Ranking the Top 25 Free Agents Available as the Offseason Heats Up

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterNovember 6, 2019

Ranking the Top 25 Free Agents Available as the Offseason Heats Up

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    The hot stove is aflame.

    The World Series ended last week, and now we know which players are free agents. To honor the occasion, we ranked the top 25 players available on the open market.

    Save for J.D. Martinez and Aroldis Chapman, who forwent their opt-out clauses (and Julio Teheran and Avisail Garcia, who replaced them on this list), these are the same players as the ones we presented the day after the World Series ended. The difference is we elaborated on their attributes and drawbacks.

    We'll count down from No. 25 to No. 1.


    Celebrate Pedro Martinez's iconic career with B/R World Tour Merch.

25-21: Garcia, Dickerson, Kendrick, Abreu, Teheran

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    25. Avisail Garcia, RF

    2020 Age: 29

    2019 WAR: 2.0

    Though Avisail Garcia isn't much for plate discipline, that hasn't stopped him from being an above-average hitter in two of the last three seasons. Plus, his sprint speed and knack for hard contact make it possible to dream of a return to his All-Star form of 2017. He's a potential steal.

       

    24. Corey Dickerson, LF

    2020 Age: 31

    2019 WAR: 0.8

    Corey Dickerson also doesn't have much plate discipline, yet he's still hit .301 with a .505 slugging percentage over the last two seasons. If he can stay healthy and rediscover his Gold Glove-winning defensive form of 2018 (i.e., 16 defensive runs saved), he's another potential steal.

       

    23. Howie Kendrick, UTIL

    2020 Age: 36

    2019 WAR: 2.6

    Howie Kendrick is up there in years and almost certainly isn't going to repeat the offensive highs of his 2019 season. Nonetheless, it's impossible to ignore his .344/.395/.572 slash line and heroic postseason. Factor in his defensive versatility, and he makes for an intriguing veteran add-on.

       

    22. Jose Abreu, 1B

    2020 Age: 33

    2019 WAR: 2.4

    Even in falling well short of his offensive peak, Jose Abreu has still put up an .818 OPS and blasted 55 homers over the last two seasons. In other words, he's a middle-of-the-order run producer. But even if he doesn't accept his qualifying offer, it's likely just a matter of time before he re-signs with the Chicago White Sox.

       

    21. Julio Teheran, RHP

    2020 Age: 29

    2019 WAR: 2.7

    Though Julio Teheran finished 2019 with a 3.81 ERA over 174.2 innings, he also struggled with wildness, walking 83 batters and hitting a National League-high 14. The Atlanta Braves didn't even include him on their initial postseason roster, so it's no wonder they declined his $12 million option for 2020. Still, any team in the market for an innings-eater and two-time All-Star could do worse than Teheran.

20-16: Roark, Hamels, Miley, Odorizzi, Encarnacion

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    20. Tanner Roark, RHP

    2020 Age: 33

    2019 WAR: 2.0

    At his best, Tanner Roark posted sub-3.00 ERAs as a 200-ish-inning workhorse in 2014 and 2016. As his 4.46 ERA from 2017 to 2019 attests, though, he isn't that guy anymore. But he can still eat innings, and there may yet be hidden upside in his diverse repertoire.

       

    19. Cole Hamels, LHP

    2020 Age: 36

    2019 WAR: 3.0

    Despite the 3.30 ERA he posted as a Chicago Cub, Cole Hamels' last two seasons were bookended by a 4.72 ERA with the Texas Rangers in 2018 and a post-injury flop in 2019. But since his stuff is aging reasonably well, he might achieve top-of-the-rotation production on a middle-of-the-rotation salary.

       

    18. Wade Miley, LHP

    2020 Age: 33

    2019 WAR: 2.0

    Wade Miley is coming off a horrid September and an October in which the Houston Astros didn't even bother with him. However, preceding all that was a 2.84 ERA in 219 innings from 2018 to early August. Whichever team picks him up will get an affordable and likely productive ground-ball specialist.

       

    17. Jake Odorizzi, RHP

    2020 Age: 30

    2019 WAR: 3.6

    Jake Odorizzi is a fly-ball pitcher at a time when fly balls tend to go over the fence, and he'll be a candidate to suffer from ties to draft-pick compensation if he rejects his qualifying offer. Nevertheless, he's coming off an All-Star season highlighted by a 3.51 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 159 innings. He should be fine so long as he doesn't land in a bandbox home ballpark.

       

    16. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH

    2020 Age: 37

    2019 WAR: 2.8

    The New York Yankees weren't wrong to conclude Edwin Encarnacion wasn't worth his $20 million option for 2020. He's nearing his late 30s, and his bat is really all he has. Yet even in his relatively diminished state, he's still averaged an .855 OPS and 35 homers per year since 2017. He shouldn't be taken lightly as a middle-of-the-order slugger.

15-11: Gregorius, Puig, Moustakas, Smith, Ozuna

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    15. Didi Gregorius, SS

    2020 Age: 30

    2019 WAR: 0.6

    Tommy John surgery delayed the start of Didi Gregorius' 2019 season until June 7, and he struggled to find his footing from there. He is a capable everyday shortstop, however, and has the power to hit 20 to 25 home runs. He was also spared from a qualifying offer, so whichever club signs him will only have to pay money for his services.

       

    14. Yasiel Puig, RF

    2020 Age: 29

    2019 WAR: 1.4

    Yasiel Puig didn't boost his free-agent value in 2019. Yet he finished strong with a .288/.350/.493 slash line after May 9, and he notched his third straight season of 20-plus homers. Throw in his generally strong defense and his lack of ties to draft-pick compensation, and he's a quality player who won't cost too much.

       

    13. Mike Moustakas, 3B/2B

    2020 Age: 31

    2019 WAR: 3.2

    Mike Moustakas typically doesn't stray far from his career on-base percentage of .310. He more so makes his offensive living on his power, as he's whacked 101 homers across the last three seasons. He's also a solid defensive third baseman who can fill in as needed at second base. "Better than you think" is a good way to describe him, and it's a bonus that he's free from draft-pick compensation.

       

    12. Will Smith, LHP

    2020 Age: 30

    2019 WAR: 2.1

    With Aroldis Chapman off the board, Will Smith stands alone as the best relief ace on the open market. He's broken through with a 2.66 ERA and a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last two seasons. Some teams will nonetheless give him a wide berth if he rejects his qualifying offer. But with bullpen dominance generally in decline, he ought to do well anyway.

       

    11. Marcell Ozuna, LF

    2020 Age: 29

    2019 WAR: 2.2

    Marcell Ozuna's 2017 season—which he finished with a .924 OPS, 37 homers and 6.1 WAR—is an obvious outlier. Yet it reflects well on him that the .800 OPS and 29 homers he posted in 2019 constituted a "down" year. And despite what that one notorious lowlight suggests, he mostly handles himself well in left field. Even his ties to draft-pick compensation shouldn't keep him from a multiyear deal.

10. Nicholas Castellanos, RF

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 28

    2019 WAR: 2.7

    Let's cut right to it: Nicholas Castellanos is a lousy defender.

    To wit, he racked up minus-64 defensive runs saved over four seasons at third base. His move to right field at the end of the 2017 season could have been the start of something better, but he's yielded minus-28 DRS at the position since the start of 2018.

    It's a good thing for Castellanos that he's an outstanding hitter. He owns a .286 average and .840 OPS since 2016, and only Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor have amassed more extra-base hits since 2017.

    To boot, Castellanos hit .321 with a 1.002 OPS and 16 home runs in only 51 games for the Cubs down the stretch. That might have been his regressing to the mean after a sluggish start with the Detroit Tigers. Alternatively, maybe it was his teasing what he can do as a regular on a contender.

    In any case, Castellanos is the fourth-best hitter on the market after Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Yasmani Grandal. Factor in his absent ties to draft-pick compensation, and he should be in the market for a multiyear deal.

9. Zack Wheeler, RHP

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 30

    2019 WAR: 3.5

    To some extent, the hype that accompanies Zack Wheeler doesn't fit.

    Though the 29-year-old has been in the majors since 2013, he has only five seasons under his belt because Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of 2015 and 2016. He's also put up a perfectly average 100 ERA+ over 749.1 innings.

    But in 2019, only three qualified pitchers did better than Wheeler's average fastball velocity of 96.7 mph. At an average of 91.2 mph, he also boasted the fastest slider this side of Jacob deGrom.

    With an arm of that caliber, he must be capable of better production. And unlocking said production may not be all that complicated. If he were to ditch a sinker that was easily his worst pitch (per its .488 slugging percentage against) in 2019, he might undergo a Gerrit Cole-like evolution into a proper No. 1 starter.

    It will cost a team both tens of millions of dollars and, presumably, a draft pick to take a chance on Wheeler in a multiyear deal. But given his upside, that is absolutely a chance worth taking.

8. Dallas Keuchel, LHP

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 32

    2019 WAR: 2.1

    With an American League Cy Young Award in his possession and a 3.74 ERA over 204.2 innings fresh in his wake, Dallas Keuchel should have done well on the 2018-2019 market.

    He didn't. It wasn't until the draft passed in June and cleared him from draft-pick compensation that the Atlanta Braves finally swooped in and nabbed him with a $13 million offer.

    Keuchel's response was to pick up where he left off. He posted a 3.75 ERA and averaged 5.9 innings per start in 19 outings. As per usual, he racked up plenty of ground balls—to the tune of an MLB-best 60.1 ground-ball percentage.

    That is not to insinuate Keuchel is still the No. 1 starter he was at his 2014-17 peak. But he's no worse than a No. 3 starter, and his ground-ball talent and ability to eat innings should appeal to teams during an era defined by plentiful home runs and short starts.

    This time around, Keuchel is also free of ties to draft-pick compensation. There's thus no reason he shouldn't get a multiyear deal.

7. Madison Bumgarner, LHP

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 30

    2019 WAR: 2.5

    Madison Bumgarner was a postseason hero in 2010, 2012 and especially 2014, and he was also the only pitcher to top 200 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA each year from 2013 to 2016.

    Bumgarner's last three seasons haven't been as pleasant. He was limited to only 38 starts in 2017 and 2018 by shoulder and hand injuries that he suffered in fluke accidents. Even with good health in 2019, he struggled to rediscover his ace form while putting up a 3.90 ERA.

    Teams might see Bumgarner's splits away from Oracle Park as another red flag. In 11 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, he posted a 2.72 ERA at home and a 3.53 ERA on the road.

    At the least, however, Bumgarner proved in 2019 that he can still eat innings by racking up 207.2 of them. He also regained some of his fastball velocity and added to his average spin rate.

    Between those things and his stellar track record, there's reason enough for pitching-needy teams to view Bumgarner as a top-of-the-rotation hurler. Despite his ties to draft-pick compensation, he's a candidate for a multiyear deal.

6. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 33

    2019 WAR: 5.1

    Hyun-Jin Ryu led the majors with a 2.32 ERA and 1.2 walks per nine innings in 2019, and the Los Angeles Dodgers couldn't make him a qualifying offer after he accepted the one they made him last offseason.

    Yet Ryu's age and injury history help explain his apparent lack of hype as a free-agent option. The latter, especially, is a deterrent formed by a yearlong absence in 2015 and injury-shortened seasons in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

    The validity of his 2019 ERA is another issue, as his pedestrian 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings raise questions about his level of dominance.

    It's noteworthy, however, that Ryu also posted a 1.97 ERA in 15 starts in 2018. Despite his relatively infrequent strikeouts, he's helped himself with superior walk and home run rates. Further, his outstanding splits with runners in scoring position underscore his ability to pitch under pressure.

    Perhaps the biggest question with Ryu is how much of a market he'll have outside of Los Angeles. He and the Dodgers have been a good fit, and he'd likely fit nicely with their preference for shorter multiyear deals.

5. Yasmani Grandal, C

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 31

    2019 WAR: 2.5

    Per Baseball Reference's version of wins above replacement, Yasmani Grandal was only the ninth-most valuable catcher this season.

    According to Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, however, he was more like the best or second-best catcher in baseball. These two sites incorporate more thorough pitch-framing data into their WAR calculations for catchers. It's no secret by now that that is one of Grandal's signature talents.

    Otherwise, he's also one of the position's top offensive threats.

    Grandal's 101 home runs since 2016 rank second to only Gary Sanchez's 105 among catchers. He's also fresh off a career-high 28 long balls with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019, and his superb eye for the strike zone led the way to a .380 on-base percentage.

    Unlike last offseason, Grandal doesn't have to worry about his market being soured by ties to draft-pick compensation. It'll be an upset if he doesn't end up with a multiyear deal.

4. Josh Donaldson, 3B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 34

    2019 WAR: 6.1

    Only Mike Trout accumulated more WAR than Josh Donaldson from 2013 to 2016. He certainly peaked with an AL MVP 2015 season in which he slugged 41 homers with a .939 OPS and 8.5 WAR.

    In 2017 and 2018, however, Donaldson began to show his age by missing 159 games. The result of these lost seasons was his accepting a one-year pillow contract with the Braves, whose $23 million gamble was notably contingent on Donaldson playing the field every day.

    It worked. Donaldson not only recovered nicely by posting a .900 OPS and 37 homers but also by totaling an outstanding 15 defensive runs saved at the hot corner.

    There will nonetheless be hurdles on the open market. Unlike last year, he'll be tied to draft-pick compensation. Further, lucrative multiyear contracts aren't commonly offered to hitters his age and with his injury history.

    Still, there are bound to be some teams that would rather have Donaldson on a shorter deal than Anthony Rendon on a long-term megadeal.

3. Stephen Strasburg, RHP

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 31

    2019 WAR: 6.3

    It once seemed like a long shot that Stephen Strasburg would opt out of the four years and $100 million remaining on his contract with the Washington Nationals after 2019.

    But then, well, 2019 happened.

    Strasburg kicked off his campaign with an oddly under-the-radar regular season highlighted by a 3.32 ERA and an NL-high 209 innings. He then embarked on a storybook-worthy postseason in which he dominated with a 1.98 ERA and 47-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36.1 innings that culminated with World Series MVP honors.

    Of course, Strasburg isn't totally free of red flags. His injury history includes Tommy John surgery and all-too-frequent minor aches and pains. He also averaged a career-low 93.9 mph on his fastball in 2019.

    Yet Strasburg's stuff is still electric, and the alterations he made to his pitch mix this season turned him into one of baseball's best aces. Despite his ties to draft-pick compensation, he should have little trouble justifying his decision to turn down $100 million.

2. Anthony Rendon, 3B

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 30

    2019 WAR: 6.3

    Anthony Rendon is no longer one of baseball's hidden gems.

    Though he first broke out with 6.6 WAR in 2014 and compiled a .923 OPS and 137 extra-base hits across 2017 and 2018, it wasn't until this year that he earned his first All-Star nod. Certainly, it looks well deserved next to his final output of a 1.010 OPS, 81 extra-base hits and an MLB-high 126 RBI.

    After that, Rendon didn't skip a beat in the postseason. All he did in October was go off for a 1.003 OPS and three huge home runs in Game 5 of a National League Division Series and Games 6 and 7 of the World Series.

    Rendon's offensive excellence might nonetheless still be underrated. He spent 2019 drawing nearly as many walks (80) as strikeouts (86) while also making frequent hard contact. Per Statcast's xwOBA metric, he was the fifth-best hitter in baseball.

    Factor in how Rendon typically rates as an above-average defensive third baseman, and he's by far the best position player on the market. His ties to draft-pick compensation shouldn't keep him from a long-term deal worth north of $200 million.

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 29

    2019 WAR: 6.9

    The best player in baseball is Mike Trout, full stop. But the title of best pitcher is more fluid and varies on a year-to-year basis. Right now, it belongs to Gerrit Cole.

    Cole was the Pittsburgh Pirates' No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, and he realized his All-Star potential just four years later. Yet he promptly regressed in 2016 and 2017, which effectively made him a reclamation project when the Astros traded for him in January 2018.

    By way of a scrapped sinker and a whole bunch of extra velocity and spin, Cole was an All-Star again in 2018 and 2019. He's also likely to win a Cy Young Award for this season, as there's simply no downplaying his AL-best 2.50 ERA and all-time-best 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

    Not that he needed to, but Cole added to his resume by overpowering hitters with a 1.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts across 36.2 innings in the postseason.

    Sure, he'll have ties to draft-pick compensation. But that won't stop baseball's best pitcher from also becoming the richest pitcher in history.

       

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.