A year ago at this time, the baseball world was gearing up to see outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado reach free agency. They represented a pair of rare 26-year-old franchise players who were on the cusp of hitting the open market, and there was little doubt they’d end up with a couple of the richest contracts in the history of the sport. While the two wound up sitting on the market for longer than some may have expected, they ultimately did score the largest deals ever awarded in free agency before the offseason concluded. Harper left the Nationals for the Phillies’ 13-year, $330MM offer, while Machado waved goodbye to the Dodgers after a short stay in LA and signed with the Padres for 10 years and $300MM.
It wasn’t surprising that Harper and Machado reeled in $300MM-plus guarantees last winter, whereas there’s little chance of a free agent approaching that figure this offseason. That’s not a knock on the absolute best players in the upcoming class, though, as Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole and Nationals third baseman/ex-Harper teammate Anthony Rendon do have cases to collect massive paydays. In fact, both players – a pair of Scott Boras clients – have strong arguments to reach or exceed $200MM in guarantees on their forthcoming contracts.
Cole, who turned 29 last month, could not only win the AL Cy Young after putting up a 2.50 ERA/2.64 FIP with a ridiculous 326 strikeouts in 212 regular-season 1/3 innings, but the ace workhorse may also aid his cause with an epic playoff run. Cole looked to be setting himself up for a postseason in his start this past Saturday. He ran roughshod over the Rays in 7 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 15 hitters, issuing one walk and allowing four hits during a 3-1 victory.
Regardless of how the rest of the postseason goes for Cole, Boras will likely try to get his client a pact in the vicinity of the all-time record for a pitcher. That honor has belonged to Red Sox lefty David Price since December 2015, when he inked a seven-year, $217MM contract as a free agent. Nationals righty Max Scherzer, another Boras client, isn’t far behind on the seven-year, $210MM deal he scored via the open market the winter before Price landed his accord.
Indications are that Rendon, who’s also 29, has already turned down money in the Price/Scherzer neighborhood in advance of his much-anticipated foray into free agency. Rendon spurned a seven-year, $210MM-$215MM offer (with deferrals) from Washington, perhaps in hopes of signing a contract that’s closer to the seven-year, $234MM extension Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado received before this season. While Rendon, who finally earned his first All-Star nod this year, is neither as decorated nor as young as the four-time All-Star Arenado (28), there’s a legitimate case he’s the superior player.
Dating back to 2017, which is admittedly an arbitrary cutoff point, Rendon ranks fourth among position players in fWAR (19.9; Arenado’s ninth with 17.4), trailing only MVP winners Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich. And Rendon seems likely to garner serious consideration for this year’s NL MVP honors, having slashed a career-best .319/.412/.598 with personal highs in home runs (34) and fWAR (7.0) across 646 regular-season plate appearances.
It may be a long shot, but we could see Cole and Rendon square off against one another if in the Fall Classic in the next few weeks. No matter how the season ends for their teams, though, which of the two stars do you expect to emerge from the winter with the bigger contract?
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