10. Hiroki Kuroda
(RHP Yankees - Age 38): Content to take one-year deals each winter as he decides whether or not he wants to continue in MLB or return to Japan, Kuroda is far from the typical free agent. The thinking last year at this time was that he'd re-up with the Dodgers, but since the Dodgers weren't sure of his thinking as the offseason began, they went in a different direction, allowing the Yankees to swoop in and steal him for $10 million. Now the assumption is that he'll simply sign another one-year deal to stay in the Bronx, but a $15 million-$18 million offer could give him something to think about.
9. David Ortiz
(DH Red Sox - Age 37): The Red Sox had good reasons for not wanting to sign their aging DH to multiyear extensions the last couple of winters, but now that their salary dump means they won't have to worry about the luxury tax again anytime soon, they might as well reward Ortiz for his incredible career reversal. He's been just about as productive as ever while hitting 318/.415/.611 this season, though it looks like an Achilles' tendon injury has brought his campaign to an early end. A two-year, $28 million contract should keep Ortiz happy and ward off any other potential suitors.
8. Anibal Sanchez
(RHP Tigers - Age 29): Sanchez's stock has dropped since his move to the Tigers. His 4.50 ERA in seven starts isn't that bad, but it comes with a 1.65 WHIP and just 22 strikeouts in 40 innings, suggesting that he might not be cut out for the American League. On the plus side, this is Sanchez's third straight healthy season. Pitching for the Marlins, he had 202 strikeouts in 196 1/3 innings last year, and he was at 110 in 121 innings before the trade this season. He's one of the few pitchers here whose best days may yet be ahead of him, so he's still due an ample three- or four-year contract.
7. Jake Peavy
(RHP White Sox - Age 31)*: Possessing the AL's seventh-best ERA and sixth-best WHIP, Peavy has had a terrific bounce-back season, and he's still just 31 years old. One assumes the White Sox would love to have him back next year. Alas, the option year on the contract he originally signed with the Padres is for a cool $22 million. The White Sox presumably will buy it out for $4 million and then try to sign him to a lesser two- or three-year contract. Peavy's injury history is scary, but he's also throwing as well as any pitcher on this list at the moment.
6. Nick Swisher
(OF Yankees - Age 32): There isn't actually any such thing, but Swisher is the sure thing available in free agency. In eight full seasons, he's never failed to hit 20 homers. He's topped an .800 OPS six times, including each of the last four years. He's not an All-Star, but a team can sign him now and feel confident about getting quality production from the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup through 2015. I don't think that's worth a four-year, $48 million contract, but that could be what he gets.
5. Michael Bourn
(OF Braves - Age 30): With a .284/.355/.408 line in 556 at-bats Bourn is having the best offensive year of his career as he approaches free agency, and he should be in line for his third Gold Glove for his work in center field. He plays the one deep position in free agency this winter, but he plays it better than the alternatives and he's the true leadoff hitter of the bunch, something that will certainly aid his case as he goes hunting for a five-year deal in the $75 million range. Personally, I'd recommend caution: he's always struck out too much for someone with his offensive profile.
4. Edwin Jackson
(RHP Nationals - Age 29): Jackson rolled the dice last winter, taking a one-year, $11 million contract from the Nationals instead of one of the lesser two- or three-year offers on the table. It's likely to pay off in a big way. While this year's 9-9 record and 3.63 ERA aren't spectacular, he has a career-best 1.17 WHIP and a 147/50 K/BB ratio in 163 2/3 innings for Washington. A smarter pitcher now than he was in his younger days, he'd be worth the investment if he could be had for $50 million over four years. He might get a five-year, $70 million contract from someone.
3. B.J. Upton
(OF Rays - Age 28): Upton seemed destined for superstardom when he hit .300/.386/.508 as a 22-year-old in 2007, but in the five years since, he's come in at .249/.332/.411. He still shows glimpses of that old potential, like when he hit seven homers in the 2008 postseason and when he batted .333/.432/.606 last September as the Rays overtook the Red Sox for the wild card. Even now, he's hit eight homers in the last month after totaling 10 in his first 96 games of 2012. It only takes one team to look at his potential and decide it's worth taking the plunge. I think he gets $75 million for five years.
2. Zack Greinke
(RHP Angels - Age 29): With Matt Cain
and Cole Hamels
having re-upped, Greinke is this winter's only huge free agent pitcher. A $100 million contract seems assured, even though Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner with Kansas City, hasn't exactly been an ace in amassing a 3.93 ERA the last three years. There's also the likelihood that teams like the Yankees and Red Sox will choose to sit this one out given Greinke's dislike of the spotlight. Fortunately, there are plenty of other teams with deep pockets now, and with demand vastly exceeding supply, $20 million per year seems well within reach.
1. Josh Hamilton
(OF Rangers - Age 31): And then there's Hamilton, the 2010 American League MVP. Certainly the best player available, he comes in at .292/.358/.583 with 38 homers and 114 RBI so far this season. Of course, there is plenty of baggage in the form of his history of drug and alcohol abuse. He's always been injury-prone, and it's possible his body will break down in his mid-30s from the toll it took in his younger days. It might be worth the gamble to pay him $30 million per year for three seasons, but a five- or six-year deal could turn into a real disaster. My guess is that he stays in Texas for $25 million per year.