All is well in Major League Baseball from a financial perspective. MLB revenues continue to grow at a rapid pace, and in turn, player salaries continue to skyrocket; we'll see plenty of handsome contracts given out this offseason.
How handsome? That's what we look at below, as I offer up an expected contract length, dollar value and Average Annual Value (A.A.V.) for my ranking of the top-50 free agents (I rank by preference, not by contract value). I also share which teams are expressing interest and/or I think are the best fit for each player.
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, from 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 fifth 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 read this list:
1) 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.
2) Another defining characteristic of the FA market: Signings from last year, both good and bad, will affect how some clubs do business.
3) The qualifying offer has upped to $15.8 million this year (from $15.3 million last year), which will have a domino effect on some free agents. The draft-pick compensation tends to make teams think twice before signing a player with a qualifying offer, and the lofty qualifying-offer salary (albeit for one year) means that this could be the first year certain players actually accept it.
4) This list does not include any international free agents for two reasons: Due to 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 importantly, 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.
5) Instead of right-handed pitcher (RHP) and left-handed pitcher (LHP), I use left/right-handed starter (RHS/LHS) or reliever (RHR, LHR).
With that, let's get to my rankings and pricing of the top-50 free agents in this year's class:
1. Zack Greinke, RHS
Age: 32 | DOB: 10/21/1983 | 2015 WAR: 9.3
Proj. contract: 6 years for $186 million (A.A.V.: $31M)
Received qualifying offer
Greinke, who allowed either one or zero runs in 21 of his 32 starts this year, is the best free agent on the market, and I expect him to get the highest average annual value of any player. However, because he is two years older than David Price, I think he will get fewer years and thus less overall money.
BEST FITS: Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, Cubs, Cardinals