We’re a quarter of the way through the 2015 MLB season, and there’s been significant movement in free agent stocks. It’s time for a new installment of the 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings.
As a reminder, these rankings represent earning power in terms of total contract size, assuming everyone reaches the open market after this season and goes to the highest bidder. Here’s MLBTR’s full list of 2015-16 free agents.
1. Justin Upton. San Diego agrees with Upton, who is on pace for 40 home runs this season. He could surpass his career high of 31 right around his 28th birthday, which is in late August. Oddly, the Padres left fielder has done all his damage so far at Petco Park. Upton will be 3-4 years younger than Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols were when they reached free agency, and he has a chance to top their $240MM contracts.
2. David Price. Price’s ERA at last check-in was 0.40, so it had nowhere to go but up. He’s now at a more mortal 3.40, 22nd among American League qualifiers. It’s probably just an eight-start blip on the radar, but Price’s strikeout and groundball rates are down this year and he’s allowed more than a hit per inning.
3. Johnny Cueto. Is Cueto a better pitcher than Price right now? I’m considering the possibility more seriously. Cueto, who is six months younger than Price, leads all of baseball with 7.23 innings per start. Last year, only Price bettered Cueto’s regular season total of 243 2/3 frames. Cueto is more than a workhorse, though, as he has a 3.03 ERA on the season. He stands a decent chance of being traded by the Reds this summer, making him ineligible for a qualifying offer.
4. Jason Heyward. Heyward is settling in with the Cardinals, batting .273/.343/.398 since we last checked in. That’s in line with his last couple of seasons, but another 10-15 home run campaign isn’t going to get him a monster contract. Just 26 in August, Heyward’s youth and defensive value should still result in a deal worth well over $100MM.
5. Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann has shined in the five starts since our last update, bringing his ERA down to 3.66. His skills in this quarter season have faded considerably from last year, though, as his 15.2% strikeout rate would represent a career worst. Again: it’s just eight starts. But a good $50MM hangs in the balance for Zimmermann.
6. Alex Gordon. Gordon had December wrist surgery, but his power production seems fine this year. He’s slugging .472 since we last checked in. Gordon has been hit by a pitch an AL-best nine times, pushing his OBP up to .378. Whatever age-based gap there might be between Gordon and Heyward, Gordon is closing it with a five-plus wins above replacement pace.
7. Zack Greinke. Greinke jumps up two spots this month, as he’s third in the game with a 1.52 ERA. A third consecutive sub-3.00 ERA season should help his earning power, though he owes much of his success this year to an unsustainable .217 batting average on balls in play. It’s a fantastic start to the season regardless. Zimmermann has two and a half years of age on Greinke, but Greinke is the better pitcher right now.
8. Ian Desmond. There’s been nothing redeeming about Desmond’s contract year, which has been replacement level so far. This was a guy in the running for the best shortstop in baseball from 2012-14, but in 2015 his numbers are way down. He’s been hitting like Jean Segura, and he’s on pace for baseball’s first 40-error season since Jose Offerman in 1992. Desmond will still do fine financially, as he faces little competition on the shortstop market.
9. Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes’ biggest problem has been readily apparent in 2015, as his 3.1% walk rate is tenth-worst among qualified hitters. That has contributed to a .290 OBP. I think Cespedes’ power still makes him a top-75 hitter in MLB, but he hasn’t been in the last calendar year.
10. Jeff Samardzija. Little has gone right in Samardzija’s eight starts for the White Sox. He’s whiffed only 17% of batters, and his groundball rate has taken a tumble. His skills back up a 4.00+ ERA. The 30-year-old righty is as good a bet as anyone on this list to be traded this summer. If Samardzija continues to struggle, he could be out of the top ten next month.
Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler is pushing for a spot on this list, with a .269/.352/.428 line and improved defense. He doesn’t turn 30 until March, but has to be penalized for an injury history that hasn’t allowed him to play in 120+ games since 2012. Howie Kendrick, Denard Span, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, and ageless hurlers Aaron Harang and A.J. Burnett are among the other free agents off to strong starts.