Most teams are about 9% through their season at this point, and it’s time for our first midseason update of the 2016 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings. These players project to reach free agency after this season.
As a reminder, these rankings represent the earning power in terms of total contract size, assuming everyone reaches the open market and goes to the highest bidder. Here’s MLBTR’s full list of 2015-16 free agents.
1. Justin Upton. Upton, 27, is off to a fine start for the second place Padres. Not coincidentally, the Friars are averaging more than 5.3 runs per game in the early going, tops in the National League. Nothing seems to be cooking on the extension front, and a free agent contract worth $250MM or more could be in play this winter.
2. David Price. Price jumps up a spot after allowing just one earned run in his first 22 1/3 innings. Before that, some low-level extension discussions with the Tigers occurred in late March. Price is willing to continue talking contract into the season and seems to have a number in mind that could result in a fairly quick deal if the Tigers reach it. Logically, that number figures to be in the $200MM range.
3. Johnny Cueto. Cueto moves up a spot as well after a trio of seven-inning outings. As he moves further from his 2013 shoulder strain, Cueto moves closer to Price in earning power. His Reds are hanging in with a .500 record, though a midseason trade at least seems viable. A deadline deal would make Cueto ineligible for a qualifying offer, though at ace prices the loss of a draft pick is a secondary concern for suitors.
4. Jason Heyward. It’s not fair to bump Heyward down two spots because of 53 lousy plate appearances, but I feel that if the season ended today, Price and Cueto would earn bigger contracts. Batting second in the order for the Cardinals, Heyward is at .192/.208/.327 on the young season.
5. Ian Desmond. On the plus side, Desmond has cut his strikeout rate considerably in his first 14 games, an 18% rate that would represent a full-season career best. On the other hand, Desmond has made eight errors in his first 125 1/3 innings in the field. Surely that pace will lessen, but he still has a good shot at 30 on the season. Even with today’s advanced fielding metrics, 30 errors could be hard for a team owner to ignore if Desmond’s price tag exceeds $150MM.
6. Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann’s early numbers are off after an April 13th Fenway Park drubbing, and his velocity is down a few ticks from April of last year. Still, every pitcher is allowed the occasional clunker, and Zimmermann has about 29 starts left to go.
7. Alex Gordon. Royals manager Ned Yost intends to exercise extra caution with Gordon in at least the season’s first month due to his December wrist surgery. 11 games don’t tell us much, but it will be worth monitoring whether the wrist saps Gordon’s power at all this year.
8. Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes is off to a strong start, and seems capable of piling up a huge RBI total batting fifth or sixth in the Tigers’ potent lineup. He is ineligible for a qualifying offer and won’t turn 30 until October, and seems a candidate to move several more spots up this list.
9. Zack Greinke. Greinke has three quality starts in three tries this year, and not much has changed with his status. I still expect him to opt out of his remaining three years and $71MM after the season.
10. Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija’s White Sox debut in Kansas City was a forgettable outing, but he has now turned in consecutive gems. He and Greinke have each fallen a spot only because of Cespedes’ earning power.
In news that was music to the ears of Samardzija, Greinke, Zimmermann, and others, the Red Sox signed Rick Porcello to a four-year, $82.5MM extension earlier this month. The contract covers his age 27-30 seasons. Though part of the calculus is Porcello’s youth and the deal being shortened to four years, if he’s worth $20.625MM per season, that bodes well for next winter’s crop of free agent hurlers.
Cueto leads all 2016 free agents with 0.8 wins above replacement early on, though the Dodgers’ Howie Kendrick and the Yankees’ Chris Young have matched him. Young’s rate stats this year will be skewed, however, if he continues getting more than 40% of his plate appearances against southpaws.