Red Sox would love to move Hanley Ramirez this offseason if there’s a team willing to take on his contract (He’s owed $22.75 million over the next three years with a $22 million vesting option in 2019). The left field experiment did not work out well, so his future position might be at first base or DH. Hanley got off to a hot start in 2015 before struggling in the second half and dealing with injuries. He’s only played in more than 128 games once over the past five seasons, so injury concerns there. Plus, 2016 will be his age 32 season, so he’s coming out of his prime. The Red Sox would have to eat a lot of money to move him, but that’s not as big of a concern for them as it would be for other teams.
You’ll have to find someone who is willing to take on a lot of money and someone who believes that Ramirez is still a game-changing bat. It might be tricky money-wise, but this is a move I could see the White Sox making. They could use a shortstop, and they could definitely use another bat in that lineup.
10. Carlos Santana (29)
There are no rumors saying the Indians would like to move Carlos Santana, but with 2016 being the last guaranteed year on his contract (he has a team option in 2017), he’s at that point where either he needs to be extended or traded. Of course, he could begin the season with the Indians if they think they’re going to be contenders and then trade him at the deadline if they’re out of the race. He’s essentially a 1B/DH at this point, so he would most certainly have to be moved to an American League team. His 162-game average after six big league seasons has him at 24 home runs, 85 RBIs, a .245 average and a .365 OBP. That’s a great OBP for a power hitter, especially considering his low batting average. He could easily help boost a contending team in 2016 and beyond as he’ll begin the upcoming season at the age of 29.
The Detroit Tigers would be a perfect fit for Santana, but I’m not sure the Indians would move him within the division. The Seattle Mariners are another team that could really benefit from Santana’s services if they feel like they can contend in the next two years.
11. Alex Gordon (32)
Before the 2015 season, Alex Gordon played in at least 151 games for four straight seasons. He missed 58 games in 2015 but still managed to hit 13 home runs. His 162-game average has him at 19/75/.269/.348. To go along with those solid offensive numbers, he plays gold-glove caliber defense in left field. He’ll play the 2016 season at age 32 and is coming off an injury-riddled season so there are some concerns with signing him long-term, but you can’t deny the affect he has on a lineup.
If the Seattle Mariners can afford him, Gordon would be the perfect fit for that team.
12. Ben Zobrist (34)
Ben Zobrist might be one of the most coveted bats on the free agent market this offseason, even though he’s clearly declining in offensive production. The allure with Zobrist is his versatility, and he’s still capable of hitting double-digit home runs and batting in the .270 range. The problem is he’ll turn 35 in May and he’s seeking a four-year deal. He fit in perfectly in Kansas City where he was a veteran presence for a young ball club. I see him filling a similar role on a team that’s ready to contend for the next few years.
The losers of the World Series, the New York Mets, are the obvious next choice for Zobrist, but they don’t seem willing to go to that four year mark. If the Mets aren’t willing to go that extra year, then Zobrist will probably end up back with the Kansas City Royals.