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Superlatives for the 2019-20 MLB free-agent class

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Who will be 2020’s Patrick Corbin?

Let’s turn back the clock a year, when we wrote this same article and included this gem:

Guy most likely to put a team over the top: Patrick Corbin. … There might be concern about the long-term health of a guy who throws sliders 40 percent of the time, but Corbin has the ability to be the difference-maker for the Yankees, Nationals or Dodgers.

Corbin signed with the Washington Nationals, went 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA and was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series when he tossed three scoreless innings in relief of Max Scherzer. Corbin still has five years remaining on his six-year, $140 million contract, but with a World Series title in hand, you can argue anything moving forward is gravy.

Time to preview what might happen this offseason in free agency …

Guy most likely to sign the biggest deal: Everyone expects Gerrit Cole to easily break David Price‘s record contract for a pitcher, the seven-year, $217 million deal he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2016. Cole certainly compares favorably with the best free-agent starting pitchers available over the past five seasons. I would rank him as the best one to hit the market, or at least equal to Scherzer when Scherzer was a free agent after 2014:

Cole (29 years old), 2018-2019: 35-10 W-L, 2.68 ERA, 164 ERA+, 12.1 WAR
Patrick Corbin (29), 2017-2018: 25-20, 3.58 ERA, 124 ERA+, 7.1 WAR
Yu Darvish (31), 2016-2017: 17-17, 3.70 ERA, 125 ERA+, 6.4 WAR
David Price (30), 2014-2015: 33-17, 2.88 ERA, 135 ERA+, 10.5 WAR
Zack Greinke (32), 2014-2015: 36-11, 2.16 ERA, 166 ERA+, 13.5 WAR
Johnny Cueto (30), 2014-2015: 31-22, 2.80 ERA, 137 ERA+, 10.7 WAR
Jordan Zimmermann (30), 2014-2015: 27-15, 3.16 ERA, 122 ERA+, 7.9 WAR
Max Scherzer (30), 2013-2014: 39-8, 3.02 ERA, 133 ERA+, 12.1 WAR
Jon Lester (31), 2013-2014: 31-19, 3.10 ERA, 129 ERA+, 7.7 WAR

Like Scherzer, Cole is a power pitcher with a mostly positive track record for health. He’s a year younger than Scherzer, and the fact that Scherzer has gone 79-39 with a 2.74 ERA for the Nationals will only help Cole get that $250 million-plus contract. Pitchers like this are rare, and it’s even more rare for them to reach free agency. The Los Angeles Angels are viewed as the front-runners for Cole, although Houston Astros owner Jim Crane vowed to “take a run” at re-signing Cole. Those are empty words when factoring in the rest of the quote to the Houston Chronicle, however: “We don’t know if we can get where they want to get.” Oh, yes: Scott Boras is Cole’s agent.

Guy most likely to be the biggest steal: Hyun-Jin Ryu. I pegged Josh Donaldson in this space a year ago and was tempted to do that again, but Donaldson should get a multiyear deal this offseason. Ryu, coming off a season in which he led the majors with a 2.32 ERA, might nonetheless end up undervalued for several reasons:

• Age and injury issues: He’ll be entering his age-33 season and had Tommy John surgery as an amateur in 2004 and then shoulder and elbow injuries as he made only one start in 2015 and 2016.

• His non-elite strikeout rate. Ryu ranked 59th in strikeout rate out of 130 pitchers with at least 100 innings.

• His 5.40 ERA over his final seven regular-season starts, raising his ERA from 1.45 in early August.

Those are the negatives, but I like the positives:

• Ryu’s elite walk rate. He had the second-lowest rate among those 130 pitchers. He doesn’t beat himself.

• Grounders and soft contact. He ranked 10th in ground ball rate and eighth in lowest average exit velocity. His changeup has become one of the best weapons in baseball and he threw it a career-high 28% of the time in 2019.

• He has actually been mostly healthy the past three seasons, missing time in 2018 because of a groin injury, not an arm issue.

In some ways, the profile is similar to that of Dallas Keuchel, who settled for a one-year deal at midseason in 2019, but he’s better than Keuchel and should have more interest. That might or might not come from the Dodgers, who will have plenty of starting pitching options with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, Dustin May, Ross Stripling and Tony Gonsolin — and maybe they pursue Cole as well (although the Dodgers have been reluctant to hand out big free-agent deals under Andrew Friedman).

Guy most likely to be the biggest bust: Nicholas Castellanos. Last year, the answer was A.J. Pollock, mostly due to concerns about his injury history and leaving a hitter-friendly environment. Pollock had value because he was the only legitimate center fielder in free agency, but sure enough he got hurt and played only 86 games. He wasn’t really a bust, although he was a platoon player by the postseason.

Castellanos likewise has a profile with some big pluses and big concerns. He can obviously hit, coming off his best season in which he bashed 58 doubles and hit .289/.337/.525 — including a 51-game stretch with the Cubs when he hit .321 and slugged .646. But he’s a below-average corner outfielder who doesn’t walk much and might get paid based on those two months in Chicago. At $15 million or so per season, he’s probably fine for three or four years. But a big annual average deal and more years could be risky for a guy who ends up as a DH in a couple of years.

Guy who helped himself the most in October: Stephen Strasburg is the easy answer, after giving us the best October run we’ve seen since what Madison Bumgarner delivered in 2014 and then opting out of his current contract. The Nationals are the favorites to re-sign him, and even though he’s a Boras guy, maybe Strasburg wants to stay and will sign quickly. With so much starting pitching out there — Cole, Ryu, Strasburg, Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Cole Hamels, Jake Odorizzi — it will be fascinating to see how the dominoes fall and how quickly.

Guy who also helped himself in October: Howie Kendrick. He’ll turn 37 next year, but he hit .344/.395/.572 as a part-time player for the Nationals. But as he showed in the postseason, there’s a lot of value in this kind of player, even if he’s not really a defensive asset. Shouldn’t an AL team be interested in him as a player who can DH and fill in a little at first base and second base? Look at some teams’ DH production in 2019:

White Sox: .208/.285/.362
Rays: .233/.299/.386
Mariners: .191/.317/.380
A’s: .222/.304/.403 (Khris Davis had a bad season)
Blue Jays: .231/.304/.422

Kendrick would be a reasonable, affordable player for the Rays. Of course, he’s also still a good fit for the Nationals, maybe as their regular first baseman if Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t return.

The guy who hurt himself the most in October: Wade Miley. This is actually more like the guy who hurt himself in September. Miley has a 3.52 ERA over the past two seasons, but he posted a 16.68 ERA in five September starts and was left off Houston’s roster in the ALCS and World Series. Before September, he might have been looking at a deal similar to what J.A. Happ received last year — two years, $34 million, with a third-year vesting option — but now he might be scrambling to get a one-year deal as he did from the Astros.

Guy most likely to put a team over the top: Anthony Rendon. Cole might seem like the best answer here because we know what a No. 1 pitcher can do in the postseason, but if the Angels are his ultimate destination, they’ll have to do a lot more than sign Cole — and still figure out a way to beat the Astros and Yankees. I’m putting Rendon here because he could end up with the Dodgers, with Justin Turner sliding into a play-all-over guy in his final season of his current deal. Or maybe Rendon signs with the Phillies and proves to be the missing ingredient. Maybe he replaces Donaldson with the Braves. Maybe the Mets — the Mets! — make a bold move and give him $200 million. Or maybe he re-signs with the Nationals and they go back-to-back.

The guy every team wants to sign … except: Will Smith. The left-hander has taken a winding road to becoming one of the best relievers in the game, passing through Anaheim, Kansas City, Milwaukee and San Francisco, with a Tommy John surgery along the way costing him the 2017 season. Over the past two seasons he has a 2.66 ERA with 167 strikeouts in 118⅓ innings and a .195 average allowed. He has been especially dominant against left-handed batters with his fastball/slider/curveball arsenal (.418 OPS allowed) but is also good against righties (.656 OPS). The only red flag is 10 home runs allowed in 2019, but that wasn’t an issue before last season. Imagine if the Dodgers or Astros had Smith in their bullpen to face Juan Soto in the playoffs.

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2020 Leaderboards – ESPN

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A Los Golpes ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Cronmetro ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 El diario de Martn ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 Es as y punto con Hernn Pereyra ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 ESPN Radio Frmula ESPN Radio Mar 27, 2020 Ftbol Picante ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Jorge Ramos y Su Banda ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 La Butaca ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 Los Capitanes ESPN Radio Mar 27, 2020 NFL Live ESPN Radio Mar 27, 2020 Nos ponemos las pilas con Fernando Palomo ESPN Radio May 19, 2020 Raza Deportiva ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 30 For 30 Podcasts ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 ESPORTS ESPN Radio May 22, 2020 FiveThirtyEight Politics ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Around The Rim ESPN Radio May 4, 2020 Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 SC Featured ESPN Radio Mar 25, 2020 The Jump ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 The Bill Barnwell Show ESPN Radio May 20, 2020 Matty & The Caddie ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 College Football Live ESPN Radio May 19, 2020 espnW presents Be Honest with Cari Champion ESPN Radio Mar 25, 2020 ESPN Media Conference Calls ESPN Radio Apr 20, 2020 The Right Time with Bomani Jones ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Mornings with Keyshawn, LZ and Travis ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 First Draft ESPN Radio Apr 29, 2020 The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Freddie and Fitzsimmons ESPN Radio Mar 12, 2020 NFL Live ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 98.7 ESPN New York: Dave Rothenberg ESPN Radio May 30, 2020 DiPietro, Canty & Rothenberg ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Caught Offside ESPN Radio May 26, 2020 ESPN FC ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Best of ESPNLA ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Jalen & Jacoby ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 The Lowe Post ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Cheap Heat with Peter Rosenberg ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Spain and Company ESPN Radio Mar 25, 2020 The Paul Finebaum Show ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Marty and McGee ESPN Radio Mar 25, 2020 Around the Horn ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Behind the Bets with Doug Kezirian ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Golic and Wingo ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Highly Questionable ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Outside The Lines ESPN Radio Mar 23, 2020 Courtside with Greenberg & Dakich ESPN Radio May 26, 2020 Fantasy Focus Baseball ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 Fantasy Focus Football ESPN Radio May 19, 2020 First Take ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 The Mina Kimes Show featuring Lenny ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 ESPN Podcasts ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 ESPN On Ice with Wyshynski and Kaplan ESPN Radio May 27, 2020 In The Gate ESPN Radio May 28, 2020 Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective ESPN Radio Jun 1, 2020 PTI ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 The Will Cain Show ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap ESPN Radio May 29, 2020 Caught Offside ESPN New York May 26, 2020 The Michael Kay Show ESPN New York May 29, 2020 98.7 ESPN New York: Dave Rothenberg ESPN New York May 30, 2020 DiPietro, Canty & Rothenberg ESPN New York Jun 1, 2020 Best of ESPN New York ESPN New York Jun 1, 2020 Mason & Ireland ESPN Los Angeles May 29, 2020 The Sedano Show ESPN Los Angeles May 29, 2020 Weekend Warrior ESPN Los Angeles May 30, 2020 Best of ESPNLA ESPN Los Angeles May 29, 2020

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Nationals reverse course, restore minor league pay after Sean Doolittle’s pledge

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WASHINGTON — The Nationals changed course and told their minor leaguers on Monday they will receive their full weekly stipends of $400 at least through June after Washington reliever Sean Doolittle tweeted that the team’s major league players would cover a planned cut in those payments.

Doolittle wrote on Twitter that Nationals major leaguers held a video conference call after The Athletic reported Sunday the club would be releasing more than two dozen minor league players and reducing stipends for players in the minors from $400 to $300 per week.

A text message sent by the Nationals to players in the minors and forwarded Monday to The Associated Press reads: “Upon further internal discussion, you will receive your full stipend of $400 per week through the month of June. We will consider future payments on a month to month basis. Thank you!”

It’s not unusual for big league teams to release minor leaguers at this time of year, although not normally this many. More than 400 young players have been cut with the minor league season in doubt amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Athletic reported that 40 players were cut by the Nationals.

Minor league players not on 40-man rosters were promised $400 per week through Sunday by a policy drafted by MLB. Including Washington’s switch, now at least 16 teams have promised to extend those allowances through the end of this month.

After the report about Washington’s reduction in that stipend, Doolittle wrote Sunday night that Nationals major leaguers decided unanimously that they “will be coming together and committing funds to make whole the lost wages.”

“All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times,” Doolittle wrote. “Minor leaguers are an essential part of our organization and they are bearing the heaviest burden of this situation as their season is likely to be cancelled.”

Doolittle isn’t the only major leaguer to pledge support for minor leaguers. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price plans to give each minor leaguer not on the 40-man roster in that franchise’s system $1,000 for the month of June, sources told ESPN, confirming a report by Francys Romero. The Dodgers had already committed to paying their minor leaguers $400-per-week stipends through the end of June.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nationals players to cover minor leaguers’ lost weekly stipend wages, Sean Doolittle says

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The Washington Nationals‘ major league players have pledged to cover minor leaguers’ lost wages from their weekly stipends, pitcher Sean Doolittle announced on social media.

Last week, the Nationals cut their minor leaguers’ weekly stipend from $400 to $300 per week, according to multiple reports. That came as hundreds of minor leaguers across baseball lost their jobs — with cuts more expected — with the cancellation of the minor league season a near certainty, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

On Sunday, Doolittle posted a statement on Twitter vowing to help out the minor leaguers in his organization.

“All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times,” he wrote.

“Minor leaguers are an essential part of our organization and they are bearing the heaviest burden of this situation as their season is likely to be cancelled. We recognize that and want to stand with them in support.”

Doolittle isn’t the only major leaguer to pledge support for minor leaguers. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price plans to give each minor leaguer not on the 40-man roster in that franchise’s system $1,000 for the month of June, sources told ESPN, confirming a report by Francys Romero. The Dodgers had already committed to paying their minor leaguers $400-per-week stipends through the end of June.

For more than a year, MLB has planned to contract about a quarter of minor league teams before the 2021 season. And with a drastically shortened amateur draft this year — just five rounds instead of the typical 40 — and the delay of international free-agent signings until as late as Jan. 15, minor league systems could become as thin as they have been in years.

All teams agreed to pay minor league players $400 a week in April and May to cover wages lost because of canceled games during the coronavirus pandemic. The $400 salary was given by MLB regardless of what the players were supposed to make, and went to hundreds of players who had been contracted to make several times that amount.

The Oakland Athletics told their minor league players they would no longer receive the stipend starting in June, drawing significant criticism. At least 16 teams have said they will pay minor league players beyond the policy’s May 31 expiration date.



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