MLB Free-Agent Matchmaker: One Player Each American League Team Should Sign

Free agency is all about playing matchmaker, as players, agents and teams all try to woo each other and form a more perfect union. Each squad, though, goes into the winter with a select list of targets—and for most, if not all, there’s one truly perfect combination out there waiting for them. Let’s help the process of true love get on, then, by picking the best free-agent fit for every team, starting with the American League.

Note: Player picks do not include estimates on contracts. My picks also try to reflect a team’s place in the contention cycle and payroll situation, as well as the landing spots that make the most sense for the player—Tampa isn’t going to sign Bryce Harper, and Baltimore isn’t going to pursue Dallas Keuchel, and vice versa.

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Baltimore Orioles: Gio Gonzalez, SP

No one available in free agency will go a long way toward improving the Orioles’ dismal collection of “talent;” as The Athletic’s Jon Bernhardt found, even if Baltimore splurged on all the best players available, that probably still wouldn’t push the team beyond third place in the AL East. But even the O’s have needs, and nowhere more than the rotation, which is bereft of useful arms. Gonzalez is no one’s idea of efficient or consistent, but he at least has upside, which is more than can be said of either the pitchers currently in place or Baltimore’s usual strategy of signing the starters that the Rangers don’t want any more.

Boston Red Sox: Craig Kimbrel, RP

The most important free agents for Dave Dombrowski are his own—namely, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and postseason hero Nate Eovaldi. Of the two, Kimbrel feels like the more crucial re-up for Boston. Despite his up-and-down October, he remains an elite reliever. More importantly, Boston’s bullpen doesn’t have a replacement in-house for him as closer. There are other options available in free agency, but why mess with a good thing? He won’t be cheap, and he turns 31 in May, but Kimbrel is the best reliever available.

Chicago White Sox: Bryce Harper, OF

I laid out my case for Chicago adding Harper to its rebuild-in-progress here, so I won’t go in-depth again. I’ll just quickly note that a star of his caliber and youth is a perfect addition to a roster full of under-30 talent with plenty more coming soon, and that the White Sox’ miniscule payroll can easily accommodate him.

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Cleveland Indians: Andrew McCutchen, OF

Unless Cleveland is serious about giving regular playing time to Tyler Naquin and Leonys Martin, adding an outfielder would seem to be a top priority. McCutchen showed he’s got plenty left in the tank by hitting .255/.368/.424 with 20 homers for the Giants and Yankees last year, and at 32, he’s unlikely to cost too much or require a deal beyond three years. Even the penny-pinching Indians can get behind that.

Detroit Tigers: Freddy Galvis, SS

With the slick-fielding Jose Iglesias a free agent, the Tigers have to find a new shortstop as they continue their long rebuild. Galvis was mostly useful for the Padres last year amid their ongoing restructure, with an 88 OPS+ and competent defense. That won’t move the needle up for Detroit, but that doesn’t matter: 2019 is about developing the future, and Galvis won’t get in the way of that.

Houston Astros: Yasmani Grandal, C

Martin Maldonado and Brian McCann are both gone, leaving Max Stassi atop the catcher depth chart, but the 27-year-old is better suited as a backup. Grandal had a miserable postseason for the Dodgers both at the plate (a .138 batting average, 15 strikeouts and one home run in 34 plate appearances) and behind it (a nonstop array of passed balls and other blunders). Still, switch-hitting catchers with plus power don’t grow on trees, and the advanced defensive stats are in Grandal’s favor. He makes plenty of sense for the Astros.

Kansas City Royals: Mike Moustakas, 3B

For Kansas City, 2019 is all about the future, but it might not hurt to revisit the past with Moustakas. Third base there currently belongs to either Hunter Dozier or Cheslor Cuthbert, who have 80-grade names but don’t offer much else. The third base market beyond Josh Donaldson is atrocious; Moustakas is the best of a bad lot. But he’d be a good mentor for the kids, is a reliable defender at the hot corner, probably won’t cost too much, and might help ease the sting for fans of waiting for the next contending Royals team.

Los Angeles Angels: Dallas Keuchel, SP

The Angels are always in need of pitching, and they’ll be without Shohei Ohtani’s golden arm for the whole season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Armed with a bunch of shaky and injury-prone starters, Los Angeles should be all over Keuchel. The former Cy Young winner isn’t an ace anymore, but he’s a stable, reliable presence who can chew up innings. His groundball-heavy tendencies, meanwhile, are a dream pairing with Andrelton Simmons at shortstop.

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Minnesota Twins: Cody Allen, RP

It’s a bad idea for a team to go into the season with Ehire Adrianza atop the depth chart at second base, but there aren’t many keystone options available to the Twins this winter. A reunion with Brian Dozier might make sense on a one-year pillow contract, or Minnesota could kick the tires on Ian Kinsler or Josh Harrison. The Twins may be better off, though, finding themselves a reliable closer (or at least increasing their bullpen depth). Allen was anything but last year for Cleveland, with a 4.70 ERA and 1.5 homers per nine, but he still racks up strikeouts.

New York Yankees: Patrick Corbin, SP

Harper or Manny Machado would ordinarily be destined for pinstripes, but with New York getting cost-conscious, that future might not come to pass. Fitting either onto the roster also wouldn’t be the easiest. By contrast, the starting rotation has holes aplenty, and while Corbin is the best starter on the market, his price tag will be nowhere near Harper’s or Machado’s. The lefty solves an immediate need, even if he’s not the sexiest addition.

Oakland Athletics: Kurt Suzuki, C

Grandal would make sense in the Bay Area, but it’s unlikely that Oakland would pony up the money that he presumably wants. Suzuki is more to the Athletics’ style: At 35 years old, he won’t be looking for too many years or dollars, and he was a surprisingly solid hitter for the Braves the last two seasons (a 117 OPS+ over 697 plate appearances). The organization is familiar with Suzuki, too, having drafted him in 2004; he spent the first five-plus years of his career with the A’s. He’d be a good partner with Josh Phegley behind the plate.

Seattle Mariners: Marco Estrada, SP

Veteran righty Estrada was a one-man souvenir factory last season, serving up 29 homers in just 143 2/3 innings. His resulting 5.64 ERA was both hideous and deserved, but better could be in the cards for him in the right environment—like Safeco Field, far friendlier with regards to home runs than Estrada’s old home in Toronto. And after his dreadful year, he won’t cost much—a plus for a Mariners team that desperately needs rotation arms but doesn’t want to pay a lot for them.

Tampa Bay Rays: Jesse Chavez, SP/RP

Tampa is well stocked around the diamond, with its only glaring need—catcher—now taken care of after trading for Mike Zunino. And while the rotation is short of bodies, another year of utilizing the opener strategy lessens the need for signing a traditional starter in free agency. To that end, Chavez, who has experience as a starter and a reliever and can go multiple innings per outing, is a perfect addition to the Rays’ amorphous bullpen/rotation mix.

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Texas Rangers: Josh Donaldson, 3B

Should Adrian Beltre decide to retire, third base would open up in Texas. The Rangers could move Joey Gallo out of the outfield and back to his original position, though his defense there is rough, or give full-time starter reps to former top prospect Jurickson Profar. But if Donaldson finds his market softer than expected, a one-year sojourn in Texas’s hitter-friendly confines could help reestablish his value going into next winter. Defensively, the Rangers wouldn’t miss a beat going from Beltre to Donaldson. This feels like a great match if everything lines up. (If third base isn’t the move for Texas, though, adding to the rotation is a must—maybe with a strikeout-heavy upside play like Trevor Cahill.)

Toronto Blue Jays: James Shields, SP/Kelvin Herrera or Joakim Soria, RP

The Jays can go two different ways here. They can target their rotation, which was a mess last year and, at the moment, has nothing set beyond Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and a passel of rookies. Or they can beef up the bullpen, a collection of below-average arms that posted a 4.45 ERA last season. If Toronto opts to address the former, Shields—who’s past his prime but still plenty capable of gobbling innings—makes sense as a placeholder. To improve the latter, a former closer like Herrera or Soria would be good insurance for the mercurial Ken Giles and help keep leads in place (and then be moved midseason for prospects in what will almost certainly be a rebuilding year).

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