Here is the Ultimate Free-Agent Tracker for the class of 2018-19, ranked from Nos. 1 to 197. The rankings are based on a number of variables, including each player’s history, opening-day age and potential, and provide a general outline as free agency unfolds between now and spring training.
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1. Bryce Harper, OF: The question as to whether Harper or Manny Machado is the best free agent in this class is immaterial. Both are 26 years old. Both are MVP-caliber talents. Both have stared down this winter for years, ready to headline a class that was much better before the flaws of some were exposed. Harper’s first half was a mess, and then the player who showed up after the All-Star break – .300/.434/.538 – reminded why he’s going to get $300 million-plus. There is substance behind the flash, gravitas to go with the panache, and in the end it’s the superior plate discipline – the kind of skill that ages so well – that puts Harper in the top spot.
2. Manny Machado, SS/3B: There is no shame in second place here. It’s almost 1b to Harper’s 1a. Like Harper, Machado offers four years in his 20s, and for teams that are afraid to commit to 30-something players, that incentivizes the hunt for a total package that starts with a “3.” Will Machado get it like Harper? His market, some surmise, won’t be quite as ripe, even though he’s a superior fielder at a more important position. It’s not just the postseason antics, which left a sour taste with some teams. It’s more the question of just how great Machado’s bat can be. The answer: A .297/.367/.538 line with that kind of glove is plenty good.
3. Patrick Corbin, SP: The 29-year-old put together one of the great walk years in recent memory by striking out 246 in 200 innings of 3.15 ERA ball for Arizona. Aside from the Tommy John scar on his elbow, Corbin’s got everything. He’s left-handed. He’s incredibly athletic. He’s young. He’s smart. He throws strikes. He’s got a vicious slider. He’s going to get at least five years, and with the teams involved – big and small markets both – the price should exceed $125 million.
4. Josh Donaldson, 3B: Agreed to a one-year, $23 million deal with the Atlanta Braves.
5. A.J. Pollock, CF: Every player beyond the top three comes with a fairly significant red flag, and Pollock’s, like so many others’, is health. He’ll be 31 on opening day, and he hasn’t played a full season since 2015. Working in his favor: The crop of true center fielders in this class is nonexistent, and when Pollock does play, he’s a stellar combination of power, speed and defense. No, he hasn’t been nearly as consistent as Lorenzo Cain, the best center fielder in last year’s class. But the ceiling is right there.
6. Craig Kimbrel, RP: The bump in walks isn’t great, and the jump in home runs allowed doesn’t exactly portend well, either, but facts are facts: No reliever in baseball history was better through his age-30 season than Kimbrel. None had a better ERA than his 1.91. Or a better FIP than his 1.96. The closest of his contemporaries were Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, each of whom got five years and $80 million-plus. So even if Kimbrel was shaky in October, his stuff is still there, and the going rate should be the going rate.
7. Nathan Eovaldi, SP: The notion of a player making himself money in October is typically trite and has few, if any, examples to back up its veracity. The 28-year-old Eovaldi will be the exception. An under-the-radar trade-deadline acquisition by Boston, he was a starter, reliever and reliever-who-throws-as-many-innings-as-a-starter for the Red Sox as they won a championship, and he was almost impermeable. The fear – a rightful one – is the twice-Tommy John’d-upon right elbow. That’s how good Eovaldi was in the playoffs: Teams are happily looking past that to give him a massive free-agent payday.