Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2013 Top 50 Free Agents

Friday, November 02, 2012

It's one of the weakest classes in memory, but that won't stop the money from flowing. Before scoffing at some of the contracts projected below, remember that we have a new national TV deal and several teams getting increased revenue locally as well. The way I see it, there's more money out there than there are players to spend it on.

Players in the top 50 are ranked based not on how I view them, but more on how I believe teams perceive them. Essentially, I rank them according to the contracts I expect they'll receive.

Gone from the original top 50 that came out two months ago are Jake Peavy (No. 7), Chris Iannetta (No. 23), Fernando Rodney (No. 26), Ervin Santana (No. 31), Paul Maholm (No. 34), Colby Lewis (No. 39), Jhonny Peralta (No. 44), Brandon League (No. 45), J.J. Putz (No. 46). That makes for a shallower list already.


Before scoffing at some of the contracts projected below, remember that we have a new national TV deal and several teams getting increased revenue locally as well. The way I see it, there's more money out there than there are players to spend it on.


All ages are as of April 1, 2013. Included along with each player is where he ranked in the original top 111 done in early September.


50. Roy Oswalt (RHP Rangers - Age 35 - Prev. #51): If Oswalt had it to do all over again, it's safe to say he wouldn't have signed with the Rangers as a free agent. He was bounced from the rotation after getting lit up in three of his six starts, and while he did get three more starts later in the season, he didn't do much with them. Oswalt was still throwing 90-93 mph last season. It's not his old 92-95 mph, but it still should be enough to make him a third or fourth starter if he can make some adjustments. Still, he may prefer retirement to mediocrity.


49. Mike Adams (RHP Rangers - Age 34 - Prev. #36): When Adams suddenly gave up three homers in his 61st appearance of the season -- after allowing a total of one in the first 60 -- it was obvious that something wasn't right. He was shut down afterwards, and he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in October. It was a terrible break for a 34-year-old eligible for free agency for the first time. Adams has been one of the game's most valuable relievers the last three years, and he might have gotten a shot at closing next year. Now that he's iffy for Opening Day, he's probably in line for an incentive-laden one-year deal.


48. Jose Valverde (RHP Tigers - Age 35 - Prev. #29): Will anyone remember that Valverde went 35-for-40 saving games during the regular season? Of course, the signs were discouraging even then. His 3.78 ERA and 1.25 WHIP were hardly bad, but they came with a greatly diminished strikeout rate (48/27 K/BB in 69 IP). The implosion took place in the postseason. After a perfect inning for a save in his first appearance, he gave up nine runs while getting just five outs in his next three. Valverde probably isn't finished as a useful reliever, but he's going to be hard to trust as a closer and his history of struggling in non-save situations will cause contenders to shy away. He'd make the most sense as a cheap closer in Houston, Miami or Minnesota.


47. Francisco Liriano (LHP White Sox - Age 29 - Prev. #43): With ERAs of 5.09 and 5.34 in consecutive years, Liriano certainly isn't entering free agency at the peak of his value. That said, he's still just 29, he's left-handed and he struck out 167 batters in 156 2/3 innings last season; he won't be hurting for suitors. Odds are that most of his offers will be of the one-year variety, and he'd probably prefer that, since it'd give him a chance to pull off a bigger score if he can turn in a better season. One imagines the Yankees and Red Sox will both be interested in taking a flier. Still, he might be better off in a bigger ballpark in the NL.


46. Ryan Madson (RHP Reds - Age 32 - Prev. #50): Madson is hoping to be ready for Opening Day after Tommy John surgery, and he shouldn't have any trouble landing a closer gig, as long as he doesn't hold out for too much money up front. One of the game's top relievers previously, he was 32-for-34 saving games for the Phillies in 2011, amassing a 2.37 ERA along the way. He'll probably seek a one-year deal in the hopes of landing a larger contract next winter.


45. Kelly Johnson (2B Blue Jays - Age 31 - Prev. #54): The strikeouts are up and the power production is down for Johnson, and while he was still an average regular in 2011, he was well below in 2012. Fortunately for him, the infield market is terribly weak this winter, and Johnson is the one second baseman available with a realistic chance of hitting 20 homers next year. He'd only require a one-year commitment, probably at no more than $5 million-$6 million, so there isn't much risk.


44. Joe Saunders (LHP Orioles - Age 31 - Prev. #56): Saunders was 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in Rangers Ballpark before he went and beat Texas in the wild card game last month. He pitched well again in Yankee Stadium in the ALDS six days later, with the Orioles pulling that game out 2-1. Including those two outings, he had a 3.21 ERA in nine starts for Baltimore after being picked up from Arizona in August. He's not big with the strikeouts and he can be rather homer-prone, but he's durable and still relatively young at 31. He'll definitely have a bigger market this winter than he did after being non-tendered by the Diamondbacks last year.


43. Melky Cabrera (OF Giants - Age 28 - Prev. #28): Given the chance to bring Cabrera back from his 50-game PED suspension for the NLCS and World Series, the Giants declined and then ended up going all of the way with Gregor Blanco in left field. It's ludicrous to think that steroids turned Cabrera from a fourth outfielder into a .346 hitter -- if they worked that well, everyone would still be trying to beat the system -- but then Cabrera never figured to remain a .346 hitter anyway. The team that signs him will probably be hoping that he turns in a season like his 2011, when he hit .305/.339/.470 for the Royals. Still, recent speculation suggests that no one is going to be up to gambling $8 million-$10 million on it.


42. Koji Uehara (RHP Rangers - Age 37 - Prev. NR): At 7.96:1, Uehara has the highest K/BB ratio of any pitcher in major league history, minimum 200 innings pitched. The next highest is Sergio Romo at 5.77:1. Last season, Uehara struck out 43 and walked just three in 36 innings. His workload needs to be strictly monitored and there's a good chance he'll get hurt regardless, but he's a big-time weapon out of the pen, one that would help any contender.


41. Sean Burnett (LHP Nationals - Age 30 - Prev. #59): Burnett finished the season without his usual stuff, and it showed when he gave up four runs in one of his two NLDS appearances against the Cardinals. Minor elbow surgery to remove a couple of bone spurs followed in October, but it isn't expected to affect his preparation for 2013. As a result, he remains one of the top lefties available. Burnett finished 2012 with a 2.38 ERA in 56 2/3 innings, and lefties have a .225/.291/.303 line against him in his career. He's a candidate for a three-year deal, probably in the $12 million range.


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Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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