MLB Free Agent Rankings: Hyun-Jin Ryu's dominant season with Dodgers puts him among the top of this winter's class
Despite his injury history, Ryu is pitching his way to a nice free-agent payday
and teams will now shift their focus to the July 31 trade deadline. There is a single trade deadline now -- no longer can clubs add players via trade waivers in August (and, technically, September) -- which means we should see more deals and rumors than usual the next eight weeks.
Of course, the 2018-19 free-agent signing period still is not closed, as Dallas Keuchel remains unsigned. -- draft pick compensation went away this past Monday -- so he is free to sign with no penalty for his new team. . Keuchel should sign soon as well.
We've been keeping tabs on the 2019-20 free-agent class all season with. And, on the first Thursday of each month, we are updating our rankings of the top 10 impending free agents. . Should Keuchel go unsigned for another month, we'll have to consider including him in July's rankings.
As a reminder, 11 would-be free agents have signed contract extensions since Jan. 1, taking them off the upcoming free-agent market. They are all brand names too. Here are those 11 players, listed in order of contract value:
- 3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: 8 years, $260 million.
- LHP Chris Sale, Red Sox: 5 years, $145 million.
- 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals: 5 years, $130 million.
- SS Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: 6 years, $120 million plus one option.
- OF Aaron Hicks, Yankees: 7 years, $70 million plus one option.
- RHP Miles Mikolas, Cardinals: 4 years, $68 million.
- RHP Justin Verlander, Astros: 2 years, $66 million.
- 3B Matt Carpenter, Cardinals: 3 years, $39 million.
- DH Khris Davis, Athletics: 2 years, $33.75 million.
- RHP Sonny Gray, Reds: 3 years, $30.5 million plus one option.
- RHP Ryan Pressly, Astros: 2 years, $17.5 million plus one option.
The extension craze has slowed down now that the regular season is well underway, though I would not be surprised to see a few more deals get worked out between now and July 31. Particularly with players on rebuilding clubs. It could be that teams will try to sign a player long-term, and if they can't get something done, they'll trade him. We'll see.
Below are our 2019-20 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings for June. The top of the free-agent class remains unchanged. After the top two guys though, things are started to get shaken up a little bit as sample sizes become not so small and trends become more obvious. Here are our latest free-agent rankings.
Gerrit Cole Houston Astros SP
A spike in home run rate (0.85 HR/9 in 2018 to 1.62 HR/9 in 2019) has Astros co-ace Gerrit Cole sitting on a 3.94 ERA through 13 starts, though pretty much everyone is giving up more homers nowadays, and Cole's power stuff remains off the charts good. He leads the league in strikeouts (116) and strikeout rate (13.4 K/9), and both his velocity and spin rates rank among the very best in baseball. Factor in his age (29 in September) and pedigree (No. 1 pick in 2011), and Cole's absolute floor going into free agency is Patrick Corbin's six-year, $140 million contract, even with the homers. I expect Cole to ultimately do quite a bit better than Corbin, barring injury.
Previous Rank: 1
Anthony Rendon Washington Nationals 3B
Did you know Anthony Rendon has never been an All-Star? True story. Twice he's finished in the top six of the MVP voting (2014 and 2017), and he would've had a good chance to do it again this year if the Nationals weren't so terrible. Rendon is hitting .329/.436/.659 with 11 homers and nearly as many walks (28) as strikeouts (32) through 47 games, and he's playing his typically rock solid defense at third base as well. Rendon has a bit of an injury history, though he turns only 29 on Thursday, and his performance is top notch. I don't think Rendon can get Arenado money (eight years and $260 million) this winter. Goldschmidt money (five years and $130 million) is very doable though.
Previous Rank: 2
J.D. Martinez Boston Red Sox DH
As good as he's been this year, I think we're nearing the point where he have to drop J.D. Martinez from our rankings. He is here based on the assumption he will opt out of the final three years and $60 million remaining on his contract. As a soon-to-be 32-year-old most of the time DH who has been very good this year (.294/.370/.523) rather than the best hitter in the league like last year (.330/.402/.629), topping $60 million guaranteed in free agency won't be easy. For now, I'm leaving Martinez in the rankings. Worst case is he can probably leverage the opt-out clause into more money from the Red Sox, possibly in the form of a club option for 2023 with a pricey buyout ($20 million option with $10 million buyout?).
Previous Rank: 3
Yasmani Grandal Milwaukee Brewers C
My heart says a switch-hitting catcher with 20-plus homer power, a strong arm, and elite framing numbers will be in very high demand as a free agent. My head says all of those things applied to Yasmani Grandal last offseason, yet he had to settle for a one-year contract and $18.25 million guaranteed. Grandal, who turns only 31 in November, reportedly turned down multi-year offers because the high base salary one-year deal was better for his fellow MLBPA members. Admirable, for sure. Given everything that's happened since though, specifically all those below-market extensions, my guess is Grandal does what's best for him and takes the multi-year deal this winter.
Previous Rank: 5
Hyun-Jin Ryu Los Angeles Dodgers SP
Fun fact: In only one of his last 51 full innings has Hyun-Jin Ryu been scored upon. For real. Dating back to May 1, Ryu has allowed two runs in his last 51 2/3 innings, and both runs came in the same inning on May 25. Remarkable. The 32-year-old southpaw leads the league in ERA (1.35), WHIP (0.78), and K/BB ratio (14.2). He's struck out 71 and walked five -- five! -- in 80 innings. Pretty incredible.
With Ryu, the question has never been about performance. He came into this season with a career 3.20 ERA in MLB and last season he threw 82 1/3 innings with a 1.97 ERA. This didn't come out of nowhere. The question with Ryu is health. He's thrown as many as 125 innings in a season once since 2014 and he has a long injury history, including major shoulder surgery that sidelined him all of 2015 and most of 2016. That will take a bite out of his earning potential.
The thing is, baseball is so bullpen-centric nowadays that teams will take 120 ace-like innings over 180 average innings. Ryu's performance has been fantastic, he never seems to get raddled, and his shoulder has held up since surgery. The Dodgers love Ryu and vice versa. The guess here is the two sides work out an extension (three years at $15 million per year?). Should Ryu hit free agency though, another team could swoop in with a big offer and change things.
Previous Rank: Unranked
Zack Wheeler New York Mets SP
The 4.68 ERA in 12 starts is an eyesore. Everything else about Zack Wheeler is as good as it was during his breakout 2018 season, and even better in some cases. His strikeout rate is way up (8.8 K/9 in 2018 to 10.2 K/9 in 2019), his walk (2.7 BB/9 to 2.8 BB/9) and ground ball (44.2 percent to 46.7 percent) rates are essentially unchanged, and his velocity is up a full mile-an-hour across the board. More than anything, Wheeler has been victimized by shoddy defense and a few more juiced ball homers. The extensive injury history will cap his earning potential. Wheeler turned only 29 last month though, and he offers the power bat-missing stuff teams crave. They'll see right through the ERA and recognize the underlying skills are strong. Nathan Eovaldi's four-year, $68 million deal is a possible benchmark for Wheeler.
Previous Rank: 4
Marcell Ozuna St. Louis Cardinals LF
Relative youth and a healthy shoulder are the two best things Marcell Ozuna has going for him. He turns only 29 in November, which means whichever team signs him is getting a whole lot of peak years, and 16 homers in 57 show he is fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. Ozuna's defense has deteriorated to the point where he is a liability in the field, and we have over 3,500 big-league plate appearances telling us he won't be a high on-base hitter (career .326 on-base percentage), but power and prime years pay. All it takes is one team to take the plunge for Ozuna to get multiple years and north of $15 million annually over the winter.
Previous Rank: 6
Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants SP
The good news is Madison Bumgarner is missing more bats and racking up more strikeouts than he did the last two years, and his velocity has crept back up into the 91-92 mph range as well. The bad news is Bumgarner's hard-hit allowed rate is in the bottom 12 percent of the league and righties are hitting him harder than ever before. Bumgarner turns 30 in August and he has an awful lot of mileage on his arm. Concern about a rapid Felix Hernandez-esque decline is not unreasonable. The bet here is Bumgarner gets a nice contact but something well short of Corbin's six-year, $140 million deal despite the difference in track records. Three years and $75 million (with an opt-out clause after the first two years?) may be Bumgarner's contract ceiling given the red flags.
Previous Rank: 8
Cole Hamels Chicago Cubs SP
Cole Hamels just continues to plug along. Twelve starts into the season he owns a 3.62 ERA with underlying numbers right in line with his career norms. He is losing some fastball velocity, which is totally normal for a pitcher his age, though he's been able to compensate with his cutter and changeup. I don't think it's a stretch to say Hamels will be the most popular pitcher in free agency this winter. Only a handful of teams will be serious suitors for Cole at his price. Given his age, Hamels will be limited to a one or two-year deal, and pretty much every contender will want to get in on that. It could be that the team that offers the second guaranteed year gets him. Either way, something in the $18 million to $20 million range annually is a reasonable price tag for Hamels at this point in his career.
Previous Rank: 9
Josh Donaldson Atlanta Braves 3B
Healthy Josh Donaldson in 2019 is putting up similar numbers as injured Josh Donaldson in 2018. Last year he hit .246/.352/.449 with eight homers in 52 games around shoulder and calf trouble. That worked out to a 119 OPS+. This year Donaldson is hitting .253/.370/.444. That is a 117 OPS+. Hmmm. Donaldson turns 34 in December and while I get the logic behind a one-year "prove yourself" contract, I feel like Donaldson set himself up to get only one-year offers going forward. Maybe a team takes the plunge and offers two years. Another one-year contract seems likely though, at something less than the $23 million he's making this year. Of course, should MVP Donaldson show up these final four months, all bets are off.
Previous Rank: 7
Contract Options: For the purposes of these rankings, we are assuming Chris Archer, Pirates ($9 million); Nelson Cruz, Twins ($12 million); Sean Doolittle, Nationals ($6.5 million); Corey Kluber, Indians ($17.5 million); Starling Marte, Pirates ($11.5 million); Jose Quintana, Cubs ($11.5 million);and Anthony Rizzo, Cubs ($14.5 million) will have their club options exercised. Also, we are assuming Elvis Andrus, Rangers (three years, $43 million); Jake Arrieta, Phillies (one year, $20 million); Aroldis Chapman, Yankees: (two years, $30 million); Yu Darvish, Cubs (four years, $81 million); Kenley Jansen, Dodgers: (two years, $38 million); and Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (four years, $100 million) will not opt out of their contracts.
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