The 2020 Major League Baseball free-agent crop is headlined by veterans, the majority of whom will be 29 or older when next season begins. Still, many of them figure to land very lucrative contracts, whether that’s with their current team or an entirely different squad. Keeping in mind that I am not privy to inside information, here are some predictions of the landing spots for some of these stars seeking new contracts.
Anthony Rendon, Third Baseman- A contender for the 2019 National League MVP, the slugger is represented by Scott Boras. This means no stone will be left unturned in the search for the most lucrative deal out there. That being said, Rendon is the heart and soul of a Nationals team that made an amazing run to win this year’s World Series. The Nats balked at giving fellow Boras client Bryce Harper what he wanted this past year, but watch them do what it takes to bring back their steady veteran to lead the squad as young talent like Juan Soto and Victor Robles continues to mature.
Gerrit Cole, Starting Pitcher- The powerful right-hander led his Houston Astros into this year’s World Series, but don’t expect him to return to the team that helped turn him into a dominant ace. Look for the Los Angeles Angels to finally address their lack of top-end starting pitcher and make a massive offer to have him bookend the franchise with the outstanding Mike Trout. After going 11–0 with a 1.79 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 95.2 innings during the second half of the 2019 season, he may well set contract records for a pitcher.
Stephen Strasburg, Starting Pitcher- Now 31, the right-hander is coming off perhaps his best season of his career, going 18–6 with a 3.32 ERA for the Nationals. He still has four years and $100 million left on his current deal but decided to opt out to capitalize on his huge season. Although I suspect Washington would like to bring him back, their pursuit of Rendon may dry up their coffers. Strasburg is a native of San Diego, so the Padres would be a logical fit. They also have the money it would take to lure him home. That being said, a surprise team, such as the Chicago White Sox, may be in play, as a veteran pitcher like this on a team largely composed of youngsters would be just what they need.
Madison Bumgarner, Starting Pitcher- After a rapid start to his career, winning 100 games before he turned 27, the lefty has won just a total of 19 games over the past three seasons. That has been partly due to injuries and partly because of diminished results and playing for an aging team. A perfect fit for his services will be the San Diego Padres. They have a lot of pitching talent coming up through the minors, so spending a little less and hoping for a bounce back in addition to his potential influence on the youngsters could be a shrewd move. That all being said, it could behoove the southpaw to wait out his market a little bit. Teams hoping to sign Cole and Strasburg, but missing out, may generate a little bidding war to make sure to get one of the best available starters.
Josh Donaldson, Third Baseman- Coming off two consecutive injury-plagued seasons, the soon-to-be 34-year-old veteran signed a one-dear deal with the Atlanta Braves and had a successful “prove it” campaign in 2019. His 37 home runs and 6.1 WAR showed he is still more than capable of star production. He would be an excellent fit should Atlanta wish to bring him back, but they may choose to spend their money elsewhere. Perhaps the most natural fit would be with the Philadelphia Phillies, where Maikel Franco has been more or less a liability at the hot corner for the past handful of seasons. In fact, the 1.6 WAR he has produced in 656 games with Philadelphia represents a good two month stretch for Donaldson. His addition would also make the middle of the Phillies lineup, which already contains Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, as formidable as any in the National League.
Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher- Also needing an upgrade in their rotation, the Phillies might pilfer yet another player from the Braves with the veteran left-hander. About to turn 32, Keuchel is now four seasons removed from his 2015 Cy Young Award that he won with the Houston Astros. While he has never quite returned to that form, he is still a very solid starter, who should not command the kind of money that will be doled out to the likes of Cole and Strasburg. At this stage of his career he is a reliable innings eater who gives his team a chance to win every time out without being a major burned on his bullpen. In fact, he has pitched at least five innings in 70 of 76 starts dating back to the start of the 2017 season. Adding the southpaw on a smaller contract than the major aces allows the team to simultaneously upgrade their lineup and position themselves for a serious title run in 2020.
Zack Wheeler, Starting Pitcher- A former top prospect who saw his career derailed by injuries early on, he has bounced back to become an above average pitcher with the New York Mets. He has won 23 games and struck out a batter an inning over 377.2 innings during the past two seasons. The right-hander will turn 30 a month before the 2020 All Star Game, but with a fastball that averages almost 97 MPH and a biting slider, he has the kind of stuff that makes a jump in production a real possibility. The New York Yankees had a powerful lineup, but a starting rotation with some obvious holes in 2019. They have the kind of offense where spending “Ace money” may not make as much sense as going after someone like Wheeler, who is bound to be significantly cheaper, has a proven track record and has room for improvement. Moving to the other side of New York appears to be a win-win scenario.