The 2018 MLB regular season is nearly 40% over, and it’s time to update the earning power of the upcoming free agent class. Click here to check out the previous rankings.
1. Bryce Harper. Harper has struggled since we last checked in, hitting .199/.317/.423 in his last 43 games. By measure of wRC+, he ranks 36th among qualified hitters. Nonetheless, Harper still leads the National League with 18 home runs and stands a good chance of reaching 40 for the second time in his career. He’s not going to hit .229 all year — he’s 12th in baseball in barrels per plate appearance but has a .217 BABIP — and still projects to land the largest contract in baseball history. Harper is still four months shy of his 26th birthday.
2. Manny Machado. Machado, on the other hand, is hitting .329/.394/.659 since we last checked in. Walks and power are way up, strikeouts are down, and Machado is doing all he can to close the gap between him and Harper. But the next 54 days will not be about Machado’s impending free agency; the focus is on a likely trade. The Orioles would be crazy not to trade Machado to the highest bidder, even with their front office in a “fractured” state, to use Ken Rosenthal’s word. A trade will remove a qualifying offer from the equation, not that a QO matters a lot when dealing with free agents like Harper and Machado.
3. Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw returned to action on May 31st after a month-long layoff from biceps tendinitis. The return was short-lived, as he exited after five innings and was placed on the DL with a lower back strain. This will mark the third year in a row that he will miss more than a month due to a lower back injury. Suddenly, Kershaw opting out of the remaining two years and $65MM left on his contract does not look like a slam dunk. As Cliff Corcoran suggested at The Athletic on Tuesday, the simplest solution might be for the Dodgers to tack a year or two onto Kershaw’s contract, perhaps with a new opt-out clause. The scenario of Kershaw opting out and signing a new contract of 5-6 years is looking less and less likely.
4. Patrick Corbin. Corbin continues to put up strong numbers and ranks fifth among pitchers in the NL in wins above replacement. Critics will note that Corbin worked in the 92-93 mph range in his first six starts, and then spent the next seven in the 90-91 range. The results in those last seven starts: a 3.46 ERA and 10.8 K/9. As Zach Buchanan of The Athletic explained yesterday, “It wouldn’t hurt for Corbin to rediscover the extra ticks on his fastball. He’s thrown it in the low 90s for most of his career, and it may be that extra oomph has allowed him to pitch like a frontline starter at times. But it’s also clear that fastball velocity isn’t the main ingredient for Corbin’s success.” Assuming Corbin keeps it up, a five-year deal in the $90-100MM range seems plausible.
5. A.J. Pollock. An attempt at a diving catch on May 14th resulted in an avulsion fracture of Pollock’s left thumb. The injury could keep Pollock on the shelf until July. It seems that Pollock will once again fail to play in 130 games this year, after playing in 124 for all of 2016-17. Pollock’s injury history could thwart his attempt at landing a five-year deal in free agency. A strong finish could still result in an irrational free agent bidding war, however, as he was playing at a very high level before going down.
6. Craig Kimbrel. Aside from a few extra flyballs leaving the yard, Kimbrel is having a typically excellent season as Boston’s closer. A five-year, $90MM deal figures to be a likely record-setting target for Kimbrel’s agent.
7. Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel’s ERA has been pushed up to 4.13 with some recent rough outings, as he’s allowed 17 earned runs in his last 22 2/3 innings. Home runs have been a big part of the problem so far. The 30-year-old lefty is still setting up for a solid deal, perhaps with a four-year term.
8. Josh Donaldson. After missing three weeks with shoulder inflammation, Donaldson played in 24 games and then went down for calf tightness. Before hitting the DL, Donaldson was producing less power and more strikeouts than he had in recent seasons. He’ll return from that injury soon and attempt to get his season on track. 33 in December, Donaldson could have difficulty securing a four-year deal.
9. Yasmani Grandal. A new entrant on this list, Grandal’s free agency was examined in-depth by MLBTR’s Jeff Todd yesterday. 30 in November, Grandal is one of baseball’s best-hitting catchers over the past three years and gets strong marks defensively. He could be looking at a deal of four or even five years, depending upon how the market shapes up.
10. Charlie Morton. Morton continues trending upward, even though he’ll turn 35 as free agency begins. He’s currently dominating the American League with a 2.84 ERA and 11.3 K/9, with a fastball that has aged like a fine wine. When speaking about his future, Morton certainly doesn’t sound like someone who will test the market and seek to maximize his guarantee on a three-year deal. However, in terms of sheer earning power, Morton might be able to find a $60MM contract if he wants to, making him worthy of a spot on this list.