2015 Free Agent Power Rankings

We’re always looking ahead at MLBTR, and it’s time for another entry in our 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings series.  Steve Adams’ April edition can be found here, and the full list of 2015 free agents is here.

1.  Max Scherzer.  Scherzer has allowed six runs in the 39 innings he’s pitched since our last edition of these rankings, driving his ERA down to an AL-best 1.83 and earning him our top spot.  His decision to turn down a six-year, $144MM offer from the Tigers before the season is looking wise.  A new deal will begin with Scherzer’s age-30 season.  I have to think agent Scott Boras will seek something in the range of Clayton Kershaw‘s seven-year, $215MM deal.  That contract includes an opt-out clause after the fifth year.  Key differences, aside from performance: Kershaw’s contract began with his age 26 season, but it was not negotiated on the open market.

2.  Hanley Ramirez.  Ramirez’s .251/.333/.450 line on the young season qualifies as good but not great.  Among shortstops, his weighted on-base average places him sixth among qualifiers.  Last Thursday, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports described extension talks with the Dodgers, writing, “there’s still a significant enough gap that it may take a while to do a deal, assuming one will get done.”  Heyman threw out a $130MM figure in the article, drawing Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo comparisons.  Those players received seven-year deals on the open market, but Heyman feels the length of a Ramirez contract could be a big question in these negotiations.  If the Dodgers succeed in preventing Ramirez from reaching free agency, we could be in line for the first offseason without a $100MM position player since 2005-06 (the first offseason covered by this website).

3.  Jon Lester.  Lester and James Shields have been keeping pace this year, with each hurler sporting a 2.67 ERA.  In the time since our last rankings, Lester added to his resume with a career-best 15 strikeout performance against the A’s on May 3rd.  We haven’t heard much on the extension front, save for an April comment from Red Sox manager John Farrell about the team’s intention to make every effort to retain their ace.

4.  James Shields.  Shields is the workhorse of this free agent class, as he’s on pace to exceed 220 innings for the fourth year in a row.  A five-year deal, however, would be buying into his age 33-37 seasons.  In a March assessment of Shields’ upcoming free agency, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd suggested $100MM as a ceiling, proposing the interesting idea of an opt-out clause.

5.  Ervin Santana.  Last month, MLBTR’s Steve Adams made the bold choice of ranking Santana over Justin Masterson.  That call is looking correct, as Santana continues to miss bats above his career rate, partially due to his new change-up.  Having signed on March 12th, however, Santana will be subject to a qualifying offer from the Braves after the season.  Dragging around a QO again will hurt, but he should be able to find a strong four-year deal this time.  One potential solution would be to just sign a midseason extension with the Braves.

6.  Justin Masterson.  With a 4.78 ERA and 3.9 BB/9 in his last seven starts, Masterson hasn’t done anything to justify moving up the rankings.  Still, he’s shown enough overall to suggest he’ll pitch at a sub-4.00 ERA moving forward, and he doesn’t turn 30 until March.  Last year’s velocity hasn’t returned, but he’s made some recent progress in that regard.

7.  Pablo Sandoval.  Sandoval has 13 hits in his last eight games, perhaps suggesting he’s getting on track to reach his typical level of offense.  Sandoval won’t turn 28 until August, and the third baseman could greatly benefit from the weak free agent class for position players with a strong four and a half months.  The Giants and Sandoval broke off extension talks in late April, with Jon Heyman reporting the player sought at least $100MM on a five-year deal, with the team open to four years.

8.  Chase Headley.  Headley falls from the #6 spot last month.  He missed a few weeks with a calf strain, and has at least shown some pop and patience in the eight games since his return.  However, the 30-year-old ranks just 18th among third basemen in wOBA over the last year, with a .309 mark.  That’s actually better than Sandoval during that time, so I won’t argue if you prefer Headley to Panda.  Regardless, good defense and a league average bat won’t result in a big contract for Headley, so he needs to start hitting.

9.  Colby Rasmus.  Rasmus is currently on the DL with hamstring tightness.  The center fielder doesn’t turn 28 until August, and he’s shown 30 home run power when on the field.  Steve Adams’ comparison to B.J. Upton in last month’s rankings was apt.  Despite a qualifying offer, Upton snagged his five-year, $75MM deal coming off a .246/.298/.454 batting line.  Rasmus sits at .222/.266/.489 this year.

10.  Jed Lowrie.  This marks Lowrie’s first appearance on these Power Rankings.  He just turned 30, and his wOBA is only a touch below Hanley Ramirez’s among shortstops this year.  He’s upped his walk rate to career-best 11.5%.  Lowrie seems to be settling in as a 3-4 win infielder, shaking off early injury concerns.  Omar Infante‘s deal could be a starting point.

Melky Cabrera, 30 in August, is close to cracking the top ten.  The Jays left fielder is off to  a .310/.350/.481 start in 200 plate appearances.  However, his defense drags his value down.

Nelson Cruz, Mike Morse, and Victor Martinez are also at the top of various offensive leaderboards in the early going.  However, they’re older than the players in the top ten and offer no value defensively, and could come with qualifying offers.  Cabrera, Cruz, Morse, and Martinez will have to stay healthy and continue raking to overcome their defensive limitations.

Plenty of 2015 free agent hurlers are off to strong starts, as Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang, Jason Hammel, A.J. Burnett, Dan Haren, and Chris Young sport ERAs under 3.50.  On the international front, 26-year-old righty Kenta Maeda has a 2.33 ERA after eight starts for the Hiroshima Carp.

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