Less than one month remains in the 2014 regular season, so our 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings are starting to resemble the beginning of the Top 50 Free Agents list, which will come out in early November after teams make qualifying offers. Click here for the previous edition of the power rankings, and click here for the full list of 2015 free agents.
1. Max Scherzer. Scherzer has a 3.07 ERA in eight starts since the power rankings were last published. The 30-year-old ranks second in the AL with 220 strikeouts, fifth with 187 2/3 innings, 13th with a 3.26 ERA, and 5th with a 2.84 SIERA. His Tigers are a good bet for the playoffs, which would mark Scherzer’s fourth consecutive postseason. Scherzer could secure the largest free agent contract ever signed by a pitcher, a record currently held by C.C. Sabathia’s seven-year, $161MM deal from six years ago. More recently, free agent Masahiro Tanaka required a $175MM commitment, but $20MM of that was paid to his former team. Both of those pitchers received opt-out clauses, a likely goal for Scherzer.
2. Jon Lester. Lester ranks fourth in the AL with a 2.55 ERA, fifth with 186 strikeouts, sixth with 183 2/3 innings, and eighth with a 3.06 SIERA. He hasn’t missed a beat since being traded to the Athletics at the July deadline. Because of the trade, Lester boasts a free agency advantage of not being eligible for a qualifying offer after the season. He’s headed to the playoffs for the fifth time in his career. Lester is only six months older than Scherzer, and some teams shopping in the high-end of the free agent pitching market may prefer him. The Red Sox told Lester they’ll be aggressive in trying to sign him as a free agent, and the lefty says he’s prioritizing his family’s happiness over money.
3. James Shields. Shields currently leads all free agent starters with 192 innings, but Scherzer could temporarily overtake him Thursday with a decent outing. At 33 years old in December, Shields belongs slightly below the Scherzer/Lester tier in what is shaping up to be the best trio of free agent starters since this website began nine years ago. Shields is looking to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in his career with a Royals club that hasn’t been there since 1985. ESPN’s Buster Olney and WEEI’s Rob Bradford have suggested the Red Sox could make a play for Shields. A four-year deal for Shields would be easier to stomach than six or seven years for Scherzer or Lester, although a strong finish could give Big Game James a case for five years.
4. Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez spent a few weeks on the DL in August for an oblique strain. It was his first DL stint of the year, though he missed around 15 games previously due to various ailments. The 30-year-old is beginning to look injury-prone, and his bat will be less impressive if he doesn’t stick at shortstop for most of his next contract. The game is flush with cash, but is this a $100MM player?
5. Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval has proven to be a useful player who hits for average with slightly above-average pop and surprisingly solid defense given his physique. He’s a better hitter than Chase Headley and is much younger than Aramis Ramirez, so Sandoval is the best third baseman available. The Giants seem likely to make a play to re-sign him.
6. Victor Martinez. Martinez has been on fire since our last set of power rankings, hitting .344/.433/.526 in 180 plate appearances. He’s been among the best hitters in all of baseball this year, and no other free agent comes close to his 2014 production. Martinez is mostly a designated hitter at this point, and he’ll turn 36 in December. He’ll probably find a team willing to take their chances on a three-year deal, possibly in excess of the $45MM Carlos Beltran received.
7. Yasmani Tomas. Last month, Rusney Castillo set a Cuban free agent record in signing a seven-year, $72.5MM contract with the Red Sox. Tomas is a different type of outfielder, a corner guy with middle of the order power. He’s also younger, at 24 years old in November. The Phillies have been linked to Tomas in the early going, but he still has to be cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before becoming a free agent. Once that happens, Tomas could have the widest market of anyone on this list given his age.
8. Melky Cabrera. Cabrera’s solid campaign continues, as he’s hitting .305/.355/.464 in 605 plate appearances. He recently turned 30 and figures to aim for a five-year deal. He may only achieve three or four, owing to subpar defense, a potential qualifying offer, and his 2012 suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
9. Russell Martin. By measure of Fangraphs wins above replacement, Martin has been roughly as valuable as Jose Bautista this year while playing in 70% as many games. Martin has been one of the best catchers in all of baseball, with an uncharacteristic .414 OBP and his typical excellent defensive work. It’s hard to find even a surefire starter among the other free agent catchers, so the 31-year-old Martin is about to cash in. A four-year deal north of $50MM seems possible.
10. Nelson Cruz. Cruz leads MLB with 36 home runs, yet he’s tumbled from sixth to tenth on this list. The 34-year-old’s success amounts to two good months to start the season, after which he’s hitting .214/.282/.406 in 340 plate appearances. He could still reach 40 home runs, which can’t be ignored, but with another qualifying offer Cruz might find free agency disappointing again. Cruz said recently he’d like to work out an extension with the Orioles before the end of the season, but talks to date have been casual.
26-year-old Japanese righty Kenta Maeda remains worth watching; he has a 2.73 ERA in 142 innings. Ervin Santana has been excellent in eight starts since our last power rankings and seems primed for a multiyear deal. Jason Hammel has settled in in Oakland, pitching quite well in four of his last five starts. Jake Peavy and Brandon McCarthy have excelled following trades, while Justin Masterson’s stock has plummeted and he’s been moved to the Cardinals’ bullpen. Francisco Liriano and Jorge De La Rosa also warrant mention as multiyear deal candidates, though De La Rosa may end up with a qualifying offer attached to his name. Josh Beckett may be lost for the season with a hip injury, muddying his free agent picture.
On the position player side, Aramis Ramirez continues putting up strong numbers, and Mike Morse has remained useful in recent weeks. Asdrubal Cabrera has hit well in his new role as the Nationals’ second baseman. J.J. Hardy didn’t hit a home run until June 21, but he’s gone deep nine times since while playing his typical brand of elite defense at shortstop and should secure a nice multi-year deal. Nick Markakis has been steady and productive for most of the season. Late signees Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales have continued to struggle after being traded, calling their offseason strategy into question.