CARLSBAD, Calif. -- One player agent observed Monday evening that conversations with clubs are more realistic now than is customary at this early point in the offseason. For the first time in recent memory, the industry is questioning its predisposition to proceed slowly in November.
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Of course, there are exceptions. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado aren't close to signing. Their contracts will be so immense, and so franchise-altering, that their negotiations are expected to continue for another several weeks -- at least.
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But here's a look at a half-dozen major free agents who could sign before Thanksgiving, if the market continues ripening at its current rate.
Craig Kimbrel, closer
Even as the bullpen revolution continues, most clubs -- and especially the managers of those clubs -- value having an All-Star to pitch the ninth inning. The list of contenders pursuing closers this offseason is relatively well-defined: The Red Sox have interest in retaining Kimbrel, while the Braves (Kimbrel's original team) and the Cardinals also are possible suitors. Kimbrel's agent, David Meter, has recent comparisons in the $16 million average annual value of Kenley Jansen's contract with the Dodgers, and the record-setting $17.3 million mark Wade Davis reached with the Rockies last offseason. The question now is whether Kimbrel will agree to a three- or four-year deal.
Nelson Cruz, designated hitter
Cruz has hit 305 home runs in the current decade, tied with Giancarlo Stanton for the most in the Majors over that span. Cruz is coming off a 37-homer season with Seattle, which should lead to a lucrative new contract. However, there are a couple complications: Cruz turns 39 in July, and he started only four games in the outfield this year. Cruz's marketability is limited to the American League, and it's difficult to imagine him signing for much more than the $14.25 million he earned this season -- on a new one- or two-year deal. The Twins and White Sox could have interest, given their lack of production at DH this year.
J.A. Happ, left-handed starter
If Happ goes off the board early, it won't be for the first time. He signed with the Blue Jays on Nov. 27, 2015, the most recent time he was a free agent. Given Happ's athleticism and efficient pitching style, he could land another multiyear contract at the $13 million salary he earned this year -- or perhaps a little more. Happ is an option for the Dodgers if Hyun-Jin Ryu declines the team's qualifying offer; the same is true with the Yankees, pending the status of Carsten Sabathia. (In fact, the Yanks are a logical suitor even if Sabathia returns, if top free-agent starter Patrick Corbin signs somewhere other than the Bronx.) The Reds also are known to have interest in Happ as a veteran anchor to their young pitching staff.
Nathan Eovaldi, right-handed starter
Increasingly analytical MLB front offices won't hand out a $60 million or $70 million contract based on a single postseason. With Eovaldi, there are other ways to justify the expense. He had a career-best 1.126 WHIP during the regular season, before proving his health -- and selflessness -- with appearances in three straight World Series games, including a memorable six-inning relief appearance in Game 3. While Eovaldi has undergone multiple elbow surgeries, he'll pitch at age 29 next year and would give needed credibility to the starting rotations of the Reds, White Sox or Angels.
Michael Brantley, outfielder
Brantley spent 10 seasons in the Cleveland organization, and the Indians presented him with an extraordinary parting gift: He was not issued a qualifying offer last week, meaning a new team won't need to surrender a Draft pick in order to sign him. (In many cases, that alone is enough to speed up a player's timetable to sign.) Brantley, 31, is coming off his healthiest season since 2014, with an .832 OPS in 143 games. The Astros, who would like to add a left-handed hitter, are one possibility; the fact that Houston is not involved in the Harper pursuit suggests a contract with the Astros is even more plausible. (Brantley, in fact, is a natural second option behind Harper among teams looking to add a corner bat, such as the Giants.) Brantley's new average annual value is expected to exceed the $11.5 million salary he received from the Indians this past season, on a three-year offer (at least). Brantley is represented by Kenny Felder, who recently left The Legacy Agency to join Excel Sports Management.
Wilson Ramos, catcher
Ramos' representatives secured a two-year, $12.5 million contract for him two offseasons ago, coming off a torn ACL in his right knee. After appearing in 111 games this year, Ramos is poised to sign for another two or three seasons at an average salary around $10 million. The health risks that accompany Ramos' past injuries could be mitigated by splitting time with another catcher on a 50/50 basis. Ramos could fit with the Mets, A's, D-backs or Nationals, depending on how each of those clubs evaluates their internal candidates at the position.