Matthew Pouliot

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 04: Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets reacts after he hit a two run double in the eighth inning inning against the Miami Marlins during a game at Citi Field on July 4, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

2016-17 Top 111 Free Agents

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Presented today is a look at this winter’s top 111 free agents. I’m excluding players whose options are expected to be picked up, a group that includes Jonathan Lucroy, Jay Bruce, Carlos Santana, Wade Davis, Gio Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Cameron Maybin, Alcides Escobar, Francisco Rodriguez and Jason Grilli.

Players are ranked based on how I expect teams will view them, not on how I view them myself. Essentially, they’re ranked from predicted biggest contract to smallest, not accounting for options.

All ages are as of April 1, 2017.

1. Yoenis Cespedes (31, OF, Mets): It couldn’t have been a very difficult call; Cespedes will opt out of the final two years of his three-year, $75 million contract and seek a longer contract after striking out on getting a five- or six-year deal in a crowded outfield market last winter. Even if he is a year older, he’s in better position this time around after another All-Star season in which he demonstrated his 2015 was no fluke. Especially nice was that he upped his walk rate and posted a .354 OBP. Cespedes needs to be in left, not center, going forward, but he can be a plus defender there. He’s due at least $100 million for four years or $120 million for five.

2. Edwin Encarnacion (34, 1B-DH, Blue Jays): The best bat on the market, Encarnacion has a 140 OPS+ the last two years, giving him the edge over Cespedes (134), Jose Bautista (133) and Justin Turner (130). Actually, his 133 OPS+ in 2016 was his worst mark since 2011, and it should be a source of some concern that his strikeout rate took off (he fanned 19.7 percent of the time after coming in at 15.1 and 15.7 the previous two years). On the plus side, he had his first completely healthy season in a while, and even last year, his K rate was still below that of most sluggers. He’ll likely score a four-year contract in spite of his age. Somewhere around $90 million seems right.

3. Jose Bautista (36, OF, Blue Jays): Bautista probably would have been better off taking an extension from the Jays a year ago. His 2016 was easily his worst offensive season since 2009, and his defense in right field has turned into a significant problem. Bautista will probably bounce back some offensively, and between his homers and walks, he doesn’t need to hit for average to be an asset offensively. Still, he’d seem to be a bad idea on a multiyear deal for an NL team, unless maybe he wants to transition to first base. A two-year deal seems appropriate, given his age. However, some team will probably go three at $22 million-$24 million per season.

4. Justin Turner (32, 3B, Dodgers): Turner has accumulated 8.9 rWAR the last two years, the second highest total among free agents behind Cespedes’s 9.2. While his OBP tumbled (he finished at .339 after coming in at .370 in 2015 and .404 in 322 plate appearances in 2014), Turner set new personal bests in homers (27), triples (three) and doubles (34) last season. He’s also graded out as an above average defensive third baseman since becoming a regular at the hot corner. He’d be a modest bargain at $20 million per year if he could keep it up. It just remains to be seen whether he gets four years or has to settle for three.

5. Ian Desmond (31, OF, Rangers): Desmond’s stock is much higher than it was last winter, when he settled for a one-year, $8 million contract, but should it be? His poor second half made him little more than an average hitter overall (104 OPS+ in 2016, 100 OPS+ career), and now he’s either a quality glove in left field or a subpar one in center rather than an average defensive shortstop. A four-year deal at $18 million-$20 million per season will probably be the goal here, but he might have to settle for three years.

6. Kenley Jansen (29, RP, Dodgers): While Aroldis Chapman’s team won the war, Jansen’s NLCS showing against the Cubs, when he threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks in three appearances, likely will help him secure the biggest contract ever for a reliever this winter. Besides being very, very good, he seems like the better bet to stay healthy going forward. Plus, the Dodgers badly want to keep him. What will hurt him somewhat is that he’s the only closer set to get a qualifying offer in free agency. Still, it’s pretty hard to imagine the Dodgers letting him go. He’s due at least $60 million for four years.

7. Aroldis Chapman (29, RP, Cubs): There’s no arguing with Chapman’s regular-season performance, and while his 2016 postseason was shaky, he managed to overcome it until fatigue became a major factor in Game 7 of the World Series. It also doesn’t seem as though the domestic violence allegation and subsequent suspension are going to hurt him overly much in free agency. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has called him “wonderful,” and postseason television coverage was willing to ignore the past ugliness. It actually helps Chapman that he’s been passed around the league, since now he’s ineligible for a qualifying offer. The team that signs him will simply be primarily concerned about how long he’ll continue to have his 103-mph fastball. He never complained of any shoulder soreness this year after minor bouts in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Like Jansen, he’s a lock for four years and somewhere around $15 million per year. He might even get a fifth year.

8. Lourdes Gurriel (23, OF, Cuba): The Gurriel brothers were cleared to sign at the same time, but Lourdes had a great deal of financial incentive to wait to ink a deal until after turning 23 on Oct. 19. Now he could join Yulieski in Houston or make his way elsewhere. Gurriel has infield experience, but it seems as though teams primarily view him as a corner outfielder. He mostly played left while hitting .344/.407/.560 in his final season in Cuba in 2015. The hope is that he’ll hit for both average and power in the majors, though he might need up to a year in the minors first, especially after not playing in 2016. A Rusney Castillo-type deal (six years, $72.5 million) seems possible.

9. Mark Trumbo (31, 1B-OF, Orioles): Trumbo’s 47 homers will certainly carry him to a nice payday. Still, teams should be wary about going overboard here. After all, homers were way up this year, and 25 of Trumbo’s came at Camden Yards. Because of his poor defense in right field and his .316 OBP, Trumbo came in at just 1.6 rWAR. That undersells him some, in that he’s a perfectly solid defensive first baseman miscast in the outfield, but he’s not a star. As a first baseman or DH, he should be a solid regular for at least two or three more years. The guess here is that he gets $48 million for three years or $56 million for four.

10. Dexter Fowler (31, OF, Cubs): Fowler seemed in need of a move to left field a year ago, and it would have happened had he followed through on a reported agreement with the Orioles. However, playing deeper led to much better defensive numbers in center, and he also came through with the best offensive numbers of his career at the top of the Cubs lineup. Now he seems like a perfectly decent bet on a three-year deal, with the caveat that he’s probably not going to average much more than 120 games per season. The best leadoff hitter on the market, he has a .369 OBP in three seasons since exiting Colorado.

11. Mark Melancon (32, RP, Nationals): Melancon is less sexy than the two closers ahead of him on the list, but he’s not much less effective. His worst ERA the last four years was a 2.23 mark. His worst WHIP was 0.96. Neither of those marks came in 2016, which he finished with a 1.64 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP for the Pirates and Nationals. Since Melancon will turn 32 at the end of March, he’s in line for a shorter deal than Jansen or Chapman. Still, his annual salary should rival that of the other two. Like Chapman, he’ll benefit from not receiving a qualifying offer.

12. Matt Wieters (30, C, Orioles): Wieters accepted the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer last year after being limited to 75 games in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. He stayed relatively healthy, but he posted a career-worst 87 OPS+. Wieters has never fulfilled his offensive potential, but with his average hitting (career 98 OPS+) and fine defense, he’s been quite valuable anyway. At age 30, he shouldn’t be over the hill, and all of the missed time in 2014 and 2015 at least served to save wear and tear. He’d be a good get on a three-year, $40 million contract, presuming that he’s not given the $17.2 million qualifying offer by the Orioles this time around.

13. Rich Hill (37, SP, Dodgers): The top starting pitcher on the market is 37, spent most of 2015 in the minors and hasn’t made more than 20 starts in a season since 2007. On the other hand, he has a remarkable 2.16 ERA and 165/38 K/BB ratio over 139 1/3 innings in 23 starts since joining the Red Sox rotation at the end of 2015. The team that signs Hill for 2017 should be hoping for about 20 regular-season starts and then a healthy October. Even with those modest expectations, he’s probably looking at a two-year deal worth $13 million-$15 million per season.

14. Josh Reddick (30, OF, Dodgers): Reddick had a rough go of it in L.A., hitting just .258/.307/.335 in 47 games. Still, this is a plus defensive right fielder just turning 30 with a 113 OPS+ the last three years. Nick Markakis was a year older and a worse hitter when he got his four-year, $44 million deal two winters ago. What will hold Reddick back is his lack of durability; he’s been in the 110-120 game range three times in his five seasons as a regular. With a better track record of staying off the DL, he’d be worthy of a four-year, $64 million contract. As is, three years and $36 million-$42 million is more likely.

15. Wilson Ramos (29, C, Nationals): A torn ACL suffered in the final week of the regular season makes Ramos the toughest call in free agency. Before getting hurt, his breakthrough season could have put him in line for a five-year, $70 million deal. Now he’s set to miss the start of 2017 and is likely looking at curtailed playing time when he does come back. He should be back at full strength for 2018, but who is going to bet on him on a long-term deal when his short term is as sketchy as his overall track record (Ramos missed big chunks of 2012, 2013 and 2014 and hit just .245/.275/.375 in 216 games between 2014 and 2015)? Ramos could take his chances on a one-year deal, but it’d be risky, considering he might not be completely healthy at any point next season. A two-year deal might be the sweet spot, giving him some security and the chance to go back out on the market at age 31.

16. Carlos Gomez (31, OF, Rangers): Gomez will have some options after rebounding from his dreadful stint in Houston by hitting .284/.362/.543 in 33 games for the Rangers down the stretch. He should get strong two- or three-year offers in free agency, but he could also opt for a one-year deal in the hopes of hitting it bigger next winter. Gomez has lost a step on defense, but he’s still a legitimate center fielder, and now that his power is back, he can still be a decent enough regular with a .300-.310 OBP. He’d seem to be worth about $14 million per season on a one- or two-year deal.

17. Neil Walker (31, 2B, Mets): The Mets are probably going to give Walker a $17.2 million qualifying offer even though he’s coming off back surgery that cost him the final five weeks. One imagines he’ll strongly consider taking it, given that there aren’t going to be many teams interested in forfeiting a draft pick to give a multiyear deal to a mediocre defensive second baseman with back issues. Walker has been an exceptionally solid regular; his worst OPS+ in seven years as a starter is a 106 mark. Still, it just doesn’t seem safe to pencil him in for his usual season in 2017.

18. Jeremy Hellickson (29, SP, Phillies): Hellickson was oddly impervious to the home run spike, a big surprise considering that the home run ball has always been his biggest issue. His home run rate (24 allowed in 189 innings) was slightly below his career mark, despite the fact homers were up 14 percent leaguewide and Hellickson was pitching in the biggest home run park of his career in Philly. It could have been more of a fluke than a step forward, but Hellickson will be paid more like a No. 2 than a No. 4 as a free agent this winter. He’s probably going to get a $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Phillies, and he could choose to accept it.

19. Ivan Nova (30, SP, Pirates): J.A. Happ’s outstanding year in Toronto can only help Nova, another guy who made big gains following a midseason trade to Pittsburgh. Nova went from a 4.90 ERA and a 5.10 FIP in 15 starts and six relief appearances for the Yankees to a 3.06 ERA and a 2.62 FIP in 11 starts for the Pirates. He struck out 52 and walked just three in 64 2/3 innings. There’s talk about him staying put in Pittsburgh, but it will almost certainly take a multiyear deal to make it happen.

20. Jaime Garcia (30, SP, Cardinals): Garcia had a healthy season in 2016, making 30 starts for the second time in his career, but it wasn’t a particularly good one, as his ERA jumped from 2.43 in 2015 to 4.67. Now the Cardinals have to decide whether to pick up his $12 million option or move on. It’d be an easier call betting on a rebound if Garcia were more durable, but he made just 36 major league starts from 2013-15. Still, his velocity was fine last season and he remained a big groundball pitcher; he just gave up a whole bunch more homers than one would expect given his groundball rate. Garcia on a one-year, $12 million contract seems like a good bet from here, but the Cardinals, with Lance Lynn coming back and Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver ready, can afford to let him go. They could still pick up the option and trade him, though.

21. Clay Buchholz (32, SP, Red Sox): It seemed awfully unlikely at the All-Star break, but Buchholz’s $13.5 million option figures to be picked up by the Red Sox after he posted a 2.98 ERA in his final eight starts. He’s no bargain at that price, but no one with his upside is going to come any cheaper and the alternatives will want multiyear contracts.

22. Mike Napoli (35, 1B, Indians): Napoli was given away by the Red Sox in the summer of 2015 and took a $9 million paycut when he settled for a one-year, $7 million deal with Cleveland last winter. Now he’s staring at a bigger payday after bouncing back with a 34-homer season in Cleveland. The team that signs him is likely to be disappointed, though. Cleveland’s Progressive Field played as a terrific offensive environment last season, and Napoli hit just .198/.275/.367 with 12 homers on the road. Also, his defense at first base seems to be falling off. Look for him to get $20 million for two years anyway.

23. Norge Ruiz (23, SP, Cuba): One of the most highly regarded pitchers to exit Cuba in recent years, Ruiz is currently showcasing himself in the Dominican Winter League and is sporting a 2.89 ERA after two starts. He had a 2.55 ERA in 55 starts and five relief appearances in the hitter friendly Cuban National Series from ages 18-20. Assuming that his low-90s velocity is intact, he could be a middle-of-the-rotation guy in the majors in rather short order. Like Yoan Moncada (and unlike Lourdes Gurriel), he’ll be subject to MLB’s international spending rules, limiting the kind of contract he’ll receive. Still, he might end up in the $20 million-$30 million range anyway.

24. Kendrys Morales (33, DH, Royals): There’s an $11 million mutual option on Morales’ contract that the Royals will probably exercise, but Morales might not. If Morales opts out, that would give the Royals a chance to submit a qualifying offer, though that’d be really dangerous for a team looking to cut payroll a bit. Morales has been a fine DH for Kansas City, but his OPS did tumble from .847 to .795 last season. A one-year, $11 million deal seems like it’d be just right here, but some team will probably do two years.

25. Carlos Beltran (39, OF-DH, Rangers): Beltran got to DH just as much as he played the outfield in 2016, and he seemed better off for it; he had his best offensive season since 2013 and his healthiest since 2012. If he’s interested in serving primarily as a designated hitter next year, he’d be a decent option on a one-year contract worth $10 million-$12 million. If he wants to stay in right, he’s a worse bet, since he’s a poor defender these days and he’d be a bigger injury risk.

26. Brandon Moss (33, 1B-OF, Cardinals): Moss hit 28 homers in his 413 at-bats for the Cardinals, but it came with a .300 OBP and little defensive value. He doesn’t need to be a full-time DH right now, but he’d probably be better off in the AL in a situation in which he could share time between the DH spot and either left or right. The power should get him a two-year deal worth about $10 million per season.

27. Michael Saunders (30, OF, Mariners): Saunders made his first All-Star team after hitting .298/.372/.551 in the first half of the year. He followed that up by batting .178/.282/.357 in 185 at-bats after the break, so his big payday won’t materialize after all. Saunders can hit, but he has a dreadful track record when it comes to health and his defensive numbers in left field were terrible this year. Maybe he gets a multiyear deal anyway, but he seems like a poor risk.

28. Bartolo Colon (43, SP, Mets): At age 43, Colon had the second-best season in the six years since his comeback with the Yankees, and he’ll probably be in greater demand now than he was when he re-signed with the Mets for $7.25 million last winter. It’s not like he’ll be asking for a multiyear deal.

29. Matt Holliday (37, OF, Cardinals): Holliday’s power came back some last season, but his OBP plummeted, leaving him with a .246/.322/.461 line in 426 plate appearances. In the previous 10 seasons, he had never finished with worse than a .370 OBP. It’s the potential for a high OBP that makes him fairly interesting as a DH candidate for an AL team, but the big decline there could rule out a multiyear deal for him. He still might offer a better bat than Morales or Beltran at a lesser price.

30. Andrew Cashner (30, SP, Marlins): Even with his velocity down some this year, Cashner still has one of the liveliest arms among free agents. So what if he’s gone 11-27 with a 4.72 ERA the last two years. Cashner needs to find his way to a pitching guru capable of turning his career around, but given that he’s still relatively young and he’s throwing 92-95 mph, he’ll likely be too expensive for Pittsburgh’s tastes. The perceived upside will probably get him a two-year deal in the $18 million-$20 million range if he wants one. If he’s feeling confident, he could take a one-year contract instead.

31. Greg Holland (31, RP, DNP): The other elite reliever available this winter, Holland had a 1.86 ERA from 2011-2014 before struggling in 2015 and undergoing Tommy John surgery. He should be back at full strength for the beginning of the spring, and there’s a decent chance he’ll return to being a dominant force at the end of games. If he’s looking for a one-year deal in the hopes of hitting it bigger next winter, he’ll be a fit just about anywhere.

32. Colby Rasmus (30, OF, Astros): They were calling Rasmus a genius for accepting the Astros’ qualifying offer a month into last season. Too bad he followed up his .263/.400/.579 April by hitting .191/.252/.297 in 83 games the rest of the way. Rasmus, though, should still be fine in the end. He wasn’t going to be in line for that big of a contract last winter anyway, certainly nothing close to the $15.8 million he made in 2016. He’ll take a big cut now, perhaps to $8 million or so, but he should bounce back some and get a better next deal next winter. He remains an average center fielder (or an excellent left fielder), and the power figures to return.

33. Brad Ziegler (37, RP, Red Sox): At age 37, Ziegler is a major league free agent for the first time. The last time he controlled his own destiny was in 2004, when the Phillies released him a year after drafting him in the 20th round. With 52 saves and a 2.05 ERA in 136 innings the last two years, Ziegler figures to do pretty well this winter, even if contenders will be looking at him as a setup man, rather than as a closer. Think $14 million-$16 million for two years.

34. Edinson Volquez (33, SP, Royals): Jon Heyman reported that the Royals would decline their side of Volquez’s $10 million mutual option, even though it means giving him a $3 million buyout. That’d seem to be good news for Volquez, who stands to top $7 million, if not $10 million, on a one-year deal elsewhere. Volquez’s ERA jumped from 3.55 to 5.37 in his second year in Kansas City, but the increase in his FIP was milder, going from 3.82 to 4.57. Most importantly, he’s averaged 32 starts per season these last five years.

35. Santiago Casilla (36, RP, Giants): The Giants had no faith in Casilla be season’s end, but the numbers weren’t exactly disastrous. He actually sported the best strikeout rate and second-best walk rate of his career at age 36. He allowed more homers than usual, but who didn’t? He figures to be a perfectly respectable closer or setup man for a couple of more years, and at $7.5 million per season for one or two years, he’d be a better investment that most of the other free agent relievers.

36. Jason Castro (29, C, Astros): It looks like the Astros will try to upgrade from Castro, who has an 84 OPS+ in three seasons since his surprising All-Star campaign in 2013. Castro still grades out pretty well as a framer, so he’s a legitimate regular even with his poor production at the plate. Still, he’s more of a stopgap than someone a team is going to want to commit to as a starter for 2018 and beyond.

37. Luis Valbuena (31, 3B, Astros): Valbuena was a perfectly solid platoon starter in 2014 and 2015, too, but he was at his best in 2016, hitting .260/.357/.459 in 292 at-bats before going down with a hamstring strain that required season-ending surgery. That unfortunate injury might have cost him a multiyear deal in free agency, but he’ll still have suitors as a starter against right-handers. He was on pace for a 4 rWAR season when he got hurt.

38. Brett Anderson (29, SP, Dodgers): At least none of those injuries that limited Anderson to three starts in 2016 were arm problems; he underwent back surgery at the end of March, suffered a sprained wrist on a tag play in his first start back in August and then went on the DL with a finger blister at the end of August. Anderson took a $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after going 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA in a career-high 31 starts in 2015. The ability is still there, so even with the laundry list of calamities that has limited him to 115 starts in eight years, he’s in line for a pretty sizeable one-year contract.

39. Rajai Davis (36, OF, Indians): Davis swiped 43 bases in 49 attempts and played quality defense in left and center for a World Series team, so he figures to be a pretty popular free agent, even if there are things to be concerned about with his batting line. He’d be better cast as an oft-used fourth outfielder than a true regular, but even so, he’d be fine on a two-year, $12 million-$15 million deal.

40. Charlie Morton (33, SP, Phillies): Morton blew a tire while running out a bunt in his fourth start of the year and missed the rest of the season. Before that, though, he was showing the very best velocity of his career, averaging 94 mph with his fastball, and he had struck out 19 batters in 17 1/3 innings. It’s a small sample size, of course, but it’d seem to bode well for him entering 2017. His $9.5 million mutual option figures to go unexercised by the Phillies, and he’ll probably settle for a couple of million less on a one-year deal.

41. Koji Uehara (41, RP, Red Sox): Uehara allowed runs in just nine of 50 appearances in 2016, but that he allowed multiple runs in six of those left him with his highest ERA in his seven years as a reliever. Even so, he struck out 63 in 47 innings at age 41, and it’s not like the Red Sox had to be very restrictive with his workload; apart from the time he missed with a strained pectoral muscle, he appeared in 43 percent of the games when he was on the active roster (that’s 69-appearance pace over a full season). He’d still seem to be worth $7 million-$8 million for 2017.

42. Yunel Escobar (34, 3B, Angels): Escobar’s $7 million option for 2017 is probably getting picked up unless the Angels are in major cost-cutting mode. He’s been a useful player the last two years, hitting over .300 both seasons. Durability is becoming a bigger issue as he approaches his mid-30s and he hasn’t been an asset defensively since moving from shortstop to third base, but .350 OBPs don’t grow on trees.

43. Derek Holland (30, SP, Rangers): Holland has made a total of 35 starts with a 4.30 ERA in the last three years combined, but the Rangers are holding out some hope that someone will trade for him before his $11 million option for 2017 needs to be picked up. It seems awfully unlikely. Holland was once one of the AL’s most promising young left-handers, but his stuff isn’t what it was a few years ago. In 20 starts last season, he had a 5.04 ERA and just 67 strikeouts in 105 1/3 innings. One can’t even blame his home field, considering that he had a 6.04 ERA and gave up 11 of his 15 homers on the road. Since he’s a left-hander with a track record and a low-90s fastball, there will be teams interested in taking a chance on him as a free agent. Still, he should come considerably cheaper than $11 million.

44. Seth Smith (34, OF, Mariners): The Mariners hold a $7 million option on Smith’s contract, which means they face a decision on whether or not to pay him exactly what he’s worth. He has a 112 OPS+ in two years in Seattle and a career 112 OPS+, so he’s about as predictable as they come offensively. Defensively, he can stand in either outfield corner and catch balls that don’t require him to run very far. Used as a platoon starter against righties, he’s the perfect $7 million player. It’s just up to Seattle whether the team wants to try for an upgrade.

45. Brett Cecil (30, RP, Blue Jays): After three straight years of sub-3.00 ERAs and FIPs, Cecil had his worst year as a reliever in 2016. His velocity was down early, and he had a 5.23 ERA in mid-May when he landed on the DL with a tear in his lat muscle. He returned at the end of June, struggled for a few weeks and then got it together, finishing up with a 1.74 ERA and a 30/4 K/BB ratio in his final 20 2/3 innings of work. Even in the down year, he had a 45/8 K/BB ratio in 36 2/3 innings overall. Though it seems like he’s been around forever, he’s just 30, and with his track record against righties, he can be more of a true setup man than a specialist. Of the non-closing relievers available, he seems like the biggest lock to get a three-year deal.

46. Pedro Alvarez (30, DH, Orioles): Alvarez didn’t play quite as much in Baltimore as expected, mostly because the Orioles couldn’t live with Trumbo’s glove in right field on an everyday basis. Alvarez, though, did his job, recovering from a poor start to hit .274/.335/.573 over the final four months of the season. He’s likely to be better against right-handers and cheaper than the other free agent DH options, with the major caveats that he can’t handle any position defensively and he doesn’t deserve to start against left-handers. He’ll probably get a one-year deal in the $6 milion-$7 million range.

47. Jose Miguel Fernandez (28, 2B-3B, Cuba): Fernandez was first reported as defecting from Cuba in Oct. 2014, but he didn’t actually make it out until Dec. 2015 and he’s barely played any baseball these last three years. He’s finally getting to shake the rust now in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .294 through 10 games. A true leadoff man, Fernandez hit .326/.482/.465 with a 10/65 K/BB ratio in 314 plate appearances in his last full season in Cuba in 2013. Normally a second baseman, he’s been playing third in the Dominican Republic. That’s probably a better position for him in the majors, too, but his lack of power could make him less interesting to teams at that spot. Still, he should be an asset offensively even if he’s not going to hit more than 5-10 homers per season. He’s a potential bargain on a two- or three-year contract at $5 million-$6 million per season.

48. R.A. Dickey (42, SP, Blue Jays): The home run spike did a number on Dickey, as he served up bombs at the highest rate of his long career. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s outlived his usefulness. Dickey is still throwing the knuckler about as hard as always, and his strikeout rate bounced back some in 2016 after bottoming out the previous year. It’s unlikely that he has any sort of monster comeback in him at age 42, but for a team with multiple rotation holes to fill, he’s a safe pick to give a team 180 decent innings.

49. Angel Pagan (35, OF, Giants): In 2015, Pagan had three homers and a 93/32 K/BB ratio in 551 plate appearances. In 2016, he had 12 homers and a 66/42 K/BB ratio in 543 plate appearances. That rebound should cause teams to look at him as a regular this winter, putting him in line for a significant one-year deal. He’d be a poor risk on a multiyear contract given his age and propensity for injury.

50. Chase Utley (38, 2B, Dodgers): Utley was solid enough as a starter against right-handers in 2016 to buy himself another year as a platoon regular. Still, the spike in his strikeout rate last year (13% in 2014, 15% in 2015, 20% in 2016) seems like a bad omen. The team that signs him will need to have an alternate plan in place for a starter against lefties.

51. Travis Wood (30, SP-RP, Cubs): The disappointing thing about Wood spending most of the last two years in the pen is that we’ve been robbed of seeing one of the game’s best hitters on a regular basis. Wood finished 2016 primarily being used as a specialist, and he limited left-handed hitters to a .128 average in 109 at-bats. He’s plenty capable of taking on a bigger role, though, and he’ll have his choice in free agency whether he wants to sign with a team that will use him as a starter or carry on as a reliever.

52. Steve Pearce (33, 1B-2B-OF, Orioles): Pearce followed up his hugely surprising 2014 with a replacement-level campaign in 2015. Last season, he resumed crushing the ball in Tampa Bay, hitting .309/.388/.520 in 204 at-bats, only to falter after a trade to Baltimore, coming in at .217/.329/.400 in 60 at-bats down the stretch. It’s anyone’s guess whether Pearce will be useful enough against righties to justify full-time play next year, but at least he can be counted on to produce against lefties.

53. Adam Lind (33, 1B, Mariners): Lind hit .291/.364/.578 from 2013-15 before falling all of the way to .239/.286/.431 in his first and probably only season in Seattle. This is actually his first go at free agency; he played the previous three seasons on option years attached to a four-year, $18 million deal he signed in 2010. He’s probably looking at a little pay cut from the $8 million he made last year, but he’s a reasonable enough bet to bounce back that he should land a job starting against right-handers.

54. Sergio Romo (34, RP, Giants): Romo’s elbow put him on the DL for the first time since 2011, and his average fastball dipped from 88 mph to 86 mph, forcing him to rely on his slider even more than usual. Still, he did manage a 2.64 ERA and a 33/7 K/BB ratio in 30 2/3 innings. The elbow is enough of a concern that he seems like a poor bet on a multiyear contract now, but he’ll probably remain useful against right-handers late in games as long his arm holds up.

55. Neftali Feliz (28, RP, Pirates): Feliz finally showed his old velocity this year, throwing 94-98 mph regularly for the first time since the Rangers’ ill-fated decision to move him to into the rotation in 2012. He ended up recording 29 holds and striking out 61 in 53 21/3 innings as a setup man for the Pirates. That’s the good news. Not so good was that he gave up 10 homers despite pitching half of his games in a tough park for homers. Worse was that he missed the final month with a sore arm, though no structural damage was detected and he probably would have tried to return had the season lasted a couple of weeks longer. Just 28, he could get one of the longer contracts among relievers if he can demonstrate that his arm is sound.

56. Daniel Hudson (30, RP, Diamondbacks): Hudson had one brutal stretch in which he gave up 21 runs — 18 earned — in seven innings from July 4 to Aug. 2. He allowed a total of 17 earned runs in 53 1/3 innings the rest of the year. He’s throwing 94-98 mph since becoming a full-time reliever in 2015, and there’s a good chance he still has upside beyond what he’s shown the last two years.

***. Nori Aoki (35, OF, Mariners): Aoki was sent down twice by the Mariners, but he got hot enough at year’s end to finish with a .349 OBP and a 103 OPS+. Incredibly, he’s hit between .283 and .288 and finished with OBPs between .349 and .356 in all five of his big-league seasons. His OPS+s have ranged from 99 to 109. His defensive miscues are legendary, but he’s fast enough that he still grades out as only a little below average in left. He’s worthy of a starting gig and a leadoff spot somewhere. (UPDATE: As it turns out, Aoki isn’t really a free agent, as he’s still at five years of service time and he didn’t have the typical out clause in his contract most foreign players get. He’s now been claimed off waivers by Houston.)

58. Colby Lewis (37, SP, Rangers): The Rangers brought Lewis back after a 2014 season in which he had a 5.18 ERA. They brought him back after a 2015 season in which he had a 4.66 ERA (with 17 wins!). One imagines they’ll again bring him back after a 2016 season that he finished with a 3.71 ERA. Lewis, though, did have pretty brutal peripherals, finishing with a 4.81 FIP. He’s gone from 7.0 K/9 IP in 2014 to 6.2 in 2015 to 5.6 last season. Plus, his big flyball tendencies don’t mesh well with the leaguewide spike in homers. At least he probably won’t be looking for more than a modest one-year deal in the $5 million-$7 million range.

59. Sean Rodriguez (31, INF-OF, Pirates): It might have been a fluke, but Rodriguez hit .270/.349/.510 with 18 homers in 300 at-bats while starting games at six positions. He certainly can’t be counted on to produce another 126 OPS+ when his career mark is 91, but his versatility can make him pretty valuable if he holds on to any of those gains.

60. Jorge De La Rosa (35, SP, Rockies): De La Rosa got off to an awful start, missed almost a month with a strained groin and then found himself sent to the pen for a spell after returning. After getting his spot back, though, he had a decent 4.49 ERA in 18 starts, nine of which came at Coors Field (4.18 ERA on the road). Excluding 2012, when he was limited to three starts by an injury, it was the first year since 2008 in which he wasn’t an above average starter. No one is going to risk a multiyear deal in the hopes of a rebound, but he’s not a hopeless cause yet.

61. Jon Niese (30, SP-RP, Mets): 5.48 ERA in 20 starts, but velocity, K rate and GB rate mostly intact.
62. Jon Jay (32, OF, Padres): .291/.339/.389. Best utilized as a fourth outfielder on a contender at this point.
63. Jake Peavy (35, SP, Giants): Nearing the end. Velocity down, 5.47 ERA in 21 starts in great situation for pitchers.
64. Jonathan Papelbon (36, RP, Nationals): Hurt his cause here when he decided not to take a setup gig after release.
65. Joe Blanton (36, RP, Dodgers): 2.48 ERA, 80 K in 80 IP. That should be worth about $10 million for two years.
66. Drew Storen (29, RP, Mariners): 5.23 ERA. 4.21 FIP. Decline in velocity cuts into bounceback potential.
67. Kurt Suzuki (33, C, Twins): Bad defender. Should be a backup, but likely that someone will sign him to start.
68. Austin Jackson (30, OF, White Sox): Young enough to rebound, but last had a .700 OPS in 2013.
69. Trevor Cahill (29, RP, Cubs): Fine reliever left off Cubs’ postseason roster despite 2.74 ERA in 65 2/3 IP.
70. Joaquin Benoit (39, RP, Blue Jays): 2.81 ERA in 2016. Still throwing 92-96 mph at age 38.
71. Scott Feldman (34, SP-RP, Blue Jays): 2.90 ERA in Houston before flopping in Toronto. A possible No. 5.
72. Junichi Tazawa (30, RP, Red Sox): Durability in question after another second-half skid, but 4:1 K:BB ratio every year.
73. Boone Logan (32, RP, Rockies): Spotty track record, but held lefties to .142 average in 106 AB this year.
74. Luke Hochevar (33, RP, Royals): $7 million option sure to be declined. Underwent thoracic outlet surgery in Aug.
75. Nick Hundley (33, C, Rockies): Not quite good or durable enough to pursue as a starter, but he’d be a fine part-timer.
76. Joe Smith (33, RP, Mets): Solid ERAs and eroding peripherals these last two years. Due for a paycut.
77. Mike Dunn (31, RP, Marlins): Missed two months with a forearm strain. 3.40 ERA in 42 IP.
78. Doug Fister (33, SP, Astros): 4.64 ERA. Can’t induce enough grounders to make up for poor K rate.
79. Jerry Blevins (33, RP, Mets): 2.79 ERA in best season since 2012. Better against righties than lefties in 2016.
80. Pat Neshek (36, RP, Astros): Still effective, but more of a righty specialist now. $6.5 million option set to be declined.
81. Chris Coghlan (31, OF, Cubs): Awful for A’s, but .252/.391/.388 in 103 AB for Cubs. Inexpensive LF vs. RHP.
82. Justin Morneau (35, 1B, White Sox): .261/.303/.429 in 203 AB after returning from wrist surgery.
83. Fernando Rodney (40, RP, Marlins): Marlins to decline $4.5 million option. 0.31 ERA in SD, 5.89 in Miami.
84. Mitch Moreland (31, 1B, Rangers): Offers 20-HR ability and fine defense at first, but still a poor regular.
85. Mark Rzepczynski (31, RP, Nationals): 2.64 ERA in specialist role could land him a two-year deal.
86. Aaron Hill (35, 3B, Red Sox): Very good in Milwaukee (.770 OPS), disastrous in Boston (.577 OPS).
87. Jered Weaver (34, SP, Angels): 5.06 ERA in 31 starts. Impressive that he competes at all while throwing 81-85 mph.
88. J.P. Howell (33, RP, Dodgers): ERA jumped from 1.43 to 4.09, but peripherals held steady.
89. Stephen Drew (34, 2B-SS, Nationals): Best SS available? Had .863 OPS in 143 AB in first year as a backup.
90. David Hernandez (31, RP, Phillies): 3.82 ERA, 80 K in 73 IP. Maybe in line for $4 million again.
91. Coco Crisp (37, OF, Indians): Asset in clubhouse, but hit .231/.302/.397 w/mediocre defense in left field.
92. Shawn Tolleson (29, RP, Rangers): 35 Sv, 2.99 ERA in 2015. 7.68 ERA in 36 IP in 2016.
93. Chris Iannetta (33, C, Mariners): .630 OPSs last two years. Mariners hold $4.25 million club option.
94. Alex Avila (30, C, White Sox): Injuries make him unreliable, but played well for ChiSox when healthy.
95. Matt Joyce (32, OF, Pirates): .242/.403/.461 in 231 AB. Could be in running for DH gig in AL.
96. Jesse Chavez (33, SP/RP, Dodgers): Averagish SP for A’s in 2014-15. Poor RP in 2016. Could be a No. 5 somewhere.
97. Erick Aybar (33, SS, Tigers): Only starting SS in free agency, but in severe decline. .243/.303/.320, 3 SB in 2016.
98. Matt Belisle (36, RP, Nationals): Limited to 46 IP by strained calf, but he had a 1.76 ERA. 2.67 in 2015.
99. Kris Medlen (31, SP, Royals): Missed most of season w/rotator cuff strain. Interesting if healthy.
100. Michael Bourn (34, OF, Orioles): O’s really liked him as a fourth outfielder. .264/.314/.371 w/15 SB.
101. Bryan Morris (30, RP, Marlins): 2.54 ERA last 3 seasons, but since he’s coming off back surgery, Marlins let him go.
102. Carlos Ruiz (38, C, Dodgers): Likely to be in great demand as a backup. Dodgers hold $4.5 million option.
103. C.J. Wilson (36, SP, Angels): DNP in 2016. In line for incentive-laden deal after shoulder surgery.
104. Tommy Hunter (30, RP, Orioles): 3.18 ERA in 34 innings for Indians & Orioles. 3.48 ERA last 3 seasons.
105. Fernando Salas (31, RP, Mets); Adequate. Boring, but adequate. 3.91 ERA, 64/19 K/BB in 73 2/3 IP.
106. Logan Morrison (29, 1B, Rays): Horrible start but .272/.348/.496 over final 78 games. Should get him one last chance.
107. Franklin Gutierrez (34, OF, Mariners): Platoon corner outfielder. .280/.373/.511 in 186 AB against lefties.
108. Dae-Ho Lee (34, 1B, Mariners): Can remain a platoon first baseman in U.S. or get a bigger payday back in Japan.
109. Bud Norris (32, SP, Dodgers): 5.10 ERA, 4.33 FIP in 113 IP. Still better than his 2015.
110. Dioner Navarro (33, C, Blue Jays): Hasn’t hit the last two years. Defensive reputation not the greatest.
111. Kelly Johnson (35, 2B-3B-OF, Mets): Hit .268/.328/.459 in 183 AB after being traded back to New York.

Breaking down the “Eras” Hall of Fame ballot

Orel Hershiser
34 Comments

Monday’s reveal of the “Eras Committee” ballot brought us 10 candidates for the Hall of Fame. Five are players and five are not, which means the committee voters actually have to weigh the merits of Harold Baines versus George Steinbrenner as they make up to four selections.

How silly is that?

Two more managers (Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella) are being considered, three years after three (Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre) were selected. I think managers are pretty well represented at the moment. Heck, if Johnson were elected, that’d make Hall of Famers of one-third of the managers who were active in 1984 (right now, it’s eight of 26). That’s a tad excessive. Those voting on the Hall of Fame should be at least as selective with managers as it is with players, and it keeps getting pickier when it comes to players (of course, those are different electorates, with the BBWAA selecting most of the players).

The other non-players are Steinbrenner, longtime Royals and Braves GM John Schuerholz and former commissioner Bud Selig. Selig is a shoo-in.

I’m more interested in the players. It’s not a bad group, with one exception:

Harold Baines: The exception. Baseball’s Hall of Fame loves longevity. If it’s quantity versus quality, quantity usually wins out. Baines’ staying power was remarkable, and from age 22 to age 40, he never had a truly off season. His worst OPS+ in a 19-year span was 108, which is pretty incredible. Baines, though, was also never especially valuable. He wasn’t a very good outfielder the first part of his career, and 60 percent of his starts came at DH. He finished in the top 10 in his league in OBP and slugging once apiece. He finished in the top 10 in homers once (ninth in 1984). He finished in the top 10 in doubles once (sixth in 1988). He was a good, solid player for a very long time, but his spot on the ballot should have gone to someone who achieved greatness.

Albert Belle: This is more like it; Belle’s is a case that deserves to be revisited. In his 10 full seasons, he averaged 37 homers and 120 RBI to go along with a .298/.374/.571 line. His career OPS+ of 144 puts him in the same range of Jim Thome, Edgar Martinez, Lance Berkman, Mike Piazza, Chipper Jones, Larry Walker and Vladimir Guerrero. Belle, though, had fewer at-bats than all of those guys because of a degenerative hip condition that ended his career at age 33. He also had a bad reputation on and off the field. Still, he had a three-season run as the AL’s scariest hitter and some fine years beyond that. Belle wouldn’t get my vote, particularly since guys I consider superior candidates like Martinez, Walker and Tim Raines aren’t in yet. Still, he’s worthy of thought.

Will Clark: Clark had the look of a Hall of Famer early in his career. By the time he was 25, he already had three top-five finishes in the NL MVP balloting. The power, though, vanished early. He hit 35 homers at age 23 and 29 at ages 24 and 27, but he never topped 16 homers from ages 28-33. He spent those years largely viewed as a disappointment, rather than as a guy who was still a fine regular with his excellent OBPs and quality defense at first base. At age 36, he had his best offensive season in 11 years, hitting .319/.418/.546 in 507 at-bats, only to retire immediately afterwards. When he came eligible for the Hall of Fame, no one gave him a second look. However, the analytics movement shed some new light on his career. I still don’t think he’s over the cut line (I’m more interested in seeing Keith Hernandez in), but he’s not all that far off.

Orel Hershiser: Hershiser debuted on the HOF ballot in 2006 with 11.2% of the vote, a number that suggested he’d stick around for a while. However, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn became eligible the next year, Hershiser fell under 5 percent and was removed from the ballot. Hershiser had some greatness, bookending his 1988 NL Cy Young Award with fourth-place finishes in 1987 and 1989. He finished 2nd or 3rd in the NL in ERA every years from 1985-89. However, after suffering a torn labrum in 1990, he was an average starter for the duration of his career, going 105-85 with a 4.17 ERA and a 100 ERA+. I think Hershiser’s case is worth the revisit, but I prefer David Cone, Kevin Brown and Dave Stieb as Hall of Fame candidates. They had greatness, too, and Cone and Brown had it for more than five years.

Mark McGwire: McGwire would still be on the BBWAA ballot if not for the rule change dropping eligibility from 15 to 10 years. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame… the numbers are there, and I’m not sure how you tell the tale of 1990s baseball without him. 15 years after his retirement, McGwire ranks 11th all-time in homers and ninth in OPS. He cheated, but he was far from the only one.

My guess is that the new committee makes it four in a row in failing to elect a player. Not that it’s necessarily such a bad thing, since I have no faith in the ability of this committee to elect the most deserving players. Selig will get in, probably unanimously. I think Schuerholz has the best shot of the other options.

Jeremy Giambi vs. David Ortiz

jeremy-giambi
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The 2002 Red Sox won 93 games, only to finish 10 games behind the Yankees in the AL West and six back of the lone wild card. They named Theo Epstein the GM that November and allowed him to begin reshaping the team, then led by Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez.

The Red Sox didn’t make any big splashes that winter. Their biggest free agent signing was Ramiro Mendoza, who got $6.5 million for two years. They also signed Mike Timlin and Bill Mueller (who played behind Shea Hillenbrand at third initially). They traded for Todd Walker. They stole Bronson Arroyo off waivers.

What Epstein did totally overhaul was a first base-DH situation that held the team back the previous season. 2002 trade deadline pickup Cliff Floyd exited in free agency, as did disappointments Tony Clark and Jose Offerman.

Brought in was a three-headed monster of underappreciated, high-OBP, Moneyball-type players. First, the Red Sox traded Josh Hancock to the Phillies for Jeremy Giambi, who had just hit .244/.435/.538 in 156 at-bats after coming over from the A’s at midseason. He hit .272/.402/.475 in 684 at-bats total between 2001 and 2002, and he looked like he was still very much in his prime at age 28.

The day after the Giambi trade, the Twins made the move to release David Ortiz. No one pounced, though, and Ortiz remained unsigned for a month before joining the Boston on a one-year, $1.25 million contract. Ortiz, who was entering his age-27 season, hit .272/.339/.500 in 412 at-bats for the Twins in 2002.

While that was going on, the Red Sox were working to bring in Kevin Millar for first base. Millar hit .306/.366/.509 in 438 at-bats for the Marlins in 2002 and was even better the previous season, but he was a poor outfielder and third baseman and the team already had Derrek Lee at first base. So, the Marlins, rather than trade Millar for a player, sold him to Japan for some much-preferred cash. Millar, not realizing that he was a desired commodity around the league, went along with the plan. That’s when the Red Sox broke an unwritten rule and claimed Millar off waivers. It turned into a long ordeal, but the Red Sox were finally able to land Millar in February by buying him from the Marlins.

I remember at the time being most excited about the Giambi acquisition. He couldn’t play defense and he had gotten himself exiled by the A’s for some transgression the previous year, but he looked like an awesome offensive force with his terrific power and ridiculous walk rate. Ortiz was certainly worth taking the chance on, too, but I thought Giambi would be better and leave Ortiz with little to do.

Indeed, Giambi started over Ortiz on Opening Day. However, both got off to lousy starts and Giambi’s playing time quickly diminished. Giambi finished April at .125/.288/.292 in 60 plate appearances, starting only once in the final week of the month. Ortiz came in at .212/.311/.346 in 61 plate appearances.

Both players found their strokes at the beginning of May. For Giambi, though, it amounted to all of about two weeks of success. He peaked with an .828 OPS on May 16. Ortiz’s build was slower, but it lasted. He had a .942 OPS in May, a .961 OPS in June, a .987 OPS in July and a 1.097 OPS in August before plummeting all of the way to .977 in September. He finished 5th in the AL MVP balloting despite playing about half the time the first two months.

Giambi, finding himself more starved for at-bats after Ortiz heated up, landed on the DL in late June with a bad shoulder. At the time, it looked like it might have been a made-up injury to get him playing time in the minors for a spell. It wasn’t. He returned a few weeks later, but he still wasn’t right. He made his last appearance on Aug. 1, going 0-for-3 against the Orioles. He landed back on the DL and then underwent surgery to repair damage in his labrum and rotator cuff.

As it turned out, Giambi never played in the majors again. As he was trying to come back from the shoulder surgery the next spring, he developed back problems. He played in 17 minor league games with the Dodgers in 2004 and nine with the White Sox in 2005. That was it for him, and he was done at 30 years old. In early 2005, he admitted to using BALCO-provided steroids and said that he regretted it. The strength training likely played roles in both his emergence and his downfall, given the breakdown of his body.

Things worked out a little differently for Ortiz…

Ortiz through 2002 (age 26): .266/.348/.461, 108 OPS+ in 1,693 PA
Giambi through 2002 (age 27): .269/.381/.437, 114 OPS+ in 1,549 PA

Ortiz after 2002: .290/.386/.570, 148 OPS+ in 8,387 PA
Giambi after 2002: .197/.342/.354, 81 OPS+ in 156 PA

And those 2003 Red Sox? Well, they won 95 games, which was good enough for the wild card this time. Still, they lost to the Yankees in seven games in the ALCS. They were still one year away.