Most MLB teams are a few games shy of the halfway point in the regular season. We last checked in on the projected 2017-18 free agent class on May 18th, and since then plenty has changed. Below, the projected free agents are ranked based on their current earning power. To view the full list of players eligible for free agency after the season, click here.
1. Yu Darvish. Darvish is in the midst of a fine, healthy season. Post-Tommy John surgery, he’s logged 34 starts with a 3.26 ERA and 10.7 K/9 in 207 1/3 innings. While the 30-year-old righty may not be one of the ten best starters in MLB right now, he’ll likely be paid like it this winter. He has a shot at topping the six-year, $155MM contract Jon Lester signed with the Cubs in December 2014. According to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan on June 19th, Darvish is “very likely to end the season in a Rangers uniform.” While Texas is firmly in the AL Wild Card mix at present, Passan suggested that the Rangers would keep Darvish even if they fall out of contention by the trade deadline, to maximize their chances of re-signing their ace.
2. J.D. Martinez. Martinez, 30 in August, has established himself as the best hitter in this free agent class. Despite missing the first month and a half of the season, Martinez has a good shot at finishing with 30+ home runs for the second time in his career. For a team looking to add a right-handed middle of the order masher this winter, a six-year offer is possible. Consider Chris Davis and Shin-Soo Choo, who managed to land seven-year contracts in free agency. Martinez’s Tigers are currently long shots for the playoffs this year, and the club stands to net only a fourth-round pick if he rejects a qualifying offer and signs elsewhere this winter. So Martinez is a strong candidate to be traded a month from now, unless the Tigers surge.
3. Johnny Cueto. Cueto vs. Arrieta is an interesting argument. Born 20 days apart in 1986, both righties are having disappointing, home run-prone seasons. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams suggests, Cueto has the edge given his excellence in 2016 and an ability to go deeper into games this season. With the Giants completely out of contention, Cueto could be one of the best available starting pitchers on the trade market this summer. However, the pitcher’s opt-out clause adds downside risk for an acquiring team. Cueto is simply a rental if he opts out, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports says he’s “planning” to do, but the pitcher would still reserve the right to stick with his remaining four years and $84MM in the event of an injury or further downturn in performance. The Giants could reduce their asking price on Cueto to accommodate this risk, or better yet, allow a negotiating window to see if the pitcher would provide his potential new team more certainty about his future.
4. Jake Arrieta. Arrieta’s supporting stats suggest he’s better than his current 4.67 ERA, but his days as one of baseball’s best starters may be behind him. In five of his 16 starts, Arrieta has failed to make it out of the fifth inning. I’m currently projecting a five-year deal, though we haven’t seen that happen recently with a free agent pitcher entering his age-32 season, outside of Zack Greinke’s outrageous six-year pact. Agent Scott Boras put out his Arrieta talking points to reporters about a month ago, but if they aren’t convincing to you and I, they probably won’t work on MLB GMs either.
5. Eric Hosmer. How low was Hoz on April 24th? An 0-for-4 against Miguel Gonzalez and the White Sox had dropped his season line to .192/.253/.247 through 79 plate appearances. This was following a very bleak second half in 2016. But since April 24th, Hosmer has been on fire, hitting .344/.402/.540 in 234 PAs. For the season as a whole, he’s back at “Good Hosmer” levels – a high-average hitter with some pop. At the moment, I’m projecting a solid five-year deal for Hosmer. He doesn’t turn 28 until October, broadening his appeal. However, there are two other first basemen who could threaten Hosmer’s market: Yonder Alonso and Logan Morrison. Both have come from out of nowhere to post monster first halves and could offer the allure of better production than Hosmer at a lower price in free agency. Interest in Hosmer could be further crowded out by Lucas Duda, Mark Reynolds, and Mitch Moreland.
6. Justin Upton. Though they go about it in different ways, Upton has been a similar value hitter to Hosmer over the last several years. While neither player is regarded as a great fielder, it’s a little harder to find a left fielder than a first baseman. Upton, however, is two years older than Hosmer and faces a decision on his opt-out clause. If Upton can top four years and $88MM in free agency, it might not be by a ton. Upton may make the safer choice to stick with his Tigers deal. On May 25th, Jon Heyman wrote that the possibility of Upton opting out seems “beyond remote,” with a rival GM in agreement. If the Tigers are to consider trading Upton, they’ll be faced with the same issue the Giants have with Cueto.
7. Mike Moustakas. With 20 home runs this season, Moustakas is already threatening his career high of 22. A 40-homer season isn’t entirely out of the question, given his production to date, and Moose can hold down the hot corner acceptably. He doesn’t turn 29 until September, and with a strong second half, a five-year deal could be in play. Older players such as Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, Russell Martin, and Brian McCann were all able to land five years in free agency.
8. Lorenzo Cain. Cain’s bat has bounced back so far this year, and the Royals’ speedy center fielder makes his first appearance in our top ten. Cain turns 32 next April, which may put a five-year deal out of reach. Still, he looks like the best available center fielder this winter. Like all of the Royals on this list, Cain could be traded in late July if the team falls out of contention.
9. Masahiro Tanaka. While Tanaka once seemed a lock to opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM on his Yankees contract, his rough start to the season has brought that into question. Tanaka, who turns 29 in November, sports a 5.56 ERA and has allowed a whopping 21 home runs in 90 2/3 innings. That’s good for the fourth-worst home run rate among all qualified starters. Tanaka’s performance has been extremely erratic this year. He doesn’t look like a $22MM pitcher in free agency, but with a strong second half, a four or five-year deal could be back on the table.
10. Michael Pineda. Prior to this year, Pineda’s home run problems could be mostly chalked up to Yankee Stadium. But this year, in his six road starts, Pineda has somehow seen 30% of fly-balls allowed leave the yard. The 28-year-old remains as maddening as ever, as three clunkers in June have pushed his ERA up to 4.12. Pineda is still young and talented enough to score a four-year deal in free agency, as he’s the type of pitcher teams can dream on.
A pair of dominant relievers just missed the top ten. Wade Davis and Greg Holland have been excellent and will likely be vying for four-year deals in excess of $60MM this winter. The aforementioned Alonso and Morrison have reinvented themselves and could threaten the top ten before the season is out. And despite a DL stint for a strained quad, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart still leads all projected free agents with 2.8 wins above replacement this year.
Jonathan Lucroy was arguably the best-hitting catcher in baseball last year, but his bat has gone ice cold in 2017. Lucroy turned 31 this month, and his performance has put a four-year deal in jeopardy.