Presented today is a look at this winter’s top 111 free agents. I’m excluding players whose options are certain to be exercised and also international players who would have to be posted.
Players are ranked based on how I expect teams will view them, not on how I view them myself. Essentially, they’re listed from predicted biggest contract to smallest, using my own patented adjustments for multiyear deals.
All ages are as of April 1, 2020.
1. Gerrit Cole (29, SP, Astros): Let’s set some records. To date, the biggest contract for a pitcher is David Price’s seven-year, $217 million pact with the Red Sox signed four years ago. Justin Verlander has the highest annual salary at $33 million as part of his two-year extension starting next year. After leading the AL in ERA and strikeouts at age 28 and crushing four of his five postseason starts, Cole is in line for at least $35 million per year in his new deal. Something like $300 million for eight years could be in play, and six years and $210 million should be his floor.
2. Stephen Strasburg (31, SP, Nationals): Even if he wants to remain with the Nationals, opting out of the last four years and $100 million on his contract is a no-brainer for Strasburg at this point. Coming off a season in which he led the NL in wins and innings while striking out 251 batters, he’s looking at a salary bump to the $30 million-$35 million range. The Nats could offer to tack on an extra year and $50 million to his current deal and hope it’s enough.
3. Anthony Rendon (29, 3B, Nationals): Rendon had a 109 OPS+ in 487 big-league games through age 26. In the three years since, he’s come in at 139, 137 and 153, and he led the NL in RBI last season. He turns 30 in June and his defense has already slipped some, so while he’s obviously a $30 million player right now, he might not rate as a superstar for too much longer. A win-now team could still go to $150 million for five years.
4. Madison Bumgarner (30, SP, Giants): Although he’s a year younger than Strasburg, Bumgarner is viewed as being on the downside of his career. Still, while his ERA shot up again last season, he showed his best velocity since 2015, finished with his best strikeout rate since 2016 and ranked just behind Strasburg for second in the NL in innings pitched. It’s not at all likely that Bumgarner will go back to contending for Cy Young Awards, but he should remain above average, and he’s at least as good of a bet as any of the other top starters to make 30 starts per year for the next few seasons. A four-year deal in the $90 million-$100 range sounds right.
5. Yu Darvish (33, SP, Cubs): Darvish’s exceptional second half (2.76 ERA, ridiculous 118/7 K/BB ratio in 81 2/3 IP) has opened the door for him to opt out of the final four years and $81 million left on his six-year deal with the Cubs, but there still wouldn’t seem to be much reason for him to do so unless he’s unhappy in Chicago (which hardly seems to be the case). That he’d likely be saddled with a qualifying offer would hurt his chances of improving on his current deal.
Editor’s Note: Darvish will not opt out of his contract and will remain with Cubs.
6. Zack Wheeler (29, SP, Mets): Wheeler stayed healthy again last season and threw 195 innings with 195 strikeouts. The performance was definitely something of a let down -- he ended up with a 3.96 ERA and a 102 ERA+ -- but the peripherals weren’t far off from his more encouraging 2018 and his velocity hit a new high. He’s the one guy high on this list that a team can look at and believe his best days are still to come. The Mets seem to be hoping that the disappointing showing will keep him in their price range, but someone is probably going to step up and offer him $80 million for four years.
7. J.D. Martinez (32, DH-OF, Red Sox): Rendon outhit him last season, but with a 159 OPS+ the last three years, Martinez still seems like the biggest lineup boost available. First, though, Martinez would have to opt out of his Red Sox contract and bet he can do better than $60 million for three years in free agency. He is worth more than that, but his market should be pretty limited, as it’s unclear whether any NL teams would pursue him as an outfielder. He had to settle for $22 million per year last time around, even though he was two years younger and there was no qualifying offer penalty (there would be this time).
8. Nicholas Castellanos (28, OF, Cubs): Given his youth (he’s just turning 28 in March) and durability, Castellanos is the surest thing in free agency. Still, his value will likely draw a rather wide range of opinions. Castellanos’s career high OPS+ is 128, which is a mark pretty much every other hitter in the top 50 here has cleared at least once and usually more than that, and he’s a liability in the outfield, though not to the same degree that he was a couple of years ago. The former third baseman probably makes the most sense at first base, but he’s never played there. His stellar run with the Cubs (.321/.356/.646 in 225 PA) will help his chances of receiving $20 million annually, but it’s hard to say if the total package is worth it.
9. Josh Donaldson (34, 3B, Braves): Donaldson made good on his one-year, $23 million deal with the Braves, turning in a six-WAR season that demonstrated his injury-limited 2018 campaign season was an aberration. Unfortunately, Donaldson is 34 now, and he’s a worse bet on a long-term deal than he was a year ago. A two-year deal at that same $23 million salary he’s made the last two seasons would be fair.
10. Marcell Ozuna (29, OF, Cardinals): Ozuna enters free agency three years removed from his one great season. His decline in 2018 could be attributed to his shoulder injury, but he proved no better in 2019, and he spent the last five months as a barely average regular. Still, he’s a little bit unfairly maligned. Some spectacularly bad defensive plays have given him a poor defensive reputation, but the numbers say he’s fine. He’s never played in a good ballpark for right-handed power, and his worst OPS+ the last four years is a 106 mark. He’s probably a better option for Castellanos for a team in need of an outfielder, but he’ll likely go for less, in part because he’ll get a qualifying offer.
11. Hyun-Jin Ryu (33, SP, Dodgers): Ryu took a $17.9 million qualifying offer last winter and went on to lead the NL in ERA while throwing almost as many innings (183) as he did the previous four seasons combined (214). He almost seems like too big of an injury risk to command more than a two-year deal this winter, but he’s in a similar situation to where Rich Hill was when the Dodgers gave him a three-year, $48 million contract. Since that worked out pretty well for the Dodgers, maybe we’ll see something similar here.
12. Aroldis Chapman (32, RP, Yankees): Chapman’s five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees was set up to pay him $56 million over the first three years and $30 million in the last two, which should make it a pretty easy call for him to opt out now. A 2.21 ERA and 37 saves in 57 innings made Chapman’s 2019 his best season since 2016. It seems likely that he’ll remain with the Yankees, perhaps on a three-year deal in the $50 million range.
13. Yasmani Grandal (31, C, Brewers): Grandal’s career is a contradiction. He’s been prone to seemingly ever-lasting slumps, yet his year-to-year numbers have been awfully consistent. On defense, he’s been looked at as a liability by some because of his issues blocking balls and mediocre arm, yet his outstanding pitch framing easily outweighs his deficiencies. He’s earned a long-term deal this winter, but at age 31, it’s still pretty risky to give him one; catchers like Grandal have tended to age poorly. A one-year, $20 million contract or a three-year deal in the $50 million range could be in play here.
14. Jake Odorizzi (30, SP, Twins): Odorizzi is throwing harder than ever before and getting a bunch more strikeouts, but he’s still an extreme flyball pitcher who struggles to work deep into games; he averaged just 5 1/3 innings a start while amassing his 3.51 ERA last season. How he’s valued will hinge on whether teams believe his recent exceptional home run-per-flyball rate is a fluke or not. Perhaps some team will go to $56 million-$60 million for four years.
15. Jose Abreu (33, 1B, White Sox): Abreu led the AL with 123 RBI last season, but it came with a modest enough 119 OPS+. He also finished at 117 in 2018 after coming in at 142 over his first four big-league seasons. Given the bargain-basement rates first basemen go for these days, it’d seem to be a mistake to pay Abreu $15 million-$18 million per year for his age 33, 34 and 35 seasons. Still, the White Sox want him back and will likely work something out.
16. Dallas Keuchel (32, SP, Braves): Considering the way things have gone for other free agents to sign mid-season, Keuchel amassing a 3.75 ERA in his 19 starts for the Braves rates as quite impressive. His velocity and groundball rates aren’t much different now than when he won his Cy Young in 2015. Of course, the game has changed since then, and it’s unlikely Keuchel will ever go back to resembling an ace. However, he’s still good enough to work in the middle of a rotation for a contender. He won’t get a qualifying offer this time around, which should help his chances of landing a two- or three-year deal.
17. Will Smith (30, RP, Giants): Smith should be on every contender’s want list; not only has he showed himself to be a capable closer, but against lefties the last two years, he’s had 72 strikeouts compared to 23 hits and two walks allowed in 144 plate appearances. Since he can help everyone, he might beat the three-year, $39 million contract that Zack Britton got from the Yankees last winter.
18. Yasiel Puig (29, OF, Indians): Though he hit more flies than ever before, Puig didn’t do a very good job of taking advantage of the juiced ball last season, finishing with a .458 slugging percentage that was his lowest mark since 2016. His 21.8% strikeout rate was his highest since his rookie campaign in 2013. Puig’s career 122 OPS+ still easily tops the marks of Castellanos (113) and Ozuna (112), but that figure has fallen every year since his terrific debut, and while he’s had more luck staying healthy these last three years than he did earlier in his career, the punishment his body has taken seems to have led to a decline in his athleticism. A four-year deal wouldn’t seem to be in the offing, and he might wind up taking a one-year contract in the $15 million-$18 million range.
19. Cole Hamels (36, SP, Cubs): Hamels pitched like an All-Star for three months, but he struggled after returning from an oblique injury that cost him the month of July and he dealt with shoulder fatigue in September. The physical breakdown should pretty much rule out a multiyear deal this winter, but he’d still make a lot of sense at up to $20 million on a one-year pact.
20. Didi Gregorius (30, SS, Yankees): Gregorius was a little off both offensively and defensively after returning from Tommy John surgery last season, and though that probably should have been expected, it still figures to cost him big this winter. While Gregorius has typically gotten high defensive marks from commentators, the numbers have never judged him much better than average, and guys who are average shortstops in their 20s usually turn into liabilities in their 30s. Of course, Gregorius has spent most of his career exceeding expectations. The Yankees figure to try to bring him back as long as the price is reasonable, and given that there aren’t many contenders seeking shortstop help, it should be; $25 million for two years seems fair.
21. Julio Teheran (29, SP, Braves): Teheran was left off the Braves’ initial postseason roster for the second year in a row despite throwing 175 innings with a 119 ERA+. That would seem to signal that it’s time for him to move on, but the club does hold a $12 million option on his contract with a $1 million buyout. The ERAs say he’s clearly worth that amount of money, while the peripherals are much more skeptical; he has a 4.75 FIP to go along with his 3.88 ERA the last two years. He’d be a fascinating free agent; his relative youth and history of success and durability would seem to make him a candidate for a hefty long-term deal. However, it’s hard to say whether anyone would really go there. It might be moot; the Braves could pick up the option and either retain or trade him.
22. Kyle Gibson (32, SP, Twins): Gibson would have done a lot better had he been eligible for free agency last winter after posting a 3.62 ERA in 2018. His ERA ballooned to 4.84 ERA last season, but his peripherals held steady, and considering the rise in offense, his 4.26 FIP rates as better than his 4.13 mark from 2018. Gibson is 32, but he’s been durable as a major leaguer and he doesn’t have a ton of mileage on his arm. The package might be enough to land him a three-year deal from a mid-market contender. Alternatively, he could prefer a one-year deal and the chance to up his stock.
23. Mike Moustakas (31, 3B-2B, Brewers): It still seems pretty crazy that Moustakas had to settle for one-year deals the last two offseasons. He’s all set to try free agency for a third time now, assuming that he declines his part of an $11 million mutual option. Moustakas’s defense has held up better than it looked like it would a couple of years ago, and he’s been steady offensively, posting OPS+s of 117, 107 and 114 the last three years. It wouldn’t make much sense to give him more than a two-year deal at this stage of his career, but he’d seem deserving of that much security anyway.
24. Edwin Encarnacion (37, 1B-DH, Yankees): Despite being limited to 109 games, Encarnacion still notched an eighth-straight 30-homer season in 2019. That his strikeout rate spiked in 2018 seemed like a bad omen, but it came down some last season and he posted a .244/.344/.531 line that fits in nicely with what he’s been doing for almost a decade now. At age 37, he’s a weaker option as a part-time first baseman, and durability could remain an issue even if he DHs regularly. Still, the bat is worth at least $12 million.
25. Kole Calhoun (32, OF, Angels): The Angels’ $14 million option on Calhoun is a tough call; he’s worth that price for one year, but the Angels need an outfield spot for Jo Adell soon and the team is likely better off spending that money on pitching. Perhaps the Angels could exercise the option and trade him, though it’d be kinder to set Calhoun free and give him the potential to land a multiyear deal while he still has the chance. His 33 homers last season were a career high, but his 108 OPS+ wasn’t exceptional and it was easily his best season in the last three years.
26. Tanner Roark (33, SP, Athletics): A Roark signing won’t draw much excitement this winter, but as a durable, league-average-or-slightly-better starter, he should have a number of suitors. He made $10 million last season, and he should be in line for a similar salary and perhaps a two-year deal.
27. Michael Pineda (31, SP, Twins): Pineda had a 2.96 ERA and an 87/17 K/BB ratio over 82 innings in his final 14 starts before his PED suspension ended his 2019 season. He’ll miss the first month and a half of 2020, too. Had he kept it up last season, he would have been in line for a healthy two- or three-year contract this winter. Some team might still give him two years, but it’ll be at a reduced rate, given that he won’t be available for a chunk of year one.
28. Rick Porcello (31, SP, Red Sox): The 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner is coming off two average seasons in 2017 and 2018 and a bad one in 2019 (5.52 ERA), but he remains an extremely durable innings eater, one whose velocity has held pretty steady and whose strikeout rate was on the way up before last season’s setback. That he should be content with a one-year deal will help his market, and there have to be a few pitching coaches itching for the chance to help him bounce back.
29. Rich Hill (40, SP, Dodgers): After giving the Dodgers pretty much exactly what they were looking for in the first two years of his contract, Hill was limited to 13 starts and 58 2/3 innings last season, though he was just as effective as ever, finishing with a 2.45 ERA and a 72/18 K/BB ratio. He intends to keep pitching at age 40, and there will be plenty of interest, even if teams know he’s a poor bet to make more than 15-20 starts.
30. Shogo Akiyama (31, OF, Japan): In a free agent market bare of quality center fielders, a new option has arisen in Akiyama, who has been one of Japan’s best players the last five years. Not only has he been extremely durable, but he’s hit at least .300 with a .390 OBP, 20 homers and 30 doubles each of the last three seasons. Defense in center could be an issue, as it seems like his range has taken a hit recently. If major league teams think he’s still a reasonable option in center, then the bat is probably worthy of a multiyear deal at more than $10 million annually. If he’s viewed at as more of a corner outfielder, then he might be looking at taking less money to play in the U.S. than he’d get if he remained a Seibu Lion.