Headlined by older players looking to cash in on their final big money deals, the 2019 MLB free agency class is not as strong as 2018 but still is stocked full of veterans who can make big impacts for whomever they end up signing with. A plethora of arms, both as starters and in the bullpen, as well as slugging position players, makes this class very interesting and one that has the parts to directly impact a team’s postseason aspirations as early as 2020.
While there are players that will most likely have their club options picked up, like Anthony Rizzo, Corey Kluber, Adam Eaton, and Jose Quintana, there is still a small chance (highly unlikely) that, due to financial constrictions, let these players go. Kenley Jansen, Stephen Strasburg, and Yu Darvish, among others, all have opt-out clauses built into their contracts that come due after this season, but are also unlikely to use them as their guaranteed money left on the table would be far greater than what they would conceivably earn on the open market.
For top players that are truly free agents and able to be scooped up by any team, here is the listing of the five best players who could enter free agency with one uniform and leave with another one on.
Anthony Rendon, 3B
Fighting for the top spot on this list with the number two guy, Anthony Rendon is one of the few solid core pieces left for the Washington Nationals, and it would be a great surprise to a lot of people if he left the nation’s capital. Having spent his entire big-league career donning the white and red, Rendon is a cornerstone of this franchise, which desperately needs to hold onto its players after the departure of franchise savant Bryce Harper.
Rendon will be 29 years young going into his 2020 season, which is close to the middle or back end of his prime, a fact that teams will gloss over and instead look at his performance numbers. For the Nationals, the Rice product and sixth overall selection in the 2011 draft has raked ever since getting regular playing time at the big league level in 2013, averaging a .286 clip while totaling almost a 22 WAR in seven years.
The Nationals are the clubhouse leaders for securing his services, and while Nolan Arenado set the table for a third baseman salary, Rendon is not on the same playing field as Arenado. Rendon should look for a deal that is 5 years, $90 million and go from there.
Gerrit Cole, SP
The best starting pitcher on the free agency market, it will be interesting to see if the Houston Astros give Gerrit Cole the ‘Dallas Keuchel treatment,’ leaving him out to dry on the free agency market while moving on with other guys. Not having another big name to pair with Justin Verlander makes a reunion likely, but Cole could see greener pastures elsewhere.
Since coming over in a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates in January of 2018, Cole has been the needed piece to compliment Verlander at the top of the rotation, helping bridge that gap to the back end of the five starters. Earning $13.5 million this year after signing a deal to avoid arbitration, Cole is looking to capitalize on a stellar 2018 campaign that saw him go 15-5, 2.88 ERA and a 5.25 WAR across 200.1 innings and 32 starts.
Patrick Corbin set the going rate for what a top caliber starting pitcher will get on the market (6/$140 million), and while the Astros may not feel comfortable ponying that amount up, the St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks (provided Zack Greinke is no longer on the team) and Texas Rangers all could have interest and would be good fits for him, and would most likely be alright with giving him that monster of a deal.
Marcell Ozuna, OF
The best outfielder on the free agency market, Marcell Ozuna will need to put his wall-climbing antics aside when free agency comes calling. After having been traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in their core slashing winter, Ozuna has been a key cog in what keeps the Cardinals going, and he is another good bat to offset the pressure put on Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup.
While potentially not setting the market on fire for his contract demands, the former Marlin, who will e 29 for the 2020 season, is a key piece on the market that would instantly improve any team. The Cardinals seem to be interested in locking up their pieces early on, so it would not be a surprise to see him get extended mid-season and nix this whole thing.
However, if the team was to let him test the waters and see what offers he would get, the San Diego Padres would be an interesting fit for him, as adding him to their budding core would represent another stack of chips pushed into the middle of the table. Looking at a deal that would probably start at four years for $72 million, a shade below what A.J. Pollock got from the Los Angeles Dodgers this past winter, and Ozuna should have a decently-deep market of teams looking for his services.
Madison Bumgarner, SP
One of the more talked-about arms in the league, Madison Bumgarner may not even finish out the 2019 season as a San Francisco Giant, especially with how common his name has been in trade rumors. The Giants, who have been reported to have been talking with the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers about a Bumgarner deal, are smart to gauge his value and see if they can get anything for him before he outright leaves, which seems likely especially with the lack of a future plan dominating the Giants headlines.
Bum is not the pitcher he used to be, but the lefty is still a crafty ballplayer who would bring veteran and playoff experience to any team who is looking into his services. Turning 30 for the 2020 season, Bum has demonstrated so far in 2019 that he has gas left in the tank, which could be just contract-year play or a true showing of what kind of player he is.
Besides the Braves and Brewers having interest, the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays could come calling as well, looking for a veteran who is not out to get another massive deal. Look for a three year, $35 million deal for MadBum.
Yasmani Grandal, C
After turning down a four year, $60 million deal from the New York Mets in a bet on himself, Yasmani Grandal signed a one year, $18.25 million deal with the Brewers to cement himself as their starting catcher for at least 2019. For a team that seems cash strapped and in need to cut some payroll, the Brewers made some shrewd moves this offseason, highlighted by bringing in Grandal.
Looking like the player he normally has been, Yaz is turning in another solid season, even as his average looks a bit shaky and his power numbers have not increased even with a short right field porch in play at Miller Park. The switch-hitter has refined his skills as a pitch framer, ranking near or at the top in pitch-framing skills and abilities, which has developed into one of his calling cards the past few seasons.
A mutual option is all that holds Grandal back from free agency, an option that, while the Brewers would love to accept and keep Grandal for another season, will most likely be declined by Grandal, setting him free into free agency. However, the Brewers have seemed to love what he has brought to their team so far this year and would be one of the favorites to bring him back.
Giving Grandal that long-term deal he sought last season, the Brewers would be smart to give him a three year, $40 million deal, which is shorter on years but Grandal seems to love it in Brew city. In 2020, the 31-year old will get another chance to capitalize on what looks to be a solid 2019 season and make good on what may be his final big contract.