Pending free agents traded during the month of July included Josh Reddick, Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, Rich Hill, Andrew Cashner, Steve Pearce, Carlos Beltran, Ivan Nova, and Jesse Chavez. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, a midseason trade disqualifies a player from receiving a qualifying offer. The value of the one-year offer is expected to be around $16.7MM this winter. Since such an offer ties the player to draft pick compensation, avoiding one can be a big benefit for him.
The current CBA expires on December 1st of this year. The November qualifying offer and acceptance dates remain in place until a new agreement is reached. A new agreement could completely eliminate, modify, or maintain the current system. It’s an unknown at this point.
Below, I’ve ranked the 2016-17 free agents by earning power. You can view the full list of free agents here.
1. Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes suffered a quad strain on July 8th, skipping the All-Star Game as a result. While he’s avoided a DL stint thus far, Cespedes will be used as a left fielder for the remainder of the season as a precaution. He’s expected to serve as the Mets’ designated hitter tonight against the Yankees, and doesn’t have to worry about playing the field until the team returns to National League contests on Tuesday. In his brief 48 plate appearances since the injury, Cespedes’ power has been missing. It remains to be seen how the injury will affect him over the Mets’ remaining 56 regular season games. Regardless, Cespedes seems very likely to opt out of the remaining two years and $47.5MM remaining on his contract after the season. If he does, he’ll likely retain his position as our top-ranked free agent.
2. Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion moves up a spot after a strong July. He’s on pace for a career-high 44 home runs, and with 29 bombs to date he’s one behind Mark Trumbo and Todd Frazier for the MLB lead. Since Encarnacion turns 34 in January, he seems limited to a four-year term in free agency. Still, that could be at a salary of $20MM or more.
3. Josh Reddick. Reddick and teammate Rich Hill were traded by the A’s to the Dodgers on Monday’s trade deadline. Reddick was a near-lock for a qualifying offer, so the trade boosts his earning power. He doesn’t turn 30 until February, so Reddick should be in line for a four or five-year deal. He had a strong July and has a chance to raise his profile as a key member of the Dodgers’ offense.
4. Aroldis Chapman. Chapman joins our top five for the first time. The Cubs’ new closer also finds himself ineligible for a qualifying offer. While I’ve felt Chapman’s October domestic violence incident could tamp down his free agent earning power, it didn’t seem to affect his trade value last month. There is only one Aroldis Chapman, a lefty capable of pumping 104 mile per hour fastballs in the ninth inning. The incident may have little bearing on his next contract. It will be interesting to see Chapman and Kenley Jansen jockeying for record relief contracts this winter, possibly five-year deals in excess of $70MM.
5. Kenley Jansen. Jansen’s excellent season continues, and he may be able to top his career-high of 44 saves. Just 29 in September, Jansen is a dominant ninth inning force. Some teams will prefer him to Chapman.
6. Ian Desmond. Desmond’s power resurgence may lead to his first career 30 home run season. Slotting in around the top of the Rangers’ order, which is more imposing with the trade deadline additions of Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran, Desmond could score 110 runs this year. He leads all pending free agents with 4.4 wins above replacement, as a fine center fielder with renewed power. Desmond will turn 31 in September. He’s about the same age as Cespedes, but older than Reddick. The comps don’t really matter though – free agency will be an auction for his services, and I imagine he’ll be seeking a five-year deal. If Desmond gets that fifth year, he’ll likely out-earn everyone on this list aside from Cespedes.
7. Jose Bautista. Bautista tumbles down the Power Rankings, as I’m currently pegging him for a three-year deal. 36 in October, Bautista returned from a toe injury on July 25th. He’ll need a strong finish to convince teams that his age 36-39 seasons are a strong investment, especially with a qualifying offer attached.
8. Wilson Ramos. Ramos posted a solid July and has already tied his career high of 16 home runs. He’s been the most valuable catcher in baseball this year at 3.4 WAR, and doesn’t turn 29 until next week. It’s time to start considering a five-year deal as a legitimate possibility for Ramos, whose earning power has skyrocketed with his well-timed breakout.
9. Mark Trumbo. Trumbo crushed seven more home runs in July. He was the first player to reach 30 this year, and is on pace for 46 longballs for the season. Like fellow free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion, Trumbo is a liability on defense. Trumbo strikes out more and walks less than EE, and consistently posts a low on-base percentage. For some GMs, a 40 home run, 110 RBI right-handed bat for the middle of the order still speaks for itself. Trumbo’s agent will likely be vying for a fourth year.
10. Dexter Fowler. The tenth spot came down to Fowler, Justin Turner, and Michael Saunders. A case can be made for any of them, but I’ll take Fowler by a hair. Fowler ranks eighth in baseball with a .403 OBP, and he plays center field. Teams will be wary of going four years on a player with his injury history, but he’ll still do much better in free agency this time around.
Turner and Saunders each have a shot at their first 30 home run season. Both players have already set career bests in homers. Neither Turner nor Saunders has ever played 140 games in a season, so a four-year investment would be risky.
The 2016-17 free agent market looks historically bleak for starting pitching. You’ve got Rich Hill, who has been brilliant but turns 37 in March and has been limited to 14 starts this year due to injuries. One of the top starters might be Jeremy Hellickson, who turns 30 in April and has a 3.70 ERA in 22 starts for the Phillies. Barring an August trade, however, Hellickson seems likely to come with a qualifying offer attached. There’s also Andrew Cashner, the hardest-throwing free agent starter. 30 in September, Cashner is having another middling year and will try to finish on a high note with the Marlins.