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Ranking the 40 best free agents of the 2015-2016 MLB offseason

From Greinke to Morneau, here's a list of the best players that will take only money to acquire.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

We've done this before. Last year, right around this time, we presented a Free Agent Power Ranking to get you ready for the offseason. Do you remember what it included?

1. Edinson Volquez

You want an ace, but you don't have a lot of money to spend. Do you empty the farm and trade for a young pitcher? Or do you settle for a merely okay starter whose upside is "will probably stay healthy"?

Neither. You get Edinson Volquez, who is awesome now. Forget about how he was released by a bunch of teams before landing with the Pirates. Forget about his dreadful start in the NL Wild Card Game. He's the kind of pitcher who starts Game 1 for a team that wins the World Series.

That's why he's our number one free agent back here, in November, 2014.

Oh, there were other words, sure. A lot of attention was paid to Max Scherzer, who had a fine year, but wasn't enough of a reinforcement to get the Nationals back to the postseason. There was the mystery of Yasmany Tomas, unless it was the mysteri of Yasmani Tomas, and Tomas turned out to be a jagged, raw player who might be more Delmon Young than Jose Abreu.

The answer was "Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales." Oh, and "Alex Rios, who will stink for the most part and forget how many outs there are in a crucial spot in the World Series, but will also get ridiculously timely hits, so idk?"

These free agents will not do what you expect them to do. That is, once the season starts. Before the season, they'll do exactly what you want them to do, over and over again, until the clocks change back. You'll know exactly how they'll fit, exactly which teams got better.

It's a fun time. Here is a ranking of the best free agents on the market in Major League Baseball this offseason:

1. Zack Greinke

Technically not a free agent, but he will be soon. His choice is essentially to take a three-year contract for $73 million and hope he doesn't get hurt, or take the $200 million deal with a moon base. He will take the $200 million deal with a moon base.

The contract will probably come from the Dodgers. It's not like the Dodgers are itchy to try a new ace because this one stunk in the postseason. Greinke was excellent, as he had been all year, and he fits everything about the Dodgers. He fits the ballpark and he fits the analytic bent of the front office. Not to mention, with his clean mechanics and cerebral approach, he seems like the kind of pitcher who will age well. Take away five miles per hour, and he could totally be Bartolo Colon. Just ... less so. The Dodgers will pay.

My guess, though, is that the Giants will fight dirty for Greinke, considering the consolation for losing him would be that the Dodgers would have to spend more money.

2. David Price

He was probably No. 1 before the postseason. Price is two years younger than Greinke, and he has a more typical pitcher's frame. Both of those should count more than a postseason filled with rotten luck.

I am, however, a flawed human being. And I can't get over the idea of Price being less than magic. That is true of pretty much every pitcher, but this reminder just happened before someone's going to sign an oversized novelty check and give it to him at a press conference.

Whatever. He's still awesome, and he won't cost a draft pick. Call him free agent 1a, similar to the Lester/Scherzer debates last year. Turns out they were both excellent pitchers who helped their respective teams win in their first season. In 2020, we'll be talking about the David Price contract disaster. In 2016, he'll make his new team better. (Unless he didn't mind that the Blue Jays treated him like Jon Niese when things started to get hairy in the postseason and re-signs.)

3. Jason Heyward

4. Alex Gordon

Heyward is over Alex Gordon because of age, not to mention the advantage in production this year, but they're quite similar. They have power, but not that much. They can whiff, but they're not allergic to contact. They have a broad set of offensive skills, but their defensive wizardry is what teams will pay for.

There's a big difference, though, in that teams will pay Gordon for being Gordon, whereas one of these rich teams is going to come over the top with their contract because they still think Heyward has star potential, heading into his age-26 season. He's still the J-Hey Kid, you know, a nickname that belies just how unreasonable expectations were, while still hinting that the expectations were still founded in something that made sense.

When Gordon was 26, he was a Royals tragedy, flitting between the minors and majors and looking completely lost at the plate. Ha ha, oh, Royals. Now look at him. He's going to make nine figures to catch the ball and be an all-around excellent player into his late 30s.

When Heyward was 26, he was about to become a multi-multi-millionaire. That is, right now. Gordon is the used car from Craiglist with 80,000 miles on it. Heyward is the dealer's special with 20,000 miles on it, driven only on Sundays, what a deal, don't look at the CARFAX, look over here, what a deal, I SAID DON'T LOOK AT THE CARFAX, he runs fine, no major problems, really.

SB Nation presents: What the Royals went through since their last World Series title

5. Jordan Zimmermann

WAR since 2011:

David Price, 23
Zack Greinke, 23
Johnny Cueto, 21
Jordan Zimmermann, 20

That's about a half-win behind the other three each year. How much would you pay for that half-win? An extra $20 million? $50 million? Is it possible that Zimmermann gets $100 million less than Price or Greinke?

It is possible! Part of it has to do with Zimmermann coming off a good-not-great year like the other two. Part of it has to do with Zimmermann constantly being overshadowed by other pitchers on his team. Part of it has to do with that extra "n" weirding people out. It's a rich tapestry.

Zimmermann will be a relative bargain. He'll also be a disaster of a contract by the end, just because all pitchers over $100 million are. If he doesn't get to nine figures, though, he might be someone who makes us think, "How did we miss so badly on this guy?" by the end of May.

6. Johnny Cueto

Good news! No tears.

But, wait, there was an MRI in the first place. Then he looked horrible for the Royals after being traded, simply awful. Those two have to be connected, right?

Then he pitched wonderfully in the World Series, throwing the first complete game for the American League there since Jack Morris in '91. He was throwing as hard as ever, with crisp fastballs and devastating changeups. He's fine, just fine.

Unless ...

All pitchers are a risk. Cueto is just a little dusting of extra risk on top. It should be noted that he went from 60⅔ innings in 2013 to 243⅔ (!) in 2014, so it shouldn't have been surprising that he faded a little down the stretch. The question for teams is if that's a "I'm tired" fade or an "there are lawnmower blades in my elbow, please help" fade. Considering the low- and high-priced rotation alternatives, the saga of Cueto on the open market might be the offseason's most compelling story.

7. Justin Upton

Good player. Very good player, even. Not a building block of a franchise, though. He'll get paid like one because that's how free agency works, so hopefully he's going to a team that can surround him with talent instead of one that expects him to be the talent.

He has things going for him, of course: Age, dingers, and age. It's not unreasonable to expect him to be a three-win player, with the potential for more, over the next four or five years. Like Heyward, he has that extra what-if that will boost his price to spit-take levels when he signs.

I could see him being the Pablo Sandoval of next year, signing to play in a park that should greatly enhance his natural talents, then flopping. I could also see him hitting like Nelson Cruz, except with average defense, for the next decade. He'll get paid by a team expecting that latter scenario.

8. Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes was 3-for-20 in the World Series, and he played centerfield like someone wearing a gigantic sandwich board that read, "I should not be in centerfield." If there was a rush to proclaim him the savior of a franchise -- indeed, the most valuable player in the league, according to some -- there probably isn't going to be a rush to pay him as such.

He'll still get $100 million or more. He'll be 30 next year, and he was worth six wins last season, according to Baseball-Reference, and four the year before that. It's possible that he evolved from a 20-homer player into a 30-homer monster, and that's what his agent will expect teams to pay for. For all his defensive foibles in center, he really is solid in a corner, it's the dangedest thing.

On a five-year deal, there's almost no way he's the same player by the end. But that's the price of admission, and for the next couple seasons, he'll make fans happy. It just won't be the Mets.

9. Kenta Maeda?

The question mark is because no one knows if he's going to be posted by the Hiroshima Carp, though it seems likely, considering he would be an unrestricted free agent next year, and the Carp would get nothing if he left.

Peter Gammons talked to some folks who were dubious about Maeda:

Several teams have been in Japan to scout Kenta Maeda, but one club reports "he can pitch, he’s got a good curveball, but he’s slight, may have trouble pitching every fifth day after going once a week in Japan and is more a backend guy." Fine.

Greinke's slight, too, but the once-per-week point is a good one. While there's been a fair amount of immediate success with pitchers coming over from Japan, there hasn't been a lot of sustained, injury-free success from even the best pitchers. Probably because they're pitchers. Be careful of those guys, you can't trust them. But the accelerated workload doesn't seem like something that would help.

Dude can pitch, though. And his pitchface is at least a 65, maybe a 70.

More pitchers need to incorporate teeth in their pitchface.

10. Chris Davis

Davis hit 100 combined homers in 2013 and 2015. Those are stellar numbers in the Pre-Mitchell Report Era, when hitters were brutes and pitchers were terrified. Those are peerless numbers in today's offensive context.

Davis hit .196 in 2014. I know batting average is out of vogue but, trust me, it looked like a .196 kind of season. He still hit 26 homers and was a net positive to the Orioles, but he appeared out of the mists, and he's always a threat to disappear back into them.

He's not much of a fielder, not at first nor in the outfield, so you would think the suitors would be cut in half. Still, if you want power, this is the name brand. Forget chasing the other nine-figure players, like Cespedes and Upton, hoping they turn into Davis. Get the real thing and hope he has three years left of peak-Kingman.

Imagine him on the Royals. Imagine him on the Astros. Imagine him on the Yankees, threatening 60 homers. He fits just about anywhere in the AL, and the power is real enough to get NL teams to make accommodations.

11. Ben Zobrist

He'll be 35 next year, and his defensive numbers took a hit, but he's still just about the perfect player. He's a switch-hitter without platoon issues, and he plays just about anywhere. Have some questions in the outfield and an injury-prone infielder? Zobrist is insurance for both. Have a rookie you want to test in the outfield, but want a contingency plan in case it doesn't work out? Zobrist can move wherever, allowing you to use whatever you have on hand in the best possible way.

Also, he's really, really good. WAR since 2009:

1. Robinson Cano, 44
2. Miguel Cabrera, 44
3. Adrian Beltre, 43
4. Joey Votto, 40
5. Ben Zobrist, 39

That's about twice as much value as Edwin Encarnacion or Jayson Werth, if you're looking for perspective. If he were 29, he would get a 10-year deal.

Alas, he's going to be 35, which puts him in the Land of Three- Or Four-Year Deals. He'll have his pick of teams, at least. He fits everywhere.

12. John Lackey

What an odd career path. From All-Star (just once, mind you), to innings eater, to Boston pariah, to Boston hero, to Game 1 starter for the Cardinals. His face is frozen in a way that makes him look like he's eternally watching someone eat kitty litter, but he can't help that.

In a way, the old pitchers are the best free agents of all because they aren't expecting that 10-year deal for all the squillions. The risk is lower, but the reward isn't that diminished.

13. Hisashi Iwakuma

In a way, the old pitchers are the best free agents of all because ... right. Iwakuma is a Mariners favorite, and they refused to trade him at the deadline because they're expecting him to come back. It would certainly be an upset if he went anywhere else.

Iwakuma will be 35 next year and he's coming off his second straight above-average year. It's up to you if that sentence excites you or not, but it's worth noting that it took a stellar second half just for him to get back to above-average.

14. Scott Kazmir

Kazmir was Cueto-like after the deadline, a pitcher to work around, not a pitcher to fix the pitcher you wanted to work around. His lone postseason appearance was as underwhelming as the rest of his brief Astros career.

He hasn't thrown 200 innings or more since 2007, and even in his best season since his renaissance, he wasn't someone who could lead a rotation. Still, this is a good value pick for a team that can't go after the Prices or Greinkes. Think Francisco Liriano and the Pirates last year, or Edinson Volquez and the Royals.

14a. Wei-Yin Chen

One of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. So underrated, in fact, that I forgot him in this original article and didn't remember to include him until he signed, months later.

15. Howie Kendrick

Teams without second basemen of note:

  • Angels
  • Yankees
  • Angels
  • Braves
  • Wait, how do the A's still not have a second baseman, they've had years to fix this
  • White Sox
  • Angels

Considering how well Andrew Heaney pitched for the Angels, it's not like the decision to trade Kendrick ruined their season, but they could sure use him back.

16. Ian Desmond

Is he going to look for a one-year deal? Seems like a player who could benefit financially from a bounceback season, considering how rare of a player he is when he's right. A Gold Glove-nominated shortstop with 25-homer power is a beautiful helpful thing.

On the other hand, he hit .262/.331/.446 after the All-Star break, so maybe there will be a team confident enough to pay him like the first half never happened.

17. Daniel Murphy

Imagine if he just kept hitting throughout the World Series. You know that teams are smart enough to know the postseason is a random heroes generator ... except they're run by humans, and humans are just the dumbest slaves to recency bias.

Instead, at the risk of being one of those weenies who embeds their own tweet ...

Do you like iffy defense and mercurial hitting in a generally productive package? Well, do we have the infielder for you ...

18. Yovani Gallardo

There was a point last season when his ERA was a full run below his FIP, and every other indicator suggested this was the same ol' Gallardo. It looked like he was having the perfect, perfect, perfect walk year. Then regression was mean.

The good news is that the same ol' Gallardo is kind of underrated, possibly because of the expectations he's had since he was a prospect. Since 2009, his ERA+ is 109 -- comfortably above-average. He's avoided serious injury and transitioned well into a veteran non-ace role. After years of pitching in Milwaukee and Texas, it would be nice to see what he could do in a bigger ballpark. Between the Giants and Padres in the NL West, he might get a chance to find out.

19. Matt Wieters

Okay, Scott Boras. We're curious. We're interested. What kind of deal does a 30-year-old catcher get when he's coming off two injury-marred seasons and three years removed from his last season worth more than 1 WAR?

If his name were Donds Ferdly, probably a year and $5 million. But this is Matt Wieters, the once and future king, who broke PECOTA and tantalizes you with promise. He is a switch-hitting catcher with power, which is a rare creature indeed, so you can see why teams would be interested.

Boras did screw up with Ryan Madson that one time, remember. Keep that in mind when you're remembering the 474 different times he impressed you with the contract he secured for his client.

20. Colby Rasmus

Low-priced dingers, with extra potential attached. When Rasmus is right, he looks like the power demon he was in the postseason. When he's messed up, he looks like a strikeout. A twitching mass of hair and strikeout.

The Astros were glad they scooped him up. His next team probably will be, too, unless we're talking a four or five-year deal.

21. Mike Leake

He's young, so he's got that advantage. He's young and pretty OK, with hopes of being pretty OK for years and years. His career ERA+ is 101, which is the Mike Leake of ERA+.

Because he's so young, though, there's a chance he can get five years and more than $80 million. That's an awful lot to pay for pretty OK.

22. Marco Estrada

He had the season that people keep expecting from Leake, and he did it in a highly visible way. He's another member of the never-pitched-200-innings club, though, and he's already 32. He's probably a similar risk to Kazmir was before he signed with the A's, and that worked out swell.

I could see a team using him as a complementary addition to the rotation after spending the rest of their money on one of the top five pitchers.

23. Jeff Samardzija

In his eight seasons, spanning more than 991 innings, Samardzija has been worth just a couple more WAR than John Lackey was in 2015 alone. He might be the most overrated pitcher in the game, a confounding enigma of superlative stuff, encouraging peripheral stats, and disappointing seasons.

On the bright side, it's unlikely that he'll get paid like a top-rotation pitcher, getting a deal more in line with his average career to date, and he still has the electric fastball to dream on. He would have been a disaster of a deal if he were a free agent last year, but he could be a hidden bargain if everyone forgets about him this year.

24. Doug Fister

It feels like he's 39 years old, but he's still just 31. Control mavens without strikeout numbers are always dodgy, as you're always waiting for the other shoe. When it happens, there's a tendency to say, "SEE!" and move on.

At his best, though, Fister is a spindly marvel of command and control, and we're just a year removed from that. Like some of the other players up there, I could almost see a one-year deal to rebuild his value. I could also see a team targeting him, not worrying about his 2015 season all that much, and giving him three or four years.

25. Darren O’Day

A reliever! If you want to ape the Royals, here's your chance to do it. He's not exactly Wade Davis because no one is right now, but we're four years into the idea that O'Day is nearly unhittable, and he's coming off his best year yet.

The statistical orthodoxy used to be that paying relievers too much is bonkers. The new craze is the super-bullpen by any means necessary. This is the best reliever on the market, and it's a pretty steep drop after that.


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26. Asdrubal Cabrera

We're getting to the lightning round here, because you can't possibly have strong Asdrubal Cabrera opinions. Solid defender. Won't kill you with the bat, and might even have flashes of brilliance. If your team doesn't have a shortstop, here's a shortstop! He's fine. Better than fine, really, depending on whatever the alternative might be.

27. Mike Napoli

Possibly too low. Before this season, Napoli had a nine-season streak of double-digit home runs and above-average OPS+. He's a fine fielder at first, so he's not limited to the NL, and he rebounded marvelously with the Rangers after the deadline.

He would be the sleeper pick of the offseason, if not for the degenerative hip condition that voided his first contract with the Red Sox. Were his first-half struggles related to that? Not that we know of, but he certainly isn't a long-term solution either way as a 34-year-old former catcher.

As a short-term solution for a dinger-bereft team, though, he would probably be a low-cost alternative to Chris Davis.

28. Byung-ho Park

29. Ah-seop Son

Yeah, I don't know. I'm looking at the same stats you are. And based on the lukewarm interest received by Jung-ho Kang, who was excellent, I'm not sure the rest of baseball knows how to translate Korean stats, either.

Son is a left-handed outfielder with contact and patience. Park is a right-handed first baseman with the patience and average of Miguel Cabrera, the power of Chris Davis, and the strikeouts of Mark Reynolds. Both of them will be posted this winter, and after Kang's success, there might be a ton of interest.

Son seems like he'll interest teams in an understated, Norichika Aoki kind of way, whereas Park will be for the teams looking to "hit a home run" with their free agent risks.

The real question is when will golden KBO god Eric Thames come back?

30. Dexter Fowler

I used to be convinced that the spacious Coors Field outfield messed with his defensive stats, as he passes the eyeball test like he's cheating on it. Instead, nope, he just might be below average in center. And unless he hits 17 homers every year, he's kind of a tweener, with not enough speed, OBP, or power to get you excited about him in a corner spot.

Good player, though. I'm getting a "Yankees" and "30 homer" vibe from him.

31. Denard Span

He's not radically different from the player Michael Bourn was when he got his big deal. The single-season defensive stats in their walk seasons were much different, mind you, but if you think those were outliers, you might be more impressed with Span.

He's the first plus defensive centerfielder on this list -- second if you're OK with Rasmus -- so there will be teams fighting over him.

32. J.A. Happ

Earlier this season, I saw FanGraphs tweet out a link to an article titled Let's Try To Make Sense of J.A. Happ and knew the author was Jeff Sullivan, esoterica fetishist. And I thought, "Who in the absolute hell cares about J.A. Happ?"

Well, apparently Happ turned into Cliff Lee on his flight from Seattle to Pittsburgh, which isn't supposed to ... happen. Even though his name gives off a Doug Davis kind of vibe -- hit your spots, get left-handers out -- he's been more of a Jonathan Sanchez type for his career. Then he stopped walking as many batters and ostensibly improved his command in the zone at the same time.

I wouldn't give him a three-year deal, but I would fight other teams to lock him up for the next year or two, just to see if he's for real.

33. Chris Young

He got a one-year deal after 2014, with the rest of baseball saying, "OK, do it again." So he did it again. More than that, he turned into a strikeout warlock as a reliever in the postseason. Is the sample size small? Sure, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't dream about a setup/closer combo of Young and Trevor Cahill leading their team to the World Series next year.

If he's not a setup man, he's a pretty nifty option for the back of a rotation, with flexibility as an added bonus.

34. Ryan Madson

If you really want to ape the Royals, just take one of their better relievers. The fastball-change combo that made Madson one of the better closers in baseball a long time ago is back. It was a grueling slog to get there, so here's to Madson finally realizing his payday.

Now who wants to give him $36 million over three years? Anyone?

35. Brett Anderson

He actually did get that one-year show-me contract that we've been talking about for this entire article, and he was perfectly fine. He didn't head into the offseason with dreams of a seven-year deal or anything, but he'll get something longer and more lucrative than he would have if he settled for a multi-year deal last year.

Chris Capuano without the strikeouts probably doesn't excite you, but there sure a lot of ways to make your rotation worse.

36. Ian Kennedy

The last time Kennedy was above-average, his teammates Aaron Hill and Jason Kubel combined for 56 home runs. That was in 2012; since then, he's been his generation's Jeff Suppan, to be used as a simple description of a pitcher who is a thick fog of whatever, neither helping nor preventing his team from winning more.

It seems odd that there's an open question of "should the Padres offer Kennedy the qualifying offer?" floating around out there, because the idea of a team giving up a draft pick for Kennedy -- or the Padres paying over $15 million for him -- is a little daffy. Kennedy can miss bats, but if he can't keep the ball in Petco Park, what chance does he have somewhere less forgiving?

37. Mat Latos

This capsule used to be nothing but "Mat Latos eats his own boogers," but my editor is being a pain, so fine. Latos used to be a young pitcher with ace potential, but he's a surly malcontent who's had trouble staying healthy over the last two seasons, and he impressed the Dodgers so much after a July trade that they released him two months later. The end.

(OK, fine, he wouldn't be a bad one-year gamble for a team to take. He really was a fantastic pitcher in his prime.)

38. David Freese

After propelling the Cardinals to an unlikely and gross World Series comeback, Freese had his best season in 2012 ... then kind of disappeared. If the Angels were expecting an All-Star, they were disappointed.

He's a perfectly acceptable third baseman in a market that is mostly devoid of them. Do you like Casey McGehee? Do you like Joaquin Arias? If you're in the market for a third baseman, you should probably give Freese a second look. He's functional. The alternatives aren't, mostly.

39. Juan Uribe

This is the only other palatable alternative, and he comes with verified clutch dust. He's also 72 years old and coming off some sketchy injuries, so be afraid of a long-term commitment. He'll probably end up on someone's bench, worming his way to 300 at-bats of varying quality, and that will help his new team more than they should have a right to expect.

(Uribe is 37 and will swing at the swimmy things in his contacts, but he should have one more uribean year left in him.)

40. Justin Morneau

James Loney keeps getting many millions because it's hard to find a first baseman. There are at least a couple options this year, but Morneau might be in a sweet spot of affordability and production. It's probably more instructive to look at his raw Minnesota numbers from 2012 and 2013 rather than his two years in Coors, and the MVP season seems like it happened in another galaxy, but he'll give his new team some doubles and dingers. A smattering of them, at least.

If your favorite player didn't make this top-40 list of free agents, it's because I hate them and your team. Please email me to discuss this, and I'll get right back to you. Enjoy the offseason, everyone!