Checking In On The Winter 2018 Free Agent Class
Next offseason will feature one of the most stacked free agent classes of all time. Max Rosenfeld takes a glimpse at where their stock rests less than two months into the 2018 season.
This upcoming winter’s free agent class is the most highly anticipated collection of talent in recent memory. It is a large part of the reason teams were so reluctant to shell out significant dollars this past winter and is already cause for trade speculation surrounding some. So, how is the top of the class performing in 2018, and how does it translate to their impending contract hopes?
OF Bryce Harper, Age 25
Harper is the class’s marquee free agent, and rightfully so. The slugger is batting just .228 to this point but has produced impressive power numbers with 12 home runs and 28 RBIs. On top of that, Harper’s .185 BABIP suggests that his batting average might just be the product of some bad luck. Harper’s .404 on-base percentage tells us he’s still getting on base at an All-Star pace, and he is still considered one of the most dangerous batters in the league. Harper will have no problem fetching the most lucrative contract of anyone in this class.
IF Manny Machado, Age 25
The transition to shortstop has done nothing but raise Machado’s stock. He’s expected to be traded at some point this season, especially if the Orioles continue to struggle. Where he is dealt will play a large role in whether he will even face the free agent market — if he’s traded to a team like the Cubs, it’s entirely possible that Machado will agree to a contract extension upon arrival. If Machado lands on a team that will use him as a rental, like the Dodgers or Diamondbacks, he will surely see the market. Either way, Machado is set to become one of the richest men in baseball.
OF A.J. Pollock, Age 30
Pollock has already smacked 11 home runs, just three shy of his 2017 total. The 30-year-old All-Star has embraced the launch angle revolution and the results have shown in the power department. Pollock also plays a premium position and is a plus defender according to advanced analytics such as UZR. Because of his somewhat advanced age, Pollock may not be able to cash in on a long-term deal, but he will surely be granted a considerable Average Annual Value on a 3-5 year contract.
LHP Patrick Corbin, Age 28
Corbin currently the proud owner of a 2.12 ERA and 0.82 WHIP and has seen his K% skyrocket as the result of a newly developed curveball. Corbin has always been a productive pitcher, but if he can maintain this level of success it could take him to an entirely different level in terms of free agent consideration. With teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox likely to look for starting pitching this winter, Corbin could be the market’s greatest beneficiary.
RHP Craig Kimbrel, Age 29
Kimbrel is 29 years old, is the quickest closer ever to 300 saves, and should be paid by a contending club this offseason. His fastball is actually down two MPH on average compared to last season, but that figure will almost certainly even out as the weather improves. Kimbrel is undoubtedly one of the finest closers of this generation and will warrant the same type of attention that Aroldis Chapman gathered in free agency two winters ago.
LHP Clayton Kershaw, Age 30
Kershaw’s most recent trip to the DL makes it three straight seasons he’s missed some time, which makes the decision of whether or not to opt out of his contract this winter even more interesting. It’s hard to imagine Kershaw in a different uniform to begin with, and the southpaw’s recent injury history makes it possible that he’ll choose to simply opt-in rather than test the market. Kershaw is still one of best pitchers in the game and will receive significant attention no matter what he chooses, but if he fails to complete the 2018 season without another DL stint some teams may think twice before offering him an enormous deal.
LHP David Price, Age 32
Price’s situation is similar to Kershaw’s — the lefty was just diagnosed with mild carpal tunnel syndrome, seemingly from playing too much Fortnite. Price’s tenure in Boston has been shaky to this point. He currently has a 5.11 ERA on the year and could decide that it’s in his best interest to opt back into his deal with the Red Sox rather than test the market.
IF/OF Marwin Gonzalez, Age 29
The versatile Gonzalez had a poor beginning to the season but has come on as of late. His ability to play almost any position on the diamond makes him an intriguing piece in this modern era of baseball, but he’ll need to slash better than ..248/.333/.360 to warrant the type of contract it seemed he might fetch a year ago.
RHP Matt Harvey, Age 29
The artist formerly known as The Dark Knight has a 7.00 ERA entering his debut with the Cincinnati Reds. Harvey was once thought to be a headliner for this class, but will now be considered a reclamation project wherever he lands.
Wait And See
IF Josh Donaldson, Age 32
Donaldson, like Machado, could be dealt to make way for Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. if the Blue Jays fall out of contention by the trading deadline. There have been some injury concerns, but Donaldson is an athletic player who could fit well anywhere at 3B, 1B, or DH as he ages. Once an MVP-type player, it’s much too early in the season to make a proper evaluation of Donaldson’s free agent value.
OF Andrew McCutchen, Age 31
Cutch has actually been pretty good for the Giants so far, boasting a .377 on-base percentage. But the power numbers are down an obvious product of his age. It’ll be interesting to see whether McCutchen can produce more pop as the weather heats up.
IF Daniel Murphy, Age 33
Murphy has yet to appear in a game in 2018 and will be 34 by the time the 2019 season begins. But Murphy boasts an advanced approach and has only gotten better with age. This summer will be huge in determining where Murphy fits into the landscape of this free agent class.
OF/DH Nelson Cruz, Age 37
NC Boomstick has dealt with nagging injuries to begin this season but has still smacked nine home runs. At the age of 37, it’s tough to imagine Cruz garnering major attention on the free agent market, especially in an age where everyone seems to be hitting home runs. But Cruz could get a one or two year deal with a high AAV if he proves he’s still one of the best power bats in the game this summer.
OF Adam Jones, Age 32
Jones has never been a high OBP guy, but a change of scenery may be needed to determine whether he’s shot or just bored. He’ll probably be dealt from the O’s, much like Machado.
LHP Gio Gonzalez, Age 32
Gonzalez has a cool 2.22 ERA this season and has been able to fly under the radar behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Gio might be one of the best pitchers in the National League, but he needs to prove it the rest of the season to be paid like one.