Welcome to my 2nd annual MLB free agency predictions. Last off-season, things took a long time to get going due to a relatively dull free agent market. This year, that is not the case. We might have the best MLB free agent class in the history of my blog, and it’s bound to get going any minute now. That’s why I’m releasing my predictions in November and December this year rather than January. I wanted to get these out before the Winter Meetings, where a lot of big moves could occur.
Today, I will be sharing my predictions for free agent pitchers. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.
Below is my tentative schedule for my 2018-19 MLB free agency coverage.
MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Coverage – Tentative Schedule
Week of November 19: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Pitchers
Week of November 19 or 26: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Catchers & Infielders
Week of November 26 or December 3: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Outfielders & Trade Ideas
Week of December 3 or 10: Baseball Bits #11: Big Free Agent Contracts
Note: These were made BEFORE the James Paxton trade
The Jays have a lot of infield prospects on the rise. But their starting rotation needs some help if they want to contend. They will surely go after the market’s top starters. They are open to bringing back J.A. Happ, but I think Dallas Keuchel and Ervin Santana fit their mold better. Keuchel will serve as Toronto’s ace, where they will need an upgrade with Marco Estrada leaving. Santana isn’t what he used to be, but will still boost their rotation, especially if he rebounds fully from his injury in 2018. Meanwhile, Happ will head to the Angels to provide stability in an injury prone rotation that will be without Shohei Ohtani. The Yankees will pursue a younger starter like Patrick Corbin to upgrade the rotation in the long term, and an older starter to supplement the rotation until younger Yankees pitchers are ready to take over.
Jerry Dipoto had intended to rebuild this off-season. But they have too much talent on the rise to just start over now. It would be a Marlins-like move to rebuild now. I think it would be smarter for them to add a mid to high tier starter such as Gio Gonzalez or Nathan Eovaldi and an outfielder or two to supplement the young talent. Charlie Morton will leave Houston for and sign with the Nationals, who could use a #3 starter to replace Gio Gonzalez and add depth to the rotation.
High to Mid-Tier Starters
Shields will return to the White Sox. They will seek to be led by young talent, but need Shields back for depth. The Padres will also bring back their veteran starter, Tyson Ross for similar reasons. I could also see them adding Garrett Richards among other veterans as future investments to guide their return to contention. Richards will miss 2019, but hopefully, he’ll come back as a better pitcher in 2020. I think Jason Hammel is a good veteran fit for the Yankees.
If the Rays want to make the playoffs, their “committee day” in their rotation isn’t going to fly. They’ll need to add rotation depth, and Estrada seems like a good fit for them. He has experience in the AL East, and a mid-tier starter or two is just what Tampa needs. The Orioles could also use another starter. They aren’t signing anyone too expensive as they start a rebuild, but Yovani Gallardo has been on the team before and could be a good bargain signing for them.
Mid to Low Tier Starters
Eovaldi really boosted his free agent profile in the playoffs. But I think the Red Sox will be willing to offer him a long term contract after his playoff performance. The Rays will add Derek Holland as another option for the rotation. Holland, Tyler Glasnow, and Brent Honeywell will likely fight for the final two spots in the rotation. I think Ryan Yarbrough fits best as a long reliever. Similar to the O’s, the Royals and Tigers will look for affordable rotation depth. I think Lynn and Santiago are good fits. I could see Chris Tillman joining the Braves, who may seek a veteran starter to fill in until their pitching prospects are ready. I think the Giants should sign a lower tier starter, such as Jaime Garcia to give them options if young starters Chris Stratton, Tyler Beede, and Ty Blach struggle.
Top Tier Closers and Late-Inning Relievers
There has been a lot of hype surrounding Kimbrel after he turned down the qualifying offer, but I think he will return to the Red Sox. He just wanted a longer term deal. The teams that were in the running for Kimbrel such as the Angels and Phillies will settle for other top closers such as Mark Melancon and Zach Britton. I think Jeurys Familia, another top closer will go to the White Sox as they try to take steps toward contention. I could see the Mariners keeping active in the free agent market by adding another bullpen arm in Miller. The Reds could also use a bullpen arm to replace Drew Storen, and Brach seems to be a good fit. He can close or set up, and he and Raisel Iglesias could make a strong veteran-younger player late-inning combo.
Pittsburgh’s #1 hole right now is their bullpen. They’ll look to add multiple quality relievers. As they rebuild, they are not in the running for the market’s top closers. But Herrera is a reasonable closing option for them. Some other rebuilding teams who need closers, such as the O’s, Royals, and Rangers, will have to settle for lower-tier closers such as Tyler Clippard and Cody Allen. Meanwhile, I see veteran closer Greg Holland headed to Tampa, hoping to rebound from a rough 2018. Holland is an affordable option for a Rays team that wants to make the jump from mediocre to playoff contender. Storen, another seasoned veteran, could make for a good duo with fellow late-inning reliever Addison Reed for Minnesota.
Low Tier Closer-Mid Tier Set-Up
Herrera isn’t quite enough to fill Pittsburgh’s late inning hole. Romo could be a good fit. The Brewers could also use another late inning arm. They don’t need a top tier guy, but someone like A.J. Ramos or Santiago Casilla could definitely help. I think Casilla will return to the A’s though, and Zach McAllister, another mid-tier reliever, will return to Detroit, where he spent just about a week in his final MLB stint of 2018. The Rockies could resign Adam Ottavino, but I think they will go for a slight upgrade, Justin Wilson, with the Indians adding Ottavino to supplement Brad Hand and replace Andrew Miller.
Low Tier Late Inning Relievers
The Braves have been a rumored suitor to bring back Craig Kimbrel, but they should trust Arodys Vizcaino as their closer and add a lower tier late inning reliever to support him (I see them adding Maurer). The White Sox will sign Tony Sipp as a slight upgrade over Jeanmar Gomez, who I have going to Detroit. Gomez and McAllister will set up closer Shane Greene. The Royals will also look for an affordable bullpen arm. They should be set in the late-inning department with the duo of Clippard and Boone Logan. The Mets will be active in this free agent market, and they need late-inning help. Aaron Loup is a good addition, but I don’t have them adding a closer. Jenrry Mejia is eligible to return in 2019, and the Mets should be hopeful he can close. Duke will play a similar role in Toronto, setting up closer Ken Giles.
High Tier 7th Inning Relief
If the Red Sox bring back Kimbrel, they should be fine to let Carson Smith and maybe even Joe Kelly test the market. I think Smith will find a destination despite his injury, as the Twins sign him to supplement the late-inning duo of Storen and Reed. The Angels, who will still look for more bullpen help beyond Britton, will sign Kelly. If he’s having a good year, Kelly can become the full-time set up man in LA over Cam Bedrosian. Norris, a former starter, can provide the Rays with a trustworthy 7th inning arm. Jake Diekman should play a similar role in San Francisco. The O’s and Reds could also use bullpen help, but cannot afford the top guys in the market. They will settle for Axford and Warren, respectively.
That’s all for Part 1 of my MLB FA Predictions. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will evaluate the catcher market and the infield market. This comes in good timing, as Kurt Suzuki just signed in Washington, and J.T. Realmuto trade rumors are reaching their peak.
Note: I think the Marlins will end up trading Realmuto to Atlanta with Kurt Suzuki off the table. The Marlins should sign another catcher to supplement Chad Wallach.