Looking ahead to baseball's 2018-19 free-agent bonanza

Looking ahead to baseball's 2018-19 free-agent bonanza
From ESPN - November 9, 2017

Why write about the current class of free agents? Because who is available next offseason could affect what happens this offseason.

For example, if you are interested in trading for Giancarlo Stanton or signing J.D. Martinez, are you better off waiting to go after Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or one of the big bats? Do you pay Yu Darvish or wait and see if Clayton Kershaw becomes available?

The 2018-19 class, once hailed as the greatest class of free agents ever, has lost a little luster. Harper and Machado remain two elite free agents -- especially given their ages -- but Matt Harvey's career has disintegrated, Andrew McCutchen is no longer an MVP-caliber player, and others, such as Garrett Richards, have battled injuries.

Still, there's a ton of depth out there, especially if a few key guys such as Kershaw exercise their opt-out clauses. Here's the top 20:

1. Bryce Harper, RF
2019 age: 26
2017 stats: .319/.413/.595, 4.7 WAR

Everyone expects Harper to sign with the Yankees because they are the Yankees sitting on a pile of gold, and they were Harper's favorite team growing up. Aaron Judge's emergence, however, lessens the Yankees' need for a power-hitting outfielder, and it's possible that if Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier develop into regulars in 2018, the Yankees will pool their future resources into pitching instead of offense. That could open the door for some other big spenders: the Dodgers and ... well, no team needs power in the outfield more than the Giants. Or how about a dream scenario of Harper playing right field next to Mike Trout?

2. Manny Machado, 3B
2019 age: 26
2017 stats: .259/.310/.471, 3.5 WAR

Machado had a disappointing 2017, fueled in part by an extremely low BABIP in the first half. He bounced back by hitting .290/.326/.500 in the second half and, like Harper, will hit free agency in the prime of his career. He has had three seasons of at least 6.7 WAR, so you have to expect a better season in 2018, which makes him No. 1A to Harper's No. 1. In the meantime, the Orioles seem intent on holding Machado for 2018, waiting to see if they can compete for a playoff spot before dealing him. An intriguing team in the Harper/Machado sweepstakes will be the Phillies. Their only player signed beyond 2018 is outfielder Odubel Herrera, and that is not for big money. The Phillies need talent and will have a ton of cash to spend on a franchise player.

3. Clayton Kershaw, LHP (opt-out)
2019 age: 31
2017 stats: 18-4, 2.31 ERA, 4.6 WAR

Kershaw is pretty much a lock to opt out of his contract. He's signed for 2019 and 2020 for $70 million, but considering that Max Scherzer and David Price both signed $200 million contracts for their age-30 seasons, Kershaw would probably triple that $70 million as a free agent. The one red flag, of course, is that he has missed time the past two seasons with back issues. It's also impossible to see him anywhere except with the Dodgers, but what if Kershaw finally wins a title in 2018? Maybe that makes it easier for him to consider a different home. How about day games at Wrigley and then nights with the family?

4. Josh Donaldson, 3B
2019 age: 33
2017 stats: .270/.385/.559, 4.8 WAR

Donaldson was a late bloomer, so he will hit free agency at 33, but after returning from a calf injury last season, he once again played at an MVP-caliber level. He's an excellent athlete, a guy you would expect to age well, similar to Adrian Beltre in a perfect scenario, and his bat is good enough to move to first base later, if needed. The Blue Jays are in the same position as the Orioles with Machado: unlikely contenders and in need of depth but hesitant about punting on 2018 in the offseason. Rumors have the Cardinals interested in Donaldson -- and they have been successful in trading for veterans and signing them to extensions -- but given his career arc, Donaldson will probably want to see what he's worth in free agency.

5. Charlie Blackmon, CF
2019 age: 32
2017 stats: .331/.399/.601

Like Donaldson, Blackmon was a late bloomer, so he will be reaching free agency in his early 30s. He's coming off a monster season, and if he can do it again, he will be attractive even factoring in Coors Field concerns (he hit .391 at Coors in 2017 and .276 on the road). The other concern is paying Blackmon and counting on him as a center fielder. In the past 10 seasons, there have been just eight seasons of center fielders age 33 or older getting 500 plate appearances. Realistically, if Blackmon is signed to a five-year deal, he probably plays center for a season or two before moving to a corner.

6. Drew Pomeranz, LHP
2019 age: 30
2017 stats: 17-6, 3.32 ERA, 4.0 WAR

That's right. The most attractive Red Sox left-hander might be not Price but Pomeranz. Obviously, he will have to prove that his 2017 season was legit, but he will be younger than the other free-agent pitchers on the market and -- because hed have only three full seasons as a starter -- he will have much less wear and tear on his arm.

7. Elvis Andrus, SS (opt-out)
2019 age: 30
2017 stats: .297/.337/.471, 4.7 WAR

A couple years ago, Andrus' long-term extension looked, if not calamitous, at least a little dubious. But he joined the fly-ball revolution in 2017 and cranked 20 home runs after hitting 21 the previous four seasons combined. In 2013, he played 156 games and had just 25 extra-base hits; in 2017, he ranked ninth in the AL with 68 extra-base hits. He has opt-out clauses after both 2018 and 2019; otherwise, the contract pays him $88 million through 2023. Given his age and durability -- he has played at least 145 games every season of his career -- it seems that he could beat that in free agency given another 4-WAR season.

8. Brian Dozier, 2B
2019 age: 32
2017 stats: .271/.359/.498, 4.4 WAR

With 76 home runs the past two seasons, Dozier has established himself as the premier power-hitting second baseman in the game. The Gold Glove Award he won this season was a little weird -- he has never been known for his range in the field -- but there's a lot to like here with his power, durability and command of his pull-heavy approach. Do not rule out a return to the Twins. The only money they have committed beyond 2018 is $13.2 million to Phil Hughes and $8 million to Jason Castro in 2019. However, Dozier is from Mississippi, and the Braves are a team in need of some power. If they believe in Dansby Swanson at shortstop (with Ozzie Albies at second), they could sign Dozier to play third base.

9. David Price, LHP (opt-out)
2019 age: 33
2017 stats: 6-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.7 WAR

Price has a lot to prove in 2018, both on the field and off, where his meltdowns with the media in 2017 showcased a player not that happy to be in Boston. Foremost, he has to prove the elbow is healthy and capable of his usual 200-inning workload. Even if that happens, would he opt out? He's due $127 million from 2019 to 2022, and I am not sure he'd get that even if he wins 20 games. It appears Price might be stuck with Boston. Or vice versa.

10. Andrew Miller, LHP
2019 age: 34
2017 stats: 4-3, 1.44 ERA, 3.1 WAR


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