These are baseball’s top free agents, this year and beyond
The next recipients of break-the-bank contracts are likely to be free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but looking beyond this year, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Chris Sale are up after next season, and Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are up after 2020. Beyond that, you’d have to consider Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Kris Bryant, but we’re focusing on the next two years right now.
Machado and Harper are both 26 with their prime years ahead of them. Scott Boras is Harper’s agent and it appears he’s looking to break the $400 million mark with a 10-year deal. Machado could come in at slightly less, with estimates of 8-10 years in the $300 million-$350 million range.
Who will bite on these superstars and which will stay with their current teams?
■ Harper — We think the market is the Dodgers, Phillies and Nationals, with an outside shot of the Cardinals and Giants. There might be a mystery team, but we’re guessing these are the major players. We know the Nationals’ offer of 10 years, $300 million was rejected, but given that they may have the richest ownership in baseball, we never rule them out.
We know that the Phillies are willing to spend “stupidly,” according to their owner, so we’re not sure any team can outbid them. But it may come down to where Harper wants to play. It’s not known if Philadelphia appeals to him or whether after spending years on the East Coast, the West Coast native would rather move and perhaps take less to play for the Dodgers or Giants.
The Dodgers cleared out two outfielders in Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig (traded to the Reds in the Homer Bailey swap), and while we understand part of that reasoning was exchanging big contracts with Cincinnati, there’s a theory that they’re making room for Harper.
The Dodgers seem to have moved on from Machado, especially with Corey Seager ready to return to play shortstop after Tommy John surgery last season.
We never expect negotiations of this magnitude involving Boras to go quickly, so we’ll wait patiently to see where this mega-talent winds up. Wherever Harper goes, he has a chance to change the dynamic of any team and any division. Harper has a career .900 OPS but has surpassed 1.000 in two seasons.
■ Machado — It’s obvious he wants to play for the Yankees. His idol is Alex Rodriguez, a fellow Miami native, so Machado would love to follow in his footsteps. The Yankees have an opening at shortstop with Didi Gregorius (elbow) out until midseason or later. The Yankees must convince Machado that third base is where he needs to end up. He’s one of the best defensive third basemen in history, but only a good shortstop.
The Phillies would love one or both of Harper and Machado. They could make bids on both given their current payroll, which would significantly change the National League East dynamic.
There would likely be more than the Yankees and Phillies involved in pursuit of Machado, but for the moment that’s all we’ve heard about. You could see the Giants being involved, as they would be with Harper, because they’re doing everything they can to improve their offense. If it means moving some infield bodies around, they’d be willing to do it. The Mets? Who knows?
■ Arenado — Considered the best third baseman in baseball, the Rockies slugger is also one of the premier all-around players in the game. While it doesn’t appear the Rockies will be able to re-sign him, they could always justify the financial outlay because he is the face of their franchise, much as Troy Tulowitzki once was.
Otherwise, Arenado, who will be 30 at the time of his free agency, will likely get six or seven years on a deal, and likely north of $30 million per. He should have plenty of suitors given the position he plays.
There have been rumors about the possibility of Arenado being dealt this offseason so the Rockies can get a significant package for him, but so far there’s been no sign of that.
■ Sale — Do the comparisons and the math. Is Sale not due to be in the financial land of David Price, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke? Well, if he has a healthy, productive 2019 season, of course he is. Would the Red Sox go there with a second starting pitcher? There are a lot of miles on that left shoulder, which has not only shown signs of fatigue since Sale came to Boston, but this past season, with added rest between some starts and a reduction in innings, he suffered from what the team called mild inflammation. Obviously, it was more than that, but Sale has prohibited the Red Sox from revealing anything more.
Sale will be 31 the first season after becoming a free agent. So, if healthy, he appears to be in line for a 5-7-year deal at $30 million per.
■ Goldschmidt — Just traded to the Cardinals, who realize that just one year of Goldschmidt wouldn’t go over well with the fan base. So, they realize that for a premier slugger, they’ll have to dish out north of $25 million per year. The number of years will become a major issue. Goldschmidt is 30, and will be 31 at the time of free agency. He has a career .930 OPS.
■ Trout — Trout becomes a free agent after the 2020 season, and this will be a big deal. Trout is 27, so he’ll enter free agency in his 29-year-old season, which means he would likely receive an 8-10-year deal. If Harper goes for $400 million, then Trout’s AAV should be more. Trout has accomplished far more than Harper, and he will be in demand. Would Trout “go home” and play for the Phillies? The Phillies certainly must have this in mind if they don’t land Harper or Machado this offseason, or just one of the two. Don’t rule out the Angels re-signing him. Trout, who has a .990 career OPS, has settled into the West Coast lifestyle, so the New Jersey native doesn’t necessarily have to come back east.
■ Betts — Last, but certainly not least. The Red Sox have two more years of control, but they would love to sign him long term right now. But Betts, to this point, has wisely rejected any overtures. However, there may be a number that the Sox can tempt him with that will be too good to pass up. When that happens — and it could happen this offseason — Betts just may forgo his leverage in free agency. After all, once the money gets in the $300 million-$400 million range, what else is there? How much money do you need?
Apropos of nothing
1. The Red Sox should not deal Jackie Bradley Jr. anywhere. He’s simply too valuable as a defender to break up a superb defensive outfield. The consequences of that would be J.D. Martinez having to play more outfield, and that’s where, in the past, he’s missed time as a result of injuries.
2. The Orioles have a lot of work to do. New general manager Mike Elias just added a pair of coaches to Brandon Hyde’s staff, but player development, scouting, and analytics all have to be built up. Terrific baseball people such as former GMs Wayne Krivsky, Ed Lynch, Ed Wade (who really built the current Astros), Jim Beattie, and others remain without jobs and could help Elias from the administrative and scouting aspects. And outstanding former managers/instructors such as Dave Trembley, Arnie Beyeler, and many others also remain without jobs. A real shame.
3. Yes, that was former Giants GM Bobby Evans in attendance at the Celtics-76ers game on Christmas Day. Evans, who grew up in Framingham, is still an executive with the Giants.
4. Derek Falvey of Lynn is doing a nice job of rebuilding the Twins as their new chief baseball officer. He chose Rocco Baldelli as manager. Then he signed Jonathan Schoop for second base and Nelson Cruz for DH. With the Indians’ talent level dropping, Falvey sees a great opening for the Twins to take the division. The Twins obviously lost the great Joe Mauer, who retired this offseason. The feeling is Cruz can fill that leadership void. Falvey next needs to upgrade the pitching.
5. Poor Montreal. As hard as the city tried to put itself in position for an expansion team, you wonder if Portland, Ore., or Las Vegas has surpassed it in the eyes of Major League Baseball. The toughest thing to do is build a stadium. There’s an agreement in principle on a stadium site in Portland, and Vegas is also considering building one on the site of the Rio casino, about 100 acres of land. If those two stadium ideas go through, those cities will certainly surpass Montreal, which would need to build a downtown stadium.
6. Judging by the e-mails I get from Blue Jays fans from across the border, they seem fed up with the organization and its lack of commitment to winning. The Jays obviously have some talented young players on the horizon, none more so than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the top prospect in baseball. But Jays fans believe they need to compete now and build their team, rather than tear it down and just try to be competitive. Why is it that the Rays, who had the second-lowest attendance in baseball this past season, and the poorest owners, are adding, while the Jays, with often big attendance and corporate giant ownership in Rogers Communications, are scaling back?
7. I find it odd that the Athletics haven’t re-signed team leader Jed Lowrie, who I think would be a nice fit for the Brewers, Dodgers or Nationals.
8. It’s almost Jan. 1 and there are hundreds of players still available. Time to implement a free agent signing deadline, isn’t it?
Updates on nine
1. J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins — Those teams still trying to obtain him remain in disbelief at the asking price for the All-Star. We had heard the price had come down a bit, and maybe it has slightly, but it is still making a deal prohibitive. The Marlins seem to think there will be a market for Realmuto indefinitely, and that one team will cave to their demands. The Padres have been the most persistent.
2. David Robertson, RHP, free agent — Robertson, who represents himself, isn’t tipping his hand on what he’s looking for, but he’s likely seeking at least in the Andrew Miller range of two years at $25 million total. Robertson, who lives in Rhode Island, has been linked to the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies, but there are several other teams who have inquired and made offers. The Red Sox are trying to get a veteran reliever on a one-year deal. They feel there will be enough top-shelf veterans they can sign under those terms.
3. Nelson Cruz, DH, Twins — The Twins needed a leader type and a solid bat in the middle of their order, and they got it in Cruz. The Rays and Astros tried hard to land Cruz for the same reasons, but it seems the Twins see an opening to win the American League Central. So, they signed Cruz for one year at $14 million, plus an option year at $12 million.
4. Robbie Ray, LHP, Diamondbacks — Ray may be the next Diamondback to be traded. There is word that teams are calling about his availability. The Phillies and Astros are very interested. Ray, 27, went 6-2 in 24 starts last season. He earned $3.95 million and is arbitration eligible for the second time.
5. Jose Martinez, 1B, Cardinals — The Cardinals would deal Martinez to an AL team, which would likely use him as a DH. The Rays and Astros, both of whom missed out on Cruz, could become engaged on Martinez, who hit .305 with 17 homers and 83 RBIs in 2018. Martinez is now available after the Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks.
6. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays — The Jays are listening to offers for Stroman, but does it make sense for them to deal him? Stroman is only 27 and likely hasn’t reached his peak. An injury reduced his number of starts to 19 last season, when he went 4-9 with a 5.54 ERA. He can become a free agent after the 2020 season. Teams that could potentially deal for him include the Padres, Athletics, Braves, Rangers, and Phillies. But again, we’re not convinced Stroman is going anywhere.
7. CC Sabathia, LHP, Yankees — Yes, Sabathia should have a full recovery after a stent was placed in an artery to the heart. But don’t be surprised if the Yankees seek a back-end starter for depth purposes to protect themselves as Sabathia recovers. Last season, they picked off Lance Lynn to be that guy. There are certainly those types out there — Drew Pomeranz, for instance. Pomeranz had a dreadful 2018, but two years ago he won 17 games and he would be a good pickup for any team.
8. Clay Buchholz, RHP, free agent — Buchholz had a good season once he came back from flexor surgery in his pitching arm. He went 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts for the Diamondbacks, but was shut down in mid-September when he suffered a flexor strain. Nobody is completely sure about Buchholz’s status, but the 34-year-old could be a nice back-end option if he could stay healthy. The Diamondbacks could be interested in keeping him.
9. Jason Heyward, RF, Cubs — There’s been talk about trying to move the remaining $106 million of Heyward’s deal, with the Cubs having to subsidize a certain amount in order to pave the way for bigger signings, but it seems unlikely they can find a team willing to take it on. The Braves could be a possibility for a return engagement for Heyward after they lost Nick Markakis, but the Cubs would likely have to take on more than half of the remaining deal. The Braves now seem more inclined to address a starter and a reliever. This one could be tough for the Cubs.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In 2018, Cardinals pitchers and Rays third basemen each totaled six home runs.” . . . Also, “In 2014, there were 4,148 games in which a starter threw five-plus innings. In 2018, that number dropped by 530 to 3,618 games.” . . . Happy birthday, Bryce Brentz (30), A.J. Pierzynski (42), Keith MacWhorter (63), and Tom Murphy (73).