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Friday, October 25, 2019

Ranking MLB’s Top 50 Free Agents

Eleven autumns ago, we at SI.com debuted the Reiter 50, which would become our annual ranking of the top 50 free agents available. That first list was topped by a certain hard-throwing 28-year-old—the same one who just last week walked off the mound, at 39 and in pain, after throwing what was certainly his final pitch for the club that signed him way back then.

The end of Carsten Charles Sabathia’s career was, first and foremost, a reminder of both the passage and ravages of time, as he was not just best but the last remaining active player from that first list. But it also spoke to the franchise-altering potential of the right free agent. Free agency, as an institution, has changed since 2008; owners are more tight-fisted now, and around a third of the league’s clubs each winter can be expected to barely participate at all, preferring to rebuild from within until they judge the time to be right. Still: for the cost of only (a lot of) money, teams might add a Sabathia, or a Scherzer, and never regret it.

This year’s postseason has affirmed the continuing value of elite starting pitchers, and this winter’s class is likely to include at least two of them. The class, in fact, is distinctly tiered: genuine superstars, from No. 1 to No. 3; plain-old All-Stars, from No. 4 to No. 12; really strong contributors, from No. 13 to No. 21; and needs-based pieces with potential, down to the bottom, although it gets a little thin around No. 40. Clubs looking for starters will find them, if they spend, and there are also generally a lot of solid-to-elite infielders—although not many shortstops. Relievers? Your options are limited.

A few notes: I’ve made educated guesses about what options will or will not be picked up; perhaps the player who is most likely to join this list is slugger Edwin Encarnacion, as the Yankees might choose to buy him out for $5 million instead of keeping him aboard for four times that. Each player’s listed age reflects how old he will be during the 2020 season, and we’re using the Baseball Reference version of Wins Above Replacement.

So, what do we make of this list?

QLE Posted: October 25, 2019 at 12:57 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: free agents, lists

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: October 25, 2019 at 01:49 AM (#5894275)
The list starts at #50 so working my way backwards ... some "this guy seems too low" comments might not hold once I see some earlier choices. Anyway...

50. Rich Hill -- this seems too low. Obviously 1 year, mostly incentive-laden but if you can get even 100 IP out of Hill, that's a good gamble of a couple million ... for example, better than #47 Homer Bailey.
49. Jarrod Dyson -- this seems too low as well. He remains an excellent bench player. Again, nothing special but by the 49th best FA, you're probably expecting some $1.5 M reliever who's gonna stink, not something useful. And certainly seems a better choice than #48 Alex Gordon.
45. Kintzler -- surely this is way too low. A "reliable" 124 ERA+ reliever whose peripherals were actually a smidgen better than usual this year. A ton of FAs are relievers, no way he's the bottom of the (upper) barrel. He's somehow ranked 1 spot behind Romo who is 2 years older and hasn't been as good.
42. Kyle Gibson -- Look, I couldn't tell the difference between Kyle Gibson and any male offspring Kirk Gibson might have but he gives you 30 starts of 100 ERA+, what's he doing down here.
38. Cishek -- speaking of under-rated relievers. The man has a 178 ERA+ over the last 3 years. Sure, the FIP is less shiny but the guy has averaged 6.9 H/9 for his career, it's probably not a fluke.
36. Maybin -- pretty sure I'd rather have Dyson who can still fly and handle CF
33. Arodys Vizcaino -- c'mon, he pitched 4 innings this year. And it's a torn labrum which are not often recovered from well.
31. d'Arnaud -- I fail to see any reason to take d'Arnaud over Chirinos at #34.
30. Asdrubal -- this seems high but maybe not.
28. Daniel Hudson -- boy this seems a major reach. He had an excellent year but it's the first he's ever had.
27. Michael Pindeda -- major reach #2. A nice bounceback year but less reliable than Gibson, Roark and some others ranked lower.
26. Starlin Castro -- apparently he had a really nice second half. I guess he might still be an average starting 2B so maybe this is about right.
24. Will Harris -- very close to Cishek so one of those rankings must be wrong. :-)
16. Will Smith -- turns out Will Smith and Will Harris are not the same person.
9. Donaldson -- it depends how many years he's looking for but this seems low.
8. Grandal -- I am not optimistic about his future.
4. Wheeler -- Oh come on. He's a 100 ERA+ pitcher (by FIP or ERA), reliable since returning from injury. They like his fastball velocity. 97 MPH and $4 will get you 3/$36 and a good cup of coffee.
   2. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: October 25, 2019 at 02:48 AM (#5894280)
Rich Hill is going back to the Dodgers, so scratch him off the list. (And I agree w/Walt about the undervalue.) Hill said after elimination he wants to come back in any role (i.e., at close to any price), and everyone loves the guy. Seems a no-brainer for Walt's suggestion of that incentive-heavy deal. Maybe something that would max out around... $8 million-$12 million?
   3. Walt Davis Posted: October 25, 2019 at 03:12 AM (#5894281)
I will say that I might have been wrong about expecting meh relievers at #50. Maybe it's a particularly deep class but Kintzler and Romo are arguably the worst relievers on the list. I thought we'd be in Brad Brach territory by the time we got to #50. Either it's a quite deep class or I underestimate the number of cromulent players that hit FA every year.
   4. Rally Posted: October 25, 2019 at 07:14 AM (#5894292)
Top 50 is close to the top 25% of the free agents available each offseason. When you get down to the lower portions a lot of the players end up retiring, voluntarily or not, or signing minor league deals. And that’s just the guys with 6 years+. Quite a bit more minor league free agents.
   5. DL from MN Posted: October 25, 2019 at 10:13 AM (#5894342)
42. Kyle Gibson -- Look, I couldn't tell the difference between Kyle Gibson and any male offspring Kirk Gibson might have but he gives you 30 starts of 100 ERA+, what's he doing down here.


He ended the season in the bullpen because of colitis.
   6. salvomania Posted: October 25, 2019 at 12:21 PM (#5894469)
Good luck to whomever takes a chance on Marcell Ozuna (No. 12); I didn't pay enough attention to him as a player when he was with Miami other than to note the huge numbers he put up in one season (2017), but from watching him closely over the past two years I see a talented player with deceptive speed and a good attitude who usually hustles but one who is not good defensively and who has a terrible, undisciplined approach in the batter's box.

He has the occasional hot streak, and when he hits them they sure do go, but he seems to tantalize more than deliver as a hitter. He put up 5.0 bWAR (5.4 fWAR) total in two seasons with the Cardinals, and a team needs more from a middle-of-the-order thumper.

I wouldn't mind if Ozuna accepted the Cardinals' one-year qualifying offer, because hey, 2017 could happen again, espcially for a guy who's just 29, but I would be wary of any multi-year commitment for big money.
   7. Jose Goes to Absurd Lengths for 50K Posted: October 25, 2019 at 12:29 PM (#5894476)
Most of what Walt wrote I agree with but my one disagreement would be...

9. Donaldson -- it depends how many years he's looking for but this seems low.


He's about to be 34 and I suspect he is looking for more than 1 or 2 years. That's a little concerning for a guy with a couple of years of injury issues in the recent pass. Beyond that if you look at the top 8 ahead of him I don't see anyone I'd rush to put behind him. The one guy I would is Chapman but I'm bearish on his future.
   8. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 25, 2019 at 01:37 PM (#5894509)
Just quick predictions:

10. Hyun-Jin Ryu - Accepts QO
9. Josh Donaldson - one year, $10 million plus incentives
8. Yasmani Grandal 1 year, $6 million
7. Madison Bumgarner - 3 years, $36 million
6. JD Martinez - does not opt out
5. Arodlis Chapman - signs a one year deal in June
4. Zach Wheeler - minor league contract, invitation to spring traiing
3. Stephen Strasburg - does not opt out
2. Anthony Rendon - sits out the year
1. Gerrit Cole - signs in Japan
   9. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 25, 2019 at 02:04 PM (#5894528)
Josh Donaldson - one year, $10 million plus incentives

That's crazy. He got 1/23 last year, and just put up a 6-WAR season.

Edit: OK, I read further, and the satire is obvious. Sorry.
   10. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 25, 2019 at 02:31 PM (#5894539)
I will say that I might have been wrong about expecting meh relievers at #50. Maybe it's a particularly deep class but Kintzler and Romo are arguably the worst relievers on the list. I thought we'd be in Brad Brach territory by the time we got to #50. Either it's a quite deep class or I underestimate the number of cromulent players that hit FA every year.
Also that 83 percent of major league players are relievers now.
   11. cookiedabookie Posted: October 25, 2019 at 03:25 PM (#5894570)
Every is saying Rendon to the Rangers, but they better sign Bumgarner and Keuchel too if they actually want to compete. That rotation is atrocious beyond Minor and Lynn.
   12. The Duke Posted: October 25, 2019 at 03:31 PM (#5894573)
6. Is spot on with ozuna. He is unbelievably fast for a 29 year old big guy who comes to camp overweight. His defense, I don’t care what the metrics say, is below average but not Terrible. He was a much better hitter in 2019 than 2018 but not anywhere near 2017. I hope he takes the QO. He seem like an unsafe bet for a long term deal imo.

I do like him though - great personality
   13. bbmck Posted: October 25, 2019 at 06:06 PM (#5894672)
B-ref has 352 free agents signing during the 2018-19 off-season and Josh Smoker signing during the 2018 playoffs. 196 of those played in MLB in 2019, 88 had at least 50 PA, 29 at least 1 position player WAR, 120 pitched in 2019, 87 pitched at least 10 innings and 28 with at least 1 pitching WAR. Patrick Corbin, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Adam Wainwright and Anibal Sanchez with 50+ PA and 10+ IP so 171 players meeting at least one of those criteria.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: October 25, 2019 at 08:59 PM (#5894735)
[Donaldson is] about to be 34 and I suspect he is looking for more than 1 or 2 years. That's a little concerning for a guy with a couple of years of injury issues in the recent pass. Beyond that if you look at the top 8 ahead of him I don't see anyone I'd rush to put behind him. The one guy I would is Chapman but I'm bearish on his future.

And he's coming off a 6 WAR season. I agree, the years is key. But Grandal is about to be 31 (which is like 34 in non-C years) and is coming off a 2.5 WAR season. Bumgarner looks healthy but it's not clear he's better than a 3-WAR pitcher at this point. JDM is only 2 years younger and still more defensively limited (and fairly similar overall offensive production with different profiles). Wheeler is a guy with supposedly great stuff who puts up average numbers. Over the next 2-3 years, I'd take Donaldson's baseball value over any of those folks. There is almost certainly a cliff waiting for Donaldson and it could arrive this year but the same is true for both Grandal and JDM (and of course every pitcher).

For 2020, he's no worse than the 2nd-best position player available ... which pretty much means he's the 2nd-best gamble in this class for 2021 and 2022 as well. If he's looking for more than 3 years (at real money), I'm probably not giving it to him but I'm probably not giving it to JDM either and definitely not Grandal and while I might give more years to Castellanos, it would only be at a much lower AAV (cuz Nick isn't all that good). Donaldson almost has to project to something like at least 10 WAR over the next 3 years.
   15. The Duke Posted: October 25, 2019 at 11:19 PM (#5894820)
Donaldson gets at least 3/75 and maybe 4 years. I could see him as a nice fit for Nats when they lose Rendon. Can’t see Braves In the josh bidding war. The Braves will get madbum to replace Keuchel.

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