MLB Free Agency Predictions - Who is ready to see all of the top free agent signings predicted with 100% precision and foresight once again?
You know, like the time I predicted the Mets would sign Shin-Soo Choo and laughed about it. Or the time I predicted the Yankees would sign Max Scherzer and, judging by the outcome of this season, I was right to assume they should have done that. Or the time I predicted the Astros would sign Chris Davis and continue to wish that they had done that. Or the time I predicted the Rangers would sign Lance Lynn and was real salty about it (oops). Or the time last year when I predicted that the Rangers wouldn’t sign Manny Machado but really wished they would until A.J. Preller swooped in and ruined the dream.
Last year I predicted where the top 34 free agents would sign as a joke to help us lift the totally real curse of Nolan Ryan but it didn’t work so this year I will be predicting where the top 29 free agents will sign in honor of Adrian Beltre. I miss you every day, AB.
I used Fangraphs’ rankings to number the top 29 players available this winter but which city they will be spending their days playing baseball in 2020 has already been decided by my uncanny prognostications.
I’ve done all the work for you, MLB. You’re welcome:
1. Gerrit Cole, SP, Age 29 — Angels
In all the years I’ve been doing these predictions, the one thing I’ve learned is that the most obvious landing spots for the top free agents is never where they end up signing. Until now that is.
The Angels desperately want to stop being a national embarrassment from having Mike Trout and still losing, Cole’s from SoCal, and the Arte Moreno always has Boras-levels of money to spend (unless it is on Adrian Beltre). It just makes too much sense.
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Age 30 — Braves
Houston native Rendon will be rumored to join the Rangers all winter but Texas is a notorious stalking horse and, while the need is there, the Rangers are reportedly done with handing out deals for longer than five years and Rendon is going to want seven at least. It would be fun seeing Rendon man the middle of the lineup but the timing, age, dollars, and length probably doesn’t make sense for Texas.
All of those reasons do make sense for a team like the Braves who are trying to take that next step after an early October exit. Additionally, Atlanta would be weakening a divisional opponent by taking Rendon out of Washington.
3. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Age 31 — Nationals
There’s no way the Nationals finally win a World Series and let Bryce Harper, Rendon, AND Strasburg get away in basically a single calendar year. I’m willing to be surprised, and more than willing to see the Rangers take the plunge on him, but I really don’t see Strasburg as an actual free agent and see his opt out as more of an opportunity to renegotiate for more dosh from Washington.
4. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Age 34 — Phillies
Despite some bad blood over the course of this decade, Donaldson is a threat to sign with the Rangers if only because he’s a third baseman who would come on a shorter deal and is a former MVP who had a good, bounce back season for Atlanta last year.
The reasons he won’t sign with Texas is he more than likely wouldn’t be a factor by the time the Rangers are seriously fighting to make the playoffs again and, nearing his mid-30s, is also a risk to see his production fall off the map at any point. Instead, the Phillies are a team that disappointed in 2019 who will be in October-or-bust mode in 2020 making for a solid landing spot for Donaldson.
5. Yasmani Grandal, C, Age 31 — Reds
After a brutal season of watching Jeff Mathis catch for the Rangers, I’d love to see Yasmani Grandal land in Texas. However, Grandal apparently has seen his framing and receiving skills diminish of late which means he’s likely not a long term answer.
There are many teams who would like Grandal for the short term but I see a reunion with Cincinnati, the team that made him a first round pick in 2010, with the hopes of turning an up-and-coming Reds team into a contender.
6. Marcell Ozuna, LF/RF, Age 29 — Padres
It’s a make-or-break year for Preller as he convinced ownership last year to accelerate the rebuild by bringing in Manny Machado. The Padres still underachieved to a fourth consecutive 90-or-greater loss season.
While Ozuna was only ever merely good, not great, in St. Louis, he’s still the best outfielder on the market and San Diego can dream on the 5.0 win season he put up with the Marlins in 2017 as they try to get over the hump.
7. Madison Bumgarner, SP, Age 30 — Braves
It’s hard to believe that Madison Bumgarner is only 30 years old. With all the workhorse innings in San Francisco, and the extra frames he racked up in multiple deep October runs, the arm is perhaps the perceived age rather than the factual one as Bumgarner is now a good starter but no longer the lights out ace he once was. Nevertheless, Bumgarner could be a top-tier MORP option to pair with Mike Minor and Lance Lynn in Texas.
I see him heading to the southeast and plugging the hole in Atlanta left by the Dallas Keuchel experiment. The Braves have expectations of being in the playoffs and they’ll want to see if Bumgarner is still a legend in October.
8. Zack Wheeler, SP, Age 30 — Rangers
Hey look, the Rangers are signing someone! It may not be Gerrit Cole but it might just be the next best thing as Wheeler has the upside for an even bigger breakout after back-to-back seasons where he’s averaged 4.5 fWAR for the Mets.
Wheeler will be the same age as Bumgarner next season, and is an injury risk, but he’s proven himself to be healthy over the last two seasons and would give Texas a solid trio to lead the rotation as they open The Field.
Wheeler will also likely sign for or near the same amount as Bumgarner in both length and dollars but he comes with a little more upside as he has over a thousand fewer innings of mileage on his arm. He also won’t need a mega-length deal meaning the Rangers won’t be on the hook for his services past the point of usefulness.
One thing that could be reason for pause is Wheeler was extended a qualifying offer which means he comes with draft pick compensation detriment. That means the Rangers would lose a draft pick and money for their 2020 draft pool to sign Wheeler. Most of the starters of Wheeler’s caliber have the same penalty attached to them so if the Rangers want to bring in a top arm, they’re going to have to play ball even though they’ve been extremely aversion to the notion over the years.
A staff topped my Minor/Lynn/Wheeler would give the Rangers a solid chance to win on a majority of evenings while also developing young starters at the bottom of the rotation.
9. Didi Gregorius, SS, Age 30 — Brewers
It’s funny to think that it was the Brewers who had perhaps the best chance to eliminate the eventual champion Nationals when they led them in the Wild Card game into the eighth inning. A Washington rally sunk the Brewers’ season but it made for a rare second consecutive year that Milwaukee made some noise in October.
One way the Brewers could try to keep their run going, and add to Christian Yelich in the lineup, is by the addition of a shortstop after two straight years where starter Orlando Arcia was worth less than a win. Gregorius wasn’t great in limited action in New York last season after coming back from TJS but before 2019, his worst season as a full time starter would still have been worth over 1.5 wins over Arcia in each of the last two seasons.
10. Nicholas Castellanos, RF/LF, Age 28 — Marlins
Castellanos was fine in Detroit and fine in Chicago after he was traded to the Cubs and will be a fine addition to whichever team signs him but he doesn’t strike me as someone that teams will be fighting each other to sign too much so I see him ending up in Miami where he can be the star of a team that’s always going to be perpetually rebuilding instead of being the fourth or fifth best player on a contender.
11. Dallas Keuchel, SP, Age 32 — Twins
Dallas Keuchel was in this situation last year as a free agent and bet on himself by waiting until June to sign with the Braves after no long term offers came his way over the winter and spring.
Ultimately, the former Cy Young winner had half a season that when extrapolated was worth about a 1.5 wins. That’s probably not going to do much for his stock in free agency this year but he’s still a known quantity that I see bringing a veteran option to the AL Central winning Twins who will be looking for a starter or two.
12. Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP, Age 33 — Dodgers
Ryu is a guy the Rangers apparently like (and what’s not to like about an outrageous 1.01 WHIP?) but I just can’t see him leaving the Dodgers.
13. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Age 31 — Rangers
Why would the Rangers sign Mike Moustakas?
- They need a third baseman who isn’t Patrick Wisdom-tier ✓
- They don’t want to go above five years ✓
- They probably aren’t keen on the idea of giving up a(other) draft pick ✓
- They don’t want to spend a crazy amount on the position ✓
- They don’t want someone who will clog corner infield spots for years and years after investing heavily in the position in the minors ✓
The knock against Moustakas is that he’s a left handed batter and the Rangers have upwards of a billion of those on their roster already but Moustakas is good for about 2.5-3.0 fWAR every year which would have been second best among hitters in Texas last season behind only Joey Gallo.
You should expect the Rangers to sign one of the third basemen on the market. It just likely won’t be the two big names for a variety of reasons. Given where the team is at, that’s probably OK.
14. Kyle Gibson, SP, Age 32 — White Sox
Kyle Gibson is apparently pretty good now. When did that happen? The longtime Twin has put up consecutive 2.6 fWAR seasons following a couple of down years in Minnesota.
Gibson has always seemed like one of those quintessential Twins pitchers so it’s hard to see him outside of Minnesota so why not just move a little south but stay in the Midwest and remain in the AL Central to try to help the emerging White Sox overcome the Twins?
15. Will Smith, RP, Age 30 — Astros
Welcome to reliever town where I could just draw team names out of a hat and be as accurate with my predictions. Virtually any team that made the playoffs last season, or thinks they will make the playoffs in 2020, might sign Will Smith.
I’ll say the Astros sign him because they basically lost the World Series because their relievers didn’t come through after they had late leads with a chance to clinch in games 6 and 7.
That may not seem like much of a reason to spend millions of dollars for someone who might throw 50 or so innings but I also just wanted to bring up the fact that the Astros lost the World Series after they had late leads with a chance to clinch in games 6 and 7 again.
16. Jake Odorizzi, SP, Age 30 — Yankees
A Jake Odorizzi breakthrough in 2019 was a big reason for why the Twins were able to take the AL Central title. Odorizzi isn’t one of those quintessential Twins pitchers, however, because he’s a rare starter who didn’t really develop with the Tampa Bay Rays but flourished elsewhere for a team not known for developing pitchers.
Odorizzi totaled 6.9 fWAR in two seasons in Minnesota after totaling just 6.8 wins in five seasons for the Rays. After his breakout year where he was 7th in the league with 4.3 wins (Min. 150 IP), it’s time to cash in and join the Yankees where every feel-good story goes to die.
17. Yasiel Puig, RF/LF, Age 29 — Rays
Boy it would be fun if Puig signed with the Rangers, eh? Too bad Texas is elbow deep in outfielders and they can’t even find playing time for all of them. Making space for Puig probably isn’t even prudent as, though he has that entertainer flare of Adrian Beltre, he hasn’t been particularly good since 2017 and hasn’t been great in five years.
I see Puig taking a make-good short term deal to try to have a big season which he can parlay into a long term deal a year from now. A season with the Rays where he can make an impact on a pennant race for a team always looking for a deal sounds right to me.
18. Cole Hamels, SP, Age 36 — Phillies
The Hamels era in Texas is frustrating to look back on because, while he was good with the Rangers, it always seemed like something was holding him back here and his turnaround in Chicago kind of aids that point. A reunion in Texas isn’t likely.
Now, at 36, I see Hamels staying in the National League which means a reunion in Philadelphia makes sense for a team that is trying to find the right mix of veterans to pair with their youngsters to make a bid for October. Hamels won’t be asking for many years and will want to go to a team with a shot so the Phillies seem like a good fit.
19. Michael Pineda, SP, Age 31 — Astros
Hmm, a dude with all the talent in the world who hasn’t quite put it together because of injuries and ineffectiveness? Sounds like exactly the kind of starter the Astros turn into a TORP and he’ll come for pennies on the dollar for a team bumping up against the tax threshold.
20. Brett Gardner, CF/LF, Age 36 — Yankees
I can’t even conceive of a world where Brett Gardner isn’t a Yankee. They belong together.
21. Dellin Betances, RP, Age 32 — Cubs
It seems wild that Dellin Betances is two years older than Madison Bumgarner since it feels like Bumgarner has been around for decades and Betances has forever been “The Future” in New York.
As usual, relief signings are the ultimate crapshoot but the Cubs seem like a team that will take a chance on Betances returning to glory as they try to climb back to the top of the NL Central.
22. Will Harris, RP, Age 35 — Angels
Now former Houston Astros relief pitcher Will Harris was the losing pitcher of the deciding game of this year’s World Series. What an interesting fact that I enjoyed sharing!
The Angels will want to compete for the playoffs so let’s say Harris signs with Anaheim and costs them a Wild Card spot by allowing a home run to Howie Kendrick deep in September just to continue the schadenfreude fiesta.
23. Drew Pomeranz, RP/SP, Age 31 — Padres
Drew Pomeranz is like the Torii Hunter of pitchers where I’ve probably predicted that the Rangers would acquire him a dozen times by now. I won’t get fooled again. Pomeranz is a swing pitcher who now makes most of his appearances out of the bullpen but could become a starter for the Padres.
Of course, Pomeranz hasn’t been particularly good in a couple of seasons. Then again, he hasn’t had the chance to pitch at Petco Park in that time. When Pomeranz was a member of the Padres in 2016, he had a 2.47 ERA in 17 starts before landing a top prospect from the Red Sox for Preller at the deadline.
24. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B/DH, Age 37 — Rangers
Of the three signing for the Rangers that I have listed here, this one is the least plausible. The Rangers don’t really need a DH with Shin-Soo Choo and Willie Calhoun on the roster and they might not even be interested in a first baseman with them surely hoping Ronald Guzman’s offense finally catches up with his defense.
However, what Texas does need is right handed thunder and it wouldn’t hurt to bring that in on a cheap one-year deal while, bonus points, righting the Ruben Mateo trade wrong at the same time.
25. Howie Kendrick, 2B/1B/3B, Age 36 — Athletics
How can playoff hero Kendrick knock Will Harris and the Angels out of Wild Card contention in late September if he doesn’t sign with the pesky Oakland A’s? Also, the Athletics might not bring back Jurickson Profar so Kendrick can just slide in as the keystone partner to Marcus Semien for the perpetually overachieving A’s.
26. Travis d’Arnaud, C, Age 31 — Astros
I’ll be honest, before looking it up, I had no for which team d’Arnaud played last season. Turns out, it was three teams as he went from the Mets to the Dodgers and then to the Rays where he spent most of the year. I see d’Arnaud taking over at catcher for the Astros since they will need someone to handle the staff with Robinson Chirinos also a free agent.
27. Tanner Roark, SP, Age 33 — Brewers
Tanner Roark is one of those sneaky MORP-tier starters who seem to always land on mid-market teams and thrive. That’s exactly the kind of player the Milwaukees of the world court and need to fill in as quality pieces to keep pace with the big market teams. Then again, maybe he signs with Boston who, believe it or not, won the World Series 12 months ago.
28. Adam Wainwright, SP, Age 38 — Cardinals
I’m as surprised as you to realize that Adam Wainwright is still playing baseball professionally. Wainwright is the Brett Gardner of pitchers. He’s not going anywhere.
29. Avisail Garcia, RF/LF, Age 29 — Indians
The Cleveland Indians were the unfortunate third team in the three-team race for the two Wild Card spots in the American League in 2019. They tried to bring in Yasiel Puig as the missing piece in their lineup but they fell short by a few games.
Cleveland will therefore need some help in the outfield so why not take away a solid performer from the team that just beat you out of a playoff spot? It’s a win-win.
The Rangers sign former prize of the Michael Young trade Josh Lindblom back from Korea where he went an absurd 20-3 with a 2.50 era for Doosan in the KBO to compete as the fourth or fifth starter, bring back Pedro Strop because every team signs a reliever who was once a closer, and land utility infielder Brock Holt as Ronald Guzman/Rougned Odor/Nick Solak insurance.