With pitchers and catchers about to report to spring training and a slew of players still unsigned, we take a crack at putting a team of just MLB free agents together.
Nearly 100 MLB players—including some big names—still have absolutely no idea where they’ll be playing in 2018. In fact, the MLB Players Association has put together its own version of spring training for the unsigned.
While these free agents won’t be partaking in MLB’s exhibition season—at least initially—we couldn’t help but wonder: What would a team comprised of just free agents look like? Would it be competitive?
The results are in—and the answer is…probably.
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy
He’s not the All-Star he once was, but Lucroy is the best of a weak group of free agent catchers. While he’s gone from one of the game’s premier pitch framers to its worst, according to Baseball Prospectus, the 31-year-old was still league average (27 percent) on throwing out would-be base stealers and committed only four errors.
Offensively, Lucroy’s power has all but disappeared, finishing 2017 with just six home runs (down from a career-high 24 in 2016) and 30 extra-base hits. Among the nine catchers with at least 450 plate appearances last season, his 82 wRC+ ranked seventh.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Ruiz
First Base: Eric Hosmer
In the prime of his career and coming off a season that saw him set career-highs in batting average (.318), on-base percentage (.385), slugging percentage (.498), OPS (.882) and hits (191)—and tie career-highs in home runs (25) and runs scored (98)—Hosmer stands tall as the cream of the first-base crop of free agents.
Yes, his defense is suspect, and there’s some risk that he won’t be able to replicate those power numbers moving forward. But even if he reverts back to his career numbers before 2017—an average season saw him hit .277 with 17 home runs, 79 RBI, and a .763 OPS—he’d still be the best option on the market for a team in need of a boost at first base.
Honorable Mention: Logan Morrison
Second Base: Neil Walker
Brandon Phillips put up a stronger fight than some might think, but in the end, Walker’s edge offensively was too much for the defensively superior Phillips to overcome.
Walker’s inability to stay on the field—he’s averaged 112 games a season over the last two years—is a concern. But despite missing significant time, he’s still putting up quality numbers at the plate.
Since 2016, a typical year saw Walker hit .277 with 18 home runs, 52 RBI, and a .813 OPS. If he can stay on the field a bit more often, there’s little doubt he can put together another season of 20-plus home runs and 75-plus RBI.
Honorable Mention: Phillips
Third Base: Mike Moustakas
Like Hosmer, his former teammate in Kansas City, Moustakas is coming off a season that saw him set career-highs in home runs (38), RBI (85), slugging percentage (.521) and OPS (.835).
While he wasn’t at his best when it came to flashing the leather at the hot corner in 2017—advanced metrics were especially unkind, giving him a minus-eight DRS and minus-3.6 UZR/150—Moustakas has historically been a solid if not strong defender at third base.
A case could be made for Yunel Escobar or Eduardo Nunez, but neither one has Moustakas’ power—and the 29-year-old Moose is the only one of the three under 30.
Honorable Mentions: Escobar, Nunez
Shortstop: Eduardo Nunez
Besides, we need Nunez to serve as the team’s shortstop, as there’s not another legitimate starting shortstop on the free agent market.
Remember that one time when Derek Jeter anointed Nunez the Yankees shortstop of the future? Well, that never panned out, largely because Jeter kept playing and Nunez couldn’t hit.
He’s since fixed that, posting a solid .290/.323/.434 slash line since leaving the Bronx after the 2013 season. Over the past two seasons, he’s really hit his stride, slashing .299/.332/.445 while becoming a legitimate threat on the basepaths, averaging 32 stolen bases a year.
But Nunez’s biggest problem is his defense. The only place he doesn’t grade out as a defensive liability is in the outfield corners, but he’s not an everyday outfielder. His versatility, despite his defensive inefficiencies, remains his biggest strength.
Honorable Mention: None
Left Field: Melky Cabrera
Cabrera is one of those players who has never been as good—or as bad—as people tend to think. He’s just sort of there. At this point in his career, he’s basically a league-average hitter with some pop and a below-average fielder.
Translation: He’s nothing special, which is exactly how you can describe the group of remaining free agent left fielders.
Honorable Mentions: Cameron Maybin, Colby Rasmus, Michael Saunders
Center Field: Jarrod Dyson
While it’s worth noting that he set a new career-high in home runs last season with five, Dyson offers almost nothing in the power department.
But his above-average defense and speed give him an edge over Carlos Gomez, who, while still a useful player, is past his prime.
Honorable Mention: Gomez, Maybin
Right Field: J.D. Martinez
The best position player still available, Martinez’s right-handed power is unparalleled on the market and more than makes up for his below-average defense in right field.
A late bloomer, the 30-year-old’s career still seems to be on the upswing. While he might not smack 40 home runs again, another season of 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI isn’t outrageous to expect in 2018.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Gonzalez
Starting Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
A return to his 2015 National League Cy Young Award-winning form isn’t in the cards, but Arrieta is far-and-away the best starting pitcher left on the market, now that Yu Darvish has taken his place in Chicago’s rotation.
He may be more of a No. 2 starter than a true ace, but Arrieta’s ability to still make batters swing-and-miss—2017 was his fourth consecutive season with a K/9 rate of at least 8.7—and eat innings makes him a solid addition to nearly any rotation in the game.
Relief Pitcher: Greg Holland
Holland’s 2017 numbers (3-6, 3.61 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) don’t jump off the page, but they’re misleading. Consider this: An eight-game stretch is responsible for his ERA jumping by more than two full runs. Check this out:
|Aug. 6 - Aug. 26 (8 games)||19.89||3.00||6.1||13||14||6||4|
|Rest of 2017||1.59||0.92||51||27||9||20||66|
Those are some pretty incredible numbers—and they’re what make him the easy pick as the closer on our all free agent squad.