A year ago on this date, only one of the top ten names on MLBTR’s list of the top 50 free agents of the 2017-18 offseason had decided on their team for the upcoming season. That player, in fact, wasn’t technically even a free agent at all — Masahiro Tanaka decided against opting out of his contract with the Yankees, thus avoiding the open market altogether.
So, at least in comparison to the uniquely slow pace of last year’s offseason, we’ve already seen quite a bit of action on the free agent front this winter. After today’s news of Wilson Ramos’ deal with the Mets, seven of the top 25 players in this year’s top 50 ranking have already reached agreements, including three members of the top ten — Patrick Corbin (#3) signed with the Nationals, Nathan Eovaldi (#7) re-signed with the Red Sox, and J.A. Happ (#9) has reportedly agreed to rejoin the Yankees.
There have been a lot of rumors swirling around the remaining seven players in our top ten, and it’s anyone guess as to which will be the next to sign. Let’s take a look at where things reportedly stand with each member of this septet….
Bryce Harper: With Harper and agent Scott Boras reportedly looking for nothing less than the biggest contract in baseball history, it would admittedly be surprising to see the former Nationals outfielder come off the board next. Harper, his wife Kayla, and Boras has reportedly held court with multiple teams in private meetings in Las Vegas, though the specific identities of these teams isn’t yet clear. Teams like the Dodgers, White Sox, Phillies, and Cardinals are known to have some level of interest in Harper’s services, while we’ve also heard some teams (like the Nationals and Yankees) seemingly count themselves out of “Harper’s Bazaar,” as Boras calls it. Speculative fits like the Cubs or Giants could also be out due to budget constraints. Boras has a penchant for waiting until deep into the offseason to find a satisfactory contract for his clients, so I’d guess that we won’t know the identity of Harper’s next team before 2018 is over.
Manny Machado: The star infielder is set for in-person meetings with the White Sox, Yankees, Phillies, and at least one more team this week. It’s impossible to mention Machado’s free agency without also mentioning Harper, as the two share many of the same suitors and it seems highly unlikely that one team would be willing to spend big enough to add both to the same roster. Machado’s controversial history of overly-aggressive (or, as some might say, outright dirty) play has been a factor in his market, as was his October interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal about his admitted lack of maximum effort on some plays, and his admission that “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle.’ ” While questions about Machado’s personality are legitimate, especially as he is looking for a record-breaking contract, it’s also possible some teams are using Machado’s interview as leverage to try and lower his price tag. We should know more about Machado’s status once these in-person meetings are complete, and if a team’s concerns about his work ethic are erased after a face-to-face meetings, it isn’t impossible that a signing could come before Christmas.
Dallas Keuchel: Another Boras client, Keuchel might not have quite as long a wait on the market since there has already been something of a run on free agent starting pitching, as Corbin, Eovaldi, Happ, and Charlie Morton have all found new teams. On the trade front, there now seems to be less chance that the Indians could deal Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, while the Mets’ flurry of acquisitions have made a Noah Syndergaard trade less likely. Teams that missed out on these frontline arms may now be willing to meet Keuchel’s hefty asking price, and give up the draft pick compensation necessary to sign the lefty since he rejected the Astros’ qualifying offer. Teams like the Reds, Braves, Padres, Blue Jays, Phillies, and Nationals have all been reported to have varying levels of Keuchel’s services.
Craig Kimbrel: Teams would also need to surrender a draft to sign Kimbrel since he turned down a QO from the Red Sox, and might also have to fork over the biggest contract ever given to a relief pitcher. A big initial ask is a common negotiating tactic, of course, though even at a lower amount, Kimbrel and his representatives clearly see him worthy of a deal akin to Aroldis Chapman/Kenley Jansen money. The Cardinals and Phillies have both been linked to Kimbrel, and the Red Sox may or may not still be in on their former closer. The recent signings of Jeurys Familiar and Joe Kelly indicate that the bullpen market is starting to move, though Kimbrel is obviously in a higher financial level than those types of contracts.
Yasmani Grandal: The Angels, Astros, and White Sox have all been linked to Grandal, though Houston might be out of the catching market after signing Robinson Chirinos. Chicago also recently added James McCann, though that isn’t quite as significant an obstacle to a future move for Grandal, should the Sox deal Welington Castillo and then install Grandal as the starter ahead of McCann. Even before Ramos became a Met, Grandal’s biggest competition has likely been J.T. Realmuto, though teams have thus far balked at meeting the Marlins’ large asking price in a trade. The Mets are one team that decided to simply sign a quality catcher rather than trade for Realmuto, and another backstop-needy team could do the same by inking Grandal, though he’s another QO free agent. There has been some indication that the Marlins could decide by Christmas whether to keep or trade Realmuto, so once that decision is made either way, Grandal’s market will gain some clarity.
A.J. Pollock: Here’s another player who turned down a qualifying offer, and another with a pricey contract demand (reportedly in the $80MM range). The Mets, Braves, Reds, and Astros are known to have interest in Pollock, plus with so many trade rumors swirling around other outfielders, more suitors could easily emerge as more outfield spots are created.
Michael Brantley: Machado and Brantley are the only two of these seven players who don’t have QO compensation tied to their services, which gives Brantley in particular a boost as he tests free agency for the first time in his career. Furthermore, Brantley also appears willing to try playing first base, which adds a bit of extra versatility to his repertoire for any interested teams, even if Brantley would still primarily play as an outfielder. What could dampen enthusiasm, however, is Brantley’s initial asking price, reportedly something akin to a $20MM average annual value over three years. We’ve already heard that the Braves aren’t meeting that price, and other Brantley suitors like the Astros, Cardinals, and White Sox are also sure to aim for a lower number.
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