If your plans for next winter revolved around obsessively refreshing your social media feeds for free-agency updates on Nolan Arenado, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Khris Davis, Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hicks, Miles Mikolas or Sonny Gray, we have some terrible, terrible news for you.
However, if MLB’s Extension Extravaganza ‘19 -- a party that continued this past week with Davis’ two-year pact through 2021 with the A’s -- hasn’t dulled your interest in what’s left of next winter’s free-agent class, this list is where you want to be.
But first, a very quick note on some guys we are leaving off the list. Corey Kluber, Anthony Rizzo, Jose Quintana, Chris Archer, Starling Marte, Sean Doolittle and Adam Eaton are among the players whose teams hold club options on their services for the 2020 season. Additionally, Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish, Kenley Jansen, Elvis Andrus, and Jason Heyward have opt-out clauses that rate as unlikely to be exercised.
With that said, this is sort of an early power rankings of guys still on track to hit the open market. As part of the future forecast, all ages listed are the player’s age for the 2020 season.
1. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Astros (age 29)
Real repertoire changes brought out the best in Cole during his first season with the Astros, and the results saw him finish fifth in voting for the American League Cy Young Award. He appears likely to enter free agency as one of the top arms in the game at an attractive age. Patrick Corbin set the starting-pitching market at six years, $140 million last winter, and it’s not crazy to think Cole can better that.
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals (29)
With Rendon and the Nats having recently resumed extension talks, he might not be long for this list. But if things don’t work out in Washington, a player who was worth 14 Wins Above Replacement from 2016-18 because of his power and defense at the hot corner would command a lot of interest.
3. J.D. Martinez, DH, Red Sox (32)
Martinez will only be a free agent if he opts out of the final three years and $62.5 million left on his current contract. That would require making a pretty big bet on himself, given the way the market has treated players north of 30 the last few offseasons. But Martinez has so far followed up well on his monster 2018, and Edwin Encarnacion got a three-year, $60 million guarantee at age 34 going into 2017. So while it’s not a safe bet that he opts out, it’s a decent possibility.
4. Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals (29)
One night, Ozuna famously, and unnecessarily, scaled the outfield wall. The next night, he had three hits, including a key double and steal and a two-run homer. This is the Ozuna experience. You never quite know what you’re going to get. But when he’s hot, as he was this past week, he’s electric, and it will be fascinating to see how Ozuna is valued on the open market, especially if he has a big bounceback year in St. Louis.
5. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants (30)
Before he even reaches free agency, Bumgarner will be a great source of interest this summer, because of what he’s meant to the Giants franchise and what he could mean to an October-bound ballclub on the trade market. But that -- and a strong free-agent showing -- is predicated upon a bounceback season, and Bumgarner has shown some early signs that he’s got it in him.
6. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Braves (34)
Donaldson settled for a one-year deal with Atlanta (and if “settling” equates to $23 million, there are worse fates) after an injury-plagued 2018. There's no telling where his market will be after this season, especially given the advanced age. But a resurgent season (and we’ve seen some flashes of that possibility) would put him in good position.
7. Zack Wheeler, RHP, Mets (30)
With an iffy performance history and a risky health history, it’s hard to confidently call Wheeler a prime member of this class. But the stuff is real, and he had great success with it in the second half of 2018. He got off to a rough start this year, but consecutive quality starts in the last week and a half against the Braves and Phillies were reminders of what it can look like when Wheeler is right, and we know teams are always clamoring for quality starting pitching.
8. Yasmani Grandal, C, Brewers (31)
Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million offer from the Mets because he felt he could do better in the long run. He wound up signing for one year and $18.25 million with the Brewers, so, assuming his mutual 2020 option with Milwaukee is not mutually exercised (and those rarely are), basic math tell us he’ll hit the open market looking for at least three years and north of $42 million. He’s off to a great start this season.
9. Didi Gregorius, SS, Yankees (30)
He could get dinged for his age relative to his defensive position, and there’s no telling how he’ll perform when he comes back from Tommy John surgery in the second half of this season. But Gregorius had three straight 20-homer seasons to go with solid defense, before the injury bug bit, so he has strong value at an important spot.
10. Cole Hamels, LHP, Cubs (36)
He’s super old (for baseball, not, like, the earth), but his next bad season will be his first. Hamels reliably doles out 30 starts, and he rediscovered his swing-and-miss stuff after being traded to the Cubs last summer. He won’t get a long deal, obviously, but he should still be a sought-after asset.
11. Yasiel Puig, OF, Reds (29)
The forecast for a potentially big walk year with the move to Great American Small Park hasn’t bore fruit just yet, and we can probably kill the long-held idea of Puig suddenly becoming the MVP-style force of nature he was briefly in 2013. But he can still be an effective presence in the lineup, even if it’s in the reverse-splits role he occupied with the Dodgers.
12. Dellin Betances, RHP, Yankees (32)
The current shoulder impingement is a red flag, although at least it’s keeping Betances from adding to what was the highest relief innings total in baseball from 2014-18 (373 1/3). Relievers are volatile stocks, and there’s no telling what Betances’ stock will look like come season’s end. But when healthy, he’s an imposing force with a crazy K rate.
13. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox (33)
He’s a bat-first player in a game that values defense and versatility more than ever, and the numbers aren’t reliably at the level of a Martinez or Davis. But Abreu is generally good for 25-30 homers with an OPS+ 30% better than the league average over the past four seasons.
14. Nicholas Castellanos, OF, Tigers (28)
The age will be enticing, even if the defense is decidedly … not. Castellanos has recently developed into an offensive player of note, with a 120 OPS+ over 2016-18. A change in home parks (and that change could come as soon as this summer, if the Tigers deal him) could put him in 30-homer territory.
15. Rick Porcello, RHP, Red Sox (31)
He’s been very durable, averaging 31 starts in his first 10 Major League seasons. Alas, this season, he’s been very hittable, and Dallas Keuchel can tell you how today’s executives feel about starting pitchers who don’t possess elite strikeout stuff. The arrow is pointed downward here right now.
Others of note: Scooter Gennett, Francisco Cervelli, Jonathan Schoop, Corey Dickerson, Jhoulys Chacin, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Wood, Michael Wacha, Arodys Vizcaino (though he just had shoulder surgery).