Earlier this fall I counted down the top 111 free agents of this offseason. Since then, several players have had their options picked up or contracts extended, taking them out of play. With the free agent signing period beginning tonight, it’s a good time to update that list and count them down once again. Up first, the top 50 free agents. I’ll have nos. 51-111 out early next week.
Players on this list are ranked based not on how I view them, but more on how I believe teams perceive them. Essentially, they are ranked according to the contracts I expect they’ll receive.
Gone from the original top 50 that came out two months ago are Jake Peavy (No. 7), Chris Iannetta (No. 23), Fernando Rodney (No. 26), Ervin Santana (No. 31), Paul Maholm (No. 34), Colby Lewis (No. 39), Jhonny Peralta (No. 44), Brandon League (No. 45), J.J. Putz (No. 46). That makes for a shallower list already.
Before scoffing at some of the contracts projected below, remember that we have a new national TV deal and several teams getting increased revenue locally as well. The way I see it, there’s more money out there than there are players to spend it on.
All ages are as of April 1, 2013. Included along with each player is where he ranked in the original top 111 done in early September.
50. Roy Oswalt (RHP Rangers – Age 35 – Prev. #51): If Oswalt had it to do all over again, it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have signed with the Rangers as a free agent. He was bounced from the rotation after getting lit up in three of his six starts, and while he did get three more starts later in the season, he didn’t do much with them. Oswalt was still throwing 90-93 mph last season. It’s not his old 92-95 mph, but it still should be enough to make him a third or fourth starter if he can make some adjustments. Still, he may prefer retirement to mediocrity.
49. Mike Adams (RHP Rangers – Age 34 – Prev. #36): When Adams suddenly gave up three homers in his 61st appearance of the season — after allowing a total of one in the first 60 — it was obvious that something wasn’t right. He was shut down afterwards, and he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in October. It was a terrible break for a 34-year-old eligible for free agency for the first time. Adams has been one of the game’s most valuable relievers the last three years, and he might have gotten a shot at closing next year. Now that he’s iffy for Opening Day, he’s probably in line for an incentive-laden one-year deal.
48. Jose Valverde (RHP Tigers – Age 35 – Prev. #29): Will anyone remember that Valverde went 35-for-40 saving games during the regular season? Of course, the signs were discouraging even then. His 3.78 ERA and 1.25 WHIP were hardly bad, but they came with a greatly diminished strikeout rate (48/27 K/BB in 69 IP). The implosion took place in the postseason. After a perfect inning for a save in his first appearance, he gave up nine runs while getting just five outs in his next three. Valverde probably isn’t finished as a useful reliever, but he’s going to be hard to trust as a closer and his history of struggling in non-save situations will cause contenders to shy away. He’d make the most sense as a cheap closer in Houston, Miami or Minnesota.
47. Francisco Liriano (LHP White Sox – Age 29 – Prev. #43): With ERAs of 5.09 and 5.34 in consecutive years, Liriano certainly isn’t entering free agency at the peak of his value. That said, he’s still just 29, he’s left-handed and he struck out 167 batters in 156 2/3 innings last season; he won’t be hurting for suitors. Odds are that most of his offers will be of the one-year variety, and he’d probably prefer that, since it’d give him a chance to pull off a bigger score if he can turn in a better season. One imagines the Yankees and Red Sox will both be interested in taking a flier. Still, he might be better off in a bigger ballpark in the NL.
46. Ryan Madson (RHP Reds – Age 32 – Prev. #50): Madson is hoping to be ready for Opening Day after Tommy John surgery, and he shouldn’t have any trouble landing a closer gig, as long as he doesn’t hold out for too much money up front. One of the game’s top relievers previously, he was 32-for-34 saving games for the Phillies in 2011, amassing a 2.37 ERA along the way. He’ll probably seek a one-year deal in the hopes of landing a larger contract next winter.
45. Kelly Johnson (2B Blue Jays – Age 31 – Prev. #54): The strikeouts are up and the power production is down for Johnson, and while he was still an average regular in 2011, he was well below in 2012. Fortunately for him, the infield market is terribly weak this winter, and Johnson is the one second baseman available with a realistic chance of hitting 20 homers next year. He’d only require a one-year commitment, probably at no more than $5 million-$6 million, so there isn’t much risk.
44. Joe Saunders (LHP Orioles – Age 31 – Prev. #56): Saunders was 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in Rangers Ballpark before he went and beat Texas in the wild card game last month. He pitched well again in Yankee Stadium in the ALDS six days later, with the Orioles pulling that game out 2-1. Including those two outings, he had a 3.21 ERA in nine starts for Baltimore after being picked up from Arizona in August. He’s not big with the strikeouts and he can be rather homer-prone, but he’s durable and still relatively young at 31. He’ll definitely have a bigger market this winter than he did after being non-tendered by the Diamondbacks last year.
43. Melky Cabrera (OF Giants – Age 28 – Prev. #28): Given the chance to bring Cabrera back from his 50-game PED suspension for the NLCS and World Series, the Giants declined and then ended up going all of the way with Gregor Blanco in left field. It’s ludicrous to think that steroids turned Cabrera from a fourth outfielder into a .346 hitter — if they worked that well, everyone would still be trying to beat the system — but then Cabrera never figured to remain a .346 hitter anyway. The team that signs him will probably be hoping that he turns in a season like his 2011, when he hit .305/.339/.470 for the Royals. Still, recent speculation suggests that no one is going to be up to gambling $8 million-$10 million on it.
42. Koji Uehara (RHP Rangers – Age 37 – Prev. NR): At 7.96:1, Uehara has the highest K/BB ratio of any pitcher in major league history, minimum 200 innings pitched. The next highest is Sergio Romo at 5.77:1. Last season, Uehara struck out 43 and walked just three in 36 innings. His workload needs to be strictly monitored and there’s a good chance he’ll get hurt regardless, but he’s a big-time weapon out of the pen, one that would help any contender.
41. Sean Burnett (LHP Nationals – Age 30 – Prev. #59): Burnett finished the season without his usual stuff, and it showed when he gave up four runs in one of his two NLDS appearances against the Cardinals. Minor elbow surgery to remove a couple of bone spurs followed in October, but it isn’t expected to affect his preparation for 2013. As a result, he remains one of the top lefties available. Burnett finished 2012 with a 2.38 ERA in 56 2/3 innings, and lefties have a .225/.291/.303 line against him in his career. He’s a candidate for a three-year deal, probably in the $12 million range.
40. Lance Berkman (1B Cardinals – Age 37 – Prev. #30): One of the NL’s best players in 2011, Berkman was limited to 81 at-bats by knee problems last season. He’s contemplating retirement, though it sounds like he’s leaning towards playing if he gets an offer he likes. The problem there is that he doesn’t want to DH. He’d also prefer to stay in the National League. Milwaukee would seem to be a really nice fit, since the Brewers would still have Mat Gamel available as a fallback. As good as he was in 2011 (.301/.412/.547 with 31 homers in 488 at-bats), it’d be worth giving him $6 million-$7 million to see what he has left.
39. Carlos Villanueva (RHP Blue Jays – Age 29 – Prev. #48): A poor finish took some bloom off Villanueva’s rose, but behind the 4.50 ERA in 16 starts for the Jays was a strong 86/25 K/BB ratio in 92 innings. And if he doesn’t work out as a starting pitcher, he’s still pretty valuable in middle relief. Villanueva’s main problem has always been the home run ball; put him in a bigger ballpark and he’ll probably match or better the numbers of some of the guys who will end up with much bigger contracts this winter.
38. Kyuji Fujikawa (RHP Japan – Age 32 – Prev. #49): Long one of Japan’s top relievers, Fujikawa has been looking to make the jump across the Pacific for years. Now that he’s finally eligible for free agency for the first time at age 32, there’s nothing stopping him from signing with an MLB team. His low-90s fastball isn’t quite what it was a few years back, but the results haven’t changed; he had a 1.32 ERA last season and his high mark in the last eight years is 2.01. Odds are that he’ll join a contender as a setup man. Figure on a two- or three-year deal worth $4 million-$5 million per season.
37. Brett Myers (RHP White Sox – Age 32 – Prev. #55): In his return to the bullpen, Myers went 19-for-21 saving games for Houston and then posted a 3.12 ERA in 34 2/3 innings as a setup man for the White Sox. It wasn’t enough to get his $10 million option for 2013 picked up, but he could command a two-year, $12 million pact to remain in the pen as a setup man for a contender or a closer for a mid-market team.
36. Brandon McCarthy (RHP Athletics – Age 29 – Prev. #37): McCarthy would have been Oakland’s No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the postseason, but a liner to the head on Sept. 5 changed that in the span of a heartbeat. One brain surgery later, he was able resume throwing in the postseason and he should be 100 percent for the spring. McCarthy has a long history of shoulder problems, so he would be a tough sell on a multiyear deal. However, he’s a great fit in Oakland with the big ballpark and outstanding outfield defense. The two sides should be able to work out a one-year contract.
35. Ichiro Suzuki (OF Yankees – Age 39 – Prev. #57): Ichiro finally got it together in the final two months, hitting .332 in 196 at-bats in his best stretch of play since 2009. He enjoyed his time in the Bronx and he’s hoping to stay put, but it’s hard to imagine the Yankees will be content to have both he and Brett Gardner starting in the outfield next year. If Ichiro is willing to except a lesser role, it’d be a different story. However, to have any shot at getting to 3,000 hits (he’s at 2,606 right now), he really needs to spend a couple of more years as some team’s primary leadoff hitter.
34. Delmon Young (OF Tigers – Age 27 – Prev. #47): Having come in at .267/.296/.411 with 18 homers and 74 RBI in 574 at-bats, Young really had nothing to do with the Tigers reaching the postseason. Still, he sure capitalized on the opportunity it presented, hitting .312/.365/.542 with three homers and nine RBI in 13 games during October. A modest one-year deal seemed like a certainty beforehand, but now it’s possible some team will guarantee him $7 million or so per year for two seasons. It just won’t be the Tigers; they’ve already made it clear that they’re moving on.
33. Jeremy Affeldt (LHP Giants – Age 33 – Prev. #53): Spending $9.25 million on a pair of lefty relievers worked out pretty darn well for the Giants last season. It might take even more to maintain the pairing next year with Affeldt eligible for free agency and Javier Lopez still on the books for another $4.25 million. Affeldt is the top lefty available after finishing with a 2.70 ERA in 63 1/3 innings in the regular season and than pitching 10 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. He figures to command at least a two-year, $12 million deal, and it’s quite possible he’ll get offers for three years.
32. Russell Martin (C Yankees – Age 30 – Prev. #33): Martin has traded singles for homers since making his way to New York. That’s not entirely a Yankee Stadium creation, either: 18 of his 39 long balls the last two seasons came in road games. The Bombers are fond of his defense, and given that alternatives behind the plate such as Yadier Molina and Miguel Montero signed extensions earlier this year, there’s a good chance he’ll be back with the team on a reasonable one- or two-year deal.
31. Jonathan Broxton (RHP Reds – Age 28 – Prev. #42): Broxton turned in a run of 15 straight scoreless appearances during the middle of his Reds stint, but his season ended badly, as he took losses in two of his final three regular-season outings and then again in Game 3 of the NLDS. The Reds are committed to Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall for big dollars, so it seems unlikely that they’ll meet Broxton’s asking price in free agency. He had to be pretty excited to see League get a three-year, $22.5 million contract from the Dodgers.
30. Shohei Otani (RHP Japan – Age 18 – Prev. NR): The hard-throwing Otani has his heart set on playing ball in the U.S., even after being selected in the first round of Japan’s amateur draft. The new rules created in the last CBA figure to curtail his bonus amount, since the signing team will face a large tax payment and a diminished ability to sign international players next year, but for a talent like this, it’d be worth the sacrifice. The Dodgers, Rangers and Red Sox are thought to be very interested, and while it was once believed he couldn’t sign until April, it now appears that a deal could come earlier.
29. Marco Scutaro (2B Giants – Age 37 – Prev. #64): The legend of Scutaro almost failed to materialize; he went just 3-for-20 in the NLDS against the Reds. Of course, he reeled off 16 hits in the eight games afterwards, capturing NLCS MVP honors along the way. It’s hard to imagine the Giants letting him go after the boost he provided in the second half and in the postseason, even if it might mean giving a three-year contract to a 37-year-old. Scutaro probably isn’t a realistic option as a shortstop any longer, but as a second baseman, he’s looking at a couple of more years as a solid regular.
28. Cody Ross (OF Red Sox – Age 32 – Prev. #32): Ross settled for $3 million last winter, but he found himself in the perfect situation with the Red Sox and now he seems likely to land a nice three-year deal as a result. Still, Ross remains a glorified platoon player, with most of his production coming against lefties: he’s a career .253/.312/.415 hitter against righties. Last year, 12 of his 22 homers came in his 132 at-bats versus southpaws. He also hit .298/.356/.565 in Fenway, compared to .232/.294/.390 on the road. It’d be a bad idea to give him the $18 million-$21 million he may command.
27. Jeremy Guthrie (RHP Royals – Age 34 – Prev. #35): Flummoxed by Coors Field, Guthrie was mercifully returned to the American League in July, and he regained his old form immediately, going 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts for the Royals. Kansas City is hoping to re-sign him to a two-year deal, but after he refused some early overtures, the team acquired Ervin Santana from the Angels. There should still be room for Guthrie both in the rotation and in the budget, but it’s become more likely that he’ll join his fourth team in two years.
26. A.J. Pierzynski (C White Sox – Age 36 – Prev. #27): Always a remarkably durable catcher, one would think Pierzynski would be wearing down after averaging 120 starts for 10 straight years. Instead, he set a new career high with 27 homers in 2012. That’s 10 more than he had in 2010 and ’11 combined. Now he’s likely in store for a career-best salary at age 36, one that would top the $6.25 million he made in 2009 and ’10. Ideally, he and the White Sox could compromise at around $15 million for two years.
25. Hisashi Iwakuma (RHP Mariners – Age 31 – Prev. #22): A non-factor early on after signing with the Mariners, Iwakuma got his chance to start in July and was one of the AL’s top pitchers the rest of the way, going 9-4 with a 2.65 ERA and a 78/28 K/BB ratio in 95 innings. The one-year contract he signed after coming over from Japan included a clause that made him a free agent at season’s end, so he’s in position to command $6 million-$8 million per year for two or three years.
24. Ryan Ludwick (OF Reds – Age 34 – Prev. #41): Ludwick was a liability for a year and a half before hitting .275/.346/.531 with 26 homers in 422 at-bats in a big season for the Reds. He also went deep three times in the NLDS loss to the Giants. It seems doubtful that Ludwick will hit for that kind of average again, but he’s one of the few free agents with a realistic shot at delivering 30 homers next season. A two-year, $16 million deal seems fair and still within the Reds’ price range.
23. Angel Pagan (OF Giants – Age 31 – Prev. #38): The Mets were considering non-tendering Pagan a year ago before trading him to the Giants. Now he may well be in line for a three-year deal after hitting .288/.338/.440 with 29 steals in 605 at-bats as the center fielder and leadoff hitter for the world champions. The Giants figure to have the big edge in re-signing him, though given the depth in center field available this winter, they could always move on if he asks for too much. $21 million-$24 million for three years might work.
22. Shaun Marcum (RHP Brewers – Age 31 – Prev. #19): The only starter here with a lower ERA than Marcum’s 3.62 mark the last three years is Hiroki Kuroda. Unfortunately, Marcum has a trick elbow that resulted in a poor finish in 2011 and limited him to 21 starts last season. That makes him a big risk on a long-term deal. Still, as little pitching as there is available, he may get one anyway. Besides, a team may well be better off getting 75 starts from Marcum the next three years than 90 from Kyle Lohse or Ryan Dempster.
21. Stephen Drew (SS Athletics – Age 30 – Prev. #25): The Diamondbacks soured on Drew when he was slow in returning from a broken ankle, and it certainly didn’t help matters that he hit .193 in his first 40 games after coming off the DL. Traded to the A’s, he hit .250/.326/.382 and played a solid defensive shortstop in 39 games. The ball is now in Drew’s court after the A’s declined their half of a $10 million option; he can take a relatively modest two- or three-year deal now or go for one year instead and aim for a bigger contract next winter. The Red Sox and Brewers could compete with the A’s for his services.
20. Kevin Youkilis (3B White Sox – Age 34 – Prev. #18): Even in obvious decline, Youkilis is clearly the class of the third base market this winter. He did have a nice run initially after being traded from Boston to Chicago, but he finished up by driving in just one run in his final 15 games. Overall, he hit .236/.346/.425 in 80 games for the White Sox and .235/.336/.409 in 438 at-bats for the season. The resulting .745 OPS is down from .975 in 2010 and .833 in 2011. He’s also injury prone, not having played in 140 games since 2008. Still, that there are several teams sniffing around for third basemen and very little in the way of alternatives should ensure that Youkilis gets a two-year deal, probably at $18 million-$20 million.
19. Shane Victorino (OF Dodgers – Age 32 – Prev. #17): Victorino heads into free agency coming off his worst year as a major leaguer; his .704 OPS was a far cry from the .847 he amassed in 2011 and was 50 points lower than any of his previous marks. While he could always rebound at age 32, it’s also possible that he’s exiting his prime and that he might be better utilized as a fourth outfielder come 2014. He might get $30 million for three years anyway, but a two-year deal would be more appropriate.
18. Andy Pettitte (LHP Yankees – Age 40 – Prev. #20): Pettitte’s finishing kick may be altering the perception of his career. He posted ERAs 3.87 ERA or higher in 12 of his first 15 seasons, yet he came in at 3.28 in 2010 before retiring and then, after a year-plus off, he finished at 2.87 with his second-highest strikeout rate ever in his 12 starts last season. Pettitte has yet to make a decision whether to pitch an 18th season in 2013. If he chooses to come back, it’s hard to imagine it will be for any team except the Yankees.
17. Rafael Soriano (RHP Yankees – Age 33 – Prev. #21): Something that no one would have seen coming a year ago: after a terrific season filling in for Mariano Rivera as the Yankees’ closer, Soriano chose to opt out of his player option worth $14 million for 2013. Soriano was 42-for-46 saving games for the Bombers and finished with a 2.26 ERA in 67 2/3 innings. He also pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. Soriano figures to chase a closer gig elsewhere, though he could always re-sign with the Yankees if Rivera opts for retirement. He’s probably in line for $20 million-$25 million for two years.
16. Torii Hunter (OF Angels – Age 37 – Prev. #24): Hunter has made it clear that his priority is to stay with the Angels. Still, it looks like the only way that is happening is if the team finds a taker for a portion of Vernon Wells’ contract. Hunter finished last season with the highest average (.313) of his career and his largest RBI total (92) since 2007. At 37, he could easily slip. However, he’d likely be an average regular at worst, and he’d still get big points for his leadership. With the Yankees, Giants, Red Sox and Orioles all among his possible suitors, a two-year, $24 million deal seems realistic.
15. Ryan Dempster (RHP Rangers – Age 35 – Prev. #12): As it turned out, Dempster likely did hurt his stock by accepting a trade to Texas. Still, it shouldn’t do any great damage. Dempster’s 12 starts for the Rangers didn’t tell us he couldn’t pitch in the AL; sure, he had a 5.09 ERA, but he also struck out 70 hitters in 69 innings. He also did quite well in his three interleague starts while with the Cubs, going 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA. Since he’s probably in line for a two- or three-year deal instead of the four- and five-year contracts some other top arms will get, he might prove to be one of the better values out there.
14. Dan Haren (RHP Angels – Age 32 – Prev. #14): The one player here whose free agency is still in doubt, Haren’s option is expected to be declined by the Angels unless the team comes up with a trading partner first. At $15.5 million, with a $3.5 million buyout, it’d seem to be worth exercising; Haren wasn’t nearly at his best last season, but he also wasn’t all that bad in going 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA. He wouldn’t have to bounce all of the way back to be worth the $12 million difference between the salary and buyout, and if he does, then he’s a bargain. The guess here is that some team trades for him and picks up the option.
13. Mariano Rivera (RHP Yankees – Age 43 – Prev. #11): Rivera made it clear during the season that he had every intention of returning from a torn ACL to pitch at age 43 in 2013, but recent indications are that he’s wavering. The game’s all-time saves leader certainly has nothing left to prove. Still, there’s also no reason to think he’s finished as an elite closer. Some have suggested the retirement talk is a negotiating ploy, though that seems unlike Rivera. He may take a modest paycut from his previous $15 million salary to come back, but there’s no reason he should have to take a large one.
12. Mike Napoli (C-1B Rangers – Age 31 – Prev. #13): It was a big comedown from his career-year in 2011, but what Napoli lacked for in singles and doubles last year, he did his best to make up for with homers (24) and walks (56). Overall, it gave him a .227/.343/.469 line in 352 at-bats. Also, he wasn’t one of the Rangers who disappointed down the stretch, as he hit .254 with seven homers and 16 RBI in 51 at-bats during Sept. Napoli is probably most valuable catching three times per week and then playing first or DHing the rest of the time, but suitors could also look at him as a full-time first baseman. There should be enough demand for his power to get him $30 million-$36 million for three years.
11. Adam LaRoche (1B Nationals – Age 33 – Prev. #15): LaRoche’s future was in doubt after a shoulder injury left him a shell of his former self in 2011 and later required surgery, making his career year in 2012 a stunning development. Along with hitting 33 homers and finishing with an .853 OPS, he won his first Gold Glove. Now he’s the top pure first baseman on the market, making a three-year, $36 million deal a possibility. The Nationals would likely much prefer to re-sign him for two years.
10. Hiroki Kuroda (RHP Yankees – Age 38 – Prev. #10): Kuroda is a unique free agent, in that he’s only been interested in signing one-year deals as he contemplates his future each winter. His preference was to remain with the Dodgers last winter, but Frank McCourt’s money problems caused them to pursue cheaper targets, resulting in Kuroda’s jump to the Yankees. Now it seems likely that he’ll re-sign with the Bombers. However, the flush-with-cash Dodgers could make a big offer to lure him back. For 2013 alone, Kuroda is as good of a bet as any starter here, and he’d have no problem getting more than $15 million if he decides to pursue the best deal.
9. David Ortiz (DH Red Sox – Age 37 – Prev. #9): Ortiz’s Achilles’ tendon problems limited him to one appearance after mid-July, but he hit .318/.415/.611 in his 324 at-bats last season. The resulting 1.026 OPS was better than Miguel Cabrera’s .999 mark. Odds are that Ortiz would have fallen back a bit had he played the last 2 1/2 months, but based on what he’s done the last two years, he’s certainly deserving of being treated as one of the game’s best hitters as he heads into free agency. Expectations are that the Red Sox will re-sign him, and a two-year, $30 million contract seems appropriate.
8. Edwin Jackson (RHP Nationals – Age 29 – Prev. #4): Jackson undoubtedly cost himself some money by giving up eight earned runs in 1 1/3 innings in his next-to-last regular season start, pushing his ERA over 4.00, and then by taking a loss in his lone postseason start. Still, relative youth and durability figure to serve him well as he heads into free agency for the second time. He turned down a three-year deal last winter in the hopes of a bigger contract this time around. Given the lack of alternatives, he still seems like a pretty good bet to get $48 million for four years, if not considerably more.
7. Nick Swisher (OF Yankees – Age 32 – Prev. #6): Swisher finished with OPSs between .820 and .870 each of his four years with the Yankees, averaging 26 homers. With his career .361 OBP, he’s a fine choice hitting anywhere from second to sixth in the lineup, and he should be OK in right field for at least a couple of more years, though he’d likely have more defensive value at first base. Unfortunately, Swisher’s October 0-fors have really started to pile up; he’s a career .169/.283/.305 hitter in 154 at-bats. He’s now played in 11 postseason series, and he hasn’t driven in more than one run in any of them. That’s a big reason the Yankees seem ready to move on. Still, he’s probably in line for a four-year deal worth $48 million-$60 million anyway.
6. Kyle Lohse (RHP Cardinals – Age 34 – Prev. #16): At 2.86, Lohse established a new career-best ERA for the second straight season while going 16-3 for the Cardinals in 2012. It looks like he may go down as Dave Duncan’s last great reclamation project, even if Duncan was no longer the Cards’ pitching coach last season. Of course, the track record of Duncan’s success stories once they leave St. Louis is pretty bleak, and given his age and middling strikeout rate, Lohse seems likely to disappoint his new team. It’s possible he’ll get $15 million per season for three years or maybe even four years.
5. Michael Bourn (OF Braves – Age 30 – Prev. #5): Bourn was a deserving All-Star in 2012, but he stopped hitting after the break, coming in at .225/.325/.311 in 267 at-bats. Overall, he hit .274/.348/.391 with his lowest steal total since 2008 and his worst ever success rate (42-for-55). Currently one of the game’s top five defensive center fielders, he’s a good bet to spend a few more years as a quality regular. Still, he’s always struck out too much to be a particularly valuable offensive player. The team that gives him $60 million for four years or $70 million for five will probably come to regret it.
4. B.J. Upton (OF Rays – Age 28 – Prev. #3): Upton found his power stroke late in the year, hitting 19 of his career-high 28 homers in August and Sept. While he hasn’t put it together for a full season, he does seem to thrive under pressure, like when he hit seven homers in the 2008 postseason and when he batted .333/.432/.606 in Sept. as the Rays overtook the Red Sox in 2011. At 28, he’s still young enough to turn in a couple of All-Star seasons, and his all-around game makes him an asset as a regular even if he keeps hitting .240 on an annual basis. Since he’s one of those rare free agents whose best days could be ahead of him, he might get a five-year, $75 million deal.
3. Anibal Sanchez (RHP Tigers – Age 29 – Prev. #8): Sanchez hit a bump in the road after first arriving in the AL, courtesy of a trade with the Marlins, but he excelled at the end of the year and in the postseason, when he went 1-2 with a 1.77 ERA. The Tigers were shut out in both of his losses. In the regular season, he had a 3.74 ERA for the Tigers and was 9-13 with a 3.86 ERA overall. Over the last three years, he has a better ERA than Zack Greinke (3.70 to 3.83) in just 17 fewer innings (587 to 604). Sanchez isn’t as good of a bet as Greinke to stay healthy going forward and he’s certainly never had a year like Greinke’s 2009, but his youth and recent track record ensures that he’ll get a big contract. $80 million for five years shouldn’t surprise anyone.
2. Zack Greinke (RHP Angels – Age 29 – Prev. #2): Even though it means jettisoning Haren and Santana, the Angels seem bound and determined to retain Greinke after sending three prospects to Milwaukee for him at the deadline. He went 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA following the trade to finish up 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA. It was his best year since he won Cy Young honors for the Royals in 2009. Since Jered Weaver, Matt Cain and Cole Hamels all opted to sign long-term extension, Greinke is the class of the free agent starters. He’s likely to receive at least $20 million per season for six years.
1. Josh Hamilton (OF Rangers – Age 31 – Prev. #1): While the idea seemed ludicrous a couple of months ago, it’s now possible that Greinke will get the bigger deal than Hamilton this winter. The Rangers don’t appear to be all that eager to lock him up after his disappointing second half, and many teams are going to be wary of giving a long-term deal to a guy with a history of substance-abuse problems and injuries. That said, Prince Fielder didn’t seem to have much of a market last winter until the Tigers shocked everyone by giving him $214 million. It only takes one willing owner to make a splash.