FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agents: Machado Over Harper, Affordable McCutchen, Gonzalez, Lowrie, More

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FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agents: Machado Over Harper, Affordable McCutchen, Gonzalez, Lowrie, More

Chicago Cubs

When we got our Cubs’ offseason free agent previews started with Bryce Harper late last week, we did so without the benefit of the many free agent predictions that tend to come out soon after the World Series ends.

Since that post, however, several of those lists have come out, and so far we’ve looked at Jon Heyman’s take on all 131 free agents, as well as MLB Trade Rumors look at the top 50 free agents and their potential deals/destinations. Today, we have another list to look at, and it’s good one, with a slightly different twist: FanGraphs top-50 Free Agent contract predictions.

With the help of some crowd sourcing, the FanGraphs staff, led by Kiley McDaniel, has ranked the top 50 free agents this winter, while providing estimates for their final contract as well as performance projections (Steamer) for 2019. For the contracts, FanGraphs provides McDaniel’s estimate, as well as a crowdsourced median and average.

Here’s a quick peek at their top ten rankings, with contracts projected by FanGraphs:

  1. Manny Machado: 9 years, $279M
  2. Bryce Harper: 10 years, $330M
  3. Patrick Corbin: 5 years, $90M
  4. Dallas Keuchel: 4 years, $84M
  5. Josh Donaldson: 3 years, $54M
  6. Michael Brantley: 3 years, $48M
  7. A.J. Pollock: 3 years, $54M
  8. Yasmani Grandal: 3 years, $39M
  9. Jed Lowrie: 2 years, $30M
  10. Nathan Eovaldi: 3 years, $48M

Because there are no landing-spot predictions, we can’t be *shocked* by much here, other than, perhaps, the ranking of Machado over Harper, in general. With that said, McDaniel was quite succinct with an explanation: Machado “[h]as produced roughly as many career wins as Harper and is projected to produce roughly the same number in the near future, but will likely be available for less. That and ability to play shortstop place him first.” Well, when you put it that way!

Obviously, McDaniel is not wrong about that reasoning, and the difference between these two players is actually sufficiently close that any order you put them in might truly come down to personal preference and team need, but I still think I’d have Harper in front of Machado in terms of overall offensive upside. Perhaps it’s not by much and maybe it won’t happen, but I don’t think Machado has the sort of elite season in him like the one Harper put up in 2015 (197 wRC+). Indeed, Machado’s BEST offensive season (141 wRC+, 2018) is basically in line with Harper’s career average 140 wRC+. Obviously, Machado’s positional advantage matters here, but my point about offense alone, I think, remains.

As for their respective contracts, I think both projections make sense, and the crowd mostly agrees. Machado’s median crowdsourced contract is 8 years and $256M, which is a good deal lower than McDaniel’s total, but the average (8.6 years, $273M) is right there with him. For Harper, the median crowd source number is identical to McDaniel’s guess, while the average projects one less year overall, but the same $33M AAV.

I found both McDaniel and the public to have encouragingly realistic expectations for Jed Lowrie, a plausible Cubs target, and the same can be said for Marwin Gonzalez (3 years across the board and between $10M-$13M in AAV), both of whom we discussed here yesterday. [Brett: Gut says Gonzlaez gets another year and a little higher AAV, and Lowrie is pretty close to correct.]

I think potential relief options like Adam Ottavino (3 years, $45M) and Craig Kimbrel (4 years, $56M) will probably be out of the Cubs’ likely range, especially if they are not going to exceed the top tier of the luxury tax. The Cubs will no doubt be able to add in the bullpen through free agency, but might also consider the trade market for bullpen upgrades.

Andrew McCutchen comes in at an intriguingly low two years and $26M, but the voting public is guessing he ends up a bit higher, both in years and AAV (3 years, $42-$43M). If he ends up somewhere in between there … I don’t hate the idea of bringing him in as a lower cost outfield upgrade who can play all three positions (he’s projected for a 124 wRC+ next season and 2.6 WAR) – especially if the saved money can be used elsewhere *this offseason.*

If the Cubs wind up looking to add a true second baseman, they could try for a bounce-back from Brian Dozier, who is projected by McDaniel to land a one-year, $9 million contract. Like McCutchen, the crowd see a bigger deal for Dozier (3 years, $12M AAV). It wasn’t so long ago that Dozier – who apparently was playing through a bone bruise this year – was a top performer:

There are a lot of other surprises and projections to explore, so be sure to head over to FanGraphs and check them all out.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami