Sunday, January 3, 2016

Top 10 Remaining Free Agents

Chris Davis is still the market's top prize (CBS Sports)
With the offseason now two months old, several of this winter's big-ticket free agents are already off the board. Most of the top hurlers--Zack Greinke, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann--in this year's class have been scooped up, but a plethora of impact position players remain. Here are the 10 best players still up for grabs, with next year's age in parentheses:

1. Chris Davis (30)
Crush quietly had a monster season for the Orioles, re-establishing himself as the best slugger in baseball with a major league-leading 47 home runs and 12.2 AB/HR ratio (his .300 ISO was second only to Bryce Harper). Nobody has swatted more homers over the past four years, during which time Davis has averaged 40 big flies per season. Sure, he strikes out a lot, but he actually hits for solid averages and gets on base plenty via walks. His profile is eerily similar to Ryan Howard's, however, which should make teams think twice before handing him the pretty penny he's going to cost.

2. Justin Upton (28)
After an up-and-down tenure with the Diamondbacks, Upton has stayed remarkably consistent over the past three years, settling into a three-win player with close to 30-home run power. He's durable, having exceeded 149 games five years in a row, and a capable left fielder to boot. He'll even steal a base every now and then. One cause for concern, however, is that his OBP has declined every year since 2011.

It's hard to believe that Cespedes is already 30, seeing as how he's only been in the league four years. He's had two amazing years sandwiched around two so-so ones, but he is one of the more reliable sources of righthanded power in the game. He's also a good defensive outfielder, though he was horribly miscast as a center fielder with the Mets last year. Cespedes can hit anywhere, as he's posted strong numbers despite playing in some brutal slugger's parks in Oakland, Detroit, and New York, so if he lands in a hitter's haven watch out.

4. Alex Gordon (32)
No left fielder has provided more defensive value than Gordon over the last five years (Martin Prado only played left in 2011 and 2012), which is reflected in his four straight Gold Gloves. He's also a pretty great hitter, too, typically good for around 20 homers with double digit steals and strong on-base numbers. Add it all up and Gordon's been one of the 10 most valuable position players over the last half decade, ahead of flashier names like Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, and Giancarlo Stanton. He turns 32 next month and missed almost 60 games last year with a groin injury, but he had been exceptionally durable before that and his all-around skill-set should age well,

5. Matt Wieters (30)
Teams in need of a backstop should consider rolling the dice on Wieters, who's been limited to 101 games over the past two seasons due to Tommy John surgery. He was a durable two-way receiver before that, however, and has remained productive at the plate in spite of his injury woes. He's still young enough to rebound, and his price should be reasonable given his spotty track record. He's the perfect candidate for a one-year deal to rebuild his value, as Adrian Beltre did with Boston in 2010.

6. Wei-Yin Chen (30)
The ideal midrotation starter, Chen has remained consistent, healthy, and effective while cutting his teeth in the AL East. The lefty is more of a finesse pitcher, as his strikeout rate is only average, but he hardly walks anybody. You know what you're getting from him, which makes him one of the safer investments this offseason.

7. Dexter Fowler (30)
Last winter, the Cubs traded for Fowler to be their everyday center fielder and leadoff man. The catalyst for Joe Maddon's fearsome lineup, he drew a career-high 84 walks, scored a career-high 102 runs, and swiped 20 bases--his most since 2009. He also tossed in 17 homers, another personal best. The former Rockie has proved he can thrive outside of Coors Field, so teams shouldn't be shy about bringing on the outfielder.

No longer the power pitcher who eclipsed 200 strikeouts in four straight seasons, Gallardo has remade himself into an effective ground ball pitcher. That approach served him well in his transition to the American League last year, which went more smoothly than I or anyone else anticipated (his ERA improved despite pitching half his games in Texas). Solid as a rock, he's made at least 30 starts and exceeded 180 innings in each of the past seven years, only one of which yielded an ERA over four. He's not sexy, but as with Mike Leake reliability is his strong suit.

9. Ian Desmond (30)
Desmond is hitting the market at a terrible time, coming off his worst offensive season to date. It wasn't merely a fluke, either, as his numbers have steadily declined since his All-Star breakout in 2012. His strikeout numbers have gotten out of control--370 times over the past two years--for a guy with 20-homer power. In his defense, no shortstop has launched more homers over the past four years, and Desmond was the only player to go 20/20 every year from 2012-2014 (when he earned three straight Silver Sluggers). Desmond also salvaged his poor 2015 with a strong finish, rallying from a horrid first half to slash .272/.343/.464 with a dozen homers after July 19th. He's a decent defender, but all his offensive value is tied up in his power, so if that dries up he'll become unplayable.

10. Howie Kendrick (32)
Kendrick has been one of the steadiest second-basemen in the game over the past decade, routinely providing above average offense and capable defense at the keystone. Injuries have cut into his playing time lately, causing him to miss at least 40 games in two of the past three seasons, but he's remained as productive as ever with the stick. An annual threat to bat .300, he should have several more solid seasons ahead of him, especially if he winds up in a hitter's park for a change. However, he's getting to an age where even the best second-sackers typically show signs of decline.


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  2. Matt Weiters is not a free agent. He accepted the Qualifying Offer from the Orioles.