Early Team-by-Team MLB Free-Agency Predictions Post-2019 Trade Deadline

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2019

Early Team-by-Team MLB Free-Agency Predictions Post-2019 Trade Deadline

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The MLB trade deadline is in the rearview. We're headed for the stretch run. Let's pause for a moment to gaze ahead at the upcoming free-agent market and predict the direction each team will take. 

    It's early, sure. But it's an interesting thought experiment.

    For our purposes, we'll break clubs into five categories and examine their needs and possible signings based on their level of rebuilding versus contending, plus payroll flexibility. There's ample guesswork involved, obviously, but that's part of the fun. 

The Rebuilders

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    The following teams are in full-blown rebuild mode and are highly unlikely to make any meaningful free-agent additions. Unless, say, a mediocre innings-eating starting pitcher on a short-term deal moves your needle:

    • Baltimore Orioles
    • Detroit Tigers
    • Kansas City Royals
    • Miami Marlins
    • Toronto Blue Jays

The Inbetweeners

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    These clubs might be more likely to trade key assets and restock their farm systems than dive deep into the free-agent waters, but they can't be discounted when it comes to making a splashy signing:


    Arizona Diamondbacks

    The Diamondbacks appear to be in sell mode after jettisoning franchise first baseman Paul Goldschmidt last winter to the St. Louis Cardinals and trading ace Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros at the July 31 deadline. Yet there's a chance they'll make a significant addition or two via free agency with the cash they freed up in the Greinke deal. They likely won't be major players, but don't count them out for a high-upside bullpen arm.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): RHP Sergio Romo, LHP Tony Watson


    Chicago White Sox

    The White Sox's rebuild is nearly over. If things break right, they could be legitimate contenders in 2020. That'll be especially true if flamethrower Michael Kopech makes a complete return from Tommy John surgery. The ChiSox could be sneaky bidders in free agency, with the biggest target being one of their own. They aren't planning to offer first baseman Jose Abreu an extension in-season, per Bruce Levin of 670 The Score, but the two sides seem more than amenable to a new deal this winter.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): 1B/DH Jose Abreu


    Cincinnati Reds

    The Reds traded away outfielder and impending free agent Yasiel Puig in a three-team swap with the Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres at the deadline, but they reeled in ace-level right-hander Trevor Bauer, who is controllable through 2020. They're clearly hoping to contend in the near-term in one of baseball's toughest divisions. The NL Central squad could stand to improve an offense that ranks 22nd with a .736 OPS and could add an outfield bat. Ironically, Puig is one of the best names in a thin market.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): OF Yasiel Puig


    Colorado Rockies

    The Rockies are basically sunk this season and could be headed for a rebuild after two consecutive wild-card berths. Then again, Colorado might opt for a retool. If so, the Rox will need to bolster a bullpen that ranks 26th with a 4.98 ERA. Leading targets include relievers such as hard-throwing Jake Diekman (mutual option for 2020) and lefty closer Will Smith.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Jake Diekman, LHP Will Smith


    Pittsburgh Pirates

    The Pirates never spend big in free agency, yet they generally try to contend on their limited budget. They could be in on a bullpen arm or two to enhance a unit that is 23rd with a 4.75 ERA. Will Smith and Jake Diekman work for them, as well, but a lower-tier arm with upside such as Sergio Romo is more plausible.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Jake Diekman, RHP Sergio Romo, LHP Will Smith


    San Diego Padres

    Are the Padres prepared to go all-in on contention in 2020? They have a strong young core and a loaded farm system. They surprised virtually everyone by signing Manny Machado to a $300 million deal last winter. Yet they're under .500 and not quite ready to compete for Senior Circuit supremacy. Our guess is they'll hang back this offseason and make minor additions to the pitching staff and await the arrival of more recruits from their stacked MiLB ranks.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Tony Watson, RHP Steve Cishek


    San Francisco Giants

    It's been an odd year for the Giants, literally and figuratively. They limped out of the gate and looked like obvious sellers before ripping off a scalding stretch that put them on the edge of wild-card contention. They've faded a bit of late and seem unlikely to spend big in free agency. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi isn't the sentimental type, so don't expect a big extension for outgoing ace Madison Bumgarner. Instead, look for the Giants to sign a bunch of reclamation-project free agents as they restock their farm system.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): INF Josh Harrison, RHP Homer Bailey


    Seattle Mariners

    Jerry Dipoto is admittedly more the trading type, so it's possible the Mariners will go that route as they continue their ostensible rebuild. Then again, you never know. The M's seem to be in perpetual retool mode, so signing a big-ticket free-agent outfielder or relief pitcher wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): OF Yasiel Puig, LHP Will Smith


    Texas Rangers

    What are the Rangers doing? Good question. They aren't terrible (.518 winning percentage) and even looked like a stealth playoff contender for a while. But they're clearly Texas' other club and could use an overhaul. The chances they spend big in free agency aren't zero. Everything's bigger in the Lone Star State, after all. Still, they're teetering on the edge of a needed rebuild.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): OF Hunter Pence, LHP Will Smith

The Hopefuls

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    These clubs have clear playoff aspirations but may not target any high-profile free agents because of their small-market status or other considerations:


    Cleveland Indians

    The Indians dealt Trevor Brauer, but they're in playoff position and can contend going forward in a weak division. They'll need to improve their offense and might seek to re-sign Yasiel Puig, who they rented from the Cincinnati Reds. They could also try to pry Jose Abreu away from the in-division Chicago White Sox, though their budget is always tight.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): 1B/DH Jose Abreu, OF Yasiel Puig


    Los Angeles Angels

    Really, the Angels should be in the inbetweeners section. Yet any club that employs the best baseball player on the planet (Mike Trout, if you don't know) must be considered a buyer. First and foremost, the Halos need to boost a pitching staff that ranks 27th with a 5.40 ERA. The 2019-20 free-agent market isn't flush with ace-level starters, but Los Angeles should unequivocally bust out the checkbook for the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Cole Hamels, risk be darned. Wasting Trout's prime is a crime.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Madison Bumgarner, LHP Cole Hamels


    Milwaukee Brewers

    The Milwaukee Brewers are at risk of missing the postseason after advancing to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in 2018. Their starting rotation ranks 17th with a 4.75 ERA. These are not unrelated facts. The Brew Crew doesn't often spend big in free agency, but a push for Madison Bumgarner or Zack Wheeler would compute given the fact they have reigning (and possibly two-time) NL MVP Christian Yelich.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Zack Wheeler


    Minnesota Twins

    The Twins are an offensive powerhouse who pace MLB with 219 home runs and an .836 OPS. Their pitching staff ranks sixth with a 4.00 ERA. As a mid-market club with a limited payroll that's enjoying great success, they might be quiet this winter. On the other hand, they could be in on key pitchers such as Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler or bats such as Jose Abreu or Justin Smoak. When you've got a good thing going, keep it going.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): 1B/DH Jose Abreu, LHP Madison Bumgarner, 1B Justin Smoak, RHP Zack Wheeler


    New York Mets

    The Mets added Marcus Stroman from the Toronto Blue Jays at the deadline and, despite a largely disappointing season, are clinging to the fringes of contention. It's doubtful general manager Brodie Van Wagenen will fly the white flag this winter. Instead, he could seek a bat such as Nicholas Castellanos to strengthen an offense that ranks 16th with a .759 OPS.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): INF/OF Nicholas Castellanos


    Oakland Athletics

    The Athletics will never have much money to spend. But they're in the playoff mix once again and will surely enter the winter as small-budget buyers. Their bullpen is solid (eighth overall with a 4.04 ERA), but they seem like a logical destination for Sergio Romo, a versatile reliever who helped pioneer the "opener" role and has a history in the Bay Area from his days with the San Francisco Giants.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): RHP Sergio Romo


    Tampa Bay Rays

    Like Oakland, the Rays won't hand out any nine-figure checks this offseason. But also like the A's, they're competitors. Tampa Bay's pitching is strong, but the club ranks 15th with a .762 OPS. They need a bat. Signing someone such as Nicholas Castellanos, Justin Smoak or Yasiel Puig would be a solid choice, provided they can marshal the cash.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): INF/OF Nicholas Castellanos, OF Yasiel Puig, 1B Justin Smoak 

The Contenders

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    These teams have legitimate postseason aspirations and money to spend but are a tier below the clear-cut World Series favorites we'll get to in a moment:


    Chicago Cubs

    The Cubs are in the thick of the NL Central race, but there are legitimate concerns. It's worth wondering if the championship window they swung open in 2016 is closing. Even if they fail to win another ring this year, they shouldn't spend too much in free agency. But president of baseball operations Theo Epstein ought to enter the winter with a sense of urgency and splurge if needed on, say, reliever Dellin Betances or outfielder Nicholas Castellanos.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): RHP Dellin Betances, INF/OF Nicholas Castellanos


    Philadelphia Phillies

    The Phillies shelled out huge money last offseason to sign Bryce Harper. The results have been mixed, to say the least. That shouldn't prevent the Phils from loosening the purse strings again in the coming offseason. They need to improve a pitching staff that sits at No. 15 with a 4.48 ERA. Madison Bumgarner seems like a fit with his tenacity and postseason pedigree, and a reunion with Hamels should be considered. No matter what, Philadelphia can't take its foot off the financial pedal now.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Madison Bumgarner, LHP Cole Hamels


    St. Louis Cardinals

    The Cardinals are hanging in the NL Central race and are one of those clubs that always seems to find a way. Their big move last winter was trading for Paul Goldschmidt. Their rotation ranks 13th with a 4.31 ERA. Not to keep name-dropping him, but Madison Bumgarner would be a solid option. Don't expect the Redbirds to be prominent players, but don't think they'll sit quietly, either.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Madison Bumgarner


    Washington Nationals

    The Nationals made moves to improve their bullpen at the deadline. Still, it ranks last in the game with a 6.05 ERA. The Nats are contenders in spite of that fact, but it's a problem they need to address. Will Smith is an excellent target, as are complementary pieces such as Jake Diekman and Sergio Romo. And brace yourself for a bidding war with the New York Yankees if Aroldis Chapman opts out of his deal, which is possible but uncertain.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Aroldis Chapman, LHP Jake Diekman, RHP Sergio Romo, LHP Will Smith

The Favorites

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Here are the squads with undeniable title hopes who should go all-in on the big-ticket free agents, budgetary considerations be damned:


    Atlanta Braves

    The burgeoning Braves are set for a deep postseason run. They also could use more starting pitching (who couldn't?). Madison Bumgarner, a native of North Carolina, felt like a fit at the deadline, but the Giants didn't move him. Once he hits free agency, Atlanta ought to do what it takes to add him to its young core.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Madison Bumgarner


    Boston Red Sox

    The defending champion's rotation ranks 20th with a 5.03 ERA. For a team with annual title aspirations, that will not do. Gerrit Cole is an impending free agent and ought to be at the top of the Red Sox's wishlist. They won't be alone in their pursuit of the hard-throwing righty, and his price tag will be steep. But they should go for it anyway.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): RHP Gerrit Cole


    Houston Astros

    Speaking of Gerrit Cole, he's currently employed by the Astros. The 'Stros also acquired Zack Greinke at the deadline and are poised for a deep run with a trio of aces in Cole, Greinke and Justin Verlander. However it ends up, they should pay what it takes to keep that troika intact this offseason.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): RHP Gerrit Cole


    Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Dodgers are arguably the most complete team in baseball. They don't have a ton of needs and, despite a large budget, haven't shown a propensity to spend for spending's sake under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. Still, look for them to be in on any interesting names. One intriguing possibility is Aroldis Chapman (again, assuming he opts out), who could elevate L.A.'s already solid bullpen to lethal status.

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Aroldis Chapman


    New York Yankees

    The Aroldis Chapman situation is worth monitoring, but the Yankees truly need an ace. Their starting rotation has been fair to middling, and they're still without the services of Luis Severino (shoulder). Madison Bumgarner's postseason pedigree makes him an option, but Gerrit Cole is a no-brainer. Heck, why don't the Yankees act like the Yankees and sign both?

    Top potential free-agent target(s): LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Gerrit Cole


    All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.