MLB hot stove: Finding best fits for unsigned top 50 free agents, including Carlos Correa and Clayton Kershaw

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Best fit: Astros. The short version is Houston’s World Series window remains wide open and Correa is an elite player at a premium position, so he’d help the push for a title. The long version is Correa is already a franchise icon, a player who more than lived up to the hype after the Astros tanked to draft him No. 1 overall in 2012. With another team Correa’s just a hired gun, a perennial All-Star who might win an MVP or two. And that’s fine! Nothing wrong with being a mercenary. But with the Astros he has a chance to grow into a franchise legend. Correa staying with Houston would be the best thing for the Astros and the best thing for Correa’s legacy. Some players should only wear one team’s uniform. Correa is one of them.

Sleeper fit: Red Sox. Correa and Red Sox manager Alex Cora are very close (Cora was Houston’s bench coach in 2017), and the Red Sox would be able to slide Xander Bogaerts over to second base, which might be his best defensive position at this point. Also, Bogaerts can opt out of his contract next offseason. Correa would give them long-term protection at short.

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Signed: Rangers (10 years, $325 million) 3
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Best fit: Phillies. The Phillies need help at all the positions Bryant plays: third base, left field, and center field. He can only play one position at a time, though he’d give the Phillies coverage and options in case, say, Alec Bohm improves his defense at third, or Matt Vierling proves to be the real deal in left. It’s never difficult to get Bryant into the lineup. The fact he and Bryce Harper are close friends doesn’t hurt, but that’s hardly the No. 1 reason the Phillies are the best fit here. Philadelphia needs a big bat and help at several positions. Positions Bryant happens to play.

Sleeper fit: Nationals. Scott Boras clients have long found a soft landing spot with the Nationals, whose third base job is wide open given Carter Kieboom’s inability to take a step forward. And, if Kieboom does figure things out, Yadiel Hernandez and Lane Thomas aren’t the kind of outfielders who stop you from signing Bryant.

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Signed: Rangers (7 years, $175 million) 5
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Best fit: Braves. It is mind-boggling the Braves did not re-sign Freeman prior to the lockout. I expected him to be one of the first free agents to sign. Instead, he won’t sign until the lockout ends. A reunion with Atlanta makes all the sense in the world. Freeman is building a pretty good Hall of Fame case and he’s already in retired number territory with the Braves. He is a clubhouse leader and team’s longest-tenured player, the one guy they refused to trade during the rebuild. He’s also remains an excellent player. This isn’t a case where a guy is in decline and bringing him back is rooted in nostalgia. It’s crazy to me Freeman is still a free agent.

Sleeper fit: Mariners. With all due respect to Ty France and Evan White, you don’t let them stand in the way of signing Freeman. The Mariners are finally — finally! — on the cusp of returning to the postseason, but they badly need another bat, and Freeman would provide offense, leadership, and championship pedigree.

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Signed: Mariners (5 years, $115 million) 7
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Signed: Mets (3 years, $130 million) 8
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Signed: Blue Jays (5 years, $110 million) 9
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Signed: Cubs (3 years, $71 million) 10
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Signed: Mets (4 years, $78 million) 11
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Best fit: Yankees. The Yankees said they needed a shortstop at the outset of the offseason and then sat on the sidelines and watched three top free-agent shortstops sign with other teams prior to lockout. So now their choices are down to Correa, who fits the Astros better than the Yankees given his history there, Story, and a bunch of stopgaps who won’t move the needle. Story’s arm is in decline, though he’s still a massive defensive upgrade for New York, and his bat could actually be better in the Bronx than it was at Coors Field. Look no further than DJ LeMahieu, Story’s former double play partner. 

Sleeper fit: Tigers. Yeah, they already signed Javier Báez, but why not sign Story too? The Rangers signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, so signing two top middle infielders is hardly unprecedented. If Story’s arm is an issue, then Detroit can move him to second and put Báez at short. Either way, they club would add another strong bat to the lineup.

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Signed: Dodgers (4 years, $60 million)   13
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Signed: Tigers (6 years, $140 million)   14
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Best fit: Marlins. To their credit, the Marlins took steps to improve an offense that scored the second-fewest runs in baseball this past season. The problem is they invested in Avisaíl García, Jacob Stallings, and Joey Wendle. Good players, all of them, but not players who will elevate this lineup to contender status. Castellanos is a top-tier hitter (and a homegrown Miami area guy) and the expected adoption of the universal DH would make his poor defense a non-issue. The Marlins are moving in the right direction but they’re not there yet. Castellanos would help them take another step toward contention.  

Sleeper fit: Padres. The defense would be an issue — either Castellanos or Wil Myers (or both!) would have to play the field and that’s not great — but the Padres were quietly a league-average offense this past season. League average is, well, average. Not great, not terrible, just average. Add Castellanos to Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado and you have a three-headed offensive monster on par with any team in the league.

15 Seiya Suzuki, OF, Hiroshima Toyo Carp (Japan)

Best fit: Mariners. The Mariners have more outfielders than roster spots, but only on paper. Mitch Haniger is a year away from free agency, Kyle Lewis missed most of the season with injuries, Jarred Kelenic had a rocky rookie season, top prospect Julio Rodríguez hasn’t arrived yet, and others like Jake Fraley and Taylor Trammell shouldn’t stop Seattle from looking for upgrades. All signs point to Suzuki, 27, being an impact hitter, and the Mariners have a rich history with Japanese players (he’s not related to Ichiro, in case you’re wondering). An up-and-coming team would add an in-his-prime hitter and Suzuki would join a team with plenty of experience helping Japanese players acclimate to their new home.

Sleeper fit: Red Sox. JD Martinez and Enrique Hernández are a year away from free agency and the right field job is wide open following the Hunter Renfroe trade (Jackie Bradley Jr. probably shouldn’t start for a contender at this point in his career, at least not until he shows 2021 was an aberration). Suzuki is a righty hitter with power and those guys tend to match very, very well with Fenway Park. There are obvious short- and long-term reasons for Boston to sign Suzuki.

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Clayton Kershaw


Los Angeles Dodgers SP

Best fit: Dodgers. I understand the pull of signing with the suddenly free-spending Rangers and playing close to home, and Kershaw strikes me as the type who would happily put family over legacy, but gosh, he’s a guy who should only ever play for one team in his career. Also, the Dodgers need him after losing Scherzer to the Mets. Los Angeles is Kershaw’s second home and the Dodgers would give him a better chance to win in the short-term than Texas. It just makes sense.

Sleeper fit: Giants. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

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Best fit: Astros. Verlander’s new one-year, $25 million deal with Houston was not finalized prior to the lockout. I don’t know whether something popped up in his medicals that gave the team pause or what, but he is still technically a free agent. Either way, the Astros are still the obvious fit here. Verlander would improve Houston’s chances of winning the World Series and the Astros would give Verlander as good a chance to win the World Series as any team next year. Easy fit.

Sleeper fit: Dodgers. Not sure we can call this a sleeper fit given how obvious it is. The Dodgers lost Scherzer to free agency and might lose Kershaw too. They need an impact starter and have the pitching depth to ease Verlander back into action following Tommy John surgery.

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Signed: Angels (1 year, $21 million)   19
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Signed: Tigers (5 years, $77 million)    20
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Best fit: Blue Jays. The Blue Jays have just about everything an up-and-coming contender could want (powerhouse offense, four above-average starters, rabid fanbase, etc.) except a championship-caliber closer. Jordan Romano is really good! But Jansen in the ninth and Romero in the eighth is better than Romero in the ninth and Not Jansen in the eighth. Jansen made a few adjustments to his pitch mix this past summer and was lights out in the second half and through the postseason. He’s the rare reliever worth a sizable free-agent investment.

Sleeper fit: Mets. The Mets are spending big on everything else. Why not a closer too? Edwin Díaz is very good, but there’s room for more than one really good reliever in the bullpen, and New York is known to be looking for relief help too.

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Signed: Angels (4 years, $58 million)   22
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Best fit: Yankees. Rizzo was good (not great) with the Yankees after the trade deadline and he fits their needs as a low-strikeout lefty bat with above-average defense. He’s also not someone who will get spooked by the New York market. Few contenders need a first baseman (or a DH) and the Yankees would give Rizzo as good a chance to win the World Series as any team that could realistically sign him.

Sleeper fit: Brewers. The expected adoption of the universal DH would allow Milwaukee to put Rizzo at first and Rowdy Tellez at DH, which would upgrade their offense and defense. Keston Hiura just isn’t working out, and with the window to win a World Series title as open as it’s going to get in Milwaukee, the Brewers would be wise to look into a first base upgrade.

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Best fit: Phillies. The left field spot is wide open in Philadelphia and Conforto would give the team a second potent lefty bat behind NL MVP Bryce Harper. Citizens Bank Park is a great place to hit and there’s also the double whammy aspect of signing Conforto away from a division rival (the Mets, in this case). I think that double whammy is often overstated — the Mets are letting Conforto leave anyway, right? there aren’t any indications they want to re-sign him — but it’s not meaningless either. 

Sleeper fit: Cardinals. St. Louis already has three really good outfielders (Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill) but the universal DH is coming, and their only lefty bat with thump is the switch-hitting Carlson. Next season will be the last ride for Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. Conforto would improve the team’s chances of sending them out with a title.

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Signed: Rangers (4 years, $56 million)   25
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Brandon Belt


San Francisco Giants 1B

Signed: Giants (1 year, $18.4 million — accepted qualifying offer)   26
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Best fit: Red Sox. Schwarber fit in well — very well — following the trade deadline and the Hunter Renfroe trade opened an outfield spot, meaning no more playing first base. Also, with JD Martinez a year away from free agency, the Red Sox may only need Schwarber to play the field for one season. His best position is batter’s box, we all know that, and I’m not sure there’s a better combination of power and plate discipline left in free agency. It just worked after the trade. Might as well keep it going, right?

Sleeper fit: Blue Jays. The Blue Jays need an infielder to replace Marcus Semien more than another outfielder or a DH, but there’s no harm in adding to a strength. Randal Grichuk would be a natural platoon partner and Toronto has enough versatile pieces to make it all work defensively. Also, they badly need a lefty bat. Their top lefty hitter at the moment is Cavan Biggio and that won’t cut it.

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Best fit: Mariners. It is too perfect. The Mariners need a big DH bat and a veteran to mentor their young players, and Cruz would provide both. He also has a history with the team, so even though there was a three-year hiatus mixed in, I’m sure he would be delighted to be part of the Mariners team that final makes it back to the postseason. Cruz is risky because of his age, but it will be a short-term deal, and the upside is considerable.

Sleeper fit: Padres. The Padres tried to land Cruz at the trade deadline this summer and their plan was to play him at first base, a position he had never before played in the big leagues. Next year they can look forward to the universal DH, making Cruz a more natural fit. San Diego needs offense and a little veteran leadership never hurt either.

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Signed: Mets (2 years, $26.5 million)   29
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Signed: Rays (1 year, $8 million)   30
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Signed: Cardinals (4 years, $44 million)   31
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Best fit: Angels. The Angels are again going the one-year contract route with free agent starters — they haven’t signed a free agent starter to a multi-year contract since Joe Blanton in 2012, if you can believe that — and they need more than Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen. Rodón brings significant injury concerns but also considerable upside, and the Halos are planning to use a six-man rotation in 2022, which would ostensibly help Rodón stay on the field. Seems like a great fit for both parties. 

Sleeper fit: Tigers. Similar to the Angels, the Tigers may use a six-man rotation next season, which would work nicely for Rodón given his injury concerns. There’s no such thing as too much pitching and Rodón would give Detroit a nice veteran 1-2 punch with Eduardo Rodriguez as the youngsters like Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal continue to find their way.

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Best fit: Rangers. For all the work they’ve done this offseason, Texas still has questions abound in their rotation. Pineda will likely come on a short-term contract and he has a chance to dominate every fifth day, something few available starters can say. If he pitches well, the Rangers would have a very nice trade chip come deadline time. And if not, oh well, it’s just money. The Rangers need bodies to soak up innings and avoid overworking the kids. Pineda is as good a candidate as anyone.

Sleeper fit: Rays. The Rays already made a significant (by their standards) signing with Corey Kluber, but with Drew Rasmussen and Luis Patiño potentially looking at workload limits, another veteran arm wouldn’t be a bad idea. Pineda could fit Tampa perfectly as a guy who airs it out 3-4 innings at a time rather than pace himself through six innings of work.

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Best fit: Giants. San Francisco has already signed (Alex Cobb) or re-signed (Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood) three starting pitchers this offseason, and yet they could still use another arm after losing Kevin Gausman and potentially Johnny Cueto. Greinke has limped to the finish the last two years and his days as a workhorse are probably over, but the Giants have the smarts and pitching inventory to give Greinke the occasional break. At this point in his career, less is more, and the Giants can get by with less from Greinke.

Sleeper fit: Marlins. Sixto Sánchez is coming off a pretty serious shoulder injury and Jesús Luzardo had a brutal 2021. The Marlins could bring in Greinke essentially as a stopgap. Someone to chew up innings while Sánchez eases back from his injury and Luzardo works through his issues in the minors. Miami has a ton of pitching, though there’s never harm in adding more.

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Signed: Phillies (1 year, $10 million)    35
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Best fit: Angels. McHugh has never not pitched well when healthy, and this past season he was as good as ever thanks to an increase in his slider usage. Even after re-signing Raisel Iglesias, the Angels still need more bullpen arms, and McHugh can provide multiple innings and do everything from serve as an opener to pitch in the late innings, and do so at a very high level. He is the jack of all trades reliever every contender seems to have these days.

Sleeper fit: Red Sox. Matt Barnes really struggled down the stretch and there were times — too many times — this summer in which Boston’s only reliable reliever was Garrett Whitlock. McHugh’s effectiveness and versatility make him a good fit for every team, really, but the Red Sox in particular could use a reliever like him.

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Best fit: Royals. It is too obvious. Duffy is a career Royal (unless you count last year’s brief stint with the Dodgers, when he didn’t actually pitch due to injury) and Kansas City could use more rotation depth to protect their young arms. I mean, when the guy says “bury me a Royal,” the Royals kind of have to sign him, right? Right. It’s not just blind loyalty though. Duffy returning to Kansas City would make baseball sense as well.

Sleeper fit: Yankees. Duffy’s fastball checks all the boxes analytically and his experience starting and relieving would allow him to fit well on a Yankees pitching staff that is pretty malleable behind Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery.

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Signed: Rays (2 years, $10 million)   38
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Best fit: Blue Jays. As good as they are offensively — and they’re great — the Blue Jays are devoid of left-handed power. Replacing Marcus Semien will be impossible, but Cavan Biggio’s and Santiago Espinal’s versatility mean Toronto won’t have to replace Semien with another second baseman. They can slide Biggio and Espinal to second, put Seager at third, and let him pop 30 homers from the bottom third of the order while playing strong defense.

Sleeper fit: Marlins. Early on in the offseason I was thinking about teams that could sign both Seagers as a package deal, and the Marlins kept coming to mind. Corey is off the board now, but Kyle is available, and he’d give Miami a solid veteran for the hot corner and another power bat to help the offense. Brian Anderson is coming off shoulder surgery and can easily move to the outfield (where he’s played plenty) to accommodate Seager too.

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Best fit: Brewers. Soler’s World Series MVP performance put him back on the free agent map following a pretty tough start to the season with the Royals. He’s still only 29 and he still has mammoth, game-changing power, something the Brewers currently lack given Christian Yelich’s alarming fall from grace. The universal DH would make Soler’s defense less of an issue as well. He will strike out a bunch, that’s the downside. The upside is huge power and on-base ability.

Sleeper fit: Twins. Alex Kirilloff is likely ticketed for DH, though Minnesota’s left field position is pretty wide open at the moment, so he could easily slot in there to make room for Soler. The Twins need pitching more than a bat, but Soler launching dingers into the third deck at Target Field would be pretty fun.

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Best fit: White Sox. Eloy Jiménez in left field and Rosario in right would be nightmarish defensively, though Chicago’s pitching staff is so strikeout heavy (MLB leading 27.1 percent strikeout rate in 2021) that the defensive risk would be mitigated. The White Sox are a little short on lefty power at the moment and Rosario would bring postseason chops to a team looking to get over the ALDS hump. Making Rosario, Gavin Sheets, and Andrew Vaughn all fit in the same roster wouldn’t be easy, but too many good players is not really a problem.

Sleeper fit: Rockies. No one seems quite sure what the Rockies are doing these days, but their outfield is a giant question mark aside from Charlie Blackmon, then there’s the universal DH too. Rosario’s postseason success makes him a candidate for a classic Colorado overpay (like Ian Desmond).

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Signed: Giants (2 years, $25 million)     42
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Signed: Giants (3 years, $36 million)  43
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Best fit: Blue Jays. If you’re a pitcher looking to get your career back on track, Toronto is the place to go. Ask Robbie Ray, or Taijuan Walker and JA Happ before him. Kikuchi somewhat surprisingly declined his $13 million player option after the season, so I can’t imagine he’ll come cheap, but he would be an excellent No. 5 starter with upside behind José Berríos, Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Sign a one-year deal with the Blue Jays and chances are we’re talking about Kikuchi being in line for a much bigger payday one year from now.  

Sleeper fit: Twins. Someone is going to pitch for Minnesota next season, right? Joe Ryan can’t do it all by himself. Kikuchi won’t require a long-term commitment but he has upside and can give innings, and pitching in Target Field and in a not very imposing division wouldn’t hurt his efforts to improve his stock.

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Signed: Marlins (4 years, $53 million)   45
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Signed: Mets (2 years, $20 million)   46
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Best fit: Rangers. Although he had a down 2021 season, Pham’s underlying quality of contact numbers were solid and he remains a grind-it-out type at the plate. The Rangers have spent a lot of money already this offseason, but left field is screaming for an upgrade, and Pham would bring the same sort of competitive edge and professionalism as Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. He wouldn’t require the same level of contract commitment though. That’s for sure.

Sleeper fit: Tigers. An outfield with Pham, Akil Baddoo, and Robbie Grossman would not have a true center fielder, but top prospect Riley Greene is coming for that job soon enough. I like the idea of Pham on a young up-and-coming team. He’s a very serious and driven player, and it’s good to expose young players to that kind of intensity even if he’s no longer the hitter he was earlier in his career.

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Signed: White Sox (3 years, $16.5 million)   48
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Best fit: Cubs. Pop quiz hot shot: Can you name two Cubs relievers? I have Codi Heuer and Rowan Wick and that’s it. Had to look up the rest. That’s not a knock on Keegan Thompson or anyone else! That’s just me pointing out my obliviousness. Anyway, the Cubs do have an opening for a veteran reliever, perhaps several openings, and Kelly is the kind of guy who can fill any role. If Heuer or someone else ascends to the closer’s role, great. Then Kelly could set up. And if not, Kelly could close in the interim (and maybe become a deadline trade chip).

Sleeper fit: Tigers. Detroit’s bullpen is the land of opportunity. An up-and-coming team throwing young relievers to the wolves in high leverage spots is fine, but it’s nice to have a veteran anchor down there as well. Someone to lighten the load on Gregory Soto, Michael Fulmer, and José Cisnero wouldn’t be a bad idea, and Kelly can be that someone.

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Best fit: Braves. Even if they re-sign Freddie Freeman, Atlanta’s lineup will be very right-handed. Pederson brings lefty thump and would provide depth while Ronald Acuña Jr. completes his knee surgery rehab. And once Acuña returns, Pederson could platoon with Adam Duvall or even play an outfield spot outright should Cristian Pache not hit enough to warrant an everyday lineup spot. You don’t have to try too hard to see a reunion with Joc making sense for the Braves, and not just because of the pearls either.

Sleeper fit: Yankees. New York’s best center field option at this point might be Aaron Judge or Joey Gallo, two Gold Glove caliber corner outfielders. Given the free agent market, their best course of action is putting one of those two in center and bringing in Joc’s lefty, postseason proven bat to fill the vacated corner spot.

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Signed: White Sox (3 years, $24 million)    



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