Now that a thrilling World Series has concluded and every team other than the Washington Nationals has a sour taste in its mouth, it's time to start focusing on hot stove season. Front office executives from every club are currently pouring over endless data and information as they formulate their offseason plans ahead of this month's GM meetings. Free agency exploration is something every team is interested in, and this year's class is awfully good. Let's take a look at the top 25 free agents and where they might sign.
Gerrit Cole is about to get paid. Like, paid paid. The 29-year-old is coming off a historic campaign that will ultimately end with him being named the unanimous AL Cy Young winner. In 33 starts he turned in a 2.50 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP while holding the opposition to a .186 batting average and striking out just an incredible 326 hitters in 212.1 innings. His postseason was even better, as he worked to a sub 2.00 ERA and played the lead role in the Astros second American League pennant in three years. His services will be in high demand, and his free agency will be one of the most, if not the most, noteworthy stories of the offseason.
Prediction: San Diego Padres, eight years/$265 million
The Nationals went through a tumultuous offseason last winter when they watched the face of their franchise, Bryce Harper, take his talents north on 95 to the City of Brotherly Love. They desperately need to avoid a repeat this time around. In Harper's absence, Rendon really thrived as the leader of this team. In 545 at-bats he set new career highs in AVG (.319), HR (34), RBI (126), OBP (.412), OPS (1.010), runs (117), and total bases (326). While L.A.'s Cody Bellinger will likely win the award, Rendon will undoubtedly receive plenty of NL MVP votes, and his value to the Nationals quite frankly cannot be understated. The defending champs simply have to do whatever necessary to prevent him from departing.
Prediction: Washington Nationals, seven years/$235 million
Donaldson represents a fascinating conundrum for Atlanta. The Braves signed the veteran to a one-year prove it deal last offseason that at the time seemed to make a great deal of sense for all involved. Atlanta needed a powerful right-handed bat to help protect Freddie Freeman, and Donaldson needed to rebuild his own value after being limited to just 165 total games over the previous two seasons due to a variety of injuries. One of the club's top prospects, third baseman Austin Riley, was set to begin the season in AAA and appeared ticketed to take over the hot corner at SunTrust Park for good in 2020. But things now are not so cut and dry. Donaldson just hit 37 homers and drove in 94 runs out of the clean-up spot in the Atlanta order. Riley got some big league at-bats as a left fielder, an experiment that did not go all that well, and while offensively he got off to a hot start, he faded badly down the stretch. Donaldson will enter next season at 34 years of age, and with his injury history, teams will surely hesitate at the asking price his 2019 season would indicate he deserves.The lack of a true ace contributed mightily to Atlanta's frustrating postseason exit, and the club will have to determine if the resources needed to keep Donaldson in Georgia would be better spent on pitching.
Prediction: Texas Rangers, four years/$68 million
Grandal famously turned down a generous multiyear offer from the Mets last winter and instead chose a lucrative one-year pact with Milwaukee that satisfied the AAV he desired. The contract came with a mutual option for 2020 but those are almost never exercised, and coming off a terrific season, Grandal looks poised to cash in. Playing in almost every Brewers' game, the veteran switch-hitter set new career highs with 28 homers and 77 RBI while gunning down 27 percent of would be base stealers. He's arguably become the most dynamic two way backstop not named J.T. Realmuto in baseball, and his market will be robust.
Prediction: Cincinnati Reds, three years/$54 million
Castellanos was the subject of trade rumors last winter when he was coming off back-to-back terrific offensive seasons for the Tigers and had only one year left on his contract. Despite entering camp inferior on paper to most American League clubs, Detroit held its most valuable asset into the season, hoping he'd build more value before July. That decision backfired. Castellanos underwhelmed during the first half of the season, hitting just 11 homers in 403 at-bats for Detroit before the Tigers ultimately sent him to the Cubs at the deadline for a lackluster return. While the transaction came with frustration for the club, for the player, it was quite the opposite. Being thrust into a pennant race was a major boon for Castellanos, who fit in swimmingly with his new team and was tremendous down the stretch. In 51 games for Chicago he hit .321 with 16 homers and 36 RBI, becoming the Cubs' most dependable hitter in September. He immediately became a fan favorite and was a reliable everyday player in right field, a position the Cubs would love for him to fill long term.
Prediction: Chicago Cubs, three years/$48 million
Strasburg’s status on the free-agent market is a bit tenuous. He recently exercised an opt out in his contract where he walked away from four years and $100 million guaranteed. That may seem like an absurd decision, but it’s going to pay dividends for him. What is unknown is whether or not he’s actually serious about leaving Washington or if this was a decision motivated by getting more money from the Nats. Max Scherzer dealt with significant injuries in 2019, so Strasburg and his agent Scott Boras understand the Nationals will likely operate with an increased level of desperation in order to retain him. His hometown Padres will certainly make a push to pry him away, but in the end it’s hard to envision him leaving D.C.
Prediction: Washington Nationals, six years/$172 million
Wheeler stands to be arguably the most sought-after free agent starting pitcher not named Gerrit Cole, and he'll undoubtedly cash in in a big way. The 29-year-old doesn't have as many miles on his right arm as you would expect — a side effect of missing two full seasons thanks to a complicated Tommy John surgery over four years ago. After dominating in the second half of 2018, more so even then his Mets teammate Jacob deGrom who ultimately won the Cy Young Award, Wheeler struggled early in 2019 before again coming on down the stretch. In 12 starts after the All-Star break, he worked to a 2.83 ERA in 76.1 innings, and his ability to reach a career-high 195 innings this season should help ease other clubs concerns about his injury history. The veteran was heavily sought after at the trade deadline before New York decided to hold him, and while the Mets will assuredly issue him a qualifying offer, there is no chance he will accept. If he does leave, the Astros, who coveted him in July, stand out as a logical landing spot, especially if Cole departs.
Prediction: Houston Astros, five years/$85 million
Abreu has spent his entire big league career with the White Sox, and since defecting from Cuba in 2014 he's been one of the premier run producers in the game. This past season the veteran right-handed slugger hit .284 while equaling his previous career high with 33 home runs and setting a new personal best with 123 RBI. Abreu has been the leader of the Chicago offense and team in general for several years now, and while the club's brass has repeatedly indicated it'd like him to still be with the Sox when they complete their rebuild, it's fair to wonder if that will ultimately come to fruition. For starters, if both sides were so eager to secure a long-term pact, why was an extension not agreed upon while he was still under contract? Now that he's a free agent, you'd have to think the 32-year-old will at least listen to external offers, with a priority on the ability to compete for a championship.
Prediction: New York Yankees, three years/$51 million
Ryu's free agency will be interesting to watch, as he checks several boxes on both sides of the pendulum. For example, his age, injury history and his final month of 2019 certainly will give clubs reason to pause. But what agent Scott Boras will try to push is the fact that without the disappointing finish he endured this past season, Ryu would likely have been named the NL Cy Young. In 29 starts he put up a 2.32 ERA in 182.2 innings and played a huge role in the Dodgers success. Ryu's career 2.98 major league ERA indicates his performance was not much of a fluke as he's generally pitched well when healthy, and some team will take a flier on him being an upper echelon starter for the next few years.
Prediction: Milwaukee Brewers, four years/$78 million
Similarly to Grandal, Moustakas also has a mutual option with Milwaukee for 2020, but he too seems likely to at least entertain free agency. Provided he does end up on the open market, it's far from certain that Moustakas will depart Wisconsin though,, and recent reports indicate that may be the case. In 2019 he hit .254 with 35 home runs and 87 RBI, and his powerful left-handed bat was an important piece of the Brewers' offensive attack. Their lineup is obviously built around Christian Yelich, but aside from the '18 MVP it is overly right-handed. Bringing Moustakas back to handle the hot corner everyday seems like a move that would be beneficial to both player and club.
Prediction: Milwaukee Brewers, two years/$24 million
Ozuna landed in St. Louis in a massive offseason trade prior to the '18 campaign, and his two years as a Redbird have been loaded with plenty of ups and downs. This past season the veteran hit .241 with 29 home runs and 89 RBI, and while he obviously was an impact bat for the Cardinals at times, his free agency is going to be complicated for the team. Ozuna appears poised to land a massive contract, and the typically conservative Cardinals are not known for handing those types of long-term pacts out.
Prediction: Cleveland Indians, five years/$90 million
Quite honestly it was stunning that San Francisco did not trade its All-Star closer at the deadline last July. The Giants were not really in the race for an NL wild-card spot, and if Smith leaves as a free agent this winter the Giants will seriously regret not capitalizing on his trade value when they had the chance. In 63 appearances last season, Smith converted 34 of his 38 save chances while working to a 2.76 ERA and striking out 96 batters in only 65.1 innings. He's without question going to be the most heavily pursued relief pitcher this winter, and he'll have to pick from a group that could include a dozen or more clubs, many of whom aggressively attempted to trade for him last summer.
Prediction: Boston Red Sox \, four years/$60 million
Bumgarner has been the face of the Giants for the better part of a decade, and the player most synonymous with their dynasty during the early 2010s. That said, his stay by the Bay may very well have come to a close. At 30 years old, the left-hander remains good but not quite elite. After being a yearly member of the National League All-Star team for several seasons, he hasn't been invited to the Midsummer Classic since 2016, and the salary he's likely to receive may not be in line with where San Francisco is in its rebuild. That's not to say the veteran won't be heavily pursued. Bumgarner has earned a reputation as arguably the greatest postseason hurler history, and plenty of teams will gladly accept respectable numbers during the regular season if it leads to more October dominance.
Prediction: New York Yankees, three years/$46.5 million
Hamels is no longer the ace he once was, but you could certainly do a lot worse for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. As a Cub in 2019, the veteran southpaw pitched to a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts, while striking out over a batter/inning for the fifth time in his career and holding opponents to a .260 batting average. His market is unlikely to be sizzling, but two teams with needs in their rotation stand out as logical new homes: his former club in Philadelphia, which missed the postseason in large part due to a disappointing pitching staff, and his home town San Diego Padres. Predicting geography plays into this as much as anything.
Prediction: San Diego Padres, two years/$25 million
Kendrick was supposed to be a utility player and right-handed bench bat for the Nationals in 2019, but he quickly became much more than that. In 121 games, the veteran played quite a bit of first base in the absence of Ryan Zimmerman and hit an absurd .344 with 17 bombs and 62 RBI. In the playoffs he came up with big hit after big hit for Washington and was deservedly named NLCS MVP. The Nationals would surely like to retain his services in 2020 and beyond, but Kendrick has certainly hit himself onto several other teams' radars.
Prediction: Washington Nationals, two years/$22 million
Odorizzi will turn 30 just as the 2020 season is getting underway, which contributes to his free agency being a little difficult to predict. For most of his career, the right-hander was a respectable pitcher but far from a difference maker, but he turned in his best season at just the right time. With the Twins this past season, the Illinois native went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP while striking out a career-high 178 hitters. It is a bit of a cause for concern, however, that he averaged only 5.3 innings/start, a stat that clubs will assuredly use in an attempt to diminish his salary expectations.
Prediction: Minnesota Twins, three years/$45 million
Akiyama looks poised to become the latest in a long line of standout Japanese players to take his talents across the Pacific and join the ranks of Major League Baseball. His situation is a little different than most in that he doesn't come with a posting fee, as he's already an international free agent. With the Seibu Lions a year ago, Akiyama hit .303 with 20 homers, 62 RBI and 31 doubles, and his top of the order talents should translate well to the game's highest level. His market is likely to be robust, and the left-handed hitter should have his pick among multiple suitors.
Prediction: Chicago Cubs, four years/$40 million
Gardner has survived a lot longer in the Bronx than many thought he would, but that could be put to the test this winter. New York desperately needs an impact starting pitcher (or even two), and most of its offseason energy will be dedicated toward that vision. The career season Gardner delivered in 2019 certainly helps his case, as he just set new personal highs in homers, RBI and slugging percentage. Expect the veteran's free agency to linger for a while, as he'd assuredly like to return to the Yankees. But he may need to give them time to figure out some other things on their end.
Prediction: New York Yankees, one year/$9 million
The Yankees certainly do not want to let Gregorius walk, but financially they appear unlikely to be able to retain him. New York is cognizant of the fact that Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge among others will soon need significant raises, and the Yankees also know pitching is the reason they lost in the ALCS. Torres is capable of shifting from second to short full time, and it appears that's how this will shake out with the Yanks instead dipping into the free agent market for help on the mound. Gregorius missed a large portion of 2019 due to injury and was not overly impressive upon returning, but he'll still find a fair amount of interest.
Prediction: Cincinnati Reds, three years/$39 million
Cabrera has been a valuable two-way player for a long time but perhaps no more so than the second half of this season. After struggling through the first few months on a bad Texas team, the Rangers DFA'd the veteran switch-hitter. Cabrera had his choice from a few contending clubs but chose the Nats, a decision that paid dividends for both parties. In 124 at-bats for D.C. he hit .323 with 17 extra base hits and an OBP over .400, helping propel the Nationals to their first National League pennant.
Prediction: Washington Nationals, one year/$6 million
Garcia has been an underrated run producer for a long time, and he's coming off an excellent 2019 season in Tampa Bay. In 489 at-bats, the veteran crushed 20 homers and drove in 72 runs, while slashing .282/.332/.464 and bringing a dangerous right-handed bat to the middle of the Rays lineup. In a lot of ways Garcia is the perfect Ray: under the radar and far from a household name but good and often outperforming expectations. He'll have a market, but don't be surprised if Tampa Bay pushes hard to retain him.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays, two years/$25 million
Since arriving in Houston in 2015, Harris has been one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball, and his services should be in high demand this winter. This past season the 35-year-old pitched to a 1.50 ERA in 68 contests while turning in a sub 1.00 WHIP for the third time in his career and holding opponents to a minuscule .196 batting average. Virtually every team in baseball could use help of Harris' caliber in the bullpen, but it's hard to foresee him departing Houston.
Prediction: Houston Astros, two years/$18 million
Chirinos landed with the Astros as a free agent 11 months ago, and his first season in Houston could not have gone better. The veteran gave his new team exactly what it envisioned when it signed him: phenomenal defense and a power bat at the bottom of the lineup. At the plate, the right-handed hitter launched 17 homers and drove in 58 runs, while behind it he finished with a .995 fielding percentage and gunned down 21 percent of would-be base stealers.
Prediction: Houston Astros, one year/$5 million
Puig spent the entire 2019 season in the state of Ohio, splitting the campaign between the Reds and Indians, and he hit well in both stops. Cumulatively the veteran hit .267 with 24 homers and 84 RBI in 555 at-bats, and while he can be a bit enigmatic at times, Puig can still be a valuable member of a good team. Several teams that need a right-handed hitter, and particularly one that can play the outfield, should get Puig's agent on the phone, and it likely won't be difficult for him to find a new home.
Prediction: Arizona Diamondbacks, two years/$21 million
At this point in his career Wainwright's name carries more than his actual performance on the mound, but he's still capable of bringing a strong veteran presence to the back of a big league rotation. In 2019 the veteran worked to a 4.19 ERA with a 1.43 WHIP across 31 starts, but he was better in the postseason. In 16.2 October innings, the righty delivered a 1.62 ERA and threw 7.2 scoreless innings against Atlanta in the NLDS. At 38 years old, Wainwright will be picky about his free agent destination and will assuredly prioritize the ability to compete for a title.
Prediction: Atlanta Braves, one year/$7 million