The biggest names on the 2019 free agent market come out of the National League. Two players, in particular, lead the pack. However, there are a lot of teams on the Senior Circuit with important players hitting the open market.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a few big names on their free agent list this offseason. They were able to take care of their top priority earlier this week though, signing Clayton Kershaw for the next three years. That also changed who would be their top free agent. Many people might see Manny Machado taking over that title, one of those two headlining free agents mentioned in the opening. That isn’t the case though.
Machado had a good year with LA, but all in all, he was just a really good temporary fix for the whole that Corey Seager left at shortstop. With Seager coming back next season and mainstay Justin Turner at the hot corner, there isn’t a spot for Machado on the 2019 roster. There is an opening at catcher though.
That’s what makes Yasmani Grandal the Dodgers’ most important free agent. Austin Barnes is still under contract but he hit just .205 with four homers last season. LA’s number two prospect is a catcher as well, but his ETA is 2020. Even then he probably won’t be ready for an everyday role.
That leaves at least two years where the Dodgers won’t have a serviceable solution at catcher, unless they can resign Grandal, who had an OPS+ of 121 last season to go along with 24 homers. He has been extended a qualifying offer, but will likely hold out for a multi-year deal.
Colorado made the postseason as a Wild Card team this year for the second straight season. One guy who often gets overlooked but is a big part of why the Rockies have been to the postseason two straight times now is DJ LeMahieu. Despite also having free Carlos Gonzalez and Adam Ottavino to worry about, LeMahieu is the Rockies most important free agent this offseason.
DJ had a nice year for the Rox. He hit .276 with 15 homers, 62 RBI and finished with a WAR of 3.0. Defensively is where he really shines though. LeMahieu racked up 18 defensive runs saved at second base in 2018 and has been named a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award. If the Rockies can’t get a deal done for him they will dearly miss him next season.
The D-Backs are another team with several noteworthy free agents, but one guy stands alone in importance to the team. That guy is Patrick Corbin.
Corbin, at 28 years of age, had a career year in 2018. He posted a WAR of 4.8, going 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA. Over 200 innings pitched he struck out 246 batters, both career highs. On top of that, he had a very impressive FIP of 2.47.
Patrick will garner tons of interest as a left-handed starter, especially with those numbers, from teams across both leagues. It’s not often a starter of his caliber hits free agency at 28, but that’s exactly the case here. The Diamondbacks have extended a qualifying offer to Corbin, but he likely won’t sign for less than five years.
San Francisco Giants
San Francisco has a lot of free agents, but none of them are particularly valuable to them or any other team. The guy with the most value is 32-year-old starting pitcher Derek Holland.
Holland spent the first seven years of his career in Texas, but has since pitched one season for both the White Sox and most recently the Giants. This past year in San Fran, Holland made 36 appearances, 30 of which were starts, going 7-9 with a 3.57 ERA, 3.87 FIP and a 1.8 WAR. He’s far from the best pitcher on the market, but he’s the best free agent the Giants have.
San Diego Padres
Like most bad teams, the Padres don’t have a lot of talent entering the free agent field. Of the eight guys they are in danger of losing, if you would call it danger, Freddy Galvis is easily the best player. Even he hit just .248 with 13 homers in 2018 though. At 29 years old, with the Padres main focus on building around Hosmer for the future, it’s unlikely the Padres will even go after Galvis.
National League Central
After their first postseason run since 2011, the Brewers have a lot of players coming off the books. Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley, Joakim Soria and Stephen Vogt are all on that list. However, none of those guys are the most important. Miley is a close second, due to the Brew Crew’s need for starting pitching. That reasoning though, is also why Gio Gonzalez is their biggest free agent.
Gonzalez had a rough year overall, but pitched well with the Brewers. In five starts for Milwaukee, he went 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA and 3.63 FIP. He’s 162 game averages are as follows, 14-11, 3.69 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 192 strikeouts and 199 innings pitched. That’s the kind of starter that the Brewers need if they want to get back to the postseason in 2019.
The Cubs had a disappointing season, especially towards the end. In a matter of days at the conclusion of the year they were knocked out of first place in the central and the playoffs. They don’t have a lot of guys leaving for free agency though. They decided to pick up Cole Hamels’ $20 million option, taking him off the list and leaving one Jesse Chavez as their most important free agent. Daniel Murphy would be if not for his age, but he’ll be 34 next year and the Cubs have a second baseman.
Chavez is getting up there in years too, at 35, but that isn’t as detrimental to relievers and he proved that this season. Over 95.1 innings, Chavez struck out 92 batters, posted a 2.55 ERA, 3.54 FIP and a 3.2 WAR. He could be a big part of the Cubs bullpen again next season if they can get him for the right money, since they don’t have much left to spend.
St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis is only dealing with four internal free agents this offseason. None of them are detrimental to the team’s success or failure in 2019, but one guy could really help them out. They picked up Tyson Ross during the 2018 season and he did a solid job for them down the stretch.
Ross pitched in nine games for the Redbirds, going 2-0 with a 2.73 ERA over 26.1 innings. His value to the team lies not only in his relieving abilities but also in his potential to make spot starts when needed. Though the Cards need all the bullpen help they can get and Bud Norris is also a free agent, he can’t help them out in the rotation like Ross can.
The Pirates had an up and down season. They bounced back and forth in the standings, only to eventually fall to fourth place by season’s end. Like the Cardinals, they are only dealing with four free agents this offseason. The most important of those four is Josh Harrison.
Though they did decline his option, the Pirates will likely try to work out a new deal with Harrison. The versatile second baseman has spent his entire career in the Steel City. He’s been a steady bat in the Bucs lineup since his arrival in 2011. This past season he hit .250 with only eight home runs, but he was dealing with injuries.
Cincy was once again abysmal this season. They finished at the bottom of the Central division with a record of 67-95. They’re in full rebuild mode and a sure sign of that is the fact that they only have one free agent, Matt Harvey. By default, that also makes him their most important free agent, though he isn’t that important to the Reds.
Harvey was traded to the Reds this past year and finished out the year with the team. Whether or not Cincinnati re-signs him won’t affect their 2019 season. Actually, it may be in their best interest to let the 30-year-old right walk. They most likely won’t be competitive again until he is into his mid-30s anyway.
National League East
The Braves surprised everyone this year, including themselves. They took the NL East by storm, taking the division title by a comfortable eight games over Washington. The reason it was such a surprise is that Atlanta was supposed to be still in the last phases of their rebuild. They even have 10 free agents this season that were all but placeholders for another year while the young guys got their feet wet. In reality eight or nine of those free agents will still be gone though, except for the most important of the group, Nick Markakis.
He might end up leaving as well, but the Braves should try to bring him back if they can. In 2018 Markakis hit .297 with a .806 OPS, 14 home runs and 93 RBI. In his age 34 season, he made the NL All-Star team and started all 162 games. If Atlanta can get him back on a one or two year deal he would be well worth the money.
This is the easiest one on both the National League and American League lists. The Nationals have the most important free agent in all of baseball this season. He’s the guy everyone has been talking about and will almost undoubtedly sign the biggest contract of the offseason. This guy, of course, is relief pitcher Tom Milone.
Okay, Tom Milone probably isn’t the most important free agent in baseball, but Bryce Harper is. All joking aside Harper is one of the best available free agents to hit the market in a while. At 26 years old he is destined to sign a long-term deal somewhere. He’s won the Rookie of the Year award, the MVP award, the home run derby, a silver slugger and has appeared in six All-Star games.
In 2018 he hit .243 with a .889 OPS, 34 homers, 100 RBI, a league-leading 130 walks, a 133 OPS+ and a WAR of 1.3. This was by far not his best season, but it was still very solid. He’ll be the Nationals’, and many other teams’, top priority this offseason.
For a while in 2018 the Phillies looked like the best team in the East. Ultimately their youth and inexperience led to their fall down the stretch, but nonetheless, it was an encouraging year for the Phills. This offseason they have a little work to do and it starts with their own free agents. They have two guys, in particular, they will be looking to get deals done with, Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos. Ramos is easily the more important of the two though.
Ramos has been one of the best hitting catchers in the National League since 2013. He did spend half a season in Tampa Bay, but didn’t miss a beat after being traded back into the East this past year. In 33 games with Philly, he hit .337 with eight doubles, one home run, 17 RBI and an OPS of .879.
New York Mets
The Mets are hard to figure out. Despite going into last season with a pretty good roster on paper, they still couldn’t find a way to win. They wound up in fourth place in the East, thanks to the Marlins keeping them out of last.
Again, like most bad teams, the Mets don’t have a lot to worry about with their in-house free agents. None of them had productive seasons, most of them are at least 31 years old and they’re all replaceable. The one guy they might consider bringing back is Jamie Callahan, who is 24, solely based on his age.
As one of the worst teams in baseball, you wouldn’t expect the Marlins to have much in free agency. You’d be right too. The Marlins have four free agents this offseason and none are worth mentioning. They are 31, 32, 34 and 36 years old and only one of them appeared in a game in 2018.
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