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Inside Baseball | How much will the top-80 free agents get?

Jon Heyman



USA Today

Free agency is upon us. Which means it’s time for our annual free-agent predictions – yes, the money, not necessarily the teams (though we’ll take a stab at those in a few cases).

For about the 10th straight year (rough estimate), we are enlisting our trusty expert, whose record in the competition against me is perfect. Ten for 10. Some years he has hit as many as 10 dead on, so he is quite amazing; me, not so much.

Anyway, here are our picks for the top 80 free agents:

1. Eric Hosmer, 1B. Forget the defensive metrics that don’t tell the full story. There are a lot of things that go into playing first beyond range, and Hosmer is excellent in all of those areas – from pickoff plays to throws to third or home to the 3-6-3 double play, which resulted in a Gold Glove this year. He also continues to improve, and hits fee agency at the right time. The numbers should get better away from Kauffman Stadium. But he’s the guy the Royals most want to keep. The Red Sox also make sense. He gets the top spot after Yu Darvish’s rough World Series.

Expert: $165M/7 years. Me: $160M/7 years

2. J.D. Martinez, OF. He was having a big year in Detroit, then went to Arizona and absolutely took off. He wound up with the highest slugging percentage in the game and is one of the top-three home run hitters in baseball over the last three years. Sluggers have been overlooked to a degree in the last couple markets, but this guy won’t be. It’s an added bonus he has no qualifying offer attached, too. Could easily grab the top spot, certainly on a per-year basis.

Expert: $162M/6 years. Me: $150M/6 years.

3. Yu Darvish, SP. He occupied the No. 1 position on this list the first time a few months ago, but an ultra-rough World Series will hurt him a bit. It’s not just the “recency” factor, but he again raised the issue of whether he will come up big in a big spot. He definitely has great stuff, and he’s very sensitive (what a nice touch sending a letter to the Dallas Morning News to defend his old pitching coaches in Texas!). But those last two games will weigh heavily, considering their importance.

Expert: $155M/6 years. Me: $144M/6 years.

4. Jake Arrieta, SP. He has pretty consistently come up big in big spots, and while he’s a little older than Darvish, a case could be made that he’s logged fewer innings (Darvish was an early pro in Japan) – though of course some of that is because he struggled as an Oriole, despite the obvious talent. While he has an unorthodox delivery, he’s never had Tommy John surgery, and generally has avoided arm trouble. It’s been an interesting career, with some low lows and some incredible highs. But a much better second half than first helps his case.

Expert: $140M/5 years. Me: $125M/5 years.

5. Mike Moustakas, 3B. He had a big walk year, and unlike last year, when hardly anyone was looking for a third baseman, this time at least two big-market teams could be in play – the Angels and Giants (though San Francisco seems at the moment to be focused on their iffy outfield). After a year in which he set the Royals franchise record for home runs with 38, he should cash in pretty big.

Aug 28, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals third basemen Mike Moustakas (8) at bat during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Expert: $92M/5 years. Me: $80M/5 years.

6. Lorenzo Cain, CF. He’s just a terrific all-around player who has been a big part of the Royals success. There doesn’t seem to be much (or any) chance he’ll stay, but there should be plenty of suitors, with the Dodgers, Giants, Mariners and Rangers among the most logical landing spots.

Expert: $68M/4 years. Me: $80M/5 years.

7. Wade Davis, RP. He won a World Series in Kansas City and did everything he could to push the Cubs into the NLCS last year. The value of closers – and the pen in general – seems to be going up, as the teams with the best pens have been thriving. He maybe doesn’t have the rubber arm of a Kenley Jansen, but it’s hard to debate his dominance when he’s rested and right.

Expert: $64M/4 years. Me: $72M/4 years.

8. Alex Cobb, SP. The Rays read it correctly, extending a qualifying offer he has no chance to accept. He just turned 30, making him the youngest of the top-four pitchers available, he rediscovered his changeup later and he’s a plus for any team, as the Rays said upon making the offer they can’t really afford. They needn’t worry; he should do quite well.

Expert: $58M/4 years. Me: $75M/5 years.

9. Lance Lynn, SP. He’s a very solid pitcher who could draw interest for many teams, and to his credit, he’s really worked himself into very good shape in recent years. He’s another with a qualifying offer who won’t have to take it. The expert is obviously looking at Mike Leake and Wei-Yin Chen.

Expert: $75M/5 years. Me: $56M/4 years.

10. Greg Holland, RP. This list is full of Royals, and ex-Royals (three Royals and two ex-Royals in the top 10), and he should be a big draw after a nice comeback year in Colorado, not the easiest of places for a pitcher. He ran out of gas in the second half at altitude, but his first half was reminiscent of his two monster years in K.C. The Cardinals need to do something about their pen, the Mets are interested in bulking up their back-end and several others could be in play, too, including the Cubs. But the Rockies would love to keep him.

Expert: $60M/4 years. Me: $64M/4 years.

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11. Carlos Santana, 1B. What a versatile player he is. He can bat cleanup or leadoff, he switch-hits, and in a pinch can dabble at other positions – though he has become very good at first. He also got the qualifying offer, which tells you where the Indians think this is going.

Expert: $38M/3 years. Me: $48M/3 years.

12. Zack Cozart, SS. The Reds never did trade him (they came close with the Mariners a year ago) and ultimately they decided a qualifying offer would be too big a risk for the small-market franchise. He certainly can play the position, and he can hit, too, so someone may get a deal. (It’s just hard to find teams desperate for a shortstop, which was Cincinnati’s problem.)

Expert: $35M/3 years. Me: $48M/4 years.

13. Todd Frazier, 3B. He was terrific in the Bronx, and you’d have to figure he wouldn’t mind going cross-town to the Mets. He’s a plus in any clubhouse, and he proved to be clutch in the Yankees’ run. His time there should work as a free agent aid.

Expert: $32M/3 years. Me: $48M/4 years.

14. Jay Bruce, OF. He’s been a consistently good power hitter and underrated all-around player. Never mind that couple-month blip in his first foray in Queens; last year was really good in New York, and then again in Cleveland, in the heat of a pennant race in the case of The Tribe. It was weird that the trade market wasn’t great either year, but he should do better as a free agent.

Expert: $40M/3 years. Me: $36M/3 years.

15. Addison Reed, RP. While he wasn’t at his best at times with the Red Sox, he’s one of the more dependable set-up men in the game.

Expert: $35M/4 years. Me: $27M/3 years.

Sep 29, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Addison Reed (43) walks to the dugout after pitching during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

16. Logan Morrison, 1B. Last year it seemed like $2.5 million might be an overpay, but it turned out to be one of the biggest bargains in the game. This time he should be able to get 10 times the deal he got last time after a monster year in the Trop (at least that’s what I think).

Expert: $22M/2 years. Me: $36M/3 years.

17. Mike Minor, RP. He remade himself with a big year in Kansas City and should have quite the time on the open market. The type of lefty many will seek.

Expert: $32M/4 years. Me: $24M/3 years.

18. Carlos Gomez, OF. He did better in Texas than Houston but still isn’t back to his Milwaukee form. Multiple talents are a draw, though. The expert is obviously looking at Denard Span.

Expert: $35M/3 years. Me: $18M/2 years.

19. Andrew Cashner, SP. Folks scoffed (OK, me, too) when the Rangers gave him $10 million on a one-year deal. But it turned out to be a worthwhile investment. While he disappointed in Miami, and before that San Diego, he should still get a multiyear deal this time.

Expert: $30M/3 years. Me: $22M/2 years.

20. Tyler Chatwood, SP. He’s young, and he is talented, so he may play in free agency. He’s had some injuries, but perhaps a move away from Coors could trigger big-time improvement.

Expert: $24M/3 years. Me: $25M/2 years.

21 Anthony Swarzak, RP. He put together a very nice walk year at a time the value of relievers is skyrocketing. Good timing. 

Expert: $28M/4 years. Me: $21M/3 years.

22. Brandon Morrow, RP. The strong-armed former first-rounder who’d previously had all sorts of injury issues became an ironman for the Dodgers in October, appearing in every October game but one. Amazingly, he didn’t lose much on the fastball along the way, either.

Expert: $23M/3 years. Me: $24M/3 years.

23. Brandon Kintzler, RP. The former Twins closer looked pretty good in a pennant race, too. He’s a long way from his days working at Cold Stone Creamery.

Expert: $24M/3 years. Me: $21M/3 years.

24. Jonathan Lucroy, C. He salvaged his season a bit after his trade to the Rockies following a disastrous start in Texas. Overall, it wasn’t close to the walk year he would have liked. But his all-around skills should still result in a decent payday.

Expert: $22M/2 years. Me: $23M/2 years.

25. Neil Walker, 2B. This fellow can hit, and there are teams that can use a second baseman, which puts him in a decent spot. He made the right call to take the qualifying offer last year, but he should be able to get a multi-year deal this time.

Expert: $21M/2 years. Me: $22M/2 years.

Sep 15, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Neil Walker (15) celebrates after hitting a grand slam during the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

26. Jaime Garcia, SP. There’s always a job for a solid No. 4 type starter. There should be a multiyear deal out there for him.

Expert: $25M/3 years. Me: $18M/2 years.

27. Steve Cishek, RP. Another reliever who should draw big interest.

Expert: $20M/3 years. Me: $21M/3 years.

28. Tony Watson, RP. He seemed like only a bit player in that deep Dodgers pen, but he has closed in the past and could be a fine set-up man for most.

Expert: $19M/3 years. Me: $21M/3 years.

29. Jason Vargas, SP. The peripherals aren’t beautiful, but he knows how to pitch – and win. That should count for something.

Expert: $14M/2 years. Me: $24M/2 years.

30. Jhoulys Chacin, SP. He raised his value with a decent year at PETCO.

Expert: $17M/2 years. Me: $20M/2 years.

31. Welington Castillo, C. He opted out of his $7 million salary because he figured he could do better. An offensive catcher is a nice thing to have.

Expert: $22M/3 years. Me: $14M/2 years.

32. Bryan Shaw, RP. He was a less-known part of a daunting Indians pen, but in baseball circles, folks understand what he can do. He’s a force.

Expert: $12M/2 years. Me: $24M/3 years.

33. CC Sabathia, SP. He recreated himself, starring late and in the postseason, when he became the Yankees’ go-to guy. The age and shape will keep it from being a long deal, but he should get eight figures per year, at least.

Expert: $14M/1 year. Me: $15M/1 year.

34. Carlos Gonzalez, OF. It’s hard to believe he’s below teammate Chatwood on this list (and perhaps he shouldn’t be). CarGo may just go for a one-year deal to reset, but there will be multiyear opportunities for him if he prefers. He was much better in the final weeks of the season, which may give someone the idea he’ll get back to himself.

Expert: $14M/1 year. Me: $15M/1 year.

35. Eduardo Nunez, INF. The versatile infielder brings big-time offense. He’s come a long way from his days as a backup in the Bronx. A plus for any team.

Expert: $14M/2 years. Me: $15M/2 years.

36. Jarrod Dyson, OF. The speedy outfielder is a weapon a lot of GMs would like to get their hands on.

Expert: $14M/2 years. Me: $15M/2 years

37. Jon Jay, OF. He had a very nice year on the North Side of Chicago and has been beloved everywhere he’s gone.

Expert: $9M/1 year. Me: $20M/2 years.

38. Pat Neshek, RP. He had an All-Star first half in Philly (even if Zack Greinke wasn’t necessarily impressed). He also brings a different look, which is value added. 

Expert: $13M/2 years. Me: $16M/2 years.

39. Yonder Alonso, 1B. He had the big first half (and All-Star Game), so he could make someone dream. Not as consistent as some others, however.

Expert: $15M/2 years. Me: $12M/2 years.

40. Jake McGee, RP. A pitcher leaving Coors always looks better.

Expert: $15M/2 years. Me: $12M/2 years.

Sep 23, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jake McGee (51) throws a pitch to a San Diego Padres batter during the seventh inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

41. Austin Jackson, OF. He made the greatest catch of the year, and that oughta count for something.

Expert: $15M/2 years. Me: $12M/2 years.

42. Juan Nicasio, RP. Another hard-throwing reliever who will take advantage of the market. The Cardinals seem to want him back.

Expert: $14M/2 years. Me: $12M/2 years.

43. Howie Kendrick, INF-OF. He raised his value with a big performance for the Nats, even if he didn’t play much in the postseason.

Expert: $7M/1 year. Me: $16M/2 years.

44. Alex Avila, C. He hit up a storm this year in Detroit, was a valuable contributor in a pennant race for the Cubs and is back to full health. Good for him.

Expert: $11M/2 years. Me: $12M/2 years.

45. Chris Iannetta, C. Some big numbers (17 home runs, .865 OPS) should boost him this time.

Expert: $5M/1 year. Me: $14M/2 years.

46. Michael Pineda, SP. The Tommy John news killed what looked like a $50+ million deal to come, but he could still sign a two-year arrangement.

Expert: $4M/1 year. Me: $15M/2 years.

47. Joe Smith, RP. This solid reliever keeps keeping on finding jobs, and it doesn’t hurt he gives a different look.

Expert: $9M/2 years. Me: $10M/1 year.

48. Jeremy Hellickson, SP. The Phillies overpaid by quite a bit last year, but he has showed he can be successful even in a small park, if he’s in the National League. He could become the opposite this year – a bargain.

Expert: $8M/1 year. Me: $10M/1 year.

49. Cameron Maybin, OF. The Astros showed how he could be a valuable fourth outfielder (and maybe a third outfielder for some).

Expert: $8M/2 years. Me: $10M/2 years.

50. John Lackey, SP. The irascible right-hander isn’t retiring, and he looks like he may have a bullet or two left – as long as starts and doesn’t relieve. 

Expert: $8M/1 year. Me: $9M/1 year.

51. Yunel Escobar, 3B. He can hit, but his timing in free agency isn’t the best.

Expert: $10M/2 years. Me: $7M/1 year.

52. Lucas Duda, 1B. This might be a nice time for a bounce-back year for Duda. The Mariners always have been fans, and they need a first baseman.

Expert: $5M/1 year. Me: $12M/2 years.

54. Tommy Hunter, RP. Hard thrower could boost a lot of pens.

Expert: $11M/2 years. Me: $6M/1 year.

54. Miles Mikolas, SP. The return to the majors from Japan could be a repeat of Colby Lewis.

Expert: $7.5M/2 years. Me: $8M/2 years.

55. Chris Tillman, SP. He’s still young, and a one-year reset may do him well.

Expert: $8M/1 year. Me: $7M/1 year.

56. Matt Belisle, RP. He did a decent job as a surprise closer for the Twins.

Expert: $4.5M/1 year. Me: $10M/2 years.

57. Matt Holliday, DH. He was looking pretty good before a virus derailed him.

Expert: $7M/1 year. Me: $7M/1 year.

58. David Hernandez, RP. They obviously love him in Arizona.

Expert: $4M/1 year. Me: $10M/2 years.

59. R.A. Dickey, SP. The knuckleballer looks like he could go on forever. But does he want to?

Expert: $6.5M/1 year. Me: $7M/1 year.

60. Mark Reynolds, 1B. Yet another first baseman, Reynolds had his best year in a while.

Expert: $5.5M/1 year. Me: $8M/1 year.

Sep 21, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Colorado Rockies first baseman Mark Reynolds (12) follows through against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

61. Jose Reyes, INF. Terry Collins’ favorite guy had a big second half and finished with 15 homers and 24 stolen bases. Can play shortstop, but only in a pinch now.

Expert: $6M/1 year. Me: $7M/1 year.

62 Wade Miley, SP. He had a rough start but still put up some innings.

Expert: $6M/1 year. Me: $7M/1 year.

63. Luke Gregerson, RP. He’s still fooling ‘em. In fact, used in the right spots, he went the entire postseason without allowing a run.

Expert: $3M/1 year. Me: $10M/2 years.

64. Mike Napoli, 1B. He still has pop, and his teams usually win.

Expert: $7M/1 year. Me: $6M/1 year.

65. Jayson Werth, OF. He was derailed by an injury, but something tells me he has another year or two in him. He’d like three or four.

Expert: $5.5M/1 year. Me: $6M/1 year.

66. Mitch Moreland, 1B. One of many first baseman out on the market once again.

Expert: $5M/1 year. Me: $6M/1 year.

67. Melky Cabrera, OF. He can still hit, though the outfield play is down a few notches.

Expert: $6M/1 year. Me: $5M/1 year.

68. Fernando Rodney, RP. He got the job done, for the most part.

Expert: $4M/1 year. Me: $5M/1 year.

69. Alcides Escobar, SS. Great defender hit a little better in the second half, but his overall offensive numbers are a drag.

Expert: $6M/1 year. Me: $5M/1 year.

70. Brandon Phillips, 2B. The man called DatDudeBP complained about his $85 million contract to a magazine in Cincinnati, but by the end of his deal, two trades showed how teams valued him – he was a virtual giveaway.

Expert: $6M/1 year. Me: $5M/1 year.

71. Bud Norris, RP. The Angels’ surprise closer should do better than last time.

Expert: $5M/1 year. Me: $5M/1 year.

72. Scott Feldman, SP. Solid starter did a nice job again for the Reds at a reasonable rate before moving on to Toronto.

Expert: $4M/1 year. Me: $5M/1 year.

73. Ricky Nolasco, SP. Soft-tosser should get a major-league deal, though not at the extravagant price he did last time.

Expert: $5M/1 year. Me: $4M/1 year.

74. Seung-hwan Oh, RP. The Final Boss dropped off last year.

Expert: $4M/1 year. Me: $4M/1 year.

75. Jose Bautista, OF. Due to the name alone, he should be able to get a major-league deal, as long as he sets his sights reasonable and doesn’t insist on Toronto again.

Expert: $4M/1 year. Me: $5M/1 year.

76. Miguel Gonzalez, SP. Soft-tosser found a way to get outs once again.

Expert: $3M/1 year. Me: $4M/1 year.

77. A.J. Ellis, C. Excellent defensive catcher fit nicely with the Marlins.

Expert: $3M/1 year. Me: $3M/1 year.

78. Andre Ethier, OF. He still can swing it, and he’s transformed into a sage veteran now.

Expert: $3M/1 year. Me: $3M/1 year.

79. Francisco Liriano, RP. He was useful out of the pen. Would anyone want him as a starter?

Expert: $3M/1 year. Me: $3M/1 year.

80. Trevor Rosenthal, RP. He could do the two-year thing, too. But after Holland’s on-field (and monetary) success, he could also sit out and come back for bigger bucks once recovered.

Expert: No contract. Me: No contract

Jon Heyman is an MLB Insider for FanRag Sports, featuring breaking news, information and his Inside Baseball column, which appears on FanRagSports.com every Thursday. Heyman also has been an insider at MLB Network since the channel launched in 2009 and is a regular contributor to WFAN in New York, where he appears weekly on the Joe and Evan Show and previously appeared on the Mike and the Mad Dog Show. He also appears on WSCR in Chicago, WBZ-FM in Boston and the Petros and Money Show on Fox in Los Angeles. Heyman comes to FanRag Sports from CBSSports.com, where he worked for five years and wrote the popular Inside Baseball notes column. Before going to CBS, Heyman worked for five years at Sports Illustrated and SI.com, where he was a senior writer and started an Inside Baseball Column. Heyman worked for 16 years at Newsday in New York, where he was the Yankees beat writer, a baseball columnist and finally a general sports columnist. Heyman started his career at the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch, then moved to the Los Angeles Copley Newspapers (Torrance Daily Breeze and Santa Monica Outlook) before going to Newsday. Heyman at one time also served as a national baseball writer for The Sporting News. Heyman is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The Santa Fe, N.M. native grew up in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.