With Spring Training starting up around MLB, the bulk of the offseason spending is in the books. To date, approximately $2.7 billion dollars (yes, with a B) has been spent on contracts for free agents. David Price and Zack Greinke’s deals led the way at $217M and $206.5M, respectively, but there were plenty of other deals of all shapes and sizes signed this offseason.
But all of that may pale in comparison to 2018’s offseason free agent crop, which may be one of the most star-studded of all time. Cy Young-caliber pitchers, name brand pitchers and position players, and two freakishly-young-for-free-agency franchise position player cornerstones will be on the market potentially. The total outlay of contracts stands to dwarf this past offseason’s total.
The Pirates have one of those top free agents potentially in play, in the form of Andrew McCutchen. We wrote back in December about how the Pirates will eventually need to trade McCutchen to keep the party train on the tracks, citing his huge future salary and our dislike of having to overpay in his decline years. Sentiment surrounding the player makes this an unpopular position, but it’s one that is best for the long-term health of the franchise.
Here’s a chart of some of the top potential free agents that will be on the market three seasons from now. Naturally, things may change due to injuries or ineffectiveness. A handful of these players may get extended by their current clubs, especially some of the mid-tier guys.
*if they don’t opt-out after 2016
For this article, let’s look at what I consider the top five free agents on that list. I’m going to guesstimate what they could get on the open market and I’ll even set myself up for more foolishness by predicting where they will sign. Opt-out clauses are very much in vogue right now, but they’re very hard to predict how they’ll be utilized in a contract, plus there are rumblings that they may be curtailed in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement. Using Cot’s Contracts, I examined what each of the high-payroll clubs have on the books for the 2019 season in terms of guaranteed money, as these five guys are definitely headed to team with deep pockets.
RHP Matt Harvey (age-30 for 2019 season)
Matt Harvey is a Tommy John survivor, which may discount his overall term/price a touch, but he’s still going to get paid cash money by someone. Especially when his agent, Scott Boras, is a master at squeezing every last dollar out for his high-end clients. Harvey is a bonafide #1 ace, with the build and the arsenal that teams trip over themselves to have at the front of their rotations.
Predicted contract — 8 years/$280M ($35M/year Average Annual Value)
Chance of re-signing with existing team — 10%. The Mets should be able to afford him (only have $24M on books in 2019), but due to the Wilpons’ fiscal malfeasance, they operate like a mid-market team, instead of one that calls the largest media market their home. Boras doesn’t give out discounts and doesn’t have the coziest of relationships with the Mets, as is.
Predicted team — Yankees. They “only” have $57M on the books for 2019 and are in the midst of unprecedented in recent times financial restraint. They have a bunch of albatross contracts on the roster and seem to be hoping that their resurgent farm system can bridge the gap until some of the bad deals are off the books in the next couple of years (Sabathia, Rodriguez, Teixeira). Harvey loves the big spotlight of New York and would love to just stay in his current zone, I’m sure.
RHP Jose Fernandez (age-26 for 2019 season)
Another Tommy John survivor, Fernandez does not have the track record (yet) of Harvey, but he has perhaps even more potential. Add in the fact that he is four years younger and will be a stunning age-26, potential #1 ace on the free agent market, and this estimate I’m about to set could be comically low.
Predicted contract — 10 years/$380M ($38M/year AAV)
Chance of re-signing with existing team — <1%. In case you’ve forgotten, Fernandez plays for the Miami Marlins with Jeffrey Loria as the owner. Yes, they did extend Giancarlo Stanton to a $300M+ contract, but no one in baseball thinks he’s going to be in Miami for the full duration of that deal.
Predicted team — Dodgers. They have $50M on the books for the 2019 season, but $34M of that is going to Kershaw in the penultimate year of his deal. Fernandez could be seen as the “next ace” if Kershaw were not re-signed/extended past his current deal. The Dodgers could also market Fernandez to their robust Hispanic population and fanbase in L.A. Fernandez’s outgoing personality seems like a natural fit for the glitz and glam of Los Angeles.
OF Andrew McCutchen (age-32 for 2019 season)
It’s really just McCutchen’s “advanced” age that will be suppressing his potential earning power. The other four guys on this list are either in the heart of their prime or on the periphery, whereas McCutchen will be exiting his. His blazing speed may be dissipating a touch by 2019 and perhaps his lightning-quick wrists will have slowed down a mite, but he’ll still be in high demand on the open market.
Predicted contract — 6 years/$192M ($32M/year AAV)
Chance of re-signing with existing team — 1%. The Pirates won’t pay for nostalgia during a player’s decline years, no matter how great that player was in his prime. I also can’t see them committing upwards of 30% of team payroll to just one player, especially when the team is banking on their farm system to replenish talent at the major league level.
Predicted team — Giants. The Giants are not scared off by players with ages that start with a 3. They do have $83M on the books, which is sizeable, but he’s definitely the type of player they would be interested in. Plus, the parallels between Bonds and McCutchen both going from the Pirates to the Giants would be delicious.
3B Manny Machado (age-26 for 2019 season)
Machado was a stud shortstop until he sustained a gruesome knee injury. He’s recovered nicely from that injury, but Baltimore has slid him over to 3B to eliminate a lot of wear and tear on his knees. For all intents and purposes, he’s a 3B going forward, but if some team is tempted to put him back at shortstop, he’ll be even more valuable.
Predicted contract — 12 years/$432M ($36M/year AAV)
Chance of re-signing with existing team — 20%. The Orioles only have $32M on the books in 2019 and they recently re-signed another Scott Boras client in the form of Chris Davis, so Peter Angelos (notorious meddler) will spend to keep talent. I just think someone is going to outspend him.
Predicted team — Angels. This one is a little problematic in that the Angels already have $75M committed to three players in 2019. I think they’ll go for a big player, though, as Trout is only under contract through 2020, so they’re going to load up and make hay while the sun shines. If Trout leaves, Machado can carry the team for a while as the next star (especially once the decomposing corpse of Pujols is off the books in 2021).
OF Bryce Harper (age-26 in 2019 season)
This is the crown jewel in the whole crop. By the time his free agency rolls around, Harper and Trout will have probably exchanged the title of Best Player In Baseball a couple of times. He’s not going to just break the bank, he’s going to annihilate it.
Predicted contract — 12 years/$480M ($40M/year AAV) — and that may be low
Chance of re-signing with existing team — 25%. Scott Boras has a good relationship with GM Mike Rizzo and Nationals ownership. He has 10 clients on the Nationals’ 2016 40-man roster, by far the most he has on any one team. The Nats have $55M committed in 2019, but $18M of that is for the last painful year of Ryan Zimmerman.
Predicted team — Phillies. Of all five of these wild guesses, this is the one I feel most confident about. The Phillies are going to start coalescing their existing farm system talent in 2017. By 2018, they’ll be challenging for a Wild Card spot. So in that 2018 offseason, I could see them going hog wild and bringing in Harper as a cornerstone to cement their new talent group. The chance for him to stay in the NL East and perhaps exact some revenge against the Nationals may be tempting for him. And the Phillies have…wait for it…zero, zilch, nada dollars committed in 2019.