Compared to the MLB offseason, molasses moves like Usain Bolt. But while the hot stove period was slow moving, a lot of big signings did happen.
The bulk of the attention will go to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and rightfully so. But the New York Yankees added an incredibly confident pitcher to their already dominant bullpen. The Minnesota Twins added one of baseball’s top sluggers and the MLB version of a Swiss Army knife. An already overwhelming Washington Nationals starting rotation got another big arm.
Free agents like Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel still loom. But to date, these are the biggest signings of MLB free agency.
1. Bryce Harper, right fielder, Philadelphia Phillies
Signing Harper is a double positive for the Phillies. They get the slugging outfielder that they severely lacked in 2018. On top of that, Philadelphia takes him away from a division rival. And Harper isn’t just any slugging outfielder, either. He’s a star. Harper is a former league MVP. In 2018, he hit 34 home runs while slashing at .249/.393/.496. And that was in a down year. Moreover, at 26, Harper is only just entering his prime. While the Phillies struggled down the stretch, they were good for most of 2018. They looked to be just a big piece away. There’s every reason to think Harper is that piece.
2. Manny Machado, third baseman, San Diego Padres
If the Padres have designs on contending in 2019, they’ll still need to bolster their pitching staff. But with that understood, there’s no denying what a massive move this is. This, along with signing Eric Hosmer last year, signals that the Padres — long been NL West whipping boys — are ready for bigger and better things. And unlike what we saw in 2015, San Diego now has a farm system to back it up. Granted, you don’t sign someone like Machado if you’re not ready to win now. But if the Padres do struggle in 2019, they’re still okay. San Diego has struggled for much of the 2010s. The 2020s look like a different story.
3. Patrick Corbin, starting pitcher, Washington Nationals
We know all about who the Nationals lost. But they scored a pretty significant gain this offseason, as well. Washington now fields Corbin, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg as its top three starters. A season ago, the three combined for a 3.04 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and an 11.5 K/9 rate. Mind you, that was with a relatively down year from Strasburg. While losing Harper hurts, the likes of Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and of course, Juan Soto, are still there to guide an offense that is more than formidable. With Corbin on board, this team is well positioned to compete for a championship.
4. Nelson Cruz, designated hitter, Minnesota Twins
With guys like Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Miguel Sano, the Twins lineup has a lot of young potential. What Minnesota’s offense lacked was a proven force. Any one of those guys will benefit from batting in front of a made man like Cruz, who will also improve the offense a lot just on his own. Over the last five seasons, Cruz has hit .281/.356/.541 while averaging 41 home runs. In that stretch, he’s never slugged below .509 or hit fewer than 37 home runs. Pitchers will be less than eager to face this Twins team.
5. Adam Ottavino, relief pitcher, New York Yankees
Since the start of the 2015 season, Ottavino has posted a 3.15 ERA, 1.152 WHIP, and an 11.9 K/9 rate. And as good as those numbers are, we have to remember two things. One, he put up those numbers while pitching at Coors Field. Two, he had an abysmal 2017 season. A relief pitcher putting up numbers like that while struggling for one season and pitching at MLB’s best hitter’s park for all four shows how dominant he is. And he’s taking that dominance to a bullpen that was already one of baseball’s best. That will go a long way towards offsetting a starting rotation that still has some questions.
6. Wilson Ramos, catcher, New York Mets
By basically any metric, New York’s catchers were some of the least productive in MLB a season ago. They hit .208/.297/.355 with only 17 home runs. By contrast, Ramos hit .306/.358/.487. He also hit 15 home runs despite playing in only 111 games. While Ramos isn’t going to remind the Mets and their fans of the glory days of Mike Piazza, we’d call that an upgrade. If the Mets were serious about competing in 2019, getting that upgrade from behind the plate was an absolute necessity. We’re not exactly predicting the postseason for New York. But with Ramos on board, it is much easier to imagine.
7. Marwin Gonzalez, utility man, Minnesota Twins
While Cruz brings the power to Minnesota, Gonzalez brings the insurance. He’s played 100 or more career games at shortstop, first base, left field, and second base. Gonzalez also has 93 games at third. We don’t know if he’ll handle a specific position. But Gonzalez will pretty much play wherever he’s needed. From that, he should be an everyday player, like he was with the Houston Astros. Offensively, Gonzalez did regress in 2018 after a career year in 2017. But he did hit .247/.324/.409 with 16 home runs. That’s a pretty good worst case scenario for someone with as much defensive versatility as Gonzalez offers.
8. Charlie Morton, starting pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays
Morton posted a 3.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 10.8 K/9 rate in 2018. Normally, we’d be a little concerned that a 35-year-old would be due for some regression. But the move from the hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park to the far more neutral Tropicana Field offsets that. More importantly, Morton will eat innings for Tampa. Remember, this is a team that really pioneered the opener strategy in 2018. The Rays pioneered the opener strategy. Adding Morton to the top half of the rotation will give the relievers some rest. In turn, the bullpen will be far more viable for heavy use when the bottom-tier starters are going.
9. Andrew McCutchen, left fielder, Philadelphia Phillies
Philadelphia’s corner outfield production was among the worst in the league in 2018. Cutch hit .255/.368/.424 with 20 home runs and 14 steals a season ago. What’s even better is that when we look at those numbers, they don’t look that overwhelming. McCutchen may not be the MVP that he once was. But he can certainly improve from 2018. And actually, McCutchen even regress some from 2018 and still be a vast upgrade over what the Phillies got from the corner outfield. But getting a year at Citizen’s Bank on an offense that should be much improved, we’re betting on the veteran to be much better this year.
10. A.J. Pollock, center fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
Pollock has power. But he’s also capable of being a top notch offensive producer if the ball isn’t going over the fence. He’s stolen as many as 39 bases in a single season and stole 13 last year despite missing 49 games. If we knew he’d be healthy for a full year, Pollock would have serious 20-20 potential. He’s also a Gold Glove-caliber defender. The injury history is too great for Pollock to be any higher But Pollock is still a highly productive player who signed with a team coming off of consecutive World Series trips and six-straight NL West championships. That’s quite significant.