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MLB Free Agency Predictions: Where Will the Biggest Names Land

The MLB General Manager Meetings officially kick off this week, which means that free agency is right around the corner. Though a number of would-be free agents signed extensions in spring training, there is no shortage of talent among this year’s free agency crop. Here’s where I expect the biggest names to land.

1. Gerrit Cole, SP

Cole is the best pitcher to enter the free-agent market in recent memory, and will almost certainly receive the largest contract ever given to a pitcher. Since coming to Houston, Cole has led the majors with 602 strikeouts while throwing 200 innings in each season. He followed up his likely Cy Young season with a dominant October that proved just how unhittable he is. Entering his age 29 season, he will be more desirable than other recent free-agent pitchers like Zach Greinke (free agent at 32) and David Price (30). Based on the Astros’ financial flexibility and comments, it seems unlikely that Cole will stay in Houston. The odds point toward the Angels, who play in Cole’s hometown and have a desperate need for starting pitching.

Possible Suitors: Astros, Angels, Braves, Padres, Phillies, Yankees

Prediction: Cole signs with Angels for 8 years/$260 million

 

2. Anthony Rendon, 3B

Rendon was already in line for a major payday this offseason after an MVP-caliber regular season. Now, after a monster postseason, he is looking for a contract in the Harper/Machado range. There is nothing that Rendon can’t do on a baseball diamond. He’s hit .300 for three straight years. He’s coming off a season with 78 extra-base hits. He plays fantastic defense. And, as he proved in October, he comes through when it matters most. Though many teams will attempt to sign Rendon, nobody knows his value more than the Nationals, and you can bet they will do whatever it takes to keep him in D.C.

Possible Suitors: Phillies, Nationals, Cardinals, Brewers, Angels, White Sox

Prediction: Rendon re-signs with the Nationals for 9 years/$270 million

 

3. Stephen Strasburg, SP

Speaking of Nationals dominating in October, Strasburg continued his postseason dominance while leading the Nationals to a World Series title. His 1.46 postseason ERA is the best among active pitchers. Though he likely will never live up to the generational pitcher he was expected to be after going first overall in the 2009 draft, he has developed into a durable (20+ starts in each of the past eight seasons) and dominant (3.17 career ERA, three seasons over 200 strikeouts) starting pitcher. However, if the Nationals re-sign Rendon, they likely won’t have the money to do the same to Strasburg. Of all the teams that could make a run at him, the Padres make the most sense. They are a young team that has the talent to compete in a year or two and have a clear need for a starting pitcher to go along with rising star Chris Paddack. Throw in the fact Strasburg grew up in California and went to college at San Diego State and this is a perfect match. 

Possible Suitors: Yankees, Angels, Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Reds Brewers, Padres

Prediction: Strasburg signs with the Padres for 6 years/$200 million

 

4. Zack Wheeler, SP

Of all the players on this list, Wheeler may be the most interesting. The former top prospect missed two full seasons with injuries from 2015-2016 and then had an ERA over five in 2017. Over the past two years, however, he has stayed healthy enough to make sixty starts and had an ERA under four in each year. So who is the real Wheeler? He is a risk, but he has the stuff (7th highest average fastball velocity among starters) to dominate for the foreseeable future. A desperate team in win-now mode could be all over him, and no team fits that definition more than the Yankees. 

Possible suitors: Yankees, Twins, Angels, Astros, Braves, Phillies, Mets, Reds, Brewers, Padres

Prediction: Wheeler to the Yankees for 4 years/$88 million

 

5. Yasmani Grandal, C

Grandal is constantly overlooked, but he might be the best catcher in baseball besides J.T Realmuto. Along with consistently being among the top framers in the game, Grandal provides the coveted power/patience combination (28 HRs/109 BB). The problem for Grandal is that there are not many teams in need of a catcher. Like Rendon, nobody knows Grandal’s value more than his current team, the Brewers, which makes it likely they will do whatever it takes to resign him.

Possible Suitors: Astros, Angels, Braves, Reds, Brewers, Padres, Rockies

Prediction: Grandal re-signs with the Brewers for 3 years/$52 million

 

6. Josh Donaldson, 3B

Though not the same player he was in his MVP heyday, Donaldson proved in 2019 he is still a valuable player. He hit 37 home runs to go along with 94 RBIs and a .900 OPS. Going into his age 34 season, he is still worthy of a multi-year contract, though likely with an AL team in need of a DH. With the White Sox losing out on J.D Martinez when he re-signed with the Red Sox, it makes all the sense in the world for them to go after Donaldson.

Possible Suitors: Blue Jays, White Sox, Indians, Rangers, Braves, Reds, 

Prediction: Donaldson sign with the White Sox for 2 years/$45 million

 

7. Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP

Ryu was in line for a monster payday before slipping a bit in the second half. Still, Ryu finished the year with a 2.32 ERA and is a finalist for the NL Cy Young award. His mediocre stuff and low strikeout rate project him more as a mid-rotation starter moving forward, but that still has a ton of value in today’s free-agent market. Entering his age 33 season, signing Ryu won’t require a long-term commitment, which means a ton of teams will be in on him. That being said, the Phillies would be a great fit for him with their lack of starting pitchers behind Aaron Nola. 

Possible Suitors: Yankees, White Sox, Angels, Rangers, Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Reds, Padres, Dodgers, Rockies

Prediction: Ryu signs with the Phillies for 3 years/$45 million

 

8. Madison Bumgarner, SP

Bumgarner’s reputation and postseason resume will generate interest from many teams, but he is not the same pitcher he once was. Since his last all-star season in 2016, MadBum’s ERA (2.74 to 3.90), HR/9 (1.0 to 1.3), H/9 (7.1 to 8.3) and WHIP (1.02 to 1.12) have all gone up while his K/9 (10.0 to 8.8) has gone down. Despite falling from the top tier of elite pitchers, he still has plenty of value. Except for two years cut short by freak injuries in 2017 and 2018, he has thrown over 200 innings every year since 2011, while still producing at a league-average rate. A team looking for a veteran anchor to their pitching staff would be a perfect fit for Bumgarner. 

Possible Suitors: Yankees, Twins, Rangers, Angels, Astros, Braves, Phillies, Brewers, Padres

Prediction: Bumgarner to the Braves for 4 years/$70 million

 

9. Nicholas Castellanos, RF

Castellanos’ value skyrocketed after being traded to the Cubs at the trade deadline as he hit .321 with 16 home runs in just 51 games. The home run surge was especially key, as Castellanos was not considered an elite slugger in Detroit as many of his home runs were turned into doubles by the spacious Comerica Park. Castellanos proved in Chicago he can be a legitimate middle of the order bat, and at 27, he could be looking at a monster, long term deal. However, with no real defensive value and no all-star appearances to his belt, it’s a question to whether any team will give him a mega-deal with just half a season of stardom under his belt. A team desperate for a star, such as the Texas Rangers, may be the one to do that. 

Possible Suitors: Twins, White Sox, Rangers, Angels, Phillies, Cubs, 

Prediction: Castellanos to the Rangers for 5 years/$95 million

 

10. Marcell Ozuna, LF

What to make of Marcell Ozuna? It’s safe to say he is not the .314/37/120 superstar he was in 2017 with the Marlins. Since being traded to the Cardinals after that season, he has been just over league average offensively (106 OPS+), though he has hit 52 home runs over two years. He’s not a middle-of-the-order bat, but in an outfielder market as weak as this one, he still has value. He is also just 29, so he should remain a productive player for the foreseeable future. 

Possible Suitors: Indians, Twins, Rangers, Mets, Reds, Giants

Prediction: Ozuna to the Indians for 5 years/$90 million

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