Predicting Where the Top MLB Free Agents Will End Up

Okay, a few things to get out of the way before I dig in…

  1. I’m working the Top 10 free agents that COULD be of interest to the Cardinals…no point in going nuts on all the rest.  For the record: I don’t see the Cardinals chasing any big name right handed starting pitchers so you won’t see any of them in here.
  2. My predictions are rooted in widely published reports but there’s a good bit of my own opinion/analysis mixed in as well.
  3. I know a bunch of these predictions will be wrong and I’m okay with that!
  4. I’ll get into numbers with some of the deals but not all of them.

Here we go!

1. Bryce Harper – signs with the Phillies

As of today I think the Cardinals are legitimately considering a run at Harper but I don’t think they’ll go as crazy as Philly will. They have a TON of payroll space and, unlike the Cardinals, they’ve been really bad lately – they haven’t had a winning season since 2011 and from 2012-2018 they averaged just 72 wins. They need to do something huge this offseason and I think signing Harper will be the big move.

They have really good depth, a lot of cheap talented players and they have enough financial resources to sign Harper AND and another proven starting pitcher.

They’re more desperate than the Cardinals (as well as other Harper contenders) and that’s why I think they’ll win the bidding war.

2.  Manny Machado – signs with the White Sox

Like the Phillies, the White Sox are getting desperate to turn things back around. They have a fickle fan base and they’ve saved a bunch of money the last 5-6 years. Combine that with the fact that they have the unique opportunity to grab a 26 year-old star in his prime to go with their other young, premium offensive players and this seems like a natural fit. 3B is wide open right now so if Manny will play there it’s an easy fit. If he insists on playing SS they can move some things around – there’s already talk that they may move Yoan Moncada from 2B to CF and that could lead to Tim Anderson sliding over to 2B…or Yolmer Sanchez playing 2B with Anderson sliding to 3B. However it has to work they can make it work. Combine Machado with Moncada, Jose Abreu, and uber prospect Eloy Jimenez and you have a pretty nice looking middle of the order to build around.

3. Josh Donaldson – signs with the Cardinals

If the Cards miss out on Harper and Machado then Donaldson is the next best FA option. Sure, they could explore the trade market (and I’d be fine with that) but that’s a difficult market to read and this is a blog about free agents! I think he’ll get 2-3 years and more than $20 million a year…and that could be a bargain if he’s healthy. Look, he suffered from a calf injury last season. That’s not exactly the kind of injury that causes long-term problems for baseball players. I’m betting on Donaldson continuing to be an All-Star caliber player over the next 2 seasons, at least.

From 2015-2018 he ranks 6th in MLB in wRC+ (150 – 50% above the average Major League player) and even last year when he missed 100+ games he posted 1.3 fWAR, which comes out to 3.9 fWAR over the course of an entire season. Matt Carpenter was the only Cardinals player higher than 3.9 fWAR last year…and that’s where Donaldson would have been in a DOWN YEAR when he was dealing with an injury. Will he be the MVP candidate from 2015-2017? Probably not. Will he probably be 20-30% above average offensively and finish in the 5-6 fWAR range…yep, I think he will. Fangraphs’ Steamer projections have him as a 131 wRC+ and 4.6 WAR in 130 games (27 HR as well)…so if he can play 140-145 games you’re looking at close to a 5 fWAR and 30 HR. That’ll work, guys, that’ll really work.

4. Patrick Corbin – signs with the Angels

The Angels are getting desperate. Most of their good pitchers have had significant health problems recently, including Shohei Ohtani. They have two years left to convince Mike Trout to stay with their franchise so they’d better start doing something to make it look like he’ll have a chance at winning something someday. Their lineup should at least be decent but they need a top of the rotation starter, at least, to begin thinking about being a playoff team. I think they’ll win the bidding war.

5. Dallas Keuchel – signs with the Yankees

They need pitching more than anything and they’re ready to win now so getting a guy with playoff experience and a World Series ring makes a lot of sense. They can afford anything they want and they like LHP for Yankee Stadium. If they miss on Corbin I don’t think they’ll miss on Keuchel.

6. Craig Kimbrel – signs with the Angels

I really see Arte Moreno paying up this offseason. Same reasons here as for Keuchel…count all of this as an investment in trying to convince Trout to spend his career with the Angels. The Angels have some nice bullpen arms but Keynan Middleton is recovering from Tommy John and they don’t have anyone that should keep them from pursuing Kimbrel.

7. Andrew Miller – signs with the Red Sox

This is simple – they’re losing Kimbrel and Joe Kelly. They need a proven weapon at the back end and they have a relationship already in place with Miller.

8. Zach Britton – signs with the Cardinals has Britton getting 3 years and $33 million…if that’s the price tag then the Cardinals need to jump. They need some more certainty at the back end of the bullpen and having Britton would allow the team to deploy Jordan Hicks in the Andrew Miller/Josh Hader role of the fireman who can come in any time from the 6th inning on to shut things down. I know his numbers the last couple of years don’t match his peak years but he was also dealing with injuries – and NOT arm injuries, he had an achilles and a knee injury. He’ll turn 31 years old in December so he’s not “old” for a late inning reliever and his sinker was still 94.8 MPH last year and opponents hit just .217 against that pitch, which is his bread and butter.

The sinker for Britton is what the cutter is for Kenley Jansen. I believe that with a healthy offseason he’ll pick up the 1 MPH he lost from 2017 to 2018 and while he may never again be what he was 2014-2016 he will very likely be a strong closer moving forward. His swing and miss rate will go back up, IMO, but even if it doesn’t go all the way back to where it was he gets a ton of ground balls. Also of note: he doesn’t have the wear and tear on his arm that Andrew Miller or Craig Kimbrel have.

9. A.J. Pollock – signs with the White Sox

Instead of moving Moncada to CF they can slide him over to LF and put the more proven defender, Pollock, in CF. They need pitching too but they have ways of saving some money for this, including by trading or non-tendering Avisail Garcia.

10. Michael Brantley – signs with the Rays

They’re looking for a bat and Brantley would fit nicely as the primary DH for the Rays with Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier and Austin Meadows in the OF. He’s a veteran bat, puts the ball in play and has good power. I’ve seen that Tampa has interest in Donaldson so if they have the money to look at that then they should have the money to pay less for a veteran like Brantley.

11. Andrew McCutchen – signs with the Indians

The Indians need some more right handed presence in their lineup and McCutchen will likely be relatively inexpensive as the Tribe seeks to replace Brantley with another veteran so they can make another playoff push.

12. Kelvin Herrera – signs with the Red Sox

Coming off a foot injury I think he’ll get a one-year prove it deal and what better place to rebuild value than with the World Series champs?

13. Mike Moustakas – signs with the Angels

Zack Cozart moves over to 2B and makes room for another bat as the Angels make their push with a good defender with some pop who will probably be relatively cheap.

14. Joe Kelly – signs with the Dodgers

They’ll look for bullpen help to get to Kenley Jansen and Kelly won’t be all that expensive considering LA Times reports that the Dodgers want to stay under the luxury tax threshold for at least the next four seasons.

15. Yusei Kikuchi – signs with the Nationals

They need another SP with Gio Gonzalez leaving and Kikuchi won’t be super expensive. He’s a 27 year-old lefty who has had a good bit of success in Japan and he’d add some long term balance to Washington’s rotation. The Nats will have tons of money to spend if they want to…but they might also try to get something done long term with Anthony Rendon rather then spend big money on a premier starting pitcher with a bigger salary than Kikuchi figures to demand.

More: ESPN’s Kurkjian Sees Phillies, Cubs as Potential Bryce Harper Landing Spots