MLB free-agent predictions: Rankings, rumors for the top 10 players on the market

Sporting News

We’ve already ranked the top 87 free agents in this year’s class, but today we’re going to take a deeper dive in to the top 10 players on that list.

Well, the top 11. There’s already been an adjustment, hopefully a sign of things to come; Aroldis Chapman was No. 10, but he agreed to a new deal with the Yankees instead of opting out of the two years and $30 million left on his contract. Yasmani Grandal, who was No. 11, slides up one spot.

For each of the 10, we’ll take a quick look at why they’ll be attractive as a free agent, a couple of places they might wind up and then a prediction.

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1. Anthony Rendon, 29, 3B

Thoughts: Rendon’s days as an overlooked star disappeared with his incredible postseason performance — .328 average, 1.003 OPS, three homers and 15 RBIs in 17 games — as the Nationals won the World Series. And that, on top of his incredible second-half performance — .336 average, 1.023 OPS, 14 homers, 64 RBIs in 71 games — has vaulted him to the top of SN’s list of top free agents. The difference between Rendon and the guys in the 2-3-4 spots on this list? They’re all elite stars, but as a position player, Rendon has the opportunity to make an impact on 162 regular-season games, not just 33, and 20-something games in October, not just five or six.

Possible destinations: Mets, Yankees, Nationals, Angels, White Sox, Rangers, Phillies
SN’s prediction: Nationals

2. Gerrit Cole, 29, SP

Thoughts: The big right-hander is everything a contender could want from a top-of-the-rotation ace. He’s only 29 years old and should win the AL Cy Young award when it’s announced Nov. 13, which would be more than enough for a massive contract. His 326 strikeouts this season were the most in MLB since Randy Johnson’s 334 in 2002 and the most in the AL since Nolan Ryan’s 341 way back in 1977. But then you add in October, when he allowed zero or one run in four of his five starts and went at least seven innings every time? Back up the Brinks truck, folks.

Possible destinations: Yankees, Angels, Astros, Dodgers, Padres, Phillies
SN’s prediction: Angels

3. Stephen Strasburg, 31, SP

Thoughts: After his incredible postseason performance — 1.98 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings — helped lift the Nationals to the World Series championship, Strasburg opted out of the four years and $100 million remaining on his current deal. Even if he wants to stay with the Nationals, which isn’t even remotely a stretch, opting out was kind of a no-brainer. He was pretty impressive in the regular season, too, leading the NL with 209 innings, while striking out 251 and posting a 3.32 ERA/3.25 FIP.

Possible destinations: Yankees, Nationals, Angels, Padres, Phillies, White Sox
SN’s prediction: Nationals

4. Madison Bumgarner, 30, SP

Thoughts: Admittedly, it feels wrong to think of MadBum wearing any other uniform, but the way the Nationals and Astros rode strong starting pitching into the World Series probably helps his case a bit. His numbers weren’t quite as good in 2019, the first time since 2016 he’s stayed healthy and pitched a full season. But he’s still striking out nearly a batter an inning (8.8 K/9) and still striking out a lot more guys than he walks (4.72 K/BB ratio). And maybe this doesn’t really matter, but with as much as Bumgarner clearly loves to bat, it stands to reason he might prefer an NL team.

Possible destinations: Giants, Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, Astros, Yankees, Mets
SN’s prediction: Yankees

5. J.D. Martinez, 32, DH

Thoughts: His numbers dropped a little bit in 2019, but that’s mostly because he was incredible in 2017-18. Martinez still popped 36 homers, to go with a .304 average, .939 OPS and 3.3 bWAR as Boston’s DH. He has an opt-out (with a $2.5 million buyout) and three years, $62.5 million remaining on his current deal. At this point, of course, with his mediocre glove and back issues — Boston limited his time in the field as much as possible in 2019 — he’s mostly an AL-only option at DH, unless an NL team is just that desperate for a lineup upgrade in outfield.

Possible destinations: Mariners, White Sox
SN’s prediction: White Sox

UPDATE: Martinez decided against opting out of his deal, so he's back with Boston for 2020.

6. Josh Donaldson, 34, 3B

Thoughts: After injury issues in 2017 and 2018, Donaldson proved in 2019 — on a one-year deal with the Braves — that he’s still an elite middle-of-the-order bat (37 homers, .900 OPS) who plays above-average defense at third base, and more than one contender could use that combination (he had a 6.1 bWAR). At 34 years old, he’s not going to land a long deal, but a two or three year deal with a high AAV seems mutually beneficial for the right team. He’s a cheaper, but still very much a win-now, option for teams that don’t land (or bid on) Rendon.

Possible destinations: Phillies, Mets, Cardinals, Braves, Nationals, Brewers
SN’s prediction: Braves

7. Hyun-Jin Ryu, 33, SP

Thoughts: Ryu made 44 starts over the past two seasons, and he’s produced a 2.21 ERA, which is pretty darn impressive. Plus, because he accepted the Dodgers’ qualifying offer last year, he will be free of draft-pick compensation, which will be a big plus for the lefty, in this era when teams are hesitant to give up those picks.

Possible destinations: Dodgers, Twins, Angels, Rangers
SN’s prediction: Dodgers

8. Zack Wheeler, 30, SP

Thoughts: Wheeler’s ERA this year (3.96) was above his career average, but his FIP (3.48) was below his career average. He often looks like a Cy Young candidate out there, and you can bet that’s how his agents will frame his resume. He won’t get as much as the elite starters on the market, but he might produce relatively similar numbers.

Possible destinations: Mets, Yankees, Angels, Phillies, Dodgers, Cubs
SN’s prediction: Phillies

9. Nicholas Castellanos, 28, OF

Thoughts: Castellanos seemed clearly revived when he was traded from the Tigers to the Cubs and joined a pennant race. In 51 games with Chicago, the corner outfielder hit 16 homers, batted .321 and posted a 151 OPS+. Also, he doesn’t turn 28 until March 4, making him a couple of years younger than most free agents this offseason.

Possible destinations: Cubs, White Sox, Rays, Indians, Red Sox
SN’s prediction: Red Sox

10. Yasmani Grandal, 31, C

Thoughts: Grandal’s struggles in the 2018 postseason (he hit .138 for the Dodgers) had to be the primary reason he wasn’t able to land the type of deal he wanted on the free-agent market, settling for a one-year deal with a mutual option with the Brewers in mid-January. But Grandal was great for Milwaukee, hitting 28 homers to go with a .380 on-base percentage and 119 OPS. He should fare much better on the free-agent market this time, especially because he can’t be given a qualifying offer and won’t have draft-pick compensation attached.

Possible destinations: Twins, Reds, White Sox, Brewers, Braves
SN’s prediction: Reds

UPDATE: Grandal signed a four-year, $73 million deal with the White Sox.

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