A Winter Meetings most frenzied -- one in which more than $1 billion in guaranteed salary was cast about -- is freshly behind us. While the highest-profile likes of Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg are now spoken for, we've still got a number of compelling free agents still on the market. As well, we may still yet see multiple blockbuster trades go down before we start thinking about catchers and pitchers reporting. Let's set the scene for the remainder of the offseason with a market reset of sorts.
The free agent market
If you stroll over to our ruthlessly updated Free Agent Tracker, you'll find that six of our top 10 have already been signed. Relative to the last two winters, that's quite a pace. Using those rankings, let's give you an updated "best 10 available" as we barrel toward the holidays (with their original top 50 free agents ranking in parentheses):
|Rank||Free agent||Rumored suitors|
Josh Donaldson, 3B (No. 4)
Madison Bumgarner, LHP (No. 6)
Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP (No. 8)
Dallas Keuchel, LHP (No. 10)
Angels, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Reds, Twins, White Sox
Marcell Ozuna, OF (No. 13)
Braves, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Reds
Yasiel Puig, OF (No. 14)
Nicholas Castellanos, OF (No. 15)
Rich Hill, LHP (No. 16)
Dodgers, Red Sox
Will Harris, RHP (No. 18)
Dellin Betances, RHP (No. 19)
Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Twins
Yes, it says here that Donaldson is the best free agent left standing. That tracks since he's coming off a season in which he thrived on a one-year pillow contract with the Braves: 127 OPS+ with 37 home runs in 155 games and almost 1,300 defensive innings -- quality defensive innings -- at the hot corner. If you were in on Rendon or in need of third baseman but unwilling to pay Rendon rates, then Donaldson is the obvious fallback option.
Elsewhere, the second tier of starting pitchers after Cole -- comprised of lefties Bumgarner, Ryu and Keuchel -- remains available for hire and of interest to a similar field of teams. Corner outfield power abounds, even though teams these days tend not to pay a premium for it, and relievers are also to be found. Of all those names, Donaldson, Bumgarner and Ryu have the potential to sign nine-figure contracts in the coming days and weeks. In all, 31 of our top 50 free agents remain unsigned, which means lots of Transaction Action is yet to come.
The trade market
There's more than one way to skin a roster, and that essential first principle brings us to the trade market. This offseason has already seen notable swaps involving Nomar Mazara, Tommy Pham, Hunter Renfroe, Omar Narvaez, Jake Marisnick, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Villar and Jurickson Profar go down (our MLB transactions page is here to help when it comes to tracking each and every move).
While the big fish have been landed on the free agent front, the situation is very different when it comes to the trade market. Sure, those are some notable performers ticked off above, but the biggest trade targets are still out there. So now let's run down the big names that might get moved this offseason. If you don't like the order in which they appear, please forward your complaints to the modern English alphabet.
Yes, there's indeed talk that Rockies may look to move Arenado, who's one year into a seven year, $260 million extension and going into his age-29 campaign. He remains a productive hitter even after you adjust for the effects of Coors Field, and he remains among the best defensive third basemen in baseball. If the Rockies want a healthy return for Arenado as opposed to just a salary dump, then they'll need to kick in some cash. Arenado also has a full no-trade clause, which means the team hoping to deal for him may need to be persuasive (i.e., tack on a little something to the back end of his contract). The Dodgers and Rangers seem like potential fits.
It's far from certain that the Cubs will move Bryant, but they're angling for some roster shuffling while hoping to keep payroll where it is. That means a trade of a veteran performer like Bryant to address roster needs elsewhere is a distinct possibility.
Bryant missed time and saw his production sapped by shoulder problems in 2018, but this past season he bounced back with a 131 OPS+ and 67 extra-base hits in 147 games. For his career, he owns an OPS+ of 136 across five MLB seasons, and he's stayed off the IL in four of those seasons. Bryant can play third or the outfield corners, and going into his age-28 campaign he should still have some peak performance remaining. Likely, Bryant has two years of team control remaining, which means the Cubs can expect a healthy return. If, however, Bryant prevails in his grievance hearing against the Cubs (who knows when that will be resolved), then 2020 may be his walk year. Either way, he's again arbitration eligible and can expect a substantial raise over his 2019 salary of $12.9 million.
For now, Bryant's in a holding pattern because of that ongoing grievance. Teams potentially interested include the Rangers, Dodgers, Braves, Nationals, and Phillies.
For the reasons laid out above, Contreras also has one foot on the trade block. While his defense outside of a powerful throwing arm leaves something to be desired, Contreras is a top-tier hitter among catchers. This past season, he cracked 24 home runs in 105 games and put up an OPS+ of 125. For his career, he's averaged 25 home runs per 162 games played. At age 27, he's got more where that came from. Contreras isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season. A team in need of more pop from the catcher position but with a defensively skilled backup already in place would be an ideal landing spot.
It would make no sense for the Astros to trade Correa. They're wallowing in cash and squarely in contention mode. That said, owner Jim Crane wants to stay below the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold rather than put the best team possible on the field. That's why Correa, age 25 and coming off a 2019 campaign in which he slashed .279/.358/.568, may be available in trade. He has health and injury concerns, and those are very much part of his current story, but his upside is "MVP." The Mets have been mentioned in connection with Correa.
Hader is one of the elite relief arms in all of baseball. Across his three-year career, he's pitched to a 2.42 ERA with 349 strikeouts and 69 unintentional walks in 204 2/3 innings. Over that span, the lefty has allowed an opponents' batting average of .146 while striking out 44.6 percent of batters faced (that's an absolutely dominant figure). Also impressive is that Hader has gone more than one inning in 80 of his 151 career appearances. Given his flexibility and dominance and the fact that he's not eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season, the Brewers can rightly ask for a lot in return. Why the Brewers would be looking to trade Hader coming off consecutive plate appearances is another matter. The Yankees are among the teams with interest.
Kluber, 33, is a two-time AL Cy Young winner. He's coming off a disappointing 2019, which partly due to the fact that he missed significant time with a forearm fracture. From 2014-18, though, Kluber was one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he's a strong rebound candidate in 2020. He's under contract for $17.5 million next season, and his deal includes an $18 million club option/$1 million buyout for 2021.
The Indians should be trying to improve the roster in the winnable AL Central, but instead they seem to be bent on moving salary obligations. The Angels have been connected to Kluber (and teammate Carlos Carrasco).
And here we have the biggest name on the block. Lindor just turned 26, and he's a slick-fielding shortstop who's tallied 103 home runs and 126 doubles over the past three seasons. He owns a career OPS+ of 119, he steals bases, he's finished in the top 10 of the AL MVP balloting on three occasions, and he's one of the most magnetic personalities in the game today. This is the kind of player you keep as long as you can and make a good-faith effort to re-sign. Instead, the Indians are dangling Lindor. He's not eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season. The Dodgers are said to be deep in talks to acquire Lindor, and they have the young talent to pay the high cost in trade.
Marte remains a difference-maker on the bases, and this past season at the plate he produced right in line with career norms (120 OPS+). He's under contract for $11.5 million in 2020, and his pact includes a $12.5 million club option/$1 million buyout for 2021. That's control with some flexibility from the team standpoint, and it adds to Marte's trade value. He can still man center, but these days he's best suited to a corner outfield spot. The Mets and Padres are said to have interest in acquiring him from the Pirates.
In his age-30 season of 2019, Merrifield slashed .302/.348/.463 while leading MLB in hits and triples. He's capable of playing six or so different positions and has been the Royals' primary at second base. Merrifield has also been a high-volume base stealer in the past. What will also surely appeal to teams is that Merrifield is locked up potentially through 2023 season at bargain rates. The Royals under GM Dayton Moore don't seem to be sufficiently committed to a full teardown, so it's possible they won't deal Merrifield. If they do dangle him, though, he'll have a healthy market. The Padres and Cubs have been reported to have interest in him.
The Red Sox are another team looking to get under the CBT line, but the decision of J.D. Martinez not to use his opt-out means they'll have to do that by dealing salary. Trade speculation has swirled about star outfielder Mookie Betts, but parting with Betts while there's such a strong core in place would be deeply unwise. Instead, perhaps the Sox will probably look to trade the veteran lefty Price.
Price is still owed $96 million, so Boston will almost certainly have to include cash in any trade. While the 34-year-old lefty has elicited much hand-wringing in New England and environs, he's been good on the Sox's watch when healthy -- a 118 ERA+ with 609 strikeouts in 588 innings across 98 starts and five relief appearances. Aspiring contenders with some payroll flexibility and in need of rotation help should be interested. The Angels, Padres, White Sox, Reds, and Cardinals may be among those in the mix.
Yes, the pace of the 2019-20 offseason has been impressive and engaging thus far, but as laid out above there's plenty more to come. Lots of shoes are left to drop between now and the point at which pitchers and catchers begin aimlessly wandering the streets of Arizona and Florida. Tuned, you should stay.