Sports fans have been looking forward to this MLB offseason for a long time. With a variety of superstars and major contributors available on the free-agent market, the next few months could dictate which future powerhouses emerge as contenders in the 2020s. A lot is at stake, and rumors continue to circulate about possible landing places for the biggest names. The following are my predictions for where the most important free agents will wind up playing next year.
The outfielder went through some struggles last season. He had trouble dealing with aggressive shifting that made him adjust his approach at the plate. Harper finished with a .249 batting average, 34 home runs, 100 runs batted in and an .889 on-base plus slugging percentage. Those numbers fall far short of those from his magical 2015 MVP campaign. On the positive side, however, he proved that he can play a full season of games and rallied in the second-half of the season with a .300 BA and .972 OPS. Harper is still only 26 years old, and though these hitting issues slightly dulled the enthusiasm surrounding his free agency, the outfielder is in position to receive the largest MLB contract ever. It’s hard to match Harper’s potential for greatness, and the team that signs him will get to enjoy his prime seasons. The usual suspects have already been named as possible bidders — the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs. But I look at the Philadelphia Phillies as the ideal spot for Harper: an up-and-coming team that just needs one last impact bat in the lineup to contend. Harper can be the face of the franchise, stay in the familiar National League East and play in the postseason for several years.
Prediction: Phillies, 13 years, $350 million
Another 26-year-old, Machado enjoyed the finest hitting year of his career in 2018 with a .297 BA, 37 HR, 107 RBI and .905 OPS. But a lot of that good feeling was marred by some perplexing actions in the postseason. He stepped on the ankles of first basemen, didn’t hustle in the World Series and often came up short in clutch situations. Machado became baseball’s villain, and some analysts speculated that teams might be less willing to offer him great sums of cash after what occurred in October. Not likely. Machado is just entering his prime, can play shortstop and third base (though he’s much better at the latter) and has proven himself as a consistent power bat. Many of the teams in contention for Harper will try their luck with Machado too. I see him ending up with the New York Yankees. Shortstop Didi Gregorius will be out with Tommy John surgery, so Machado can fill that hole. Once Gregorius returns, Machado can take over on third base, moving defensively-challenged Miguel Andújar to a more suitable corner outfield or first base spot. And let’s face it, Machado is the perfect unpopular addition for the Evil Empire.
Prediction: Yankees, 13 years, $325 million
The closer is lucky to have escaped the 2018 postseason. Kimbrel flirted with danger every time he was on the mound, making Boston Red Sox fans as nervous as possible on the way to a World Series championship. Sometimes Kimbrel had no idea where the ball was going once it left his hand, throwing all over the place and walking batter after batter. On other occasions, he was simply hit hard by the opposition. It took sparkling defensive plays by Red Sox outfielders throughout the postseason to keep the damage to a minimum. If a couple of pitches had been hit slightly harder, Kimbrel could very well be considered a playoff goat.
Postseason aside, Kimbrel has been a dominant reliever for a long time and will command a sizable contract as a result. The 30-year-old has a career 1.91 earned run average, 0.92 walks plus hits per inning pitched and a 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings ratio. Nevertheless, there were signs of slippage all last season — not only during the playoffs. Kimbrel’s 13.9 K/9 mark was his worst since 2015, and his 4.5 walks per nine innings were the second-worst for a full season in his career. I would not chase after Kimbrel aggressively. A team will be paying for the early thirties of a guy who wasn’t at his best all last year and at his lowest when it mattered most. But franchises will go after the All-Star closer of a championship team regardless.
I think the Red Sox will re-sign him in the end. Manager Alex Cora showed great faith in the closer, keeping him on the mound in pressure moments. Boston trusts Kimbrel more than any other team does and wants to keep their winning group together.
Prediction: Red Sox, five years, $80 million
And here’s where I see other free agents playing:
Patrick Corbin: Yankees, five years, $120 million
Dallas Keuchel: Braves, four years, $75 million
Nathan Eovaldi: Angels, three years, $50 million
Josh Donaldson: Angels, one year, $15 million
George Klein ’20 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.