The 2018-19 free agent class has been highly anticipated for several years. The top of the group remains with superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but some of the depth of how historic this winter will be is not what it once was. Names like Matt Harvey, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, Brian Dozier, and Andrew Miller have all seen their value decline.
The list of free agents could shrink a bit, as seven players have received qualifying offers from their 2018 teams. The qualifying offer this year is $17.9 million, so players have to consider whether they will get more than the QO on the open market and whether the compensation pick attached to them will affect their markets.
The seven players who received the qualifying offer are Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, Craig Kimbrel, A.J. Pollock, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Yasmani Grandal. Let’s take some guesses at who will accept or decline the qualifying offer over the next ten days.
1. Bryce Harper
Harper is the most attractive free agent on the market. Scott Boras is his agent, and they have been waiting for this opportunity to cash in for several years. Harper is likely to get somewhere in the ballpark of a 10-year deal worth $300 million this winter. While a return to D.C. is not out of the question, there is no chance Harper takes the qualifying offer.
2. Dallas Keuchel
Unlike Harper, it’s not a 100-percent chance Keuchel passes, but it’s pretty close to it. The contract Yu Darvish received from the Cubs (six years, $12o million) is a good estimate for what Keuchel should be looking for. Whether he gets that number remains to be seen. The Astros only have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole as locks in the rotation for 2019, so it makes sense why they offered it to him.
The Dodgers and the Phillies are two teams to keep an eye on, and despite Keuchel regressing since his career year in 2o15, he will reject the qualifying offer and change uniforms this winter.
3. Patrick Corbin
Corbin is coming off a career year with the Diamondbacks and, at age 29, he should be in the $100 million range. Corbin had 246 strikeouts in 200 innings in 2018, and that should translate if Corbin moves to the American League, especially the AL East. The Yankees have been rumored to sign him, and being a New York native, they appear to be the front runner.
Corbin has also had Tommy John surgery, so he can’t afford to take more chances, and since he will be one of the most coveted starters available, he will decline the qualifying offer.
4. Craig Kimbrel
The reliever market, especially the closer market, is attractive for the third consecutive winter, and Kimbrel leads the way along with Zach Britton. While it appears Kimbrel will be out of the Red Sox’s price range with the club in the luxury tax, he will still earn a payday.
However, Kimbrel was not himself at the end of the season, giving up the most walks in a season since 2011, and at age 30, perhaps he won’t receive the five year deal Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen earned. The Phillies or Braves make sense for Kimbrel on a four-year deal at a higher annual value. With that said, Kimbrel will reject the qualifying offer.
5. A.J. Pollock
The case could be made for Pollock to accept or to reject the offer. Pollock, who has spent his entire career with the D-Backs, is a very talented player and was once expected to earn a $100 million contract. Injuries have lingered for the past several seasons, and he might want to lock in now before there is more uncertainty surrounding him.
Pollock is a very viable, much cheaper Plan B for teams who strike out on Harper. He might have even more suitors if he shows a willingness to play a corner outfield spot, which might help him at this stage of his career. If healthy, he could be a number-three hitter on a postseason team and put up big numbers. The D-Backs are reportedly entertaining the idea of a rebuild this offseason, and it makes sense for them to give Pollock an offer because if they struggle next year, he becomes a rental that the team could trade next season for prospects.
Pollock will have a tough decision to make, but it will be hard for him to not explore free agency, which is why he will reject the qualifying offer.
6. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Ryu is another interesting candidate, because at age 31 with his question marks, he rebounded tremendously in 2018. He went from someone who lived on the disabled list, to one of the Dodgers’ most reliable starters down the stretch, earning a start in Game 1 of the NLDS.
While Ryu did everything the Dodgers could have asked of him, the uncertainty will still be a factor if teams decided to pursue him. Could he be a candidate to get a short-term deal on a bad team to give quality innings? It’s possible, but that number wouldn’t be substantially more than the $17.9 the Dodgers are offering him. Ryu should accept the qualifying offer, and stay with a team he’s familiar with to be in championship contention in 2019.
7. Yasmani Grandal
Grandal is probably the most difficult player to predict from the seven. If Grandal elects to choose free agency, he becomes the top free agent catcher available. Nevertheless, it has been two consecutive postseasons that Grandal was benched in favor of catcher Austin Barnes; his offensive woes cost him in 2017, and struggles on both offense and defense made him mostly unplayable last month.
Teams like the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals, and the Seattle Mariners will all be searching for catchers, so there should be suitors. But Grandal has to look at Jonathan Lucroy, who last year had to settle for a one-year deal worth $8 million. As Ken Rosenthal noted, it made all the sense in the world for the Dodgers to give him the qualifying offer, to keep their long-term flexibility and use Grandal as a bridge for their catching prospects.
We all know that contracts are what-have-you-done-for-me-lately or a reward for past performance, and it will be hard for Grandal to shake off the defensive flaws in his game. His power numbers are still above average, hitting over 20 home runs in each of the past three seasons, but I don’t see that $50 million contract in his future, especially with draft compensation attached. Grandal will take the qualifying offer and stay with the Dodgers.