MLB free agents: Ranking the top 57 of the 2018 class

Major League Baseball’s most anticipated free agent class since 2000 has finally arrived – even if it’s not as potent as once imagined.

Still, a group led by a pair of franchise players should provide significant intrigue from the winter into the spring – and likely unearth more than a billion dollars in salary from franchises saving up for this very moment.

As the off-season begins in earnest, USA TODAY Sports takes a look at the top 57 free agents available, from the elite to those near the bubble to receiving a major league contract.

Rankings based on projected future performance and perceived market value:

(Age as of April 1, 2019; 2018 team)

1. Bryce Harper (26, OF, Nationals): There is clearly a 1 and 1A in this class, and we’ll give Harper the edge over Manny Machado by the slimmest of margins, largely due to intangibles. The lifetime deals these men can expect – a decade or longer in term, more than a quarter-billion dollars in value – are almost as much about branding and marketability as production. And while Harper is not the LeBron of his sport – there is none, a problem for another day – he remains the game’s blue-chip endorser and among its most recognizable faces, particularly among younger fans. Oh, and he’s also hit 184 home runs with a lifetime .900 OPS through his age-25 season. The question: How many decline years will a club pay for in this era?

2. Manny Machado (26, SS/3B, Dodgers): Three months younger than Harper, Machado benefits from playing on the left side of the infield and near-robotic production: He’s hit between 33 and 37 home runs while playing at least 156 games the past four seasons. No, Machado’s curious playoff behavior shouldn’t affect his stock. Unlike Harper, however, Machado likely won’t have his old team deeply involved in the bidding, reducing his suitors by one and denting his leverage just a bit.

3. Patrick Corbin (29, LHP, Diamondbacks): He misses bats – 246 strikeouts in 200 innings – posted a reputable 3.15 ERA in a hitters’ park and has already professed his love for the Yankees. Yes, Corbin is going to get paid. He’s almost two years younger than Dallas Keuchel, the more-renowned free agent lefty on this market, and gave up two fewer hits per nine innings (7.3 to 9.3) as well.

4. Dallas Keuchel (31, LHP, Astros): Forget about “the opener” and “bullpenning” for just a moment and realize such set-ups still require somebody to credibly absorb 200 innings. Four years removed from his Cy Young Award season, Keuchel remains that man. While he gave up an American League-high 211 hits, Keuchel stayed healthy, clocked 204 2/3 innings pitched and could enjoy a nice bump should he land in the National League. While his ERA rose from 2.90 to 3.74, his Fielding Independent Pitching dipped from 3.75 to 3.69. Still a safe bet.

5. Craig Kimbrel (30, RHP, Red Sox): Push out of your mind, for the moment, an October filled with tipped pitches and yanked sliders and far too many white knuckles in New England. Kimbrel remains on a Hall of Fame path as a closer and struck out 96 batters in 62 1/3 innings last season, with his 89% save percentage (42 of 47) in line with Mariano Rivera’s career mark. He may not be as versatile as other arms, but there remains plenty of value in locking down the ninth inning.

6. A.J. Pollock (31, OF, Diamondbacks): Health has been an enemy and now age is no longer his ally, a tough spot for a player for which speed is important. Still, Pollock won’t hurt you in center field and at least one team will dare to dream on his 2015 season (20 homers, 39 steals, .315 average. .367 OBP) while realizing last season’s 113-game campaign (21, 13, .257, .316) may be closer to his new normal.

7. Nathan Eovaldi (29, RHP, Red Sox): In an era of sober and highly-calculated free agency, here’s a vote for recency bias and buzz. Not often can a player meaningfully boost his stock in the postseason, but then again, few have had Octobers like Eovaldi. He started games, finished games, was deployed to get the highest-leverage outs – oh, and maintained his 100-mph velocity north of 90 pitches. While Eovaldi has undergone two Tommy John surgeries, he’s barely two years removed from his most recent procedure. Name a staff that couldn’t use this guy.

8. Michael Brantley (31, LF, Indians): Just two years after shoulder surgery limited him to 11 games, Brantley enters free agency off consecutive All-Star appearances and myriad signs he’s aging well. “Dr. Smooth” produced a .364 OBP and a 123 OPS-plus, while striking out just 60 times in 631 plate appearances.

9. Marwin Gonzalez (30, INF/OF, Astros): Perhaps no player will benefit more from not having a qualifying offer attached. With only so many Harpers and Machados available, clubs that value a Dodgers-style platoon system will swoon for Gonzalez, a switch-hitter who saw time last season at first base (24 games), second base (32) shortstop (39) and all three outfield spots (73 games in left, most notably).  

10. Adam Ottavino (33, RHP, Rockies): The least-heralded (and least-paid) member of Colorado’s bullpen now gets to cash in. Ottavino boosted his strikeouts per nine innings to 13 and his ERA-plus to 193. Freed from Coors Field, Ottavino’s versatility as a bullpen weapon will be cherished.

11. Andrew McCutchen (32, OF, Yankees): Does character count in free agency? If so, McCutchen’s market soared in 2018 after endearing himself to a pair of veteran clubhouses and fan bases in San Francisco and New York. If not, well, McCutchen remains one of the game’s most disciplined hitters, posting a .368 OBP and hitting 20 homers. Still a capable corner outfielder who will lengthen any lineup.

12. DJ LeMahieu (30, 2B, Rockies): Not every team fills his position with a full-time player these days, but LeMahieu should find a forever home after leading NL second basemen with 18 Defensive Runs Saved. While his 88 OPS-plus and .276 average are underwhelming, the 2016 batting champ is a good fit in a lot of places, most notably Washington or back with the Rockies should they trade Nolan Arenado.

13. J.A. Happ (36, LHP, Yankees): Is age just a number? After going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts after a trade to the Yankees, Happ may be the ultimate test of this concept. He offers predictability – a 3.90 ERA forged over 12 seasons – and recent upside, as his 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings matches his best mark since 2012. How many years will clubs be willing to let that ride?

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