2014 Free Agent Leaderboards

The offseason is officially underway, as free agency begins today. The exclusive negotiating period ended yesterday, 12 qualifying offers were made, and now any player not under contract can negotiate freely with any team he desires, so long as they desire to negotiate with him, at least. You know the big names and the guys who are going to get all the money, but you probably don’t remember every player on the market, or all the various options at each position. That’s what we’re here for.

Thanks to the initial hard work of Steve Adams at MLBTradeRumors, and piggy-backing off the list created by Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports, I’ve created a Free Agent Leaderboard that runs 176 players deep, including 79 hitters and 99 pitchers. I’ve done my best to remove any player who had an option that was picked up, though since this was a manual effort, I may have missed one or two; feel free and leave corrections in the comments below.

Because the leaderboards are generated based on sorting players who have already appeared in the big leagues, none of the international free agents are included, so this isn’t quite a complete list of every player available this winter, but it does reflect every player I could find that has played in MLB over the last few years.

You’ll note that the default setting from that link is to display all position players performance over the last three years. Too often, free agent lists and rankings are based off just the most recent year performance, when multiple years of data often provide a better perspective on a player’s true worth. Now, certainly, one should not assume that Chase Headley is really going to produce +5 WAR per season going forward — as he has averaged over the last three years — but the 2012-2014 leaderboards do serve as nice reality checks when we start putting too much emphasis on the last six months.

Of course, you’re not actually limited to the 2012-2014 timeframe, and if you don’t want to look back three years, you don’t have to; simply change the year filters to whatever you want them to be, then save the list as a Custom Report down towards the bottom of the screen. And you aren’t even limited to just the stats on the dashboard, as you can modify the leaderboard to show whatever numbers you find relevant. Think of this as more of a template than the presentation you have to stick with.

Now that we have this list, though, let’s run through the positions and see if we can make some observations based on the data. The positional name is a link to the leaderboard players who have received at least 25% of their playing time at that position over the last three years.

Catchers

If you’re in the market for a starting catcher, you’re either signing Russell Martin or making a trade. Pretty much every other catcher on the free agent market is a part-time player at best, and many of them are hanging around replacement level. Martin isn’t just the big fish; he’s the only fish, and it’s one of the reasons why he’s probably going to get more than we might expect for an aging backstop.

First Base

Adam LaRoche is the name value guy here, but there’s a few other interesting options who won’t appear here because they haven’t actually played much first base lately: Michael Morse and Billy Butler. Both are probably better off as DHs, but if a team is hunting for a right-handed batter and has the position open, Morse and Butler might make more interesting options than Mark Reynolds. Neither Morse (as an OF) or Butler (as a DH) project particularly well at the positions they’ve played recently, but if either one could be an adequate defensive first baseman, it could help their value quite a bit.

Second Base

Make a trade. This group is awful.

Shortstop

Or maybe I should say “Shortstop”. Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera are all looking at positional changes sooner than later, and while they might find jobs at the position for another year or two, any team looking to sign any of the top three has to assume they’re signing a player who won’t be able to handle shortstop in the not-too-distant future. Stephen Drew and Clint Barmes can defend the position, but at the cost of making a lot of outs. You’re making a trade-off no matter who you sign, so like second base, if this is a position of need, maybe make a trade instead.

Third Base

Did you know Chase Headley has hit 15 more home runs than Pablo Sandoval since the start of the 2012 season? I didn’t. These leaderboards put too much weight on his amazing performance three years ago, since more recent performances are more predictive than older seasons, but these numbers also remind us that he was pretty great not that long ago. If you’re not getting one of the two main guys, or converting Ramirez back to third base, you’re buying a backup.

Left Field

Yech. Melky Cabrera is going to get a sizable contract that he probably won’t be worth, but after that, this group is basically a collection of platoon guys. Rather than giving any of these guys — except for maybe Chris Young, who I still think has some value — regular gigs, teams might be better off trading for a center fielder who is blocked in another organization and giving them a chance to be a real defensive asset in a corner spot.

Center Field

And I thought left was ugly. Colby Rasmus is an enigma who could be a decent value if he’s cheap enough, but could also be essentially worthless if his poor defensive numbers are indicative of decline and not just a fluke. And he’s something close to the only option, though Young wouldn’t be a terrible job-share selection for someone.

Right Field

Hey, did you know this crop of outfield free agents stinks? If you weren’t aware of that from the last two links, let it be confirmed by this one. Maybe Torii Hunter has a bounceback season in him, or maybe he’s a replacement level guy who just got old. Maybe Alex Rios will remember how to hit for power at 34. The best bet for a regular right fielder might be Nori Aoki, and he hit one home run last year. One. Baseball has changed a lot.

Designated Hitter

Victor Martinez is going to get paid, as someone is going to buy into a career year at age 35. Maybe it will work out. I’m betting it won’t. Butler and Kendrys Morales are both generally overrated players coming off poor years, so they might actually sign contracts in line with their value; both could actually prove as decent bargains if a team can secure cheap enough option years instead of just giving them a chance to have a good season and hit the market again next year.

Starting Pitcher

And here’s all the talent that was missing from the earlier links. This is a good year to be looking to add arms, especially if you’ve got some money to spend. Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are pretty much guaranteed the two largest free agent contracts of the winter, and there’s a bunch of pretty solid arms for even teams that don’t want to bid $150 million for a big name. Especially if you’re willing to take a risk on a guy with some medical issues in his past. Brandon McCarthy, Francisco Liriano, and Brett Anderson can all be significant assets when they’re healthy, so depending on your risk tolerance, this could be a good winter to be shopping for upside in the pitching market.

Relief Pitcher

If you need a reminder about the volatility of relievers, just look at this leaderboard; names like Matt Belisle, Jason Grilli, and Jesse Crain rank prominently because of what they did in 2012 and 2013, but were all basically worthless last year. Casey Janssen and Rafael Soriano weren’t so hot themselves. Bullpens are important, but there are better ways to build them than in free agency. Just ask the Dodgers.

Certainly, you can go more in depth than this using the leaderboard, even doing things like looking at best hitters versus LHPs (Nelson Cruz) or looking for relievers who are ground ball specialists (Ronald Belisario), so feel free and use these leaderboards as a reference all winter.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

26 Comments
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Eric Cioe
8 years ago

You missed James Shields in the starting pitcher category.

sk
8 years ago
Reply to  Eric Cioe

did he?

“there’s a bunch of pretty solid arms for even teams that don’t want to bid $150 million for a big name.”

Enemy of the State
8 years ago
Reply to  sk

Yeah I think he did. He mentions Brett Anderson, Lariano, and McCarthy. No shields looks like an oversight.

Jason B
8 years ago
Reply to  sk

Naw. He’s not expensive enough to be in the Lester/Scherzer part of that comment (although he will command a hefty price himself, just not that kind of money), nor is he going to be in the (comparative) bargain bin where starters sign for 2-3 years and 8-12M per year. He’s certainly out there, just wasn’t a part of either class of starter that Dave was referencing. He wasn’t intending to name-check every available starter.