Keith Law's top 50 free agents: Some serious star power
Like most free-agent classes, however, it's just not a very deep group, as teams try to sign their best young players to extensions that cover their potential prime years, or trade them to teams who'll try to do the same. We get about 15 deep before things start to fall off into back-end starter, reliever and below-average regular territory, which I guess is still pretty good compared to the past few years.
Machado and Bryce Harper have been on a collision course for this offseason since they were drafted third and first overall, respectively, in 2010. Machado is three months older and has been more durable than Harper, so he has produced a little more, although both have been unqualified successes as draft picks -- only Chris Sale (13th overall) and Andrelton Simmons (70th overall) have outproduced these two from the same draft class, with Simmons just a shade ahead of the others thanks to his historically great defensive values.
Machado has been a six-win player three times in the past four years, missing in 2017 when he had an incongruous, career-low .265 BABIP even though he made hard contact at the same rate as he typically does. His defensive value took a hit this past year because he played shortstop regularly for the first time since 2012 (when he was still in the minors), and he didn't play it well -- only Carlos Correa had a lower ultimate zone rating (UZR) adjusted for playing time among regular shortstops. Machado might want to play shortstop, and once upon a time he was quite good there, but he's a lot bigger now and belongs at the hot corner. As a third baseman in 2018, he probably would have been somewhere north of seven wins, approaching eight, and teams that consider him a third baseman should value him as such. Even if he played shortstop at the start of a new deal, he's not going to stay there for the length of the contract, but he's so good at third with such a strong arm that he would project to remain at third even on an eight- to 10-year deal.
As he comes off a season with the lowest strikeout rate of his career, without losing any of his power or contact quality, he looks like the top free agent on the market. He's someone who should ask for -- and receive -- a 10-year, $300 million deal.
Harper hasn't produced consistently over the course of his career, with two seasons derailed by injuries and the first half of 2018 marred by a sudden expansion of his strike zone. But when he has produced, he has been near the top of his league in offensive value. In the second half of 2018, he was fourth in the NL in wOBA and fifth in wRC+; only Justin Turner had more doubles in that span, and Harper led the league in walks. Durability has been an issue, but this was the third time in four seasons that Harper played at least 147 games and racked up more than 620 plate appearances.
What killed Harper in the first half was both some bad BABIP luck, as he produced a lot of hard-hit balls without the results you'd expect from that profile, and his lower contact rate, especially when he swung at pitches out of the zone. (Even at that, he wasn't bad, with a .350 wOBA and 118 wRC+; he just wasn't what we expect of Bryce Harper.) After the All-Star break, he started to produce like himself again, and he seemed to make better swing decisions at the same time that his luck improved, perhaps not coincidentally.
On defense, Harper's numbers collapsed this year as he split time between center and right, grading out poorly by UZR and defensive runs saved (DRS) in both spots. He's probably not close to average in center, but I would bet that he'd be an average or better defender in right once he's playing there full-time again and that this was just a blip in his defensive production in a half-year of data, since he was above average there the previous two seasons.
Harper has produced 30.7 fWAR (FanGraphs' blend of WAR) already and will play in 2019 at age 26, so he's entering the prime years for a hitter, with the instincts and athleticism to retain his value into his mid-30s. I think a team signing him for eight years could forecast 40 WAR from him, with the hope for more in the "in" years of the deal, as he already has had a 9.0-plus WAR season and has all the skills to do so again. Machado might get slightly more money, but Harper should be asking for the same size and length of deal, and I think he'll be a good value for whichever team gives it to him.
Yes, even if Clayton Kershaw opts out, even with former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel a free agent, Corbin is the top free-agent starter available this winter. Two years removed from a dismal first full season back from Tommy John surgery when he posted a 5.15 ERA and was worth just 0.5 fWAR, Corbin had his best season in every way in 2018, partly due to health but mostly due to a change in how he pitches.
Corbin never has been a big velocity guy or projected to become one, and in 2018 he moved away from his four-seamer and increased the use of his slider, which FanGraphs' pitch values had as the most valuable in the game in 2018. Sliders accounted for a whopping 41.5 percent of all pitches he threw. He added a slow curveball that supplanted his changeup -- he threw 97 percent of those curveballs to right-handed batters -- and when he did throw his four-seamer, it went where hitters couldn't square it up so easily, up and in to right-handers or up and away to lefties. He's athletic, repeats his delivery extremely well and has developed again into a plus command and control guy.
The only knock on Corbin is that he has had little chance to show any durability, missing all of 2014 and half of 2015 because of Tommy John surgery, after which the Diamondbacks under the Dave Stewart regime worked him very hard. This season was his second time reaching 200 innings, however, and there's nothing here to tell me he couldn't do it again. If you need a starter this winter, Corbin should be your main target.
Brantley was one of the best players in the American League in 2014 and close to it in 2015. Then a shoulder injury wiped out nearly all of his 2016 season and took him out of that conversation, especially when he played only about half a season in 2017 and didn't look like his old self. He had a quiet bounce-back in 2018, with his highest playing time totals since his 2014 peak and the second-best WAR figure of his career, boosted by the second-lowest strikeout rate of any qualifying hitter in baseball. (To put it another way, he struck out about a quarter of the times that Chris Davis did.)
Brantley is an extremely disciplined hitter who had positive run values for all six pitch types this year per FanGraphs, making him one of only 11 qualified hitters to do so (and the only one who's a free agent). He's an average defender in left, which limits his total upside, and even in this homer-laden era, he has never topped 20 home runs. But he's also fully healthy and has at least some of the skills we'd want to see in a hitter about to sign a contract that will take him into his mid-30s. I could see him holding 3-4 wins a year for some time, with a good chance of a 5.0 win season somewhere in the next few years.
Keuchel's 2015 Cy Young Award-winning season showed what he could be when everything synced up for him, including all parts of his delivery. When that has gone awry, as it did the very next season, the pinpoint command that allowed him to absolutely live at hitters' knees for a full season has gone with it, and while he could still be effective, he wasn't the same guy.
He has since settled in as a midrotation starter who's fairly durable and continues to generate a ton of groundballs, working with that sinker low and to his arm side (so down and in to lefties) as much as he can. He'll work with a slider, cutter and changeup, with the slider and cutter trading off which is the better pitch year over year. It was the cutter's turn in 2018, a deadly pitch to right-handers because he can run it in hard on their hands (Statcast says he threw only three cutters to lefties this year). He's still a midrotation guy, but with some nonzero chance that he'll give you a 5.0 WAR season because he has a great run of mechanical consistency again, and with three 200-inning seasons in the past five years, there's probably a good chance he'll stay healthy over a deal of three or more years.
2019 age: 31 | B/T: S/R
2018 WAR: 2.5 | Career: 20.0
Three years and a major knee injury removed from a year that saw Pollock post a .315/.367/.498 line and 7.2 WAR, that year looks more and more like the outlier, as he has been a roughly 2.5-3 WAR player in his other full seasons. He also has lost a step in center and looks more like an average defender there, still capable of playing the position but perhaps not for more than the next couple of years as he enters his mid-30s. He seemed to sell out a bit more for power in 2018 and certainly benefited from the Diamondbacks' home park, which is somewhat homer-friendly due to the altitude in Phoenix; he hit .235/.288/.451 on the road this year, his worst road line since 2013.
He's an average regular in center, maybe with some hope that he regains some OBP skills going forward, but if Pollock has to move to a corner during this deal, he might be more of a platoon bat.
Lowrie just had the two best years of his career in 2017-18, generating more than half of his total career WAR over those two seasons, at ages 33-34. Part of the trick was staying healthy -- he had qualified for the batting title only twice between his 2008 debut and 2016, then did so in each of the past two seasons. Another area was improved conditioning to strengthen his lower half, perhaps in response to a foot injury that led to an awful 2016 performance. A third is a slight increase in his launch angle, enough to potentially explain his improved line-drive and hard-hit rates. And maybe playing second base regularly after years of roaming around the infield, playing positions to which his arm and feet weren't well suited, helped too.
The quandary for teams considering him in free agency will be his age: He'll play at 35 in 2019, an age by which we'd expect nearly all hitters to be showing signs of decline on offense and defense. He might be looking for a longer-term deal, but I wouldn't go past two years because Father Time always will come calling.
Donaldson was flipped for a non-prospect at the August waiver trade deadline, a sign of how far his stock had fallen during a season of injuries and his worst performance since he was still a part-time player in 2012. He doesn't seem to have lost bat speed, which is good for a hitter in his 30s, but he struggled with all kinds of off-speed stuff -- and of course he wasn't the defender we're used to him being. Even with some missed time in 2017, he was still nearly a five-win player thanks to his bat, and that seems like a reasonable hope for Donaldson as long as he's healthy enough to play 120-plus games in 2019, good enough that someone should offer him a three-year deal.
Morton had the two best seasons of his career in 2017 and 2018, a bargain at $14 million total for Houston, and now hits the market entering his age-35 season with midrotation promise but questions around his durability and the risk associated with a pitcher his age. He works with a four-seamer, sinker and curveball. He managed to close his platoon gap without adding another pitch, getting a ton of swings and misses on the breaking ball against left-handers.
This marked only the second season of his career in which he qualified for the ERA title, with the previous time coming in 2011. Morton did have two scares near the end of 2018, missing one start because of a sore shoulder in late August and leaving a start early in late September when his velocity was down for the same reason. Two years is probably right again, but $14 million per year is a lot more reasonable now than $14 million total.
Grandal is one of the two or three best pitch-framing catchers in the majors, which drove the Dodgers to acquire him four years ago and has probably added an extra win or two to the team's totals in each year he has been catching. He's also an excellent hitter for a catcher; he was just a rounding error behind J.T. Realmuto among qualified catchers this year for the lead in wOBA and wRC+, and over the past four years only Buster Posey and Gary Sanchez have higher wRC+ figures among regulars.
What Grandal is not good at, however, is the part of the catcher's job that gives the job its name: catching the ball. He leads baseball in passed balls over the past four years, doesn't block balls well and has a reputation of not working well on game-planning with pitchers. He's also weaker enough hitting from the right side that having a right-handed catcher who can play more than a standard backup makes a lot of sense. Grandal's right-handed swing is long, and he doesn't get to his power the same way that he does from the left side. If you factor in the framing value, he has been a four-win player regularly and was worth somewhere over five wins in 2018.
He'll play at 30 in 2019, not too old for most positions but on the older side for catchers. The market might pay him to keep producing the way he has, but history says he'll probably be less productive or will play less over the next five years than he did the past five. And after an October when his receiving issues were magnified, teams will have to consider how to weigh all that framing value against the other parts of his defensive game.
Eovaldi was long the poster child for what happens when you throw as hard as possible but do so without movement or, as we know now, exceptional spin: You get hit. Before his Tommy John surgery, Eovaldi consistently ranked as the hardest-throwing starter in baseball, but his results always disappointed. He never struck out more than 19 percent of the batters he faced in a season even as league strikeout rates kept rising.
He returned with Tampa Bay this year before being traded to the Red Sox and added a cutter that he threw 32 percent of the time, and it proved very effective, both on its own and in keeping hitters from sitting on his four-seamer as if it were coming out of a pitching machine. He posted the best strikeout rate and the lowest walk rate of his career, and looked very much like a midrotation starter who was only held back by a league-average home run rate.
Given the general nonchalance with which teams approach starters who've had and recovered fully from Tommy John surgery, I figure Eovaldi will get a slew of three-year offers off the basis of 2018. If he holds up, he could very well be a $20 million/year starter for someone for that period.
After three years of injuries and disappointing results on his return, Ryu had a tremendous half-season in 2018 for the Dodgers, as he started to look a lot more like the pitcher he'd been in 2013-14, before he first hurt his shoulder. He has regained all his velocity and added a cutter during his time away from the mound (Korean media reports say he learned it from watching video of Dallas Keuchel). However, his changeup remains his out pitch and is what makes him more effective against right-handed batters than lefties this season.
His durability is a natural question -- he'll turn 32 in March and has already thrown more than 1,600 innings between the KBO and MLB before his first injury, and missed three months in 2018 because of a torn groin muscle, so he was limited to 82 innings. Those innings, across 15 starts, were good enough to indicate he could be a 3-4 WAR pitcher again, someone worth $20 million a year if you knew he'd be fully healthy and capable of going 30 starts.
If there's good news to take away from Cutch's 2018 season, it's that he can still hit a fastball, after two years of not looking great against velocity. He might be cheating a little bit to get there, as he's certainly not the kind of off-speed hitter he once was, but it at least gives him a path back to some offensive production -- which will be critical since he has to play left field at this point, with poor showings in center and right in recent years.
He's still a patient hitter, probably a modest batting-average guy who will add value with OBP and 20-odd homers, enough to profile as a regular in left but perhaps not more. Getting him out of right field will help his defensive numbers and perhaps cut some fatigue, as would the occasional start at DH. I might be too much of a fan of McCutchen to be totally objective here, but I think he has several years as an average regular left in him, enough for something like three years and $45 million, hedging just a little against the increased odds of injury to a player who'll be 32 in 2019.
Lynn seemed to return to his old approach after a deadline trade sent him from Minnesota to the Yankees; he worked up with his four-seamer again and stopped trying to go low to his glove side with it, and his results were better across the board. He's two years back from Tommy John surgery, and probably able to handle a full starter's workload going forward. I'd be willing to bet that the version of Lynn we saw with the Yankees -- and had seen before with St. Louis -- is the guy we'll see going forward, which makes him a fourth starter with the potential to be a league-average one as long as he makes 30-plus starts.
15. Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
2019 age: 28 | B/T: L/L
2018 WAR: N.A. | Career: N.A.
Kikuchi nearly skipped the NPB draft out of high school in Japan to sign with an MLB team but decided against it and has spent the past eight seasons pitching for the Seibu Lions, peaking in 2017 with a 1.97 ERA and 187? innings, both best in the Pacific League, and a second-best 217 strikeouts. He still touched 96-97 mph this past season but was pitching more comfortably at 92-93 to go with a plus slider and two more average-ish off-speed pitches. He missed several starts in 2018 because of shoulder stiffness, at least the third time in his eight seasons that shoulder woes have shut him down. His delivery also is worrisome, as his arm is very late relative to his front leg, which tends to put more stress on -- wait for it -- the shoulder. It's No. 2 starter stuff if he holds up, but bidders will have to weigh the probability of him missing time into the price.
Ramos was a good framer for years but has been less so the past two seasons, perhaps suffering relative to a league that has in general seen the average level of framing improve. On the plus side, he has become a good bit more patient over the past few years, after I'd written him off as a permanently low-OBP hitter, and he led all catchers in slugging percentage in 2018 (minimum 200 PA) and was third among catchers in 2016, before his knee injury. He's a solid regular behind the plate with some durability concerns, and if this little OBP surge sticks around, there's some chance he could be a 3.5-4.0 WAR player one year.
Happ is a durable, average starter who has succeeded for years thanks to deception and control, the kinds of skills that should give a long tail to his career. He has four pitches but works primarily off his fastball, mostly 90-91 mph, on which he gets swinging strikes up in the zone because the ball appears to be coming out of the side of his shirt. He's also durable, making 25 or more starts in the past four seasons, and only missed time in 2013 when he was hit in the head by a line drive. He'll pitch at 36 next year and probably will get a two- or three-year deal, but he's the type of pitcher who has a sneaky chance to still be out there in his early 40s.
Not to rain on anyone's parade here, but after a huge start to his season, in the second half Markakis kind of turned back into a pumpkin -- and let's be clear, pumpkins are good things, as they make excellent pies and quick breads, although keep them away from my coffee, please and thank you. He hit .258/.332/.369 after the All-Star break, which looks a lot like his previous five years: .277/.348/.380 overall, never slugging .400 in any of those seasons. He's a below-average regular in right field, and at 35 this year is far more likely to decline than improve. A one-year deal for $6 million-$8 million might be a bit rich given the lack of power, but there is some value in his durability: He has played in 155 or more games in six straight years and 11 of 12.
I did not see that coming at all: Cruz generated about 16 WAR over his four-year tenure with the Mariners, and even though 2018 was his worst year there, he still hit .256/.342/.509 (unadjusted, which matters for a right-handed power hitter at Safeco). Of course, he's 38 now, cannot play the field and has seen his BABIP decline in three straight years. He had a harder time with good velocity in 2018, and had more trouble with fastballs up in the zone, which you would expect from a hitter who's losing some bat speed as he ages. I'd still give the Boomstick another year to see if he's got one more 40-homer season in him, even at $12 million-$14 million, but his age and lack of defensive value really cap his upside.
Iglesias is a ridiculously gifted defender, with UZR measuring his defensive value around 10 runs per 150 games in the field. But at the plate, he's usually a cipher. He would have ranked in the bottom 10 in the majors in wRC+ in 2016 and 2017 had he had enough plate appearances to qualify, and even this year he was still below the MLB median for shortstops. He's a regular because of his glove, without much upside overall, a better fit for a team with a ground ball staff that can make more use of his unbelievable hands and range.
Sanchez appeared to be completely done as a big league starter after two dismal years in Detroit, where reduced velocity made him prone to both homers and hard contact, but largely ditching his slider in favor of a previously little-used cutter made a tremendous difference for him. Both the cutter and the changeup, which he also used more, were effective. There's some regression due -- he's not going to post a .254 BABIP again -- but with his control and two solid secondary pitches, he could have a few years as a fourth or fifth starter.
Gonzalez had his worst year as a full-time starter in 2018, which is bad timing heading into free agency. His velocity has been down for the past two years, but he always pitched well with his off-speed stuff, with his changeup and curveball frequently showing plus. If his command and control were better, he could probably pitch with a below-average fastball and still be OK. But this past season his curveball was a problem too -- it was slower, and he threw it less often for strikes, but he tried to lean on the pitch more because his fastball also was down. Lefties with off-speed weapons can often stick around for years if they have command, but until Gio gets that he's more of a back-end guy than the mid-rotation starter he once was.
The new version of Miley we saw this year, especially in the playoffs, generated 1.5 WAR (both flavors) in just 80? innings across 16 starts, and much of it looks sustainable even with the gap between his ERA and FIP at about a run. He almost completely dispensed with his regular fastball in favor of a cutter, which he threw 42 percent of the time and which was the fifth-most valuable cutter by FanGraphs' pitch values this year even though he only pitched half a season. The pitch helped him become a ground ball pitcher, and he always has killed left-handed hitters, especially limiting their power, so even with some foreseeable regression you could reasonably project him to provide league-average performance for a few years thanks to the new pitch and approach.
Harvey was better after he got away from the circus in Queens, but still not great for the Reds, more back-end starter-ish, although I think the homer-friendly ballpark in Cincinnati did him no favors. He gave up 13 homers in 60? innings there, versus eight in 67? innings on the road, a modest difference given the samples but perhaps an argument that a bigger home park would help him. He also was weirdly terrible in high-leverage situations; in 30 such PA, he struck out only two batters and gave up a .357/.400/.679 line, which has to be a fluke but can also skew your ERA in a big hurry. That's a long way of saying I see little reason to think Harvey might be better in 2019 than 2018. His stuff was mostly back, with the slider still a swing-and-miss pitch for him. If you can live with the risks around his arm health and whatever issues the Mets had with him off the field, you might get a league-average starter here at a small discount.
He's back again, but I don't think Moustakas' free-agent résumé is any better this year than it was last time around. He still doesn't hit left-handed pitching well (.293 career OBP, .301 last season), and he's an average defender at best at third, worse by the eye test than by defensive metrics. That might still make him a starter at third for some teams, but contenders will want something more -- either a strong platoon partner or just a better overall solution who gets on base more than Moustakas does with somewhat better glove work.
A longtime favorite of mine for whom I had forecast much more production than he has shown to date, Smoak finally found himself as a hitter in Toronto the past two years as a "three true outcomes" hitter who does enough of the two good ones (homers and walks) to be productive even as a first baseman without defensive value. His strikeout rate did jump last year, to the point where it can't get any higher without making him less than a regular, and he'll play at 32 next year, an age where we might expect some normal decline in his production. That patience/power combination should make him a regular for another year or two though, good for a two-year, $20 million sort of deal if there's a team out there in need of a short-term solution at first.
Editor's note: The Blue Jays exercised Smoak's option
If Sabathia wants to keep pitching, I think there's a role for him as a fifth starter on a good team where he also could be a mentor to younger starters, since he now has had phases where he has succeeded with huge stuff and now has transitioned to someone who succeeds with location and feel rather than power. He's not likely to be durable given his knee issues, and he hasn't qualified for the ERA title in the past two years, but giving him the fifth spot in a rotation, where he gets to skip starts here and there, may help keep him healthy and effective for 140-150 innings. He's not going to miss bats the way he used to, limiting his upside, but I think he can hold serve as a 1-2 WAR pitcher for a few years thanks to his new approach.
Chavez was a revelation for the Cubs after a midseason trade. He became Joe Maddon's most trusted arm out of the bullpen in high-leverage spots midgame, with good reason. Chavez fills up the strike zone and has little or no platoon split, thanks primarily to a plus cutter that he uses against hitters on both sides, along with a solid enough changeup that he works in against lefties. A few teams tried to make Chavez a starter along the way, but relief suits his pitch mix better, although with 95 innings last year, he seems well-suited to the multi-inning role teams are increasingly favoring.
Cabrera can hit enough to play every day at any of the three skill positions on the infield ... but he can't field any of them anymore, not even second base. Of 33 players to play at least 500 innings at second last year, Cabrera's UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games, so a rate stat reflecting defensive value) ranked 29th, ahead of only Daniel Murphy, Devon Travis and two young players playing second regularly for the first time. Cabrera might be best suited to third, which tends to require less lateral range, although he doesn't have the first-step quickness (or any quickness) typical for that spot. His power is real, and he still has above-average contact skills, potentially valuable in our strikeout-heavy times if someone can live with the runs he'll cost with his glove.
Holland was well below replacement level in 2017, walking more than a batter every two innings and giving up a billion homers for the White Sox, but all his peripherals moved the right way when he jumped to the National League West this year. Some of it was the ballpark: He gave up just five homers in 82 innings at AT&T Park in 2018, after coughing up 13 in 71 home innings at whatever the White Sox are calling New Comiskey these days. The biggest change was in control, as he went from just under 60 percent to over 64 percent (strikes as a percentage of total pitches) last year. I wouldn't bet on a sub-4.00 ERA in a neutral park or the AL, but he could be someone's fifth starter or a weak No. 4.
Ottavino has always been death to right-handed things, and that's what he is going forward, although in 2018, the best season of his career, he was almost as good against lefties, which turned him from a specialist into a full-inning reliever at least for the moment. I'm skeptical that the change is real because he was all fastball/slider against lefties, neither of which is a pitch you'd expect to be that effective against opposite-side hitters. He has a cutter, but threw more than 80 percent of his cutters to right-handers. So you can sign Ottavino hoping he has figured out left-handers, but you should pay him as if he probably hasn't.
A chronic beneficiary of playing at altitude, LeMahieu parlayed a Coors-boosted BABIP into an All-Star nod in 2016, but by 2018 wasn't even an average regular once you factored in the environment of his home park (where runs are cheap), hitting just .229/.277/.422 away from Coors this past season. He's an adequate defender at second without power or speed, someone who can put the ball in play a fair amount (not a minor thing in this high-strikeout era) but only produces at an above-average level if the BABIP fairy blesses him that season.
Traded midseason for salary relief, Familia posted the highest strikeout rate of his career in his 31 innings with Oakland (compared to full-season results before that), boosting the use of his swing-and-miss slider and largely ditching his splitter, which isn't bad but is often out of the zone. I wonder if using the splitter more would make him better against lefties, as he's always had a modest platoon split, but not one bad enough to be a problem for him as someone who typically closes out games and thus pitches full innings. He's a fine discount closer option if someone wants the mystique of closer experience without paying the Kimbrel premium.
Robertson signed a four-year deal with the White Sox the same year Kimbrel and Miller signed their deals, leaving the Bronx when Miller arrived. He returned to the Yanks in a mid-2017 trade, and more or less held his value over the course of the contract thanks to his consistent durability: He threw between 62 and 70 innings in each season, and produced between half a win and 1.9 wins (looking at both versions of WAR) in every year. His curveball is still plus, and in 2018 he started mixing in an occasional slider that was very effective, allowing him to lean less on his fastball, which is his worst pitch. He also has been historically very good against left-handed batters, allowing him to fill a full-inning role anywhere in a late-game relief plan. He's probably a one-win reliever.
Gonzalez has been a sort of Swiss army knife player for the Astros the past few years; in 2018 he played at least 100 innings at first, second, short and left, plus 19 innings at third base, where he has played more than 600 innings in his career. He's not particularly good anywhere in the infield, but also not particularly bad anywhere in the infield, making him very useful as a bench piece who won't kill you if he has to play every day. His 2017 power surge -- 23 homers and a .226 ISO -- looks like a fluke at this point, but he has held his improved walk rate and can be a league-average bat. He's a very useful player -- a switch-hitter too -- for so many reasons that even though he may not be your typical regular, he's probably good enough to play 150 games for most teams, and worth giving three or four years if the base salary is modest, at the $8 million-$10 million range.
Another bet on someone who was good prior to injuries getting back to his former self, although Britton did show some signs he might be getting close after a July deadline trade to the Yankees. Britton can still bring the velocity and still sinks the heck out of the ball, with an insane 78 percent ground ball rate in two months with the Bombers, right in line with his ground ball rates the previous four seasons. It's all about strikes for Britton -- when he was untouchable in 2016 it was a combination of allowing very few walks and generating tons of ground balls. He could get back there in 2019 with nothing more than full health and maybe some judicious usage.
Kinsler has managed to hold value into his 30s by becoming a better defender at second base even as his bat has declined, with OBPs of .313 and .301 the past two years. His 2018 also was marred by a reverse platoon split that won't last -- he always has hit left-handers well, as all right-handed batters do, and that one-year drop is just a fluke. I'd feel comfortable offering him a year to be my every-day second baseman even though he'll turn 37 in June.
Herrera isn't quite what he was in 2016 -- who among us is, really -- but if healthy he's still a very effective late-game relief option for just about any club, as he still misses enough bats and throws a lot of strikes, with walk rates of 4.2, 7.7 and 5.5 percent the past three seasons. His velocity was down for him in 2018, about a mile an hour below his previous average, which could be from the shoulder issue that shelved him for part of the summer before a Lisfranc injury ended his season in August. (On a side note, I own all of Lis Franc's solo albums.) If he'd been healthy all year, Herrera might be the best reliever in the free-agent class.
Buchholz was superb in half a season for the Diamondbacks, making 15 starts (not counting the one he left without throwing a pitch) and giving up two runs or fewer in 12 of them. His stuff is down from where it was with Boston, but he threw strikes at the highest rate of his career, 67.6 percent, producing his second-best walk rate too. His season ended early with a flexor strain in his right forearm that required a PRP injection but not surgery. Assuming he returns healthy in 2019, even enough for just 20 or so starts, he's a potential two-win pitcher or more, but there's obvious risk here that he pitches far less than that or not at all.
Kimbrel has reached a point in his career where his reputation as a Proven Closer™ exceeds reasonable projections for his performance. He racked up 108 saves since Boston traded for him before the 2016 season, but saves are meaningless as a measure of individual production, and in two of those three seasons he walked more than 12 percent of the batters he faced, with a walk rate of 10.4 percent since the trade -- control issues that were evident this postseason. He has been exceptionally durable for a closer, making 60 or more appearances in seven of his eight full seasons, with the exception in 2015 when he made 57. You might pay him thinking the 2017 version of Kimbrel will resurface, but his body of work as a whole, his age and the general career trajectory of one-inning relievers say he probably won't.
As a general rule, I think the whole idea that a player who's about to become a free agent can't really do much if anything to alter his market value with his October performance. Kelly might be an exception, as he was so effective this postseason and showed teams how best to use him. He never had the command or secondary stuff to start, but he has the arm strength and durability to face more than three batters at a clip, facing eight or more batters three times this October. Even with slightly below-average control, he's a useful part of a modern bullpen that asks more of its relievers, and will help a team that's trying to ask less of its starters.
Pomeranz heads to free agency off his worst year outside of Colorado, but he threw 340 innings as a starter in 2016-17 with a 3.32 ERA in both seasons. His curveball is generally an out pitch for him, and he throws it a ton -- nearly 40 percent of the time -- so that his average-ish fastball plays up, and in those years his changeup and cutter were effective enough against right-handed batters for him to start. He missed time in 2018 with biceps tendinitis and a neck injury, so he carries injury risks going forward, but there's clear mid-rotation upside here if he comes back healthy.
Miller was really good for the first three years of the four-year deal he signed with the Yankees, who traded him to Cleveland midway through the second season. He started to break down in 2017 and was a shell of his previous self in 2018, throwing just 34 innings with his worst strikeout and walk rates since Boston first made him a reliever in 2012-13. He hit the DL three times in 2018, due to hamstring, knee and shoulder injuries, the last one being the most worrisome for the 33-year-old (he'll turn 34 in May) who was worked pretty hard in the service of Cleveland's AL pennant in 2016. It's all fastball/slider from Miller now, and both pitches were worse when he did take the mound in 2018, so he should be looking at prove-it one-year deals this offseason.
Perez comes to free agency after the worst year of his career, one where he lost his rotation spot and saw the Rangers -- the only organization for which he has played -- announce early that they wouldn't pick up his $7.5 million option. Before 2018, he had been good for about 2.0 WAR every 32-33 starts, less than everyone expected but still serviceable, enough that he seems like a worthwhile "change of scenery" gamble. His two-seamer gets some ground balls thanks to a low spin rate, but his four-seamer isn't hard or high-spin enough to miss bats up in the zone, and he has never found an effective breaking ball -- but, as far as I can tell, hasn't tried a cutter. Of course there's a risk he's bad again, but given that he's only been with one team, perhaps a new setting and new coaches can unlock some of that potential that everyone saw when he was a prospect, sitting low to mid-90s to go with a plus-plus changeup before he even turned 20.
Ross threw 195 and 196 innings in 2014 and 2015, then missed just about all of 2016 and didn't throw 200 innings in the majors in the two years since then. His stuff has slipped over the years, thanks to a brutal delivery that has led to all sorts of arm woes, but the slider is still a plus pitch and he's very tough on right-handed batters. I have never really bought him as a starter because of the breakdown risk and his below-average control, but in a sort of hybrid swing role he could be pretty effective for 90-100 innings, delivering more value than he would over 25 starts. That slider is good enough that someone will extract value from him.
He has fringy stuff with a lot of strikes, and now gets a few more ground balls than before as he's actively working to sink the ball to counteract how homer-prone he can be. The changeup is the closest thing he has to an out pitch, probably a grade-55 rather than 60 (where I'd call it plus), but if he can avoid walks, get some double plays and avoid losing any more velocity, he could be a decent fifth starter candidate for a few more years.
Madson's awful World Series shouldn't deter teams looking for middle relief help, nor should his 5.47 ERA, the product of some bad luck and lack of support from his defense and subsequent relievers. If there's a deterring factor in his 2018 line, it's that he stopped getting lefties out. He's always been a fastball/changeup guy, even back when he was a prospect as a starter, with fringy breaking stuff, which fueled his nearly even platoon split numbers. I don't think he's forgotten how to pitch with men on base or how to avoid hard contact, but I do want to see him go back to changeup/fastball more and use his curve less. He's a solid one-year contract middle-relief option in a market with a lot of lesser arms who put up better ERAs last year.
Once an above-average reliever who handled the ninth inning on a team that came within a few innings of a World Series win, Allen stumbled in 2018, losing a little velocity, a lot of control, and some bite on that spike curveball that was his only real off-speed weapon. A lot might just have been how predictable he'd become: If he fell behind in the count, he threw his fastball just over 80 percent of the time, versus 52 percent when ahead in the count or the count was even. It's just a hypothesis, but changing up his pitch usage might keep hitters from sitting on the four-seamer so often, bringing his home run rate down and his ERA down too.
Pearce has one real purpose on a major league roster, hitting left-handed pitching, but does so quite well, as recently demonstrated in the World Series. If any player can be said to have boosted his market in October, I think it would be him. He's now at .267/.352/.501 against southpaws in his career, and as a bench piece or part of a platoon at first or DH, he'd be worth a one-year deal for a lot of teams looking to save money compared to paying one full-timer.
Galvis is a plus defender at short, maybe more than that, with some power, and very little ability to hit for average or get on base. That's still a useful player, albeit not a regular for a contender. There aren't enough shortstops to go around as it is, and you might hope he shows a little more power away from Petco Park next year.
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