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MLB Free Agents 2019: Rumors and Predictions for Top Available Players

Martin FennContributor IDecember 5, 2019

FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2019, file photo, Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws against the Washington Nationals during the first inning of Game 5 of the baseball World Series in Washington. Gerrit Cole, the top pitcher on the free-agent market, was to meet with New York Yankees officials in California on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. General manager Brian Cashman, manager Aaron Boone and new Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake made the trip to speak with the 29-year-old right-hander, a person familiar with the planning said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The dominoes have already started to fall in MLB free agency.

Right-handed starter Zack Wheeler received a massive payday on Wednesday, signing a five-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies for $118 million. The Los Angeles Angels traded for former Baltimore Orioles starter Dylan Bundy.

A number of teams might be looking to prioritize starting pitching this offseason, which could explain some of the heavy early activity in that market.

But while some of the second-tier arms are garnering a lot of attention, the monetary value should continue to expand for Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. After all, if Wheeler can get nearly $120 million, what kind of offers are they going to receive?

Here are some of the latest rumors on Cole and Strasburg as well as Madison Bumgarner, who might just be the next pitcher to sign.

      

No "West Coast bias" for Cole?  

There has been a lot of talk about Cole's affinity for playing for a team on the West Coast. Cole grew up in Newport Beach, California, and spurned the New York Yankees to attend UCLA.

Similarly, former Astros teammate Josh Reddick hinted that Cole wants to return to the West Coast in a piece by Scott Miller of Bleacher Report: "Though Cole consistently declines to look beyond his next start, it's a poorly held secret among his current teammates that, as Reddick openly admits, 'We know he wants to be a West Coast guy.'"

Despite the ties to the West Coast, however, Cole reportedly does not have a "West Coast bias," according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. He met with the New York Yankees on Tuesday, and the Yankees are reportedly "all-in" on Cole as their top target.

Cole is widely expected to become the highest-paid pitcher in history this winter, and it is going to take a big commitment to get him on board. The Angels might have the advantage, but not only because of the hometown proximity.

Angels owner Arte Moreno said in October that the team's payroll is going up, and despite the payroll taken up by Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton, they are only estimated to have a $140 million payroll, according to Baseball Reference.

The Halos are intent on competing this year. There is a reason they hired Joe Maddon and traded for Bundy to address an early need for starting pitching.

Los Angeles needs to make legitimate inroads toward competing with Trout still in his prime. They are likely to do whatever they can to bring Cole on board.

Prediction: Cole signs with the Angels for seven years, $260 million

      

Nats confident they can re-sign Strasburg

Strasburg might have been the top free-agent pitcher in any other offseason. Unfortunately for him, Cole is also in this class. But that does not mean Strasburg will not get paid.

The Yankees followed their meeting with Cole on Tuesday by linking up with Strasburg on Wednesday, and they would likely love to sign Strasburg should they not come to an agreement with the ex-Astro.

However, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Washington Nationals are confident in their ability to re-sign the World Series MVP: "The Nats remain more confident of re-signing Strasburg than [Anthony] Rendon, sources said. With Rendon, who reportedly met with the Rangers in Houston on Sunday, Rizzo might wait only so long, knowing Josh Donaldson is the only other impact third baseman on the free-agent market."

Strasburg opted out of the remaining four years and $100 million on his last deal with the Nationals, but general manager Mike Rizzo appears intent on bringing him back. He certainly is focused on Strasburg, as Jayson Stark reported that the Nats might give Rendon an ultimatum.

Strasburg could very well return to the Nationals for a shot at another parade.
Strasburg could very well return to the Nationals for a shot at another parade.Cliff Owen/Associated Press

It is not terribly surprising to consider that the Nationals might focus on signing Strasburg. He rejuvenated the franchise when he was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010, and the Nationals proved throughout their playoff run that a deep and elite starting rotation is vital come October.

Strasburg led the National League in innings pitched (209) after years of injury problems. He is still young as far as starting pitchers go (31) and has plenty of upside as the Nationals begin their quest to repeat in 2020. A reunion seems likely.  

Prediction: Strasburg re-signs with the Nats for six years, $200 million

       

Bumgarner could be the next pitcher to sign

While Cole and Strasburg might string their respective courtships along, there is a chance that longtime San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner is signed before the start of winter meetings on Monday.

Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported that Bumgarner's market was just as active as Wheeler's a mere hour before Wheeler signed with the Phillies. Additionally, Heyman reported that the Yankees, Phillies and Braves are just a few of a number of teams said to be in on Bumgarner.

Bumgarner posted a 3.90 ERA last season but also matched a career high with 34 starts. He also posted his highest strikeout per nine innings rate (8.8) since 2016. He is also still just over 30 years old, and he figures to have some success well into his 30s because of his steady fastball/curve combination that has subdued opposing hitters throughout the last decade.

The Braves seem like the best fit for Bumgarner. Returning to Atlanta would allow the North Carolina native to pitch closer to home while also solidifying their starting rotation after the Braves signed Cole Hamels to a one-year deal Wednesday.

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has already been extremely aggressive in locking up bullpen pieces, and he was willing to give Hamels a high price tag on that one-year deal. While the Twins might also be desperate to get in the mix, Atlanta could be a more appealing landing spot.

Prediction: Bumgarner signs with the Braves for five years, $105 million

     

All stats obtained via Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.