The monster free agent class that clubs have been waiting and saving for years is finally about to arrive–and, perhaps inevitably, it is not nearly as formidable as it once promised to be. There are several reasons for that: injuries (Josh Donaldson, Andrew Miller); unexpected drop-offs in performance (Andrew McCutchen, Matt Harvey); probable exercising of player options (David Price, Jason Heyward); contract extensions (Charlie Blackmon); even tragedy (José Fernández).
Another reason why the market might prove cooler than once anticipated: the industry, as a whole, has become far less enthusiastic about dropping big money on free agents. After the 2015 season, clubs spent a record $2.5 billion on them, but last offseason that sum declined by about a billion dollars. The relative quality of the players available played a role, but so did recent outcomes. Seven players signed contracts worth more than $100 million in the mammoth winter of 2015: Price, Heyward, Zack Greinke, Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann. At least four of them–Heyward, Davis, Cueto and Zimmermann–have disappointed, and it’s possible that none of the seven was worth the money. The market should be further suppressed by the fact that around a third of the league is in rebuilding mode, and unlikely to spend much now.
Still, it’s a big class, and it’s topped by two of the 50 or so most accomplished 26-year-old hitters in the game’s history. Would you rather spend several hundred million dollars on Manny Machado, or Bryce Harper? “Emotionally, Machado seems so risky, but I guess he scores out better,” says one executive. Another concurs: “I’d go with the infielder,” he says. That’s the first decision clubs playing at the top of the market will have to make, but there are many more.
Here, then, is this year’s Reiter 50, SI.com’s annual ranking of each winter’s best free agents, as well as a suggestion as to what might make for the best destination for each of them. A few notes: each player’s listed age reflects how old he will be during the 2019 season, and we’re using the Baseball Reference version of Wins Above Replacement.
50. Matt Harvey
Position: SP | Age: 30
Current Team: Reds | Best Fit: A's
2018 Stats: 7-9, 4.94 ERA, 1.303 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 0.7 WAR
Once assured of appearing near the very top of this list, Harvey now finds himself at the bottom as little more than another cheap reclamation project for the A's—although he did pitch somewhat better after his trade from the Mets to the Reds (4.50 ERA in 24 starts). He beats out other players like Jose Bautista, Brad Brach, Melky Cabrera, Daniel Descalso, Evan Gattis, Carlos Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Josh Harrison, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Holliday, Oliver Perez, Brandon Kintzler, Jonathan Lucroy, Lance Lynn and Martin Maldonado - almost all of whom would have made the list in almost any other year, but not this one.
49. Joe Kelly
Position: RP | Age: 31
Current Team: Red Sox | Best Fit: Dodgers
2018 Stats: 4-2, 4.39 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2 SV, 0.5 WAR
Kelly has long been bedeviled by inconsistency, both as far as his command (4.4 walks per nine innings) and quality: he allowed three or more runs in one inning or less in five separate outings this season. But the Dodgers saw firsthand how dominant he can be when he's feeling his 99 mile an hour fastball and looping curve: in his six scoreless World Series innings, he struck out ten and walked none.
Contract: The Dodgers signed Kelly to a three-year, $24 million contract on December 12, 2018.
48. Trevor Cahill
Position: SP | Age: 31
Current Team: A's | Best Fit: Padres
2018 Stats: 7-4, 3.76 ERA, 1.191 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 1.3 WAR
One of Oakland's collection of unheralded, but surprisingly effective, starters, Cahill has a sinker that induces a ton of ground balls and an ability to generate a low contact rate–a great combination, obviously. He was good in 11 starts for the Padres in 2017 (3.69 ERA), and they might want him back.
Contract: The Angels signed Cahill to a one-year, $9 million contract on December 20, 2018
47. José Iglesias
Position: SS | Age: 29
Current Team: Tigers | Best Fit: Padres
2018 Stats: .269 BA, .699 OPS, 5 HR, 48 RBIs, 15 SB, 2.2 WAR
Much of Iglesias's relatively impressive WAR stems from the fact that he remains a stupendous fielder–although his batting line, especially his 30 doubles, isn't bad. He'd be a perfect placeholder until Fernando Tatis Jr., one the game's top propects, is ready to take over in San Diego.
46. Tony Sipp
Position: RP | Age: 35
Current Team: Astros | Best Fit: Cubs
2018 Stats: 3-1, 1.86 ERA, 1.034 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 0 SV, 1.3 WAR
The southpaw rebounded from a 2017 in which he had a 5.79 ERA, and was effective against both lefties (.191 batting average against) and righties (.201). He also allowed just one home run all season long, and would be one more helpful piece in a strong Cubs bullpen.
45. Aníbal Sánchez
Position: SP | Age: 35
Current Team: Braves | Best Fit: Reds
2018 Stats: 7-6, 2.83 ERA, 1.083 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 2.6 WAR
Sánchez is another pitcher who found success by overhauling his arsenal. Clearly, the mix that won him the AL ERA crown as a Tiger in 2013 was no longer working–his ERA rose to 6.41 in 2017–so he essentially junked his slider and sinker in favor of a cutter. It worked, and he'll be rewarded this offseason–perhaps by the Reds, to whom he could serve as the same sort of veteran bellcow he did with Atlanta.
Contract: The Nationals signed Sanchez to a two-year, $19 million deal on December 27, 2018.
44. Joakim Soria*
Position: RP | Age: 35
Current Team: Brewers | Best Fit: Indians
2018 Stats: 3-4, 3.12 ERA, 1.137 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 16 SV, 0.9 WAR
*Editor's note: The Brewers hold a $10 million option on Soria in 2019 they are not likely to pick up.
The former All-Star closer for the Royals posted his best strikeout rate since he was 25, in a season he split between the White Sox and Brewers. As Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are likely to move on, the Indians will need a new late-inning option in front of closer Brad Hand.
Contract: The A's signed Soria to a two-year, $15 million deal on December 21, 2018.
43. Asdrúbal Cabrera
Position: Utility | Age: 33
Current Team: Phillies | Best Fit: Pirates
2018 Stats: .262 BA, .774 OPS, 23 HR, 75 RBIs, 0 SB, 0.7 WAR
Cabrera isn't the best fielder–but still, he's a switch-hitting middle infielder with power, and one who can play third in a pinch, too. He's be a very useful piece in Pittsburgh, providing depth behind Adam Frazier at second and Colin Moran at third and even playing short if the young Kevin Newman struggles.
Contract: The Rangers signed Cabrera to a one-year, $3.5 million deal on January 24, 2019.
42. Brett Gardner
Position: OF | Age: 35
Current Team: Yankees | Best Fit: Indians
2018 Stats: .236 BA, .690 OPS, 12 HR, 45 RBIs, 16 SB, 2.8 WAR
It appears as if the longest-tenured Yankee's career in New York is over after 11 years. The club appears unlikely to pick up his option, especially if they make the big acquisition I suggest they might below. With Michael Brantley a free agent and Bradley Zimmer's health no sure thing, the Indians will need to add at least one outfielder.
41. Ian Kinsler
Position: 2B | Age: 37
Current Team: Red Sox | Best Fit: Tigers
2018 Stats: .240 BA, .681 OPS, 14 HR, 48 RBIs, 16 SB, 2.4 WAR
He's no longer anything close to a 30-30 threat–more like 15-15–but that's still useful, as is the fact that he remains an excellent defensive second baseman (second-best in the league, according to FanGraphs' UZR statistic). The Tigers don't figure to spend much this winter, but they could move Niko Goodrum to short, allowing for a return to Detroit for Kinsler.
Contract: The Padres signed Kinsler to a two-year, $8 million deal on December 20, 2018.
40. Gio González
Position: SP | Age: 33
Current Team: Brewers | Best Fit: Blue Jays
2018 Stats: 10-11, 4.21 ERA, 1.444 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 1.8 WAR
The sometimes volatile southpaw is extremely durable, having made at least 31 starts in eight of his nine full years in the majors. He's also been excellent at times, including for the first two months of last season, when he had a 2.10 ERA for the Nationals, before his command deserted him (4.21 walks per nine). The Blue Jays badly need consistent innings, and could pick up Gonzalez even in the midst of a moderate rebuilding effort.
39. Steve Pearce
Position: 1B | Age: 36
Current Team: Red Sox | Best Fit: Red Sox
2018 Stats: .284 BA, .890 OPS, 11 HR, 42 RBIs, 0 SB, 1.4 WAR
The newly minted World Series MVP completed his journey through the AL East with a June trade from Toronto to Boston, where he served as an ideal platoon partner for Mitch Moreland. He continues to pair a high OPS (.901 with the Red Sox) with a low strikeout rate (16.3%), and the Red Sox will want to return the productive duo.
Contract: The Red Sox re-signed Pearce to a one-year, $6.25 million deal.
38. Kelvin Herrera
Position: RP | Age: 29
Current Team: Nationals | Best Fit: Nationals
2018 Stats: 2-3, 2.44 ERA, 1.195 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 17 SV, 1.6 WHIP
Herrera wasn't great after a June trade from Kansas City, where he'd started the season with a 1.05 ERA, to Washington. He's lost a few miles per hour of his once-blazing fastball–and, to compound matters, he tore a ligament in his foot in late August. Still, the Nationals have cycled through late innings relievers for years, and if Herrera is healthy some continuity might be attractive.
Contract: The White Sox signed Herrera to a two-year, $18 million deal on January 8, 2019.
37. Kurt Suzuki
Position: C | Age: 35
Current Team: Braves | Best Fit: Angels
2018 Stats: .271 BA, .776 OPS, 12 HR, 50 RBIs, 0 SB, 2.1 WAR
Suzuki hit .252 and averaged five home runs and 47 RBIss between 2012-`16; in the two seasons since, with Atlanta, he's batted .276 with averages of 15 homers and 50 RBIss. He's a poor framer and thower (just a 19% caught stealing rate), but he'd still be a welcome addition to a punchless group of Angels catchers that combined to hit .220.
Contract: The Nationals signed Suzuki to a two-year, $10 million deal on November 20, 2018.
36. Garrett Richards
Position: SP | Age: 31
Current Team: Angels | Best Fit: Rays
2018 Stats: 5-4, 3.66 ERA, 1.284 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 0.1 WAR
The hard-throwing Richards has been dealing with arm trouble for years. He's worked only 138 2/3 innings over the past three seasons, pitching to a 3.05 ERA and striking out 9.6 batters per nine innings. He finally had no choice but to opt for Tommy John surgery over the summer, which will likely sideline him for most, if not all, of 2019. But the Rays have a good track record of successfully rehabbing injured free agents–recently Nathan Eovaldi and Wilson Ramos–and Richards, with his 96 mph fastball, represents another attractive project.
Contract: The Padres signed Richards to a two-year, $15.5 million deal on December 7, 2018.
35. Cody Allen
Position: RP | Age: 30
Current Team: Indians | Best Fit: White Sox
2018 Stats: 4-6, 4.70 ERA, 1.358 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 27 SV, 0.0 WAR
He had sub-3.00 ERAs each season between 2013 and `17–and then this year happened. It's bad timing for Allen, but potentially good for the Sox' bullpen, which has no proven arms whatsoever aside from Nate Jones.
Contract: The Angels signed Allen to a one-year, $8.5 million contract on January 20, 2019.
34. Nick Markakis
Position: OF | Age: 35
Current Team: Braves | Best Fit: Braves
2018 Stats: .297 BA, .807 OPS, 24 HR, 93 RBIs, 1 SB, 2.6 WAR
Another late career first-time All-Star, Markakis had his best OPS+ since 2012 while playing in every game for the Braves. But he's been a consistent, if unspectacular, force for years: he's now fifth among active players in hits (2,237), trailing only Adrián Béltre, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Robinson Canó. The young Braves would be taking a step back by letting him move on.
Contract: The Braves signed Markakis to a one-year, $6 million deal on January 22, 2019
33. Clay Buchholz
Position: SP | Age: 34
Current Team: Diamondbacks | Best Fit: Diamondbacks
2018 Stats: 7-2, 2.01 ERA, 1.037 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 3.0 WAR
The long-time Red Sox starter was quietly sensational in Arizona, but health is always a concern. He hasn't topped 140 innings since 2014, and he didn't this year, as a flexor strain in his pitching elbow ended his season in mid-September. That's ominous–but a pitcher who is again this tough to hit (.217 average against) is worth another shot for the Diamondbacks.
32. CC Sabathia
Position: SP | Age: 38
Current Team: Yankees | Best Fit: Yankees
2018 Stats: 9-7, 3.65 ERA, 1.314 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.3 WAR
Sabathia keeps chugging along. His performance was nearly identical in each of the past two years, and he should again be good for about 150 innings. His late career discovery of a cutter has counterbalanced the natural decrease in the velocity of his fastball, to an average of 90 mph. As with Adrián Beltre, he'll likely keep things going in his long-term home.
Contract: The Yankees re-signed Sabathia to a one-year, $10 million contract on November 7, 2018.
31. Wade Miley
Position: SP | Age: 32
Current Team: Brewers | Best Fit: Brewers
2018 Stats: 5-2, 2.57 ERA, 1.215 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 1.5 WAR
The reinvention of Wade Miley was real. The veteran of four previous teams–and the owner of a 5.48 ERA over his previous two seasons–completely revamped his style in Milwaukee, trading in an arsenal centered on a four-seamer, a sinker, and a slider for one that relied on a cutter, a changeup, and a curve. That allowed a previously homer-prone pitcher (25 in 157 2/3 innings in `17) to rarely allow the ball to leave the yard at all (three homers in 82 2/3 innings this year). Why would either side want to mess with that?
Contract: The Astros signed Miley to a one-year, $6 million deal on January 31, 2019.