The seventh 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.
Last year, we introduced a contest that allowed you to test your free agent prediction abilities against those of the MLBTR writing team as well as other readers. Of 5,020 total entries, only one person managed to bat .300 and make 15 correct picks. I set the bar pretty low, managing just eight correct. The contest is back for 2013 and is open now! You can enter your picks anytime between now and November 7th at midnight central time, and you're free to make changes up until that point. A Facebook account is required. Once all top 50 players have 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. Zack Greinke – Angels. Greinke is clearly the best available free agent pitcher this winter. He's got it all — the 29-year-old former Cy Young winner misses bats, limits free passes, and has been battle-tested in the American League. He's also avoided any major arm injuries to date. I find him a better bet than Hamilton, hence the first overall ranking. The Angels badly need Greinke back in their rotation, and they'd be well-served to keep him away from the division rival Rangers. Huge money will be required, especially if the Dodgers also join the bidding.
2. Josh Hamilton – Rangers. Hamilton is a fascinating free agent, combining superstar talent with a lengthy injury history and early-career drug problems. It's going to take a special kind of recklessness to guarantee this man $150MM, and the Dodgers' outfield is already full. This early in the offseason, people toss around speculation on the Tigers, Giants, Phillies, Mariners, Orioles, and Brewers, matches that don't work for me. Though the Rangers won't make Hamilton an offer right out of the gate, he's expected to circle back with them after surveying the market. If Texas has not allocated big money to Greinke at that point, they could go back to the table with Hamilton.
3. Michael Bourn – Nationals. The speedy Bourn plays strong center field defense and gets on base just enough. The free agent market generally rewards power, but these days Bourn's skillset is appreciated as well. Bourn has long been speculated as the heir apparent to the Nationals' center field job, and the team's comfort with agent Scott Boras doesn't hurt. Still, this match is far from a lock if we're talking Torii Hunter 2007 money. I don't expect the Braves to re-sign Bourn, but the Phillies are another potential match.
4. Anibal Sanchez – Tigers. Sanchez, 29 in February, has been a dependable number two or three starter over the past three years. He capped off his 2012 resume with a successful American League stint and 20 strong playoff innings. A C.J. Wilson-type contract seems fair. The Tigers have interest in bringing Sanchez back, though the Blue Jays, Yankees, Twins, Angels, Rangers, Dodgers, and Padres are among the teams that may make bids if he hits the open market. Unlike Kyle Lohse, Sanchez will not cost a draft pick to sign.
5. B.J. Upton – Phillies. Upton's best offensive season was 2007, when the Rays employed Steve Henderson as their hitting coach. Henderson now fills that role for the Phillies, which has to be a plus for the center fielder. Playing on the East Coast might also appeal to Upton, who hails from Norfolk. From the Phillies' point of view, Upton could add some balance and power to their lineup as well as strong center field defense. At 28 there's room for growth with Upton, but the status quo would probably give a team their money's worth. The Nationals and Rangers could be other contenders for his services.
6. Nick Swisher – Orioles. Swisher hasn't played left field regularly in many years, but if he's willing to do so for the Orioles they could be a match. The 31-year-old also plays some first base, another question mark for the O's. Swisher would be a fine addition to any lineup, though he doesn't pass the gut test as a potential $100MM player. Perhaps we just have to account for salary inflation — $100MM doesn't buy what it used to. The Giants and Mariners are other reasonable fits here.
7. Edwin Jackson – Blue Jays. Perhaps under the advice of former agent Scott Boras, Jackson turned down at least one three-year offer last offseason in favor of a one-year deal with the Nationals. He's since joined Legacy Sports Group and figures to snag the first multiyear deal of his career. The 29-year-old throws hard, misses bats, and takes the ball every fifth day. The Jays are one of many teams that'd take a look unless, perhaps, Jackson insists on four guaranteed years or a $15MM annual salary.
8. Dan Haren – Padres. Haren is an interesting case. As recently as last year, he was a 235 inning a year horse, a good number two on most staffs. He had some home run problems in 2012 and missed a few starts with back issues, and to hear multiple MLB executives tell it, we've got him ranked way too high. The Angels didn't want him at a club option that amounted to one year and $12MM. However, he seems like a solid play in that price range if his back checks out.
9. Hiroki Kuroda – Yankees. Sure, Kuroda turns 38 in February, but he had a great year for the Yankees on a one-year deal. If he's open to another one-year contract, the Yankees will probably be happy to get it done. There should also be opportunities on the West Coast should Kuroda choose to return, but he may come with a draft pick cost if he turns down a qualifying offer from the Yankees.
10. Kyle Lohse – Dodgers. Though I pushed him up to the #10 spot on this list, I'm not a huge believer in Lohse having sustained success over a four or five-year contract. It might take a healthy payroll and a win-now attitude to meet Boras' demands on Lohse, so I went with the Dodgers. If the Royals make a free agent starter splash, I think they'd prefer Sanchez to Lohse.
11. Angel Pagan – Giants. Obviously the Giants want to avoid another Aaron Rowand deal, although five years and $60MM might be the kind of contract Pagan seeks. It's easy to picture GM Brian Sabean wanting to keep his top of the order Pagan-Marco Scutaro combination together fresh off a World Championship.
12. Shane Victorino – Braves. Victorino must re-establish his reputation as an above-average outfielder, after an off-year hitting right-handed pitching. I imagine Victorino will be open to all three outfield positions, which would create a wide market potentially including the Braves, Rangers, Nationals, Giants, Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, and Tigers, and if the price is low enough, Reds and Mets. He's a strong Plan B in the likely event the Braves are outbid for Bourn, but if the bidding reaches three guaranteed years on Victorino I can see some teams dropping out.
13. David Ortiz – Red Sox. Last winter, Ortiz was compelled to accept Boston's arbitration offer, perhaps because another team would have had to surrender a draft pick to sign him. That, plus his inability to play the field, limited his market. Ortiz, 37 in November, continued to rake in 2012 but missed a large chunk of time to an Achilles tendon injury. Big Papi again wants a two-year deal. If the Sox have warmed to the idea, Ortiz should sign soon rather than grapple with the same draft pick compensation issue he had a year ago.
14. Mike Napoli – Astros. A qualifying offer would be a risky move on the Rangers' part; if they make it, the 31-year-old might feel compelled to accept. There aren't too many teams looking to spend big money on catching. The Rays could fit on a team-friendly deal, while the Astros have the payroll space but not necessarily the inclination.
15. Adam LaRoche – Nationals. There seems to be momentum toward a deal, as LaRoche came up huge for the Nationals this year and was comfortable there. Otherwise, a three-year deal north of $10MM per scares me a little bit, and I don't see a huge field of suitors with a qualifying offer attached. The Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Red Sox, and Giants could, in theory, look to add a first baseman. They won't all add one, nor would they all have interest in signing LaRoche for multiple years this winter. The problem with the Bourn-plus-LaRoche scenario for the Nats is that it requires a trade of Mike Morse.
16. Ryan Dempster – Brewers. Count me as a skeptic on the Brewers-Hamilton idea. I do expect them to bring in a veteran leader for their rotation, and Dempster fits the bill. The 35-year-old enjoyed a decade in the Midwest with the Reds and Cubs, and perhaps at his age would be receptive to a two-year deal with a vesting option. I can see a strong market for Dempster, but it may be more about where he and his family want to be geographically.
17. Rafael Soriano – Yankees. Three years ago, Soriano accepted arbitration from the Braves following a strong '09 season rather than hit the market with a draft pick cost attached, and Atlanta unsurprisingly traded him. Would Soriano accept a qualifying offer from the Yankees this time around after opting out, knowing it would net him an extra $800K overall? That'd give him only a week to consider multiyear offers from other teams, and Scott Boras is known for taking his time.
Soriano had a strong 2012, but he'll be 33 in December, has a concerning injury history and reputation, and could cost a draft pick. Boras has pulled rabbits out of his hat before, but currently I can't identify a team that would offer Soriano $13-15MM a year for three or four years. I think the Tigers have bigger needs, and the Angels aren't going to do that deal with Boras. If the market runs dry, maybe Boras would come back to Randy Levine and the Yankees in January assuming Mariano Rivera retires. You'll notice that I predicted Rivera will come back to the Yankees, though, so the two guesses don't work together as a cohesive scenario.
18. Melky Cabrera – Red Sox. Cabrera, disgraced this year by a 50-game PED suspension and cover-up attempt, could settle for an affordable one-year deal to prove he can provide drug-free offense. The Red Sox will likely be thinking short-term in free agency this offseason, with the most question marks in recent memory. The Orioles, Mets, Phillies, and Mariners are other possible fits, but any team signing Melky will have to brace for a certain amount of media scrutiny as a tradeoff for the bargain contract.
19. Shaun Marcum – Cubs. The question with Marcum is how intent he is on playing for a contender, since teams like the Cubs, Royals, Padres, and Twins may have interest. Marcum will only be 31 in December, but he battled elbow pain this year and doesn't have the power repertoire of an Edwin Jackson. He'll hold appeal to many teams if he's open to a two-year deal.
20. Torii Hunter – Yankees. I reported last week that the Angels are highly unlikely to re-sign Hunter. That doesn't close the door completely, but he'll explore the market and probably won't have draft pick compensation attached. A one-year deal is possible, so the Yankees could add him as Nick Swisher's replacement without a long-term commitment. The Rangers, Orioles, and Phillies could be other possibilities.
21. Russell Martin – Yankees. As MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith wrote in September, Martin may not see an offer matching the three years and $20MM proposed by the Yankees prior to the season. The simplest solution would be a one or two-year deal to remain with the Yankees. The Rays, White Sox, Rangers, Mets, Astros, and Pirates may also be in the market for a catcher.
22. Cody Ross – Red Sox. Ross provided good value for the Red Sox in 2012 at $3MM, down from his $6.3MM salary in the previous year. He'll be seeking multiple years for at least his 2011 salary. The Sox have interest in a new deal, but I don't expect them to go overboard for Ross.
23. Marco Scutaro – Giants. With an excellent stint with the Giants following a trade from the Rockies, the 37-year-old will have good buzz on the open market if he gets there. I can see the Giants doing something slightly unreasonable to retain him as their second baseman.
24. Stephen Drew – Red Sox. Drew is the best available shortstop in a weak market. He's relatively young (30 in March), but he missed a huge amount of the last two seasons due to July 2011 ankle surgery. As a Boras guy, a one-year contract to rebuild value could be the strategy, making Boston a nice fit if the A's don't bring Drew back. The Blue Jays, Rays, Twins, and Dodgers could also seek a shortstop this offseason.
25. Joe Saunders – Orioles. Saunders pitched well for the Orioles in the regular season and postseason following an August trade. The 31-year-old grew up in northern Virginia, so Baltimore is a strong fit if they'll pony up the multiyear deal Saunders couldn't find last offseason.
26. Ryan Ludwick – Reds. Ludwick's career seemed to be trending downward, but he bounced back in 2012 to hit 26 home runs in 472 plate appearances. I imagine the 34-year-old will require a multiyear deal. The Reds have the budget to re-sign Ludwick, though spending decent money there could limit their search for a leadoff hitter.
27. Kevin Youkilis – Phillies. Youkilis' numbers have been trending downward, but the third base market is terrible and he could still secure a multiyear deal. The Phillies have the need, though signing both Upton and Youk would put them near their limit. The Orioles, Dodgers, and Indians are other options if the White Sox don't re-sign Youkilis.
28. Francisco Liriano – Red Sox. Liriano posted a 5.34 ERA in 2012, walking five batters per nine innings. He had the same ugly walk rate in 2011. Nonetheless, his 2006 and 2010 seasons are tantalizing, and the 29-year-old can probably be had on a one-year deal. All kinds of teams will line up to try to fix him; the Padres, Blue Jays, Cubs, Royals, and Astros seem like good fits as well.
29. Carlos Villanueva – Royals. Villanueva, 29 in November, was pretty good in 16 starts for the Blue Jays this year, with a 3.44 K/BB ratio. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos called Villanueva's durability an unknown, comments that disappointed the righty. Villanueva will clearly be seeking a rotation spot, and teams such as the Royals, Padres, Twins, Indians, and Cubs have the vacancy.
30. A.J. Pierzynski – Rangers. Pierzynski, 36 in December, put on a surprising power display in 2012 with a career-high 27 home runs. He slugged .412 on the road, though, and that's a reasonable projection moving forward. It's difficult to picture A.J. leaving the Sox, though he nearly signed with the Dodgers during the 2010-11 offseason before owner Jerry Reinsdorf stepped in. The White Sox could give the catching job to Tyler Flowers, while Pierzynski could replace Napoli in Texas.
31. Joe Blanton – Twins. The Twins, Cubs, and Padres are seeking two starters apiece this offseason, so I've mixed and matched with some of the mid-tier guys. Blanton, 32 in December, is generally good for 190 innings and would be well-served to choose a team with a big ballpark.
32. Brandon McCarthy – Athletics. The A's and their fans rallied behind McCarthy after his September emergency brain surgery, and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle expects that special bond to lead to a new contract.
33. Jason Grilli – Brewers. The Brewers may be willing to put some dollars toward revamping their bullpen, though Grilli will be a hot commodity after posting a 13.8 K/9 and 32 holds for the Pirates. Though he turns 36 in November, Grilli seems likely to find a multiyear deal as someone's new setup man.
34. Kyuji Fujikawa – Angels. Fujikawa was a dominant closer in Japan, and the 32-year-old is finally getting his shot at MLB. The Angels are expected to augment their bullpen this winter, and Fujikawa is a nice addition.
35. Koji Uehara – Dodgers. Uehara, 38 in April, was limited to 37 innings this year due to a lat strain. He remains dominant, however, and should attract strong interest on a one-year deal. The Dodgers could further deepen their bullpen by bringing him aboard.
36. Ryan Madson – Tigers. I applauded the Reds for pulling off the impossible last offseason: signing an elite, relatively young Boras client coming off a strong season to a one-year deal. Then Madson missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery. The 32-year-old is in line for another one-year deal, and could solidify the back end of the Tigers' bullpen.
37. Joakim Soria – Royals. Soria, who had Tommy John surgery around the same time as Madson, won our recent Free Agent Faceoff against him. At 29 in May, Soria still has age on his side. He told Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star earlier this month that remaining with the Royals is best for him and his family.
38. Joel Peralta – Mets. The Rays are known for high bullpen turnover, and Peralta might have to move on despite his strong desire to stay. I'm guessing someone will commit two years to Peralta even though he turns 37 in March, and it won't be the Rays. The Mets could use a solid veteran arm at the back end of their bullpen, and Peralta's flyball tendencies might not be a problem at Citi Field.
39. Mariano Rivera – Yankees. It's clearly Yankees or retirement for Mo. I generally try to create one cohesive scenario with my free agent predictions, but I have to admit the Yankees are unlikely to have both Rivera and Soriano in their 2013 bullpen. Rivera had surgery to repair a torn ACL in June, and I'll hold him to his word that he wouldn't go out like that.
40. Ichiro Suzuki – Rays. If Ichiro is willing to prioritize starting for a contender over his salary, the Rays could be a match. He might not be Plan A for many teams, but plenty of clubs have corner outfielder openings and would welcome the attention that might accompany Ichiro.
41. Jeff Keppinger – Orioles. Keppinger was non-tendered by the Giants a year ago, but the high-contact infielder bounced back to hit .325/.367/.439 for the Rays in 418 plate appearances. Obviously that production is unsustainable, but it might net the 32-year-old a multiyear deal or a starting gig. The Orioles are one possibility, though they do have internal options at second base.
42. Mike Adams – Phillies. The Phillies probably cannot afford all the players I've picked for them, but on an individual level Adams makes sense. The 34-year-old has been a dominant setup man, though he had surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome this month. Adams expects to be 100% by Spring Training, though there is some risk he won't be.
43. Andy Pettitte – Yankees. Pettitte, 40, surprisingly came out of retirement to sign a minor league deal with the Yankees in March. He joined the Yankees' rotation in May and pitched well in nine starts before breaking his ankle in June. He came back strong in September and the playoffs, and seems likely to re-sign with the Yankees rather than retire again.
44. Jose Valverde – Reds. Valverde still holds cache with MLB executives, who insisted I should not omit Valverde from my top 50 despite his rough year. After so many years as an elite closer, he could take an affordable one-year deal for a shot at pitching the ninth inning for a new team. The Reds could be a match if Aroldis Chapman moves to the rotation. Overall I don't see too many teams with big bucks for a closer.
45. Jonathan Broxton – Rangers. Unlike last offseason, the 28-year-old Broxton is coming off a healthy season and looking for a multiyear deal. He had an interesting 2012, with the lowest strikeout rate of his career but also the best control and an increased groundball rate. A closer job would be best, and that might be possible with a return to the Reds. Otherwise a team like the Rangers could sign him for a setup role with games finished incentives.
46. Scott Baker – Twins. The Twins need to acquire at least two starters, and there's mutual interest to keep Baker even after his option was declined. The 31-year-old had Tommy John surgery in April, but is a useful mid-rotation guy when healthy.
47. Sean Burnett – Cardinals. The Cardinals enter the offseason without many needs, though left-handed relief is one. Burnett and Jeremy Affeldt will be some of the hottest commodities; both will receive multiyear offers. At 30, Burnett has age on his side and is coming off a strong campaign in which he was effective against lefties and righties.
48. Jeremy Guthrie – Pirates. Guthrie rescued his free agency by finishing strong with the Royals after an awful stint in Colorado. But, as MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith suggested, he still might be limited to one-year offers. Teams like the Pirates, Cubs, Twins, and Padres will be looking for at least one innings guy.
49. Eric Chavez – Yankees. Chavez, 35 in December, was the perfect A-Rod backup/occasional DH for the Yankees this year. The role allowed him to stay healthy and effective for the first time in years, so his stock will be up in free agency.
50. Jeremy Affeldt – Giants. The Giants may not have the payroll space to keep the band entirely together, if Affeldt is now a $6-7MM a year reliever. The 33-year-old posted another strong season, including postseason dominance, and you have to think the Giants will at least make a competitive offer. Other potential suitors include the Cardinals, Angels, Rangers, Phillies, Nationals, and Brewers.