I served in front offices of major league baseball teams for a quarter of a century, 15 of those years as general manager. During that time, I spent a lot of time studying free agents and the risks that come with all of them, from age, injuries, makeup, character, statistical analysis and personal issues. Then there's the decline or improvement in physical ability. It's all juxtaposed against overall market shifts.
This is the fourth year I've been projecting free-agent salaries for ESPN Insider. These are always a mix of gut instinct and a lot of consultation with everyone presently involved in the day-to-day operations of the sport, from both the agent and club sides.
The following is my estimate of what I think 50 of the biggest free agents will be paid this winter in terms of contract length, overall contract value and average annual value. I also share my opinion of where I think the free agents fit the best.
This list is ranked by my personal preferential order of the players, not by contract value. Also, keep in mind that player salaries and terms are often based on position and supply and demand rather than just overall talent.
A few other factors to keep in mind as you read this list:
• Industry revenues continue to grow, which causes inflation of player salaries.
• The qualifying offer has changed to $15.3 million this year from $14.1 million last year, which will have a domino effect on some free agents.
• Signings from last year, both good and bad, will affect how some clubs do business.
• The fact that two wild-card teams made it to the World Series should result in more contending clubs bidding for players than last year, which should add to a market increase for many of these free agents.
• I have not included international free agents who have not played in the states such as Yasmani Tomas, Jose Fernandez, Jeong-ho Kang, Kim Gwang-hyun or Kenta Maeda because I've never seen them play or work out and the industry has a wide range of valuing them.
With all of that said, let's get to the rankings.