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. On Monday, we paired up players with teams in the American League. Today, let’s tackle the NL.
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—Arizona isn’t going to sign Bryce Harper, and Miami isn’t going to pursue Dallas Keuchel, and vice versa. Players can be listed more than once if they would be ideal fits for more than one team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Adam Jones, OF
Arizona has made noise this winter of tearing it down. Free agents A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin are almost certainly gone; Zack Greinke is being “aggressively shopped;” and Paul Goldschmidt and Robbie Ray may find themselves on new teams this winter. With that in mind, adding a veteran like Jones may feel off, but with Pollock jettisoned, centerfield is open, and the longtime Oriole is likely to be the best discount option on the market.
Atlanta Braves: A.J. Pollock, OF
The Braves are one of a few teams that could conceivably do nothing this winter and stay a contender. That’s the beauty of a young, cheap core that’s producing faster than expected. But that doesn’t mean Atlanta should sit the winter out. In particular, the team could use another outfielder with veteran Nick Markakis now a free agent. Pollock’s injury history is worrisome, and his last two years have been largely unexceptional at the plate, but he can handle center or the corners and boasts a lot of upside, even at 31.
Chicago Cubs: Bryce Harper, OF
Harper would go a long way toward bolstering not only the Cubs’ World Series chances this season but also for the next decade. At 26 years old, he’d help extend Chicago’s window of contention alongside Kris Bryant (26), Anthony Rizzo (29), Javier Baez (25), Kyle Schwarber (25) and Willson Contreras (26). He fills a need, too, in the outfield, as a massive upgrade over the Cubs’ current centerfield tandem of Ian Happ and Albert Almora.
Cincinnati Reds: Trevor Cahill, SP
Cincinnati’s rotation was an absolute mess last year, with an ERA of 5.02 thanks in large part to having to pitch in Great American Ball Park, a homer-friendly nightmare for pitchers. Cahill, though, has the stuff to succeed there: He has the highest ground-ball rate of any free-agent starter with 100 or more innings thrown in 2018, at 53.7%, and he misses bats, too. The Reds need starters who can avoid contact; Cahill fits the bill.
Colorado Rockies: Daniel Murphy, 2B
The Rockies need a new second baseman with DJ LeMahieu a free agent, but that’s not why they should sign Murphy. The veteran’s defense at the keystone is awful and compromised by knee injuries, making him a bad bet at the position. Instead, Colorado should plop Murphy at first base, which was a disaster last season: Starter Ian Desmond hit a miserable .236/.307/.422 with an 83 OPS+ there. It’s past time for the Rockies to ditch Desmond, and while Murphy is entering the downslope of his career, he’s a better bet for productivity going forward—and playing half his games in Coors Field with its endless power alleys may revitalize him.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Adam Ottavino, RP
Los Angeles will spend all winter linked with Harper, and for good reason: They’re rich, and he wants to be rich. But with a full outfield and an apparent desire to avoid spending, Harper may not be the ideal target. Instead, let’s focus on the bullpen, which could use another impact arm behind Kenley Jansen. Ottavino was an overlooked relief ace last year in Colorado, posting a 2.43 ERA in 77 2/3 innings and finishing eighth among all qualified relievers in strikeout rate (36.3%). Arguably the best setup man available, he’d instantly deepen what’s been a shaky group of relievers.
Miami Marlins: Matt Adams, 1B
Miami’s rotation and bullpen could both use some help, but team president Michael Hill is apparently more focused on adding pieces to his lineup. The market for hitters in the Marlins’ budget is pretty thin, particularly at their greatest position of need: first base. One good bargain option: Adams, a burly lefty with plenty of power; he socked 21 homers in 337 plate appearances last year split between Washington and St. Louis. Adams needs a platoon partner who can handle southpaws, but his numbers against righthanders (.811 OPS last year, .825 career) make him a perfectly fine option at the position and in the middle of Miami’s order.
Milwaukee Brewers: J.A. Happ, SP
That the Brewers made it to within a win of the World Series despite a pitching staff that could charitably be described as “bought at a Goodwill” is a minor miracle. Milwaukee isn’t a likely player for starters like Corbin or Dallas Keuchel at the top of the market. Instead, veteran lefty Happ would be a nice second-tier addition as someone who can provide 180-plus above-average innings and take some of the pressure off an excellent yet overworked bullpen.
New York Mets: David Robertson, RP
Manny Machado would make all the sense in the world as the Mets’ Opening Day third baseman, and adding either him or Harper would be a big step forward for a franchise that cries poor constantly. I doubt, though, that New York will meet either of their asking prices. So we’ll turn to the bullpen, in dire need of help and a reliable closer. Robertson, late of the Yankees, is long in the tooth at 33 but still possesses elite stuff, with a 32.2% strikeout rate, and has lots of experience in high-leverage situations. He’d go a long way toward making the Mets’ relief corps better.
Philadelphia Phillies: Bryce Harper, OF
I laid out all the reasons why the Phillies should sign Harper here, and my prediction for his ultimate landing spot is Philadelphia. It simply makes too much sense. I’ll quickly note that Machado could and should also be in play for the Phillies, though adding him would require losing one of J.P. Crawford or Maikel Franco.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jose Iglesias, SS
The middle infield is an open question for Pittsburgh, as the Pirates said goodbye this winter to longtime mainstays Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer at second base and shortstop, respectively. The former position has some internal options in Adam Frazier and Kevin Kramer, but the latter less so: Top prospect Cole Tucker has yet to play beyond Double A, and atop the current depth chart is utilityman Erik Gonzalez. Iglesias is a weak bat but a dazzling defender who should be able to hold the fort down in Pittsburgh until Tucker is ready.
San Diego Padres: Manny Machado, SS/3B
The Padres made a splash last winter by signing Eric Hosmer to a big contract, but the former Royals slugger fell flat on his face in year one. That shouldn’t discourage San Diego, though, from continuing to push its rebuild forward with a much better and more expensive prize in Machado. The Padres will be bad with or without him in 2019, but at 26, he’ll still be good when San Diego’s fecund farm system is ready for harvest. Plus, he can play shortstop until top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. comes up, then switch over to third base, where he won’t be blocking anyone. (All of this also applies to Harper, but San Diego’s need on the left side of the infield is the deciding factor in making Machado the better target.)
San Francisco Giants: Bryce Harper, OF
Picking the best free agent for the Giants is a tough task until we know for sure what the plan will be under new team president Farhan Zaidi. Will San Francisco continue to chase veteran players in a win-now gambit, or will the team tear it all down and enter a long and difficult rebuild? Allow me to suggest a middle path: Harper. He instantly improves this roster and, along with a few other savvy signings, could cure the Giants’ ills. But even if not, he’s young enough that Zaidi and company could build the next contender around him as the new face of the franchise. It’d be a big addition to San Francisco’s already bloated payroll, but Harper is worth it.
St. Louis Cardinals: Craig Kimbrel, RP
In my dreams, the Cardinals sign Machado, just so I can see how ballistic the fan base goes the first time he doesn’t run out a groundball. More realistic, though, is acquiring bullpen help for a group that compiled a rough 4.38 ERA last season. Closer was a particular issue for St. Louis, but one easily solved by adding Kimbrel, who was his usual dominant self in Boston last year: a 2.74 ERA, 42 saves and 96 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings. Just, uh, don’t look at his postseason highlight package.
Washington Nationals: Nate Eovaldi, SP
Only a few weeks into the offseason, the Nats have been busy. First, they added to a bummer of a bullpen by acquiring Kyle Barraclough from Miami and signing ex-Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal. Then they addressed their open catcher spot by getting former Braves backstop Kurt Suzuki. Up next: rotation help. Too many innings were thrown away last year in Washington by the likes of Erick Fedde and Tommy Milone. Eovaldi won’t come cheap after his World Series heroics for Boston, but armed with a 100-mph fastball, he adds immediate upside and quality depth behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.