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Where things stand for the top 7 free agents

@RichardJustice
December 3, 2019

We’ve learned that catchers and relief pitchers are hot commodities, that the Braves aren’t fooling around, and the White Sox and Reds -- who agreed to a four-year deal with Mike Moustakas on Monday -- are doing what they promised to do and trying to build a winner for 2020.

We’ve learned that catchers and relief pitchers are hot commodities, that the Braves aren’t fooling around, and the White Sox and Reds -- who agreed to a four-year deal with Mike Moustakas on Monday -- are doing what they promised to do and trying to build a winner for 2020.

While many of the top free agents remain unsigned, this offseason has a completely different feel than a year ago. In just the last two days, we’ve learned:

Anthony Rendon has met with the Rangers and Dodgers, and the Nationals would like him to make a decision soon.

The Yankees have meetings scheduled with Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole.

Zack Wheeler has at least one $100 million offer on the table.

We’ve already had five players change teams with contracts of at least three years. At this point last offseason, no player had signed a deal that long.

Free agent and trade buzz

With all that in mind, here’s where things stand with the top seven free agents still out there. (Ages listed are as of Opening Day 2020.)

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP, age 29

This is the perfect storm of the game’s best pitcher arriving at the right age and at a time when quality starting pitching has never been more valued.

Cole’s market appears to be straightforward: He can probably dictate his destination and price after averaging 33 starts, 205 innings and 266 strikeouts over the past three seasons.

Inside the industry, the Angels are seen as the frontrunner to sign Cole, but the mere presence of the Yankees and Dodgers in the conversation is a worrisome threat, and the Yanks are reportedly set to meet with the right-hander in the coming days.

Regardless, Cole seems likely to surpass David Price’s $217 million threshold for the largest pitcher contract in history. He could also break Justin Verlander’s $33 million record for average annual value.

Agent Scott Boras may not be taking his usual go-slow approach, having already done the Moustakas deal and scheduling a flurry of meetings for Cole, Rendon and Strasburg.

Potential landing spots: Angels, Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, Padres, White Sox, Astros, Nationals, Giants

2. Anthony Rendon, 3B, age 29

The Nationals would still like to bring him back, and it’s likely to come down to where Rendon is most comfortable. The Phillies and Dodgers have interest, but could be prioritizing pitching. Rendon’s 13.2 WAR (per FanGraphs) over the last two seasons is the fifth-highest among all Major League players.

He may be the first of the top free agents to sign since both the Rangers and Nationals are prepared to pivot to Josh Donaldson if no deal is imminent.

Can the Nationals afford mega-contracts for both Strasburg and Rendon with so much work to do on other parts of the team? Perhaps a better question is that with all the goodwill that comes with winning a World Series, can they afford not to?

Potential landing spots: Nationals, Rangers, Dodgers, Phillies

3. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, age 31

While teams are lined up for a crack at signing the 31-year-old right-hander, he’s widely expected to end up back with the Nationals. That hasn’t stopped Boras from gauging his value around the game in the wake of Strasburg opting out of the final four years and $100 million of his deal. The right-hander is reportedly going to meet with the Yankees this week. He likely will end up with something around five years and $150 million.

Potential landing spots: Nationals, Yankees, Dodgers, Padres, Phillies, Angels

4. Josh Donaldson, 3B, age 34

The Braves would love to have Donaldson back, but the first priority seems to be acquiring a premier starting pitcher, with Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner at the top of their list. To have two franchise third basemen in the same free-agent market complicates negotiations since teams have attractive fallback options. Once Rendon or Donaldson signs, the other almost certainly will follow.

Potential landing spots: Braves, Phillies, Nationals, Rangers, Dodgers

5. Zack Wheeler, RHP, age 29

Wheeler's market has soared since the start of free agency. His asking price probably has as well. The Yankees, Braves and Phillies have widely been seen as frontrunners, but the White Sox see Wheeler as their next priority after the signing of Yasmani Grandal. As with Cole, it’s impossible to know how serious the Yankees are, but they’re always a threat to land one of the big fish.

Potential landing spots: Braves, Phillies, White Sox, Yankees

6. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, age 30

Bumgarner's market appears murkier than any of the other top free agents given his heavy workload (averaging 30 starts over the last nine seasons and topping 200 innings in seven of them). But if 2019 was the 30-year-old’s new normal, it was still excellent: 207 2/3 innings, 3.90 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 8.8 strikeouts per nine.

Potential landing spots: Braves, Phillies, Padres, Yankees, White Sox

7. Nicholas Castellanos, OF, age 28

This may be where the second chapter of free agency opens as teams sort through the very top of the market, especially starting pitching. Until those options are completely explored, Castellanos may have to wait for his market to be more clearly defined.

His issue is that some teams may see him as a designated hitter, which would cut his potential market in half. But as MLB.com's Mike Petriello detailed recently, Castellanos appears to be improving as an outfielder.

What no one argues about is his offense: Castellanos' .840 OPS over the past four seasons is excellent, and his 165 doubles are the fourth-most in the Majors over that period.

Potential landing spots: Marlins, Phillies, Royals, Giants

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.