MLB free agency: Predictions for where top available players will land
MLB Free Agency Predictions
The Nationals have the crown, but everyone else is coming for it.
All 30 MLB teams will have an opportunity to improve themselves through free agency, and there are several players available who could drastically change the fortunes of whichever squad that signs them. From top-flight aces to power-hitting veterans, some of the biggest names in baseball could be on the move -- it's just a matter of which teams are willing to pay up for their services.
With that, here's where we predict 10 of the best available free agents will land.
Gerrit Cole -- Los Angeles Angels
The Angels ranked dead last in all of baseball with only 22 quality starts last season. Cole singlehandedly outperformed that, leading the majors with 26.
The Angels are located just outside of Los Angeles. Cole attended UCLA and is said to desire a return to his native southern California.
The Angels have deep pockets, and Cole is certain to get a huge payday.
A match made in heaven, right?
Hiring Joe Maddon as manager was a step in the right direction. Signing the 29-year-old Cole and his MLB-leading ERA would be an additional hop, skip and a jump.
Anthony Rendon -- Washington Nationals
The Nationals made the apparently wise decision to let Bryce Harper go last offseason, and after winning the World Series, they're not about to do the same with the hitter most responsible for that achievement.
Time after time, Rendon provided clutch hit after clutch hit throughout Washington's postseason journey. Across 61 playoff at-bats, he posted a .328/.413/.590 slash line with three home runs and 15 RBI and easily could have been the World Series MVP.
He won't come cheap, but the Nationals have the funds to pay him, thanks in part to Harper's departure. If Rendon signed elsewhere, it would leave a gigantic hole in the middle of Washington's lineup that would prove awfully difficult to fill.
Stephen Strasburg -- Washington Nationals
The only reason Rendon wasn't named World Series MVP was because Stephen Strasburg was even more impressive. The former No. 1 overall pick finally reached the heights most expected he would, posting a 1.98 ERA with a 47-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 36 1/3 postseason innings, including a dominant 8 1/3 innings against the Astros in a win-or-go-home Game 6.
Strasburg went 18-6 and posted a 3.32 ERA across 209 regular-season innings in 2019 while simultaneously lowering his home-run rate and increasing his ground-ball rate from the prior season. In terms of "stuff," there might not be a better pitcher out there, and at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, there's no concern about him wearing down.
He will have no shortage of suitors, but coming off the high of winning the World Series, the Nationals will have a slightly easier time cutting both Rendon and Strasburg fat checks.
Josh Donaldson -- Philadelphia Phillies
Donaldson bet on himself this past season, and it paid off. After signing a one-year contract with the Braves, he appeared in 155 games and produced a 4.9-WAR season, complete with 37 home runs, 94 RBI and a .259/.379/.521 slash line.
Across 1,077 combined at-bats, the four players to play at third base for the Phillies last season produced 3.8 WAR, 52 home runs, 144 RBI and a .246/.314/.455 slash line. Scott Kingery can be moved around, and Maikel Franco has had more than enough time to prove himself as Philadelphia's third baseman of the future -- and failed to do so.
By plucking Donaldson from Atlanta, the Phillies can strengthen their own infield while weakening the division winner.
Madison Bumgarner -- Atlanta Braves
The Braves already traded for former Giant Mark Melancon and have since signed Will Smith, and you know what they say about things coming in threes.
Bumgarner is a North Carolina native, who enjoys spending time at his ranch home during the offseason. While major cities like Los Angeles and New York seem well outside his preferred comfort zone, playing 81 games in comparatively low-key Cobb County sounds much more his speed.
Atlanta has one of the best young corps as well as one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball. Offense isn't a concern, but the pitching staff could use a boost for what would be an unsurprising deep playoff run.
Bumgarner is the best postseason pitcher in the history of the game. He proved last season he still has plenty of gas left in the tank, and he could be the ideal veteran to tutor Mike Soroka and the rest of the Braves' young arms.
Nicholas Castellanos -- Cleveland Indians
Castellanos has spent his entire major league career within a central division, so why stop now?
After spending the first 6 1/2 seasons of his career with Detroit, Castellanos was traded from the lowly Tigers to the Cubs at the trade deadline and proved to be a great addition for Chicago, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs and 36 RBI across 51 games. His 58 doubles over the season as a whole led the majors.
Castellanos doesn't turn 28 until March and just might be the best available hitter on the market. He has experience playing both third base and right field, although he's never been a defensive standout. The Indians need to close the offensive gap with the Twins, and Castellanos would certainly help, particularly in the AL where he could occasionally DH.
Zack Wheeler -- Minnesota Twins
The Mets would love to keep a rotation featuring back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Wheeler, but that doesn't appear financially feasible. As such, Wheeler is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency, and being a tier below Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg could make him more appealing to a wider selection of interested teams, as he won't come with as large of a payout.
Wheeler, 29, has made 60 starts over the last two seasons, proving he's definitely past his Tommy John surgery from a few years ago. He went 11-8 across 31 starts with 195 strikeouts over 195.1 innings this past season. While his 3.96 ERA might seem a bit concerning, he also produced the lowest walk rate of his career thus far. He's a flamethrower, having averaged 96.7 mph on his fastball.
The Twins were looking into starters at the trade deadline, and if they miss out on the bigger names, Wheeler could be a good fit, particularly if Jake Odorizzi departs in free agency.
Marcell Ozuna -- San Francisco Giants
The Giants have been in search of a power-hitting outfielder ever since Barry Bonds retired. Ozuna might be the guy they've been waiting for.
Ozuna produced 29 home runs, 89 RBI and a .241/.328/.472 slash line over 131 games with the St. Louis Cardinals last season, but that was only two years removed from a 37-homer, 124 RBI season with the Miami Marlins. Turning 29 years old later this month, he firmly is in the prime of his career.
Ozuna ranked in the 93rd percentile-or-better in both average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, according to Statcast, meaning he was somewhat unlucky this past season. Those are the kind of qualities required to be a power hitter at Oracle Park, and while both Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson were pleasant surprises for San Francisco last season, Ozuna's track record is far more reliable than theirs.
The Cardinals presented Ozuna with a qualifying offer, meaning any team that signs him would have to forfeit an early-round draft pick. The Giants, though, will get at least two early-round picks resulting from Will Smith and Madison Bumgarner signing elsewhere in free agency, so perhaps they can afford the additional price more so than other teams.
Hyun-Jin Ryu -- Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers had the lowest ERA in all of baseball last season, and individually, none of their starters allowed fewer earned runs per nine innings than Hyun-Jin Ryu. In fact, Ryu won the NL ERA title in 2019 after posting a 1.97 ERA across 15 starts in 2018. He doesn't throw hard, but he's very deceptive, as evidenced by the fact that he was in the 96th percentile for exit velocity allowed this past year.
Ryu is only a few seasons removed from shoulder and elbow surgeries, and at 33 years old in March, he's much closer to the tail end of his career than the beginning of it. That said, he is coming off a season in which he went 14-5, pitched 182.2 innings, was an All-Star and finished second in Cy Young voting.
He has been with Los Angeles his entire career. The Dodgers know what he brings to the table better than anyone, and they won't let him get away.
Yasmani Grandal -- Los Angeles Angels
Editor's note: The White Sox signed Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract on Thursday after the publishing of this article.
Outside of Philadelphia's J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal might be the best all-around catcher in the majors.
He has trailed only Realmuto for the highest WAR among backstops in each of the last two seasons, and from a pure hitting standpoint, there hasn't been anyone better. But Grandal is a defensive standout, as well. Grandal has caught more innings over the last two seasons than any other catcher and is the only backstop to catch at least 1,000 innings in each of the last two years. He also perennially rates as one of the league's best pitch framers.
Grandal is a far superior player to Anaheim's incumbent catcher, Kevan Smith. If the Angels are going to go all-in on Gerrit Cole as predicted, they might as well double down and form a high-priced -- but worth it -- free-agent battery.