This free-agent class, known as the 2017 class, is one of the weakest in recent memory, but it does have a couple of impact middle-of-the-lineup bats (Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes), a couple of shutdown closers (Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman), strong defensive catchers (Matt Wieters, Wilson Ramos, Jason Castro) and outfielders with speed/power tools (Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond). As such, we should have plenty of bidding and negotiating to track this offseason.
But because of the weak class, one common theme I think we'll see compared with previous years is that teams will offer fewer years but slightly more AAV (average annual value). Contracts that normally would be 6-8 years will now be 4-5 years, but clubs will pay more per year. Also, as MLB revenue continues to grow, player salaries should rise as well.
The following is my estimate of what I think 50 of the top free agents will be paid this winter in terms of contract length, overall contract value and AAV, as well as which teams each player fits best. (In many cases, the team noted already has expressed interest.)
But first, some background: I served in front offices of major league teams for a quarter of a century, 15 of those years as a senior VP/GM. During that time, my responsibilities included studying free agents and the risks that come with them -- including age, injuries, makeup/character, statistical concerns and personal issues. I would scour every stat report, scouting report and developmental report I could, along with closely monitoring industry revenues and the impact they could have on my teams. Then there's the basic decline or improvement in physical ability and what it does for future projections. That's all juxtaposed against overall market shifts.
This is my sixth year projecting free-agent salaries for ESPN Insider. These are always a mix of gut instinct, evaluating new and old contracts and consultation with several people presently involved in the day-to-day operations of the sport, from both the agent and club sides.
A few other premises to keep in mind as you sift through my pricing of the top 50 MLB free agents:
1. The ranks themselves are based on my preferential order of the players, not by contract value.
2. Player salaries and terms are often based on position and supply and demand rather than just overall talent. That's just how the free-agent market works.
3. Another defining characteristic of the FA market: Signings from last year, both good and bad, will affect how some clubs do business.
4. The qualifying offer has increased to $17.2 million this year (from $15.8 million last year), which will have a domino effect on some free agents.
5. This list does not include any international free agents for two reasons: Because of the various posting fees, rules and regulations for signing international FAs, there's no guarantee the player will actually become a true free agent; and most important, I have never personally met those guys or seen them play. I don't care to project years and values on a player like that.
7. "Comps" stands for comparable contracts.
With that, let's get to my rankings and pricing of the top 50 free agents in this year's class:
1. Yoenis Cespedes, OF
Age: 31 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 5
2016 WAR: 2.9
Cespedes is the best overall player in this year's class, but don't expect him to get the contract length Upton, Heyward and Davis received a year ago. That said, I think he'll get a higher AAV than all of them and should get a fifth year. The Mets are clearly the best fit, as he has proved over the past couple of years that he can carry them for periods of time.
Projected contract: Five years, $129 million (AAV: $25.8M)
Best fits: Mets, Orioles, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Phillies, Astros
SIGNED with Mets (4 years, $110 million)