The 2018 MLB season has drawn to a close and with that, many free agents head into an off-season hoping to get paid.
Some are very valuable and one of them, Bryce Harper, sent out some cryptic tweets to Washington Nationals fans thanking them for being great. Which means, he’s keeping his options open and may be headed elsewhere.
Earlier this year, Harper and several others were the focus of a long look ahead to the 2018-2019 free agent season and he and quite a few others are still top of class now that the 2018 campaign is in the books.
After parsing stats and statuses (Charlie Blackmon, on our original list, re-signed with Colorado) we have come up with an updated list, with at least one player at every position, including designated hitter.
Here they are, in no particular order.
LF Marwin Gonzalez – Houston Astros
Marwin Gonzalez has been more of a valuable utility man to the Houston Astros, playing six different positions this season, with the majority of his time spent in left field. The slugger hasn’t hit as well as he did in 2017, but his numbers are still quite good. After hitting .303 in 2017, Gonzalez dipped to .249 this year, but has still put up decent power stats, like 25 doubles, three triples, 16 homers and 67 RBI in 142 games. With Houston clinching yet another division title, he hasn’t had to be a major part of the offensive engine, just a complementary one — and very useful, at that having been employed in left, center, shortstop, second base, third and first this season. How he does in the post-season, where he had a huge hit in the World Series, may go a long way to what the Astros might do with him in free agency. He will likely be looking for a big raise on his $5.125 million salary this year.
RP David Robertson – New York Yankees
As the Yankees have gone this season — another post-season berth — so has gone lights out reliever David Robertson. The 2019 free agent was the busiest pitcher on the Yanks staff this season, appearing in 68 games as of Friday. Originally a Bronx Bomber from 2008 to 2014, Robertson spent two and a half seasons with the Chisox before making his way back to Yankee Stadium in 2017. With the “hold” becoming as significant a stat as the save, Robertson leads the Yankees in that category this season with 21, followed closely by Dellin Betances with 20. Robertson, formerly a closer, does have five saves in nine opportunities in 2018, but is way more valuable in the set-up role. In addition to his holds and saves, Robertson’s record is 8-3, with a 3.26 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 69 innings. The Birmingham, AL native was in the last year of a four-year, $46 million contract.
2B D.J. LeMahieu – Colorado Rockies
With All-Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon extended during the season, the Rockies are also going to have to put up, or shut up when it comes to negotiating with two-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner D.J. LeMahieu. The eight-year vet, who won the NL batting title in 2016, signed a very friendly one-year deal with the Rockies for the 2018 season at $8.5 million. Still just 30, it is likely then that he’ll be looking for a little more stability once this season concludes. Offensively and defensively, LeMahieu is one of the best second basemen in the major leagues and will likely be paid like it at the conclusion of the upcoming season. This season, which will likely result in a playoff berth, LeMahieu is batting .280, with a career high 32 doubles, two triples, career best 15 homers and 61 RBI. The Visalia, CA born second sacker has also been Gold Glove worthy in the field, making just four errors on 577 chances for a .993 fielding percentage (as of Friday).
CF A.J. Pollock – Arizona Diamondbacks
With his speed, bat and defensive ability, Arizona’s Pollock has put himself at the top of the centerfield free agent class. He has completed his seventh straight season in a Diamondbacks’ uniform and has put up admirable numbers. The former All-Star and Gold Glover was hitting .262 as of Friday, with 21 doubles, five triples, a career high 21 homers and 65 RBI. Pollock has also stolen 12 bases in 14 attempts and has made just one error in 225 chances in center field for a .996 fielding percentage. A first round pick out of the University of Notre Dame, Pollock signed a bridge one year contract with the D-Backs for $7.75 million and will probably get a nice raise on that in free agency. The Diamondbacks were eliminated from post-season contention earlier in the week, which made his final home game a bittersweet one, in that he may be long gone by 2019.
RP Adam Ottavino – Colorado Rockies
Pitching in the Mile High City is never easy and we are of the mind that Rockies’ pitchers stats should be weighted accordingly on home field appearances at Coors Field. This season, which should include a post-season appearance (they were one game up on L.A. Friday), Ottavino has become one of the better set-up men in baseball. He is 6-4 this season, with a career low 2.47 ERA in 74 appearances. He has 33 holds and six saves in 11 opportunities, along with a 1.00 WHIP and an opponents batting average of just .160. What’s more remarkable is that his home stats are better than on the road. Ottavino’s home ERA is 2.16 (2.70 road) and the opponents’ batting average is a paltry .127 at Coors (.184 away from Denver). He has been a solid contributor now for seven seasons and was on the last year of a bargain three-year, $10.4 million contract.
RF Nick Markakis – Atlanta Braves
He might be 34, but the renaissance season being turned in by rightfielder Nick Markakis is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The 13-year veteran has played a huge role in Atlanta’s improbable surge to the top of the NL East standings and a berth in the upcoming NL division series. As of Friday, Markakis was hitting .299, his highest average since a .306 mark with Baltimore in 2008, and was leading the National League in doubles with 43. He also had two triples, 14 homers and was second in RBI on the Braves to Freddie Freeman with 93. An All-Star for the first time this season, the two-time Gold Glove winner (in Baltimore), has also had a Gold Glove worthy season in right for the Braves, with just two errors on 318 chances and nine assists. He was on the last year of a four-year, $44 million contract.
RP Craig Kimbrel – Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have had a season for the ages and have been home and cooled atop the AL East and MLB standings for some time now. We told you earlier that the free agent class was packed with top end relievers and Kimbrel, who won four straight Fireman awards in the National League, is one of the best. Kimbrel was second in the American League in saves this season with 42 in 47 opportunities and has 333 saves in 367 opportunities in his career. Kimbrel’s 1.91 overall ERA is among the lowest in MLB history and in 2018 it was stable at 2.79 with a stellar 1.01 WHIP to go along with it. Kimbrel has stated that he wants to stay in Boston, but has also no doubt been alarmed at the sloth-like pace of last year’s free agent signings. The seven-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year was on the last season of a four-year pact that paid him $13 million.
3B Eduardo Escobar – Arizona Diamondbacks
Eduardo Escobar, who signed a one-year, $4.85 million bridge deal to stay with the Twins, ended up being dealt to the Diamondbacks at the deadline and has quietly emerged as the best third base option in free agency. The Venezualan is at the right age, 29, and at the level of play to enter free agency with an advantage. Offensively in 2018, he has had career highs in several categories, including home runs (23), doubles (47), RBI (84), slugging percentage (.491) and OPS (.825). His real value will lie in the fact he is a utility infielder, who has also played well at shortstop and can play all infield positions except first. He spent the majority of his 149 starts this season at the hot corner with 122 and has made just five errors there for a .983 fielding percentage.
SP Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers
If the Dodgers fail to make the playoffs, or bow out early, three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw could opt out of the final two years of his seven-year, $215 million contract to go to a team that has a better chance of winning it all. Despite being one of the best pitchers of all-time, Kershaw has yet to win a championship and that has to grate on him. The 2018 season hasn’t been the greatest, by his lofty standards, as he made 25 starts and has a 9-5 record with a 2.53 ERA and 1.023 WHIP. Over the course of his Hall of Fame worthy career in L.A., Kershaw has won the ERA title five times, was tops in strikeouts three times and was also NL MVP in 2014. He has a start this weekend in a huge set with the San Francisco Giants and the Dodgers playoff hopes hanging by a thread.
SP Patrick Corbin – Arizona Diamondbacks
Patrick Corbin has made himself invaluable to the D-Backs. This off-season, we’ll see just what the lanky southpaw’s worth is to the club, or someone else. Corbin, third overall in the National League with 242 strikeouts, emerged as a contender for the staff “ace” position with Zack Greinke, fashioning a 11-7 record with 3.23 ERA in 32 starts to go along with all of those Ks. Corbin just turned 29 and is coming off back-to-back seasons of improvement. He has lowered his ERA from 2017 (4.03) nearly a full point and taken his WHIP from 1.418 to 1.056 and homers allowed from 26 to just 15 in the same number of starts (32). After toiling for $7.5 million on a one year contract, Corbin will command a multi-year deal worth much more.
1B Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins
Just six first basemen are due to test free agency at the end of this season and we would be remiss if we didn’t put Joe Mauer at the top of that list. A former MVP, Mauer is one of the older free agents available at 35. Even at that advanced age, the three-time batting champion and 2009 AL MVP still wields a potent stick and can spend time as a designated hitter along with first sacker duties. Mauer didn’t hit to his normal high standard batting average this season, but still clipped along at .277, with 26 doubles, a triple, six homers and 47 RBI in 123 games. He had a good OBP of .345 and a decent OPS at .720. Mauer is on the last year of a monster eight-year, $184 million deal. He probably won’t get that kind of money and term in the off-season, but will still attract interest should the Twinkies not make an offer.
9. LF Michael Brantley – Cleveland Indians
Like a fine wine, Indians homegrown outfielder Michael Brantley has aged very well. Having just completed his 10th season in a Cleveland uniform, he will be integral to the Tribe’s plans in the post-season, where they will clash with defending champion Houston in the ALDS. An All-Star for the third time this season, Brantley was hitting .309 as of Friday, with 36 doubles, two triples, 17 homers and 76 RBI. The 31-year-old has spent 131 of his 140 games in left with Cleveland and has made but one error on 220 chances, with six outfield assists. The Indians signed him to an escalating four-year $25 million contract four years ago and which paid him $12 million this season. His consistent play and rebound from injury and surgery that derailed his 2016 and 2017 seasons should be reason enough to offer him another short-term deal.
SS Jose Iglesias – Detroit Tigers
Jose Iglesias, at the ripe old age of 28, was asked by Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire to mentor other young infielders at spring training this season. The Havana native is good at so many things defensively — and offensively — that he may actually be grooming his successor. The slugging infielder, who was shut down due to an abdominal injury after 125 games, was having another quietly fine campaign, hitting .269 with 31 doubles, five homers and 48 RBI. In the field the former All-Star and Rookie of the Year runner-up registered a .983 fielding percentage and helped turn 63 double plays in 122 games at short. This past off-season, Iglesias agreed to a $6.275 million contract to avoid arbitration and is now a free agent. He is still fairly young and still putting up good numbers, so a mid-term deal shouldn’t be out of the question.
2B Jed Lowrie – Oakland Athletics
For the low, low price of $6 million, the forever frugal A’s are getting elite production from second baseman Jed Lowrie. The 34-year-old veteran and soon-to-be free agent, who has flip-flopped between the Athletics and Astros the last seven seasons, is hitting .267 with 37 doubles, a homer, career best 22 homers and 96 RBI. His last two seasons mimic the numbers he put up with the A’s in 2013, when he finished with a .290 batting average, 45 doubles, 15 homers and 75 RBI. He was an All-Star for the first time this season and is a key cog in an offence that will have to try and solve New York Yankees pitching in the AL Wild Card game this week. He’s not a great post-season hitter (.150 average in 22 games, 1 HR, 5 RBI) but at least he’s been there and can prepare accordingly.
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
C Yasmani Grandal – Los Angeles Dodgers
The catchers market has a few marquee names, like the Dodgers Yasmani Grandal and Philadelphia’s Wilson Ramos, who are both set to cash in on long-term deals. Grandal goes into Monday’s game 163 against Colorado for the NL West tiebreaker with a .243 average, 23 doubles, two triples, 24 homers and 68 RBI. The former All-Star has been decent defensively, sporting a .995 fielding percentage and a 27 percent throwout rate of would-be base-stealers (19 for 71). A seven-year veteran, Grandal signed a one-year, $7.9 million bridge deal and will get a lot of attention after the conclusion of the post-season. He could help his own cause by hitting the ball and playing great defence in the playoffs. He is a career .087 hitter in the post-season, with a homer and five RBI in 18 games.
C Wilson Ramos – Philadelphia Phillies
Ultimately, the Phillies failed in their quest for the NL East title, going 8-20 in a horrid September, including a late-month nine-game losing streak that knocked them completely out of contention. This off-season, the team has several decisions to make, one of the biggest what to do with trade deadline acquisition Wilson Ramos. The two-time All-Star hit very well in a Phillies uniform, batting .337 with 10 extra base hits and 17 RBI in 33 games. He was also locked in behind the plate, throwing out 7 of 16 base stealers (44 percent). Overall with Tampa and Philly, Ramos batted .306 — the highest average of any starting catcher — along with 15 homers and 70 RBI (fifth among catchers). He finished with a combined fielding percentage of .994 and threw out 14 of 48 base stealers (28 percent). He was on the last year of a two-year, $12.5 million contract.
SP Dallas Keuchel – Houston Astros
The defending champion Astros, who already have plenty of dough invested in staff ace Justin Verlander until at least the end of 2019, will have to ponder what Dallas Keuchel is worth at the conclusion of post-season proceedings this year. The 2015 AL Cy Young winner was still a force on the mound this season, albeit a bit of a shadow of the one that toed the rubber in 2015. He logged his third season of 200 or more innings (204.2), but had a 12-11 record, uninspring 3.74 ERA and 1.314 WHIP. In addition, he gave up an American League high 211 hits. The bearded wonder made $13.2 million in 2018 after avoiding salary arbitration and at age 30 will be looking for some job security in the form of a long-term pact. He can also help his cause with an outstanding performance in Houston’s defence of its 2017 World Series championship.
DH Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners
This spot should have been reserved for Josh Donaldson, who will get paid in free agency, but after the season he had in Seattle, Nelson Cruz will command attention from potential suitors in need of a quality designated hitter. The 38-year-old big bopper hasn’t slowed down an iota in his advanced years, smacking 37 homers (tied for eighth overall in baseball) and driving in 97 runs (19th overall) in 144 games with the Mariners. An All-Star for the sixth time this season, Cruz was the best overall DH, only trailing Edwin Encarnacion in RBI, but eclipsing him in all other offensive categories (WAR, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS). His four-year, $57 million contract is up and the M’s need to ponder inking him to another similar such deal — which he could get elsewhere.
SS Manny Machado – Los Angeles Dodgers
It must have been quite a breath of fresh air for big-time soon-to-be free agent Machado, escaping the Orioles and the ignominy of being on one of baseball’s all-time worst teams. The 26-year-old Floridian was not only Baltimore’s best position player, but arguably one of the best shortstops in the bigs before being shipped to the Dodgers for a passel of prospects. Overall, Machado hit .298 this season (and has an extra game Monday to beef up his stats), with 35 doubles, three triples, 37 homers (tying a career high) and 107 RBI (his most as a big leaguer). He also stole 14 bases in 16 attempts and has a .978 fielding percentage between shortstop (146 games) and third base (15 games). After making $16 million on a one-year deal, Machado is certain to command a huge multi-year contract in the off-season. We expect several teams, including L.A., to make significant offers.
OF Bryce Harper – Washington National
All others aside, and who have their own relative merits, Bryce Harper will be the biggest free agent target this winter. Yet another MVP on this list, Harper’s status with the Nationals is up in the air, especially after a disappointing season that saw the normally contending Nats finish 8.0 games behind NL East winning Atlanta and out of the post-season. Harper had another strong season at the plate, even though his .249 average in 159 games was sub-standard (he is a career .279 hitter). He had 34 doubles, 34 homers and his first 100-RBI campaign, while drawing a major league high 130 walks to boost his on base percentage to a stellar .393 (ninth highest in the major leagues). Harper, just heading into his prime at age 25 (he is 26 in two weeks), already has seven seasons of big league experience. While he’s not quite in Mike Trout’s company, Harper will get at least $30 million a season on a long-term contract.