Last week we published my 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings, an assessment of the earning power of players on track to reach free agency after the 2015 season. Sometimes contract year players cut off extension negotiations at the start of the season, while others are willing to negotiate at any time. Here’s the latest on where these top potential free agents stand.
1. Justin Upton. In a December appearance on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM with Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden, Upton’s agent Larry Reynolds indicated that he and his client did not want to negotiate during the season, and actually didn’t want to negotiate during Spring Training either. So it looks like the Padres’ exclusive window to sign Upton to a new contract will only re-open after the season. Padres position players are due to report to Spring Training today.
Key quote: “If anything were to happen, we’d probably want to do that before he packs up to go to Spring Training.” – Larry Reynolds, December 2014
2. Jason Heyward. Heyward was asked in January at the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up whether he would have a reason to stop talking contract once the season started, and he replied, “At this point, I don’t.” (Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporting). According to Goold, the two sides had yet to discuss an extension at that point in January, though GM John Mozeliak did say he’d be interested in pursuing one. Goold explained, “The Cardinals prefer to bring a player in, wrap him in red and then do what’s possible to keep him.” As Goold notes, retaining Heyward would require the largest contract in franchise history, which is currently Matt Holliday’s seven-year, $120MM deal from January 2010.
Key quote: “For me, I hope I love it so much I won’t have to leave.” – Jason Heyward, January 2015
3. David Price. Interest is mutual in a deal between the Tigers and Price. In January, as Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reported, the lefty said he’s open to anything, and GM Dave Dombrowski said, “We hope he stays a Tiger for a long time.” Last Sunday in Lakeland, Price explained, “I’d probably rather not talk about it all year long. But I don’t feel like closing any doors. It doesn’t have to be cut off. I just don’t want to talk about it every day.” (Bob Nightengale of USA Today reporting). Price did say he wanted to avoid the situation Max Scherzer went through with the Tigers last spring, where the team released a statement on March 23rd about the pitcher rejecting their contract offer.
Key quote: “I would definitely welcome it. If it’s right for both of us, I’m sure we can make it happen.” – David Price, February 2015
4. Ian Desmond. Desmond’s agent Doug Rogalski and Nationals GM Mike Rizzo didn’t have any significant extension talks during the offseason, reported MLB.com’s Bill Ladson yesterday. According to James Wagner of the Washington Post, Desmond said he hasn’t thought about whether he would be open to talking about an extension during the season. Desmond doesn’t seem likely to be extended by the Nationals, but in-season negotiations have not been explicitly ruled out.
Key quote: “I’ve kind of kept it to myself and my agent. And that’s the way I plan on going forward. I feel like we’ve got a lot of expectations in here, and to reach them we’ve got to be really focused. I’m not going to be the one that adds any extra distractions.” – Ian Desmond, February 2015
5. Johnny Cueto. In December, Cueto’s agent Bryce Dixon set an Opening Day deadline for extension talks with the Reds, in talking to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, so less than six weeks remain. Dixon noted in that conversation that Lester is a better comp for Cueto than Homer Bailey, while Max Scherzer is the closest comp. The two sides held preliminary talks at the Winter Meetings in December.
Key quote: “He wants to stay if the numbers are right.” – Bryce Dixon, December 2014 (MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reporting)
6. Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann is willing to discuss a contract if the Nationals initiate talks this spring, but he does not want to negotiate in-season, reports Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com. The pitcher said Saturday, “We negotiated a little bit and didn’t get very far,” also saying that he believes everything is on hold right now.
Key quote: “Once the season starts, I really don’t want to talk. So if something happens in spring here, we’re willing to listen. But once the season starts, I don’t really want to talk about it.” – Jordan Zimmermann, February 2015
7. Alex Gordon. Talking to Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star on Saturday, Gordon backed off his previous suggestion that he’ll pick up his $14MM player option for 2016, saying, “That’s a question that honestly doesn’t need to be answered right now. Because I don’t know the answer right now. I don’t know how this year is going to go, or how it’s going to look at the end of the year.” According to McCullough, Gordon indicated there were no ongoing negotiations, but he’s willing to discuss an extension at any point during the season.
Key quote: “I want to stay here. Absolutely. It’s close to home. Kansas City almost feels like my hometown. We love the city. We love everybody in this organization. And obviously it’s in a good place right now. It’s come a long way. And I want to be a part of the success that I think we’re still going to have.” – Alex Gordon, February 2015
8. Zack Greinke. Last Thursday, Greinke told reporters including MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick he won’t decide whether to opt out of his contract until after the season. Greinke can become a free agent that way, or he can stick with the remaining three years and $71MM covering 2016-18. Greinke told reporters he’s open to negotiating with the Dodgers, noting, “and I’m sure they’re open to me taking a cheap deal.”
Key quote: “It’s all to your benefit. If things are going good, you can use it for more power. There’s no negative to it.” – Zack Greinke on his opt-out, February 2015
9. Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija’s agent Mark Rodgers joined Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM earlier this month and said he and his client will listen to the White Sox anytime they want to talk. At the Winter Meetings in December, Sox GM Rick Hahn expressed interest in extending his new acquisition. On the radio show in February, though, Rodgers explained that a player needs to reach free agency to determine his true open market value.
Key quote: “To talk about what his value is in free agency a year early would really do him an injustice, because I think there’s more to come, better to come from Jeff.” – Mark Rodgers, February 2015
10. Matt Wieters. Back in December, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe said there seems to be no urgency with Wieters’ camp or the Orioles to work out an extension. Most of the talk lately about Wieters has been about whether he will be ready for Opening Day given his Tommy John surgery last June. Since Wieters is a Scott Boras client, the chances of a deal getting done before free agency seem slim.
For some other names that could battle their way into the top ten in the coming months, check out my 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings. The 2015-16 class looks very strong, much better than the projected 2016-17 group. But how many of the ten players listed here will actually reach the open market? I feel that Heyward, Price, and Gordon have reasonable chances of signing extensions, while the other seven are likely to reach free agency.