2019 MLB Free Agents: Latest Rumors, Predictions for Josh Donaldson, More

Martin FennContributor IIDecember 18, 2019

Atlanta Braves' Josh Donaldson hits a home run during the fourth inning of Game 5 of their National League Division Series baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
John Amis/Associated Press

Needless to say, this MLB offseason has been nothing like the last one.

Last winter offered little action through the first few months, with top free agents like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper not signing until February.

Less than 12 months later, the contracts are flying left and right. Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon all signed before the end of the winter meetings, and the market continued to shrink when Madison Bumgarner signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday. The competition for top players might get stiffer with so many teams trying to address the same needs.

With that in mind, here are the latest rumors and predictions for the top position player available, third baseman Josh Donaldson, as well as left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu and outfielder Marcell Ozuna.


Nationals "Heavy" on Josh Donaldson

The Nationals have a hole at the hot corner with Rendon taking his talents to Anaheim. 

Washington may have dedicated $245 million to Strasburg, but they might be willing to spend the extra buck to sign Donaldson. Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported the Nats are "in heavy" on Donaldson.

As Heyman noted, the Nationals were still in the mix for Rendon even after re-signing Strasburg, which implies they certainly have the money on Donaldson.

The 2015 American League MVP will certainly get paid after a bounce-back season in 2019, but at 37 years old, it might be unlikely for him to get more than four years for any given contract.

Donaldson slashed .259/.379/.521 with 37 homers in the middle of a deadly Atlanta Braves lineup, and he ranked second among all third basemen with 15 defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs. Braves manager Brian Snitker raved about Donaldson's leadership as well, saying the Braves clubhouse drew energy and inspiration from the feisty veteran.

Washington secured their rotation by re-upping Strasburg after proving that a strong rotation is a boon in October. But they cannot head into next season without a reliable run-producer to replace Rendon, who led the MLB with 126 RBIs last season.

Donaldson might be on the verge of a move to D.C.


Prediction: Donaldson signs with the Nationals for four years, $100 million


Hyun-Jin Ryu Expected to Earn Higher Annual Value Than Bumgarner

The winner of the Madison Bumgarner sweepstakes was not the Arizona Diamondbacks or even Bumgarner himself. After all, Bumgarner reportedly sought a five-year deal worth $100 million and instead ended up with $85 million with deferrals.

No, the winner may have been left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. The 2019 ERA champ is now the best pitcher on the market, and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Ryu is expected to "exceed" Bumgarner's $17 million annual value over the length of any contract he signs. 

Ryu dominated through the first four-plus months of the season, posting a 1.45 ERA and 0.930 WHIP across his first 22 starts, according to FanGraphs. He tired in August amid some injuries, but he recovered with a strong September in which he posted a 2.13 ERA in four starts.

Ryu is arguably the top starter still available.
Ryu is arguably the top starter still available.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The 32-year-old has quietly been one of the more effective pitchers in baseball when healthy. He posted an MLB-best 1.2 walks per nine innings ratio this year, and despite a somewhat mediocre strikeout rate (8.0 per nine innings), he induces soft contact. Ryu ranked in the top four percent of baseball in terms of average exit velocity against, according to Baseball Savant.

Heyman reported that the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins were in on Ryu, while his MLB Network colleague Jon Paul Morosi reported that the St. Louis Cardinals are also interested.


Prediction: Ryu signs with the Twins for four years, $73 million


Cardinals Trying to Re-Sign Marcell Ozuna  

Aside from Ryu, the Cardinals are also exploring bringing left fielder Marcell Ozuna back into the fold, according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic.

St. Louis acquired Ozuna from the Miami Marlins after he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs in 2017. He never quite recaptured that success with the Redbirds, but his plate discipline improved considerably in 2019. Ozuna posted the highest walk rate (11.3 percent) and still managed to hit 29 homers in 130 games.

The Cardinals might be in a bit of a conundrum as far as Ozuna is concerned. He is arguably their second-best run producer behind Paul Goldschmidt and has upside given that he ranked in the top 4 percent in hard-hit percentage, according to Baseball Savant.

However, 2019 breakout star Tommy Edman can play in one of the corners, and the Cardinals still have up-and-coming outfielders like Tyler O'Neill, Lane Thomas and Randy Arozarena, all of whom appear ready to challenge for playing time in 2020.

This might be the kind of situation where the Cardinals hope that Ozuna's market price drops before making a legitimate play to re-sign him. Otherwise, it would be hard for the Cardinals to justify giving Ozuna—who also has a history of shoulder issues—over $80 million, especially considering they have plenty of outfield talent in their pipeline.


Prediction: Ozuna signs with the Diamondbacks for four years, $80 million       


All stats obtained via Baseball Reference and all contract information via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.