It happens year in and year out across all of professional sports: players switch teams, chasing checks and a fresh start. In Major League Baseball, free agency begins in early November, which just so happens to be when college football and the NFL are at their apex. Because of this, MLB free agent acquisitions do not create the same amount of buzz as even tangential NBA free agency signings do. This is because the NBA’s free agency occurs in the dog days of the sports calendar, the middle of the summer. This caveat does not make MLB free agency any less important or impactful; in fact, the opposite might be the case. This offseason, many of the most notable free agents, including Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Turner, Jose Bautista, and Mark Trumbo, decided to re-sign with their respective organizations. Despite this trend, there were still several key signings that might have the propensity to tip the scales of power in both the American and National League. Below are the top five most significant free agents to have switched teams this offseason.
Aroldis Chapman, Relief Pitcher: 5 years/$86 million; New York Yankees
Did he ever even leave? Chapman was a member of the Yankees on Opening Day in 2016 but was traded to the Chicago Cubs just prior to the trade deadline for a plethora of prospects, most notably shortstop Gleyber Torres. Chapman went on to close for the Cubs in what ultimately was their first championship season in over a century. Now he is back in pinstripes and will help to fortify what has been a strength of the Yankees: their bullpen. The flame-throwing southpaw will look to help guide the Yankees in their march towards the postseason. Chapman was not the only notable signing that the Yankees made this winter. They also brought in seven-time All-Star Matt Holiday to add some offensive pop to their lineup.
Edwin Encarnación, Designated Hitter: 3 years/$60 million; Cleveland Indians
Encarnación might be the most underrated player in all of baseball. He is averaging just a shade under 40 home runs per season over his last five campaigns. The Blue Jays were concerned that the slugger, who is now 34 years old, would not perform at this level for the entirety of his contract. Although they reached the World Series, the Indians’ Achilles’ heel for much of the 2016 season was their lack of power. They finished the year with 185 home runs, which was good for 18th in all of baseball. Adding a power hitter such as Encarnación might just be enough to put the Indians in position to hoist the World Series Trophy this fall.
Dexter Fowler, Center Fielder: 5 years/$82.5 million; St. Louis Cardinals
Fowler, the Chicago Cubs’ catalyst both offensively and defensively, skipped town for the arch-rival Cardinals shortly after winning the World Series. The CF hit .276 with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs in the regular season but was most valuable on the Cubs’ run towards the pennant. His timely hitting paired with his Gold Glove ability in the outfield could give the Cardinals the spark they need in the National League.
Carlos Beltran, Designated Hitter: 1 year/$16 million; Houston Astros
The soon-to-be 40 year old began the 2016 campaign in New York with the Yankees before being traded to the Texas Rangers. Last year, in his 19th season, Beltran hit .295 with 29 home runs and 93 runs batted in. In early December, he signed with the Astros. Beltran’s switch-hitting ability and offensive prowess are not the only reasons Houston placed such a high value on him; they also value Beltran’s leadership. The Astros have two high-end infielders, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman who, under the tutelage of a savvy veteran like Beltran, might be able to elevate their games to another level. Being around a player like Beltran on a daily basis will help these talented youngsters to grow and mature as professionals. After a disappointing 2016 season, the Astros look to revamp and reload as the 2017 approaches, and the signing of Beltran will aid in the process.
Mark Melancon, Relief Pitcher: 4 years/$62 million; San Francisco Giants
This is by no means a signing that will turn heads. There is nothing sexy about it. Melancon, a 31-year-old relief pitcher formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals (among others), will look to supply the Giants bullpen with a much needed ingredient: a closer. Last season, the Giants led the majors in blown saves with 30. 30 times the Giants had the lead late in the contest and blew it. That is almost a quarter of their games. Even if Melancon is just mediocre, his addition will still be a dramatic upgrade for manager Bruce Bochy and company. Melancon is by no means Mariano Rivera, but if he can be at least competent when his number is called, the Giants will be back in the postseason.