Last year’s free-agent class was the worst I’d ever seen, so we could only go up from there — and we have, as the top tier this winter is substantially better than last year’s, and the rankings aren’t quite so reliant on relievers and bench guys. The class is still overpopulated with the first-base/DH/oh-God-I-hope-we-don’t-have-to-play-him-in-left-field types, many of whom have long-standing platoon splits. But that seems to be a regular feature of free agency at this point, especially as teams turn away from long-term deals for average corner bats and try to develop younger, cheaper ones internally.
As usual, there’s a ton of money out there in search of players. With these rankings, I try to provide a rough idea of the offer I’d be comfortable making to each player if I were the general manager of a contending team (or would-be contending team) and operating at or above the median payroll level. Estimating the actual dollar value of a player to any specific team is nearly impossible, because we don’t know what the marginal revenue product of a win is for each club, and that number can change for a team from season to season, or even within a season, if it’s much better or worse than expected.
My numbers are not predictions, and they often will fall short of actual market values. That is due to the “winner’s curse” phenomenon, in which the winner of an auction for a good player of uncertain value is the bidder whose internal estimates are the highest (and thus perhaps too optimistic). Teams with large payrolls can and often do pay more for a win in the free-agent market.
This document will be updated as the offseason wears on. When a player signs, we’ll add a note in the profile as to which team he signed with and for how much. We’ll also add a note if he received a $17.4-million qualifying offer. If a player receives one and signs elsewhere, the signing team will lose a draft pick, and having a qualifying offer “attached” can really hurt the value of non-elite free agents.
I have excluded Nippon Professional Baseball superstar Shohei Otani for now, as there’s no evidence yet to say he’s going to be posted this winter. He doesn’t have an agent, and he had surgery last month to repair a posterior impingement in an ankle that bothered him all season.
If he is posted this winter, he’ll be subject to MLB’s (ridiculous, myopic) caps on international free agents that normally apply to 16-year-old amateurs. If he were to wait two more seasons and join the majors after 2019, however, he would be a completely unrestricted free agent. The difference in compensation would likely be more than $100 million, so he has strong incentive to get healthy, pitch well for two years, and then come over for a huge windfall.
If, however, he is posted this winter, I will add him to this list at No. 1 (strictly as a pitcher).
Now, on to the rankings …