Predicting Top 25 MLB Free Agents' Landing Spots, Contracts Pre-Winter Meetings

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 5, 2018

Predicting Top 25 MLB Free Agents' Landing Spots, Contracts Pre-Winter Meetings

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    It might seem like the hot stove is already heating up, but just wait until Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings begin.

    Hordes of team executives and agents will be under one roof at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas between Dec. 10 and 13. This is a recipe for more blockbuster trades in the spirit of the Robinson Cano and Jean Segura deals, and more so for big free-agent signings in the spirit of the Patrick Corbin deal.

    We've taken a whack at predicting where each of MLB's top 25 free agents—an updated version of this list—will sign and for how much. These predictions are based on what's on the rumor mill, as well as plain ol' speculation.

    Let's get to it.

25. Brian Dozier

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    Brian Dozier claimed the final spot on this list because he represents a relatively low-risk and extremely high-reward opportunity.

    The 31-year-old is coming off a lost 2018 season. He started slow for the Minnesota Twins (.712 OPS) and got worse for the Los Angeles Dodgers (.650 OPS). Come the postseason, he was a man without a role.

    And yet, Dozier was a low-key superstar in 2016 and 2017, when he put up an .871 OPS and blasted 76 home runs. That production may have vanished in 2018 because of the bad knee he fessed to playing through.

    A la Ian Desmond after 2015, Dozier is a candidate to be picked up on a one-year pillow contract—presumably by a team that needs a second baseman and that believes in what he can do. His former employer fits the first bill and should fit the second better than most.

    Prediction: Twins for one year, $8 million

24. Mike Moustakas

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Mike Moustakas went into last year's market off a 38-homer explosion. Alas, ties to draft-pick compensation killed his value and resulted in him getting a measly $6.5 million guarantee.

    The 30-year-old should do better this time around. He isn't tied to draft-pick compensation, and he carried a solid amount of his 2017 success over to 2018. In 152 games for the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers, he posted a .774 OPS with 28 homers.

    According to Jon Heyman of Fancred, the Brewers are interested in bringing Moustakas back. But they have competition within the National League Central in the form of the St. Louis Cardinals.

    The Cardinals have long been seen as a fit for Moustakas, and the fit still looks good. He may not be their first choice for upgrading their offense—rhymes with Hryce Barper—but he'd be a cost-efficient addition for both corner infield spots.

    Expect Moustakas to get roughly Todd Frazier money.

    Prediction: Cardinals for two years, $16 million

23. Jeurys Familia

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    Few closers were as dominant as Jeurys Familia in 2015 and 2016, when he put up a 2.20 ERA over 154 appearances.

    The shine has worn off the 29-year-old since then. He endured a lost year in 2017, when he pitched in only 26 games because of shoulder soreness and a 15-game suspension that stemmed from an assault charge. He couldn't recapture his dominance in 70 appearances in 2018.

    Still, Familia managed a respectable a 3.13 ERA for the New York Mets and Oakland A's, in part thanks to a career-best strikeout rate of 10.4 batters per nine innings.

    Some teams might give Familia a wide berth this winter, but he should be in line for at least Tommy Hunter money: two years and $18 million. He'll appeal to clubs that need bullpen help and are in a position to be opportunistic.

    Once again, the Twins are a fit.

    Prediction: Twins for two years, $18 million

22. David Robertson

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    David Robertson is representing himself this winter, he says, because: "I know what I want in a contract, I’m aware of what I can offer to teams and teams are aware of my abilities."

    The 33-year-old has been a mainstay among baseball's best relievers since 2011. In total, he's made 520 appearances and put up a 2.59 ERA with a 12.1 K/9 rate. He's done most of that in service of the New York Yankees, who could use him back in their bullpen.

    According to George A. King III of the New York Post, however, the Boston Red Sox are "in for less" than the three-year deal Robertson may have in mind for the Yankees and other clubs. If true, he's willing to take a discount to be near his Rhode Island home.

    This may be fine by the Red Sox, who need to fill Craig Kimbrel's shoes at closer. And the sides could compromise with a high average annual value.

    Prediction: Red Sox for two years, $26 million

21. Daniel Murphy

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    Daniel Murphy arose as an elite hitter amid a star-making postseason with the Mets in 2015. After that, he posted a .956 OPS and 48 homers for the Washington Nationals in 2016 and 2017.

    This past season wasn't as glamorous for the 33-year-old. Right knee surgery delayed his debut until June 12, and he slipped to a .790 OPS. He also played characteristically awful defense at second base.

    Still, Murphy's season ended better than it started. He had an .870 OPS and 11 homers after July 7. And while there's no fixing his defense, the right American League club could downplay it.

    There may be no better fit for Murphy than the Los Angeles Angels. They need a left-handed bat to balance their lineup, and they could play him at second base, first base and designated hitter. They might also be amenable to a two-year deal that would lock him in through the likely remainder of Mike Trout's tenure.

    Prediction: Angels for two years, $20 million

20. Nick Markakis

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    Following three OK seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis completed his four-year, $44 million deal with one of the best seasons of his career.

    The veteran slashed a rock-solid .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs. He collected his first All-Star nod and Silver Slugger, as well as his first Gold Glove since his final year with the Baltimore Orioles in 2014.

    Nonetheless, Markakis is a 35-year-old with an inconsistent track record. This explains why there's been little to no noise in his corner of the rumor mill.

    The Braves, however, are a candidate to re-insert Markakis into their hole in right field, according to Heyman . He'd be cheaper than Michael Brantley and potentially just as good.

    A one-year deal at his previous AAV could bring the sides back together.

    Prediction: Braves for one year, $11 million

19. Marwin Gonzalez

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    Marwin Gonzalez is a player of a thousand uses. Hence what one executive told Heyman about who's in on the 29-year-old: "Everyone but one team."

    Gonzalez is a switch-hitter who's hit at an above-average level in four of the last five seasons, with a peak of a .907 OPS and 23 homers in 2017. He's also logged significant time at all four infield positions and left field.

    If it's a question of where Gonzalez fits best, it's hard to top the Yankees. They could rotate him and Gleyber Torres at shortstop and second base until Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery. They could also hand him time shares at third base, first base and left field.

    The Yankees have the money to win the crowded sweepstakes for Gonzalez. Maybe he won't quite get there, but he should come close to matching Ben Zobrist's four-year, $56 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.

    Prediction: Yankees for four years, $48 million

18. Zach Britton

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    Zach Britton was arguably baseball's best reliever between 2014 and 2016. He made 204 appearances for the Orioles and put up a 1.38 ERA.

    Injuries have limited the sinkerballing left-hander to 79 appearances over the last two seasons. No thanks to a diminished strikeout rate, he's also regressed to a 3.00 ERA.

    On the bright side, Britton is still getting ground balls at an elite rate. He therefore fits with teams that need a closer, a lefty and/or a ground-ball specialist. The Yankees and Red Sox are candidates to sign the 30-year-old, but the Cubs are in the market for a reliever who matches all three of the descriptions above.

    Per Roster Resource, the Cubs are already projected for a luxury-tax payroll of $232.5 million in 2018. Still, there's enough room between there and the no-go zone of $246 million for, say, roughly Brandon Morrow's AAV in a three-year deal.

    Prediction: Cubs for three years, $33 million

17. Andrew Miller

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    Andrew Miller's situation isn't that dissimilar to Britton's.

    The 33-year-old lefty was in the running for the title of baseball's best reliever between 2014 and 2016. Even aside from his stellar work for the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 playoffs, he posted a 1.82 ERA and 14.8 K/9 over 203 appearances for four teams.

    Miller ran into injury trouble in 2017, however, and it got worse in 2018. Hamstring woes limited him to 37 appearances, and he slipped to a 4.24 ERA and an 11.9 K/9.

    But like Britton, Miller's upside is high enough to warrant a robust market. The only difference is that his age and comparably rougher 2018 should necessitate a shorter deal at a slightly lower AAV.

    The Cardinals may be amenable to such an arrangement. They are interested in the lefty, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, and a two-year deal would fill a major bullpen hole without compromising their capacity to sign other players.

    Prediction: Cardinals for two years, $20 million

16. Jed Lowrie

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    There are flashier hitters out there, but not many have been as consistent as Jed Lowrie over the last two seasons.

    The 34-year-old played in 153 games in 2017 and 157 contests in 2018, and he followed an .808 OPS with an .801 mark. He also hit 23 homers in 2018, beating his previous career high by seven.

    He's no Gonzalez, but Lowrie also brings versatility. He's a former shortstop who's primarily a second baseman these days, and he can fill in at third base as needed.

    A return to Oakland is a possibility, but the best fit for Lowrie is with the Brewers. They created an opening at second base by non-tendering Jonathan Schoop, who MLB Trade Rumors projected to earn $10.1 million.

    Rather than save that money, the Brewers could reinvest it into a superior veteran on a two-year deal.

    Prediction: Brewers for two years, $22 million

15. J.A. Happ

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    J.A. Happ is one of only 17 pitchers with over 650 innings and an ERA under 3.50 since 2015. But at 36, he's too old for a long contract. And while he's good, he's not great enough for a huge AAV.

    Still, it's no wonder that such a pitcher has many suitors. Per Morosi, they include the Yankees, Angels, Brewers, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays.

    The Brewers once again stick out as an excellent fit. Their rotation could use a steady hand at the top. And at this stage of his career, it could work in their favor that Happ's hometown of Peru, Illinois, isn't far away.

    The question is whether the Brewers would stretch their payroll—projected at $105.1 million for 2019—for both Lowrie and Happ. Perhaps it's a reach. But then again, this is a team with World Series aspirations whose owner, Mark Attanasio, has been known to push the envelope.

    Prediction: Brewers for three years, $48 million

14. A.J. Pollock

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    A.J. Pollock is a 31-year-old who's devolved from a great player into a merely good one over the last three years. He's been limited to 237 games, and both his offense and his defense have slipped.

    Of the six players who did, Pollock took the biggest risk in rejecting the $17.9 million qualifying offer. There are 16 teams that would have to surrender "only" their third-highest pick in the 2019 draft to sign him, and few have a pressing need in center field and money to spare.

    The best fit for Pollock might lie with the other 14, who stand to lose at least their second-highest pick. Perhaps a win-now club that doesn't need to worry so much about the draft.

    The Astros fit the bill, and ESPN's Buster Olney reports that they are interested in Pollock. He'd be another piece of the puzzle for their World Series aspirations, and it's not out of the question that they could get him for half of the $80 million that Lorenzo Cain got last year.

    Prediction: Astros for three years, $42 million

13. Andrew McCutchen

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    Andrew McCutchen represents another compelling "what if?" scenario for a former superstar who didn't hit the open market in his prime.

    After enduring a career-worst year in 2016, the 2013 National League MVP has bounced back over the last two seasons. Altogether, he's put up an .820 OPS and 48 home runs.

    McCutchen, 32, is fresh off teasing that there's more in the tank if he were to join a contender with a hitter-friendly ballpark. That was his situation with the Yankees at the end of 2018, and it led to an .892 OPS and five homers in 25 games.

    Should they clear some payroll by trading one of their ace starters, the Indians would be just the fit for McCutchen. He'll do better than the three-year, $39 million deal Jay Bruce got last year, but signing him should still be a tad cheaper than re-signing Brantley.

    Prediction: Indians for three years, $42 million

12. Yusei Kikuchi

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    First, a primer on Yusei Kikuchi.

    He's a 27-year-old lefty with a 2.81 ERA in eight professional seasons—spent almost entirely with the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball. Per David Adler of MLB.com, Kikuchi's scouting report highlights him as a potential No. 2 with four pitches: a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a slider, curveball and changeup.

    Seibu officially posted Kikuchi for MLB clubs Tuesday. He'll be the first big test case for a new system in which the posting club's fee depends on the final guaranteed value of the player's contract.

    According to Heyman, the Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners are circling Kikuchi. The Padres are the dark horse of the bunch. They need a starter, and they're not looking to press pause like the Mariners are and the Giants seem to be.

    Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu got six year deals via the posting system. Kikuchi should too, albeit with a modest AAV.

    Prediction: Padres for six years, $42 million

11. Wilson Ramos

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    Good-hitting catchers are hard to find, and Wilson Ramos is one of the best.

    Ramos posted an .850 OPS and 22 homers in 2016. An ACL tear set him back for 2017, but he came out swinging with an .845 OPS for the Tampa Bay Rays and Phillies in 2018. That led all catchers who made at least 400 plate appearances.

    And yet, Ramos is in a tough spot. He's sharing space on the open market with Yasmani Grandal, who's also a good hitter and a better receiver. The trade market has J.T. Realmuto, who's baseball's most well-rounded backstop.

    This situation could reward an opportunistic team, and the A's are an ideal candidate to fill that role. General manager David Forst knows the club needs a catcher, and he's hinted at some payroll space to fill.

    A three-year deal for Ramos at, say, roughly Matt Wieters' previous AAV is in order.

    Prediction: Athletics for three years, $33 million   

10. Charlie Morton

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    Some things about Charlie Morton make him look like arguably the most desirable starter on the open market. Namely: his elite fastball and the 3.36 ERA and 10.4 K/9 he's authored since 2017.

    However, the 35-year-old told Jake Kaplan of The Athletic in April that his free-agency fate will depend on: "What's the group like in the clubhouse? Where would I be? Would I be closer to [my wife's] family [in Delaware] in a spot where she would prefer to be? These are all variables that have to be taken into account."

    According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Astros have offered Morton a one-year deal with an option for 2020. But if it really is important to him that he be closer to his wife's family, it may only be a matter of time before the Phillies and/or Nationals get involved.

    The Nats need him less now that their rotation has Corbin alongside Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. That could put the Phillies in the mood to bring in Morton to complement Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.

    Prediction: Phillies for one year, $16 million

9. Yasmani Grandal

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    Grandal averaged a .799 OPS and 24 homers for the Dodgers from 2016 to 2018. Per Baseball Prospectus, he was also MLB's best framer in 2018.

    However, the 30-year-old comes with red flags. One of them is an awful postseason track record that includes a .464 OPS in 32 career contests. Another is that he's tied to draft-pick compensation after he rejected a qualifying offer.

    Though Grandal should get a better contract than Ramos, he'll be lucky to get even half of the $82 million that Russell Martin got from Toronto four years ago. And it may be up to one of the 16 teams that only stand to lose their third-highest pick in the 2019 draft to sign him.

    The club to watch is the Colorado Rockies. They sorely need an impact hitter, and Grandal's framing would be a boost for a pitching staff that needs all the help it can get to conquer Coors Field.

    Prediction: Rockies for three years, $39 million

8. Adam Ottavino

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    Don't let Adam Ottavino's 17 career saves fool you. He's arguably the best reliever available on this winter's market.

    Though health and consistency have eluded the 33-year-old for much of his career, he's fresh off a star-making turn with the Rockies in 2018. He put up a 2.43 ERA in 75 appearances and, with the help of his absurd slider, whiffed 13 batters per nine innings.

    No team values swing-and-miss relievers as much as the Yankees, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Ottavino is indeed on their radar. He may loom even larger on said radar if they fail to bring back Robertson and Britton.

    Ottavino is a New York native who would surely be fine with playing in the city if the money is right. Even at his age, a three-year deal for eight figures a season should do the trick.

    Prediction: Yankees for three years, $33 million

7. Nelson Cruz

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Nelson Cruz is the closest thing this market has to a J.D. Martinez.

    Sure, he's one-dimensional, but what the 38-year-old can do with his bat alone shouldn't be underestimated. Though his age keeps going up, he's been consistent enough to average an .897 OPS and 41 homers per year since 2014.

    The catch is Cruz is a DH type who appeals only to American League clubs. Not all of them need a DH, and not all of the ones that do have money for a guy who's fresh off earning $14.3 million per year.

    Somewhat surprisingly, the Rays are a possible exception. They're interested in Cruz, according to Morosi. And according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, they're serious about making an aggressive play for 2019 following a 90-win 2018.

    With their 2019 payroll projected at just $37.4 million, a two-year deal at Cruz's previous AAV should be doable.

    Prediction: Rays for two years, $28 million

6. Craig Kimbrel

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    According to Olney, Craig Kimbrel is seeking a six-year deal.

    Fat chance. Neither Aroldis Chapman nor Kenley Jansen got a six-year contract when they were coming off their age-28 seasons in 2016. Kimbrel won't get one coming off his age-30 season.

    That's about the extent that Kimbrel's market should be doubted, however. He has some astonishing career numbers, including a 1.91 ERA and a 14.7 K/9. The latter is the best ever among all pitchers who've logged over 500 innings.

    Though Kimbrel has many fits, which is the best requires asking a twofold question: Who needs him and has money to spare?

    It's hard to come up with a better answer than the Phillies. And according to Jayson Stark of The Athletic, there's "no indication" that they're out of the market for a closer even after they added Juan Nicasio and James Pazos in the Segura trade. That could lead them to Kimbrel, who'll at least match Chapman's AAV ($17.2 million).

    Prediction: Phillies for four years, $72 million

5. Nathan Eovaldi

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    He may not be the best, but Nathan Eovaldi is arguably the offseason's most interesting free agent.

    The 28-year-old's track record doesn't include enough success or durability to warrant a megadeal. What he does have, however, is huge upside by way of his high-octane stuff. He tapped into said upside more than ever in 2018, in which he had a solid regular season (3.81 ERA) and brilliant postseason (1.61 ERA).

    Per Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com, the Red Sox would like to bring Eovaldi back. But since they already have a bloated payroll and stronger needs in their bullpen, it's possible they'll lose him.

    Especially if the Astros make a push. They're interested in Eovaldi, according to Morosi. That interest would surely increase if they lost Morton. For his part, Eovaldi is a native of Alvin, Texas, which is only about 30 minutes outside of Houston.

    Despite his red flags, Eovaldi should beat Alex Cobb's four-year, $57 million deal from last winter.

    Prediction: Astros for four years, $64 million

4. Michael Brantley

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    Michael Brantley isn't the same player who made a run at the AL MVP in 2014. Injuries and declining production have seen to that.

    He nonetheless remains one of the better pure hitters in baseball. He's an excellent contact hitter by today's standards, and he's fresh off hitting .309 with an .832 OPS. He mixed in 17 homers and 12 steals.

    The 31-year-old presents an opportunity for a team to pick up an undervalued talent at a less-than-exorbitant cost. The Braves are a candidate, but the floor may belong to the Cardinals if Atlanta brings back Markakis instead.

    Per Morosi, the Cardinals are interested in Brantley. In a related story, Bernie Miklasz of The Athletic reports that the Cardinals want their offense to make more contact.

    There aren't many relevant comps for Brantley, but he should do much better than the three years, $31 million that Denard Span got from San Francisco in January 2016.

    Prediction: Cardinals for three years, $45 million

3. Dallas Keuchel

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Dallas Keuchel reached quite the peak in 2015, when he won the AL Cy Young Award on the strength of a 2.48 ERA over 232 innings.

    The lefty has struggled to climb that high again over the three ensuing years, but he could have gone into free agency off a worse season. He put up a 3.74 ERA over 204.2 innings in 2018. And while his strikeouts are going down, he remains a well-above-average ground-ball artist.

    The biggest hurdle for the 30-year-old might be his ties to draft-pick compensation. It may be up to one of the 16 teams that face a lighter draft penalty to sign him.

    The Cincinnati Reds could be up to it. They're "all over" Keuchel, according to Heyman. And even in his somewhat diminished state, he'd be a boon for a rotation that's put up an NL-worst 5.12 ERA since 2016.

    Keuchel should be in for a Darvish-like AAV ($21 million), except in a shorter deal by way of a limited market.

    Prediction: Reds for four years, $84 million   

2. Bryce Harper

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    When Bryce Harper was at his best, he cakewalked his way to the NL MVP with a 1.109 OPS, 42 homers and 10.0 WAR in 2015. At other times, he's been somewhere between inconsistent and downright bad.

    And yet, his market is about as strong as any 26-year-old former MVP deserves.

    According to Tim Brown and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, "upward of a dozen teams" have either already traveled or will travel to Las Vegas to meet with Harper. They include the Yankees, Phillies and Chicago White Sox and maybe the Dodgers.

    One team that might be out of the running is the Nationals. According to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, Harper rejected their 10-year, $300 million olive branch in September. They've since pivoted in a direction that leaves little room to bring back Harper.

    Bully for the Phillies, who have been Harper's most obvious suitor all along. They'll face stiff competition, but their deep pockets and need for Harper's power should result in the richest contract in MLB history.

    Prediction: Phillies for 12 years, $372 million

1. Manny Machado

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    Despite all the hubbub over Harper, Manny Machado is at least as good and arguably better.

    To wit, Machado's career .822 OPS and 175 homers aren't far off Harper's .900 OPS and 184 homers. Mainly courtesy of his excellent defense at third base, Machado has him beat in career WAR: 33.8 to 27.4.

    According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com and Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Phillies still have Machado on their radar even after trading for Segura. But even they probably don't have enough money for Segura and Morton and Kimbrel and Harper and Machado.

    There aren't many obvious fits for Machado outside of Philadelphia, but the Yankees are certainly one of them. He likes them, according to Heyman and Nightengale. And per Stark (via Ken Rosenthal), they're serious about him.

    They may be even more serious after missing out on Corbin, who had been on their radar. Machado would be an even bigger splash, and adding him would create depth (i.e., Miguel Andujar) to trade from.

    Machado has had surgery on each knee, so he may not command a deal as lengthy as Harper's. But he should come close in years while matching him in AAV.

    Prediction: Yankees for 10 years, $310 million

       

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.