Bold Predictions for Each Top MLB Offseason Target Still Available
It's going to be another busy February on the MLB free-agent and trade markets.
Among the notable players who found new homes last February: J.D. Martinez (BOS), Eric Hosmer (SD), Yu Darvish (CHC), Jake Odorizzi (MIN), Corey Dickerson (PIT), Steven Souza Jr. (ARI), Andrew Cashner (BAL), Todd Frazier (NYM), Logan Morrison (MIN), Wade Miley (MIL), Jaime Garcia (TOR), Derek Holland (SF), Sergio Romo (TB), Bud Norris (STL), Jesse Chavez (TEX).
This year's market still has some similarly huge dominos waiting to fall.
Young superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are weighing their options. The starting pitching market caught fire and then smoldered without Dallas Keuchel finding a new contract. Closer Craig Kimbrel may have scared some teams off with an unreasonable initial asking price. And the oft-injured A.J. Pollock and extremely versatile Marwin Gonzalez are also still unemployed.
Meanwhile, on the trade market, Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto and San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner look like the two stars most likely to still be on the move.
So let's make some bold predictions about each of those eight players, shall we?
Marwin Gonzalez: Padres Get a Versatile Long-Term Piece
In today's game, a premium is placed on defensive versatility, so it's not surprising Marwin Gonzalez has received widespread interest. Jon Heyman of Fancred reported at the start of the offseason that "everyone but one team" had at least some level of interest.
As the offseason has progressed, a handful of those teams have filled the holes that signing Gonzalez would have addressed—for example, the Washington Nationals landed Brian Dozier to play second base—but it stands to reason there is still a robust market for the super-utility man.
Gonzalez, 29, has posted a 111 OPS+ over the past five seasons with the Houston Astros, racking up 11.5 WAR while serving as a Swiss army knife on defense.
The San Diego Padres are one team that has continued to show interest, according to Dennis Lin of The Athletic.
With top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. expected to be ready by midseason, the Padres are looking for a stopgap shortstop to replace departing free agent Freddy Galvis.
From a metrics standpoint, Gonzalez has graded out best as an outfielder. That said, he's seen the most action at shortstop (2,243 innings) over the course of his career, so he's more than capable of holding down the everyday job for part of the season.
After that, he could return to the super-utility role wherein he's thrived to serve as a building block for a San Diego squad on the rise.
It will likely take a four-year pact with an annual value approaching $10 million.
Craig Kimbrel: Settles for a 3-Year Deal with the Phillies
Craig Kimbrel began the offseason shooting for the stars, with an asking price of $100 million over six years, according to Jayson Stark of The Athletic.
That would represent the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher, eclipsing the five-year, $86 million deal Aroldis Chapman signed with the New York Yankees.
It was also never going to happen.
The 30-year-old's ERA (1.43 to 2.74), FIP (1.42 to 3.13), WHIP (0.68 to 0.99) and walk rate (1.8 to 4.5 per nine innings) all moved in the wrong direction last season, followed by a 5.91 ERA with eight walks in 10.2 innings during the postseason.
That's been enough for teams to question making a long-term investment.
While he's since lowered his asking price to that same $86 million Chapman received, according to Heyman, his market remains stagnant.
Last offseason, Wade Davis was viewed as the top closer on the market after he posted a 2.30 ERA with 32 saves in 33 chances. He set a record for the highest annual value given to a reliever ($17.3 million) but only secured a three-year deal with an option for a fourth.
Kimbrel could land in a similar situation.
Once the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado situation is resolved, the Philadelphia Phillies could turn their attention to Kimbrel, and a three-year, $54 million deal would still give him the new high mark in terms of annual value.
A.J. Pollock: Braves Add Another Player on a Big-Money, One-Year Deal
The Atlanta Braves already handed out one high-priced, short-term deal when they signed Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal.
Could they take a similar approach to address their need in right field?
With a lengthy injury history, A.J. Pollock might be prioritizing the security of a long-term deal this offseason. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported in November that he was seeking something in the neighborhood of the five-year, $80 million deal Lorenzo Cain signed last offseason.
If such an offer doesn't materialize, a lucrative one-year deal could become an appealing alternative.
Pollock turned down a qualifying offer worth $17.9 million at the start of the offseason, so he won't want to leave money on the table.
A one-year, $18 million contract would give him a second chance at that money, and a healthy season with a contending team could boost his stock before another run at free agency next offseason.
The 31-year-old has racked up 50 defensive runs saved in center field during his career and with Ender Inciarte and Ronald Acuna Jr. would give the Braves the best defensive outfield in baseball.
Dallas Keuchel: Phillies Get Their Left-Handed Starter
The Phillies have not had a consistent left-handed presence in the starting rotation since Cole Hamels was dealt to the Texas Rangers at the non-waiver trade deadline in 2015.
After whiffing on their pursuit of top free agent Patrick Corbin and backup plan J.A. Happ, the top remaining southpaw on the market is undoubtedly Dallas Keuchel.
The 31-year-old has averaged 190 innings over the past five seasons while posting a 3.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 3.7 WAR for the Astros. As a pitcher who relies more on command and keeping the ball on the ground than overpowering stuff, he figures to age well over the life of his next contract.
Could that contract come from the Phillies?
According to Jon Morosi of MLB Network, there is interest from Philadelphia, though not at Keuchel's ask of five years.
Keuchel turned down a qualifying offer of $17.9 million at the start of the offseason, and MLB Trade Rumors predicted a four-year, $82 million deal for the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner.
While it remains to be seen whether he'll eclipse $20 million annually, a four-year pact with an annual value north of that $17.9 million figure still seems reasonable.
A rotation of Keuchel, Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin or Vince Velasquez would rank as one of the best in baseball.
Madison Bumgarner: Astros Make a Move to Upgrade the Rotation
The Milwaukee Brewers have been the team most prominently linked to Giants ace Madison Bumgarner this offseason, though those rumors were described as "overblown" recently.
"We spent this offseason having to be realistic about where we are and being willing to listen on anything," new Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said on the Murph and Mac Podcast earlier this month. "But it doesn't change the fact that Madison Bumgarner is a very central cog to this team. Nobody is making any outgoing calls on Madison Bumgarner."
Reading between the lines, it sounds like the Giants are open to the idea of moving Bumgarner but that they'll need to be blown away to do it.
The Astros have the prospect firepower to put together a better package than anything the Brewers might have been offering.
They won't be willing to part with Forrest Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Josh James or Yordan Alvarez for a one-year rental—and rightfully so—but a swap built around some combination of Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas, Seth Beer, Cristian Javier and Bryan Abreu would be a good starting point.
An expendable MLB-ready piece like first baseman AJ Reed, outfielder Derek Fisher or left-hander Cionel Perez would further sweeten the pot.
No question this is a bold prediction, but if it becomes clear a J.T. Realmuto trade is not going to happen, the Astros could pivot to Bumgarner to shore up the rotation.
J.T. Realmuto: Stays Put...For Now
J.T. Realmuto's agent, Jeff Berry, issued some blunt words on MLB Network Radio on Oct. 30, though they were also understandable given the direction of the Marlins and the sky-high value of Realmuto as a trade chip.
"I think he will definitely be wearing a different uniform by the start of spring training," he said. "... He's not going to sign an extension in Miami."
The 27-year-old led all catchers with 4.3 WAR last season, posting a 131 OPS+ with 30 doubles, 21 home runs and 74 RBI while also throwing out 38.2 percent of base stealers.
He also has two years of team control remaining, so it's fair to say his value will never be higher.
Yet here we are in late January, and he's still in Miami despite an offseason of swirling rumors.
Joe Frisaro of MLB.com wrote earlier this month: "According to a source, the Braves, Dodgers, Astros, Padres, Rays and Reds are considered the front-runners to acquire Realmuto. As it's been all offseason, the Marlins' asking price remains extremely high."
Interested teams are waiting for the Marlins to lower that asking price. Miami is holding out hope someone will decide to part with a package of top prospects.
The Marlins haven't flinched in the better part of two years as far as their return requests are concerned, so there's no reason to think that will suddenly change. Signs are increasingly pointing to Realmuto staying put, which would set him up to be the prize of the trade deadline.
Manny Machado: Signs an 8-Year, $272 Million Deal with the White Sox
The Phillies, Yankees and Chicago White Sox are the three teams that have been prominently linked to Manny Machado this offseason. Vinnie Duber of NBC Sports Chicago recently laid out the case for him to land on the South Side of Chicago:
"The White Sox seem to remain in good position to actually win this thing. They have made their offer, while it's unclear if other teams have or haven't. They have a strong pitch of Machado as the centerpiece playing alongside Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and others for the better part of the next decade. They can offer what no other team can in the opportunity to play alongside Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay, two of Machado's good friends from Miami and, in Alonso's case, his brother-in-law."
After a flurry of reports emerged that the White Sox's offer was for $175 million over seven years, Machado's agent, Dan Lozano, released a statement (via Mark Feinsand of MLB.com) in which he called those reports "inaccurate and reckless" and panned the media's handling of the situation.
The rebuilding White Sox seem ready to turn a corner, and with a loaded farm system and a bright future, their pitch is a compelling one. It would be a transformative move for the franchise, and the steep price it will take to get a deal done looks like one worth paying.
We'll say an eight-year deal with an annual value of $34 million gets Machado in a White Sox jersey.
Bryce Harper: Returns to the Nationals on a 10-Year, $350 Million Deal
There's a good chance Bryce Harper is going to wait until Manny Machado signs to let him set the market. If Machado winds up with a $34 million annual salary, Harper is going to want $35 million-plus. That's just how this thing works.
So if we're predicting an eight-year, $272 million deal for Machado, would two extra years and an extra $1 million annually be enough to get Harper to sign on the dotted line?
The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million deal in September that he turned down, according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.
Jim Bowden of The Athletic reported at the beginning of January that the Nationals had made another offer that was "much more" than their initial proposal.
So even though the Nats gave left-hander Patrick Corbin a six-year, $140 million contract in early December, it sounds like they are still willing to spend.
Once the dust settles on a Machado deal and Harper has a better idea of his target contract, Washington could move quickly to make its final offer and try to bring back its homegrown star.
Based on these predictions, that means the Phillies would wind up without either superstar, an outcome that seemed impossible when the offseason began. Now it at least looks like a reasonable bold prediction.