The 2019 World Series is in the books after the Washington Nationals continued a wildly entertaining and historic run to capture their first world championship in franchise history.
With the end of the World Series comes the beginning of free agency. MLB free agency opens five days after the conclusion of free agency, meaning Monday is the day when pen can be put to paper after the conclusion of the five-day negotiating window.
According to ESPN, there are 131 free agents set to hit the market. There’s also some doozies at the top.
At the online betting site BetOnline, there are odds available for where four of the top free agents could land for the 2020 campaign and most likely, beyond. Let’s take a look at the players, potential landing spots along with odds and finally predict where these superstars could land.
Anthony Rendon – Washington Nationals
Like with all of these players, suitors will need to open up the cheque book in a big way if they want to land Rendon.
Formerly playing under Bryce Harper’s shadow with the Nationals, Rendon put together an MVP-caliber season that included a league-leading 126 RBI, 34 home runs, a 154 wRC+ and 7.0 fWAR. His fWAR ranked seventh in all of baseball and fourth in the National League.
If that weren’t enough, Rendon proved he’s capable of showing up when it matters the most as he hit .328 with three home runs and seven doubles to go along with a 1.003 OPS this postseason. He homered in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series to help propel the Nats to two more upset wins on the road.
As far as bats in the free agent market go, it’s Rendon at the top and everyone else below him. He’s been productive almost from the get-go, he really hit his stride in the 2017 season and at 29 should have many more elite seasons ahead of him. He certainly looks worthy of a long-term megadeal, and he’ll likely have his choice of several offers this winter.
Prediction: Nationals (+150)
Like they reportedly did with Harper, the Nationals attempted to prevent Rendon from hitting the open market with a reported seven-year offer somewhere between $210-215 million in the final days of the regular season.
Rendon didn’t sign the offer as expected as he’ll hear offers from other suitors before likely circling back to the only franchise he’s ever known.
While the Nationals went big-game hunting on the pitching market with their six-year deal with Patrick Corbin, they also have Stephen Strasburg hitting the open market on Monday and saved a lot of money in not coming to terms with Harper before he departed for the rival Philadelphia Phillies.
I don’t get the sense that Rendon is overly interested in leaving D.C. If the reported offer is indeed correct, he turned down $30.7 million annually over seven years from the Nats, but that is likely only because he wants to see what the market offers him first before settling on a decision. If it came down to it, I could see the Nats taking a couple more million per season, if need be, to retain their star third baseman.
My sense is that both the player and team want to reunite. The Nationals still have the makings of a contender even if Strasburg signs elsewhere and keeping Rendon cements that notion. It might not offer the most value, but I have a hard time seeing him land anywhere else but Washington this winter.
Value Pick: Angels (+900)
If you are indeed looking for more value, I’d take the Angels. Los Angeles has absolutely no choice but to remain a win-now team in the Mike Trout era and just hired Joe Maddon to take over the reins of a possible 2020 contender.
On top of the organization’s mentality, there’s also the gaping hole at third base in Anaheim. The oft-injured Zack Cozart, David Fletcher and Matt Thaiss all saw duty at the hot corner in 2019, however none hold a candle to what Rendon can bring to the table.
The Angels’ biggest needs remains in the rotation, however, given the lack of options at third base, Rendon fits easily into that lineup and big-game offensive upgrades aren’t the worst thing in the world. If owner Arte Moreno is indeed willing to spend big this offseason, filling the third base void with perhaps the best option in the league at that position certainly wouldn’t hurt their cause.
Gerrit Cole – Houston Astros
The 2019 AL Cy Young Award is a fascinating race, mostly because it involves a pair of (former) teammates in the Astros’ Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. While it’s a regular season award, Cole demonstrated in the postseason that he is indeed the most dominant pitcher on the planet right now and will command a massive deal on the open market this winter as a result.
Cole, 29, pitched to a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP and 2.48 xFIP to go along with a league-leading 13.82 K/9 clip. It was his second consecutive season of domination after being acquired by the Astros, however he improved almost across the board from his elite 2018 season in 2019.
After dominating the regular season, all Cole did in the playoffs was pitch to a 1.72 ERA across five starts and 36.2 frames with his 47 strikeouts representing an 11.69 K/9 clip. Cole now owns a career 2.60 ERA across 62.5 postseason frames.
While not every team listed above is in deed of pitching, most are. The Angels, Padres and Phillies would go down as three clubs that would require front-line starter while Cole would simply be a huge addition to the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers who aren’t exactly hurting for starting pitching heading towards 2020.
Prediction: Phillies (+750)
Now, the biggest obstacle for the Phillies here would be the money as they just dished out a 13-year megadeal to Bryce Harper last winter and will need to decide on whether or not to extend elite catcher J.T. Realmuto who is headed for free agency after next season.
However, they have to be among the most desperate teams in the league right now. Not only did the Phillies add Harper last winter, but also signed Andrew McCutchen and traded for Realmuto, Jean Segura and David Robertson. It was a series of all-in moves for GM Matt Klentak, but the end result was a fourth-place finish in the NL East – eight games back of the second Wild Card spot.
The roster is still built to win now and the offense – at least on paper – should be good enough to win. Where they are lacking is within the rotation. Aaron Nola is an ace-type figure at the top, however some combination of Zach Eflin, Jason Vargas, Vince Velasquez, Jake Arrieta and Jared Eickhoff behind him doesn’t exactly appear to be a championship-caliber group.
Adding Cole to the top gives the Phillies a pair of aces to build their rotation around and immediately makes them better. Perhaps they need to make the money side of things work before doing so, however the Phillies’ win-now mentality makes them a contender in the Cole sweepstakes – and a valuable one at +750.
Madison Bumgarner – San Francisco Giants
While he’s just one year older than Cole, the free agent situation Bumgarner finds himself in is quite different.
While Cole has gone from good to flat-out elite over the last couple of seasons, Bumgarner has seen the opposite trajectory take place as some heavy workloads and consistent 200-inning seasons from earlier in his career seemed to have taken their toll of late.
He bounced back nicely with 207.2 innings of 3.90 ERA baseball last season, however he pitched just 240.2 innings in 2017 and 2018 combined. From a run-prevention standpoint, however, that 3.90 ERA goes down as the worst number of his career.
Given that he’s entering his early 30s, teams will certainly look at Bumgarner with many questions marks in terms of both durability and productivity. As a result, expect his term and dollar figure to be substantially lower than that of Cole.
That said, there’s plenty of teams that could use a Madison Bumgarner in their rotation even if he is no longer a front-line starter.
Prediction: Braves (+150)
I strongly considered the Yankees here as I believe they’ll be in the market to add a starter, but the Steinbrenner sons haven’t spent nearly as lavishly as their father did, and I don’t think they’ll start with an over-30 arm with recent injury and performance issues. Keep in mind they should get a healthy Luis Severino back to lead a rotation that also includes Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ.
The Braves aren’t as deep in the rotation. They received more than they could ever ask for from youngster Mike Soroka while Mike Foltynewicz recovered from his early-season struggles to dominate down the stretch – his Game 5 start against the Cardinals notwithstanding.
However, after that it’s Max Fried and Julio Teheran. Certainly not terrible, but I see room for an addition like Bumgarner who could slot in anywhere in that rotation and give Brian Snitker another starting option come playoff time. Of course, Bumgarner’s postseason pedigree speaks for itself with a 2.11 ERA across 102.1 postseason frames and three World Series rings to his credit.
He’s not an ace, and you could argue the Braves don’t truly have designated “ace” in their rotation. However, there’s nothing wrong with having a balanced rotation from one to five to complement one of baseball’s best offenses. There’s most definitely a fit between player and team here.
Stephen Strasburg – Washington Nationals
At 31, Strasburg is the oldest member of the ‘Big Four’ free agent group, however he’s certainly heading to the open market on a high note after winning World Series MVP during a playoff run in which he pitched to a 5-0 record and 1.98 ERA and also won a do-or-die Game 5 in Los Angeles over a heavily-favored Dodgers team.
He also posted a 3.32 ERA, 3.25 FIP and 3.17 xFIP across 209 regular season innings – the second-most innings he’s pitched in his big league career and most since hurling 215 frames in 2014. Those inning totals are the biggest question marks as he’s struggled to stay healthy throughout his big league career and also has a 2010 Tommy John surgery under his belt.
Tommy John surgery is said to have a shelf life of 7-8 years, which puts Strasburg’s long-term health in serious question as the 2020 season will be 10 years since the operation. Every case is different, however, and Strasburg has been flat-out brilliant when on a big league mound to the tune of a 3.17 ERA, 2.96 FIP and 2.95 xFIP to go along with a 10.60 K/9 across 239 starts and 1,438.2 big league frames. For good measure, he owns a career 112-58 record with a 6-2 postseason record alongside a 1.46 ERA in 55.1 playoff innings.
Prediction: Padres (+1000)
A reunion with Washington is clearly very much in the cards. I spoke about the Yankees’ rotation situation earlier and I’m ruling out the Red Sox who still have a good rotation – at least on paper – and are apparently going to be budgeting much tighter moving forward.
The Angels will be in the mix to be sure, as will the Phillies as I noted in my Gerrit Cole portion. That said, I’ll go all the way to the bottom and give my vote to the Padres.
For one, Strasburg is indeed from San Diego and played collegiately at San Diego State under the late Tony Gwynn where he pitched for three seasons. Furthermore, both of Strasburg’s parents went to school at San Diego State. I’m already liking these odds.
There’s also the notable fact that the Padres are entering a contention window. Chris Paddack emerged as their resident ace last season as a rookie, but outside of Paddack, the Padres lack front-of-the-line rotation pieces. The offense is laced with talent and San Diego owns one of the top farm systems in baseball. Now is the time for them to go big-game hunting in search of an ace to both strengthen and lengthen their rotation.
Who better than the hometown boy coming off a World Series MVP? Give me the Padres at some seriously valuable +1000 odds.