Spring Training games are set to begin in the next few days, and everyone will shift their focus to how the players look and which teams appear ready to make a run for a World Series trophy. An interesting subplot all season will be the impending free agent class that is loaded with star talent. Fans have been waiting in anticipation for years, and everyone is looking forward to what will happen next winter. There is a season to be played beforehand though, and the value of these players could change significantly over the course of a year.
Below are our top 10 impending free agents heading into Spring Training. We will re-evaluate this list at the All-Star break and well as before free agency. Players with options for 2019 or contract opt-outs have been excluded from this list; only players who are clear impending free agents were considered.
1.) OF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
We’ve all been dreaming of Bryce Harper’s free agency since he debuted on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and next winter the time will finally arrive. There have been suggestions of a $400+ million contract thrown around, which is not crazy given Harper will start his next contract at 26 years old. A healthy season would go a long way toward reaching that number, as Harper has played in more than 120 games just three times in his career. When he is on the field, he is often one of the best players in the game, and no matter what happens next year, he will compete with Manny Machado for the largest contract in baseball history. All the big market teams will call, and several of them will be heavily involved. Right now, it seems the Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers are amongst the favorites, though the Yankees are lurking and just about every team could benefit from adding a 26-year-old MVP talent to their team.
2.) SS/3B Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Like Harper, Manny Machado will hit free agency at age 26 and will be looking to land a record setting contract. Machado has spent much of his career playing third, but has made it known his desire to stay at shortstop going forward. You’d have to think the right amount of money could change his mind, and a willingness to play either position would open up his market to more suitors. Not that he will be short on interested teams, and like Bryce, most every team will be interested in some capacity. The Yankees seem to be the front-runner nine months out, but there several other teams who could offer just as much as New York, and Machado landing in the Bronx is no slam-dunk by any means.
3.) LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
The greatest pitcher of our generation, and one of the greatest ever, will reach free agency for the first time next winter after his 11th season with the Dodgers. As it stands, it is near impossible to imagine Los Angeles letting Kershaw leave, but a lot can change in one season. If the Dodgers do let him walk, it may be seen as a red flag, as they know him and his history of back issues better than anyone. Regardless, Kershaw seems like a lock to sign one of, if not the biggest, contract for a pitcher in history, and all the big-money spenders will place a call come free agency.
4.) 3B Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
Being ranked fourth on this list is no slight to Donaldson, as he is easily as impactful of a talent as those above him on this list. He is a legit middle of the order bat and a gold glove caliber third basemen. His 5.0 fWAR in 2017 was somehow his lowest in any season as a full-time player, and he has eclipsed the 6.5 fWAR threshold in his other four full seasons. Though he will be 33 years old when he begins his new deal, Donaldson is the type of all around player that could remain impactful as he ages. He also certainly has a few years of MVP level production left in him, and he would be a great get for teams that are on the outside of the Harper and Machado races.
5.) OF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Though he finished fifth in MVP voting last year, I feel as if Charlie Blackmon still might not get the credit he deserves. Such is the life for a player that plays half of his games in Coors Field. Coming off a 6.5 fWAR season for Colorado, Blackmon has established himself as one of the best all-around outfielders in baseball. Even if he is unlikely to match that production going forward, there is no reason to doubt that Blackmon has a few 3-win seasons left in him. An All-Star that could fit with many teams, Blackmon would be a nice consolation prize for those who miss out or can’t afford those above him on this list. The Rockies will likely work hard to retain their fan-favorite, though Blackmon’s hometown Atlanta Braves makes some sense as well. Regardless, several teams will be interested in Blackmon’s services, and he is likely looking at a nine-figure payday next winter.
6.) RHP Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Craig Kimbrel bounced back from a disappointing 2016 by his standards to post a microscopic 1.43 ERA (1.42 FIP) and 3.3 fWAR for Boston in 2017. Kimbrel is one of the best relief pitchers in the game today, and given the way the league has shifted to heavier bullpen use, many teams will be looking to pry him away from Boston. It seems unlikely that Dave Dombrowski would let him slip away, but the Red Sox will have to pay heavily to keep their closer. Kimbrel will look to beat Aroldis Chapman’s 5-year, $86 million contract, and will set the market for the rest of the relievers next winter. With many teams ready to spend, Kimbrel will have his pick of choices following this campaign.
7.) 2B Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
While Brian Dozier has transformed his power game over the last two years, he has been one of the most consistent second basemen in the game since becoming a regular in Minnesota. Given another good season in 2018, Dozier could look to push $100 million on his next contract, though it seems unlikely he will hit that mark. Given his solid glove work and ability to hit 30+ homeruns, several teams will be interested in landing Dozier. He is amongst the top of the second tier free agents, but will likely have to wait for the top guys to sign before seeing his market come together.
8.) LHP Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
Perhaps Dallas Keuchel should be ranked higher on this list, I just can’t shake the feeling his contract will end up being the most regrettable of the ones signed next off-season. In a market short on top starters, Keuchel is the best available that actually might change teams. Though Keuchel has performed like an ace before, he hasn’t done so since 2015, and does not have the power arsenal that makes you feel better about how he will age. He is still a very good pitcher in the present day, and with few alternatives, teams that need a top starter will be willing to pay Keuchel like one. If that investment pays off in the long-term is a different conversation, but Keuchel probably has a few good seasons left before the worry sets in.
9.) 2B Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
Last time Daniel Murphy was a free agent, the market wasn’t sure whether he had truly transformed into the player he was in the 2015 post-season or if he was performing over his head. In his two seasons with Washington since then, he has posted a 5.5 fWAR and 4.3 fWAR respectively, and has proven to be one of the better hitters in the game. Another elite season would go a long way toward ensuring a ripe market, as Murphy will be 34 years old shortly after Opening Day 2019. If he shows any signs of decline in 2018, Murphy could risk falling down this list and facing a colder-than-expected market.
10.) LHP Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
Similar to Murphy, last time Andrew Miller was a free agent teams weren’t sure if they should buy into his transformation. The first three years of his contract have ended up being one of the biggest bargains in baseball, and Miller might be single handedly responsible for the change in how teams utilize their bullpen these days. Miller will be the 1B to Craig Kimbrel’s 1A in next years free agency, and his ability to play multiple roles will have many contenders lining up at his bank. Miller will look to put his 2017 knee troubles behind him and prove that he can be productive into his late 30’s to convince teams to pay him elite money one last time.
Also considered: C Yasmani Grandal (LAD), 2B DJ LaMehieu (COL), 3B Adrian Beltre (TEX), OF Adam Jones (BAL), OF A.J. Pollock (ARI), OF Andrew McCutchen (SF), DH/OF Nelson Cruz (SEA), LHP Patrick Corbin (ARI), RHP David Robertson (NYY), LHP Drew Pomeranz (BOS), LHP J.A. Happ (TOR), LHP Gio Gonzalez (WSH)