RosterResource Free Agency Roundup: NL Central

This is the fifth of a six-part series — the AL East, AL Central, AL West, and NL East pieces have been published — in which I’m highlighting each team’s most notable free agents and how it could fill the resulting void on the roster. A player’s rank on our recently released Top 50 Free Agents list, along with Kiley McDaniel’s contract estimates from that exercise, are listed where relevant. In some cases, the team already has a capable replacement ready to step in. In others, it’s clear the team will either attempt to re-sign their player or look to the trade or free agent markets for help. The remaining cases are somewhere in between, with in-house candidates who might be the answer, but aren’t such obvious everyday players to keep the team from shopping around for better options.

Here’s a look at the National League Central.

Chicago Cubs | Depth Chart | Payroll

Nicholas Castellanos, OF
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 11
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 4 years, $56M

Castellanos had been an above-average hitter for a few seasons, although his fielding has left much to be desired. But for the two months following a trade from the Tigers to the Cubs, he was the kind of hitter — 154 wRC+, 16 home runs in 225 plate appearances — whose bat could more than make up for his defensive inadequacies.

Since the Cubs were the team to witness the 27-year-old at his best, especially at Wrigley Field where he slashed .384/.412/.750 in 119 plate appearances, they would have to at least be open to bringing him back. But with the current state of the roster, that does not appear likely unless they trade Kyle Schwarber.

Cole Hamels, SP
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 19
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 2 years, $28M

With their top four starters returning in 2020, the Cubs aren’t likely to invest in bringing back Hamels for his 36-year-old season. In fact, they could just let Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills, Colin Rea, and a few of their prospects, including Adbert Alzolay, battle it out for the fifth spot.

Chatwood could have the edge; the Cubs probably didn’t give him a $38 million contract to pitch out of the bullpen. He was good in a swingman role last season, though, so maybe it’s best not to change things up again. The 27-year-old Mills, who is out of minor league options, was effective in each of his nine major league appearances in 2019 — he made four starts and pitched multiple innings in four of his five relief appearances — and finished with a 2.75 ERA, 4.19 FIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 36 innings.

Brandon Kintzler/Steve Cishek/Pedro Strop/David Phelps, RP

The team’s two most reliable relievers in 2019, Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick, are set to return in 2020, along with closer Craig Kimbrel, who will hopefully benefit from having a much more normal spring training. That’s a good start, but adding another reliable late-inning reliever and some middle relief depth would appear to be a priority.

Of the four veteran free agents, only Strop is coming off a disappointing season. Because of his track record, though, it’s likely that he won’t have trouble drawing interest from teams. If the Cubs could bring back Kintzler or Phelps and add another lefty — Drew Pomeranz and Jake Diekman are the best available free agents — they’d be in decent shape heading into the 2020 season.

Total WAR: 5.7

Cincinnati Reds | Depth Chart | Payroll

Jose Iglesias, SS
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 46
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 1 year, $7M

When the Reds picked up Freddy Galvis‘ $5.5 million club option for 2020, the chances that Iglesias would return for another season in Cincinnati decreased substantially. While a Galvis/Iglesias double-play combination could actually be quite good and a lot of fun to watch, the Reds should be covered at second base between Josh VanMeter, Jose Peraza, and Alex Blandino.

Top prospect Jonathan India, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft, could also end up at second base if the Reds decide to fast-track him to the majors. The 22-year-old has played mostly third base, but he made five starts at second base for High-A Daytona last season and also split his time between second and third base in this year’s Arizona Fall League.

Total WAR: 1.6

Milwaukee Brewers | Depth Chart | Payroll

Yasmani Grandal, C
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 6
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 4 years, $70M

Grandal has continued to separate himself as one of the best all-around catchers in the game and it’s likely he’ll get paid like it this offseason. If he departs, the team is left with Manny Piña, David Freitas, and Jacob Nottingham at the position. Needless to say, Grandal’s departure would leave the Brewers with a huge void and replacing his offensive production would be a top priority.

Mike Moustakas, 3B/2B
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 14
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 2 years, $32M

It was because of Travis Shaw, coming off of back-to-back terrific seasons, that Mike Moustakas began the year at second base, a position he had never played as a professional. Now it’s because of Shaw, who was abysmal in 2019, that the Brewers probably can’t afford to let Moustakas get away.

Unless the Brewers are planning to enter the bidding war for Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson, there are no better third base options than Moustakas, who had a 113 wRC+ and 35 homers in 584 plate appearances last season. Asdrúbal Cabrera and Todd Frazier are probably the next best available third basemen on the free agent market.

Drew Pomeranz, RP/SP
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 24
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 2 years, $16M

After moving into a full-time relief role after being acquired from the Giants at the trade deadline, the 30-year-old lefty appeared to have found his calling. In 25 regular season appearances with the Brewers, Pomeranz had a 2.39 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 15.4 K/9, two saves, and 12 holds. Now he’s one of the best relievers on the free agent market. The Brewers will be one of many teams hoping to sign him this offseason.

With Corey Knebel doubtful for Opening Day as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, the team will continue to rely heavily on Josh Hader to close out games unless they can add another capable late-inning reliever.

Gio Gonzalez, SP
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 40
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 1 year, $8M

While he wasn’t able to work deep into games — he completed more than six innings in just one of his 17 starts — Gonzalez was still very effective at run prevention. He allowed three earned runs or less in all but three of those starts. The Brewers are probably in the market for at least one starting pitcher this offseason, but a reliable innings-eater would be a better fit on this current staff than the 34-year-old Gonzalez would be.

Jordan Lyles, SP
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 45
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 2 years, $14M

It’s taken a long time — he debuted way back in 2011 at age 20 — but Lyles has finally established that he can be a very good starting pitcher in the major leagues; he is a fit on just about every team as a back-of-the-rotation starter or multi-inning reliever.

The Brewers, who apparently like him a lot since they acquired him during each of the past two seasons, could look to bring him back again. It’s likely that the 29-year-old will get higher offers from more pitcher-needy teams, though, while the Brewers could continue to give Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes a chance to break into the rotation and Jimmy Nelson a chance to return to his pre-shoulder surgery form.

Total WAR: 10.9

Pittsburgh Pirates | Depth Chart | Payroll

Francisco Liriano, RP

For the first time in his 14-year career, Liriano pitched an entire season out of the bullpen. And he was pretty good, posting a 3.47 ERA and 4.53 FIP with 12 holds in 69 appearances. With closer Felipe Vázquez’s career likely over following his September arrest, the Pirates head into the offseason without their two best left-handed relievers from 2019.

The bullpen still has plenty of talented right-handers, including Kyle Crick, Keone Kela, and Richard Rodriguez, but they only have two lefties, Sam Howard and Williams Jerez, neither of whom is particularly experienced, on their 40-man roster. If he’s not a starter, Steven Brault would be a strong candidate for an integral role in the bullpen.

Total WAR: 0.3

St. Louis Cardinals | Depth Chart | Payroll

Marcell Ozuna, OF
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 7
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 4 year, $70M

The Cardinals have an abundance of outfielders ready to compete for Ozuna’s starting spot, although only Dexter Fowler is a guaranteed a starting job in 2020, while Tommy Edman could split his time between the infield and outfield.

Of those who’ll need to earn regular at-bats, Harrison Bader, José Martínez, and Tyler O’Neill are the familiar faces. Four rookie outfielders are also on the 40-man roster — Lane Thomas and Randy Arozarena, who each spent time in the majors in 2019, and two others, Adolis Garcia and Justin Williams, who each spent last season in the minors after major league stints in 2018.

The most interesting candidate could be 21-year-old Dylan Carlson, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2016, who had a 142 wRC+ with 21 homers and 18 stolen bases in 483 Double-A plate appearances before a late-season promotion to Triple-A. He’ll have a tough time winning a spot on Opening Day, but could force his way to the majors by mid-season.

Michael Wacha, SP

With Adam Wainwright already re-signed for 2020, the Cardinals only have one rotation spot up for grabs and enough good in-house options that Wacha’s days with the team are likely done. After a disappointing 2019 season, the 28-year-old could use a change of scenery, anyways. As long as he’s healthy, there won’t be a shortage of teams willing to give him a chance to bounce back in 2020.

As long as the Cardinals have not closed the door on Carlos Martinez’s career as a starting pitcher, he would be the favorite for the open rotation spot. Alex Reyes, one of the best pitching prospects in the game for years, will also have a chance if he can ever stay healthy. He’s barely pitched since 2016 due to injuries. Daniel Ponce de Leon, Ryan Helsley, and Génesis Cabrera would be the leading rotation candidates if Martinez and Reyes aren’t in the mix.

Total WAR: 2.4

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4 years ago

Confused by the Grandal write-up. Yes, if Grandal leaves, that’d be a large downgrade. But, Pina ranks 18th in WAR over the past 3 years. Who would they acquire instead? The d’Arnaud & Castro types are effectively equals.