B/R's Full 2018-19 MLB Offseason Preview, Predictions

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2018

B/R's Full 2018-19 MLB Offseason Preview, Predictions

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    With the MLB offseason underway, let's start things off right with a full hot-stove preview.

    This year's free-agent market is among the most anticipated in MLB history, as 26-year-old superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado headline a deep crop of available talent.

    On the pitching side, the MLB world is still waiting on an opt-out decision from Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, while Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, Charlie Morton and postseason standout Nathan Eovaldi are looking for new deals.

    As more teams embrace rebuilding, the trade market promises to be busy with more than a few notable sellers.

    What follows is a position-by-position look at this year's free-agent class, a quick rundown of teams that could be active sellers on the trade scene and predictions on where the market's top 30 players will land.

Free-Agent Hitter Preview

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    Manny Machado
    Manny MachadoNorm Hall/Getty Images


    Even after a rough postseason, Yasmani Grandal should generate plenty of interest as the top catcher on the market. He's posted a 113 OPS+ and averaged 22 home runs and 61 RBI in his four seasons with the Dodgers, and he's regularly among the game's best pitch-framers.

    Wilson Ramos (130 OPS+, 15 HR) is also a safe bet for a multiyear deal and a starting gig. He appears to be back to his pre-hamstring-injury form.

    Regarding platoon options, Kurt Suzuki (108 OPS+, 12 HR) provides nice pop, while Martin Maldonado (68 DRS and 38% CS for his career) is a former Gold Glove winner and standout defender.

    Veterans Brian McCannDevin MesoracoJonathan LucroyJeff MathisNick HundleyRene RiveraMatt WietersA.J. Ellis and Drew Butera round out a deep crop of experienced receivers.


    First Basemen

    World Series MVP Steve Pearce is the top option in a thin market for first basemen. The 35-year-old rakes against left-handed pitching and is capable of playing both corner outfield spots, so he fits best as a platoon player and utility option.

    A team looking for an everyday first baseman could consider 33-year-old Daniel Murphy, who has long been miscast as a second baseman.

    Mark Reynolds (109 OPS+, 13 HR) hits enough to warrant a bench spot, Joe Mauer (99 OPS+, .351 OBP) still has something left if he opts against retirement and Logan Morrison (133 OPS+, 38 HR in 2017) is an intriguing buy-low candidate after an injury-plagued season.

    Others in search of work include Matt AdamsHanley RamirezLucas Duda and Brad Miller.


    Second Basemen

    It's a deep crop for teams in need of second base help.

    Jed Lowrie has put together back-to-back seasons with a 120 OPS+ and at least 4.0 WAR for the Oakland Athletics. His age (34) will limit his earning power, but his ability to play all over the infield and strong recent performances could make him a hot commodity.

    Solid contact skills and an excellent glove should be enough for DJ LeMahieu to find an everyday job, while Brian Dozier and Murphy are both capable of significantly more than they showed in 2018.

    Veteran Ian Kinsler is still a standout defender with pop, Logan Forsythe finished strong after he was traded to the Minnesota Twins on July 31 and can play third base, and Josh Harrison still has value in a utility role.

    Defensive-minded Ryan Goins and 26-year-old Dixon Machado will have to settle for MiLB deals and camp invites.



    Will teams view Manny Machado as a long-term option at shortstop?

    After he developed into one of baseball's best defensive third basemen over his first six seasons, a return to his natural position, shortstop, in 2018 yielded rough defensive metrics (-13 DRS, -6.9 UZR/150). A move back to the hot corner could be in order.

    That said, there's not much in the way of alternatives.

    Slick-fielding Jose Iglesias has an 84 OPS+ over the past four seasons and will never hit enough to be more than a 2.0 WAR player at a premium position. Freddy Galvis has some pop and a solid glove (49 XBH, 7 DRS), but he posted a sub-.300 OBP while playing in all 162 games for the San Diego Padres.

    And while the trio of Adeiny HechavarriaJordy Mercer and Alcides Escobar has plenty of experience, all three are backups.


    Third Basemen

    How much is Josh Donaldson worth?

    The bad: A nagging calf injury and a bum shoulder limited him to 165 games the past two seasons, including just 52 in 2018.

    The good: The 2015 AL MVP has still produced at an elite level, posting a 139 OPS+ with 41 home runs and 101 RBI in those 165 games. If healthy, he could be the steal of the offseason.

    In this case, a one-year deal with a mutual option might be the preferred approach for team and player.

    Mike Moustakas will give free agency another go after he settled for a disappointing one-year, $6.5 million deal last offseason. His profile as a low-OBP slugger hasn't changed, so don't expect a drastically different response from the market.

    Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre is still mulling retirement.



    Slugger Bryce Harper has not always been a consistent superstar, but at his best, he's a transcendent talent capable of altering the MLB landscape with his free-agent decision.

    Even in a down year, he posted a 133 OPS+ with 34 home runs and 100 RBI, and he'll play the entire 2019 regular season at age 26.

    A healthy Michael Brantley could net a four-year deal, while A.J. Pollock could also land a solid payday despite his injury issues as the top center field option on the market.

    Veterans Andrew McCutchen (.368 OBP) and Nick Markakis (.366 OBP) are both high on-base guys with gap power and a strong clubhouse presence. Both can be worthwhile additions to any outfield-needy contender.

    Other center field options include Denard SpanJon JayAdam JonesCarlos GomezCameron Maybin and speedster Rajai Davis.

    At the corner spots, Jose BautistaCarlos GonzalezMelky CabreraCurtis GrandersonGerardo Parra and Lonnie Chisenhall could fill fourth outfield spots.


    Designated Hitters and Utility Players

    Nelson Cruz has been a model of consistency the past five seasons, posting a 145 OPS+ and averaging 41 home runs, 104 RBI and 153 games.

    While he's 38 years old and no longer a viable outfield option, he's shown no signs of slowing offensively.

    Evan GattisMatt Holliday and Pedro Alvarez are also capable of providing pop at DH, as are several of the first base options listed above.

    With Eduardo Escobar off the market after he signed a three-year, $21 million extension with the Diamondbacks, the versatile Marwin Gonzalez is the top utility option available. He produced at a league-average level in 2018 but is just a year removed from posting a 146 OPS+ with 23 home runs and 90 RBI.

    Daniel Descalso and Neil Walker can help fill out a contender's bench and play multiple positions.

Free-Agent Starting Pitcher Preview

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    Patrick Corbin
    Patrick CorbinRalph Freso/Getty Images

    Right-Handed Starters

    No one boosted his free-agency stock more than Nathan Eovaldi this season.

    After missing all of 2017 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, he showed an improved cutter along with his triple-digit fastball upon his return. His sterling 1.61 ERA over 22.1 postseason innings could lead to a four-year deal in excess of $50 million.

    The other top-tier right-handed starter is 34-year-old Charlie Morton, who went 29-10 with a 3.36 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 on a two-year, $14 million deal with the Astros.

    He looks like a candidate to accept a qualifying offer. Otherwise, the three-year, $48 million deal that Rich Hill signed with the Dodgers in December 2016 looks like a reasonable comp.

    Anibal Sanchez and Clay Buchholz both enjoyed resurgent seasons and could turn that into multiyear deals. Other middle-of-the-rotation options include Jeremy HellicksonTrevor CahillMatt Harvey, Edwin Jackson and Tyson Ross.

    Ervin SantanaLance LynnMarco EstradaJames Shields and Josh Tomlin all struggled through down seasons in 2018. That will limit their earning power, but they're all capable of providing value on a one-year deal or minor league pact.


    Left-Handed Starters

    Clayton Kershaw's opt-out decision will have a ripple effect on the starting pitching market.

    If he stays in L.A., the asking price for guys like Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel will increase, as they'll be the top available starters. If he tests the market, those two might have to wait until he signs for teams to redirect their attention.

    Japanese League standout Yusei Kikuchi is a candidate to be posted this offseason. The 27-year-old has gone 74-48 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 925 strikeouts in 1,035.1 innings in seven seasons with the Seibu Lions.

    J.A. Happ is also a candidate for a multiyear deal after a strong finish with the Yankees. He signed a three-year, $36 million contract last time he hit the open market after the 2015 season and could find something similar this winter.

    Hyun-Jin Ryu had a 1.97 ERA in 15 starts, but he hasn't topped 150 innings in a season since 2014. He's one of the biggest X-factors on the market and one of the toughest to peg in terms of earning power.

    Veterans Gio GonzalezDerek Holland and Wade Miley should all secure MLB deals, while CC Sabathia showed enough to land something similar to the one-year, $10 million deal he signed last offseason if he keeps playing.

    Jaime Garcia and Drew Pomeranz are intriguing buy-low candidates, while Matt Moore and Martin Perez could join the market if the Texas Rangers decline their options.

Free-Agent Relief Pitcher Preview

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    Craig Kimbrel
    Craig KimbrelJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Right-Handed Relievers

    Craig Kimbrel is the active saves leader (333) and one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball. He should follow in the footsteps of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Wade Davis as the latest reliever to hit the jackpot.

    Adam Ottavino (75 G, 34 HLD, 2.43 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 13.0 K/9) had an excellent season with the Colorado Rockies and could close somewhere. Otherwise, he'll be paid handsomely to fill a setup role on a contender.

    Others with closing experience include Cody AllenKelvin HerreraDavid RobertsonJeurys FamiliaJoakim SoriaGreg Holland and Sergio Romo, and they could all land multiyear deals.

    Swingman Jesse Chavez and setup relievers Shawn KelleyBrad BrachRyan MadsonJoe Kelly, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and Bud Norris are among the other righties who look like safe bets for MLB deals.


    Left-Handed Relievers

    Down seasons could wind up costing Andrew Miller and Zach Britton decent chunks of change.

    Miller, 33, made three separate trips to the disabled list in 2018 with injuries to his right knee, left hamstring and left shoulder. He managed just 37 appearances, posting a 4.24 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 11.9 K/9 along the way.

    By comparison, he had a 1.72 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 14.5 K/5 over the previous four years.

    Britton, 30, didn't make his season debut until June 12 after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during the offseason. After shaking off some initial rust, he pitched well down the stretch after getting traded from the Orioles to the Yankees.

    Justin WilsonJorge De La RosaJake Diekman and Tony Sipp are all strong candidates for MLB deals.

    Other available lefty relievers include Jerry BlevinsZach DukeHector SantiagoAaron Loup and Tyler Lyons.

Potential Sellers to Watch

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    Paul Goldschmidt
    Paul GoldschmidtNorm Hall/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks

    The D-backs could be in full fire-sale mode before the offseason is over.

    Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported they're expected to "strip down the team and rebuild."

    Slugger Paul Goldschmidt would net a huge haul—even a year removed from free agency. Veteran ace Zack Greinke is also an attractive trade chip, provided the team absorbs some of his salary.

    Meanwhile, David Peralta, Robbie Ray, Jake Lamb, Taijuan Walker, Steven Souza Jr. and Andrew Chafin are all free agents after the 2020 season, and flipping them now could be the best way to maximize their value.


    Detroit Tigers

    Slugger Nicholas Castellanos can flat-out rake.

    The 26-year-old posted a 130 OPS+ with 46 doubles and 23 home runs, but he's a liability defensively. He logged brutal metrics (-19 DRS, -12.3 UZR/150) in his first season as an everyday right fielder. A year removed from free agency, he's a prime candidate to be flipped.

    Controllable starters Michael Fulmer and Matthew Boyd would generate interest if they're made available.

    Closer Shane Greene (32/38 SV) and swingman Blaine Hardy (30 G, 13 GS, 3.56 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 86.0 IP) could also be trade candidates.


    Kansas City Royals

    The Royals hold one of the most attractive trade chips on the market in second baseman Whit Merrifield.

    The 29-year-old hit .304/.367/.438 and led the majors in hits (192) and steals (45) on his way to a 5.5 WAR campaign, and he's under team control through the 2022 season.

    Starters Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy could also be moved if the team is willing to eat salary.


    Miami Marlins

    All signs indicate catcher J.T. Realmuto will be the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal this winter.

    The 27-year-old led all catchers with 4.3 WAR and hit .277/.340/.484 with 30 doubles, 21 home runs and 74 RBI while throwing out 38 percent of base stealers.

    Realmuto has no interest in signing an extension with the Marlins, according to agent Jeff Berry (via SiriusXM), and with two years of control left, the Marlins should sell high.

    Starter Dan Straily, relievers Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley and second baseman Starlin Castro are also prime candidates to be moved.


    Other Potential Trade Candidates: C Austin Hedges (SD), C Russell Martin (TOR), 1B Jose Abreu (CWS), 1B Justin Smoak (TOR), 2B Rougned Odor (TEX), 2B Joe Panik (SF), OF Billy Hamilton (CIN), OF Mallex Smith (TB), SP Dylan Bundy (BAL), SP Alex Cobb (BAL), SP Mike Minor (TEX), SP Zack Wheeler (NYM), RP Sam Dyson (SF), RP Mychal Givens (BAL), RP Jared Hughes (CIN), RP Raisel Iglesias (CIN), RP Jose Leclerc (TEX), RP Will Smith (SF), RP Craig Stammen (SD), RP Tony Watson (SF), RP Kirby Yates (SD)

Free-Agent Rankings and Predictions

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Below is my ranking of this year's top 30 free agents and where they'll sign. Players are ranked based on earning potential and expected production over the life of their next contract:

    1. SS/3B Manny Machado: Philadelphia Phillies
    2. RF Bryce Harper: Washington Nationals
    3. SP Patrick Corbin: New York Yankees
    4. SP Dallas Keuchel: Milwaukee Brewers
    5. LF Michael Brantley: Cleveland Indians
    6. SP Nathan Eovaldi: Boston Red Sox
    7. RP Craig Kimbrel: Atlanta Braves
    8. 3B Josh Donaldson: Cleveland Indians
    9. DH Nelson Cruz: Tampa Bay Rays
    10. RP Adam Ottavino: Boston Red Sox
    11. C Yasmani Grandal: New York Mets
    12. SP Charlie Morton: Houston Astros
    13. C Wilson Ramos: Washington Nationals
    14. SP Yusei Kikuchi: Seattle Mariners
    15. RF Andrew McCutchen: Atlanta Braves
    16. CF A.J. Pollock: Arizona Diamondbacks
    17. SP J.A. Happ: New York Yankees
    18. 2B Jed Lowrie: Oakland Athletics
    19. SP Hyun-Jin Ryu: San Diego Padres
    20. RP Andrew Miller: Los Angeles Dodgers
    21. RP Zach Britton: Boston Red Sox
    22. UT Marwin Gonzalez: Chicago Cubs
    23. RF Nick Markakis: Oakland Athletics
    24. 2B Daniel Murphy: Colorado Rockies
    25. RP David Robertson: Cleveland Indians
    26. RP Jeurys Familia: Philadelphia Phillies
    27. SP Gio Gonzalez: Minnesota Twins
    28. 2B DJ LeMahieu: Los Angeles Dodgers
    29. 3B Mike Moustakas: St. Louis Cardinals
    30. RP Jesse Chavez: Chicago Cubs

    Disagree? Post your predictions in the comment section and let's debate.


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