Each MLB team’s most important free agent
Philadelphia Phillies — Daniel Nava, outfielder
The 34-year-old Nava hit .301 with a .393 OBP in limited duty with the Phillies this season, a good set of numbers that were quite valuable to a team that didn’t hit a ton and walked even less. He’s a bit part player, but a good one, and his time with the Phillies proves that he can still be a contributor at the big league level. Even if it came in a minor role, Nava’s hitting was a nice thing for Philadelphia to have. He probably helped some of the team’s younger players, too.
Pittsburgh Pirates — John Jaso, outfielder
A regular contributor to Pittsburgh over the past two seasons, Jaso saw his batting average plummet to just .211 in 2017. The fact that his OBP was still .328 is a testament to how good he is at working walks even when he’s not hitting. Though a valuable part of the Pirates for two years, Jaso’s run there is probably over. If he decides to continue playing, he could probably catch on somewhere as a versatile player. He’s considering retirement.
St. Louis Cardinals — Lance Lynn, pitcher
With an aging Adam Wainwright taking a step back and young Carlos Martinez not yet fully matured into ace status, it was Lynn who led the Cardinals in ERA in 2017. While he won’t find himself in the top tier of free agent pitchers, he’ll be a nice option for a team looking for a solid starter with plenty of experience and a few years left before he really starts entering the downslope of his career. Judging by comments he made during the season, his future almost certainly doesn’t lie with the Cardinals.
San Diego Padres — Jhoulys Chacin, pitcher
Chacin became a quality part of the San Diego rotation in 2017, leading the team in wins with 13 while posting a 3.89 ERA. As always with Padres pitchers, some of this was probably Petco Park’s doing — his walk and strikeout numbers weren’t particularly impressive — but he got what he wanted, which was to rebuild his value ahead of free agency. The Padres are interested in bringing back Chacin. If they can’t bring him back, they’ll probably opt for some other reclamation project to replace him as a starter.
San Francisco Giants — Matt Cain, pitcher
Cain’s contract expired when his vesting option didn’t vest, but instead of free agency, he has chosen retirement. He hasn’t been an ace in several years, but even so, he got the Giants 124 innings of work in his final season, albeit not particularly good ones. At this point, Cain was more of a symbol of the club’s glory days as the dilapidated organization trudged their way through a 98-loss season. But Cain was a big part of those glory days, and he will be remembered fondly in the Bay Area for all he did for the Giants.
Seattle Mariners — Hisashi Iwakuma, pitcher
The Mariners declined their $10 million option on Iwakuma for 2018, but the two sides are working on a potential reunion. Iwakuma, 36, only made six starts last season and is recovering from shoulder issues. There are lots of questions surrounding Iwakuma at this point, but Seattle probably would love to make things work with him. He was an incredibly reliable pitcher from 2012-2015 and even gave the Mariners 199 innings in 2016, though his ERA jumped to 4.12.
Tampa Bay Rays — Alex Cobb, pitcher
A case could be made for Logan Morrison and his 38 home runs, but Cobb just turned 30, has recovered from Tommy John surgery, and posted a very nice comeback season in 2017. While he wasn’t quite as good as he was before the surgery, he posted a 3.66 ERA and gave teams plenty of reason to believe that he could continue to be an effective pitcher in the big leagues. He did it at the perfect time, too given his free agency status. Teams won’t shy away from him this winter. The Cubs have been mentioned as a strong possibility for Cobb.
Texas Rangers — Andrew Cashner, pitcher
Cashner managed to make himself Texas’ best starter in 2017, superior to both Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, who were plagued by injuries and underperformance last year. Cashner’s peripherals are full of red flags. That 86-to-64 K/BB rate isn’t exactly inspiring confidence, but his ERA was 3.40 and he won 11 games for the team. Someone will have to pick up that slack for the Rangers in 2018, as he probably won’t be brought back despite his solid year.
Toronto Blue Jays — Jose Bautista, outfielder
Make no mistake, this is not the Bautista even of two years ago. He managed 23 home runs, but he hit only .203. The days of him being a fearsome power hitter look to be behind him. The Jays won’t be bringing him back, and with good reason, but his departure marks the end of Toronto’s most successful era in roughly 20 years. Bautista doesn’t have a ton of relevance now in the grand scheme of things. He might catch on somewhere, but he probably won’t be an impact player. His value is tied to Toronto and everything he meant to the city and the organization.
Washington Nationals — Brandon Kintzler, pitcher
The Nationals are losing a lot of players, but Kintzler played a big role in the team’s once-struggling bullpen after he came over from Minnesota at the trade deadline. Though he wasn’t one for strikeouts — just 12 in 26 innings with the Nationals — he did post a 3.46 ERA and became a valuable option in a setup role. Considering how bad Washington’s bullpen was early in the season, they’ll want to make sure they have as much depth as possible going into 2018. Kintzler was a valuable part of the depth they had late in 2017.