Beginning earlier this week, on Monday afternoon, MLB free agents could begin signing with other teams. Now, free agency in baseball isn't like the NFL and NBA, where there is a land rush for players at the first minute the gates open. Baseball has become a slow, almost glacial burn for many of these guys. The list of Houston Astro free agents looks like this:
PLAYER POS AGE 2019 SALARY
Gerrit Cole SP 29 $13,500,000
Joe Smith RP 36 $8,000,000
Collin McHugh RP 33 $5,800,000
Robinson Chirinos C 36 $5,750,000
Wade Miley SP 33 $5,000,000
Hector Rondon RP 32 $4,500,000
Will Harris RP 35 $4,225,000
Martin Maldonado C 33 $2,500,000
Let's dig into these one by one as the market is currently open for any of these guys to find new homes or decide to return to Houston:
GERRIT COLE, SP (20-5, 2.50 ERA, 212.1 IP, 326 K, 0.895 WHIP, 6.8 WAR)
Cole is at the top of every free agency list that you will find online. I don't know that I've ever seen an athlete, not just in baseball but in any sport, have a better contract year than Gerrit Cole did with the Astros in 2019, and yet he may not even be deemed by the Baseball Writers Association to be the best pitcher on his own team when the Cy Young Award is announced. For what it's worth, Cole issued this little adios to the city of Houston just one day after Game 7 of the World Series:
That sounds like someone who is leaving, but that won't stop Astros owner Jim Crane from at least trying to keep him:
Astros owner Jim Crane says it is “a possibility” the club goes over the luxury tax threshold for 2020, and also says “we’re going to take a run” at re-signing Gerrit Cole. pic.twitter.com/wcQlXmw7xE— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) November 4, 2019
In the end, the die was cast on this one long ago. Cole will head to New York or Los Angeles and become the highest paid pitcher in baseball history, the Astros will still find a way to win over 100 games next season, and the world will keep on spinnin'.
ODDS OF RETURNING: 2 percent
JOE SMITH, RP (1-0, 1.80 ERA, 28 G, 25.0 IP, 22 K, 0.960 WHIP, 0.7 WAR)
Smith is an interesting case. He just finished up a season where he came back from an Achilles tear to have maybe the best run of baseball of his career, including a postseason where he was fantastic, up until the final inning of Game 7. His sidearm delivery makes him an intriguing situational component of any bullpen, and he is as well liked among teammates as any player you'll find. (One good popularity litmus test is how well attended players' charity events are by their current teammates. I've been to several of these, and Smith's event for helping aspiring parents with the gene for Huntington Disease was maybe the most well attended I've seen for an Astros player, considering it was a lunchtime event on a game day. Not insignificant.)
ODDS OF RETURNING: 40 percent
COLLIN McHUGH, RP (4-5, 4.70 ERA, 35 G, 8 GS, 74.2 IP, 82 K, 1.232 WHIP, 0.4 WAR)
Man, McHugh is hitting free agency one season too late. If he were hitting the market after 2018, I think he'd be seen as a super intriguing bullpen piece with starter's capabilities. That season, he added a stupid slider to his repertoire, on his way to a 1.99 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 72.1 innings pitched. However, in 2019, he was banged up for most of the season and finished the year on the injured list. Some team will be very happy if McHugh is healthy, and his goodbye string on Twitter has me feeling like that place may not be Houston...
Houston,— Collin McHugh (@Collin_McHugh) November 1, 2019
Before 2014, I was a baseball player without a home. A seasonal worker who had put 200,000+ miles on my Honda Accord. My wife and I had bounced from city to city trying to find a place that would accept us, that would allow us to stay for a while...
McHugh was one of my favorite Astros to cover over the last five years, so here's hoping he's back. I'm not so sure, though.
ODDS OF RETURNING: 25 percent
ROBINSON CHIRINOS, C (.238/.347/.443, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 3.8 WAR)
Chirinos also missed a goodbye on social media after the World Series....
Man, I like this guy. But you know who REALLY likes him? Justin Verlander, that's who, and I think that's a driving reason why he will be back on something like a two year, $12 million-ish type of deal.
ODDS OF RETURNING: 60 percent
WADE MILEY, SP (14-6, 3.98 ERA, 33 GS, 167.1 IP, 140 K, 1.345 WHIP, 2.0 WAR)
Man, the Miley free agency journey should be as fascinating as his precipitous fall from "latest Strom rejuvenation story" in August to "not on the 25 man roster" for the World Series. Miley's September was a disaster — 1-2, 16.68 ERA, opposing OPS of 1.205. Basically, every team he faced in September may as well have had nine peak level Yordan Alvarezes in their lineup. His workload was its highest since 2015, so maybe he ran out of gas. Either way, he was probably looking at a multiyear deal in the $10 million per year range before September. Now, who knows? If the Astros bring him back, then I'm confident that they know what happened with him, and that it's fixable. That said, I think they move on.
ODDS OF RETURNING: 10 percent
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HECTOR RONDON, RP (3-2, 3.71 ERA, 62 G, 60.2 IP, 48 K, 1.253 WHIP, 0.8 WAR)
Rondon had fallen to the level of "mop up guy, if needed" by the time the latter part of the postseason rolled around. I could see him coming back as a cheap component of a shuffled situational/long relief portion of the Astros bullpen. If not, then whatever.
ODDS OF RETURNING: 40 percent
WILL HARRIS, RP (4-1, 1.50 ERA, 68 G, 4 SV, 60.0 IP, 62 K, 0.933 WHIP, 2.1 WAR)
Middle relievers in their mid 30s don't often get a chance to cash in, but having made slightly over $10 million for his entire career, Harris may have the chance to make that in 2020 alone on a new deal once he hits the market for the first time. The Howie Kendrick home run notwithstanding, Harris was one of the most reliable Astros throughout the postseason, and will be missed (and likely not retained) if his market gets too rich, which I'm guessing it will.
ODDS OF RETURNING: 30 percent
MARTIN MALDONADO, C (.213/.293/.378, 12 HR, 27 RBI, 1.4 WAR)
The Astros went out and made a deal for Maldonado at the trade deadline, so obviously there was something they liked about him. I could see him coming back as part of a quasi-platoon with Chirinos (or someone else), but more likely, especially with Cole (Maldonado was his personal catcher) likely gone, the Astros will probably save a few million and go cheap at backup catcher, with a Garrett Stubbs type.
ODDS OF RETURNING: 30 percent