MLB free agents: Ranking the 79 best players in the 2019-2020 class

Gabe Lacques


Published 7: 50 AM EST Nov 5, 2019

As major league franchises and their approach toward evaluating free agents evolves, so, too does baseball’s process of free agency, once a free-for-all and now an often grim and protracted affair.

It is equal parts sprint and marathon and death march, depending on where a player lands on the spectrum.

Sprint – for the nearest available deal if you’re a veteran on the wrong side of 30, knowing there’s a finite number of guaranteed jobs available with a cheap and unproven workforce ready to replace you.

Marathon – for the very upper crust of the class, who once enjoyed a glorious process called a bidding war and now find themselves on the business end of a reverse auction, confined to “letting markets develop” while front office actuaries battle splash-seeking owners.

And death march – for the player in between, who knows that the new year, or the start of spring training, or Opening Day, or perhaps even draft day may not be the signpost that marks them an employable commodity.

For the rest of us, the parlor game is on – who signs where, and for how much? As free agency opens, USA TODAY Sports examines the top 79 free agents available, from the very elite to those with a reasonable shot at landing a major league contract.

Rankings based on projected future performance and perceived market value:

(Age as of April 1, 2020; 2019 team)


1. Gerrit Cole (29, RHP, Astros): The Nationals and Astros just battled for the World Series by emphasizing elite starting pitching, and other teams fell short by trying to cut corners on their rotation. And you’re saying there’s a right-hander hitting the market who just struck out 326 batters, led the AL in ERA (2.50) and FIP (2.64) and is just now coming into his own? You don’t need a Boras Corp. hat on your noggin to realize David Price’s record $217 million contract for a pitcher will be a mere starting point for Cole.

2. Anthony Rendon (29, 3B, Nationals): He destroyed the absurd “best player you’ve never heard of” narrative with a sublime postseason, collecting 10 extra-base hits, 15 RBI, a 1.003 OPS and a highlight reel of defensive artistry, all after hitting a career-best 34 homers. It’s his lifetime .369 on-base and .859 OPS that will make the sanguine Houston native the most-paid position player this winter.

3. Stephen Strasburg (30, RHP, Nationals): How many deferred dollars can Strasburg avoid in his next deal by opting out now? It’s widely assumed he’ll re-sign with the Nationals after exercising an out clause three seasons into a seven-year, $175 million deal. Strasburg did the Nationals a solid by structuring his deal to keep them at or below the luxury tax when he signed, and then pitched them to a World Series. Now, with Bryce Harper gone and Rendon likely to follow, he deserves a real contract to match the “big boy baseball,” as GM Mike Rizzo put it, that he provided them this postseason.

4. Josh Donaldson (34, 3B, Braves): He made the most of his pillow contract (a $23 million one-year deal) and his platform season, producing a .900 OPS and a year worthy of MVP consideration. And now, the musical chairs could work in his favor. Do the Braves bring him back, unsure if Austin Riley is ready for the full-time gig? Will the Nationals grab him if Rendon leaves? Either way, a short-term, big-bucks deal (of the three-year, $75 million variety) is possibly in the offing, giving Donaldson a nice $96 million haul over four years.

5. Zack Wheeler (29, RHP, Mets): Suitors will see his relative youth paired with significant upside and line up quickly, viewing him as a more affordable rotation addition than Cole. Wheeler struck out 195 in 195 ⅓ innings, his finest year yet in a career often dogged by what he could be. Well, the smarter teams will see his potentially devastating three-pitch mix and imagine the possibilities. It will cost them, however.

6. Nick Castellanos (28, RF/3B, Cubs): He sprinted to the free agent market, posting a .321/.356/.646 line in 51 games after a trade to Chicago, and like Wheeler provides a modicum of talent to dream upon. Castellanos has never hit more than the 27 homers he slugged this season but showed what his true ceiling could resemble once liberated from Detroit and Comerica Park.

7. Madison Bumgarner (30, LHP, Giants): A decade after his big league debut, MadBum finally hits the market after his team-friendly deal expires, and does so in good shape. His 203 strikeouts are his most since 2016, he made a major league-best 34 starts, his hits per nine steadied and his strikeout-walk ratio was his best over a full season since 2015. Likely still best served in a pitcher-friendly park, but his durability will be valued.

8. Hyun-jin Ryu (33, LHP, Dodgers): Ryu accepted the Dodgers’ $17.9 million qualifying offer and then started the All-Star Game in July, led the NL in ERA (2.32) and adjusted ERA (179). Now, he’ll be free of the QO, but his age and a late-season fade (a 5.40 ERA over his last 40 innings) will suppress his value a bit.

9. Jose Abreu (33, 1B/DH, White Sox): Perhaps the best pure power bat available, but in an era when everyone hits home runs, how much value does that carry? Still, Abreu bashed 33 homers, drove in 123 on a terrible team and his adjusted OPS ticked up to 119 in this year of the homer.

10. Dallas Keuchel (32, LHP, Braves): And here he goes again. With a qualifying offer attached and his pride intact, Keuchel was banished to the sidelines until after the June draft and then performed admirably, given the circumstances, and earned the Game 1 playoff start for Atlanta. Keuchel is not everybody’s cup of tea – his peripherals are a nightmare and he will get hit, but he will also get outs. Keuchel’s strikeout-walk ratio (2.33) was his worst since his 2012 rookie season, but he pitched into at least the sixth inning in 12 of 19 starts, all of them quality, a remarkable feat given his lack of spring training.

11. Yasmani Grandal (31, C, Brewers): That Class of 2018 just won’t go away, will it? Grandal took the Brewers’ qualifying offer-equivalent life preserver and improved almost across the board offensively, earning his first All-Star nod since 2015. Naturally, another year is on his odometer now, but Grandal’s elite bat behind the plate and above-average framing ability should, finally, bring him multi-year salvation.

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12. Will Smith (30, LHP, Giants): He’ll be three years removed from Tommy John surgery and coming off a season in which he cashed in 34 of 38 save opportunities and struck out 96 in 65 ⅓ innings. The top closer and lefty reliever on the market, a lucrative combo.

13. Rick Porcello (31, RHP, Red Sox): Porcello’s fate will generate the most debate/consternation/angst of any player on the market. Why? His free agency pits his nine consecutive seasons of at least 28 starts and 172 innings pitched vs. his very bad platform year. We view Porcello as a decent bounce-back candidate, especially given his plight in 2019 – a short offseason after some very intensive 2018 postseason innings and a .308 batting average on balls in play that was 10 points higher than league average. A team outside the AL East should be able to harvest Porcello’s better side.

14. Jake Odorizzi (30, RHP, Twins): Minnesota unlocked the best of Odorizzi, limiting his liability in many starts – he pitched just 159 innings – and enabling him to post career bests in adjusted ERA (131), FIP (3.36) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.1). “Odo” has never quite fused the abilities to gobble innings at an elite level, which will keep him from getting No. 1 or even No. 2 starter money. But he’ll be a nice multi-year rotation cog in the right hands.

15. Marcell Ozuna (29, LF, Cardinals): He was a two-time All-Star and patrolled center field with aplomb in Miami, but Ozuna had health and performance problems in two seasons in St. Louis. The now-left fielder produced OBPs of .325 and .328 for the Cardinals, who traded for him after he hit 37 homers and reached at a .376 clip in 2017. His raw power remains elite, but in this offensive environment, teams aren’t likely to place a huge bet on him approaching his Marlins levels of production.

16. Will Harris (35, RHP, Astros): He backslid a bit following a 2016 All-Star nod, but Harris rallied this year to produce a 0.93 WHIP and 1.50 ERA and posted 10 consecutive scoreless playoff outings before getting dinged in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series. Durable, reliable and October-tested over four playoff runs.

17. Didi Gregorius (30, SS, Yankees): A return from Tommy John surgery was not seamless for Gregorius, who posted a career-worst .276 OBP in 82 games. Gregorius hit 20, 25 and 27 homers from 2016-18 and will try to sell clubs on that longer track record rather than a challenging 2019.

18. Cole Hamels (36, LHP, Cubs): A career-worst season in WHIP (1.39) and innings pitched (141 ⅔) still wasn’t a total flop for Hamels, whose 143 strikeouts pushed his strikeouts per nine to 9.1, his highest level since 2015. Still, clubs may now view him as a starter whose liability should be limited, rather than one who might lead a staff.

19. Daniel Hudson (33, RHP, Nationals): Jobless in February, released in March, symbol of paternal rights in October and then immortalized flinging his glove skyward after recording the final out of the World Series. Well, if 2020 isn’t so interesting, it will be a lot more lucrative. Hudson posted a career-best 1.13 WHIP, saved four playoff games for Washington and showed off a fastball-slider combo that plays well to either side.

20. Mike Moustakas (31, 3B/2B, Brewers): Is there a Walk Year Hall of Fame? Because Moustakas would be in on the first ballot, seeing as how he’s been forced to live year-to-year each of the past three years. And guess who’s back on the market after slamming 38, 28 and 35 homers with an .817 OPS and 113 adjusted OPS since 2017? Get this man a permanent position and a multi-year deal.

21. Robinson Chirinos (35, C, Astros): As you’ll see, the itinerant and defense-minded catcher is plentiful on this list, but Chirinos is special. Nearly a 4-win player in 2019, per Baseball-Reference, Chirinos posted a .347 on-base percentage and played no small role in the Astros’ overall pitching success. Should be able to top Houston’s $5.75 million one-year commitment last winter.

22. Brett Gardner (36, LF, Yankees): Quickly justified the Yankees’ decision to bring him back another year, hitting 28 homers, producing an .829 OPS and, with his disturbing bat slams of the dugout roof, seemed to embody manager Aaron Boone’s “Savages” motif. Will the Gardy Party finally end in the Bronx? If so, there’s still plenty in the tank to latch on elsewhere.

23. Drew Pomeranz (31, LHP, Brewers): A 26-inning cameo in the Brewers bullpen might have redefined Pomeranz’s career. He was an Opener, an occasional closer and most of all, an invaluable middle man whose platoon splits vastly improved in shorter bursts. That may make him all the more valuable in 2020 if Major League Baseball, as anticipated, enacts a three-batter minimum.

24. Chris Martin (33, RHP, Braves): Martin’s career has been one of closing walls and ticking clocks, but lo, he’s survived long enough to reach the free agent market – and off a decent year, no less. He posted a 1.02 WHIP and struck out 65 in 55 ⅔ innings.

25. Jordan Lyles (29, RHP, Brewers): Seems there’s more than Miller Lite in the Milwaukee water. Like Pomeranz, Lyles dazzled with the Brewers, with a 1.11 WHIP in 11 starts after a trade from Pittsburgh. Right team, right role and Lyles will make a solid and relatively low-risk investment for somebody.

26. Rich Hill (40, LHP, Dodgers): Weigh the stretches of dominance against the almost inevitable health challenges Hill will face in your employ. Close your eyes, sign the check and comfort yourself with visions of that wipeout curveball and a strikeout per nine rate that hasn’t seen single digits in eight years.

27. Yasiel Puig (29, RF, Indians): From Wild Horse to polarizing figure to bat-licker, he’s now Puig Your League Average Hitter. A trade to hitter-friendlier Cincinnati did not bump Puig’s offensive numbers, as he produced one more home run and identical batting and on-base averages (.267/.327) between Cincy and Cleveland as his final year as a Dodger.

28. Jonathan Schoop (28, 2B, Twins): A 32-homer, .841 All-Star season in 2017 seems like eons ago for a player who seems increasingly one-dimensional. Schoop managed just 23 home runs for Minnesota’s Bomba Squad, though he did push his OBP above .300 for the first time since ’17.

29. Adam Wainwright (38, RHP, Cardinals): Is it St. Louis or nothing for ol’ Waino? There’s plenty to weigh for both sides, particularly a pitcher who’s already grossed $136 million in earnings in his career. The Cardinals may yet need his 171 ⅔ competent innings more than he needs the grind.

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30. Brandon Kintzler (35, RHP, Cubs): The man takes the ball – 72, 70 and 62 appearances the past three seasons – and completes his task an overwhelming majority of the time. Kintzler won’t punch you out of a hot spot – he hasn’t averaged a strikeout per inning since 2015 – but give him a clean, high-leverage inning and he shall eat it for you.

31. Julio Teheran (29, RHP, Braves): Atlanta declined his $12 million 2020 option so the market gets a guy who made at least 30 starts seven consecutive years, touching at least 185 innings in five of those. His past two seasons were so identical – 162 strikeouts over 175 2/3 and 174 2/3 innings, respectively – but a 4.66 FIP this year is mildly alarming.

32. Tanner Roark (33, RHP, Athletics): Roark has hovered around league average for the past three seasons, but can offer some predictive durability – 165 to 180 innings – for a club that needs a low-cost balance to a bullpen-centric approach.

33. Joe Smith (36, RHP, Astros): You can’t keep a slingin’ righty down for too long. Smith recovered from a December 2018 Achilles rupture to post a 0.96 WHIP in 28 outings for Houston. By October, he was logging high-leverage playoff innings.

34. Howie Kendrick (36, 1B/2B, Nationals): He rediscovered his love for the game on a championship team full of old-timers like himself, and now Kendrick can only hope the love is still there on the market. His .966 regular season OPS and absurdly clutch postseason will have a playoff-ready team – perhaps even the Nationals – on the horn.

35. Steve Cishek (33, RHP, Cubs): He’s made 150 appearances the past two seasons and lived to tell about it. Will teams be scared off by that workload or impressed he posted a 1.11 WHIP through it all?

36. Kole Calhoun (32, RF, Angels): With Jo Adell lurking, the Angels prudently declined Calhoun’s $14 million option. In a shallow field of available outfielders, Calhoun should be able to recoup a decent chunk of that, coming off a 32-homer season in which his adjusted OPS ticked above 100 for the first time since 2016.

37. Wade Miley (33, LHP, Astros): On Aug. 9, he was 11-4 with a 2.99 ERA and primed to slot into the fourth spot of Houston’s playoff rotation. Then, the wheels came off – an 8.69 ERA over 29 innings in his last nine starts, knocking him off the postseason rosters. If Miley ends up with the right club with a sound usage plan, he can still be an asset, albeit with limits.

38. Kyle Gibson (30, RHP, Twins): If flexible and fungible is your jam, Gibson’s your man. He punched out 160 in 160 innings this season as Minnesota used him as a virtual lab rat – 29 starts, an Opener gig, some middle-inning work. Hard to tell which role will best suit Gibson going forward, but a wise team can certainly carve one out.

39. Michael Pineda (31, RHP, Twins): His employers will inherit 39 games of a 60-game suspension for using a banned substance. Pineda posted a 1.16 WHIP in 26 starts last year. A similarly truncated burst from May until the end of the season will hold some appeal.

40. Avisail Garcia (28, RF, Rays): Bounced back from a bad 2018 and emerged as one of the Rays’ many reliable cogs in a playoff machine, hitting 20 homers and posting a 111 adjusted OPS while acquitting himself serviceably in right field. His best situation (right-handed platoon bat, probably in the AL) limits his marketability but he will help someone in 2020.

41. Eric Thames (33, 1B, Brewers): He averaged 32 home runs per 162 games in three years with Milwuakee, and hit 25 last season with an .851 OPS, not enough for the Brewers to pick up his $7.5 million option. The power is real, tempered by his defensive limitations.

42. Craig Stammen (36, RHP, Padres): He gave the Padres 76 mostly quality outings, covering 82 innings at age 35, racking up 31 holds and stranding 25 of 33 inherited runners. Why stop now?

43. Corey Dickerson (30, OF, Phillies): His homers have dropped by more than half since his 2017 All-Star season – from 27 to 12 – but Dickerson produced a .906 OPS in 78 games this season. Should be attractive to a contender in a part-time role.

44. Tyler Clippard (35, RHP, Indians): Relievers are stubborn, aren’t they? Clippard scared up his best WHIP (0.855) since he was a 26-year-old back in 2011 and even “opened” three games for the Indians. Old dog, new tricks, etc.

45. Michael Wacha (28, RHP, Cardinals): Talent is not commensurate with his placement on this list, but after seven seasons in St. Louis filled with injuries, occasional brilliance and too often inconsistency, consider 2020 Wacha’s “gap year” as the industry figures out where he best fits.

46. Todd Frazier (34, 3B/1B, Mets): Experienced a revival of sorts, as his .251 batting average was his highest since his 2015 All-Star year. Can still be a league-average contributor on the corners and a useful part for a contending team.

47. Jose Iglesias (30, SS, Reds): Any sentient observer could tell Iglesias had value as a big league shortstop in 2019, but this is the modern game and so he had to go through the song-and-dance of a late-February minor league deal. Naturally, he produced a typically solid season that paired a career-best 11 homers with his stout defense. In 2020, get this man a job before Valentine’s Day.

48. Brett Anderson (32, LHP, Athletics): He’s pretty good when he’s healthy and in 2019 Anderson crossed the 30-start threshold for the third time since his 2009 debut. Not the sort of track record to bet the house on, but a nice guaranteed salary with significant incentives could certainly help the right team – perhaps Oakland yet again.

49. Edwin Encarnacion (37, DH/1B, Yankees): He shall punish baseballs so long as his body allows, and therein lies the rub. Encarnacion scorched 34 home runs in just 109 games for the Mariners and Yankees. A 2020 gig will come as a complementary piece.

50. Jason Castro (32, C, Twins): Eased out of Minnesota by Mitch Garver’s power surge, Castro will make a valuable piece of a club in a likely timeshare behind the dish.

51. Cameron Maybin (32, OF, Yankees): Another part of the Yankee aggregate who was deployed to perfection, Maybin posted a .364 OBP and .858 OPS. Consider him a deluxe extra outfielder who can provide sock, speed and defense when used appropriately.

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52. Homer Bailey (33, RHP, Athletics): Another fascinating case for the winter – how much will teams wager on this comeback story? Bailey’s ERAs are going the right way since 2016 – 6.65, 6.43, 6.09, 4.57. The A’s won eight of his 13 starts after a July trade from Kansas City.

53. Martin Maldonado (33, C, Astros): Houston scooped him up from the Angels and Royals to hop on the playoff train each of the past two summers; expect a similar scenario to unfold in 2020.

54. Brock Holt (31, 2B, Red Sox): Not as much “super” to his utility these days, but still got on base at a .369 clip.

55. Collin McHugh (32, RHP, Astros): Houston’s OG spin rate success story, McHugh backslid in almost every significant category in 2019, even as he punched out more than a batter per inning.

56. Eric Sogard (33, 2B, Rays): The Nerd Power revival tour was a hit all across North America, first as a mentor to Toronto’s young players and then as a key trade deadline pickup in Tampa Bay. Sogard’s 13 homers and .810 OPS were career highs, and the man still catches the ball.

57. Mitch Moreland (34, 1B/DH, Red Sox): Limited to 91 games by injury, he still managed 19 home runs and an .835 OPS. Still a home for him somewhere in the AL.

58. Jarrod Dyson (35, CF, Diamondbacks): That offensive ship has sailed – Dyson’s career best seven homers boosted his OPS-plus to 66 – but Dyson can still play defense at an elite, if not Gold Glove level.

59. Matt Joyce (35, LF, Braves): A .408 OBP and .858 OPS in 129 games screams one thing – get this man in a platoon situation.

60. Adam Jones (34, OF, Diamondbacks): Signed late and envisioned as a right-handed platoon option, Jones took on a greater role after Steven Souza Jr.’s season-ending injury and faded after a strong start. Still some value in a true platoon, but not over the 528 plate appearances he received in 2019.

61. Ivan Nova (33, RHP, White Sox): Been nearly a decade since Nova tasted the postseason and now his personal brand is tough to shake: Plug-and-play innings-eater for pitching-poor team.

62. Justin Smoak (33, 1B/DH, Blue Jays): Now a league-average hitter, Smoak’s hopes of another multi-year deal may be gone, but he should be able to grab some guaranteed cash for an AL club needing a veteran presence and a little pop.

63. Dellin Betances (32, RHP, Yankees): The four-time All-Star reliever saw his final year in the Bronx wrecked by a grim procession of injuries -shoulder, lat and finally a torn Achilles. So now what? Perhaps a multiyear flyer that enables him to build back up at low cost and be an incentive-laden contributor for someone in 2021.

64. Gio Gonzalez (34, LHP, Brewers): Didn’t sign until April and then silenced the doubters with a steady season (3.50 ERA in 19 games, 17 starts). Will the game’s trendlines come back and reward him with guaranteed cash this year?

65. Sergio Romo (37, RHP, Twins): Slider’s still slidin’, to the tune of 20 saves, a 1.11 WHIP and a stabilizing role in Twins bullpen after July trade from Miami.

66. Starlin Castro (30, 2B, Marlins): A little power (22 homers) and general reliability from a player with nearly 10 full seasons in before his 30th birthday.

67. Josh Tomlin (35, RHP, Braves): Revived himself as multi-inning reliever, particularly valuable in two-inning bursts.

68. Brian Dozier (32, 2B, Nationals): Eventually lost starting gig to Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera, but still hit 20 homers and boosted batting average (.238) and OPS (.771) after rough 2018.

69. Alex Avila (33, C, Diamondbacks): Don’t look now, but this dude has posted a .348 OBP over 11 seasons. Has officially entered the “might play forever” realm of catchers.

70. Darren O’Day (37, RHP, Braves): Injuries limited him to 12 overall appearances, but four scoreless outings in the NLDS was a nice little plug for 2020.

71. Ryan Zimmerman (35, 1B, Nationals): A return to the Nationals – who declined his $18 million 2020 option – could be in the offing, but Zimmerman likely won’t take $800,000 and a part-time DH gig just to keep his career going. After battling plantar fasciitis in 2019, a 14-hit, two-homer postseason gave him more tangibles to bring into free agency.

72. Andrew Cashner (33, RHP, Red Sox): Pitched well enough to get out of the Baltimore basement, and then got hit hard in Boston (6.20 ERA in 25 games). Another pitcher facing an identity crisis: Will a club entrust him with a full-time rotation spot and if not, where does he slot in?

73. Travis d’Arnaud (31, C, Rays): Third team was the charm for d’Arnaud, who cranked 16 homers for Tampa Bay after 11 games with the Mets and Dodgers. Play him in spurts with any number of the other partially gifted backstops on this list.

74. Asdrubal Cabrera (34, 2B, Nationals): Cabrera looked lost in Texas, then didn’t seem to take a bad at-bat after he was released and picked up by the Nationals in August. He started seven games in their championship run, including Games 6-7 of the World Series, and likely played his way into another big league deal.

75. Pedro Strop (34, RHP, Cubs): Six very solid seasons in Chicago gave way to a 2019 clunker. But if healthy, here’s a guy who’s struck out 10 per nine innings in his career, with a 1.86 ERA over 22 playoff appearances.

76. Yoshihisa Hirano (36, RHP, Diamondbacks): A really good debut season followed by a year when nothing fell into place.

77. Jerry Blevins (36, LHP, Braves): The rulebook can’t kill Blevins just yet. In 2019, he faced 141 batters in 45 games, putting him six over the three-batter minimum we may see in 2020. Take that, Park Avenue!

78. Jordy Mercer (33, SS/2B, Tigers): He caught the ball capably at shortstop and nearly hit at a league-average level, producing 0.3 WAR and making him the Tigers’ third most valuable position player on the Tigers’ season-ending roster.

79. Jason Kipnis (32, 2B, Indians): Kipnis hasn’t been a league-average hitter since 2016 and his first foray into free agency may be chilly. A second baseman with 18-homer pop and serviceable on-base skills should find a home, though.

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