MLB free agency: Top 25 names to watch this offseason

A Cy Young frontrunner, MVP finalist and a pair of World Series MVPs could all be changing uniforms this offseason. Plenty of talent lies beyond that star power in the 2019-2020 crop of free agents.

As baseball’s Hot Stove kicks off, here are the players that teams will covet most.

The 10 players marked with an asterisk have received a qualifying offer of one year and $17.8 million from their 2019 clubs. If one of these players signs a deal with another team for more than $50 million, their former club will receive a compensation draft pick after the first round. A deal signed for less than $50 million will net the player’s former team a pick after the second round.

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Here’s a breakdown of the top 25 free agents that are available this offseason:

Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are among MLB's top free agents. (Amber Matsumoto / Yahoo Sports)
Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are among MLB's top free agents. (Amber Matsumoto / Yahoo Sports)

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP - Age: 29*

2019 Stats: 20-5, 2.50 ERA, 326 SO

The likely AL Cy Young Award winner put together the best season of his career, leading the majors in strikeouts and topping the AL in ERA. The performance should lead to the most lucrative deal for a pitcher in baseball history. Cole seems ready to bolt from a Houston environment that’s helped him become one of the league’s best pitchers since being traded from the Pirates before 2018. He posted 11 consecutive double-digit strikeout performances leading into the Astros’ World Series run and finished with a 1.72 postseason ERA. There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t benefit from his services, and he should have a long list of suitors this winter. 

2. Anthony Rendon, 3B - Age: 29*

2019 Stats: .319 BA, 34 HR, 126 RBI

An MVP candidate and World Series champion, Rendon quietly grew into a superstar over the past seven seasons in Washington. He led the majors with 126 RBIs this season, and he’s been a .310 hitter averaging 28 homers and 106 RBIs over the past three years — a higher average and more RBIs than former teammate Bryce Harper in his final seasons before free agency, though Rendon is three years older. Despite being arguably one of the game’s best position players in the past few years, it took until this season for him to be named to his first All-Star team. Perhaps it’s his calm demeanor and soft-spoken nature that’s made him something of an under-the-radar star to the casual fan, but he’s very much in the spotlight this offseason.

3. Stephen Strasburg, RHP - Age: 31*

2019 Stats: 18-6, 3.32 ERA, 251 SO

The World Series MVP opted out of the last four years and $100 million on his deal. Following an injury-abbreviated 2018 season, the opt out was something of an award after he posted career highs in wins (18) and strikeouts (251) this year. He also rolled back his walks per nine innings (2.4) and kept his strikeout figures consistent (10.8) while pitching 79 more innings than last season. Strasburg also added “elite postseason performer” to his résumé in six appearances, coming out of October with a 1.98 career postseason ERA in addition to his ring. He’ll likely sign the final long-term contract of his career this offseason, which should be nearly double what he was owed on the remainder of the sheet he signed in 2016.

4. Zack Wheeler, RHP - Age: 29*

2019 Stats: 11-8, 3.96 ERA, 195 SO

Wheeler’s stuff is much better than his numbers would indicate. He’s a Statcast darling and one of the few pitchers in baseball that can flash a 100-mph fastball, 97-mph sinker, 93-mph slider, 90-mph changeup, 88-mph splitter and 82-mph curveball in the same at-bat. He missed 2015 and 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but was at the top of his game in the second half of last year. He carried that trend into 2019, finishing with a 1.80 ERA over his final 40 innings of the season. It’s a seller’s market for pitchers, and Wheeler is obviously one of the best out there who will garner a lot of attention this offseason.

Dec. 5: Wheeler signed a five-year, $118 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

5. Madison Bumgarner, LHP - Age: 30*

2019 Stats: 9-9, 3.90 ERA, 203 SO

It’s been three years since he appeared in the postseason, but teams will still bid high for Bumgarner based solely on his playoff track record. The three-time champion has a 2.11 ERA in 16 postseason starts spanning 102.1 innings. He dealt with injuries for the better part of the previous two seasons, but made 34 starts in 2019. Bumgarner, who’s spent the entirety of his 11-year career in San Francisco, was apparently on the market at the trade deadline, but finished out what would be Bruce Bochy’s final season with the Giants. He’s put a lot of innings on his arm since breaking into the league as a 19-year-old, and his ERA was a bit high in 2019. But he clearly still has a lot to offer, especially while almost every team in the league could use a starter.

6. Yasmani Grandal, C - Age: 31

2019 Stats: .246 BA, 28 HR, 77 RBI

Grandal will be in search of a new contract for the second consecutive year. In his two walk years, he’s been better than just about every other catcher in the game not named JT Realmuto. Grandal was one of the many players to reach a new career-high in homers in what was his fourth year in a row eclipsing 20 dingers. He’s been an excellent pitch framer and has caught more innings than anyone else at the position since 2017. Grandal is an excellent candidate for a multi-year deal similar to the offers that he reportedly turned down from other clubs last winter. 

Nov. 21: Grandal signed a four-year deal worth $73 million with the Chicago White Sox.

Hyun-Jin Ryu hits the open market after seven seasons with the Dodgers. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Hyun-Jin Ryu hits the open market after seven seasons with the Dodgers. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

7. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP - Age: 32

2019 Stats: 14-5, 2.32 ERA, 163 SO

Ryu is a qualifying offer success story. He was limited to 213.2 innings from 2016 to 2018. After he accepted the Dodgers’ $17.8 million baseline offer last winter, Ryu produced the best ERA in baseball and was named a Cy Young Award finalist. He’s likely to get bested for that award by Jacob deGrom, but there should be a handsome payday in his near future. Ryu isn’t overpowering, but he’s talented at keeping hitters off-balance and limiting hard contact. It’s a system that’s worked quite well for him so long as he’s able to stay on the mound. He’ll start the 2020 season at 33 years old, but he should sign his first multi-year deal since he joined the Dodgers from the KBO in 2012.

8. Josh Donaldson, 3B - Age: 33*

2019 Stats: .259 BA, 37 HR, 94 RBI

Donaldson made the most of his one-year, $23 million deal with the Braves, making up for an injury-abbreviated 2018 season. The 2015 AL MVP lived up to his “Bringer of Rain” moniker during a season in which the ball left the yard at a record pace, matching his second-highest career total. There were some question marks surrounding Donaldson’s defense and athleticism following the injury, but he proved he can still play an excellent third base. He struck out a career-high 155 times, but also drew 100 walks, numbers which fall in line for a hitter with his power potential. The qualifying offer muddles things for Donaldson, but he should still be in line for a two- or three-year deal. 

9. Marcell Ozuna, OF - Age: 29*

2019 Stats: .241 BA, 29 HR, 89 RBI

After an incredible 2017 season, Ozuna showed he could potentially be the best of the hitters purged by the Marlins before last year. He didn’t stop hitting the ball hard, and his power numbers remained consistent for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. He even stole a career-best 12 bases last year. But his average dipped drastically from his monstrous 2017 season. Ozuna, often clumsy but certainly a capable defender, was limited by injuries especially when trying to make throws from left field. He just turned 29 on Tuesday and has the qualifying offer attachment, but he’ll more than likely sign a fairly large multi-year deal.

10. Nicholas Castellanos, OF - Age: 27

2019 Stats: .289 BA, 27 HR, 73 RBI

Castellanos wasn’t shy about his issues playing for the bottom-dwelling Tigers. And the numbers he posted after being traded to the Cubs better displayed his full potential. He batted .321 with 16 homers and 36 RBIs in 51 games with Chicago. Castellanos moved from third base, not for great reasons, and played exclusively in right field last season, and he wasn’t great there either though he did get better. But his bat alone makes him valuable on the open market He’s also the youngest player on this list and, because he was traded mid-season, he doesn’t have a qualifying offer to weigh him down.

11. Jake Odorizzi, RHP - Age: 29*

2019 Stats: 15-7, 3.51 ERA, 178 SO

Odorizzi put himself in an excellent position heading into a free-agent period that should put added value on starting pitching. He lowered his ERA by nearly a full run from 2018, and had 19 more strikeouts than innings pitched. Odorizzi ditched his slider and greatly increased his cutter usage. It allowed him to do a good job limiting home runs (16), but he struggled to go deep into games. He can probably be most productive for a contender with a deeper bullpen, or one like his former club in Tampa Bay that doesn’t mind going the non-traditional route with their pitching.

Nov. 14: Odorizzi accepted the qualifying offer from the Twins.

12. Dallas Keuchel, LHP - Age: 31

2019 Stats: 8-8, 3.75 ERA, 91 SO

Keuchel bet on himself last year and signed a deal with the Braves in June that amounted to roughly $1.01 million per start, including playoffs. He and Craig Kimbrel will certainly be mentioned when examining the flaws in the qualifying offer system. Putting that all in the past, Keuchel mostly returned to his own particular brand of getting outs, by keeping hitters off-balance with sinkers and cutters in the upper-80’s, forcing more than three times as many grounders as fly balls. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner should have some longevity in this league, particularly as a southpaw with a great track record for eating up innings.

13. Mike Moustakas, 3B - Age: 31

2019 Stats: .254 BA, 35 HR, 87 RBI

It’s unlikely that Moustakas will sign a one-year deal for the third consecutive year. Especially after recording the second 35-homer season of his career. His average and walk rate saw a slight uptick, and his strikeout numbers diminished a bit. There are obviously other power-hitting third basemen on the market, but there are some teams that should put a premium on him being left-handed, and he should come at a much lower price than Rendon or Donaldson. Moustakas also gets added value for his defensive versatility, having made one error in more than 350 innings at second base this season. 

Dec. 2: Moustakas signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

Didi Gregorius didn't get a qualifying offer from the Yankees, but will he get a long-term deal elsewhere? (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Didi Gregorius didn't get a qualifying offer from the Yankees, but will he get a long-term deal elsewhere? (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

14. Didi Gregorius, SS - Age: 29

2019 Stats: .238 BA, 16 HR, 61 RBI

Last October’s Tommy John surgery pushed Gregorius’ 2019 debut to June, limiting him to 82 games. He didn’t snap back into form at the plate, but he was an excellent run producer and continued to be an excellent defensive option at shortstop. His power numbers may be a product of his environment, and he had a high strikeout total in 2019. But he’s been consistent when healthy, he plays a premium position and the Yankees declined to give him the qualifying offer -- which he probably would have accepted. He probably won’t get a long-term deal, and not for the AAV close to the qualifying offer.

15. Cole Hamels, LHP - Age: 35

2019 Stats: 7-7, 3.81 ERA, 143 SO

Hamels enters free agency for the first time after 13 years in the majors. He’s not the ace he once was — though he did look like it at the start of 2019 until an oblique strain kept him out for more than a month. And it will be difficult for him to reach the 200-inning plateau for a ninth time. He started throwing his best pitch — his changeup — more often and scaled back his sinker usage. With that, Hamels’ 2019 strikeouts per nine figures were better than his first All-Star season in 2007. He should be available for much less than some of the other starters on the market. 

Dec. 3: Hamels signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Atlanta Braves.

16. Yasiel Puig, OF - Age: 28

2019 Stats: .267 BA, 24 HR, 84 RBI

Since he arrived stateside from Cuba in 2013, Puig has been one of the most dynamic and exciting players in baseball, not always for the best reasons. He’s an excellent athlete with a huge right-field arm. His power numbers really went down, but Puig hit for a .297 average in 49 games after being traded from Cincinnati to Cleveland at the deadline. Puig hasn’t been as good as his popularity would indicate and he hasn’t been above a 4.0 bWAR since 2014. But he’s still on the younger side of the free-agent market, and he’s a career .280 hitter in 58 postseason games. He should be available at a decent price, and there’s bound to be a team with enough patience to put him in an environment where he can reach his full potential.

17. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH - Age: 36

2019 Stats: .244 BA, 34 HR, 86 RBI

Encarnacion was the AL home run leader when he was traded from Seattle to the Yankees in June. As he enters his age-37 season, Encarnacion doesn’t provide much, if any, versatility, but he’s obviously still capable of hitting the ball out of the park. Encarnacion played in 57 total games at first base in 2019, and will likely be relegated to just a designated hitter going forward. This isn’t an overly enticing profile of a free agent on paper, but a 39-year-old Nelson Cruz just proved that that type of player can still help teams win. He’s had no less than 32 dingers in the past eight seasons, and he’s led MLB in homers and RBIs over that span. 

18. Will Smith, LHP - Age: 30*

2019 Stats: 6-0, 2.76 ERA, 96 SO

Smith is not as big a name as Kimbrel or other bullpen pieces that have signed large contracts in the past few years. And a healthy Dellin Betances would have prevented Smith from being the best reliever available this offseason. But 2019 was the third season in which Smith posted a sub-3.00 ERA, and he struck out a career-best 13.2 batters per nine innings. Though mostly effective against righties — the southpaw held righty batters to a .212 batting average last year — his splits were an adventure in 2019 as he yielded 14 extra-base hits and 20 walks to right-handed hitters. With a market that’s relatively thin on relievers, particularly of All-Star caliber, Smith should be in high demand this offseason, even with the qualifying offer.

Nov. 14: Smith signed the Braves for three years and $39 million, with a club option for 2023 that would pay $13 million.

19. Avisail Garcia, OF - Age: 28

2019 Stats: .282 BA, 20 HR, 72 RBI

After hamstring injuries limited him in 2018, Garcia had an interesting year as another of the Rays’ low-cost reclamation projects. He posted career-highs with 20 homers last year and is also very fast for 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, although his personal best for stolen bases was 10 in 2019. Garcia is an average defender in right field, a position that’s already appeared a few times on this list. But he should come at a lower cost — he made $3.5 million on his one-year deal with Tampa Bay this season — than some other free-agent corner outfielders. Garcia is also relatively young, and could stand to benefit from signing a short-term deal and going back on the market after consecutive healthy seasons.

20. Brett Gardner, OF - Age: 36

2019 Stats: .251 BA, 28 HR, 74 RBI

Even as the Yankees added Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and, yes, even Jacoby Ellsbury, Gardner has played in at least 140 games for seven consecutive seasons. He’s sometimes an afterthought in the Yankees’ often-stacked lineup. But he’s been posted a bWAR of at least 3.0 in eight of his 12 major league seasons, five times reaching 4.0, including last year. Gardner’s speed has certainly diminished as he’s gotten older, but he’s played a solid left field for more than a decade. He signed his first extension with the Yankees in 2014 but is likely to stick on one-year deals moving forward, but a potential multi-year deal might drag him from the Bronx.

Jose Abreu has been a consistent power hitter in his six-year MLB career. Will it take him beyond Chicago now? (Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)
Jose Abreu has been a consistent power hitter in his six-year MLB career. Will it take him beyond Chicago now? (Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

21. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH - Age: 32*

2019 Stats: .284 BA, 33 HR, 123 RBI

Abreu has been a tremendously consistent power hitter throughout his six-year MLB career. He led the AL in RBIs, eclipsing the century mark for the fifth time, put together his fourth career 30-homer campaign and has never had less than 32 doubles in a season. Abreu has posted improved figures in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate over the past few seasons. He was never one to draw many walks, especially for a power hitter, and his 152 strikeouts in 2019 were a career-high. He’s unlikely to leave the White Sox, and it wouldn’t have been a surprise for him to accept the qualifying offer. 

Nov. 14: Abreu accepted the qualifying offer from the White Sox. 

22. Dellin Betances, RHP - Age: 31

2018 Stats: 4-6, 2.70 ERA, 115 SO

A right shoulder impingement and lat strain pushed Betances’ season debut to Sept. 15. It was his only appearance of 2019 before a partial left Achilles tear shut him down for good. Before that, Betances was one of the most talented, albeit erratic, relievers in baseball. He made four consecutive All-Star teams as a middle reliever, and struck out 14.6 batters per nine innings from 2014-2018. The 6-foot-8 New York native can hit triple digits with his fastball, and his breaking pitches are absolutely filthy. Betances has already expressed his full potential. If he can find a way to remain healthy he has what it takes to be one of the best relievers in baseball.

23. Jonathan Schoop, 2B - Age: 28

2019 Stats: .256 BA, 23 HR, 59 RBI

It’s been an interesting ride for Schoop since his All-Star season in 2017. He had a down year with the Orioles and Brewers in 2018, then had something of a resurgence with the Twins this past season. It only amounted to a 1.6 bWAR, but he eclipsed 20 home runs for the fourth time in his career, and was something of a catalyst for the Twins, with 21 of his long balls coming in games that they won. Schoop is an average defender that made just $7.5 million last season, but he is young enough that this probably won’t be his final crack at free agency. 

24. Starlin Castro, IF - Age: 29

2019 Stats: .270 BA, 22 HR, 86 RBI

Castro got a decade of major league experience under his belt before his 30th birthday. Castro played a full 162 games last year and posted career highs in homers and RBIs. The promotion of key prospect Isan Diaz pushed Castro, who broke into the league as a shortstop, to third base for 45 games this season. He made $11 million last season and has had hard luck throughout his career — missing the Cubs’ 2016 championship and getting sent to the Marlins just before the Yankees’ back-to-back 100-win seasons. If there’s a player that deserves to link up with a contender in 2020, it’s Castro. 

25. Michael Pineda, RHP - Age: 29

2019 Stats: 11-5, 4.01 ERA, 140 SO

Pineda forfeited the remainder of the more than $2.5 million left on the deal he signed with the Twins in 2017 after testing positive for a banned diuretic this summer. He’ll be out until May this season after the ban was reduced from 80 to 60 games after it was revealed that there were non performance-enhancing drugs involved. But his absence was still felt when the Twins were swept in the ALDS. Pineda was well on his way to his best full season in the majors before the suspension. His fastball-slider combination makes him a serviceable mid-rotation option. 

Dec. 5: Pineda re-signed with the Twins for two years and $20 million.

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