The trade deadline will be upon us next week, but the 2014-15 free agent class still warrants an early look. My June edition of the 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings can be found here, and the full list of 2015 free agents is here.
1. Max Scherzer. Scherzer overcame a midseason hiccup by posting a 1.87 ERA over his last five starts, bringing him back down to 3.34 on the season. He even picked up the win for the American League in the All-Star Game. It’s been a long time since agent Scott Boras has had a starting pitcher of this caliber as a free agent.
2. Jon Lester. Lester isn’t far behind Scherzer, having allowed three earned runs in 38 2/3 innings since our last set of rankings. Lester owns a 2.50 ERA as well as superb timing, and he’s been better than Scherzer this year. Lester hasn’t whiffed this many batters since 2010, and he’s never shown this level of control. Accounting for performance prior to this year, I still give Scherzer the overall edge. Around late June the Red Sox looked to reignite extension talks with Lester, but the pitcher did not receive a new offer and continues to prefer to table discussions until after the season. With the Red Sox slipping in the standings of late, Lester could be traded by the July 31st deadline and freed of a qualifying offer.
3. Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez’s shoulder and calf have been bothering him, and he’s been hit by pitches three times this month. The 30-year-old avoided the DL and continues to hit well. On the other hand, he’s giving back some runs in the field, and defensive question marks are enough to push him down a few spots in the rankings.
4. James Shields. With a 4.39 ERA since May, Shields has failed to keep pace with Lester. Still, Shields’ 2014 peripheral stats are mostly better than last year’s, which led to a 3.15 ERA. The Royals also seem to be hanging around contention enough that they won’t give serious consideration to trading the big righty. With a new contract that will begin with his age-33 season, Shields will be difficult to price in free agency.
5. Pablo Sandoval. As of May 13th, Sandoval’s OPS was down to .554. He’s at .903 since then, with a .335/.370/.533 line in 230 plate appearances. Just 28 in August, Sandoval has age on his side relative to most free agents.
6. Nelson Cruz. Cruz has stumbled since our last set of rankings, hitting .229/.282/.422 in 117 plate appearances. He still ranks second in all of baseball in home runs and RBI, and could top his career-high of 33 longballs at some point in August. Cruz is another tough free agent to price, as teams will be buying into his age 34-36 seasons (and perhaps age 37, if things go well for the slugger).
7. Victor Martinez. V-Mart’s resurgent contract year has continued unabated. Though he’ll be 36 in December, Martinez’s goal might be a three-year pact. On June 29th, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that while there have been no extension discussions, Martinez would love to remain in Detroit. One complication for the Tigers is that Miguel Cabrera is signed through 2023 and will probably need to move to DH at some point.
8. Yasmani Tomas. A new entrant to this list, Tomas is a different kind of potential free agent. As Ben Badler of Baseball America explained on June 20th, Tomas left Cuba to pursue an MLB contract but still has to clear the usual hurdles before he’s free to sign. A 23-year-old corner outfielder, Badler pegs Tomas’ raw power as a 70. It seems possible Tomas’ actual free agency will coincide with the MLB offseason. Jose Abreu’s dazzling debut has made his $68MM contract look like a bargain, which should help Tomas score big. It’s worth noting that Tomas isn’t said to be as polished as Abreu and likely doesn’t have the same ceiling. He is younger, however, which helps his cause.
9. Melky Cabrera. Cabrera, 29, is hitting .305/.352/.463 on the season. His ties to Biogenesis cloud the picture, but his injury-shortened 2013 might end up being Cabrera’s only poor season in his last four.
10. Russell Martin. Perhaps Martin can’t maintain his .271 batting average, but he’s in the midst of another solid campaign and doesn’t turn 32 until February. Teams are also placing more and more emphasis on catching defense, and Martin has gunned down 37 percent of attempted base-stealers while ranking sixth in extra strikes added via pitch framing, per Baseball Prospectus.
This month’s Kenta Maeda watch: the 26-year-old Japanese righty is down to a 2.08 ERA in 15 starts. Ervin Santana has been decent of late. Jason Hammel was traded to Oakland and has seen his ERA rise from 2.98 to 3.35 after two starts. Josh Beckett returns from a DL stint for a hip injury tonight.
You likely won’t find a reliever cracking the top 10, but closers David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Janssen and Rafael Soriano have been excellent, while Luke Gregerson and Andrew Miller have been lights out in a setup capacity.
Among position players, Chase Headley, who earlier today was traded to the Yankees, is still not showing any power (though perhaps a move to the hitter-friendly parks of the AL East can change that). Colby Rasmus was placed in something of a platoon role earlier this month. Nick Markakis leads MLB in plate appearances and has been useful this year. Aramis Ramirez, who like Markakis has a mutual option on his deal, is having a nice year at the plate as well. Stephen Drew’s bat has started to come alive this month after his late start to the season, while Kendrys Morales is hitting .295/.319/.432 over an 11-game hitting streak. Neither Boras client has very appealing overall numbers. Both Asdrubal Cabrera and Mike Morse have dropped off the list after sluggish performances since our last edition of the rankings. A strong finish could put either back onto the map.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.