The majority of work has been done this offseason, with only a handful of top-tier players remaining unemployed as spring training draws nearer. Therefore, there’s no time like the present to look forward to next winter’s free-agent class.
What follows is a ranking of the top 15 players set to hit the open market following the 2020 World Series. Players with team options have been omitted from the list altogether, with the assumption that – if they hit free agency – it would be off of a disappointing season. Players with other features in their contracts that may prevent them from hitting free agency are accompanied by an asterisk and explanation.
15. Kirby Yates
At 32 years old, Yates is the definition of a late bloomer, becoming an elite closer seemingly overnight upon joining the Padres in 2017. He’s only gotten better since, surrendering fewer walks and fewer homers in each subsequent year while striking out more. This past season, the right-hander led all of baseball in saves, made his first All-Star appearance, and wound up tied with Walker Buehler for ninth in Cy Young voting. He won’t be young when he hits the open market next winter, but he’ll likely be the top reliever available, even if Dellin Betances declines his option.
14. Mike Minor
The left-hander somewhat famously – or infamously, if you ask the Red Sox – hit the 200-strikeout plateau for the first time in his career last year and wound up earning down-ballot Cy Young consideration because of it. After seemingly failing as a starter and undergoing shoulder surgery, the Royals converted Minor into a reliever in 2017. His effectiveness led the Rangers to try him out as a starter again after signing him in free agency, where he’s authored a 3.84 ERA and 4.32 FIP over 365 1/3 innings since the beginning of the 2018 campaign. He’ll turn 33 next winter, but Minor is clearly effective when healthy.
13. Nelson Cruz
During his age-38 season in 2019, Cruz continued to prove he’s one of baseball’s elite power hitters. He joined the 400-homer club during his first season with the Twins, knocked 40-plus dingers for a fourth time, and finished seventh in the AL with 108 RBIs. Considering he’s averaged 40 homers and 105 RBIs over the past six seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to have another productive campaign in 2020.
12. Andrelton Simmons
Since making his Angels debut in 2016, only Mookie Betts has accrued more defensive runs saved than Simmons’ 85. During that same time period, the 30-year-old shortstop has also won two Gold Gloves and twice received MVP consideration. Despite a down year at the plate in 2019 that was accompanied by a lingering ankle injury, the sure-handed shortstop still managed to keep up his excellent work on defense, finishing second at his position to Javier Baez in Outs Above Average, according to Baseball Savant.
11. Marcus Stroman
Barring the Mets floundering in 2020 and dealing Stroman midseason, the right-hander will certainly get tendered a qualifying offer and therefore be attached to draft-pick compensation if he declines it. While that could complicate his market, the 2019 All-Star will certainly be among the most highly coveted arms. Stroman has failed to throw at least 180 innings just once in the last four years and has authored a 3.86 ERA and 3.80 FIP in 691 2/3 innings over that span to become one of the most reliable mid-rotation starters in the league.
10. Justin Turner
Since joining the Dodgers in 2014, Turner has been one of baseball’s finest third basemen. He’s never posted an OPS lower than .832 or accrued less than 3.4 WAR while with Los Angeles. In fact, his career slash line in Dodger blue is an impressive .302/.381/.506. The veteran infielder also found his power stroke in 2019, recording the highest ISO of his career (.219) and matching a career best in homers (27), which bodes well for him in free agency if he can sustain those kinds of numbers in 2020.
9. Trevor Bauer
If the Bauer of 2018 shows up in 2020, the right-hander will be far and away the best pitcher on the market and command any one-year offer he wants – if he does, indeed, still desire one-year deals. The former All-Star looked like he lost a step last year, though, and things got worse when he joined the Reds. Bauer posted a 6.39 ERA in his 10 starts with Cincinnati – 2020 will need to be better.
8. Michael Brantley
Brantley’s 2019 campaign may not have ended on the best note when he became the final out of a disappointing World Series loss for the Astros, but, all in all, he had a tremendous year. The 32-year-old posted an impressive .311/.372/.503 slash line in 148 games – his most since 2014 – while appearing in his fourth All-Star Game. His 22 home runs were a career high and he struck out just 66 times in 637 plate appearances. Steamer doesn’t project Brantley to have the same success in 2020, but his aptitude for hitting should make him an intriguing player in free agency.
7. Marcus Semien
In 2018, out of absolutely nowhere, Semien became a plus defender by most metrics after struggling to even be league average. In 2019 – his age-28 season – the offense followed, as the shortstop became the leadoff hitter for the 97-win A’s and recorded a 137 wRC+ while finishing as a finalist for the AL MVP award. 2020 will reveal if it was just a mirage, or if Semien is due a substantial raise.
6. J.D. Martinez*
* – can opt out of remaining contract (2 years, $38.7M)
The Red Sox have gotten everything they could’ve hoped for out of Martinez after inking him to a five-year deal before the 2018 season. In 296 games for Boston, the slugger owns a .317/.392/.593 slash line with 79 home runs and 235 RBIs. If Martinez has another stellar campaign and opts out of the remaining $38.75 million left on his contract next winter, he’d likely be able to secure another lucrative deal in free agency, even with him entering his mid-30s.
5. DJ LeMahieu
Typically, when a hitter moves away from Coors Field, people worry about regression. So what did LeMahieu do to placate those concerns upon joining the Yankees? He went from being the No. 9 hitter in his Yankees debut, to being an integral member of the team’s success, to setting career bests in homers, RBIs, slugging percentage, and WAR while manning second, third, and first base. If he can repeat that performance in his age-31 season, LeMahieu will be the most valuable utility man to hit free agency since Ben Zobrist got a four-year, $56-million deal as a 35-year-old.
4. George Springer
Springer got off to a hot start in 2019 and looked like he could win an MVP before a hamstring injury forced him to miss a month in the middle of the year. Even with the time lost, the outfielder had an outstanding season, posting a career-best 150 OPS+ with 39 homers and 96 RBIs. As is custom, Springer was a beast in the World Series, slashing .296/.441/.667 with eight hits, two homers, and six runs scored. He’d make a welcome addition to a number of playoff contenders next winter.
3. J.T. Realmuto
There is, quite likely, no better all-around catcher in baseball than Realmuto, who’s claimed a Silver Slugger Award two years running and got even better defensively last year with the Philadelphia Phillies, according to FanGraphs. Even further, in a growing age of catcher tandems, Realmuto has appeared in at least 125 games for five consecutive seasons, making him one of the most valuable commodities in the league.
2. Giancarlo Stanton*
* – can opt out of remaining contract (7 years, $218M)
2019 was a wash for Stanton. He only appeared in 18 games, with most of his season spent on the injured list. The power-hitting slugger has a lot to prove in 2020, and should he have a campaign similar to his MVP one, he may decide to opt out of the remainder of his deal with the Yankees. Leaving a guaranteed $218 million on the table as he enters his age-31 season might not be the best idea, though, especially considering he already plays for one of baseball’s top teams.
1. Mookie Betts
In a world without Mike Trout, Betts would be the best outfielder in baseball, and arguably the sport’s best player. Even with Trout around, though, the superstar – heading into his age-27 season – is likely going to entertain a $400-million offer next winter. The 2018 AL MVP, four-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, and three-time Silver Slugger might not even be attached to draft-pick compensation in the offseason if the Red Sox wind up finding a midseason trade for him.