By: Chris Larson
The free agency signing period officially gets underway at midnight EST on Saturday and, as is the case every offseason, you can expect there to be quite a flurry of activity all throughout the offseason. Of course, there is always the potential that the market presents all of us with a similar situation to last offseason, where there were still free agents happening after Spring Training began, but every Hot Stove season is different and this year is no exception.
With there being 131 official free agents this offseason, here are the Top 10 that you should keep an eye on to see where they land.
1. Bryce Harper - Bryce Harper leads the list as the biggest marquee name available on the free agent market this winter to teams. Harper, who is still only 26 years old, will likely have several suitors going after him because of the brand name, the fact that team's still want to have that power bat somewhere within their lineup, and the idea of how Harper can help put fans in the seats at any ballpark across the country. Regardless, expect Harper to get a monster payday. If you need a reminder, Bryce Harper is a very patient hitter at the plate, as illustrated by his 17.4 walk percentage dating back to the 2015 regular season, which leads all qualified outfielders over that span.
2. Manny Machado - After his antics in the postseason, Manny Machado would have been the biggest name available on the free agent market, but moved down a hair because some teams might view him differently than they once did. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that there will still be a lot of interest in Machado, but almost every team interested would prefer he plays third base, as opposed to Machado's preferred position, at shortstop. Here's an interesting fact to consider regarding Machado's defensive liability at shortstop: Over his big league career, Machado has played 731 games at third, where he has committed 68 errors. In that same time period, Machado has played shortstop in 199 games and has committed 20 errors over that span.
3. Patrick Corbin - Leading the list of starting pitchers will likely be Patrick Corbin. Corbin is coming off a phenomenal year with the Arizona Diamondbacks and will provide any team that is in the market for starting pitching with a more than viable option. Considering that Corbin's strikeout rate continues to increase, while his walk rate continues to decrease, gives proof to the notion that Corbin can lengthen any pitching staff and provide a team with a legitimate number one or two starter. Corbin finished the 2018 regular season with the fifth highest strikeout-to-walk percentage (24.8%) and a 3.15 ERA over 200 innings of work.
4. Craig Kimbrel - If you're a team in need of more bullpen help, then you will likely turn your attention first and foremost to, Craig Kimbrel, who is coming off a season in which he helped lead his team, the Boston Red Sox, to a World Series Championship. Even though Kimbrel has struggled during various stretches over his big league career, he will likely be highly sought after and is still somewhat in his peak at 31 years old. Over the past four seasons, Kimbrel ranks second among relievers in saves (147) and second in strikeouts (392). With Kimbrel, teams know what they are getting and know that he can be an established closer they are seeking.
5. Dallas Keuchel - For the teams that fall out of the Patrick Corbin derby, Dallas Keuchel will be the next name on their list and will definitely garner quite a bit of attention on the open market. Remember, Keuchel is only three-years removed from the 2015 season when he won the AL Cy Young Award and his biggest selling point is his ability to induce ground balls. Among qualified starting pitchers, dating back to the 2015 regular season, Keuchel ranks third with a 59.1 ground ball percentage. As is the case with Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel would also immediately help lengthen any starting rotation.
6. Michael Brantley - Michael Brantley has had a very injury-laden big league career, but following the 2018 regular season, he should do very well on the open market. Brantley, who will turn 32 next May, is coming off a season in which he hit: .309/.364/.468 over 631 plate appearances and brings a significant amount of power to any interested team. What's even more fascinating is that Brantley finished the year with a, 9.5 strikeout percentage, the lowest among any qualified outfielder to play in the big leagues in 2018. In addition, Michael Brantley has long been regarded as being a leader in the clubhouse and someone that players can lean on for moral support during the tough times, something else that adds value to his resume.
7. Adam Ottavino - After Craig Kimbrel signs or possibly even before, don't be surprised to hear the name Adam Ottavino mentioned quite a bit. Ottavino is coming off a season, in which he posted the highest strikeouts-per-9 rate of his career (13.0), and a 0.99 WHIP. If you need further proof of how effective Adam Ottavino can be when healthy, consider this: Over the past three seasons, Ottavino has averaged a left on-base percentage of at least 75% and a strikeout-per-9 rate of at least 10. Furthermore, Adam Ottavino has long been a groundball reliever, as illustrated by his career groundball percentage of 45.3%, which will help any team looking for a reliever to induce a groundball out in the later innings of a ballgame.
8. Nelson Cruz - When it comes to the Boomstick, Nelson Cruz has an extensive track record and teams definitely know what they are getting when looking to sign Cruz. Dating back to the 2014 regular season, Nelson Cruz has averaged at least 35 home runs, 90 RBI, and 55 walks every year. Given that Cruz will turn 39 next July, some teams that are interested might chose to exercise caution when trying to create an offer for Nelson Cruz because durability and health might become a bigger factor. However, over Cruz's 14-year big league career, he has only been placed on the DL once and that was just this past season, so health and durability might not end up being that big of a factor after all.
9. Nathan Eovaldi - Prior to the postseason, Nathan Eovaldi would have been extremely lucky if he even cracked the Top 10, but given how he performed for the Boston Red Sox, he has easily entered the picture. In fact, based on his performance in the postseason, you could make a case that he could be a very valuable late-inning bullpen weapon, or even a closer, for a contending team looking to add additional depth. Over the past year, since returning from Tommy John, Eovaldi has shown an uptick in velocity and continues to throw his pitches at a successful rate, to keep opposing teams hitters tricked. However, health will play a big factor in Eovaldi's paycheck this winter, so it might be more likely to expect a short (1 or 2 year) deal rather than a long-term (3+ year) deal.
10. Josh Donaldson - Even though Donaldson once again dealt with calf issues last season, he still put up a .400 on-base percentage along with a .520 slugging percentage, during the 60 plate appearances that he made at the tail end of this year's regular season with the Cleveland Indians. Regardless, teams will likely once again exercise caution with Donaldson, but considering the track record and the type of hitter that a team would be getting, it would not be that surprising to see a handful of teams interested in his services. In fact, Donaldson could wind up signing back with the Cleveland Indians, if the market turns out in Cleveland's favor and they're able to sign him to a below market value contract.
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