The AL payroll picture

Whether they’re in a pennant race or not, major-league general managers are already working feverishly on next year’s team. Between now and the rest of the season, they are keeping an eye on every player who will be eligible for free agency. They want to make sure they get as many scouting opinions as possible from their top evaluators all the way down to their scouting supervisors. At the same time, they are letting their research-and-development team study and analyze all statistical, medical, financial and personal information that they can gather from every source imaginable. Clubs want to be as prepared as possible for the first day of free agency.

Every GM will have an overall ranking of the free-agent class as well as by position. Of course, how involved they actually get in free agency will have more to do with their team’s future payroll budgets, existing long-term contracts, arbitration eligible players, players available through trade and what minor-league prospects are ready to make the major-league club. Free agency is usually a last resort to improve a team because it’s the most expensive way to get better. Unless you are a player or two away from being a World Series contender or your team has the financial wherewithal to chase the top players in the class, the preference for most clubs is to improve the team through the draft, farm system and trades.

The top players in this year’s free-agent class include Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Beltran, David Ortiz, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell and Francisco Rodriguez.

So who is going to be the most active in free agency? To get a sense of this, I've estimated the money that each club has coming off the books at the and of the season. We'll start with the American League today, and break down the NL later in the week.