There is a time in everyone’s work career in which they have to step up their game to convince their boss(es) that it’s time for a raise or simply keeping them around in their roles. The same is true in sports. Every player gets to a point where they are in a contract year with their current team in which they are trying to prove their worth for a myriad of reasons, or are simply looking to show why they deserve a higher salary the following season. Every sport has contract years, but it perhaps doesn’t affect players in any other sport quite the way it can in baseball. Especially with all of the guaranteed money that’s available to them if they can manage a bigger than normal year.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen some players in contract years have the best season of their career to that point, i.e. Anthony Rendon a year ago. However, we’ve also seen guys have some of the worst years of their careers, i.e. Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello last year, or even worse, get injured like Wilson Ramos a few years back in his final year in Washington. So who will do what on the diamond this year, that’s hard to say, but it’s worth looking at the names that could be switching teams, or at least needing new deals for 2021.
It’s in this vein that we will be looking at the players with contracts that are expected to expire at the end of the 2020 season, whether it be an opt-out or just a natural end to the contract. There is a disclaimer, however, the top-flight or elite players won’t be covered since they are considered elite for a reason, except for a few guys with extenuating circumstances heading into the year.
*The 162-game Avg. row in the player tables is a measure of career numbers broken down to 162-game segments. So far a player with 810 games played, the career counting stat totals are divided by five and the slash line is kept the same as the lines. It’s an idea of what a player is capable of for a full season worth of games based on actual stats put up.
Yadier Molina , STL
The veteran catcher is actually in a contract year after being a career-long Cardinal and previously signing a long-term deal several years ago. He’s 37 at this point, turning 38 in July, and that’s definitely up there for a backstop. He has stated he doesn’t want to retire yet and has a few years left in his knees. This is good for St. Louis since their top catching prospects are still at least two years away. If you take a look at the last few seasons worth of stats, there’s only some evidence of a slowdown happening. He’s clearly played less games each successive years due to injuries, which can take longer to heal at his age and mileage level, and the fewer games does hurt the counting stats. The average has stayed strong, and that’s not a fluke given his BABIP being relatively close to those respective batting averages. Molina’s six steals in two-thirds of a season last year is still impressive. If he can stay healthy all year, there’s still a 15-home-run bat with Molina wtih a .270 average which is hard to turn down at catcher. He will get another couple year deal from St. Louis, though likely not at the $20 million level he’s at currently.
Wilson Ramos , NYM
Ramos has made his rounds the last few years with going from Washington to Tampa Bay to Philadelphia to New York for last year and this. He played the most games of his career last year with the 141 registered behind the dish, but the offensive numbers didn’t take the jump many expected for them to. The 14 homers was actually a drop from 2018, and his ISO mark of .128 was the lowest for him since 2015. While he did strikeout at a lower rate in 2019 than any previous year, his hard hit rate dropped off by eight percentage points as the contact transferred to medium hit rate and hence the drop in XBH. There is a club option on Ramos’ contract for 2021 but he’ll have to prove that he can play that many games two years in a row. The counting stats will have to pick up a bit too if he wants to convince the Mets to pick up the option. In order for the counting stats to go up, he’ll need the return to nearly 40-percent hard hit rate rather than the 31 it was last year.
James McCann , CHW
After spending the first few years in Detroit, he moved on to the White Sox for 2019 and promptly hit career-highs in basically every category of his stat line. For those that took the shot in fantasy leagues, he worked out pretty well for you at a thin position with the .273 average, 18 homers, and 60-plus runs and RBI. What did he get for that year? A heap ton of competition in the form of Yasmani Grandal at catcher and Edwin Encarnación at DH, along with Zack Collins behind the dish and at DH. It’s going to be tough for McCann to prove that 2019 was more than just a one-year wonder with that kind of competition, as he’s now expected to be the back-up catcher and back-up DH, meaning his games played will take a hit for the first time in his career. Taking a shot on him in two catcher leagues, or as second catcher for an injury pinch is what his value is reduced to as he’ll need an injury to really make sustained games in the lineup regularly.
Roberto Pérez , CLE
After the Indians traded Yan Gomes to the Nationals prior to last season, there were some questions raised about why they would do that when Perez hadn’t been known for his bat in previous seasons. Perez proved everyone else wrong, and the Indians right in making that deal. He had a career-best year in every facet and definitely made the most of the 119 games played with 24 homers, more than the previous few years combined by a wide margin. His 3.0 fWAR was more than the last three years fWAR marks combined as well. The interesting part of his line from 2019 is that he did it while having nearly identical contact rates and spray chart marks as 2018, except that he went more up the middle in 2019 than 2018 and stopped hitting to the opposite field quite as much. The 31-year-old backstop will need a repeat performance to show that it wasn’t just a one-year hot streak and to really capitalize on the catcher free agent market in the 2020-21 offseason.
Justin Smoak , MIL
Smoak is on a one-year deal with the Brewers as they needed a new first baseman for the year with Jesús Aguilar and Eric Thames both on other teams. Even heading to the hitter’s haven that is Miller Park, the numbers suggest that Smoak is in decline and has been for a few years. He has watched his counting stats continue to decline year-after-year, and even with the games played dropping, the ratios falling year over year including the BABIP and wOBAs. It’s certainly still possible for Smoak for top 20 home runs as he’s done every year for the last three years and four times in his career, but he’ll need to prove he’s healthy to do that and even if he does do that, expecting anything more than a one-year deal for the 33-year-old is a bad gamble.
Jake Lamb , ARI
Lamb was once a promising up and coming third baseman for the Diamondbacks, but the last two years have just been disastrous even when he was healthy enough to be on the field. The now 29-year-old Lamb had back-to-back 29 and 30 home runs seasons in 2016 and 2017 but then injuries struck in 2018 and 2019 holding him to just 134 total games played, and the stats aren’t pretty either. In those 394 at-bats, he’s slashed just .208/.315/.350 with 12 homers, 61 RBI, 60 runs, and two steals. Those are just above replacement level based on both bWAR and fWAR calculations. This is why we’re highlighting him in this piece. There’s a lot on the line for Lamb this year if he can stay healthy and return to the 2016-17 version of himself. He could get a multi-year deal as a 30-year-old corner infielder, but if it’s more of the 2018-19 version, he may only get a minor league deal for some team that’s hoping a change of scenery would help.
Jonathan Villar , MIA
It was an interesting offseason for Villar as he was unceremoniously traded away from the floundering Orioles only to land on a team in roughly the same spot as Baltimore, but perhaps a year ahead of them in the rebuilding process. Villar was clearly the best offensive player on the O’s last season with a sparkling 20-40 campaign, and the third or second best slash line of his seven-year MLB career. Granted he was in a good hitter’s division, but the lineup around him wasn’t much help and now he’s in a similar spot in Miami but in a park that’s a polar opposite for hitters as Camden Yards is. The other issue for Villar is the Don Mattingly doesn’t typically like to steal bags as part of his managerial style so we might see a drop off in that category, along with the fact that they plan on playing him in either centerfield or third base based on early reports from spring training. Learning a new position makes him versatile but it may also drop his offensive output as he has to think about his defense for the first time in a while. There is no doubt that Villar can be a speed threat for fantasy owners but the power and counting stats will likely drop a bit in 2020.
Jonathan Schoop , DET
We go from one former Oriole to another one in Schoop, who just spent the last couple of years in Minnesota and now is on a one-year deal to be the Tigers keystone. The years in Minnesota were similar to his past few seasons in Baltimore from a power stand point. However, the runs and RBI and the ratios dropped pretty substantially over the last two years, although that’s mainly due to him missing at least 30 games a year. Now being in Detroit, with a much worse lineup around him, it’s hard to see his numbers improving, especially in a bad hitter’s park like Detroit. He does want to prove that he can stay healthy and get some bigger interest in the offseason, but the numbers will likely make that hard to pull off.
Tommy La Stella , LAA
La Stella had a career year going in 2019 with the Angels after getting a full-time chance with them, until he broke his leg that is. Sixteen of his career 26 home runs came in the 80 games he played last year and a lot of that is being attributed to the juiced ball of last season and the boost he got from his home park in Angels Stadium. He did make some swing changes and got a boost in confidence from a starting role, which also contributed to the boost in performance. But the question is how much of that was real and how much will change with the anticipated change in ball in 2020? La Stella will be surrounded by a much improved lineup in 2020 with the Angels, but the question is just how much did the ball help his numbers? He’s on a one-year arbitration deal, and if he can replicate in 2019 numbers in a full season, it’ll go a long way to him shedding the part-time player role he had in Chicago.
César Hernández , CLE
Hernandez has been one of the most durable second baseman over the last four years playing at least 155 games in three of the last four years including 161 in each of the last two. The counting stats have also been pretty steady as well as he’s been a top of the order type bat for a stacked Phillies offense. Now he’s replacing Jason Kipnis as the second baseman in Cleveland, and he’ll likely be in the two-hole in the lineup again. The Indians have reformatted their lineup for this season as some of the veterans are out and new faces take their spot. Hernandez though is the type of guy who shouldn’t be terribly impacted by the change in teams or surroundings or teammates as the way approaches his day-to-day job doesn’t seem to ever change no matter the situation. The park is a bit less friendly this year than it was over the last few years in Philadelphia, but the division he’s in has far more hittable pitchers than the NL East did between the Mets, Nats, and even the Braves.
Justin Turner , LAD
Turner made quite a bit of noise this offseason for his willingness to switch positions if the Dodgers happened to acquire another third baseman like Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson or traded for either Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant . But what was lost in that convo is that Turner is a free agent at the end of this season and that’s possibly why the Dodgers were looking at a new third baseman. Turner came off an injury to have perhaps the best offensive season as a Dodger last year with a .290/.372/.509 with 27 home runs, 80 runs, 67 RBI, and two steals in the 135 games that he played. He’s been a pivotal part of the Dodgers prodigious offenses the last few years with his ability to be a very tough at-bat in clutch situations. The problem has been that he’s missed quite a bit of time, playing 109 games in 2018 and 135 in 2019. He’ll need to stay healthy to capitalize on his impending free agency and if he’s healthy, the offense will most assuredly come as he’ll once again be right in the middle of the order for Los Angeles and have the chance to drive in Mookie Betts on a regular basis.
Maikel Franco , KC
Franco sputtered his way out of Philly but landed on his feet in Kansas City with a one-year deal for 2020 to be their full-time third baseman. His best year with the Phillies was 2016, and since that point the counting stats including games played, have all fallen each year while the ratios have fluctuated up and down every other year in the last four. The only good thing about the last four years for him was his improving walk rate every year and the decreasing strikeout rate to go with that. That’s a good sign for a guy who could be headed for a rebound and benefit from a change of scenery. Playing full-time again without the chatter hanging over him that was in Philly could help him get back up into the 25-homer range and the expansive outfield in KC should help boost his average back up to where it was two years ago in the .270 range.
Marwin Gonzalez , MIN
Gonzalez has long been known as a super-utility type for Houston at first and then the Twins when he went there on a two-year deal. Gonzalez wound up playing every position on the field save for catcher and centerfield but that’s just the kind of player that he is. The counting stats for last year were in line with his past few seasons in Houston, but the difference was that he only played 114 games without a big fall off in stats. The slash line was a bit low, but he’s also been up and down with those in the last few years anyway. Over the last five seasons though, he has picked up 10-percent in his hard hit rate and had a career-high last year at a tick over 41-percent. He’s got an even better lineup in 2020, but will still fit a super utility role covering off days and injuries.
Didi Gregorius , PHI
Gregorius had a hard role to fill in New York as the shortstop to replace Derek Jeter and he did it very well for five years before leaving this offseason. Prior to last year, he’d had three straight years of 20-plus homers and then he missed half the season with an injury. The counting stats were where they should’ve been for a half a season, but the average was well below what we’ve been accustomed to seeing and in fact, was below his BABIP. The Yankees didn’t even offer Gregorius a qualifying offer at the end of last season, though it’s possible that they were afraid he’d accept the $17.8-million offer and thus put them in a tough financial spot. He signed a one-year, $8-million deal with Phillies and his old manager Joe Girardi. There is quite a bit of talk about how much Yankee stadium helped him put up those numbers but over the last three seasons Gregorius has posted 31 homers on the road and 37 at home while hitting .278 on the road and .253 at home. The type of swing he has plays well at Citizens Bank as well, and that’s a very good hitter’s park for lefties, so this might be a very good one year deal for him and it should help him get a multi-year deal starting in 2021.
Marcus Semien , OAK
Semien garnered quite a bit of MVP talk last season, as well he should have leading the A’s to a playoff berth and a huge year. It was a career year for Semien across the board with the best slash line of his major league career as well as the best counting stats campaign. The major question for Semien is, was his year a benefit of the juiced ball or was it just a peak year? To answer those questions let’s look at his trend in BABIP over the last several years. Since getting to Oakland, he’s posted .294 or better every year but one and this year the average finally rose to equal that mark. The other thing that helped is the fact that his K-rate has dropped each of the last four years, while his walk-rate has risen over the same time as well. The power isn’t all that shocking since he’d already posted a 27-home-run year in Oakland in 159 games with 10 steals as well. If he backs up last year’s career-year with a similar campaign, the 29-year-old stands to have a lot of suitors at the shortstop spot for a multi-year deal. If he drops back to where he’s typically been, the deal will certainly be less attractive.
Jurickson Profar , SD
Profar was dealt to the A’s prior to last season and now he’s off to San Diego on a one-year deal. He basically replicated his counting stats from the final year in Texas, but the slash line was a different story. It was an abysmal .218/.301/.410 effort despite having the same K-rate and BB-rate as 2018 when he hit .254. Now, San Diego will have him as their full-time second baseman replacing the round-robin of guys that were there last year including Luis Urías . They’re hoping for an improved average, but still the 20-10 power-speed combo before letting him go heading into 2021. Profar has now become a bit of a journeyman after being a top prospect in the Rangers’ system for a few years and San Diego will be the toughest hitter’s environment he’s ever called home but with the big outfield, there might just be an advantage to him to raise his batting average.
Nick Ahmed , ARI
It was a career-year across the board for Ahmed in every statistical category, the only problem for him is that it came the year before his contract year. Ahmed has played back-to-back 153 or more game seasons, and the production has elevated from that as 35 of his 55 career major league home runs have come in the past two years. It’s also hard to say that the uptick in homers was due to the juiced ball, as he had 16 long balls in 2018 in five fewer games. He dropped his K-rate and upped his BB-rate from 2018-2019 which helps with being able to increase power numbers. He’ll be the locked in starting shortstop once again this year for the Diamondbacks and now with the addition of Starling Marte in that lineup, it’s a deeper and more formidable bunch which should help his numbers at least stay where they were last year.
George Springer , HOU
Our first foray into the Astros in this piece and it’s their leadoff hitter in Springer. Strictly based on the stats for Springer over the last four seasons, he’s been essentially the same guy with a slight dip in numbers in 2018 though the K-rate and BB-rate and BABIP were all still in line with the other three seasons. Springer did have a career-high in homers, RBI, and ISO in the fewest games he’s played since 2015. We can say what we will about the 2019 ball and the 2017-19 Houston teams, but Springer has seem unaffected by all of it which bodes well of his prospects in the offseason, assuming he stays healthy unlike last year. Houston will surely want to keep him around and they’ll have the first crack at signing him but he may fetch a higher price than they want to pay as a 30-year-old outfielder still appearing to be in his prime years.
Jackie Bradley Jr., BOS
Bradley has been the ire of Red Sox nation for the past few years, as well as fantasy players, as the offense has been steadily dropping off since 2016 in nearly every category. The power is down from 26 to 13, runs and RBI are down from the upper-80s to the mid-60s, and the average has fallen from .267 to .225 last year, and the OBP and SLG have all lost at least 32 points as well. Now without Mookie Betts in the outfield to take some pressure off of his prolonged slump, it’s even more important for Bradley to start bringing his numbers back up to the 2016 figures. While he’s an above-average defensive outfielder, defense only carries you so far and teams may think he’s on the wrong side of 30 when he hits the open market in November, assuming Boston doesn’t sign him first.
Yoenis Céspedes , NYM
Do we really have to go in depth about Cespedes’ health history? Well for the purposes of this it’s why he’s on this list. Prior to 2017, he was one of the most consistent power hitters in the league no matter what team he was on. Then injuries cropped up on him, mainly with his heel that made it so he had a double-heel procedure done last year that took the rest of the year, and most of this offseason to recover from. Then he renegotiated his contract to save the Mets a ton of money this year in case he’s not fully healthy, but that’s where the crux of this piece comes in for Cespedes. If he’s healthy, can he return to the 30 homer, .280 hitter he’s been in the past? Or has only playing 119 games the past two years combined thrown off his timing and swing so much it’ll be a slow season for him? Spring training might be the most important for him compared to anyone else on this list, and that’s assuming we’ll see him on the field during games and not just working on the back fields. Cespedes can really help out the rest of the Mets’ lineup if he’s right and he stands to make back some of the money he gave back this offseason if that’s the case.
Joc Pederson , LAD
We’ve now gotten to the hitter on the list who had perhaps the weirdest offseason of anyone as he was dealt to the team across town only to find out a week later that the deal was off for no reason in particular. Now, Pederson gets to go back to a team that tried to trade him and arguably doesn’t have a full-time place for him in the lineup and try and put that all behind him to focus on having the best season he can to get paid before next season. Over the last four years, he’s played at least 137 games three times and in those seasons he’s topped 25 homers each time. He also hit between .246-.249, and the runs and RBI have increased each year up to career-highs last year, when the Dodgers had the best offseason in the NL. The main issue for Pederson is just how severely they limit his at-bats against southpaws, with just 49 total last year out of the 450 at-bats he had all year. All 36 home runs came off RHP and he hit .252 against them compared to .224 in the small sample versus LHP.
Adam Eaton , WAS
For a while, Nationals fans have been wondering if the trade for Eaton would pay off after giving up Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López in the swap. Well, 2019 was the year that question was answered. Eaton was a pivotal bat at the top of the order and was healthy all year, playing the second-most games he’s played in a season in his career at 151, while slashing .279/.365/.428 with 15 each of home runs and steals, 103 runs, and 49 RBI. The difference in RBI and runs is simply because he was hitting in the two hole most of the year and didn’t get a lot of RBI chances but was driven in by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto quite a bit. This was the third time his career that he topped 150 games played and in the previous two, the stat lines were very similar to 2019’s line at .287/.361/.431 and .284/.362/.428 respectively with 14-98-56-18 and 14-91-59-14 counting stats. Now without the added protection from Rendon behind him and potentially either Turner or Soto, the newly turned 31-year-old will have to show that his offense can hold up without having the kind of protection he had last year as well as he can recover from a long grinding season in 2019.
Masahiro Tanaka , NYY
It’s been an up and down past couple of season for Tanaka who has seen his ERA go from 3.07 to 4.74 to 3.75 to 4.45 last year and the FIP matches the jumps in ERA as well. It’s been well-documented that he’s had a lingering issue in the elbow that has adjusted the way he’s pitched, but really the only difference in those last few years is the dropping K-rate in both K/9 and K-percent with 9.79, 9.17, 7.37 for K/9 and 25.8, 25.0, 19.6 respectively the last three years. He’ll be 31 years old for the whole of the 2020 campaign, but age isn’t really the question here, it’s the decreasing stuff. Is the elbow causing the drop off in stuff or have hitters in the division simply figure him out and aren’t swinging and missing as much as they were previously? It’s possible that he’ll leave the only MLB team he’s ever known this offseason but again which will affect the deal more, his elbow or his stuff?
James Paxton , NYY
Tanaka’s teammate had injury questions that followed him to New York after the trade last offseason and the fact that he’s never topped 161 innings in a season. The injury bug hit him last year and kept him to 150.2 innings over 29 starts. As expected, the ERA and FIP jumped last year heading to a much tougher division in the AL East as did the HR/9 and BB/9. The WAR was still in line with the last few years, though even with the elevated numbers as the whole of MLB pitching had their numbers increase due to the juiced ball. Paxton will now miss three to four months with an offseason surgery to remove a cyst. That doesn’t give him much time to gear up and be ready to show that he can improve his numbers this year, though the Yankees might prefer this as he’ll be fresher for the postseason run they anticipate. Paxton will likely be the lefty on the market in 2021, and that should bode well for his wallet so long as the cyst issue doesn’t throw him off.
Matt Shoemaker , TOR
Shoemaker was off to a heck of a start with a 1.57 ERA (3.95 FIP) in the first 28.2 innings last year until a fluke play resulted in him tearing his ACL and his season ending in April. The last time we saw him last for more than 100 innings was 2016 finishing off a run of three-straight at 135 or more innings in which two of the three seasons had ERAs in the threes. An ACL isn’t as major for a pitcher as it is for a hitter to return from and he’s had nearly a year to rehab it so there should be no ill-effects from the injury heading into 2020. Shoemaker showed he had enough stuff to get major league hitters out at a good clip and not allow much damage on the scoreboard at the same time. Now he just has to put it together for a full year and he’ll be looking at upping the $4.2 million arbitration deal that he’s on for 2020.
Rick Porcello , NYM
Has there been a bigger fall off just a few years from winning a Cy Young? Porcello, simply put, was an absolute dumpster fire last year as he pitched to a 5.22 ERA over 174 innings which was more than two full runs higher than his Cy Young winning year. Porcello has made a move that should help him as he signed with the Mets and goes to the National League, though it’s not the easiest division. Porcello will compete for a spot in the rotation during spring training but will clearly need to show he is far improved over what he was doing last year to earn and hold the spot with the other options they have also in the running. On a one-year deal, the pressure is on him to prove he can rebound and possibly earn a long-term deal after 2020.
Julio Teheran , LAA
Teheran is out of Atlanta for the first time in his career and goes to the West Coast as the only major pitching move the Angels wound up making this offseason. He signed a one-year deal to join the Angels and theoretically be the ace of the staff heading into the year. The interesting part about Teheran is he’s one of the pitchers on this list that has actually improved his stats each of the last three years as the ERA, FIP, HR/9, K/9, LOB%, and K-BB% as he got used to pitching at SunTrust Park instead of Turner Field. The problem for him though, is that now he’s at a better hitter’s park and division than he was in Atlanta, as Angels Stadium has given up more home runs the last few years than Coors has. However, over the last few years Teheran has been better against left-handed hitters which is where most of the power comes in L.A. Teheran will never be an ace-caliber pitcher, but he is certainly a very good mid-rotation arm who, if he can replicate the 2017-2019 improvements in 2020, he’ll have a busier offseason next year.
Chris Archer , PIT
Has there been a more maligned pitcher the last few years than Archer? Not that it isn’t deserved for his performances since leaving Tampa Bay. The two years in Pittsburgh have seen him get injured and when he’s been on the mound, the only thing he’s done is strike guys out at a lower clip than he did in Tampa but that’s about it. The ERA has skyrocketed for him, though the FIP doesn’t look quite so bad, and even the strikeout rate that he’s known for isn’t as high as it was with the Rays. His strikeout rate has not been above 27.2-percent with the Pirates after hitting 29-percent his last full years with the Rays. The problem for Archer is that he’s so reliant on his fastball and his other stuff hasn’t been as good so hitters are timing him up better now. He’ll have to show he can mix pitches better this year if he’s going to entice a team into a multi-year deal on him this offseason.
Alex Wood , LAD
Wood is back with the Dodgers after a one-year stint in Cincinnati following the trade last offseason. The Dodgers need rotation help to be sure since Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda left and were dealt in this offseason, which means Wood will get a lot of chances to prove he’s healthy and can replicate the success he had the last time he was in L.A. The southpaw had two straight years of 150-plus innings with FIPs between 3.30 and 3.50, while striking out 23-percent of hitters. His “year” in Cincy had him pitching just 35 innings for the Reds after coming back from injury, but those 35 innings were atrocious. Wood posted a 5.80 ERA and an even worse 6.38 FIP and for only the second time in his big league career, struck out less than 20-percent of hitters, though it is a small sample size to be sure. Wood is clearly comfortable in L.A., and with Dave Roberts using his as both a starter and reliever as each of the last three years with the Dodgers, Wood has made a handful of relief appearances. They got him for a bargain, but if he can produce a similar year to the previous ones in L.A., he’ll go for a lot more on the open market in 2021.
Trevor Bauer , CIN
The outspoken Bauer had an interesting year in 2019, to say the least. He started as one of the highest picked pitchers for the Indians in fantasy leagues and by midseason was shown throwing a ball over the centerfield wall from the pitcher’s mound, in disappointment about how the game was going, and then was traded to Cincinnati right after that. Once he got to Cincy, his ERA in the second half of the year shot up more than two runs, though the FIP and xFIP didn’t see that big of a jump, and the HR/9 rate went from 1.16 in Cleveland to 1.89 in Great American Ballpark. Now that he’s had an offseason to adjust to the new confines and city, the question is will we get the Bauer from 2018 and his 2.21 ERA in 175.1 innings or will it be more of the same with an ERA in the mid-fours and a drop in the ground ball rate again? The trick to Bauer’s success is his ground ball rate, as every time it’s been above 40-percent for a season, the FIP is in the mid-threes or in 2018’s case the mid-twos but when it drops below 40-percent, the FIP is in the mid-fours and the home run rates go up for him as well. If Bauer can keep the off field stuff, off the field, and worry less about the Astros and Manfred’s marketing plans, he should be in a good spot to rebound in 2020 and setup for a nice contract heading into 2021.
Ian Kennedy , KC
Kennedy is just the latest in the long line of starters turned reliever turned closer as he became the saves getter for the Royals last year, and was very proficient at it. After being a full-time starter his whole career, Kansas City used him as the closer in 2019 and he racked up 30 saves in 34 chances and had a 3-2 record with a 3.41 ERA and 2.99 FIP while racking up the best K-rate of his career at 10.37 K/9. He also changed his pitch mix and went down to three pitches from the four or sometimes five he used as a starter and utilized his fastball, cutter, and curveball, which all saw an uptick in average velocity as well. It’s not uncommon to see a pitcher’s stuff play up when they go to the bullpen as they can crank it up knowing they don’t have to pace for several innings on the mound. Kennedy enters this year as the de facto closer in KC, and if he can repeat his performance from 2019, there are always teams looking to pay a nice price to get a closer in the back of their pen on the open market.
Blake Treinen , LAD
Treinen was arguably the best reliever in the game in 2018 and was remarkably dominant in his first full year with the Athletics after being traded from DC in the middle of the 2017 campaign. It was a shock to most people that he lost the closer role in 2019 after posting 38 saves and a miniscule 0.78 ERA and 11.2 K/9 in 2019, but it turned out that he was injured and hence the reason for his struggles in 2019. Once Liam Hendriks took over the ninth inning role for the A’s, Treinen was expendable in their eyes. He went to L.A. on a one-year deal to be the setup man for Kenley Jansen , and possibly occasional closer on off days for Jansen. Treinen has the stuff to be a very effective late-inning reliever if that arm is healthy and there are no lingering effects from the back issue he had. The last time he was in this role with the Nationals, he posted a 2.28 ERA over 67 innings in 73 appearances in 2016, if the Dodgers get that from him, expect this to turn into a long-term relationship.
Dellin Betances , NYM
Betances, the long-time staple of the Yankees bullpen and one-time untouchable prospect, pitched all of two-thirds of an inning last year as he was down with an injury. Before this he had five-straight dominant years out of the pen, in which he posted 100-plus strikeouts each year in between 59 and 90 innings each year. The Mets scooped him up on a one-year deal hoping that he’s healthy and back to being dominant, as they needed depth to their bullpen to get to Edwin Díaz and try and help him out some. Betances is clearly used to being in New York, though under a lot more scrutiny and pressure than the Mets are usually under (sorry Mets’ fans) so it’s really just about him being healthy to secure that long-term deal he was hoping to get this past offseason had he not gotten injured first.
David Robertson , PHI
Robertson continues the trend of relievers coming oft injured 2019 campaigns but in his case he’s coming off a Tommy John surgery. Robertson was signed to a two-year, $23-million deal prior to the 2019 season, and then lasted all of 6.2 innings on the mound for Philadelphia before being injured. He was signed to be the closer and there’s still a chance he can notch some saves this year, though he’ll still be rehabbing to start the year and will be put in lower leverage situations when he first comes back. He has the goods to be a very solid closer, having posted three-straight season of 34 or more saves with the White Sox before being dealt to the Yankees and shifted to a setup role. Even though Robertson enters this 2020 as his age-34 season there will be plenty of suitors for a two or three year deal if he can prove he’s fully back from the Tommy John surgery he had early last season.
Shane Greene , ATL
Greene was all the talk around the trade deadline as a guy that had been a closer that could get saves and was having a great start to the year with a 1.09 ERA in the first half for a floundering Tigers team. He’d also had a mid-twos ERA in the 2017 season with a handful of saves before notching 32 saves in 2018 with an awful 5.12 ERA (4.61 FIP and 4.06 xFIP). Despite that great year and a half run with the 2.66 and 1.09 ERAs, his career ERA sits at 4.50 entering the 2020 campaign and he’s on the outside looking in on the closer role in Atlanta with Mark Melancon and Will Smith also in that the bullpen. Greene is likely better suited for a setup role as that’s where his ERA has done the best, and he’ll have to hope he fares better in 2020 in Atlanta than he did in the second of of 2019 when he posted a 3.64 ERA and 3.85 FIP while getting used to his new home surroundings. Otherwise there might not be a great offer for this reliever.
Kirby Yates , SD
Yates’ move to San Diego two seasons ago has done wonders for his stock coming into the 2020 season, and the final one on his current contract. In the last two years he’s combined for 53 saves in 57 chances (41 coming last year) while striking out 191 batters in 123.2 innings and that’s not even mentioning the ERA at 1.67, FIP at 1.93, xFIP at 2.45, and a K-rate of 38.7-percent. That’s simply filthy and that makes him the top reliever potentially going on the market in 2021, assuming he can make it through 2020 unscathed. Closers can be fickle things as it’s hard to find one that last as long as say Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman has, but another season like the past two and Yates might be in that class and he could get a deal that puts him in that class as well financially.
Liam Hendriks , OAK
The 31-year-old reliever who’s now on his fourth team in his career, and who’d never recorded more than just one save in his career prior to last year, took the closer role by storm in Oakland last season and finished with 25 saves in 32 chances and a 1.80 ERA and 1.87 FIP in 85 innings while striking out 124 and walking just 21. However, and this is a big however, even with that great season factored in, his career ERA sits at 4.22 and his career FIP is 3.56 in 491 major league innings. Those 124 strikeouts from 2019 make up 25.3-percent of his career total for a guy that’s been in the majors each year since 2011. What we’re getting at here is that he has to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke or that it was because of the change in ball helping him out in terms of the lower seams on the ball. The A’s clearly believe he can repeat that feat as they let Treinen go after an injury-shortened season, but will other teams believe it unless they see it again in 2020? Most likely not for the money he’s hoping to get in the upcoming offseason, and the difference in money that’s spent on closers versus middle relievers.