With Major League Baseball’s regular season winding down, we’re drawing closer to the playoffs and the opening of the free-agent market soon after that. There are plenty of hitters scheduled to reach free agency in a few months, including a pair of in-their-prime superstars, and here we’ll identify which members of the group have helped their causes during platform seasons. Each of these players has racked up at least 150 plate appearances this year, so we’ll use that number as an arbitrary cutoff…
Manny Machado, SS/3B, Dodgers: Entering 2018, Machado was a soon-to-be 26-year-old with three seasons of at least 5.0 fWAR under his belt since his first full campaign in 2013. Machado’s stock was already sky high with a trip to free agency looming, then, yet he has managed to raise it in the season’s first four-plus months. A .279/.329/.476 hitter (115 wRC+) in 3,365 PAs from 2012-17, Machado is on pace for his top offensive year with a .308/.383/.547 line (147 wRC+), a personal-high walk rate (11.0 percent, up from 6.7 between 2012-17) and a career-best-tying ISO (.239). Moreover, with 26 home runs, he’s set to eclipse the 30-HR mark for the fourth straight year, and he has also reached double-digit steals (10 on 11 tries) for the second time.
If there’s one criticism of Machado, it’s that he has been brutal at shortstop, his preferred position, with minus-17 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-6.6 Ultimate Zone Rating. An all-world defender at third base with the Orioles from 2012-17, Machado has spent some time at the hot corner since the Dodgers acquired him last month and has once again thrived at the position. It may be better for Machado’s earning power if he’s willing to move back to third on a full-time basis, but regardless, he’s in for a massive payday.
Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals: Admittedly, whether Harper has upped his stock this year to a noticeable degree is debatable. After all, the lefty-swinger hasn’t come close to rivaling his otherworldly offensive seasons of 2015 and ’17. But a .235/.379/.500 showing (130 wRC+) isn’t to be taken lightly, nor are 28 homers, a .265 ISO and an 18 percent walk rate. And it’s worth noting that Harper has appeared in nearly all of the Nationals games’ (113 of 116) after missing 51 contests with injuries a year ago. Set to turn 26 in October, Harper – like Machado – is a Hall of Fame-type talent on a collision course with an enormous contract.
Yasmani Grandal, C, Dodgers: Grandal has been generally outstanding since 2015, his first year with the Dodgers, but it did look as if backup Austin Barnes was beginning to take hold of the starting catcher job in LA last season. During the NL pennant winners’ run through the playoffs in 2017, Barnes picked up 52 PAs to Grandal’s 11. That trend hasn’t continued into this year, though, with Grandal having nearly doubled Barnes’ playing time to this point (379 PAs to 190). Along the way, Grandal has put up a personal-best wRC+ (131) on the strength of a .252/.354/.492 line and 20 homers, giving him three straight seasons with at least that many. The 29-year-old switch-hitter also leads qualified catchers in ISO (.240) and has seen his expected weighted on-base average rise from .299 in 2017 to .373 this year. Adding to Grandal’s immense appeal, he has been the game’s second-best pitch-framing backstop in 2018, according to Baseball Prospectus.
A.J. Pollock, CF, Diamondbacks: Pollock was one of baseball’s rising stars before missing nearly the entire 2016 campaign on account of fractured right elbow. Two years later, he looks back to form, though a fractured thumb did cost the soon-to-be 31-year-old significant time earlier this season. As a result of that injury, Pollock has only appeared in 71 games thus far, but he has made a major impact in the process. Pollock has been worth 2.3 fWAR on the strength of a .283/.344/.539 (133 wRC+) slash at the plate, and has added 15 homers, 10 steals on 12 tries and a .256 ISO.
Eduardo Escobar, 3B/SS, Diamondbacks: Escobar’s numbers have dipped since he went from the Twins to the D-backs in a trade last month, but the overall production is still worthy of praise. Thanks in large part to a .278/.338/.505 line (121 wRC+) in 456 PAs, Escobar has already logged 2.6 fWAR, matching the career-high figure he totaled in 2014. The switch-hitting 29-year-old also has 15 homers, putting him on pace for his second straight 20-HR season, to go with a personal-best .227 ISO (notably, Escobar began hitting more fly balls in 2017 and has continued that trend this year). As left-side infielders go, Escobar’s no Machado, but it still seems he’ll do well for himself in free agency.
Nelson Cruz, DH, Mariners: Two important factors that will hamper Cruz’s value in free agency: 1. He’s 38. 2. He can’t play defense. If a team needs an offensive boost at DH, though, you won’t find many hitters who are more imposing. Cruz has essentially been as excellent as ever this year, having slashed .268/.353/.556 (148 wRC+) with 30 long balls in 416 PAs. He’s also a Statcast favorite, ranking second in the majors in average exit velocity (94.4 mph), sixth in xwOBA (.422, which blows away his real-world .383 wOBA) and 10th in barrels per plate appearance (9.6 percent).
Nick Markakis, OF, Braves: As with Cruz, Markakis’ age (35 in November) will work against him on the market. Fortunately for Markakis, though, he has found another gear at the plate in 2018. After serving as a league-average or slightly worse hitter over the previous several seasons, Markakis has batted .326/.390/.505 (138 wRC+, tying his career-high mark from 2008) with 14 homers and a .179 ISO (his highest since ’08) in 500 PAs. Signs it’s not a fluke: Markakis has amassed roughly as many walks (50) as strikeouts (54), and his xwOBA (.383) and actual wOBA (.378) nearly match. He’a also defying the aging curve in the outfield, having accounted for five DRS, three Outs Above Average and a 2.1 UZR.
Steve Pearce, 1B/OF, Red Sox: Some of the names at the absolute top of the xwOBA leaderboard include – to no one’s surprise – Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Mike Trout, Matt Carpenter, Joey Votto … and Pearce, who has outdone all of them except Betts. Granted, Pearce’s ridiculous .465 xwOBA has come over a mere 164 PAs, though both his Statcast numbers and his .301/.384/.566 line (156 wRC+) continue a recent history of quality offense from the late-blooming journeyman – one who has played for every AL East team since 2012. Considering Pearce will turn 36 next April and has never even accumulated 400 PAs in an individual season, it’s fair to say he’s not going to break the bank over the winter. Nevertheless, the right-handed hitter has emerged as an important piece for the seemingly unstoppable Red Sox and will continue to make his case for a nice payday into the fall.
Jed Lowrie, 2B, Athletics: Lowrie will turn 35 next April, making him yet another player on this list whose age will damage his financial aspirations. Still, the switch-hitter’s in the second straight season of a late-career resurgence and has been among the A’s premier players this year in a shockingly great campaign for the club. Injuries have held back Lowrie for the majority of his time in the majors, but not lately – he appeared in 153 of the A’s games in 2017 and has taken the field 113 times out a possible 116 this year. Lowrie’s now amid a season in which he has smacked a career-high 17 HRs and hit .265/.344/.451 (120 wRC+) in 485 PAs.
Matt Adams, 1B, Nationals: The Nats’ signing of Adams to a one-year, $4MM deal last winter didn’t elicit much excitement at the time, but it now looks like one of the best buys of last offseason. While the lefty-hitting Adams, 29, has continued to struggle against same-handed pitchers, he has mashed righties en route to an overall line of .270/.347/.536 (134 wRC+) with 18 dingers and a .266 ISO in 265 PAs. Statcast suggests the production hasn’t been smoke and mirrors, evidenced by the minuscule gap between Adams’ wOBA (.374) and xwOBA (.375). And for what it’s worth, Adams has continued to show off a solid glove at first, where DRS has graded him as a plus defender in all but one season since debuting in 2012.
Mark Reynolds, 1B, Nationals: Like Adams, Reynolds has been a steal for Washington, which added him on a minor league pact in early April. Since then, all the 35-year-old Reynolds has done is record a .272/.361/.537 line (137 wRC+) with 11 homers and a .265 ISO through 158 PAs. As Jeff Todd noted earlier this week, defensive and baserunning limitations detract from Reynolds’ value. However, after settling for minors deals in 2017 and ’18, perhaps the well-traveled power hitter has impressed enough as a part-time player for the Nationals to earn a major league contract during the upcoming winter.
Asdrubal Cabrera, INF, Phillies: The switch-hitting Cabrera, 32, has been a respectable offensive player throughout his career, and he hasn’t fallen off at all in 2018. This has been among Cabrera’s most productive years yet, in fact, as he has batted .272/.324/.480 (118 wRC+) with 20 homers and a .208 ISO in 454 PAs. That’s terrific output from someone who can line up around the infield, though with a disastrous minus-16 DRS, Cabrera has been a butcher at second base – his primary position.
Daniel Descalso, 2B/3B, Diamondbacks: The third D-back on this list, the 31-year-old Descalso has saved his best offensive season for the right time as free agency awaits. A below-average offensive producer in each season from 2010-17, Descalso has registered an appealing 123 wRC+ this year while hitting .256/.377/.450 with nine homers, a .195 ISO and a 16.4 percent walk rate. And with a .362 xwOBA, that production hasn’t been a fluke. On the other hand, Descalso hasn’t been nearly that effective as a defender at third, where he has notched minus-seven DRS in 240 innings.
Honorable mention: Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, who has finally stayed healthy this year after missing a combined 223 games from 2016-17. Through 103 games/454 PAs in 2018, Brantley has hit .293/.345/.455 (116 wRC+) with 12 HRs and almost as many walks (32) as strikeouts (38). However, the 31-year-old’s Brantley’s numbers have gone downhill to a substantial degree since a red-hot first two months, and his work in left field has drawn poor reviews (minus-nine DRS, minus-six Outs Above Average, minus-4.4 UZR).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Love this list, Connor! Here are some ideas: 1) Make the same list of Pitchers who helped themselves the most and:
2) Hitters and Pitchers who, hurt themselves the most on one-year deals.
Thanks, xabial! I’m planning on pieces similar to the ones you suggested, but I’m not sure when they’ll be out. They take a good amount of time to put together.
I could tell. I tried to think of others to add to this one, but nothing came to mind, so thought I’d help suggesting other variations of this [well-made] list, if werent going to already: Keep up the great work
Can’t wait to see the overrated Dozier on top of the list of those who’ve hurt their chances at the big bucks.
If I was a GM I wouldn’t be scared of Nelson Cruz’s age.
His swing is doing well in old age, and barring an injury, I don’t see him stopping till past 40
Yeah with Cruz, whatever chemical concoction he’s aligned his body to is working extremely well for him, he’ll most likely have a 4-5 WAR season this year (with a career high ISO too) when all is said and done, just like he’s kinda been at every year since 2014. On top of consistency, he’s really good at hitting, probably one of the more underrated guys out there.
Not sure I’d agree that Machado has increased his value. He already was seeking the highest contract ever and while his offense is what you would expect, his horrendous D at short has likely made less suiters willing to pony up if he’s adamant about playing short. Already not many suiters unless his price comes back. Even less if he mandates not playing at third.
He endured an offensive struggle in 2017, for the most part. So the fact that he hasn’t had that this year is a good sign
Dewey I think he’ll buckle and accept a sweet contract to play third for a team that’s gonna contend. Probably have some opt outs of course.
Me too. Money talks but the article referenced improving value and given his demands, his rebounding at the plate was a given and his play at short remains a liability. My whole argument is for a person allegedly seeking $40m x 10, how has his stock improved?
Harper has improved his stock? Definitely the only article/writer that thinks so.
I hear you, and honestly, I agonized over whether to include Harper. He’s on here mostly because he has stayed healthy after missing quite a bit of time last year.. And the numbers are still very good, albeit kind of disappointing at the same time.
One of his numbers is very good — most of the others aren’t. 124 strikeouts and 92 hits in 113 games. I suspect this season cost him tens of millions of dollars over the course of whatever deal he gets.
I agree. It may cost him over $100m if he gets a 10 year deal or more. I do not even know if he gets 10 years even now.
I’m not sure I’d put Harper in the article, maybe, maybe as an honorable mention.. But, he’s not done anything to help his contract in 2019+ this year.
Sure, HR’s are up, but they aren’t even. Bring his May total to avg, and it’s a lot less.
But, I guess the biggest question for me is 2017 being “other worldly” stat wise. Not sure where that came from, as 2017 wasn’t impressive, but more average than anything.
2015, for sure. That was what Harper was supposed to be, but he’s only had that one year.
He posted an OPS over 1000 in 2017. That’s not even close to just average.
But like you say in the article Harpers numbers do not compare to his good years so it has not helped him at all. It probably hurts him more than anyone. Who is gonna pay $400 million to him now
Don’t mind if Atl resigns Markakis to a 2 yr deal and wouldn’t be mad if the had to give him an option to get it done
With Acuna & Inciarte the OF as a whole is not breaking the bank his leadership deserves compensation and with Duvall in the picture there will be a nice rotation
With some of these pitching prospects coming up and not enough spots in the rotation I would like them to make a Realmuto or Salvador Perez deal happen in the offseason. Camargo has grown on me so no reason to rush Riley but if Dansby doesn’t turn it around Camargo could move over to short. Although Swanson’s defense has value
Wonder if there is another bench bat available out there cause Flaherty stinks.
The Adrian Beltre
Signing Markakis, Grandal, and Corbin this offseason would make a great free agency, and Atlanta would have all kinds of ridiculous depth and trade options.
What do you guys think of Cruz’s next contract? I’ve been saying something like 2/30-35 ish, but also heard some with the 2/40-45, and a 2/50 thrown in too
Cruz will be limited by the small number of teams looking for a DH. Look at JDM this past year. Productive yes. Worth $20m per? I just don’t see who will bid up the cost for Seattle to resign him. Cleveland? Toronto? Can’t see any other team that believes it can win.
It’s so mindblowing Bryce Harper is still only 25. Most players are barely getting their legs in the game at that age. He’s got so much time left.
Most players get in the league around 21-22
No they’re not.
Said this several times here… Harper’s age, his contract year, is the same as Aaron Judge’s (25) when he won ROY.
Never ceases to amaze
JTO. Can you see Harper taking a JDM type deal and try to rebound and re-enter the market? I just don’t see teams giving him Machado years and average $$$. I could be naive here but I just expect last year to play out again except for Machado and as I wrote above, I also see his options fewer than expected if he is to play short.
And one big season so far
Harper I would say that his hitting actually hurt is payday from what it could be
Hurting himself more than anyonr
Wait wait wait… Bryce Harper? Helped himself??
what a joke
Look for the Phillies to be heavy buyers in fa s after this season. Starting with Harper and Machado. Have lots of money to spend. Need hitting more than pitching.
Evan Gattis should help an American League club.
Everyone who’s piling on Harper just take a look at what he’s done since the break.
Unfortunately, the team that signs him is likely to get some of both halves. All players have ups and downs.
This season confirms that his 2016 wasn’t an aberration and if you’re considering spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade on a single player, I’d think you’d want fewer red flags.
I’m going to set the record for most dislikes on one comment here at MLBTR but I personally think that Harper is overrated. He has a great season and then slumps badly the next. He’s not consistent and he’s a very lazy player that lacks that 100% focus that makes you a true team player. I’d be absolutely shocked if he made the hall of fame.
You won’t, but I’ll comment before you get a million* comments saying “why do you care about downvotes” while completely missing your point, or avoiding the issue you raised.
For the record, I don’t believe Harper is overrated.
Too early to talk hall of fame, man. You’re really biased against Harper Lol. 25 years old. Pujols/Arod got ten year 250M-275M contracts, 7+ years older, at age-32. think Harper has yet to realize his potential. Truly hope, the Yankees sign him.
Are you really trying to compare Harper to Pujols or Rodiguez?
I have an exercise for you: go over to baseball-reference.com, look up all 3 players, and study their first full 7 seasons.
I’m saying nobody knows the future. Those were much older than Harper, when they got their respective deals’
…much older than Harper is now… 7 years is nearly 2 presidential terms. Harper has got a long way to go. Let’s stop acting like we know how his career unfolds. Personally I’m enjoying the ride. Sure, he has a .230ish BA, but he leads the NL in walks, and 3rd in HR.
Xab, times and teams have changed. While average salary continues to climb for superstars, last year reflected that was mainly short term. JDM was older of course but his average deal plummets of he doesn’t opt out. Barring injury, it likely gets renegotiated next year so as long as he performs, he gets paid. Would anyone be surprised if it becomes two more years at $70-$75m so it becomes 4 and $130m-$135m? Harper is much younger but I still expect he’ll half to choose between length and guaranteed $$.
Harper in the hall if fame never crossed my mind. Do not worry about likes or dislikes. You told it like it is! Bravo!
The best thing that can be said for Grandal is that he is a streaky hitter. He looks massive for awhile then reverts to pretty poor for long stretches. Overall this season his plate performance is very close to his career averages and in fact he’s tailed off a lot over the last couple of weeks. A big part of why he’s seen so much playing time this year is Barnes fading badly after what looked like a breakout season last year. Behind the plate I’d still take Barnes over Grandal’s concrete hands. Talk about “pitch framing” all you want, but his skill deficit at the position is easy to see.
I see the Boras interns are downvoting all of “Harper?” comments, but…
Would he have rather have had this year be his contract year or last year be his contract year?
I think if had last year’s season this year, his number would start with a 4 and after this year, it’s going to start with a 2, maybe a 3.
That fact that Bryce was on this list amazes me.
He has a 1.0 war and is hittting 235. His power is good but not enough to get him the contract some have predicted in the past he won’t come close to 400 mil with these types of numbers. He’s be lucky to get 300 mil. He definitely did not help his stock