2016 Top 50 Free Agent Predictions

Yesterday, Carson Cistulli revealed the results of our Contract Crowdsourcing project, listing the aggregate salary projected for 82 different free agents this winter. The project is a very useful tool to get an understanding of what a broad spectrum of perspectives see as fair market value, but the nature of aggregation means that the totals — especially on the high-end — will almost always end up being a bit lower than what the players actually sign for. After all, players don’t sign for the median value of all of their offers; they take the highest one, in most cases.

So, as a follow-up, I’ve put together my predictions for the 50 largest free agent contracts signed this winter. I did this last year too, though I took some pretty big wild guesses when it came to putting players and potential teams together, so some of my guesses look pretty ridiculous in hindsight. I did get a few contract terms right, and managed to match the Yankees with Chase Headley and had the Tigers re-signing Victor Martinez, but we’ll see if we can clear last year’s pretty low bar.

Obviously, this is mostly just for fun, since predicting what teams will do in advance is very difficult. But it also serves as a chance to talk about what I think teams may do in general this winter, even if the specific players end up going elsewhere. As we did last year, we’ll go team by team, then put the full table of contracts at the end. Just for fun (or because that’s how I sorted the list in Excel), we’ll go in alphabetical order of team nickname.

Anaheim Angels

The Angels have a couple of glaring needs on offense, with weaknesses at second and third base as well as in left field, and their line-up leans too right-handed, so I’d expect them to pursue left-handed hitters at two of those three spots. The lefty hitting free agent market isn’t great this year, so I’m betting on a trade for a guy like Carlos Gonzalez, but with their 2B/3B weakness and desire for a lefty who can hit near the top of the order, they’re a very good fit for Daniel Murphy, who can flex between the two positions depending on how the market develops for other options at those spots. After his strong second half and postseason, I expect Murphy will cost $48 million over four years.

Houston Astros

The Astros have a pretty glaring hole at the corner infield positions, and certainly aren’t afraid of high-strikeout hitters who make up for their lack of contact with longballs. Assuming they’re not going to pivot towards a more contact oriented offense, that makes them a great fit for Chris Davis, and his opposite field power would likely play very well in Minute Maid Park. I’ve got him costing $130 million over five years, so he’ll serve as the team’s big addition this winter, with Scott Kazmir (3/$42M) and Ryan Madson (3/$15M) rounding out their off-season spending.

Oakland Athletics

Chase Utley is likely going to want to play for a west coast team, and luckily for him, several of them need a second baseman for 2016. I came very close to putting Utley in Anaheim, but decided that he might be more of an A’s type of player at this point, and so I’ve slotted in for $8 million on a one year deal to play in Oakland. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ended up in Anaheim or San Diego either.

Toronto Blue Jays

With a bunch of departures from the pitching staff, Mark Shapiro’s primary task this winter is going to be to add some rotation depth. I expect them to re-sign Marco Estrada for $33 million over three years, then add another quality innings eater in Ian Kennedy, though his ability to miss bats will cost a little more: $42 million over the same three year term. I’d also expect them to bring back Dioner Navarro at $10 million over two years, and then do the rest of their work through trades.

Atlanta Braves

This is one of those picks that I’m guessing a lot of people are going to make, because the connections seem pretty obvious. The Braves need a catcher, and are looking to build their roster for 2017, so they’re not necessarily focused on adding the most wins possible in the short-term. Matt Wieters, who grew up in South Carolina and went to school at Georgia Tech, is pretty much the only significant catcher on the free agent market this winter, and coming off a lost season, he presents an opportunity for a team to buy low if they can take the risk of betting on a bounce-back season. The Braves have that opportunity, and with a protected first round pick, can sign a guy who received a qualifying offer at a lesser price than some other clubs. So I’ll put Wieters in Atlanta for $64 million over four years, which leaves them enough room to also add David Freese (3/$33M) to fill the third base hole, now that Hector Olivera is heading to the outfield.

St. Louis Cardinals

Their off-season will be determined by how aggressive they’ll be in re-signing Jason Heyward. Given their outfield depth, I’ve previously expected Heyward to go elsewhere, but in looking it over, I think the team may prefer to retain Heyward; he’s young enough to grow with their core, and provides the kind of skillset that they value as much as anyone else in baseball. My guess is that he comes up just shy of $200 million, signing for $195 million over nine years, but the Cardinals include an opt-out after the fourth year in order to get him to take a little less than the highest bidder and stay in St. Louis. I also have them retaining John Lackey, though he’ll get a nice raise up to $26 million over the next two years.

Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein made it pretty clear in his end-of-season press conference that they’d like to add another quality starting pitcher and retain Dexter Fowler, so I have them doing both. Fowler stays in Chicago for $56 million over four years — maybe leaving some money on the table to stay in a situation he likes — and the team then makes seven year, $145 million push for Johnny Cueto, who they’ve seen dominate the NL Central for years. While the team will be linked to David Price because of the Joe Maddon connection, I think Cueto at a discount makes a bit more sense, saving budget room for them to make a run at re-signing Jake Arrieta this winter as well.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Dave Stewart has made it clear that he wants to make a big splash in the rotation, adding a frontline starter, but I’ve got all the frontline pitchers signing elsewhere, leaving the Diamondbacks to try and sell former ASU pitcher Mike Leake as their new ace. Leake will certainly cost less than the higher tier of arms available this winter, as I’ve got him signing for $80 million over five years, but he’s still a quality starter who can help solidify the D’Backs rotation. He’s not an ace, and with a pitch-to-contact skillset he likely never will be, but he’s a good pitcher, and Arizona needs some good pitchers.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are maybe the hardest team in baseball to predict, as they seem to always be working on complicated trades, often focusing on depth over star power. But I’d expect they’ll make a big effort to retain Zack Greinke, one of the three best players on the market this winter, especially since he’ll likely be one of the elite talents that will be obtainable on a shorter commitment. I have Greinke getting $160 million over five years, so he won’t be cheap, but it’s a fair price for what Greinke can do on the field. I also put them down for $76 million over four years to sign Ben Zobrist, who fits well into their mold of versatile players who can fill multiple positions, though he’d probably mostly play second base in LA. Steve Pearce at 1/$8M also fits the Dodgers mold to round out their additions, and I have them bringing back Brett Anderson for $28 million over two years. Plus, they’ll probably make five or six trades just for the fun of it.

San Francisco Giants

With a strong homegrown infield, the Giants look like they should be able to contend for a while, but they’ll need a better rotation than they had in 2015, so I’m penciling Jordan Zimmermann in as their big free agent buy this winter. He’ll cost nearly as much as Cueto — I have him signing for $140 million over seven years — but he fits the mold of what the Giants look for in a pitcher, as a guy who pounds the strike zone and uses his defense to get outs. I also have them spending modestly on Tony Sipp (2/$10M) to add a quality left-hander to the bullpen, since Jeremy Affeldt retired.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians need a center fielder, and preferably one who can hit for a little bit of power, as their line-up leans a bit too much towards slap-hitting at the moment. That combination isn’t super easy to find this winter, but Colby Rasmus does provide enough defense to cover the position and some legitimate thump in his bat, so I have the Indians adding Rasmus for $42 million over three years.

Seattle Mariners

New GM Jerry DiPoto has talked about getting more athletic in the outfield, which isn’t hard when your baseline is upgrading from Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo. I’d expect DiPoto to try and model the team more like the Royals, using their big ballpark to try and win with pitching and defense, so Denard Span makes sense as a center field upgrade, and coming off a series of injuries, his price won’t be exorbitant; I estimated $30 million over three years. Alejandro de Aza (2/$8M) also fits as a depth piece in the outfield, and since I don’t have them spending too much on those upgrades, that leaves enough room to re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma for $45 million over three years, plus bring Chris Iannetta (2/$10M) north to give the organization some catching depth.

New York Mets

Coming off a World Series run, the Mets big glaring needs are for an upgraded infield defense and better depth in the bullpen. Ian Desmond might not seem like an obvious fit for a team that’s looking for improved glovework, but he’s a decent enough defensive shortstop even with more errors than you’d like, and signing Desmond would allow the team to move Wilmer Flores to second base, where he’d be an upgrade over Daniel Murphy. Desmond also would replace some of the power the team will lose by letting Yoenis Cespedes go, so he checks a few boxes at the same time; even coming off a down season, I’d imagine there will be enough interest in Desmond for him to get $85 million over five years. The rest of the money will be spent on relievers, with Darren O’Day (4/$32M) being the best available setup guy this winter, and Shawn Kelley (3/$18M) providing another high strikeout arm to bridge the gap from the rotation to Jeurys Familia.

Washington Nationals

While the Nationals are going to lose a lot of impact talent this winter, they’ve got some good young talent mostly ready to step in and fill some voids, so I’m expecting their off-season shopping will be more about finding depth pieces to help fill the gaps if the kids don’t prove quite up to the task. On the infield, that means reuniting with Asdrubal Cabrera (2/$20M), as he can play either shortstop or second base depending on what the team wants to do with Trea Turner to start the year. In the outfield, Will Venable (1/$5M) fits the mold as a guy who can split time with Michael Taylor in center field and provide depth in the corner spots. They’ll also likely make some trades to re-shape their bullpen.

Baltimore Orioles

The O’s are going to lose a lot of talent this winter, and with so many guys exiting, I’m guessing Dan Duquette decides to take a reset year, looking for younger talent he can pick up in trades to fill out the roster while building back up for 2017. But they’ll need a pitcher to help stabilize the rotation in the meantime, so I’ve put them down as the landing spot for J.A. Happ, who I’m guessing will sign for $24 million over three years.

Pittsburgh Pirates

If you’re a pitcher looking to rediscover yourself after a down season, make your way to Pittsburgh. That’s exactly what Doug Fister should do, putting his faith in Ray Searage to help him rebuild his value. I think there will be enough interest in Fister that he won’t come super cheap, signing for $13 million on a one year deal, but it’s the kind of risk/reward play that makes sense for the Pirates.

Texas Rangers

Jon Daniels has downplayed the idea of making another big splash this winter, saying they did most of their heavy lifting by acquiring Cole Hamels at the trade deadline, but I’m slotting them in as the team to sign Yoenis Cespedes anyway. He won’t come cheap — $150 million over seven years — but they’ve openly coveted a right-handed slugger to balance out their overly left-handed line-up, and given Shin-Soo Choo’s strong second half, they could probably move some of Choo’s remaining contract to help create room for Cespedes if they wanted to. Or they could keep Choo and try to put the best 2016 team on the field they can, worrying about the long-term ramifications of those deals at a later date. Either way, I find it hard to see them sitting out an off-season where the exact kind of player they want is available.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox are probably setup to have the most interesting off-season of any team in baseball, given Dave Dombrowski’s desire to quickly turn the roster over and put a winner on the field in 2016. The Red Sox have historically been averse to giving long-term deals to starting pitchers, but in this case, I think they’ll agree to do so for David Price; giving them a dominating #1 starter who has had plenty of success in the AL East before. I’m expecting him to sign the Max Scherzer deal without the deferrals, so that would put him at $215 million over seven years. It’s a high price to pay, and maybe the Red Sox will trade for a #1 starter instead, but given that it’s hard to figure out exactly which aces might be available in trade, I’ve got Domwbrowski penciled in to to throw money at a guy we know he likes. Most other additions will come through trade, but I also have them signing Mark Lowe (2/$12M) to add some velocity and strikeouts to the Red Sox bullpen.

Cincinnati Reds

To be honest, I don’t really know what the Reds are doing. They should be blowing the team up and starting over, given the strength of the NL Central, but they decided to keep their group together at the trade deadline, and keeping Walt Jocketty around for a final year doesn’t seem like the move you’d make if you were going to rebuild. So, maybe they will trade Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips this winter, going young and playing for the future, but for now, I’ve just penciled them in for signing Gerardo Parra (2/$18M) to fill their left field hole.

Colorado Rockies

Mike Napoli’s probably reaching the end of his career, but if he wants to extend it a bit longer, the Rockies have an opening at first base, and there are few better places for a guy like him to land if he wants to have some first half success before getting traded to a contender in the second half. At just $10 million for one year, I don’t expect Napoli to be expensive, and he’ll help offset the power the team will lose when they trade Carlos Gonzalez this winter.

Kansas City Royals

The World Champs are going to get a huge infusion of revenues from their postseason run, and while they’ll never be the Yankees or the Dodgers, Dayton Moore should have some money to spend this winter. Given the expected increases in cashflows over the next few years, I’m betting they’ll re-sign Alex Gordon, even though I have him costing $92 million over four years. And with Johnny Cueto departing, they’ll clearly need another starting pitcher, so I’m penciling them in for a mid-tier starter like Yovani Gallardo at the mid-tier price of $56 million over four years.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers need some rotation depth and a center fielder; this is a good winter to be buying both things, though Al Avila is talking about spending less than they have previously, so we’re probably going to see some philosophical changes in Detroit. For starters, I’ve put them down for Wei-Yin Chen at 4/$64M; Chen is an underrated hurler who won’t cost as much as the high-end options. In center field, I figure Austin Jackson might want to go back to where he had his most successful years to try and rebuild his value, and have him taking a 2/$24M deal to return to the Tigers.

Minnesota Twins

The team’s surprisingly strong first half faded a bit down the stretch, as closer Glen Perkins ran into some troubles and the team’s lack of bullpen depth didn’t give them many options besides hoping he’d get it turned around. My guess is they address that problem this winter, and Joakim Soria makes sense as a guy who could pitch the eighth but also give them some insurance in case Perkins’ problems linger. At $21 million over three years, Soria should fit into the Twins budget.

Chicago White Sox

Undeterred by a pretty lousy 2015 season, the White Sox still seem to want to contend while they have Chris Sale and Jose Abreu locked up, so I’d expect another aggressive offseason from Rick Hahn this winter. Howie Kendrick would provide a substantial upgrade at second base, and at $48 million for three years, won’t entirely break the bank. Mat Latos on a one year deal for $10 million to work with Don Cooper and try to live up to his potential seems to make some sense, and then I’m also giving them Alex Avila and the outfielding Chris Young on 2/$10M deals to provide some depth that the team lacked a year ago, while Alexei Ramirez comes back for $6 million on a one year deal to bridge the gap to Tim Anderson.

New York Yankees

Brian Cashman is again downplaying the idea of the Yankees being big players for the high-end of the market, but my guess is that, as the winter goes on, they’ll find a trade partner for either Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner, which will create some room for them to pursue Justin Upton. At $140 million over seven years, he won’t be cheap, but he’s a consistent above average player with enough years left in his prime that the Yankees could see him as a guy to build around, and different enough from their prior expenditures on aging players that they could justify the cost. Likewise, I think they’ll take a bet on Jeff Samardzija as a bounce-back guy, but there will be enough interest in him that he’ll still require five years, with the total commitment costing $75 million to bring him to New York. In both cases, the Yankees would be betting on talent over recent performance, but if they can get those two back to what they were previously, those prices could look like bargains in 12 months.

And now, as promised, the full list, with my expected contracts listed along with the median numbers from the crowdsourcing project. DC are my numbers, CC are the crowd’s numbers. Now we just wait a few months and see how many wrong I get this year.

Top 50 Free Agent Predictions
Player Position Team DC Years DC AAV DC Total CC Years CC AAV CC Total
David Price LHP Red Sox 7 $31 $215 7 $28 $196
Jason Heyward OF Cardinals 9 $22 $195 8 $23 $184
Zack Greinke RHP Dodgers 5 $32 $160 6 $26 $156
Yoenis Cespedes OF Rangers 7 $21 $150 6 $22 $132
Johnny Cueto RHP Cubs 7 $21 $145 6 $22 $132
Jordan Zimmermann RHP Giants 7 $20 $140 6 $21 $126
Justin Upton OF Yankees 7 $20 $140 6 $20 $120
Chris Davis 1B Astros 5 $26 $130 5 $20 $100
Alex Gordon OF Royals 4 $23 $92 5 $18 $90
Ian Desmond SS Mets 5 $17 $85 4 $15 $60
Mike Leake RHP Diamondbacks 5 $16 $80 4 $14 $56
Ben Zobrist 2B Dodgers 4 $19 $76 3 $14 $42
Jeff Samardzija RHP Yankees 5 $15 $75 4 $16 $64
Matt Wieters C Braves 4 $16 $64 4 $12 $48
Wei-Yin Chen LHP Tigers 4 $16 $64 4 $13 $52
Dexter Fowler OF Cubs 4 $14 $56 4 $14 $56
Yovani Gallardo RHP Royals 4 $14 $56 4 $14 $56
Daniel Murphy 2B Angels 4 $12 $48 4 $12 $48
Scott Kazmir LHP Astros 3 $16 $48 3 $14 $42
Howie Kendrick 2B White Sox 3 $16 $48 4 $13 $52
Hisashi Iwakuma RHP Mariners 3 $15 $45 3 $14 $42
Ian Kennedy RHP Blue Jays 3 $14 $42 3 $12 $36
Colby Rasmus OF Indians 3 $14 $42 3 $12 $36
Marco Estrada RHP Blue Jays 3 $11 $33 3 $12 $36
David Freese 3B Braves 3 $11 $33 2 $9 $18
Darren O’Day RHP Mets 4 $8 $32 3 $7 $21
Denard Span OF Mariners 3 $10 $30 3 $12 $36
Brett Anderson LHP Dodgers 2 $14 $28 3 $11 $33
John Lackey RHP Cardinals 2 $13 $26 2 $15 $30
J.A. Happ LHP Orioles 3 $8 $24 3 $11 $33
Austin Jackson OF Tigers 2 $12 $24 3 $10 $30
Joakim Soria RHP Twins 3 $7 $21 2 $7 $14
Asdrubal Cabrera SS Nationals 2 $10 $20 3 $9 $27
Shawn Kelley RHP Mets 3 $6 $18 2 $4 $8
Gerardo Parra OF Reds 2 $9 $18 3 $8 $24
Ryan Madson RHP Astros 3 $5 $15 1 $5 $5
Doug Fister RHP Pirates 1 $13 $13 2 $10 $20
Mark Lowe RHP Red Sox 2 $6 $12 2 $4 $8
Dioner Navarro C Blue Jays 2 $5 $10 2 $6 $12
Tony Sipp LHP Giants 2 $5 $10 2 $5 $10
Chris Iannetta C Mariners 2 $5 $10 2 $6 $12
Mike Napoli 1B Rockies 1 $10 $10 2 $9 $18
Mat Latos RHP White Sox 1 $10 $10 2 $11 $22
Alex Avila C White Sox 2 $5 $10 2 $6 $12
Chris Young OF White Sox 2 $5 $10 2 $6 $12
Chase Utley 2B Athletics 1 $8 $8 1 $8 $8
Steve Pearce OF Dodgers 1 $8 $8 2 $6 $12
Alejandro De Aza OF Mariners 2 $4 $8 2 $6 $12
Alexei Ramirez SS White Sox 1 $6 $6 2 $8 $16
Will Venable OF Nationals 1 $5 $5 2 $6 $12

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Speechless Shirtless Bartolo Colon
8 years ago

Not even $5 million Dave? Really??

8 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Cistulli. F!@# that guy.