Here we are in the third week of January, and if you had predicted that eight of the nine Royals free agents - including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain - would still be unsigned at this point of the off-season, raise your hand. It has been a stunningly slow winter for baseball, with Wade Davis being the only one of MLB Trade Rumor’s top ten free agents that actually filed for free agency (Masahiro Tanaka chose not to), having signed so far.
At the outset of free agency, I took a look at potential suitors for Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain. But as the winter has progressed, many of those landing spots have disappeared. At this point, how many seats are left in this game of musical chairs? Let’s examine their options.
Where are all the teams lining up for Prestige Value? Hosmer really hit the free agent market at an inopportune time, with most contenders already set at first base. The Red Sox were widely thought of as the leading suitor, but went in a different direction by re-signing Mitch Moreland. The Yankees were a potential suitor, but they seem unwilling to go above the luxury tax threshold, and if they do, it will be for a pitcher like Yu Darvish, and/or to address third base.
The Padres and Royals are the only two teams that have been publicly linked to Hosmer, and he may have to settle for being part of a rebuild rather than participating in next year’s pennant run. There are conflicting reports about whether or not the Royals have actually made an offer. Dayton Moore has consistently said the team plans to wait out the market and possibly make a play if the price drops enough. The Padres have reportedly made a seven-year offer, but for less than $140 million, which would make Hosmer less than a $20 million-per-year player, far less than what he is looking for.
There may be a team or two lurking, waiting to pounce if the price drops. There have been whispers about the Cardinals being interested, and even though they have Matt Carpenter, he could be moved to third base. I still think the Rockies could be a potential fit, and Hosmer makes a lot of sense for a franchise on the rise that is trying to get over the playoff hump. On the other hand, he won’t be able to take advantage of the thin air of Coors Field with his ground ball rate, and the Rockies have already been one of the bigger spenders this off-season, focusing on their bullpen.
The Rangers could possibly use a first baseman if they move Joey Gallo to DH, but don’t seem like a great fit for Hosmer. The Indians have a vacancy at first base after losing Carlos Santana, but are a more analytic club that is not likely to value Hosmer all that much. The trend of analytics seeping into front offices could really damage Hosmer’s chances of landing a big deal. Ten years ago, he probably gets a $150+ million deal. Now, with teams dismissing intangibles like leadership and not buying into the Boras hype, Hosmer may have to re-calibrate his expectations.
At the outset of the off-season, all signs pointed to Moustakas returning to his native southern California with the Angels. Moose grew up just an hour away from Angel Stadium, the club needed a left-handed bat, and a third baseman, and was looking to spend some money to build a team around Mike Trout. But the Angels wanted positional flexibility and instead signed infielder Zack Cozart to play third base.
The Giants were considered to be another possibility, but went in a different direction by trading for Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. The Yankees could use a third baseman, but the luxury tax has prevented them from spending much after landing Giancarlo Stanton, and it seems they would be more likely to pursue a cheaper deal with Todd Frazier.
There have been some reports from Jon Heyman that the Royals could be interested in Moustakas, but don’t expect a reunion, it is likely just an attempt to push up his market. The Mets are reportedly interested in Moustakas, but only if the price drops, as the team continues to experience financial constraints. The Cardinals are lurking on Moustakas as well, but he may not be the upgrade the way Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado - who the Cardinals have also pursued - might be. St. Louis may be more willing to play Jedd Gyorko at third, or shift Matt Carpenter over from first, rather than spend a lot of money on Moose.
Despite an opening at third and money to spend, the Braves are reportedly not interested in Moustakas. The Orioles have discussed Mike Moustakas with Manny Machado potentially moving to shortstop or traded. Moose’s low on-base percentage concerns them, however. Analyst Jim Bowden hears the Brewers may be in on him, with the idea they would trade away Travis Shaw. MLB Network commentator Dan O’Dowd thinks the White Sox could use Moustakas to accelerate their rebuild. Probably not happening.
Cain remaining unsigned surprises me the most just because he could be a fit for so many teams. Only so many teams could use a first baseman or third baseman, Cain could be an upgrade in the outfield for more than half the league. There have been a lot of teams kicking the tires on Cain, but he remains one of the top outfielders still available.
Interest from the Brewers, the team that originally drafted and developed Cain, seems to be heating up. The Brewers already have two outfielders and a promising outfield prospect in Brett Phillips, but could potentially sign Cain and use one of their young outfielders in a trade for a pitcher (possibly Danny Duffy?) or second baseman (Whit Merrifield?)
The Texas Rangers have reportedly become more aggressive in landing Cain, which makes some sense considering the team has been wanting to upgrade outfield defense. But the club also has needs on the pitching side they may want to address first, and they could get by with Delino DeShields in center if they had to.
Jon Heyman wrote that the Blue Jays might be willing to go four years on a deal with Lorenzo Cain, which if true, should be jumped on by Lorenzo in this market. Cain may have reservations playing on the rough surface in Toronto, but the Jays could use another outfielder. However, if they start trading away players like Josh Donaldson and Marcus Stroman, they may not need Cain for a potential rebuild.
The Giants expressed some interest earlier this winter, but face some luxury tax issues that may hamper their ability to sign free agents. A Chicago radio station host threw out the idea the Cubs could sign Cain, but that idea makes little sense considering the personnel Chicago already has in their outfield. The A’s are a potential long-shot candidate for Cain.