The 2019 Major League Baseball season came to an end last week with the Washington Nationals completing their magical playoff run, defeating the powerhouse Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series. The thrilling Nationals used a steady stream of dominant starting pitching and timely hitting to capture the franchise’s first championship. But now, it is time to turn the page and think about the offseason, as stars (notably from the two World Series teams) hit the free agent market and look to command sizable contracts. The MLB landscape could undergo a dramatic shift in the coming months. Let’s take a look at some of the top free agents, and see where they might end up.
Cole is coming off of a tremendous season with the Astros, who should regret not using him in Game 7. He won 20 games, struck out a league-leading 326 batters and finished with a 2.50 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. Cole finished fifth in American League Cy Young voting in 2018, and will, in all likelihood, end up first or second this year. The 29-year-old is truly a premier pitcher, featuring a blistering fastball and devastating breaking balls. He often looks untouchable on the mound.
The one blemish on Cole’s resume is his early-career underperformance. He entered the big leagues as a Pittsburgh Pirate with enormous expectations, but after a 2015 All-Star season, posted mediocre numbers in 2016 and 2017. Still, no lingering concerns should follow Cole, since he’s overpowered hitters ever since a trade to the Astros gave him a change of scenery. He is right in the prime of his career and will receive an enormous contract.
The Los Angeles Angels could be a great landing place for Cole. The Angels have no reservations about signing big contracts and are desperate to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014, adding manager Joe Maddon last month. With Cole and Mike Trout, the Angels would boast plenty of star power. The New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers will also likely have roles in Cole’s deliberations, but they might not be willing to spend as much as the Angels on a pitcher. The Philadelphia Phillies could also consider signing Cole, since they are eager to contend. Still, the Angels seem to be a likely option for him.
Prediction: Los Angeles Angels, 8 years, $250 million.
Rendon, who is also 29 years of age, has blossomed into superstardom over the past couple of seasons. He solidified his standing in the league with clutch performances in the playoffs, hitting home runs in both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series. In the regular season, he amassed 34 homers, 126 runs batted in and a 1.010 OPS. He’s consistently performed at a high level in his prime, posting a cumulative .952 OPS over his last three years. Rendon plays solid defense at third base too — he is an all-around player with no clear weaknesses.
The free agent should command a contract similar to that of fellow third baseman Nolan Arenado, who signed an extension with the Colorado Rockies for eight years and $260 million earlier in the season. Rendon is almost a year older than Arenado and does not have the same fielding ability, but that legendary postseason will help to boost his considerable credentials. Rendon has shown that he can step up in the sport’s biggest moments.
The Nationals will look to re-sign Rendon, one of the faces of the franchise. Other teams in the National League East like the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, who both have holes at third base, could look to entice Rendon. He is from Texas, so we could hear some chatter about the Rangers over the next few weeks. The Dodgers might want to make a splash by signing Rendon and upgrading their lineup after another postseason disappointment. Still, all signs point to the third baseman staying with the Nationals — they just won a championship and he’s played for them his entire career.
Prediction: Washington Nationals, eight years, $240 million.
Strasburg became a postseason legend this year, posting a 5-0 record and a 1.98 ERA in six playoff appearances. To top it off, he won the World Series MVP. After years spent slightly under the radar in the shadow of star Max Scherzer, Strasburg won’t escape the spotlight in the future. He had one of his best regular seasons at the perfect time, recording 251 strikeouts and a 1.04 WHIP to set himself up for a large contract.
The big question, as always with Strasburg, will be his health. The 31-year-old has only thrown more than 175 innings four times in 10 MLB seasons. After entering the majors as a highly celebrated prospect, he largely disappeared from the national conversation after missing several periods of time due to injuries. Teams could regret signing a pitcher at the back end of his prime who already can’t be counted on to throw 200 innings in a season.
Still, when Strasburg is on the mound, he performs, and his starts in October matter more than his missed starts in the regular season. Franchises will line up for the chance to sign him. The Nationals, of course, will look to re-sign the right-hander, but it might prove too expensive to return both Rendon and Strasburg. Big spenders like the Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers will most likely be in the running. The San Diego Padres, however, could emerge as a perfect option. San Diego has not shied away from signing large contracts, spending on Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado in back-to-back offseasons. The Padres have a core of exciting young players (Fernando Tatis Jr. has already emerged as a star), and Strasburg, who pitched for San Diego State University in college, is an ace who can take them to the next level.
Prediction: San Diego Padres, 6 years, $190 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.