The regular season is over and the playoffs are down to just four teams that still have a chance at a World Series title. Since most baseball fans are already looking ahead to next year this seems like as good of a time as any to preview the upcoming free agent class. Compared to last year's, and especially compared to 2018's, this class is pretty weak. Today we'll look at the bats, and while most the top options are past their primes they are a much better crop than the pitchers who will be available.
Edwin Encarnacian, 1B, Age: 33
Jose Bautista, OF, Age: 35
Encarnacian should be the highest paid free agent this off-season. Him and Bautista are the top two bats on the market but Edwin's age will get him a longer contract with more guaranteed money. 2016 could be the end of Toronto's win now window, which will have lasted just two years if that's the case. They are in danger of losing David Price, Edwin, and Bautista all to free agency in just a two year span. They still have Josh Donaldson and good starting pitchers but there is no doubt this team will be worse off without their middle of the order bats. Nevermind the passion and energy these two bring to the team's identity. Anyways, Edwin had another great season in 2016 while Bautista showed some signs of decline. Edwin hit 42 homers with a MLB leading 127 RBIs while Bautista hit 22 homers in just 116 games. Although he batted just .234 he was still able to get on base with a .366 OBP.
While Edwin can still play a respectable first base he figures to need to move to a full time DH role by the end of this next contract. That should limit him to AL teams unless a National League one is looking to make a splash. Bautista, meanwhile, may already be a full time DH. His defensive WAR has declined every year since 2013 according to baseball reference. He has also proven to be the more injury prone of the two by playing in at least 120 games just twice in the past five season. Back in Spring Training he said he wanted five years and $150 million. That feels like a stretch. Regardless of what happens to Toronto the rest of this postseason they seem destined to lose at least one of these two.
Ian Desmond, OF/SS, Age: 31
Carlos Beltran, OF/DH, Age: 39
The Texas Rangers were the American League's number one seed entering the playoffs in 2016. A major reason for this was the offseason signing of former shortstop Ian Desmond and the decision to convert him to an outfielder. Back in 2015 Desmond turned down a seven year, $107 million deal and decided to bet on himself. In the short term it seemed to be a bad decision and after a poor 2015 he received just a one year deal from Texas that would require him to switch positions. A year later he is looking like the smart one as he could now get a deal even bigger than the one he already turned down. With Texas this season Desmond hit .285/.335/.446 with 22 homers and 21 steals. There is also the possibility he could return to shortstop, which would only increase his value.
Although he cooled off following a mid summer trade from New York to Texas Carlos Beltran will be one of the best one year rentals this coming offseason. In 99 games with the Yankees the 39-year-old Beltran showed he still had power by belting 22 homers to go along with a .546 slugging percentage, which was his highest since 2006. His cumulative 2016 numbers come out 29 home runs, 93 RBIs, and .295/.337/.513 triple slash line. He should be used strictly as a DH next year, which limits his potential suitors to AL teams. A return to either the Yankees or Rangers should not be ruled out. Still chasing a World Series ring expect Beltran and his .323 career postseason batting average to sign with a contender this winter.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Age: 30
Neil Walker, 2B, Age: 31
The Mets are in trouble. A year ago at this time they were headed for the World Series with the best young pitching staff in all of baseball. They looked destined to remain competitive for the next half decade. Man how times have changed. The window isn't completely shut. Noah Syndergaard is one of the five best pitchers in the league. Jacob DeGrom and Steven Matz should return healthy. Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are question marks, although both have upside. But man does that offense need help. Even at full health the Mets could be considered to have a below average lineup. By the end of 2016 it was a joke. Now they face the real prospect of losing their two best hitters from this past season.
Last winter Cespedes signed a three year, $75 million deal with New York that included an opt out after 2016. He could still technically decide not to opt out, but that seems unlikely after the season he had. There's too much money to be had after a year that saw him 31 homers with triple slash numbers all above his career averages. Re-signing him, if he chooses to opt out, should be the Mets' top priority. Walker, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to post career highs in OBP and slugging percentage. His 23 homers matched a career high and he did it in just 113 games. Any middle infielder with 25-30 homer upside is going to be attractive on the free agent market.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF/DH, Age: 30
In each of the past three seasons MLB's home run leader has come from the Baltimore Orioles and has been somebody different each year. Two years ago it was Nelson Cruz. Last year was Chris Davis. This year was Mark Trumbo. The Orioles also have an ability to acquire these power hitters on the cheap, as Cruz was signed to a one year deal in 2014 and Trumbo was acquired for peanuts this past offseason. Saved from spacious Safeco field in Seattle Trumbo went on to hit 47 homers in 2016 to go along with 107 RBIs and a .256/.316/.533 triple slash line. With the Orioles signing Davis long term last year to go along with the upcoming free agency of Manny Machado it seems unlikely that Baltimore will be willing to overpay for Trumbo the way some power starved teams might. Like many power hitters on the wrong side of 30 Trumbo is best suited to play for an AL team.
Justin Turner, 3B, Age: 31
One of the more underrated players in baseball Turner accumulated 4.9 WAR this year according to baseball reference. He posted career highs in home runs (27), RBIs (90), and slugging (.493). While his batting average and OBP dropped a tad below his career norms teams will surely take the increased power for an infielder. Formerly a bench player with the Mets Turner has now put up multiple productive seasons in LA. Between Adrian Gonzalez getting a year older and not knowing what to expect from Yasiel Puig next year the Dodgers will probably do what they can to re-sign Turner. He could improve his free agency value if he becomes a big part of the Dodgers making it to the World Series this year.