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MLB free agency: Top 5 names to watch

The MLB regular season is officially in the books. Thanks to the Detroit Tigers loss, and San Francisco Giants victories on Sunday, there will be no need for any play in games before the Wild Cards games. The playoffs will get kicked off on Tuesday, October 4th when the Baltimore Orioles head north of the border to take on the Toronto Blue Jays for a right to play the Texas Rangers. The Giants will follow that up as they head to Citi Field to take on the New York Mets, with a trip to Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Cubs on the line.

But only ten teams make the playoffs. That means twenty teams have packed their bags and will be breaking out the golf clubs over the next few months. However, the executives for those twenty clubs will be getting right to work for the 2017 MLB season.

The Playoffs means it is not the officially the offseason yet, but with no more regular season games left, it is time to take a peek at this year’s free agent class. As a whole, it is not a great group. The relief market will feature the biggest names, with three big time closers without a contract come the start of the offseason.

These guys will not be able to actually sign until after the World Series is actually over. Between now and the actual start of free agency we will see teams placing franchise tags on players. We will hear some early trade whispers that could shape the market. So now let’s get to the good stuff. Here are the top five names to watch in free agency this MLB offseason.

1) Aroldis Chapman, Relief Pitcher (Chicago Cubs)

In a market flush with relievers, none stand out as much as Chapman. The Cubs gave up a ton to acquire him from the New York Yankees this season, so he will obviously be high on their list to re-sign come this offseason. Between the two clubs, Chapamn saved 36 ballgames in 39 attempts. The flamethrower, who constantly reaches 100 mph on the radar gun, struck out 90 men in 58 innings. You simply are not going to find that very often on the market, especially in the form of a guy who is still only going to be entering his age 29 season. Chapman is set to be one of the most sought after free agents, and the fact that he cannot have a franchise tag applied to his name will only raise his price.

2) Kenley Jansen, Relief Pitcher (Los Angeles Dodgers)

For those teams who miss out on Chapman, they do not need to look far to find someone with an extremely similar profile. It just so happens Jansen is another 29 year old flamethrower who is pretty darn good at closing out ballgames. This season he notched 47 saves on 53 attempts, while pitching to an ERA of 1.83 and a WHIP of 0.67. If that isn’t impressive enough, he also struck out 104 in 76 and two thirds innings. He is an established closer just like Chapman, and while he will cost a pretty penny, it will likely be a little cheaper than Chapman. Jansen is more than likely going to have the franchise tag on his name, so teams will likely focus on Chapman and Mark Melancon first, as neither man will cost a draft pick. But that does not make Jansen any less of a dominant force at the back end of the pen, and he will likely make one team very happy this winter.

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3) Ian Desmond, Outfielder/Shortstop (Texas Rangers)

Last winter, Desmond entered free agency with the impression he would be a pretty hot name. That simply did not materialize, and he ended up settling for a one year deal with Texas. And it seems like that will end up paying off for Desmond when all is said and done. By going to Texas he was able to re-establish his value with a solid season with the bat while also proving some versatility with the glove. Desmond was a shortstop with the Washington Nationals, but played this entire season in the outfield (primarily center field). This added versatility is paired with a year of 22 homers and 21 stolen bases. He hit for a very respectable .287 while scoring 107 runs. Desmond will be 31 for the majority of next season, but that will not stop teams from offering a pretty nice contract, as he is one of the best bats out there on the open market.

4) Mark Trumbo, Outfielder/DH (Baltimore Orioles)

The MLB home run leader is set to be a free agent. Trumbo, once a big time prospect with the Los Angeles Angels, finally had the season many have expected from him for years now. Trumbo launched 47 “Trum-bombs” this year, while driving in 108 runs. The 31 year old slugger is most known for his bat, and makes the ideal DH. But he is capable of playing the field, either in the outfield or at first base, which will make him an interesting option for many teams. He has had an up and down career, and some may question if his success was a product of the hitter friendly confines of Camden Yards. Well the Orioles do not have to worry about that problem, and they will surely look to bring the big bat back in the fold for the next few seasons. A power like his is rare, and he will surely be a popular name for anyone looking to add some thump to their lineup.

5) Edwin Encarnacion, First Baseman (Toronto Blue Jays)

The Blue Jays will have two aging sluggers on the market this offseason. Of the two, Encarnacion is the more intriguing option (Sorry Joey Bats). He will be 34 next season, but that is still younger than Jose Bautista, and he put up a better season this year. Even in his mid 30’s, Edwin showed he still has some serious power, as he launched 42 homers in 2016. He paired that with 127 RBIs. and a .264 average that any team will take if they are getting 40 home runs. His age will limit the length of his deal, but with that type of power it is worth watching where he ends up. In this market he is hands down one of the best bats that any team will have the chance to sign for the coming season.

Honorable Mention) Yoenis Cespedes, Outfielder (New York Mets)

Cespedes is not officially a free agent, as he does have two years left on his deal with the Mets. Cespedes deal has two years and 47.5 million dollars left on it, but the star outfielder has the chance to opt out of the deal. He is on record as saying he wants to be a Met the rest of his career. But do not let that fool you. He is extremely likely to opt out following the season he had. Cespeded launched 31 home runs, while hitting .280. He drove in 86 runs and would be a welcome addition to any team’s middle of the order. Once he opts out, he immediately jumps to the top of this list, as he will be the most dominant bat on the market.

Fun fact, every one of these guys are a part of a playoff team this season. So every one of them has the chance to either help or hurt their own value over the course of the next month. Whose stock will rise and whose will fall?

As I mentioned, this is an overall weak free agent class. That could mean the trade market is incredibly warm this winter. Who do you want to see your team go after this offseason? Tell us in the comments!

Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com