Posted in: MLB
With major league baseball’s winter meetings set to kick off next week in Las Vegas, we should see a flurry of big free agent signings. Historically almost all of the prized free agents are signed in December, so it should be a very exciting month with lots of star players switching teams. In this article, I will identify who the big names are this offseason and speculate on just where I think they are going to end up when all the smoke clears. Let’s get started!
Every year we have one player that headlines the free agency class and dominates the headlines. This year we have two that are garnering all of the attention. Both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper hit free agency this year and are expected to receive huge contracts. It is very rare that any player of this caliber hits free agency this young and this talented, this year we have two players that could very well change the dynamic of baseball for the next decade.
Machado didn’t do himself any favors this offseason with multiple incidents painting him in a bad light. He was accused of being both lazy, and dirty, after hitting the national spotlight with the Dodgers after being traded at the deadline this year. But none of that has seemed to cool the market for Machado as several teams are being rumored to be pursuing the twenty-six-year-old infielder. The current odds are below for where Machado will end up.
The Philadelphia Phillies have emerged as the favorites to snag Machado as they are on a tear this offseason. The Phillies are also rumored to be going after Bryce Harper, and allegedly they want both guys. Money doesn’t seem to be an object for Philly right now as they are aggressively pursuing both players. The Phillies just made a trade with Seattle to acquire gold glove shortstop Jean Segura, and if they can pair Machado with Segura in the infield, they would immediately move to the top of the NL futures list.
A couple of these teams don’t make a lot of sense to me. The White Sox are still a couple of years of rebuilding away from competing for a title, so making a move to sign Machado now doesn’t really make all that much sense. And the Dodgers, while they are his most recent team, doesn’t feel like the right fit either. Machado got off o the wrong foot in LA, and the fans don’t seem to be all in on him. It is hard for management to spend 300 million dollars on a guy that some of the fans already hate.
Making the move to sign Machado would also open up the door for the Bronx Bombers to trade incumbent third basemen Miguel Andujar, which could net them a lot back in return. I am not sure that Machado is that big of an upgrade over Andujar, who is still just twenty-three-years-old, but the Yankees love to make big splashy moves, so I think Manny ends up in pinstripes.
Harper is considered the jewel of this free agent class. Machado is a big name, but Harper is the guy that is going to get $400 million this year. Harper can do it all, and despite some ups and downs in Washington, is well deserved of a huge contract. Just about every team seems to be chasing after Harper, and the current betting lines are below.
The race to get Harper is a bit more wide open than the teams going after Machado. The Phillies seem to be very aggressive in signing Harper, but I think they will end up coming up short as Philly just isn’t a destination Harper will strongly consider. Harper wants to be in the national spotlight, so a couple of these smaller market teams aren’t truly in the running if you ask me.
As I said above, the Yankees should never be considered out of any free agent chase, but they are loaded in the outfield, and I am not sure Brian Cashman is going to want to pay Harper $400 million to learn to play first base. So, the Yankees are out of the running.
Another team that catches my eye is the Atlanta Braves at +2000. Atlanta is a year or two ahead of schedule and just happens to have a very young, very talented, core of players. The Braves just made win-now moves by picking up Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann and adding Harper to the mix would be a move that would vault them to the top of the national league. This team is ready to win and win now, don’t be shocked if they go all-in chasing Harper.
In a free agent class that is super top heavy with the likes of Machado and Harper stealing most of the headlines, we also have a solid second tier of guys that are absolutely going to be difference makers wherever they end up. In most seasons, guys like Craig Kimbrel and Nelson Cruz will be the best available on the market, not this year.
The Seattle Mariners are clearly blowing things up at this point. The winter meetings haven’t even hit yet, and they have already parted ways with Eddie Diaz, Robinson Cano, James Paxton, and Jean Segura. Nelson Cruz is next. Cruz has been one of the best power hitters in the game and has very quietly averaged forty homers and a hundred RBI in his four seasons with the M’s. He is getting old at thirty-eight, but his production has not fallen off a bit, and he is a bat that many teams would love to add.
The fact that Cruz is mainly a DH at this point cuts off the entire National League from seriously pursuing him. He could end up playing first base in the NL, but it’s doubtful so we will focus on the AL teams in pursuit. The Tampa Bay Rays seem to think they have the core of a playoff team and are looking to add some big names to the roster. But with Tampa’s history of being cheap in free agency, it would shock me to see the Rays actually sign a guy like Cruz.
The other team that is getting a lot of attention in the Cruz sweepstakes is his former team, the Texas Rangers. There is a thought that Cruz would like to return to the team that made him a superstar. But the move doesn’t make all that much sense either. The Rangers aren’t going to win their division so it would be a surprise to see them go after a short-term rental like Cruz.
The team that makes the most sense to sign Cruz is the Houston Astros. The Astros have a hole open at DH that Cruz would fill nicely. And adding his bat to their lineup would put them right back in the running for another trip to the World Series. Cruz is going to be pricey, and won’t be looking for a long-term deal, so a team that is ready to win now like Houston makes the most sense.
The market for Kimbrel seems to be a wide open one. They want to keep him in Boston, where he was an All-Star the last three years and helped Boston win the World Series. But Kimbrel seems to be wanting to push hard for a six-year deal that will likely make him the highest paid reliever ever. Six years is an eternity for a reliever, even one as good as Kimbrel. For comparison, Aroldis Chapman got just five years from the New York Yankees. The Red Sox have gone on record to say they won’t sign any reliever to a six-year deal, so it seems like he is leaving Beantown.
Teams being told that in initial ask, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel is looking for a six-year deal.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) 30 November 2018
As is the case for nearly every player on this list, the Phillies are interested in the fireball throwing Kimbrel. The Braves are also in talks of trying to bring Kimbrel back to Atlanta where he started his career. But his demands make it hard for any team that isn’t in desperation mode to sign him. The Cardinals are another team that has expressed interest in Kimbrel as they have missed the playoffs every year since 2015 and have a fanbase that demands winning now.
Unless Kimbrel comes off his high demands, and he likely will be forced to do so at some point, the only place I can see him landing is in Philly. The Phillies have been known to overpay for free agents in the past, and I think they are going to miss out on the big prizes in Harper and Machado and will be forced to “settle” for Kimbrel. If Kimbrel comes to his senses and takes a three- or four-year deal, staying right where he is at in Boston makes the most sense.
This last group of guys are guys that aren’t getting a lot of attention but are the type of free agent signings that can put a good team over the top and win you a title. Every year the teams that make the playoffs acquire a couple of guys to give them that final boost towards winning the World Series. These are those guys this year.
The All-Star third basemen would be a welcomed addition as a strong infielder with World Series winning experience. Moustakas underwhelmed a little bit in the second half of last year as he was traded from the Royals to the Brewers. But he is still a guy that should attract some heavy interest as he is a reliable bat and is still just thirty years old. Right now, the Cardinals appear to be the best fit for Moose as they went after third basemen Josh Donaldson and came up short, and Moustakas is the best third basemen available on the market, not named Manny Machado.
The Yankees missed out on signing Patrick Corbin, who was their top free agent pitching target and just signed a deal with the Washington Nationals. That leaves them trying to pick up the pieces of what’s left, and its pretty light when it comes to starting pitching. Eovaldi looked great in the postseason for Boston and is attracting interest from both New York and Philly, as well as the Red Sox. Now that Corbin is off the market, Eovaldi will get a lot of attention, and I think eventually he ends up in New York, as they badly need starting pitching depth and have the money to spend.
Keuchel is rumored to be going just about everywhere right now. The Cincinnati Reds are the unlikely leaders at the moment as they are aggressively pursuing him. Keuchel really struggled for much of last season and had he come into free agency two years ago after winning the Cy Young Award would have garnered a lot more attention. The Blue Jays and Nationals are also pursuing Keuchel, but it appears that nobody knows where this guy is headed. With Corbin off the market, the bidding for Keuchel could hit overdrive as the free agent market is shallow for starting pitching.
This last group of guys are the best non-Kimbrel, bullpen arms available. The expectation is that the Red Sox and Yankees will scoop up at least one of these guys each. These guys are likely going to remain on the market until Kimbrel finds his landing place, but you can argue that all of them have as much value as Kimbrel, and at a much more reasonable price. Britton has the highest upside as he was possibly the best reliever in the game, for several seasons in Baltimore before getting hurt recently. While Andrew Miller and David Robertson are both guys, any team would love to have working late innings out of their bullpens. These three signings won’t get the most headlines, but you can bet these will all be guys working meaningful innings next October.
This year is sizing up to be one of the best free agent signing classes ever. You have a couple of young superstars in their prime up top in Machado and Harper as well as impact players like Nelson Cruz, Craig Kimbrel, and Dallas Keuchel all looking for new homes.
With the winter meetings kicking off very soon, you can expect to see a flurry of moves that should drastically change the landscape of baseball for 2019! Thanks for reading and good luck betting baseball in 2019!