If it feels like last year’s free agency just ended, that’s because it did. The “winter” technically stretched into early June, when Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel finally signed with the Braves and Cubs, respectively.
But it won’t be very long until we fire up free agency yet again, and there’s a ton of talent on the table.
Here, we’ll take a look at some early free-agent power rankings (20 players for 2020). But like so much of life, it gets complicated. The market will be drastically affected by what happens with various opt-outs and option clauses. For this list, we’re going to leave off guys whose options are likely to be exercised or whose opt-outs aren’t. This currently applies to David Price, Anthony Rizzo, Starling Marte, José Quintana, Yu Darvish and Elvis Andrus, among others. But as always, stay tuned!
We will, however, include a few others who aren’t necessarily as likely to remain attached to their current contracts, and have noted those with an asterisk (*). All ages as of Opening Day 2020.
1) Gerrit Cole, RHP, age 29
2019 FanGraphs WAR: 7.4, 2.50 ERA
Free agency has changed a lot, but splurging on a star starter is still very much a thing. Patrick Corbin netted a six-year, $140 million guarantee entering his age-29 season with a smaller track record of success than what Cole will take into this market. This SoCal native would be a franchise-changer for the likes of the Angels and Padres, and the Yankees and Dodgers could certainly find room for him, too, if they alter their recent free-agent approaches.
2) Anthony Rendon, 3B, age 29
fWAR: 7.0, 1.010 OPS
There were rumblings about an extension throughout the spring and even into the regular season, but Rendon has only upped the ante with a 2019 season that put him in the MVP conversation. The Nats will continue to try to lock him up, but his home-state Rangers could make him a centerpiece in their new ballpark, and various other teams (such as the Phillies, Cardinals and Dodgers) make sense, too.
3) Stephen Strasburg, RHP, age 31*
fWAR: 5.7, 3.32 ERA
Strasburg has reportedly opted out of his contract and the $100 million remaining on his deal. Having eclipsed 200 innings for just the second time in his career with one of the best ERA+ marks (138) of his career and an outstanding run in the postseason, Strasburg will test the open market, where his hometown Padres will almost certainly be among his suitors.
4) Zack Wheeler, RHP, age 29
fWAR: 4.7; 3.96 ERA
Wheeler’s overall career ERA+ (100) is exactly league average, but his velocity, spin and age all point to upside that could lead to a more competitive market than the career numbers would indicate. It’s also worth noting that his Fielding Independent Pitching mark (3.48) was basically half a run better than his ERA. His track record isn’t as strong as some of the players behind him on this list, but given his age -- and perhaps some similarities to Gerrit Cole -- he cracks the top five.
5) Madison Bumgarner, LHP, age 30
fWAR: 3.2, 3.90 ERA
Despite an overall velocity decline since 2016 and a wealth of big league innings since debuting at age 19, Bumgarner remained effective this season with increased curveball usage. Savvy teams might target ways to further tap into his potential as he enters his 30s, and, even in our increasingly analytical age, his pedigree is valued.
6) Yasmani Grandal, C, age 31
fWAR: 5.2; .848 OPS
Grandal and the Brewers had a $16 million mutual option for 2020, which Grandal has declined. He reportedly turned down four years and $60 million from the Mets last winter and wound up taking a one-year, $18.25 million guarantee and essentially replicated his '18 at the plate. If you’re scoring at home, he’ll be looking to do better than a three-year, $42 million guarantee if he’s going to top the original Mets offer. One factor working in his favor is that he can’t receive a qualifying offer again.
7) Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, age 33
fWAR: 4.8; 2.32 ERA
The Dodgers got a steal when Ryu accepted the $17.9 million qualifying offer last winter, but his second-half numbers (3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) took some of the shine off his Cy Young Award bid, and durability questions could affect his earning power this winter. Bear in mind that Ryu’s 182 2/3 innings were his most since 2014.
8) Josh Donaldson, 3B, age 34
fWAR: 4.9; .900 OPS
He took a one-year “pillow” contract with his boyhood favorite team after a 2018 largely lost to injury, and he made good on it with strong offensive numbers and his typically reliable defense at the hot corner. Donaldson should be able to command a multi-year commitment this time around, perhaps with a similar average annual value ($23 million). If the Braves commit to Austin Riley at third, then the Rangers, Phillies, Cardinals and Mets are among the teams that make sense.
9) Marcell Ozuna, OF, age 29
fWAR: 2.6; .800 OPS
He hasn’t been the superstar the Cardinals might have hoped he’d blossom into when they traded for him from Miami prior to the 2018 season, but he’s still been a productive bat, and the hard-hit metrics from Statcast point to perhaps better batted-ball luck going forward. With the Cardinals crowded in the outfield, Ozuna could wind up elsewhere.
10) Nicholas Castellanos, OF, age 28
fWAR: 2.8; 1.002 OPS with Cubs
It’s such a small sample that it’s hard to say how much money Castellanos made for himself after the trade to the Cubs, but an almost 200-point jump in slugging percentage and 28-point jump in on-base percentage sure isn’t going to hurt him. That said, he has had hot streaks before, as Craig Edwards of FanGraphs recently pointed out, so there is reason to believe the output with the Cubs was simply a hot streak, as opposed to a new normal. Age is also on his side, though the defensive metrics make it unclear if he’ll be a long-term fit in the outfield.
11) Jake Odorizzi, RHP, age 29
fWAR: 4.3; 3.51 ERA
Odorizzi had a bit of an up-and-down 2019 in which he was a legit All-Star (3.15 ERA, .620 opponents’ OPS) before some second-half regression (3.97, .731) set in. But the whole body of work should put him in the second tier of starters in this market.
12) Dallas Keuchel, LHP, age 32
fWAR: 0.8; 3.75 ERA
It’s not easy to mount as effective a campaign as Keuchel has after joining the Braves midstream following a frustrating free-agent saga. Some teams will still be leery of a guy who doesn’t miss an especially high number of bats in this day and age, but Keuchel won’t be attached to Draft compensation this time, and he’s proven this year that he still has a lot to offer a rotation.
13) Mike Moustakas, 2B/3B, age 31
fWAR: 2.8, .845 OPS
Moustakas was burned after turning down the qualifying offer after 2017 (Moustakas wound up making less over the '18 and ’19 seasons combined than he would have made had he accepted that offer for one year), but that didn't stop him from declining a mutual option with the Brewers worth $11 million. He had an All-Star year with 66 extra-base hits, but a wrist injury bothered him late.
14) Didi Gregorius, SS, age 30
fWAR: 0.9; .718 slugging
The Yankees love Sir Didi, and with the way he ably and confidently assumed the shortstop position after Derek Jeter’s high-profile departure, how could you not? But this will be an interesting free agency with Gregorius having a limited 2019 due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He’s still hitting for power, but had a .276 OBP.
15) Cole Hamels, LHP, age 36
fWAR: 2.5; 3.81 ERA
The age and reduced success, on measure, since coming back from an oblique injury are obvious causes for pause here (5.79 ERA in 10 starts). It’s another case where pedigree will be weighed against performance and peripherals, but Hamels could be really attractive on a shorter-term deal.
16) Yasiel Puig, OF, age 29
fWAR: 1.2; .785 OPS
Puig is forever fascinating, so why should his free agency be any different? His performance tends to vacillate between two extremes, and his refusal to run out a ground ball in the midst of a playoff race drew the usual scrutiny. The track record and market might demand an incentive-laden short-term deal, though you could see a team searching for a lineup and marketing jolt rank him much higher here and get more aggressive.
17) Edwin Encarnación, DH, age 37
fWAR: 2.5; .875 OPS
The Yankees declined to pick up a $20 million option on Encarnación for 2020. Even in an era where teams would rather cycle guys through the DH role, you have to figure Encarnacion, who has reached 30 homers every year since '12, is at least worth the $14 million Nelson Cruz got from the Twins this year.
18) Will Smith, LHP, age 30
fWAR: 1.2; 37.4 K%
Smith has a 2.66 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over 118 1/3 innings the last two seasons. He and right-handers Will Harris and Daniel Hudson are probably the three best non-Chapman relievers available (Dellin Betances is a real wild card in that market, as teams might bid high on the upside and hope like heck that he can get and stay healthy). But the industry tolerance for multiyear relief contracts in this market remains to be seen after a 2019 season in which bullpens were blowing up left and right.
19) Avisaíl García, OF, age 28
fWAR: 1.8, .796 OPS
Enamored with the Statcast-y stuff (arm, speed and hard contact) that made Garcia more attractive than his career track record might indicate, the Rays signed Garcia to a budget-friendly $3.5 million deal for 2019. He made good on it with a solid season at the plate and in the field, and he’s young enough to compel belief that he can do it again.
20) Michael Pineda, RHP, age 31
fWAR: 2.7, 4.01 ERA
This will be a fascinating free-agent case, given that Pineda, having been suspended in September for use of a diuretic often used to mask performance-enhancing drugs, will have to miss the first 39 games of the season. But he successfully appealed that suspension down from the usual 80 games to 60 games, providing reason to believe that he used the diuretic for weight loss.
The next five
Brett Gardner had a resurgent year, though it’s fair to wonder if he’ll actually leave the Yankees. Tanner Roark and Julio Teheran (whose option was declined by the Braves) are the next-best options in the starting market. José Abreu drove in an AL-best 123 runs in 2019, though his defensive limitation and age (33) will affect his price. For Will Harris, the Game 7 difficulty won’t matter nearly as much as the effectiveness against both righties and lefties.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.