With the season finally over, it is time for teams to focus on the more subtle aspect of baseball: the off-season. Here I’ll take a look at five of the biggest names coming from National League teams, hitting the free agency in the 2017 off-season. These players are not ranked in any particular order.
1. Yoenis Cespedes – OF
Cespedes was a huge part of the Mets’ offense in 2016, especially considering how weak and injury prone it was. Jay Bruce, who the Mets acquired at the Trade Deadline, will ensure the Mets still have one big bat in the outfield regardless of what happens to Cespedes. Bruce has struggled in his brief time in the Big Apple however. This certainly could change after an off-season with the team. The Mets would certainly love to keep his bat, and cannon of an arm at Citi Field. Cespedes’ numbers weren’t top-tier on offense, but certainly stood out amidst a sputtering Mets offense in 2016. This might bring his value up even higher than he may realistically be worth. He batted .280, with 86 RBIs, and 31 home runs for the Mets in 2016. I think the biggest concern for potential Cespedes buyers would be his age. He is 31 years old, so his most dynamic years might be behind him. This isn’t to say he can’t be productive on a team, just that he is less likely to be a superstar that a team can build an offense around.
2. Justin Turner – 3B
Turner is another player who provided a consistent bat at the plate in 2016. He led the Dodgers in home runs (27) and RBIs (90). What might make Turner more valuable than Cespedes this off-season is his defensive position. Plenty of teams could use a new glove at third base, and Turner’s bat outranks the other third basemen on the market this off-season. Similarly to Cespedes, he isn’t as youthful as he once was. At 31 years old he can certainly still make an impact for a team. It will be interesting to see how long of a contract teams are willing to offer him. One more thing about Turner is his ability to play anywhere in the infield. While he’s undoubtedly most comfortable at the hot corner, Turner has spent some time in the middle infield (71 starts at 2B with the Mets in 2011), meaning there’s an off-chance that he could fill a multitude of infield holes based on the teams pursuing him.
3. Dexter Fowler – OF
Just days after helping the Cubs win their first World Series in over a century, Fowler declined his $9 million mutual option with Chicago for 2017. Fowler will undoubtedly garner a lot of attention. As a switch-hitting leadoff man who hit .276 in Chicago last year, he’d fit in well with almost any team willing to make him an offer. Some have dubbed him the potential Ben Zobrist of this off-season. One big difference between Fowler in 2017 and Zobrist in 2016 is the age gap. Fowler will be 31 by the time the regular season rolls around, while Zobrist was 35. I know I’ve cautioned against the 30+year old players earlier, but I feel that the versatility Fowler offers at the plate as a switch hitter means he has slightly more long-term value, even if he’s just coming off the bench. He’s also still got a little bit of pop in his bat for a leadoff man, hitting 13 homers in the regular season while batting .276 and scoring 84 runs.
4. Neil Walker – 2B
Neil Walker turned a lot of heads with his performance in April of 2016. A guy not usually known for his power, Walker led the Mets squad with nine homers and 19 RBIs that month. But as the season progressed, Walker’s numbers appeared to be on the decline until August, where he again started surprising everyone. He hit a commanding .389 that month, but eventually wound up on the DL for the remainder of the year. He finished with a .282 average, 55 RBIs, and 23 homers in 113 games. While questions surrounding his off-season back surgery will certainly cause some teams to think twice, one pull for Walker, similar to Fowler, is his ability to hit consistently from both sides of the plate. The biggest change coming into 2017 is his potential to hit for power from both batter’s boxes. On Monday he received a qualifying offer from the Mets in an attempt to get him back. If he declines then we’ll see what kind of attention the switch-hitting second baseman can garner.
5. Wilson Ramos – C
Ramos looked like an entirely new player in 2016 compared to previous seasons. He was hitting the ball more consistently than ever (.307 vs. .258 career average coming into the season), and had his first season with more than 20 homers. The Nationals declined to make him a qualifying offer, meaning he’s now available for any team looking to nab him this off-season. He was slightly above the middle of the pack on defense, with a 37.25 caught stealing percentage in 2016. With catching being such a demanding position and Ramos being one of the youngest catchers on the free agent market at 29 years old, I think he could draw a lot of attention and be a real asset wherever he goes.
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