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2015 Free Agent Power Rankings Rumors
The trade deadline will be upon us next week, but the 2014-15 free agent class still warrants an early look. My June edition of the 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings can be found here, and the full list of 2015 free agents is here.
1. Max Scherzer. Scherzer overcame a midseason hiccup by posting a 1.87 ERA over his last five starts, bringing him back down to 3.34 on the season. He even picked up the win for the American League in the All-Star Game. It’s been a long time since agent Scott Boras has had a starting pitcher of this caliber as a free agent.
2. Jon Lester. Lester isn’t far behind Scherzer, having allowed three earned runs in 38 2/3 innings since our last set of rankings. Lester owns a 2.50 ERA as well as superb timing, and he’s been better than Scherzer this year. Lester hasn’t whiffed this many batters since 2010, and he’s never shown this level of control. Accounting for performance prior to this year, I still give Scherzer the overall edge. Around late June the Red Sox looked to reignite extension talks with Lester, but the pitcher did not receive a new offer and continues to prefer to table discussions until after the season. The Red Sox have won five in a row and retain some shot at the playoffs, so it seems Lester will at least be staying in Boston through the end of the season.
3. Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez’s shoulder and calf have been bothering him, and he’s been hit by pitches three times this month. The 30-year-old avoided the DL and continues to hit well. On the other hand, he’s giving back some runs in the field, and defensive question marks are enough to push him down a few spots in the rankings.
4. James Shields. With a 4.39 ERA since May, Shields has failed to keep pace with Lester. Still, Shields’ 2014 peripheral stats are mostly better than last year’s, which led to a 3.15 ERA. The Royals also seem to be hanging around contention enough that they won’t give serious consideration to trading the big righty. With a new contract that will begin with his age-33 season, Shields will be difficult to price in free agency.
5. Pablo Sandoval. As of May 13th, Sandoval’s OPS was down to .554. He’s at .903 since then, with a .335/.370/.533 line in 230 plate appearances. Just 28 in August, Sandoval has age on his side relative to most free agents.
6. Nelson Cruz. Cruz has stumbled since our last set of rankings, hitting .229/.282/.422 in 117 plate appearances. He still ranks second in all of baseball in home runs and RBI, and could top his career-high of 33 longballs at some point in August. Cruz is another tough free agent to price, as teams will be buying into his age 34-36 seasons (and perhaps age 37, if things go well for the slugger).
7. Victor Martinez. V-Mart’s resurgent contract year has continued unabated. Though he’ll be 36 in December, Martinez’s goal might be a three-year pact. On June 29th, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that while there have been no extension discussions, Martinez would love to remain in Detroit. One complication for the Tigers is that Miguel Cabrera is signed through 2023 and will probably need to move to DH at some point.
8. Yasmani Tomas. A new entrant to this list, Tomas is a different kind of potential free agent. As Ben Badler of Baseball America explained on June 20th, Tomas left Cuba to pursue an MLB contract but still has to clear the usual hurdles before he’s free to sign. A 23-year-old corner outfielder, Badler pegs Tomas’ raw power as a 70. It seems possible Tomas’ actual free agency will coincide with the MLB offseason. Jose Abreu‘s dazzling debut has made his $68MM contract look like a bargain, which should help Tomas score big. It’s worth noting that Tomas isn’t said to be as polished as Abreu and likely doesn’t have the same ceiling. He is younger, however, which helps his cause.
9. Melky Cabrera. Cabrera, 29, is hitting .305/.352/.463 on the season. His ties to Biogenesis cloud the picture, but his injury-shortened 2013 might end up being Cabrera’s only poor season in his last four.
10. Russell Martin. Perhaps Martin can’t maintain his .271 batting average, but he’s in the midst of another solid campaign and doesn’t turn 32 until February. Teams are also placing more and more emphasis on catching defense, and Martin has gunned down 37 percent of attempted base-stealers while ranking sixth in extra strikes added via pitch framing, per Baseball Prospectus.
This month’s Kenta Maeda watch: the 26-year-old Japanese righty is down to a 2.08 ERA in 15 starts. Ervin Santana has been decent of late. Jason Hammel was traded to Oakland and has seen his ERA rise from 2.98 to 3.35 after two starts. Josh Beckett returns from a DL stint for a hip injury tonight.
You likely won’t find a reliever cracking the top 10, but closers David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Janssen and Rafael Soriano have been excellent, while Luke Gregerson and Andrew Miller have been lights out in a setup capacity.
Among position players, Chase Headley, who earlier today was traded to the Yankees, is still not showing any power (though perhaps a move to the hitter-friendly parks of the AL East can change that). Colby Rasmus was placed in something of a platoon role earlier this month. Nick Markakis leads MLB in plate appearances and has been useful this year. Aramis Ramirez, who like Markakis has a mutual option on his deal, is having a nice year at the plate as well. Stephen Drew‘s bat has started to come alive this month after his late start to the season, while Kendrys Morales is hitting .295/.319/.432 over an 11-game hitting streak. Neither Boras client has very appealing overall numbers. Both Asdrubal Cabrera and Mike Morse have dropped off the list after sluggish performances since our last edition of the rankings. A strong finish could put either back onto the map.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
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.
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.
As we at MLBTR did in 2013, we'll constantly be looking toward the future over the course of the season to see which players are positioning themselves for a healthy payday on the 2014-15 open market. Remember that you can always find a full list of next season's free agents here (or on the right-hand sidebar under "MLBTR Features), and keep an eye out for future editions of these rankings. For now, here's the first entry in our 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings series.
1. Hanley Ramirez. Fragile or not, there's no debating that when Ramirez is on the field, he's one of the best-hitting shortstops of this generation. Hanley, who has slashed .286/.351/.506 since 2012 and batted an insane .345/.402/.638 in a half season last year, is said to be in extension talks with the Dodgers. However, while many thought a deal would get done in Spring Training, it's been eerily quiet. Big spenders with potential needs at shortstop and/or third base next season (in addition to the Dodgers) include the Yankees, Mets, and Angels. Depending upon how injuries, prospect development, and strategic considerations pan out, the Tigers and Red Sox could hypothetically also have interest in adding an impact player to the left side of the infield.
2. Max Scherzer. Fresh off his first Cy Young Award in 2013, Scherzer boldly bet on himself by rejecting a six-year, $144MM extension offer to remain with the Tigers. The strikeout artist trails only Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw in fWAR since the start of the 2012 season, and with agent Scott Boras doing the negotiating, another Cy Young caliber season could position Scherzer to set a new record for pitchers in free agency.
3. Jon Lester. Beyond the top two, things become a little less concrete. Some may prefer James Shields to Lester, but the fact that Lester is a full two years younger and has spent his entire career thriving in the AL East can't be ignored (though Shields, too, spent most of his career there). As was the case with Ramirez, many expected a Spring Training extension for Lester, who said this offseason he wanted to remain with the Red Sox until the jersey was "ripped off [his] back." Lester rebounded from a poor 2012 to post a 3.75 ERA in 213 1/3 innings last season — his fifth 200-inning, sub-4.00 ERA season in six tries.
4. James Shields. In terms of bottom-line results, Shields has arguably been the most consistent performer on this free agent crop. However, he's also had the benefit of a consistently elite defense behind him (both the Rays and Royals are excellent), and he's pitched in a pair of very pitcher-friendly environments. That's not to discount his talent, as he's among the league's best right-handers, but Shields will be entering his age-33 season with this next contract, so concern about his decline is more pronounced than with some of his peers.
5. Ervin Santana. Santana is a surprise entrant on this list after most expected him to sign a multi-year deal this offseason. He could be saddled with another qualifying offer next year, but a second consecutive dominant season would leave his ugly 2012 campaign two years in the past and could convince disbelievers that he's capable of consistently turning in an ERA in the mid-3.00 range.
6. Chase Headley. When a 3.5 fWAR season that came despite missing April causes people to say you had a "down year," you're in good shape. That's the reality for Headley, who saw his Herculean .286/.376/.498 batting line from 2012 (in Petco Park!) plummet to a still-respectable .250/.347/.400 in 2013. Interested teams will look at Headley and dream on his offensive ceiling in a more hitter-friendly environment, knowing that even without tremendous improvement, he's an above-average bat that handles the hot corner well.
7. Justin Masterson. Another player whose extension looked to be a foregone conclusion is Masterson, who surprisingly saw his own offers of $51MM over three years and $35MM over two years declined by the Indians. Masterson's off to a rough start, but the ground-ball specialist posted an ERA south of 3.50 and topped 190 innings in 2011 and 2013. He's added some significant strikeouts to his arsenal as well, whiffing 210 batters over his past 208 1/3 frames.
8. Colby Rasmus. Rasmus finds himself ranked here due to his power and defense at a premium position (center field) as well as his youth (he'll play the 2015 season at 28 years of age). Rasmus was a six-WAR player in 2013 despite a sky-high 32 percent strikeout rate. He kept a passable batting average based on a lofty .359 BABIP, but he'd be well-served to improve his contact abilities this season. Doing so would eliminate a great deal of concern and bolster his free agent stock, although poor contact rates certainly didn't hurt B.J. Upton's market value.
9. Pablo Sandoval. Kung Fu Panda will also play the 2015 campaign at 28 years of age, and he's averaged 3.4 fWAR from 2011-13. The switch-hitter has a pair of five-WAR campaigns under his belt and would likely see a boost in his offensive output if he moved away from AT&T Park. Of course, the Giants love retaining their players, are said to be in extension talks with Sandoval (though a wide gap exists) and he's wildly popular among fans. He may end up with an extension when all is said and done — remember, Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum both inked new deals last year right on the cusp of free agency — but if not, he'll be a hot commodity.
10. J.J. Hardy. Hardy's name might not carry much star power, but he's a truly elite defender at shortstop with rare power for the position. He has an injury history, but he's stayed on the field more than his free agent peers in recent seasons. Teams will be hard-pressed to get an OBP north of .310 from Hardy, but it's nice to have a slick-fielding, 20-to-25 homer shortstop in the bottom third of the lineup, and shortstops are always hard to find.
Other players who could force their way onto this year's rankings with a big season include (in alphabetical order as opposed to numbered ranking): Asdrubal Cabrera, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Michael Cuddyer, Jorge De La Rosa, Corey Hart, Torii Hunter, Josh Johnson, Francisco Liriano, Jed Lowrie, Russell Martin, Mike Morse and Jake Peavy, to name a handful. And, of course, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew could also make appearances, should they ultimately sign one-year pacts.