Top 25 MLB Free Agents and Where They Might Land
MLB's Top 25 Free Agents
Much like the NFL draft, MLB free agency is one of the most exciting times of the year. But unlike the NFL draft, it doesn’t last just several days – it lasts for months.
The 2012-2013 free agent class in major league baseball is one of the weaker classes there has been in quite some time. Josh Hamilton heads the list, and he should get a huge deal – Hamilton still has at least five or six more years in his prime and he’s averaged nearly 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs per season since 2008.
The selections drop off dramatically after Hamilton, which means the next tier of players will likely be overpaid. Those candidates include guys like Nick Swisher, B.J. Upton, and Michael Bourn, all of whom will command four to five year deals worth $10-15 million per season.
The pitchers are headed by Zack Greinke, a 29-year old ace who was a big midseason trade acquisition for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in late July. Greinke will be getting anywhere from $120-$140 million over five to seven years, and while that’s too much to pay for a pitcher like him, it’s the law of supply and demand.
The next tier of pitchers includes arms like Dan Haren, Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Kyle Lohse, and Edwin Jackson, all of whom will probably receive at least $50 or $60 million.
And in today’s world, the best relief pitchers will be fighting for at least $40-$50 million, a la the monster deal Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2012 campaign. That’s good news for closers like Rafael Soriano, Ryan Madson, or Jose Valverde.
I broke down the top 25 available free agents, which teams will be bidding for their services the most, and how much the players can expect as a contract.
25. Jose Valverde
Jose Valverde’s value in free agency certainly dropped with his horrific 2012 postseason (nine earned runs allowed in just 2.2 innings). He’s also 34 years old and coming off a campaign in which his strikeout rate dropped to just 6.3 batters per nine innings, which is normally a big indicator a pitcher is on the decline.
But Valverde is a big-name closer and teams historically overpay for closers. Valverde has posted a 2.92 and averaged 38 saves per season since 2006. That’s proof that he can get it done in the ninth inning.
Top Teams: Tigers, Red Sox
Projected Deal: Three Years, $30 Million
24. Cody Ross
Nobody is going to give Cody Ross a contract that Nick Swisher would get. But Ross is a solid veteran power hitter that should get a multi-year deal with a team in need of a good bat.
Ross posted strong numbers in 2012 – 22 home runs and 81 RBIs plus an .807 OPS. He has hit 20 home runs three times and it’s time he gets a contract for longer than one season.
Top Teams: Boston Red Sox
Projected Deal: Two Years, $14 Million
23. Adam LaRoche
How many people realize Adam LaRoche has hit 20 home runs for eight straight seasons? He hit 33 in 2012 with 100 RBIs and a .510 slugging percentage.
LaRoche has an option for the 2013 season but he declined it, making him a free agent. LaRoche is 32 years old and a left-handed hitter who has shown remarkable consistency over his career.
I predict the Washington Nationals – now that they’re serious contenders – keep LaRoche.
Top Teams: Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Deal: Three Years, $33 Million
22. Melky Cabrera
Before he got busted for performance-enhacing drugs, Melky Cabrera was in line for a near-$100 million deal.
He will still be a reasonably attractive commodity in free agency though. Cabrera is just 28 years old, he’s a switch-hitter, and he can hit for power and average – assuming he’s at least most of the player he was without the ‘roids.
Cabrera will probably get a one-year, prove-it deal from some team that isn’t the San Francisco Giants.
Top Teams: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
Projected Deal: One Year, $10 Million
21. A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski spent 2012 putting up his best offensive numbers in his contract year, hitting 27 home runs with 77 RBIs and a .501 slugging percentage.
He’s spent the last eight seasons in Southside Chicago, where he even helped deliver a World Series championship. Pierzynski will almost assuredly test the market and I predict the New York Yankees sign him for 2013.
Top Teams: Yankees
Projected Deal: Two Years, $20 Million
20. Torii Hunter
He may be 37 years old already but Torii Hunter had another strong campaign in 2012, hitting .313 with 16 home runs and 92 RBIs.
Hunter likely won’t be back in Los Angeles considering Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo are in the waiting, and Peter Bourjos is there as well.
Hunter – like A.J. Pierzynski – seems like a good fit for the New York Yankees, especially since the Yankees will lose Nick Swisher.
Top Teams: Yankees, Angels
Projected Deal: Two Years, $16 Million
19. Ryan Dempster
Teams overpaid for starting pitchers and someone will definitely overpay for Ryan Dempster.
I predict the Arizona Diamondbacks sign Dempster to replace Joe Saunders, who was traded to Baltimore at the All-Star break.
Top Teams: Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers
Projected Deal: Two Years, $18 Million (Third Year Option)
18. Kevin Youkilis
The fact that there are almost no third basemen in free agency pushes up Kevin Youkilis’ free agency stock.
He is 33 years old and has seen a significant decline in his offensive statistics as of late. But there should still be a demand for an everyday third baseman that can get a team 20 home runs and 75 RBIs.
Top Teams: Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox
Projected Deal: Two Years, $16 Million
17. Angel Pagan
Angel Pagan had a quietly successful year in 2012, hitting .288 with 29 steals and a league-best 15 triples. He’s hitting free agency for the first time, and as a 31-year old switch-hitting center fielder, Pagan should be a fairly attractive option.
Pagan re-signing with the San Francisco Giants would be the ideal move. After all, they can always use hitting, and since they have a good one on them, why let him go?
Top Teams: Giants, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Deal: Three Years, $36 Million
16. Ryan Madson
Madson then underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in spring training and never threw a pitch for his new team. He has since declined his mutual option, meaning the Reds paid him $8.5 million for essentially nothing.
Madson has said he wants a new deal, and he will likely get one. It won’t be as much as it would have been had he not gotten hurt. But he’ll cash in fairly well, with the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees being top candidates.
Top Teams: Red Sox, Yankees, Washington Nationals
Projected Deal: Three Years, $27 Million
15. Rafael Soriano
Unofficially, Rafael Soriano became the first relief pitcher in major league history to opt out of a contract in which he was due to make $14 million the following season.
Soriano hits free agency again and he will be a top pitcher, as he posted strong numbers in 2012 – 2.26 ERA, 42 saves, and a 9.2 strikeout rate. He’s 32 years old which means he has plenty more to offer, and he has said he wants a four-year deal.
Sports Illustrated is reporting Soriano wants $60 million on his contract, an offer that would exceed what Jonathan Papelbon got by $10 million – and Papelbon’s deal was a record deal.
Top Teams: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers
Projected Deal: Three Years, $38 Million (Fourth Year Option)
14. Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli showed a significant decline in his numbers from 2011 to 2012, but it’s not enough to make him unwanted in free agency.
He batted .320 with 30 home runs in ’11, then fall off to just .227 with 24 home runs in ’12. He’s a .275 hitter or less every year of his career except 2011, so it looks as if that year was the exception, not the rule.
Napoli is a 31-year old catcher with good offense, and I think the Texas Rangers will keep him.
Top Teams: Rangers, New York Mets
Projected Deal: Three Years, $34 Million
13. Edwin Jackson
The starting pitching market is underwhelming, so Edwin Jackson will cash in at a greater price than he otherwise would have.
Jackson is coming off a campaign in which he went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA, but he’s just 29 years old, he has made an All-Star team, he strikes out a high percentage of hitters, and he has virtually no injury history.
Top Teams: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays
Projected Deal: Four Years, $52 Million
12. Hiroki Kuroda
If Hiroki Kuroda was 28 years old and not 38, he would be arguably the hottest pitcher on the free agent market.
He went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA that ranked eighth in the American League in 2012, and he posted career bests in games started (33), innings pitched (219.2), and strikeouts (167).
There’s no reason for the pitching-starved New York Yankees to let him walk so I see them agreeing to a two-year deal with Kuroda.
Top Teams: Yankees
Projected Deal: Two Years, $30 Million
11. Shaun Marcum
Shaun Marcum is in no way a spectacular pitcher but he’s a very reliable third starter and borderline number two on a good team.
Marcum is 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA since 2010, and a 3.06 strikeout to walk ratio. Those are numbers that compare favorably to Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, or James Shields.
Given that the Milwaukee Brewers already lost Zack Greinke, it makes sense for the club to re-sign Marcum.
Top Teams: Brewers, Chicago Cubs
Projected Deal: Three Years, $36 Million (Fourth Year Option)
10. David Ortiz
There seemed to be no other likely source for David Ortiz than the Boston Red Sox, and reports have just indicated that Ortiz has agreed to a two-year, $26 million contract extension with the team.
Ortiz was quietly on pace for one of his best years in 2012 before injuries derailed his season. He still finished with 23 home runs, 60 RBIs, a .318/.415/.611 statline, and a 1.026 OPS that was his best since ’07.
Already Signed: Boston Red Sox
9. Kyle Lohse
Getting rocked in the postseason (five earned runs in two innings of a Game 7 NLCS start) definitely doesn’t help Kyle Lohse’s contract status.
Lohse was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 2012, leading the National League with 33 games started and a .842 winning percentage. He posted a career-low 1.6 walk rate and 1.090 WHIP.
Considering Lohse got a four-year, $41 million deal before 2009, he should get at least that deal now. He’s older but he’s also coming off a better 2012 than his 2008 season, and that will make him a quality option for many teams.
Top Teams: Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs
Projected Deal: Four Years, $55 Million
8. Shane Victorino
Shane Victorino really hurt his free agent stock with his rough second half of 2012 – hitting just .245 with a .667 OPS for the Los Angeles Dodgers while playing left field (with Matt Kemp in center field).
He was a .277/.347/.454 hitter with the Philadelphia Phillies from 2009 through 2011, averaging 31 doubles, 13 triples, 15 home runs, 64 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases per season, while playing stellar defense in center field.
He is 31 years old already so his poor ’12 may be the cause of his getting older. But that won’t stop a team from offering him at least four years in free agency worth $50-$60 million. The Dodgers could always re-sign him to play left field (or right field since they’re thinking about trading Andre Ethier).
Top Teams: San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves
Projected Deal: Four Years, $58 Million
7. B.J. Upton
B.J. Upton is a rarity among major league baseball players, as he’s hitting free agency at just 28 years old. Upton is a 20-20 threat every year, he can play center field, and he’s led the Tampa Bay Rays to a World Series already.
Upton has some serious flaws in his game, as he’s averaged 156 strikeouts per campaign since 2007. He is just a .255 career hitter and he’s frequently among the league leaders in errors at his position.
But you can’t teach that kind of power-speed combination, and that will get Upton a sizeable deal.
Top Teams: Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves
Projected Deal: Five Years, $70 Million
6. Dan Haren
Earlier today, reports of a Dan Haren trade to the Chicago Cubs fell through, much like the Ryan Dempster to Atlanta trade this past summer.
Whether Haren will be traded remains to be seen. But if the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim decline his 2013 option, Haren becomes a free agent and will be highly sought-after.
Top Teams: Cubs, Angels, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves
Projected Deal: Five Years, $75 Million
5. Anibal Sanchez
If Anibal Sanchez is the fifth-best pitcher in free agency (and second-best pitcher), that’s a pretty clear indicator the free agency class is subpar.
Sanchez was traded to the Detroit Tigers at midseason and put up a strong second half, posting a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts while throwing 20.1 dominating playoff innings. He will be in line for a big contract, which is fairly shocking considering he’s won more than 10 games in a season just once.
Top Teams: Tigers, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals
Projected Deal: Five Years, $55 Million
4. Nick Swisher
Over the last seven seasons, Nick Swisher is one of just five American League players with at least 185 home runs and a .365 on-base percentage (Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Paul Konerko, and Mark Teixeira).
Swisher is remarkably consistent. He’s also a switch-hitter and he can play all three outfield positions (although center field isn’t ideal), as well as first base.
He’s 31 years old and he’s an extremely similar player to Andre Ethier, who just got a five-year, $85 million deal. Swisher won’t be back with the New York Yankees but there will be some interest in him.
Top Teams: Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Deal: Five Years, $80 Million
3. Michael Bourn
Michael Bourn has enjoyed a remarkable four-year stretch since 2009, batting .280 while averaging 93 runs scored, 10 triples, and 54 stolen bases during that span. He’s led the league in steals three times and he’s a phenomenal defensive center fielder.
Bourn is still just 29 years old and he’s an All-Star and a Gold Glover. He should cash in big during free agency.
Top Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants
Projected Deal: Five Years, $72 Million
2. Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke will get overpaid in free agency, that’s for certain. He’s unquestionably the top starting pitcher in the open market this offseason, and that will get him a nine-figure deal.
Greinke is about the same age as Cole Hamels, who just got a six-year, $144 million extension from the Philadelphia Phillies. Greinke hasn’t been as impressive or as consistent but he just went 16-6, 3.83 ERA for the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers and then 15-5, 3.48 ERA for the Brewers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012.
Greinke strikes out 200 batters per season, he’s an All-Star and Cy Young award winner, and he has stayed relatively injury-free during his career. I expect the Angels to go all in for him. Matt Cain got a five-year, $112.5 million extension, so that could be a building block for Greinke.
Top Teams: Angels, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers
Projected Deal: Six Years, $125 Million
1. Josh Hamilton
There are a lot of factors going for Josh Hamilton – he’s coming off a 43-home run season in which he drove in 128 runs, posted a .577 slugging percentage, and compiled a .930 OPS.
Hamilton has his fair share of well-publicized off-the-field issues and he’s 31 years old, which could cut his contract by two years or so. But he can play all three outfield positions, he’s averaged .305/.363/.549 with 28 home runs and 101 RBIs the last five seasons, and he has an MVP award and five All-Star appearances to his name.
Hamilton can instantly provide six to eight extra wins for whichever team wins the bidding for his services, and there will be a long list of teams waiting.
Top Teams: Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles
Projected Deal: Six Years, $160 Million