Ranking MLB's Top 25 Free Agents as the Offseason Heats Up
MLB free agency is upon us, and with Clayton Kershaw and David Price both staying put, the full picture of the long-awaited 2018-19 free-agent class is now clear.
It's not quite going to be the free-for-all, billion-dollar spending spree that many were expecting, but prime-age superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado lead a group with plenty of impact talent.
So before offers start to fly and players come off the board, let's set the stage with a quick rundown of the top-25 free agents in this year's class.
These rankings are based on a player's earning potential and expected production over the life of his next contract.
Note: Player ages indicate how old they will be on 2019 Opening Day.
Other Notable Free Agents
Starting Pitchers: Clay Buchholz, Trevor Cahill, Marco Estrada, Gio Gonzalez (L), Matt Harvey, Jeremy Hellickson, Derek Holland (L), Edwin Jackson, Lance Lynn, Wade Miley (L), Drew Pomeranz (L), Garrett Richards, Tyson Ross, CC Sabathia (L), Anibal Sanchez, Ervin Santana, James Shields
Relief Pitchers: Cody Allen, Jerry Blevins (L), Brad Brach, Jesse Chavez, Tyler Clippard, Jorge De La Rosa (L), Jake Diekman (L), Jeurys Familia, Kelvin Herrera, Shawn Kelley, Joe Kelly, Ryan Madson, Bud Norris, Oliver Perez (L), Sergio Romo, Tony Sipp (L), Joakim Soria, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson (L)
Catchers: Robinson Chirinos, Nick Hundley, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, Jeff Mathis, Brian McCann, Devin Mesoraco, Kurt Suzuki
Infielders: 3B Adrian Beltre, IF Asdrubal Cabrera, IF Daniel Descalso, 2B Brian Dozier, 2B/3B Logan Forsythe, SS Freddy Galvis, 2B Josh Harrison, SS Jose Iglesias, 2B Ian Kinsler, 2B DJ LeMahieu, 3B Mike Moustakas, 1B/OF Steve Pearce, IF Neil Walker
Outfielders: Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Adam Jones, Cameron Maybin, Denard Span
25. David Robertson (Age: 33)
Robertson just wrapped up a four-year, $46 million deal, during which he posted a 2.97 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 11.90 K/9 with 90 saves and 29 holds in 252 appearances. He's durable, has closing experience and continues to miss bats at a high rate. Another multiyear deal with an annual price tag north of $10 million could be forthcoming.
24. 2B Daniel Murphy (Age: 33)
It was a rough season for Murphy, who played just 91 games and saw his OPS plummet from .928 to .790 when he was able to take the field. He's long been miscast as a second baseman, but it's his bat that will appeal to suitors. There's no question he can rake when he's healthy, evidenced by his .334/.387/.569 line and 145 OPS+ in 2016 and 2017. A full-time move to first base would be ideal.
23. RF Nick Markakis (Age: 35)
While he's never been a prolific home run hitter, Markakis generates plenty of value with his on-base ability, gap power and strong defense in right field. An All-Star for the first time in 2018, he hit .297/.366/.440 with 43 doubles, 14 home runs and 93 RBI. His age will limit his earning power, but he'd be an excellent addition to a contender on a two-year deal.
22. UT Marwin Gonzalez (Age: 30)
Gonzalez is the Swiss Army knife of players. He's a switch-hitter and has played multiple games at every position besides pitcher and catcher over the past two seasons. Offensively, he has 20-homer power and strong on-base skills with a 9.6 percent walk rate. Some team might be willing to give him the stability of an everyday position, but much of his value stems from his versatility.
21. RP Zach Britton (Age: 31)
Britton didn't make his 2018 debut until June 12 after suffering a ruptured Achilles during the offseason, and it took him some time to shake off the rust once he returned. However, from July 1 through the end of the season, he posted a 2.25 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a .186 opponents' batting average in 32 appearances. He might fit best as a setup man but also boasts significant closing experience, with 142 saves to his credit.
20. RP Andrew Miller (Age: 33)
Miller is one of the riskier options on this year's market after he missed time with injuries to his left hamstring, right knee and left shoulder in 2018. That said, he's also one of the best relievers the game has ever seen when he's at his best. From 2014 to 2017, he posted a 1.72 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 14.50 K/9 with 51 saves and 74 holds in 260 games. Upside will be enough to get him a lucrative multi-year deal.
19. SP Hyun-Jin Ryu (Age: 32)
Despite not topping 150 innings since 2014, Ryu is among the top available second-tier starter options. He made just 15 starts in 2018, but he impressed while going 7-3 with a 1.97 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 82.1 innings. The Dodgers extended him a qualifying offer, so that will have an impact on his market. Still, he's capable of serving as a quality No. 3 starter on a contender if he stays healthy.
18. 2B Jed Lowrie (Age: 34)
Lowrie followed up a surprisingly good 2017 with an even better 2018, posting a 120 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 23 home runs and 99 RBI to earn his first All-Star nod while serving as one of the veteran leaders on a young Oakland team. His age will give teams reason for pause when it comes to offering up anything beyond a two-year deal, but it's hard to ignore his production over the past two seasons.
17. SP J.A. Happ (Age: 36)
Happ turned 11 strong starts following a trade to the Pirates in 2015 into a three-year, $36 million deal last time he reached free agency. He's built up a strong track record as a middle-of-the-rotation option in the three years since, but it could again be an excellent post-trade performance that greatly increases his stock. In 11 starts after joining the Yankees this past summer, he went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Another three-year deal and a slight raise seem reasonable.
16. CF A.J. Pollock (Age: 31)
Injuries have been an issue for Pollock throughout his career, and that makes him one of the riskiest players on the market. That said, he's also the best center fielder available, and his mix of power and speed makes him an appealing buy-low addition if the price is right. At his best, he's a dynamic offensive force, and he showed that in 2015 with a 130 OPS+, 65 extra-base hits, 39 steals and a 7.2 WAR. The potential for that level of production is still in there.
15. RF Andrew McCutchen (Age: 32)
McCutchen is no longer a perennial MVP candidate. He's also not a center fielder anymore. But he is a solid on-base threat with the power and speed to turn in a 20/20 season and the experience to serve as a valuable leader in the clubhouse. His .368 on-base percentage and 20 home runs should be enough to attract more than a few teams in search of corner outfield help.
14. SP Yusei Kikuchi (Age: 27)
With Kikuchi set to be posted by the Seibu Lions, all signs point to the left-hander making his way stateside in 2019. "Multiple MLB scouts believe Kikuchi's ceiling is as a No. 2 starter in the Major Leagues," Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com wrote in August. While he didn't quite match his brilliant 2017 numbers (16-6, 1.97 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 10.4 K/9), he was still one of Japan's top pitchers and should generate a ton of interest.
13. C Wilson Ramos (Age: 31)
It looks like Ramos is 100 percent recovered from the knee injury that cost him a good chunk of change when he first hit the free-agent market two years ago. Splitting his season between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, he hit .306/.358/.487 with 22 doubles, 15 home runs and 70 RBI. He did miss time with a hamstring injury, but he returned to hit .337/.396/.483 in 101 plate appearances after he was traded to the Phillies.
12. SP Charlie Morton (Age: 35)
The Astros did not extend a qualifying offer to Morton, which should help expand the field of teams vying for his services. He's taken his game to another level in his two seasons in Houston, going 29-10 with a 3.36 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 364 strikeouts in 313.2 innings. Playing closer to his wife's family in Delaware has been mentioned as a priority, so expect the Yankees and Red Sox to be involved if he does move on.
11. C Yasmani Grandal (Age: 30)
Brutal postseason aside, Grandal was one of the game's best catchers in 2018. He hit 20 home runs for the third straight season, posting a 121 OPS+ with 23 doubles, 24 homers, 68 RBI and a career-high 3.3 WAR. He also graded out as one of the game's best pitch-framers once again while throwing out runners at a league-average 28 percent clip. He received a qualifying offer, so teams might prefer Ramos, but Grandal is the better long-term play.
10. RP Adam Ottavino (Age: 33)
Ottavino might be a surprise among the top 10 free agents. But he was next-level good in 2018. In 75 appearances, he posted a 2.43 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 112 strikeouts in 77.2 innings. His lethal sinker/slider combination led to a 36.3 percent strikeout rate that ranked eighth among all qualified relievers, and he has the stuff to close if given the chance. Otherwise, he's a dominant eighth-inning option.
9. DH Nelson Cruz (Age: 38)
Cruz is not a fast man, but that hasn't stopped him from outrunning Father Time. Over the past five seasons, he's averaged 41 home runs and 104 RBI while posting a 145 OPS+. He absolutely demolishes left-handed pitching with a .927 OPS for his career against southpaws. So even if he starts to slow, he'd still be a valuable weapon in a platoon role. The price has to be right, but there's no reason to bet against him.
8. 3B Josh Donaldson (Age: 33)
Donaldson is the biggest wild card of this free-agent class. He's been plagued by a nagging calf injury for the past two seasons, and he played just 52 games in his contract year. Then again, he's still managed to post a 139 OPS+ with 41 home runs in 165 games over the past two seasons when he has managed to take the field, and he was extremely durable in the years prior. Signing him is a risk, but it's one that could pay off handsomely.
7. RP Craig Kimbrel (Age: 30)
Kimbrel is the active saves leader (333) and one of the most dominant relievers in MLB history. He's stayed remarkably healthy—aside from a knee injury that cost him a month in 2016—averaging 65 appearances over the past eight seasons. He looked human during the postseason (10.2 IP, 9 H, 8 BB, 7 ER), but that won't stop him from cashing in. Expect something in line with the record-breaking contracts handed to Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis in recent offseasons.
6. SP Nathan Eovaldi (Age: 29)
No one boosted their stock more in 2018 than Eovaldi. After missing the entire 2017 season with Tommy John surgery, he showed enough during the first half with the Rays to make himself a hot commodity on the trade market. He eventually landed in Boston, where his 1.61 ERA over 22.1 postseason innings helped the team win a title. The development of a nasty cutter to back his triple-digits fastball has taken his game to another level, and it's vaulted him into the top tier of free-agent starters.
5. LF Michael Brantley (Age: 31)
After playing just 11 games in 2016 and 90 games in 2017, Brantley was finally able to stay healthy this past season. As a result, he was once more among the most productive outfielders in the league. He hit .309/.364/.468 with 36 doubles, 17 home runs and 76 RBI while playing in 143 games and tallying 631 plate appearances. Brantley stands to benefit as much as anyone from not receiving a qualifying offer, and a lucrative four-year deal could be coming his way.
4. SP Dallas Keuchel (Age: 31)
Keuchel will probably never return to his Cy Young form from 2015, when he went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 232 innings. That said, he's more than capable of posting a sub-3.50 ERA while eating up 200 innings, and that's worth plenty on the open market. As a pitcher who relies more on command than velocity, he should age well, making him the safest bet for a long-term deal among this year's available starting pitchers.
3. SP Patrick Corbin (Age: 29)
Corbin broke out at the perfect time, going 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and an impressive 246 strikeouts in 200 innings during his walk year. He's also on the younger side for a free agent—he won't turn 30 until July 19—so that helps his case for a long-term deal. The spike in his strikeout rate (8.4 to 11.1 K/9) stemmed from an improved slider, so there's reason to believe it's for real. He should get at least five years and nine figures.
2. RF Bryce Harper (Age: 26)
1. SS/3B Manny Machado (Age: 26)
Machado over Harper?
Harper has shown the higher peak, and he probably has the higher ceiling going forward as well, but consistency is the name of the game when it comes to a potential record-breaking deal.
Machado has a higher average WAR (4.8 to 3.9) and the only time he's posted a WAR below 2.0 was his rookie year, when he only played 55 games. Harper, on the other hand, has three sub-2.0 WAR seasons in the past five years, including a 1.3 WAR campaign in 2018.
Both players are legitimate superstars and franchise-altering additions for any team. Both players are going to make more than $30 million annually on whatever deal they wind up signing.
But when it comes to the debate of who belongs in the No. 1 spot, Machado has to be the choice on the strength of his consistency and greater impact on the defensive side.