It may be premature to talk about the most improved free agent stock – after all it’s mid-September. We still have two weeks left in the regular season. More importantly, the playoffs can be a massive boon to October’s top performers. Big numbers on the biggest stage are often parlayed into bigger paydays. For now, let’s just make do with what we know.
When thinking about the players who most improved their stock, there are two angles we can consider. Some players entered the season with sky high expectations. All they had to do was get through the current campaign at a level similar to their career rates to ensure a free agent windfall. David Price and Zack Greinke have outdone themselves and could be in line to earn even more than originally conjectured.
Price, 30, has long been viewed as a reliable left-handed ace. He’s largely matched his terrific 2014 campaign, and he’s turned up the gas since joining the Blue Jays. Prior to the season, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranked him as the third best free agent with a chance to reach $200MM. A minor injury or lackluster season could have easily pushed him down closer to $100MM. Dierkes’ most recent update to the power rankings has Price as the top free agent with a realistic chance to exceed Clayton Kershaw’s seven-year, $215MM pact with the Dodgers. As an added bonus, Price won’t come with a qualifying offer attached since he was traded at the deadline.
While it was clear that 31-year-old Greinke would opt out of his contract with the Dodgers (assuming health), the success he has enjoyed was not wholly expected. Projection systems tabbed Greinke for around a 3.00 ERA this year. Instead, he’s worked to a 1.65 ERA through 30 starts. Home run suppression and a .231 BABIP have helped matters, but his dominance has allowed him to crawl out from under Kershaw’s shadow. Prior to the season, Dierkes thought another typical season from Greinke could get him $100MM in new money. Now he thinks Greinke could exceed Jon Lester’s six-year, $155MM deal.
Another pair of soon-to-be free agents may have increased their value by nearly nine figures this year. In a monetary sense, these are the clear victors of the most improved stock game. Neither slugger was a consensus top free agent prior to the season, but they’ll certainly be treated like royalty in a few months.
First baseman Chris Davis entered the year as an enigma. After a 53 home run campaign in 2013, Davis followed with a miserable 2014 season. For what it’s worth, I expected 2015 production somewhere around the mid-point between the two platform years. The 29-year-old has definitely exceeded that by a wide margin. Back in February, Dierkes considered Davis as an also-ran for the top 10 free agents list (along with Steve Pearce, Doug Fister, and Mat Latos among others). Now he’s fourth in the power rankings. Dierkes believes a seven-year deal worth more than $140MM is well within reach. I agree.
Right there with Davis is Yoenis Cespedes. Like Davis, he missed Dierkes’ top 10 before the season. Now he’s fifth and in a virtual tie with Davis. Dierkes projects the same seven-year contract of more than $20MM per season for Cespedes. The outfielder will turn 30 in a month and has reached new career heights with 35 home runs. His acquisition by the Mets is a big part of their current success. He’s in a bit of a mini-slump going 0-for-17 over his last four games. A slow end to the season and playoffs could remind buyers of his previous production. Alternatively, a noisy postseason could propel him past Davis.
This all begs the question – who most improved their stock? Is it the star who has all-but-secured a $200MM payday? The aging ace who’ll receive another massive contract? Or is it one of the surging sluggers?