While the MLB hot stove period has moved more like an incredibly slow cooking crock pot, a lot has happened. In February alone, we saw Manny Machado sign a huge contract with the San Diego Padres and Nolan Arenado ink a massive extension with the Colorado Rockies. And now Bryce Harper has signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for $330 million over 13 years.
With some of MLB’s best having their contracts expire over the next two years, plenty of players will soon join them. One of Harper’s former teammates with the Washington Nationals will soon be a free agent. The reigning AL MVP and NL Cy Young Award winner are both set to be free agents after 2020. Two other stars that were traded in the offseason will soon find themselves breaking the bank.
Even in the slow moving MLB offseason, we’ve seen a lot of money change hands. In the coming two years, these stars figure to be next in line.
Anthony Rendon, third baseman, Washington Nationals
Rendon has been a good player for his entire career. But he’s turned a big corner over the last two seasons, hitting .305/.389/.534 with 49 home runs in that stretch. By comparison, Arenado hit .303/.373/.574 with 75 home runs over the same period. It’s also worth noting that while Nationals Park isn’t exactly cavernous, there are plenty of better hitter’s parks in the league.
Unless he follows Arenado and signs an extension, Rendon will be a free agent after this season. Even if his numbers don’t quite stack up to his Colorado counterpart, the being open market could go a long way towards getting Rendon close to Arenado’s money.
Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman, St. Louis Cardinals
Over the last six seasons, Goldschmidt’s has hit .301/.406/.541 and averaged 30 home runs, 100 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. Even those numbers are dragged down by 2014, when he missed more than 50 games. The guy is an absolute hitting machine who’s also won three Gold Gloves for good measure.
What hurts Goldschmidt somewhat is that he signed a very team friendly deal early in his career. So, he’ll be 32 at the end of the year when he hits free agency for the first time. But Goldschmidt has a game that will age well. He may not anything like a 10-year contract. But the more short-term deal will be massive.
Chris Sale, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox
The bad news for Sale is that he’ll be 31 at the start of the 2020 season, which would be the first of a new contract. The good news? Literally everything else. Sale has a career 2.89 ERA, 1.029 WHIP, 10.9 K/9 rate, and a 5.31 K:BB ratio. The latter two stats are all-time bests for starting pitchers. Sale has been even better since going to Boston, putting up a 2.56 ERA, 0.924 WHIP, a 13.2 K/9 rate, and 7.09 K:BB ratio in two years with the Red Sox. Assuming he hits free agency, some teams might be scared off by the age. But plenty will be drawn in by the incredible production. That’s going to lead to a great payoff for Sale.
Khris Davis, designated hitter, Oakland Athletics
Davis has hit no less than 42 home runs in each of the last three seasons. He also sports a career slugging percentage of .519. In fact, even including his first three years with the Milwaukee Brewers, Davis has only failed to top a .500 slugging percentage once. Davis will be hindered by two things. One, for all intents and purposes, he’s limited to the DH role. Two, with a career .248 average and .320 OBP, he’s not a great on base guy. But Davis isn’t simply a nice power bat. Having that kind of consistent power in the middle-of-the-order is an absolute game changer.
Gerrit Cole, starting pitcher, Houston Astros
Patrick Corbin cashed in on a huge payday this offseason. He was coming off of a season which he posted a 3.15 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, and an 11.1 K/9 rate. For his career, Corbin has a 3.91 ERA, 1.285 WHIP, and an 8.5 K/9 rate. To compare, Cole finished the season with a career 3.37 ERA, 1.179 WHIP, and a 9.3 K/9 rate. Like Corbin, he bettered his career marks in 2018, putting up a 2.88 ERA, 1.033 WHIP, and 12.4 K/9 rate. Corbin is a good pitcher. But Cole’s been better. As such, if Cole’s 2019 numbers are remotely comparable to what he did in 2018, we’d expect him to top the six-year, $140 million deal that Corbin signed.
J.D. Martinez, designated hitter, Boston Red Sox
As good as Davis has been, Martinez is a more productive version. From 2015-2018, Martinez hit .305/.374/.594 while averaging 38 home runs a year. And that home run total would certainly be higher if he wasn’t limited to 120 games in 2016. Also, while Martinez was used primarily as a DH in 2018 (and will be again in 2019), he can play the field if need be. It’s worth noting that Martinez has a player option at the end of 2019. As such, he could opt back in to the final three years of his deal. But given how unbelievably productive he’s been, we’d expect that he’ll opt out and cash in on the open market.
Madison Bumgarner, starting pitcher, San Francisco Giants
Like Goldschmidt, Bumgarner signed a team-friendly extension early in his career. But Bumgarner is only 29, which is actually younger than sale. He has a career 3.03 ERA, 1.108 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9 rate. On top of that, Bumgarner has a postseason resume that’s essentially unmatched.
That will only help drive his value up. Injuries have slowed Bumgarner over the last two years, and that’s a potential concern. But it’s also worth noting that both injuries were relatively fluky. If he remains healthy in 2019, a healthy payday awaits Bumgarner in the offseason, if not before.
J.T. Realmuto, catcher, Philadelphia Phillies
Realmuto is coming off of a season in which he hit .277/.340/.484 with 21 home runs. He did that while playing for a Miami Marlins team that offered essentially nothing in the way of offensive protection and while playing in one of baseball’s best pitcher’s parks. Now he’s in a prime hitter’s park in Philadelphia and has plenty of protection in the lineup.
Like everyone from this point on, Realmuto has two years left on his deal. But we’d expect a huge uptick in his already solid offensive production. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Philly break the bank to lock him up well before he becomes a free agent.
George Springer, center fielder, Houston Astros
The World Series MVP in 2017, Springer has been integral to the success of the Astros. A .265 career average might seem a little low for someone who bats at or near the top of the order. But Springer’s .356 OBP is more than respectable, especially for someone who’s perennially over 20 home runs. Springer will be 31 by the time he hits free agency after the 2020 season. So, an extension before then would make some sense. If that doesn’t happen, we’d expect him to fetch nothing worse than a medium length with a high AAV in free agency.
Jacob deGrom, starting pitcher, New York Mets
In the midst of deGrom’s Cy Young Award winning season in 2018, his then agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, said that deGrom wanted an extension with the Mets. Van Wagenen is now New York’s general manager. While deGrom won’t be a free agent until after 2020, he wants an extension before Opening Day in 2019 (h/t Mike Puma, New York Post). It makes sense. deGrom will turn 31 in June and has had some injuries. But he isn’t going to be cheap. deGrom had a career year in 2018. But as his career 2.67 ERA and 1.072 WHIP will attest, he’s no one-year wonder. When he signs, it won’t be cheap.
Mookie Betts, right fielder, Boston Red Sox
Given that Betts will be only 28 when he becomes a free agent after 2020, we’re not expecting him to sign an extension before then. Betts is a career .303/.370/.518 hitter. In 2018, he won the MVP hitting .346/.438/.640, smacked 32 home runs, and stole 30 bases. And he did all that despite missing 26 games.
Defensively, Betts is as good as it gets. He’s brilliantly manned Fenway Park’s exceptionally difficult right field and has won three straight Gold Gloves. And at 26, he’s really just getting started. When the time finally comes for Betts to sign a new contract, it will be monumental.
Mike Trout, center fielder, Los Angeles Angels
Since his rookie year of 2012, Trout has been MLB’s best player. What’s scary is that while he’s been around for that long, Trout is only 27. When he becomes a free agent after the 2020 season, he’ll be 29. We’re not close to the end. In fact, the best might well be yet to come.
We’ve heard rumblings that the Angels want to sign him to a “lifetime contract.” If that doesn’t happen, the Phillies, his childhood team, will definitely make a play for him. We would expect to see Trout hit the open market in two years. When that happens, expect a massive bidding war. That will lead to a contract unlike any the sport has ever seen.