1. Hanley Ramirez. A strong showing over the last month elevates Ramirez back to #1 status. All is quiet on the extension front, with the 30-year-old shortstop telling Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports on June 3rd that there are no ongoing talks.
2. Max Scherzer. Scherzer led the AL with a 1.83 ERA at the time of our last rankings, but since then he’s posted a 6.86 ERA in six starts, even though one of those outings was a shutout. There’s no reason to think the righty won’t get back on track, but some of the shine will come off if he finishes the season with an ERA in the high 3s.
3. Jon Lester. Things are going fine for Lester, who is looking for his first sub-3.50 ERA since 2011. Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said on WEEI in late May that he expects to engage in further extension talks, and GM Ben Cherington said something similar on June 10th.
4. James Shields. Lester and Shields were unlikely to uphold their matching 2.67 ERAs from our last rankings, but a hittable five-start run has brought the Royals’ ace up to 3.50. Nonetheless, his team has won ten straight and sits in first place in the AL Central. At the least, the Royals’ success shuts down the speculation from a few weeks ago that Shields could be a trade candidate. That means he’s likely to come with a qualifying offer attached.
5. Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval has been crushing the ball over his last 35 games, and I’ve moved the 27-year-old up to his best spot yet. If he can stay healthy, Sandoval seems a good bet for his first 20 home run season since 2011. The Giants have the best record in the NL and a track record of keeping their own, so it’s quite possible Sandoval never reaches the open market.
6. Nelson Cruz. With 10 home runs since our last rankings and an MLB-best 22 overall, I can’t keep denying Cruz his spot on this list. A 40 home run, 120 RBI season gets a guy paid, even if Cruz is lacking on defense, turns 35 next summer, and endured a Biogenesis suspension last year. Barring injury, Carlos Beltran’s three-year, $45MM deal could be Cruz’s floor this winter even with a qualifying offer.
7. Victor Martinez. V-Mart is another aging bat-first player who continues to crush the ball. With good health, he seems likely to fly past his career high of 25 home runs, which happened eight seasons ago. Martinez is primed for his first All-Star appearance since 2010, as well as another multiyear contract.
8. Mike Morse. Morse rounds out our trio of bats newly joining these rankings. The 32-year-old is hitting .289/.343/.533 in 265 plate appearances and is looking like one of the offseason’s best bargains with a $6MM salary. Morse hasn’t exceeded 102 games in a season since 2011, so he must continue to avoid the DL to improve his earning power.
9. Asdrubal Cabrera. Another new entrant to the list, Cabrera has been solid but unspectacular with a .255/.323/.409 line on the season. He has age on his side, as he turns 29 in November. However, Cabrera’s defense at shortstop is generally considered below-average.
10. Russell Martin. Martin leads all starting catchers with a .418 OBP, though he missed nearly a month with a hamstring strain. His .272 batting average may not last, but he’s also posting a career-best 14.6% walk rate. Still only 31, Martin could be a popular free agent this winter.
These rankings have seen plenty of turnover since last month, with Ervin Santana, Justin Masterson, Chase Headley, Colby Rasmus, and Jed Lowrie dropping out of the top ten due to lackluster performance or injury. Meanwhile, Josh Beckett is making a push, including a May 25th no-hitter, 26-year-old Japanese righty Kenta Maeda has a 2.68 ERA through 11 starts, and Jason Hammel has become excellent trade bait for the Cubs. Melky Cabrera, Nick Markakis, Adam LaRoche, and Seth Smith are position players worth a mention.