A quick aside, I’d like to thank my readers for sticking with me over my year-long hiatus. I was figuring out some personal matters, including enrolling myself back into college and figuring out where I would be going. Now that that is sorted out, I am ready to hit the ground running with the blog. So, without further ado, let’s get into it!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Free Agency! Who is signing where? Who is getting underpaid? Who is getting overpaid? Which teams improve and which teams fail to make a splash? This is what baseball fans live for.
1. Bryce Harper
Baseball fans and insiders have been waiting for Harper to hit free agency ever since he was a fresh-faced 19 year old debuting in 2012. Now 26, Harper is considered by many to be one of the best talents in the game and he’s ready to cash in. He started a bit slow in 2018, but he finished the second half with a slash line of .300/.434/.538 with 11 HRs, 46 RBI. An on-base machine, he drew an insane 34 walks in September/October alone. Something that could hurt him, though, are his defensive numbers. Harper has never been known for his defensive prowess, but 2018 was by far the worst year of his career in that aspect. He had -26 defensive runs saved (Rdrs) and -3.2 dWAR. His WAR of 1.3 was his lowest total over a full season, as well. He led the league in walks (130) but also racked up 169 strikeouts, a career high. You can’t put too much weight into that, though, as strikeouts have steadily been up all across the league over the last few years. A concern of mine is if his 2015 MVP season was an anomaly. In the three seasons since, he hasn’t really come close to matching that level of offensive production. I’m not saying that he’s a bad player, but I do think he is a little overrated when you consider the fact that his .330/.460/.649 slash line in 2015 are the best of his career by a mile. His OPS+ and wRC+ that year nearly touched 200, but his career average OPS+ 128 and career average wRC+ is 129, otherwise. Those are good numbers, but I wouldn’t say they’re elite, although he’ll certainly be paid like an elite talent.
Harper already rejected an extension offer from the Nationals which did not include an opt-out clause (a favorite of many big name free agents). It seems that this offer was a “make good” offer by the Nats in order to save face in case they can’t retain their star right fielder.
That aside, what does his market look like? It doesn’t seem like the Dodgers, Red Sox or Cubs are going to spend this type of money, and the Yankees don’t have a fit in the outfield (plus inside sources have said a union between the two isn’t likely). I think the Nats will still be in on Harper, despite him rejecting their extension offer back in September. The Phillies are seen as the industry favorites, having saved a lot of money in recent years by letting big contracts expire. Their rebuild is going well, having finished in second place in the NL East despite an epic late season collapse out of playoff contention. The Braves or Cardinals could be interested, and I could see the Mets making a splash with a new GM hoping to prove that they will compete. Don’t be surprised, though, if a surprise team like the White Sox are able to lure him in (they even set up a big stage for him during a brief meeting last week).
Prediction: Phillies – 13 years/$350M (two opt-outs)
2. Manny Machado
Another 26 year old looking for a major payday, Machado comes off a career year, experiencing highs in batting average (.297), Home Runs (37), RBI (107), walks (70), OBP (.367), SLUG (.538), OPS+ (146), and wRC+ (141). Normally a very strong defender (the owner of two Gold Gloves at the hot corner), Machado was a liability in the field in 2018, his first at shortstop. He had -13 Rdrs playing SS between his time with Baltimore and the Dodgers. The lowest Rdrs he ever had at third base was 6. Machado insists that he wants to play shortstop, which may not be too smart considering his defensive weaknesses at the position (though he was considerably better once he went to LA).
Now, let’s get to the 800-pound gorilla in the room: “I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle.’” That comment was fairly troubling, considering the unwarranted attention he received on the biggest stage that he has ever been on in his career. He had several dirty plays in the playoffs, including kicking Jesus Aguilar’s ankle at first base and a controversial take-out slide into Orlando Arcia. The lack of hustle and dirty plays (he has had a history with the latter throughout his career, including once throwing his bat at third baseman Josh Donaldson in 2014) are sure to hurt his market, along with his shortcomings at shortstop, a position he insists on playing.
His market will be similar to Harper’s, I think. Look for the Phillies to have interest (they have the money available to add BOTH Harper and Machado) plus rebuilding teams like the White Sox or Padres. Many in the industry see the Yankees as the favorites, having an opening due to Didi Gregorius being on the DL until about July with Tommy John Surgery. Adding Machado would mean a trade of either Didi or Andujar, which I don’t think makes much sense as a Yankee fan, but that’s neither here nor there. The Yankees front office has been enamored with him for quite some time, and I don’t expect that to change.
Prediction: Yankees – 10 years/$290M (one opt-out)
3. Patrick Corbin
Corbin could not have picked a better time to have the most productive season of his career. Compiling a career best 3.15 ERA in 33 starts and 200 innings, he was one of the best starting pitchers in the NL this year, being rewarded with the first Top 5 Cy Young voting finish of his career. Racking up 246 strikeouts with just 46 walks (good for a 5.13 K/BB ratio) and 11.1 K/9IP, plus a 137 ERA+, a 1.050 WHIP and 2.47 FIP. To put it simply, he was lights out and should “make bank” as the top starter on the Free Agent Market. He’ll have several suitors, including some teams we’ve already discussed like the Phillies, Braves, White Sox, and Yankees. Don’t be surprised if the surging Brewers make a splash here, or the Twins, Nationals, Angels, or Giants. However, I’m expecting Corbin to sign with his boyhood team even with the James Paxton trade.
Prediction: Yankees – 6 years/$124M
4. Dallas Keuchel
Keuchel is a long way from his 2015 AL Cy Young season, but he was pretty rock solid in 2018 for the Astros. Given a 3.74 ERA over 204.2 IP and a 108 ERA+, he should do alright on a thin pitching market. Like I said, the soon-to-be 31 year old southpaw isn’t the pitcher he once was, but he is reliable. He’ll eat up innings (he’s surpassed 200 IP in three of the last five seasons) and his postseason success should make him an attractive target to pitching-needy teams (he’s got a 3.31 ERA over 10 postseason games). Given his composition, he should be in for a good payday and have a decent number of suitors. I imagine the interested teams will be the same as Corbin’s. Whoever loses the Corbin sweepstakes will likely turn to Keuchel right after.
Prediction: Twins – 4 years/$78M
5. Craig Kimbrel
What is there to say about one of the greatest closers of all-time? Whatever team signs Kimbrel is getting a man coming off of his fifth career 40 Save season (he has 333 career saves in nine years). He has only had an ERA over 3.00 once in his career. His career ERA+ is 211 and his career WHIP is 0.920. Kimbrel is as automatic as it gets, and is on his way to a Hall of Fame career. He has quite the résumé to go off of, and he will have any number of teams trying to lure him over. I could see a return to Boston or Atlanta, and I would also add the Cardinals, Angels, Phillies, Mets, Twins, or Cubs as interested parties as they all have a need at the backend of the bullpen. In the end, I’m expecting a major splash for the team who signs him.
Prediction: Mets – 5 years/$86M
6. Yasmani Grandal
A strong offensive catcher, Grandal has averaged 24 home runs per season over his last three years. He is coming off a season in which he had a career high 121 OPS+ and a 125 wRC+. He had a nightmarish October, however, hitting just .137 in the postseason with 15 K’s in only 29 AB’s. That certainly hurt his worth, but there are still some teams who need a catcher (the Mets, Braves, Phillies, Rangers, Astros, and Red Sox come to mind) who will likely base him off of his career pedigree. I would have listed the Nationals, but I think that the Kurt Suzuki signing takes them out of the running.
Prediction: Astros – 4 years/$56M
7. Nathan Eovaldi
Was there any story better than Big Nate’s resurgence this season? Following a midseason trade to the Red Sox, Eovaldi gave a jolt to Boston’s rotation, pitching to a 3.33 ERA over 12 games and 54.0 IP. He accumulated a 132 ERA+ and a 2.88 FIP. Those are all really good. Then you put into account the fact that he missed the entire 2017 season after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. Well, he came back pitching better than he ever had before, especially in the postseason. I don’t think Eovaldi will be paying for many meals in Boston for a while, helping them win their fourth World Series title in the last 14 years (he had a mere 1.61 ERA over 22.1 IP in the postseason, striking out 16). I’d say that his market will be the same as Corbin’s and Keuchel’s. His durability is certainly a question, but he’s become a front of the rotation arm when healthy.
Prediction: Brewers – 4 years/$60M
8. A.J. Pollock
Pollock is an interesting case here. A former Gold Glove winner, he is a strong defensive center fielder. He amassed 6 Rdrs this season along with a decent 0.8 dWAR. Offensively, he has not matched the firepower that he showed in 2014-15. In those two years, he slashed .311/.363/.498 and a 131 OPS+ and 133 wRC+. This is not to say he was bad since then, the problem is that he just hasn’t been healthy. In 2016, he played 12 games. Then 112 in 2017, and 113 in 2018. He has surpassed 130 games just twice, and 150 games just once. Reliability is the major question mark with Pollock. Teams are going to ask the question: If I invest a lot of money in this guy, will he be worth it? There is no answer to that. He’s been great at the top of the Diamondbacks lineup for the past seven years, and put out a career high 21 HRs this year. Someone will pay him, but I can’t imagine he’ll get longer than a four year pact. A reunion with the Diamondbacks is probably out of the question as they’re trying to save some cash. Maybe he could fit with the Giants, White Sox, Phillies, or Indians as they all have space in the outfield and money to spend. The White Sox could easily bring him in while they wait for their top outfield prospects to continue developing (Eloy Jimenez, the consensus #3 prospect in baseball, should make the Opening Day MLB Roster, but Luis Robert and Blake Rutherford are likely to be down in High-A Ball or Double A, at the highest).
Prediction: White Sox – 4 years/$52M
9. J.A. Happ
The ageless wonder is one of the top pitchers available this winter. Happ, 36, was a fantastic pickup for the Yankees at the July trade deadline, pitching to a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts and a 163 ERA+. Happ is prone to giving up home runs (averages 24 HR’s against per year) but he had a career high 193 K’s this year. I’d look to Rich Hill’s contract (3 years/$48M through his age 39 season) to see what Happ can get. Again, there are plenty of teams who are looking for a reliable starter and he fits the bill. He’ll have the same suitors as Corbin, Keuchel, and Eovaldi.
Prediction: Braves – 3 years/$45M
10. Michael Brantley
The longtime Cleveland Indian reaches the open market heading into his age 32 season. Clearly, this affects the contract length that he will be able to procure. Like Pollock, here is a talented outfielder with trouble staying on the field. In 2016, he suited up just 11 times, and then 90 times in 2017. He did play 143 games in 2018, his highest total since playing in 156 contests in 2014. That said, he had a really strong season this year: .309/.364/.468 with 17 HR’s, 76 RBI, 123 OPS+ and 124 wRC+. As a corner outfielder, his market will be a little different than Pollock’s. I think he will be highly sought after as a cheaper, shorter term option for teams who can’t make a play for Harper. Look for the Cubs, Indians, Rays, Cardinals, Braves, White Sox, or Phillies to have interest.
Prediction: Braves – 3 years/$40M
11. Andrew McCutchen
The 2013 NL MVP finally hits free agency at his age 32 season. He is not the player he was from 2010-2015, but he’s still an extremely serviceable corner outfield and occasional DH option. He had a very solid year between the Giants and Yankees last season slashing .255/.368/.424 with a 120 wRC+. He has close to no range to play center field at this point (he had -28 and -16 Rdrs in CF in 2016 and 2017, respectively) so he has to be looked at as a corner outfield option. He was a strong pickup for the Bronx Bombers in August and probably showed some teams that he’s got some life left in his bat. He’ll get a multi-year pact, and will have similar suitors as Brantley. I do think that he gets slightly more money than Brantley, only due to Brantley’s injury history.
Prediction: Indians – 3 years/$42M
12. Yusei Kikuchi
Kikuchi, 27, is a left handed starter from Japan’s Seibu Lions. He’s had a good career in Japan with a career 2.81 ERA. He keeps the ball in the park, but does walk quite a bit of batters. He’s one of the top pitchers in Japan and will have plenty of suitors, I’m sure. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see a rebuilding team with money to spend make the right offer for him. Don’t rule out contenders though, either. Not to sound like a broken record, but he’ll have the same interest parties as Corbin, Keuchel, et al. Hey, those are the teams who need pitching! Sue me! (Please don’t sue me, I can’t afford it)
Prediction: Padres – 6 years/$40M
13. Josh Donaldson
Donaldson was a late bloomer to begin with, not becoming an established big leaguer until his age 26 season. Now 33 and coming off a lost year due to injuries, he’s going to have trouble getting a multi-year deal. He looked pretty good for Cleveland after being acquired in August, slashing .280/.400/.520 in only 60 PA. Still, he’s established himself as one of the premiere third basemen in baseball and teams will hope that they can count on that.
Also, I’m not sure when I’m going to talk about this again, but the Blue Jays are the dumbest. Last winter, they turned down a trade with the Cardinals that would have brought in Jack Flaherty in return. Can you believe it? The same team that traded Noah Syndergaard for R.A. Dickey made another bad decision? Flaherty, if you’re unaware, was superb for St. Louis in his rookie season, pitching to the tune of a 3.34 ERA and a 116 ERA+, striking out 182 batters in 151.0 IP and finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Instead, they traded him for a Player to be Named Later. God, they’re so bad.
Anyways, I think Donaldson is going to get a one year “prove it” deal, or a two year deal at the absolute most. The Cardinals should be the favorites to land him as they’ve got some cash to spend and an opening at third base, but so do the Angels, White Sox, and possibly the Phillies or Braves.
Prediction: Cardinals – One year/$18.5M
14. Charlie Morton
I know I called J.A. Happ the ageless wonder, but man, what a year Charlie Morton had in Houston last year! The 35 year old hurler had the best year of his career by a mile. With a 3.13 ERA and 129 ERA+, he struck out 201 hitters, good for a 10.8 K/9IP (all career bests). Unlike Happ or even the recently re-signed CC Sabathia, Morton doesn’t have the track record to back it up, but two strong seasons in Houston should help him out. Morton has stated in the past the desire to pitch close to his wife’s family in Delaware. With this possibly being his final contract, that would seem to be happening now. With that information, we can assume that would narrow it down to the Orioles, Nationals, and Phillies. I don’t think the O’s are going to be signing anyone major, so let’s leave them out.
He has also hinted that he could simply retire, but let’s assume that he doesn’t.
Prediction: Nationals – Two years/$33M
15. Wilson Ramos
Ramos is, to me, the best catcher on the open market. Ramos’ breakout 2016 season ended a week early because of an ACL tear – he had torn the same ACL four years earlier. Because of that, he was forced to sign a two-year deal worth just $12.5M with the Rays. He certainly returned to form, slashing .290/.334/.473 over that time frame. He split time between the Rays and Phillies in 2018 and led all MLB catchers in wRC+ (131). Defensively, he’s pretty middle of the pack to below average. In 2018, he had -5 Rdrs and a 0.4 dWAR. His Caught Stealing% was 29% this season, though it was 44% in Philadelphia, a marked improvement in a limited time frame. Now, he’s only 31, but those dreams of a five year deal have probably evaporated. He should certainly get a three year deal and possibly a fourth year option. Expect his market to be the same as Grandal’s.
Prediction: Mets – 3 years/$38M
16. Marwin Gonzalez
Gonzalez is the premiere utility player in the league. He plays every infield position and both corner outfield spots, and plays them well, mind you. Now, his offensive numbers in 2017 were probably a flash in the pan (.303/.377/.530, 146 OPS+, 23 HRs, 90 RBI) as he came back down to earth this year with a .247/.324/.409 slashline, sporting a 103 OPS+ and 16 HRs with 68 RBI. Prior to 2017, he had never had an OPS+ higher than 109, so this past season certainly leans closer to that. His defense is fairly strong. He had a respectable 5 Rdrs between seven positions in 2018. Altogether, he had 2.5 WAR this season. His durability and flexibility in the field will earn him a nice payday. As well, because of his ability to play anywhere in the field, he will have his fair share of suitors. I could honestly see him drawing interest from close to twenty teams. Among those, I would expect the Twins, Cubs, Angels, Tigers, Nationals, Phillies, Blue Jays, and Rockies.
Prediction: Twins – 4 years/$39.5M
17. Jeurys Familia
In 2016, Familia solidified himself as one of the top relievers in baseball, pitching to a 2.55 ERA and 158 ERA+, while notching a league-leading 51 saves. 2017, however, was a different story. He missed the first fifteen games of the season after being suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct policy regarding a previous domestic violence arrest. Following that, he only pitched in 26 games after missing significant time due to an arterial clot in his right shoulder.
So, 2018 was a big year for Familia. He had to show that he was healthy and that his problems were behind him. He did not disappoint. He pitched to a very solid 3.13 ERA with a 125 ERA+ and 2.65 FIP. He appeared in 70 games between the Mets and A’s, and was used more as a set-up man. I don’t know what more you people want from me, he was pretty good, OK! He’ll get looked at primarily as a set-up man, I’d imagine, but someone may give him a shot as a closer. Look for him to be a back-up option for teams that miss out on Kimbrel.
Prediction: Angels – 3 years/$30M
18. Zach Britton
Britton’s days as a closer may be done. Following his historic 2016 season in which he pitched to an insane 0.54 ERA and gave up just four earned runs over 67.0 IP with 47 saves. From May 5th until the end of the season, he had a 0.16 ERA! He had an 803 ERA+, and that is not a typo! It was unequivocally the best season by a closer possibly ever. From the start of 2016 to late August 2017, he converted 60 consecutive saves. That 2017 season, however, was marred by left forearm trouble. He missed the end of that season, as well, due to a ruptured achilles tendon. He did not pitch in 2018 until June 12th because of that injury, and was traded to the Yankees from Baltimore just before the trade deadline. If you look at his ERA and ERA+ with the Yankees (2.88, 153) you’d say he pitched well, but his FIP (4.08) says otherwise. He did not have a good K/BB ratio (1.91), but did settle down as the season went on. He also had a strong performance in the playoffs, throwing a 2.25 ERA in the ALDS against the Red Sox.
I can’t see anyone relying on him as a closer right now, but that could change. I think he will be a high-priced, high-leverage reliever, kind of like an Andrew Miller. I could see a return to the Yankees, but the Astros, Cubs, Twins, Mets, and Phillies are among teams who are looking for bullpen help.
Prediction: Astros – 2 years/$22M
19. David Robertson
The soon to be 34 year old Robertson was effective in 2018, but was a disappointment when compared to his 2017 season, though that is not particularly fair. After returning to the Yankees following a trade from the White Sox, he had arguably the best stretch of his career. Over 30 games with the Yankees in 2017, he had a 1.03 ERA, giving up just 14 hits in 35.0 IP and striking out 51 batters. He had a 442 ERA+ (again, not a typo) and a 0.743 WHIP. Not to mention, a crazy 13.1 K/9IP.
2018 was a different story. He had a 3.23 ERA, again very effective but just not up to the standards he had set over the last few months of the 2017 season. His strikeout numbers were great, as usual, as he struck out 91 batters over 69.2 IP. He did give up 25 ER, the second highest total of his career, and 7 HRs, tied for the highest total of his career. Still, it’s a strong season by anyone’s standards and I think he’ll get paid accordingly. The main factor in his free agency is his desire to pitch close to his Rhode Island home. That realistically leaves us with the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox.
Prediction: Red Sox – 3 years/$28M
20. Adam Ottavino
Ottavino was a major bright spot for the Colorado bullpen in 2018, pitching to a 2.43 ERA with 112 K’s over 77.2 IP. He had a 193 ERA+ and 2.74 FIP, and a wonderful 13.0 K/9IP. He gave up just 5 home runs, an impressive feat when you consider the rate at which balls fly out of Coors Field. All of this progress so late in his career (he will be 33 in 2018) is due to his reinventing himself in an abandoned shoe store in NYC. He was, to put it as simply as possible, one of the best relievers in baseball this past season, and he chose the exact right time to have the best year of his career. The Brooklyn native is going to be paid handsomely. I’d imagine he’ll have a market similar to Familia or Britton.
Prediction: Yankees – 3 years/$28M
So, that’s it! The top 20 2018-19 MLB Free Agents with Predictions on their landing spots. Let’s look back on this in March and see how many I got astoundingly wrong! What are your opinions? Who do you think will get the steal of the winter? Sound off in the comments!
By: Chris Perkowski