With Major League Baseball free agency in full swing, theScore’s MLB editors Michael Bradburn, Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb, Bryan Mcwilliam, Brandon Wile, and Jason Wilson answer some of the biggest questions of the offseason:
Which free agent would you most want to sign if you were a GM?
Bryce Harper. One of us needs to make the case for spending nine figures on one of the top free agents to ever hit the open market, so, here it goes. Can you name the only two players in MLB history to combine a 1.100 OPS and 40-homer season before turning 24 years old? It’s Harper and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Let’s lower it to 30 home runs and a 1.100 OPS. Now, the list includes current Hall of Famer Ted Williams’ 1941 and 1942 campaigns. It’s a steep price to pay, and while Pujols’ decline is well documented, this isn’t the Angels signing a 32-year-old to a 10-year, $240-million deal. Harper is a transcendent talent and just turned 26 years old. If any player has been worth a record free-agent deal, it’s this kid. – Bradburn
Josh Donaldson. While teams clamor over the services of Manny Machado and Harper, they could miss out on signing a former MVP in Donaldson to a modest deal. Donaldson has a lot left in him. He’s 32 years old with plenty of pop in his bat (182 HRs, .507 slugging in his career). He should only cost a fraction of the deals Machado or Harper will sign, and it’s unlikely teams will need to commit to him on a lengthy contract as he attempts to prove he’s healthy after an injury-marred 2018 campaign. From 2015 to 2017, only Mike Trout was worth more WAR than Donaldson, who posted a .920 OPS during his brief 16-game stint with the Indians at the end of 2018. – Mcwilliam
Nathan Eovaldi. Sure, he’s had two Tommy John surgeries, but Eovaldi put any questions surrounding his health to bed with a strong comeback season split between the Rays and Red Sox. The right-hander was electric in the postseason for Boston while showing he can dominate the best offenses in the majors, doing that both in the rotation and in relief. There will always be some concern given his injury history, but Eovaldi hits free agency entering his age-29 season, and he’s thrown just 850 innings over the last seven seasons. Eovaldi’s flexibility to pitch as either a starter or reliever makes him a weapon for any contender, and he likely won’t command the near $100-million contract the likes of Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin might land. – Wile
Hyun-Jin Ryu. Even though Ryu has had a difficult time staying on the field, he’s been an outstanding pitcher when healthy, especially in 2018. This past season, Ryu posted a 1.97 ERA in 82 1/3 innings across 15 starts. Most impressively, his strikeouts spiked when he finished with a career-best 9.73 K/9 thanks to a 11.6 percent swinging strike rate. In addition to limiting the amount of contact batters made, Ryu tightened his command and issued only 15 walks (1.64 BB/9). His injury history makes a long-term deal a bit risky, but he also won’t command as hefty a price tag as fellow lefties Corbin and Keuchel. – Wilson
Which high-profile free agent would you stay away from?
Craig Kimbrel. The greatest closer since Mariano Rivera comes with a ton of concern for any interested team. Kimbrel was electric in 2017, posting a 16.43 K/9, 1.83 BB/9, and 1.43 WHIP, but that season was sandwiched between a pair of far more erratic years (he finished with 4.5 BB/9 in 2018, and 5.1 in 2016). No one would dub Kimbrel’s tenure with the Red Sox a failure, but his tendency to lose command makes him a scary proposition on a lucrative multi-year contract. Kimbrel was also more prone to the long ball in 2018, and he was far from his reliable self during an otherwise sterling postseason for the eventual champions. Kimbrel will get paid, and he’ll probably get a lengthy deal thanks to his 333 career saves. But I’d be hoping it’s not my team that gives it to him. – Wilson
Michael Brantley. While the idea of signing a three-time All-Star who nearly won the American League MVP in 2014 seems appealing, Brantley comes with risk. Between 2016 and 2017, the 31-year-old appeared in a combined 101 games after having shoulder surgery in November 2015. He returned to have a solid and durable campaign in 2018, but Brantley could only hit right-handed pitching (.684 OPS vs. LHP) and was below average defensively. He ranked 40th among MLB’s qualified outfielders in defensive runs saved (minus-3), according to Fangraphs. – Mcwilliam
A.J. Pollock. Here’s a player who shouldn’t have any question marks attached to his name this winter. Pollock is a dynamic All-Star who has hit for power, gets on base, is a base-stealing threat who rarely gets caught, and he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at a premium position in center field. Sounds great, right? Sure, until you take a closer look. While he was one of baseball’s best outfielders in 2015, Pollock has struggled to come close to that level of production over the last three seasons. He played in 157 games in 2015, and over the last three years he’s struggled to stay healthy, averaging just 79 games per season. So instead of a star, Polluck is now an outfielder entering his age-31 season who’s regressed to being a league-average hitter who can’t stay healthy, and he would cost draft-pick compensation to sign because the Diamondbacks made him a qualifying offer. No thank you. – Sharkey-Gotlieb
Dallas Keuchel. Don’t get me wrong, Keuchel could very likely continue putting together a remarkable career. I’m just worried that clubs will have to pay for the name on the back of the jersey and the hardware that comes with it. In 2015, Keuchel handily won the Cy Young Award, leading the American League in wins, innings pitched, and WHIP. He has never recaptured that form, only reaching the 200-inning plateau once since 2015. Over the next three seasons, he’s posted the same WHIP as Mike Montgomery. – Bradburn
Which team needs to win the offseason?
Yankees. There hasn’t been a World Series champion in the Bronx since 2009, and with the rival Red Sox claiming a second title in six seasons, pressure is mounting in New York. The Yankees’ front office reset any luxury-tax penalties in anticipation for this offseason, and the team is set up well financially to spend big. The Yankees need starting pitching, and they’ll also need to address losing Zach Britton and David Robertson in the bullpen. It will be interesting to see if they can accommodate either Harper or Machado, but don’t count out the Yankees from doing big things. – Wile
Phillies. This is the winter Phillies fans have been anticipating ever since the last pieces of their mid-2000s championship clubs were finally cast off. The team spent a bit last year on Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta, and then made a surprising run at a playoff berth that heightened expectations this winter. With an intriguing young roster and plenty of money at their disposal, many are expecting that someone will take the Phillies’ bait – but what if the unthinkable happens? They’ve been connected to stars already, but what if they whiff on all of them? That would be a disastrous setback to a club that was always building up to this winter as a turning point. Philadelphia is a demanding sports town, and the Phillies need at least one star – even just landing Corbin in lieu of Harper and/or Machado would suffice – to avoid a catastrophe this winter. – Sharkey-Gotlieb
Braves. After surprisingly winning their division in 2018, now is no time for the Braves to take their foot off the gas. Remember, of all the teams to make the 2018 playoffs, Atlanta’s record was the worst. In the NL East, the Phillies are poised to spend big this winter, the Mets have a new face in their front office calling the shots, and the Nationals still might contend with Juan Soto presumably slotting into Harper’s place. The Braves have an ambitious GM in Alex Anthopoulos, and while he can be hesitant to spend huge sums on free agents, he’s also known for making splashy moves. Building around the young core of Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and Sean Newcomb starts this winter. – Bradburn
Cardinals. Cardinals fans are likely getting restless after their team came up short while pursuing Giancarlo Stanton, and then missed the postseason for a third straight year. With bad contracts tied to Dexter Fowler (three years, $43.5 million remaining) and Brett Cecil (two years, $14.5 million left), the pressure is on to make quality moves. The core of the Cardinals’ young talent is impressive, especially on the pitching side, but they’re a superstar-level talent away from making serious noise. Whether that’s addressed through signing Harper or Machado, or by swinging a trade for someone like Paul Goldschmidt is immaterial. All that’s clear is that settling for less, or making Mike Moustakas the signing of the club’s offseason, will be a massive disappointment in St. Louis. – Wilson
Which team will make the biggest surprise signing?
Angels. The Angels are in a strange spot. Their improving farm system still lacks a top-tier prospect who could either be used as trade bait or help the team win now. Their pitching remains perilously thin, particularly in the rotation given Shohei Ohtani’s injury that will keep him off the mound in 2019. They also need to win now and avoid wasting Mike Trout’s prime, and he only has two seasons left on his contract. Free agency is once again going to be the Angels’ best and fastest route to improving the team around Trout, and owner Arte Moreno is always willing to spend money, sometimes in shocking fashion. So perhaps we shouldn’t really be surprised if and when someone, be it a hitter or (more likely) a starting pitcher, grabs some big bucks in Anaheim this winter. – Sharkey-Gotlieb
Mets. New GM Brodie Van Wagenen believes the Mets can produce a winner, saying “we will win now” during his introductory press conference. So don’t be surprised when the former player agent makes it rain while acquiring a major free agent or two. New York already has Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Amed Rosario, and Brandon Nimmo to build around, and the team could still get decent returns on its deals with Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier if they return to form next season. Acquiring someone like Kimbrel to lock down the ninth inning, along with another formidable bat such as Harper or Machado, isn’t completely out of the question. – Mcwilliam
Reds. By some indications, Cincinnati has identified its starting rotation as an area of need, and the club has a willingness to increase its payroll. While that probably means the Reds will look to acquire controllable pitching through trade, don’t be surprised if they attempt to supplement that need with one of the mid-tier pitchers on the market. They could sign like Lance Lynn or Gio Gonzalez, or maybe even Eovaldi or Keuchel. – Bradburn
White Sox. As smoothly as the Houston Astros’ rebuild went, the White Sox haven’t had as much luck in the early going of theirs. Michael Kopech, a prize acquisition in the Chris Sale trade, is out until 2020, and infielder Yoan Moncada struck out in 33.4 percent of his plate appearances in 2018. Instead of waiting for Kopech to return and continuing with a full teardown, the White Sox should dive headfirst into free agency, and it looks like they will. Chicago has already been tied to both Machado and Harper. Prospects are great, but few teams ever develop young players as well as the Astros, and counting on it happening could set the White Sox even further back. Surround Moncada and Co. with MVP-caliber free agents, and a return to the postseason could be coming, especially with Cleveland possibly eyeing a rebuild too. – Wilson
Which free agent will be the biggest bargain?
Nelson Cruz. From 2009 to 2018, Nelson Cruz hit the most home runs, but the slugger’s market is limited because he’s a DH who only sporadically plays defense (he did that in four games in 2018). But Cruz has consistently provided a near .900 OPS for almost a decade, and he’s even posted monstrous numbers after turning 30 years old, including All-Star appearances in five out of the last six seasons. He’s made less than the current $17.9-million qualifying offer the past four seasons, and a team wouldn’t likely need to pay the 38-year-old more than that to bring him aboard. – Mcwilliam
Jed Lowrie. It took until this year for the 34-year-old Lowrie to finally break out, and he did so in a big way, earning his first All-Star appearance with a career year at the plate (.267/.353/.448, 23 home runs) for the surprising Athletics. Yes, he’s going to be entering his age-35 season in 2019, but Lowrie’s consistency and versatility as an infielder while playing three positions will help him secure a deal this winter. He might not be the sexiest name out there, and other infielders may come off the board before him. But Lowrie has an excellent chance to be the steal of the offseason for a contender. – Sharkey-Gotlieb
Josh Donaldson. He’s now three seasons removed from being named the AL MVP, but Donaldson proved he still has one of the better bats in the league during his brief stint with the Indians. The 32-year-old hit .280/.400/.520 with three home runs in 16 games in Cleveland. With a full offseason to recover from calf and shoulder issues, expect Donaldson to be recharged in 2019, and he can likely be had on a short-term deal while trying to re-establish his value again. – Wile
Matt Harvey. It’s been three seasons since “The Dark Knight” was one of baseball’s best young pitchers. He went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA over 189 1/3 innings (still a career high) in 2015, his first season after Tommy John surgery. It’s all been downhill since, resulting in a tumultuous breakup with the New York Mets. Harvey showed glimpses of his former self after being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2018, but he still wasn’t a top-flight talent. Expecting him to get a big contract now is foolish. He probably won’t sign a long-term deal while looking to re-establish his value, but a one-year contract doesn’t offer security if he’s actually washed. There’s little risk in signing Harvey, and he’s worth a flier if his past potential hasn’t fully vanished. – Wilson