Forget the shenanigans, and the many so-so or overpriced players available, during this year’s MLB free agency period.
Yes, Eric Hosmer finally signed, but not where we thought he would. That would be San Diego, where they already had a decent first baseman in Wil Myers. Guess that eight year, $144 million contract spoke volumes. At least J.D. Martinez went to a contender, Boston, albeit on a bit of a discount (five years, $110 million).
What fans and executives alike should look toward are those who will be free agents in time for the 2019 campaign. They include four MVPs, a Cy Young winner and three saves leaders.
In fact, one of those MVPs, Josh Donaldson, has said in no uncertain terms that he expects to hit the open market after the conclusion of the 2018 season in Toronto. To date, nothing meaningful has taken place vis-a-vis an extension — and the way the Jays are conducting business lately, no extension may be offered.
We’re dusting off the old crystal ball to see who among a star-studded free agent class will get monster offers next winter.
20. RP David Robertson – New York Yankees
If the Yankees succeed this coming season, expect lights out reliever David Robertson to play a huge role. The 2019 free agent is coming off a superb 2017 season split near evenly between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees. 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. In 31 games with the South Siders, he was 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA, 13 saves and 47 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. He was even better with New York, logging a 1.03 ERA, 5-0 record, a save and 51 strikeouts in 35 innings. The former All-Star and World Champion followed it up with a 2-0 mark in the post-season, with 4.15 ERA and 17 Ks in 13 innings. The Birmingham, AL native is entering the last year of a four-year, $46 million contract and will earn $13 million.
19. OF Marwin Gonzalez – Houston Astros
Marwin Gonzalez didn’t just appear out of nowhere in 2017, but it sure seemed that way. The 28-year-old Venezualan had by far his best season in six in an Astros uniform, batting .303 in 134 games with 34 doubles, 23 homers and 90 RBI. He followed that up by clubbing an epic homer in game 2 of the World Series off uber-closer Kenley Jansen to help propel the ‘Stros to a much needed victory. Houston was down 1-0 in the series and trailing 3-2 in the top of the ninth, with the harsh prospect of having to get to Jansen. Well, with none out and behind in the count 0-2, Gonzalez lined a pitch over the center field wall to tie it. Houston would go on to win a crazy one, 7-6 in 11 innings. Gonzalez, who is also a utility infielder, will earn $5.125 million in 2018.
18. 2B D.J. LeMahieu – Colorado Rockies
Come next winter, the Rockies are going to have to put up, or shut up, when it comes to two-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner D.J. LeMahieu. The seven-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 29, 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 at the conclusion of the upcoming season. In 2017, he hit .310 in 155 games, with 28 doubles, four triples, eight homers and 64 RBI. He was also both an All-Star and a Gold Glover in the same season, posting a great .989 fielding percentage. Colorado should show him the money.
17. OF Andrew McCutchen – San Francisco Giants
In 2019, former MVP McCutchen will be 32 years old. But don’t let his age fool you. Other than batting average there has been no appreciable lag in the veteran outfielder’s game. So much so that the Giants traded for the five-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger award winner, who will be paid $14.75 million in 2018. Cutch was great in his ninth year with the Bucs in 2017, hitting .279 with 30 doubles, two triples, 28 homers, 88 RBI and 11 stolen bases. The speedster manned center field most of the time and registered an overall fielding percentage of .987, including nine outfield assists (eight from center and one from right field). The Giants, who are looking to re-vamp their squad, could conceivably extend McCutchen, depending on the start they get after a bad year.
16. RP Jeurys Familia – New York Mets
Much of how Familia bounces back from an injury and suspension plagued 2017 will determine just what his value is on the open market next off-season. The 2019 free agent class is chock a block with fine relief pitchers, so the hard-throwing Dominican will have to regain the form that saw him lead the NL in saves in 2016 with 51. After three straight seasons of 70 or more appearances and an average of 33 saves per year, Familia saw action in just 26 contests in 2017. He sported a 2-2 record and converted six of seven save opportunities, while striking out 25 in 24.2 innings. However, his ERA ballooned to 4.38 (it was 2.55 in 2016) and his WHIP was an ungainly 1.459. Familia will make $7.925 million this season.
15. OF Adam Jones – Baltimore Orioles
There have been no signs of quit in longtime Orioles outfielder Adam Jones’ game. The 32-year-old five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover had his usual productive season, clubbing 28 doubles, a triple, 26 homers and driving in 73 runs. In 10 seasons with the O’s, Jones has a .279 batting average, 248 homers and 803 RBI, so his 2017 totals are right in line with his average. Jones’ six-year, $85.5 million contract expires at the end of the season and it’s not unreasonable to expect he could get another rich multi-year deal. While cashing in is a near certainty, Jones has stated this spring that he just “wants to win” and says any talk about contracts and money is secondary to the goal of taking the O’s to the playoffs. Wait and see.
14. RP Craig Kimbrel – Boston Red Sox
We told you that the free agent class was packed with top end relievers. Kimbrel, who won four straight Fireman awards in the National League, is one of the best. He was worth every dollar of the $13 million he was paid in 2017 (and will be paid this year), going 5-0 with a minute 1.43 ERA, 0.681 WHIP, 35 saves and an eye-popping 126 strikeouts in just 69 innings pitched. In the last seven seasons alone, Kimbrel has 290 saves in 319 opportunities and in his career 1.80 mark is the lowest in MLB history. Kimbrel has stated that he wants to stay in Boston, but has also been watching with interest in the sloth-like movement this season, what with around 100 major leaguers still looking for contracts. We doubt he’ll have much of a problem garnering a deal next winter.
13. SS Eduardo Escobar – Minnesota Twins
Eduardo Escobar signed a one-year, $4.85 million bridge deal to stay with the Twins. We hope the team enjoys the bargain basement price. The Venezualan is at the right age, 29, and level of play to enter free agency with an advantage. Offensively in 2017, he had career highs in several categories, including home runs (21), triples (5), RBI (73), slugging percentage (.449) and OPS (.758). Should he be able to replicate those numbers this season, Escobar will be certain to have all kinds of attention thrown his way by potential suitors. His real value will lie in the fact he is a utility infielder, who, while listed as a shortstop, can play all infield positions except first. He spent the majority of his 113 starts in 2017 at third base.
12. RP Zach Britton – Baltimore Orioles
The pressure to win now will be squarely on the shoulders of the Orioles this season. With several players, including lefty closer Britton, set to hit free agency, the O’s will want to capitalize on that talent before some of it leaves. Both Britton and Brad Brach are due to test the open market, which will put management in a quandary. One thing that doesn’t help Britton’s cause is an Achilles injury that will keep him out of the first month and a half of the season. He missed some time during the 2017 campaign with forearm problems, but did make 38 appearances with a 2-1 record, a 2.89 ERA, and 15 saves. He also famously ended a streak of converting 60 straight saves late in the season, which is an American League record. How he bounces back from his Achilles injury — sometime in May he thinks — will go a long way to determining his market value.
11. SP Gio Gonzalez – Washington Nationals
Listed third on a superb staff which includes Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, it’s not hard for southpaw Gio Gonzalez to toil in anonymity. However, with the numbers he has put up, for a relative budget contract, he won’t be able to hide from teams looking to throw money and term at him next winter. Gonzalez, 32, had one of his best campaigns in 2017, finishing sixth in Cy Young voting. He fashioned a 15-9 record in 32 starts, with a 2.96 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 201 innings. It was the first time since 2011, when Gonzalez was with Oakland, that he logged over 200 innings. His 1.179 WHIP could have been even better, if not for the NL high 79 walks he issued last season. There has been some regression in his arm speed, but he’s made up for it with nasty off-speed pitches.
10. 1B Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins
Just five first basemen are due to test free agency at the end of the 2018 season and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Joe Mauer on this list. Another of those former MVPs we spoke about earlier, Mauer will be one of the older premier 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 was full value in 2017 for the playoff-bound Twins, ripping 36 doubles (his highest total in eight seasons), a triple and seven homers while driving in 71 runs. He finished with a .305 average and .801 OPS, the kind of numbers he hadn’t put up since his last All-Star season in 2013. 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 this time around, but will still attract a lot of interest should the Twinkies not extend him (which they should).
9. OF Charlie Blackmon – Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have two very important decisions to make this season. And they are whether to extend All-Star cornerstones D.J. LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon. We already detailed LeMahieu’s exploits and worth above and we believe Blackmon is even more valuable to Colorado’s fortunes. Not only does he patrol the expanse of Coors Field’s center field area — well, we might add — Blackmon also topped the National League in several offensive categories in 2017, including runs (137), hits (213), triples (14) and batting average (.331). The seventh-year veteran also rapped out 35 doubles, a career high 37 homers and drove in 104 runs. It was his second straight season of elevated production, leading us to believe he will continue to stay in the upper echelon offensively. He made just four errors on 347 chances in 2017, adding four assists and three double plays. He signed a one-year, $14 million deal to keep him in the fold and it will cost the Rockies more to extend him if he has another monster year.
8. SS Jose Iglesias – Detroit Tigers
Jose Iglesias, at the ripe old age of 28, has been asked by Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire to mentor other young infielders at spring training. The Havana native is good at so many things defensively — and offensively — that he may actually be grooming his successor. Iglesias had one of his best campaigns in 2017, hitting .255 with career highs in doubles (33), homers (six) and RBI (54). In the field the former All-Star and Rookie of the Year runner-up registered a .987 fielding percentage and helping to turn 83 double plays in 130 games at short. This off-season, Iglesias agreed to a $6.275 million contract to avoid arbitration and will hit free agency after the 2018 season. He is still fairly young and still putting up good numbers, so his name will also pop up at the trade deadline if the Tigers are not in the playoff hunt.
7. RP Cody Allen – Cleveland Indians
The Tribe has succeeded the past couple of seasons because its bullpen has been among the best in baseball. A key piece of that unit, Cody Allen, avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $10.575 million contract this off-season. However, he is still just 29 and at season’s end will probably be looking for the stability of a long-term deal, unless the Indians get proactive and extend their closer before that. For four straight seasons, Allen has been a model of consistency, averaging 70 appearances, 68 innings pitched, 30 saves and 92 strikeouts. He’s as close to “automatic” then as a relief pitcher can get. Having lost Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith to free agency this off-season, Allen’s worth to the Indians will be magnified.
6. 2B Daniel Murphy – Washington Nationals
The Nats will have four premier players, including Murphy, hitting free agency next winter. Which means the time to finally win is now. Joining Murphy on the market will be the aforementioned Gio Gonzalez, as well as catcher Matt Wieters and outfielder Bryce Harper. If they were to lose all four, it would be a huge hit entering the 2019 season. Murphy, for his part, has upped his stock into his 30s, with two straight stellar offensive seasons under his belt. In 2016, he hit .347, with a NL high 47 doubles, five triples, 25 homers and 105 RBI. The 2015 NLCS MVP followed that great campaign up by recording a .322 batting average in 2017, with 43 doubles (again, tops in the NL), three triples, 23 dingers and 93 RBI. That earned him his second straight All-Star nomination as well as Silver Slugger award. He will be paid $17.5 million on the last year of a three-year pact but may not start the season right away after off-season knee surgery.
5. RP Andrew Miller – Cleveland Indians
If there is one fiscal area the Indians need to pay attention to this season, it’s possible extensions for elite relievers Cody Allen (see above) and Andrew Miller. The 6’7″ giant’s role isn’t as sexy as Allen’s, in that he is paid to set-up saves and log multiple innings in relief if needed. And he does a damn fine job of it. An All-Star for the second consecutive year in 2017, Miller appeared in 57 games, logging a 4-3 record, 1.44 ERA, two saves and 95 strikeouts in 62.2 innings pitched. His worth to the Indians extends into the playoffs, too. In 14 post-season games with Cleveland, the 2016 ALCS MVP has a 2-1 record, 1.48 ERA and 38 Ks in 24.1 innings of work. Miller, who will be 33 this year, is in the final year of a bargain contract that pays him $9 million a season.
4. SP Dallas Keuchel – Houston Astros
To hear it from Dallas Keuchel, impending free agency is more scary than it is exciting. The slow pace of this year’s market does not bode well for the 2015 AL Cy Young winner and 2017 World Series champion. One of baseball’s best ground ball pitchers had a good, if not short, 2017 season, starting 23 games and fashioning a 14-5 record, 2.90 ERA and 1.119 WHIP. He carried that momentum into a successful post-season that saw him record a 2-2 mark in five starts, along with a 3.58 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched. The bearded wonder will earn $13.2 million in 2018 after avoiding salary arbitration and one has to think that he is at least worthy of money closer to what David Price is making in Boston. Time will tell.
3. 3B Josh Donaldson – Toronto Blue Jays
It was a down year for just about everyone in a Blue Jays uniform in 2017, however, former MVP 3B Josh Donaldson made a little something out of nothing. The three-time All-Star and 2015 MVP hit .270 and had a commendable .944 OPS, while adding 21 doubles, 33 homers and 78 RBI in just 113 games. He and Jays’ brass have discussed an extension for the team’s best player, but for now they are at an impasse, mostly due to the term offered. As for 2018, Donaldson is healthy and will make $23 million on a one-year deal he signed to avoid arbitration. The questions surrounding him are and will continue to be his health (he missed 49 games due to various ailments last year) and his age (33 by December). Those will factor in huge in any potential contract that involves not just big bucks, but multiple years.
2. 3B Manny Machado – Baltimore Orioles
In terms of available third baseman post-2018 season, it really is a two-horse show. And Josh Donaldson’s agent should take into account that his client is second banana to a younger, more dynamic Manny Machado, when feelers are put out. The 25-year-old Floridian is not only Baltimore’s best position player, but arguably one of the best third baseman in the bigs. He hit .259 in 2017, with 33 doubles, 33 home runs and 95 RBI on an underachieving Orioles squad. In the last three seasons, Machado has averaged 34 doubles, 35 homers and 92 RBI. This season could be interesting for the soon-to-be free agent, who is shifting to shortstop — his original position — at his own request. Adding to that are the multiple trade rumors swirling around him, including one to *gasp* the hated New York Yankees.
1. OF Bryce Harper – Washington Nationals
All other aside, and who have their own relative merits, Bryce Harper will be the big fish in a deep free agent pool once the 2018 season ends in late fall. Yet another MVP on this list, Harper had a bounce-back year in 2017, despite playing far fewer games (111) than a so-so 2016 campaign (147). Whereas he hit just .243 in 2016, Harper rebounded with a .319 average last year, as well as hitting more doubles (27 to 24), homers (29 to 24) and RBI (87 to 86). The fiery competitor was OK in yet another disappointing post-season for the Nationals, rapping out four hits in 19 at bats, including a double, a homer and three RBIs as his team bowed to the Cubs in five during the NLDS. Harper, 25, signed a one-year $21.625 million extension during the 2017 season, avoiding salary arbitration. He’ll get plenty of attention in free agency, count on it.