Even before the start of the 2018 World Series, fans and front offices, alike, are looking ahead to free agency and to transactions that will occur during the upcoming offseason. A plethora of recognizable names are set to become free agents once the Fall Classic is over and done with. Some of them will remain with their current clubs for at least one more season, while others are guaranteed to move on to different franchises and new opportunities. As if often the case across North American professional sports, money will have a significant role in the decisions made by the top available MLB free agents. In short, some organizations will be willing to spend more than others.
Teams that play home games in smaller markets will not open checkbooks as will the clubs that have the highest payrolls in the league. Fans may not always agree with how certain franchises spend, but it’s the nature of the business and of a competition that does not utilize a hard salary cap. Smaller clubs can still be active in free agency finding proven commodities who maybe aren’t what they were during their primes and also on talents who have something to prove and won’t be awarded with historic contracts. Championship teams are no longer built through free agency, but even one piece can turn a contender into a title favorite.
20 Bartolo Colon: Cleveland Indians
You love Bartolo Colon. We love Bartolo. Everybody loves “Big Sexy.” This is about more than a popular 45-year-old attempting to remain in the Big Leagues for at least another season, and about more than someone ending his career with a homecoming. Colon will be cheap, which immediately makes him somebody the Cleveland Indians would consider. He can eat innings for the team during the hot summer months that will likely once again be meaningless for a team that should coast to a division title. Once the games start to matter, the Indians could even use him out of the bullpen if he still has anything in the tank. The only real bummer here is that we wouldn’t get to see him bat.
19 Yasmani Grandal: New York Mets
Yes, the New York Mets are going to target inexpensive free agents (more on one of those next) because club ownership may actually be physically allergic to spending real money like the type of cash spent by the team’s same-city rivals. Catcher Yasmani Grandal needs to be atop the front office’s wish list regardless of what his price may be. It's true that Grandal’s postseason play has left much to be desired. He’d still be much better than any other option currently with the Mets as of the end of the 2018 season. This one is a no-brainer, to the point Mets fans should be irate if the team doesn’t get it done.
18 C.C. Sabathia: New York Mets
This is more like the type of signing one would expect the stingy New York Mets to make. Veteran lefty C.C. Sabathia isn’t what he was when he was able to compete for a Cy Young award, but he’s a reliable hand who would probably like to remain in the New York market and who will only return to the New York Yankees if the Bronx Bombers are unable to land one of several other options for the rotation. Sure, Sabathia being forced to take a couple of at-bats during starts could be ugly to watch, but that doesn’t make the Mets getting him at a good price a bad idea.
17 Josh Donaldson: Cleveland Indians
The Josh Donaldson experiment did not work out as the Cleveland Indians hoped even if he did produce some bright moments on the left side of the infield. Donaldson turns 33-years-old before Christmas, and his age coupled with his injury history means he is not going to receive the type of contract he originally believed he would see. That should make Donaldson returning to the Indians a realistic option for a franchise that can’t afford the top available free agents but will still be a title contender in 2019. The risk could be worth the reward for both, as Donaldson having a good season for a playoff team could lead to him receiving a bigger payday a year from the posting of this piece.
16 Michael Brantley: New York Yankees
While the Cleveland Indians would probably like to keep the band together for one more run at the World Series championship that has eluded the franchise since 1948, outfielder Michael Brantley leaving via free agency is almost a guarantee, largely because he’s a perfect fit for a big-spending team like the New York Yankees. The Yankees don’t need another slugger in the lineup. New York should want to land an outfielder who can be an All-Star when healthy and who can patrol the field. Brantley is every part of that, and he’s one of several available free agents who could have a blast batting at Yankee Stadium.
15 Matt Harvey: Miami Marlins
If Matt Harvey was writing this piece, he would link himself with the New York Yankees. He isn’t, and, thus, he’s not, as the Yankees don’t have a spot for him heading into the 2018 holiday season. Harvey would do well to bet on himself and put pen to paper on a contract with the Miami Marlins, and not just because doing so could give him further opportunities to face the New York Mets, a team he’s clearly not all that fond of these days. The 29-year-old showing that he can remain healthy and serve as a solid part of the Marlins’ rotation on a short-term deal could serve as a year-long audition.
14 Zach Britton: Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves are no longer MLB laughingstocks. In fact, the Braves are the best team in the NL East and should once again be in 2019. With that said, Atlanta does have holes to fill, including in the bullpen. Radio and TV host Mark Zinno reported in October that it is a “lock” Zach Britton will be closing for the Braves next season. Britton and the New York Yankees will likely go in different directions, and making the move to the National League and to a division that isn’t necessarily filled with World Series contenders could be enticing as long as doing so doesn’t involve turning down millions of dollars.
13 Wilson Ramos: Washington Nationals
If catcher Wilson Ramos is serious about wanting to be an everyday player in 2019, he will likely need to leave the Philadelphia Phillies and sign elsewhere in free agency. How much the Washington Nationals spend on such a talent will be dependent on if the club is able to convince Bryce Harper to remain with the franchise. Assuming that doesn’t happen, the Nationals should be active in other avenues. Ramos isn’t a sure thing because of his injury history, but remember that the team could work to transition him from catcher over to first base. Besides, the team needs somebody at the position next year.
12 A.J. Pollock: St. Louis Cardinals
The Arizona Diamondbacks are about to have a fire sale. Unfortunately, the team will not get anything back for A.J. Pollock, who is about to enter free agency and get paid, potentially before his 31st birthday that occurs in December. The St. Louis Cardinals may prefer to add a left-handed bat in the lineup instead of Pollock, but he could be the best of the available players the team would be willing to sign. Besides, the Cards are not all that far from getting back to the postseason, and he would improve the lineup. He also won’t be as pricey as the bigger names hitting the market.
11 Mike Moustakas: Los Angeles Angels
Mike Moustakas may be loving life as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in October, but the third baseman is going to want to get paid what he is owed in free agency this time around. We may never know all that happened regarding Moose potentially turning down a deal allegedly offered by the Los Angeles Angels last offseason. What’s done is done, and the Angels need to right the wrong and add this bat to the lineup. Unless he surprisingly decides to remain with the Brewers, which seems unlikely even if the team wins a World Series, the Angels need to make moving out west worth it for Moustakas.
10 Yusei Kikuchi: Milwaukee Brewers
Sure, we could be boring and link Yusei Kikuchi with the New York Yankees as many will want to do even before he technically becomes an MLB asset. Where’s the fun in that? The Brewers are reportedly one of the handful of teams that have the 27-year-old southpaw on their radar, and Milwaukee is more than just some Cinderella baseball story. Not only are the Brewers for real. They are an intriguing and exciting club that is going to have to acquire a starter. Getting the young flamethrower who is ready to compete in MLB would certainly excite a fan base that is celebrating an October to remember.
9 Craig Kimbrel: Cleveland Indians
The window for the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series with the team’s established cornerstones and mainstays closes more and more with each season. Making the playoffs due to playing in a lousy division shouldn’t be enough for this club in 2019. As expensive as signing Craig Kimbrel could be, getting him would send a message to a fan base that is yearning to celebrate a championship that the franchise is serious about competing for more than a meaningless AL Central crown. If the relationship between he and the Boston Red Sox is set to be finished by the end of his fall, Cleveland needs to roll the red carpet out for him.
8 Dallas Keuchel: San Francisco Giants
You can never have enough pitching, so teaches the famous saying, but finding a landing spot for lefty Dallas Keuchel is a bit difficult because of his numbers over the past three seasons and also the fact that usual suspects for such a signing — teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers — could look elsewhere. The San Francisco Giants aren’t just a Keuchel away from flirting with a .500 record, let alone actually winning something, but he’d improve the rotation and also get paid. Besides, the Giants would rather have Keuchel than have to face him if he is able to sign with the Dodgers.
7 Nelson Cruz: Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners should want to keep Nelson Cruz, and Cruz reportedly wants to remain with Seattle. It makes sense. He turns 39-years-old next summer, and signing for a contender such as the Chicago Cubs would mean him uprooting his life while no longer serving as a designated hitter. Cruz can still deliver 35 home runs and 100 RBI with Seattle. Those numbers aren’t anything to sneeze at. Unless a different AL team with money to spend and a need at DH such as the Tampa Bay Rays convinces Cruz to leave Seattle, he should end his career as a member of the Mariners.
6 J.A. Happ: Cincinnati Reds
The New York Yankees letting J.A. Happ leave via free agency may make more sense than one realizes, especially if the Yankees are able to upgrade the rotation via a signing or a trade with a team like the Arizona Diamondbacks for Zack Greinke. Happ, meanwhile, turns 36-years-old in October, and he should be paid by a club that needs starting pitching. Nobody expects much from the 2019 Cincinnati Reds, nor should fans. Signing Happ to join the club’s rotation would be a smart move for a Reds team that won’t be able to pay the top available pitchers in any market.
5 Andrew McCutchen: Seattle Mariners
In an ideal situation, the New York Yankees would want to keep Andrew McCutchen around for another season. There are only so many roster spots, though, and the Yankees have to improve the lineup and build around younger stars if the team is going to avoid another early postseason exit that could lead to fans demanding a change at manager. McCutchen won’t win an MVP award for the Seattle Mariners or any other franchise that would try to sign the outfielder. That makes him far less expensive than he was during his best days with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He may prefer playing centerfield, but he’d do just fine for the M’s in right.
4 Cody Allen/Andrew Miller: New York Mets
It’s a two-for-one deal the New York Mets need to seriously explore heading into free agency. Both Cody Allen and Andrew Miller were vital relievers for the Cleveland Indians team that probably should have won the 2016 World Series. Both have also experienced downs as of late following pitching coach Mickey Callaway becoming the Mets manager. With both Allen and Miller set to depart Cleveland, they could be convinced that linking back up with Callaway is just the fix their careers require before next season. The Mets, meanwhile, could use the help in the bullpen and find that assistance without having to pay too hefty a price.
3 Daniel Murphy: New York Yankees
Fans of the New York Mets may not love the idea of a former player signing with the other team in town, but the reality of the situation is that Daniel Murphy is a better fit for the New York Yankees than the Mets this offseason. Along with being able to hit home runs past the short porch, Murphy would be the left-handed bat the Yankees could have used during the ALDS. Unlike the top two players in this list, Murphy won’t be too costly, and he could be worth the money even if he never flirts with matching the best numbers he posted with the Mets and Washington Nationals.
2 Manny Machado: Washington Nationals
The dream scenario for any team would be that it signs both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper in free agency. That’s probably not happening, and Harper seems to realize he won’t be part of the Washington Nationals unless he agrees on a team-friendly contract. Losing Harper to any club will sting, but signing Machado, the second-best free agent available, would lessen the blow and also prevent him from joining a team such as the St. Louis Cardinals or even a division foe. Hey, the New York Mets could, theoretically, make a move for Machado. The Nationals should make sure the Mets don’t have time to entertain that thought.
1 Bryce Harper: Philadelphia Phillies
Those assuming that the New York Yankees are going to show a blank check to Bryce Harper may want to pump the brakes a bit. Of course, Harper would make the Yankees better, but the team could spend that money building around starters already in the lineup. The Phillies, meanwhile, have the need and the money to make such a headline signing the right move for this offseason. Besides, Harper is a Hall of Fame talent. Why on earth wouldn’t the Phillies move heaven and earth to go get him as long as the idea of not playing in New York or Los Angeles doesn’t bother him?