For the sixth straight year, Keith Law breaks down the top 50 free agents, this time for the class of 2011-12. Law's reports are based on firsthand observation. He has been the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc. since 2006. Before joining ESPN, Law served as special assistant to the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and was a writer for Baseball Prospectus.
This free-agent class is one of the thinnest I've ever seen, made thinner by the signing during the closed period of CC Sabathia (originally No. 3 on this list). There are only a few clear high-impact
players and a handful of high-risk/high-reward guys, but there's depth in potential average starters in the outfield, in back-end starting pitchers and in the bullpen.
As always, the free-agent class is skewed toward players who are in or soon to enter their decline phase, because the current system keeps them under team control until they've amassed six full years of major league service time (which might be spread out across more than six years). I've mixed in some younger players who hit free agency with question
marks unrelated to age (e.g., Grady Sizemore and his multiple surgeries) along with those higher-probability players who project only as fringe starters or bench guys going forward.