The sixth annual MLB Trade Rumors Top 50 Free Agents list is here! The entire list of available free agents can be found here, and you can filter by position and signing team with our free agent tracker here.
This year, I'm excited to introduce a new contest that will allow you to test your free agent prediction abilities against those of the MLBTR writing team as well as other readers. After players start signing, we'll have a leaderboard showing the contestants with the best "batting averages" on their picks. Once everyone has signed, the winners will receive sweet prizes. Here are the top 50 free agents for which you'll be making predictions, along with my guesses.
1. Albert Pujols – Cardinals. The Cubs, Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Marlins, Nationals, and Dodgers are other potential suitors, but a significant premium would be required to lure away the longtime Cardinal. $225-230MM over nine years seems a fair compromise for the Cardinals and their superstar first baseman.
2. Prince Fielder – Mariners. Fielder has the same potential suitors as Pujols, with the Brewers also a possibility. The Scott Boras client is a tough free agent to place, as there are good reasons for every team to avoid a potential $150MM+ commitment. The Mariners and Cubs are the most likely matches for me. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik drafted Fielder in '02 with the Brewers, and his team lacks a premium bat.
3. Jose Reyes – Brewers. Reyes is another difficult top free agent to predict. The Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Giants, Pirates, Reds, Twins, Rays, and Cardinals could have a need at shortstop, but not all of those teams can or should spend $100MM+ on Reyes. The Mets will entertain re-signing Reyes, but the Brewers seem more likely to approach Ryan Braun's speculated $120MM price range.
4. C.J. Wilson – Nationals. Wilson's poor postseason may have damaged his stock slightly, but in his defense he racked up 250 innings over 39 starts this season in total and started 37 games in 2010. $100MM is still possible for Wilson, though 78% of MLBTR readers think he'll fall short. Front-of-the-rotation starting pitching is a big need for many teams, including the Nationals, Marlins, Royals, Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs.
5. Yu Darvish – Blue Jays. Darvish is not technically a free agent, and in fact he hasn't even decided about being posted at this point. If he does come over from Japan, a $100MM commitment will likely be required. The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Nationals, Mariners, and Royals could put in bids, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a few "mystery teams" enter the fray.
6. Edwin Jackson – Marlins. Jackson, a Scott Boras client, could also make sense for the Nationals and several other teams looking for a 200-inning starter with upside. Since Jackson is only 28, Boras could seek a four-year deal.
7. Jimmy Rollins – Phillies. Rollins probably won't find the five-year deal he seeks, but the Phillies have the need and the means to reach a new agreement with him.
9. Carlos Beltran – Red Sox. Beltran is a tough player to place, if the Giants are unable to re-sign him. He's a 34-year-old Scott Boras client who's likely to seek at least three years despite significant injury concerns in 2009-10 and a disinterest in being a designated hitter. It'll take a team with a right field opening and a tolerance for risk.
10. Jonathan Papelbon – Red Sox. I can picture the Red Sox going as high as three years and $39MM to retain Papelbon, though the closer will test the market. A half-dozen teams could seek closers this winter, but the list is short on big spenders and it's been a while since we've had a $40MM+ reliever.
11. Michael Cuddyer – Twins. Cuddyer would fit with the Rockies, Red Sox, or Cubs, but he's spent his entire career with the Twins and may prefer to stay.
12. Mark Buehrle – White Sox. Buehrle is another player who is difficult to picture with another club. The lefty finds the National League enticing, however, and he could join Ozzie Guillen in Miami since the Cardinals don't have an opening.
13. David Ortiz – Blue Jays. Ortiz backed off from his comments about Red Sox drama, and there's a limited market for an expensive player with no ability to play defense. Still, he'd give Toronto's offense a nice boost without requiring more than a two-year deal. That might leave Edwin Encarnacion having to play a significant amount of first base, however.
14. Ryan Madson – Phillies. If the Phillies don't re-sign Madson, and the Red Sox keep Papelbon, who would give Madson big money to close? As a Scott Boras client, Madson could seek a four-year deal with a salary approaching $10MM.
15. Hiroki Kuroda – Dodgers. Kuroda doesn't want to play anywhere else, according to Dodgers GM Ned Colletti.
16. Carlos Pena – Pirates. Pena is a nice fit for the Pirates on another one-year deal, assuming they don't re-sign Derrek Lee.
17. Francisco Rodriguez – Marlins. K-Rod, a Scott Boras client, would like to return to the closing role on a three-year deal. The Marlins would have the opening and the money, if they non-tender Juan Carlos Oviedo.
18. Roy Oswalt – Rangers. Oswalt could return to Texas for a winning team, and he'll require a much shorter commitment than C.J. Wilson.
19. Javier Vazquez – Retirement. There's a strong sentiment that Vazquez will retire, but he'd be in demand if not after posting a 1.92 ERA and 6.05 K/BB ratio since mid-June.
20. Heath Bell – Padres. Bell hopes and expects to return to the Padres, perhaps on the first multiyear deal of his career.
21. Coco Crisp – Giants. Though he posted a low on-base percentage in 2011, Crisp could fill the Giants' need for a center fielder and leadoff man.
22. Hisashi Iwakuma – Twins. The Twins bid on Iwakuma last year when he was posted, and this year they can simply sign him as a free agent.
23. Kelly Johnson – Dodgers. Johnson could provide the Dodgers some offense from second base, though the Blue Jays and Tigers could also be in the mix.
24. Josh Willingham – Reds. As one of few affordable right-handed power sources on the market, Willingham could fit with the Reds, Rockies, Indians, and others.
25. Paul Maholm – Rockies. Though Maholm does not appear to be on the Rockies' radar at the moment, he's coming off a decent season and won't require a huge commitment.
26. Grady Sizemore – Marlins. Sizemore is a classic risk/reward case, and the Marlins don't seem interested in playing it safe this winter.
27. Bartolo Colon – Red Sox. Colon had an excellent comeback season, but he will still have a hard time finding a two-year deal. Perhaps he could take an incentive-based contract and remain in the AL East with the Red Sox.
28. Erik Bedard – Blue Jays. If the Blue Jays hit on a wild card like Bedard and also land Darvish, they'd have a fearsome rotation. Bedard is a healthy free agent for the first time, and perhaps he'll lean toward his native Canada.
29. David DeJesus – Cubs. DeJesus could be an asset for the Cubs at the outfield corners on a one-year deal.
30. Jason Kubel – Dodgers. Kubel could improve the Dodgers' offense as their left fielder, unless they go with Jerry Sands at the position.
31. Ramon Hernandez – Pirates. Hernandez would give the Pirates offense out of the catcher spot, though GM Neal Huntington may balk at giving up a second-round pick to sign him.
32. Jeff Francis – Pirates. Francis is one of many starting pitchers who could add depth to the Pirates' rotation at a reasonable cost.
33. Chris Capuano – Mariners. After subtracting Doug Fister this summer, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik seems likely to add a piece to his rotation.
34. Tsuyoshi Wada – Orioles. Wada is expected to come to MLB as a free agent, though one question is his ability to handle a full rotation workload.
35. Clint Barmes – Twins. Barmes provided good value this season, and the Twins have a clear middle-infield need.
36. Casey Kotchman – Rays. Kotchman posted a fine 2011 season after signing a minor league deal, but his price should remain reasonable as teams wonder whether he can do it again.
37. Freddy Garcia – Yankees. Even with Sabathia in the fold, the Yankees will need additional rotation depth. Another stint with Garcia makes sense if his price remains reasonable.
38. Aaron Hill – Diamondbacks. Hill's stellar 142 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks this year provided hope he can bounce back in 2012.
39. Johnny Damon – Orioles. Damon probably requires a designated hitter opening, yet his level of offense doesn't justify a full-time spot. He's a difficult free agent to place.
40. Aaron Harang – Angels. Would Harang accept a below-market deal to stay close to home?
41. Jamey Carroll – Tigers. The versatile Carroll fits at the top of the Tigers' order, playing mostly second base.
42. Rafael Furcal – Cardinals. The Cardinals and Furcal are known to have mutual interest in a new deal; he showed promise in his Cards stint this year.
43. Juan Pierre – Reds. Pierre will have to take a more reduced role next year, perhaps under Dusty Baker again.
44. Frank Francisco – Mariners. Francisco was homer-prone this year, but he's still an asset in the late innings.
45. Jason Marquis – Mets. Marquis may have to take a one-year deal with the Mets to realize his goal of playing in New York.
46. Joel Pineiro – Cubs. Pineiro had great success in '09 in the NL Central, and could be a bargain if he rights the ship.
47. Jonathan Broxton – Mets. Broxton had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur and loose bodies from his elbow in September and expects to be ready for Spring Training. Though he may not be the Broxton of old, I expect incentive-laden offers to be plentiful.
48. Joe Nathan – Twins. Nathan is excited about free agency, but after so many successful years closing for the Twins he may want to return to the role full-time in 2012.
49. Kerry Wood – Cubs. It's Cubs or retirement for Wood, and there's no reason not to bring him back.
50. Bruce Chen – Royals. As long as Chen's price tag doesn't get excessive, he's a good fit back with the Royals.