This year’s free agent class is one of the best in a while. A lot of good players are set to hit the open market on Friday. A number of those guys are coming out of the American League, too. Here’s a list of the most important free agents for each American League.
American League West
The Astros are coming off another 100+ win season and ALCS appearance. They had one of, if not the, best rotations in baseball this year. However, their biggest free agent will be coming from that rotation.
That guy is Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel is 31 years old and made 34 starts this season. Over those starts, he posted a 12-11 record, 3.74 ERA, threw 204.2 innings, struck out 153 batters and had a WAR of 2.6.
It might not be the Astros number one priority to bring Keuchel back, but he is by far the most important player coming off of their books.
Oakland had a surprise season, coming out of nowhere to make the postseason. A big reason for that was Jed Lowrie.
Lowrie has been one of the best A’s players for the past two seasons. This past year he hit .267 with 23 home runs, 99 RBI and a 120 OPS+. Unfortunately for Oakland, though, he’s going to hit the free agent market Friday, unless they can get a deal put together before then.
The Mariners have 13 players coming off the books this offseason. One of them stands head and shoulders above the rest, though.
Despite being 38 years old, Nelson Cruz remains one of the most productive designated hitters in baseball. In 2018 he hit 37 homers, drove in 97 runs, had an OPS of .850 and had an OPS+ of 135. He will garner interest from a few teams but Seattle should have a good shot at bringing him back.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels don’t have a lot of talent hitting free agency this offseason. That makes it hard to decide which one is most important. However, that guy is Garrett Richards.
Richards hasn’t thrown a lot of innings over the past three years, but when he’s been on the mound he’s been good. In his last full season back in 2015, he pitched 207.1 innings, posted a 3.65 ERA and a 3.86 FIP and struck out 176 hitters.
Unless he decides to retire, Adrian Beltre is by far the most important free agent the Rangers have. He’s been a staple for them for the past eight seasons.
This last year he collected his 3000th career hit with the team, while hitting .273 with 15 home runs, 65 RBI and posting a WAR of 2.2. Should he decide to come back for another season, Texas will be the favorite to sign him.
American League Central
The Indians have a number of good players hitting free agency: guys like Josh Donaldson, Lonnie Chisenhall, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. All of those players are extremely talented and mean a lot to the team, but they are also all replaceable. One guy who isn’t replacable right now, though, is Michael Brantley.
Brantley was an All-Star this season, hitting .309, with 17 home runs, 76 RBI, an .832 OPS and an OPS+ of 123. He might not be the most talented guy coming off of Cleveland’s books, but he’s the only one who they don’t have a suitable replacement for already. Cody Allen is a close second, but he didn’t have a great 2018 season, giving the edge to Brantley.
Unlike the Indians, the Twins don’t have a lot of talented free agents. They have already declined options for Ervin Santana and Logan Morrison, which means those guys probably won’t be back at all. The only other player worth mentioning is 36-year-old Joe Mauer.
Mauer was once the face of the Twins organization, winning the AL MVP award in 2009. He’s spent his entire career in Minnesota. However, he hasn’t been an MVP caliber player in several years. Mauer did have a solid 2017 and posted a 1.2 WAR in 2018, though. The Twins likely won’t give him a huge pay day, but it will be a good look should they resign him, and it will likely be a priority of theirs.
The Tigers had a rough 2018. They lack talent in a lot of positions, and it doesn’t look like 2019 will be much better. However, they do have a young shortstop hitting the free agent market that could be a big part of a competitive Tigers club in the future.
That shortstop is Jose Iglesias. He’ll only be 29 years old next season, and he’s a solid player. He hit .269 this past year, stole 15 bases and posted a 2.2 WAR. Of all the Tigers free agents, he will receive the most attention from the team.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have been in rough shape for several years, now. They’ve been in rebuild mode, and have been much more focused on the farm system and the future than the current on field product. That could be why they don’t have many talented free agents this season.
The best player they have coming off the books is Hector Santiago. Santiago is a decent reliever who had a huge work load in 2018. He threw 102 innings and posted a 4.50 ERA and 0.5 WAR. He’s far from the creme of the crop as far as relievers are concerned, but he’s the biggest free agent the White Sox have.
Kansas City Royals
So far, there’s a common theme among bad teams. None of them have good players becoming free agents. The Royals are no different.
Their most important one is Alcides Escobar. Escobar has had good seasons in the past, but his potential to have another one is his biggest asset. In 2018 he hit .231, had an OPS+ of 63 and posted a WAR of -0.7. He’s still the Royals biggest free agent, though, which is a testament to the shape their organization is in.
American League East
Boston Red Sox
Boston had one of the best seasons in MLB history, winning 108 games and taking home the World Series trophy. They also have a lot of good players hitting free agency this year, though. None of them will make or break their next season, but resigning Craig Kimbrel will definitely help their efforts of getting back to the World Series.
Kimbrel is an elite closer who has not saved less than 31 games in any season since his rookie campaign back in 2010. This year he saved 42 games, went 5-1, posted a 2.74 ERA and a 2.3 WAR. He also struck out 96 hitters in 62.1 innings.
New York Yankees
New York has several good free agents to think about this offseason. They’ve already agreed to a deal with Brett Gardner, but still have CC Sabathia, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson and most importantly, Zach Britton to worry about.
What makes Britton so important is his age and irreplaceability. Sure, there are other reliever options the Yankees could go with, but they already have a relationship with Britton, and he’s one of the best in the game when he’s right. In 2018 he posted a 2.88 ERA with them in 25 innings and struck out 21 batters.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays only have two guys coming off their books this offseason. Carlos Gomez is one, and Sergio Romo is the other. Neither guy is detrimental to the team’s success, nor will they garner much attention from Tampa Bay or any other team. So, in this case, the Rays don’t have an important free agent.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto traded their would-be most important free agent, Josh Donaldson, earlier this season. That leaves Tyler Clippard, edging out Marco Estrada due to age differences. Estrada will be 36 next season, while Clippard will be 34. An older reliever can generally remain more effective than an older starter.
Clippard also pitched 68.2 innings this year, striking out 85 batters and posting an ERA of 3.67 and a 1.3 WAR. His best days are definitely behind him, but he would be a good fit for Toronto to resign for the bullpen.
The Orioles were a side show in 2018, finishing with just 47 wins, which put them 61 games behind first place in the division. Also, like Toronto, they traded their would be most important free agent, Manny Machado, mid season.
By default, Adam Jones has become their biggest free agent. Jones is a solid clubhouse guy who has been with the team since 2008. He’s no slouch on the field, either. In his 33 year old season he hit .281 with 15 homers, 63 RBI, a 102 OPS+ and had a WAR of 0.2.
It’s likely that he and Baltimore will come to terms on a contract, based on the outside interest in him, or lack thereof, and his history with the team. With him being their most important free agent, this will be at least one positive for the rebuilding Orioles.
Featured Image by Emmet McClain of sportsmockery.com
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