Free Agent Rankings and Predictions: Who Goes Where? Costs How Much? Goes to the Cubs?

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Free Agent Rankings and Predictions: Who Goes Where? Costs How Much? Goes to the Cubs?

Chicago Cubs

baseball baseThe 2016-2017 offseason is officially underway, and it’s getting off to a pretty hot start.

We’ve already had, for example, a trio of Lukewarm Stoves, the Cubs’ reported interest in a recovering closer, moves around the league, and much more.

But because the end of the World Series was directly tied to the Chicago Cubs, we haven’t had much of a chance to get into the various free-agent rankings, predictions, projections, and what-not.

But there have been plenty of them out there, and they’re continuing to be released every day.

Let’s start out with one of the more widely anticipated free-agent rankings from MLB Trade Rumors. At MLBTR, Tim Dierkes, Steve Adams, and Jeff Todd put together their top 50 MLB free agent rankings, including predictions on where each of them winds up and for how much money they’ll receive.

You can check out their article here for all 50, but I’ll throw the top ten right here:

  1. Yoenis Cespedes – Dodgers, 5/$125
  2. Edwin Encarnacion – Red Sox, 4/$92.5M
  3. Aroldis Chapman – Yankees, 5/$90 million
  4. Justin Turner – Dodgers, 5/$85 million
  5. Kenley Jansen – Cubs, 5/$85 million
  6. Dexter Fowler – Cardinals, 4/$64 million
  7. Jeremy Hellickson – Rangers, 4/$60 million
  8. Mark Trumbo – Orioles, 4/$60 million
  9. Ian Desmond – Phillies, 4/$60 million
  10. Ivan Nova – Angels, 4/$52 million

So, there’s actually a lot of interesting predictions right there in the top ten alone. First and most obviously, the Cubs landing Jansen would be awesome, but whoa is five years and $85 million a heckuva lot of money for a reliever (even one as dominant as he is, especially when you consider the impact of the qualifying offer). That deal might be worth it when you consider the possible playoff implications (the importance of which we saw first-hand), but we’ll save a deeper dive on Jansen in particular for another day.

Separately, MLBTR has Chapman returning to the Yankees, as many expect, and Dexter Fowler heading to the … St. Louis Cardinals. While that would be a bummer because of how much we love Fowler and everything he’s done and meant to these Chicago Cubs, I’m sure we’d manage to live on. If he decided to go ANYWHERE else, though, I’m sure we’d all be much obliged.

MLBTR also had the third big reliever, Mark Melancon, heading to the Giants for four years and $52 million. He might actually provide the best overall value if he gets that deal, even if he doesn’t necessarily provide the best overall production. Lastly, MLBTR has former Cubs Jason Hammel headed to the Braves (seems less likely now that they’ve signed both R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon), and Travis Wood headed to the Marlins.

ESPN Insider’s Keith Law has a top 50 free agent rankings of his own, along with a detailed scouting report and contract projections. But because it’s all premium content, I’ll only be able to give you the highlights.

First and foremost, they are extremely high on Dexter Fowler and have him ranked second overall behind only Yoenis Cespedes. If the league is really this interested in Fowler (as I believe they probably) should be, he may have once again priced himself out of the Cubs range given their overall roster needs. To be certain, that is exactly what we thought last season.

Law has Kenley Jansen (8th) ranked three spots higher than Aroldis Chapman (11th), because he believes Jansen might be able to take that extra step into the 80-90 innings pitched range, making him a potentially 3 WAR pitcher/year. Law also predicts that Jansen, not Chapman, will receive the highest contract for a reliever ever.

Next, CBS Sports is doing things a little differently. Instead of ranking all of the free agents at once, they’re going position by position, and listing the top 20 available free agents at each spot. So far, they’ve taken a look at the top 20 free-agent outfielders, corner infielders and DHs, and starting pitchers. Given the Cubs’ needs at the back of the rotation, that last list is particularly relevant:

  1. Rich Hill
  2. Jeremy Hellickson
  3. Jason Hammel
  4. Ivan Nova
  5. Bartolo Colon
  6. Andrew Cashner
  7. Edinson Volquez
  8. Brett Anderson
  9. Doug Fister
  10. Derek Holland

You already knew that the free agent starting pitcher market was thin, but did you expect it to be this thin? When a 37-year-old Rich Hill is the prize of the market, you can be sure that there aren’t many options to consider. I know how well he pitched this season, but I can’t imagine many believe he’ll continue that pace, especially with the various injuries he endured throughout the year (and in the years that preceded it).

If the Cubs are going to make an impactful starting pitching addition, it’ll very likely have to come via trade.

[Brett: Also, if Jason Hammel is truly the third base starting pitcher in this class, the Cubs’ decision to let him head into free agency is all the more gracious.]

And finally, FanGraphs released their 2017 Top 50 Free Agents, which includes contract predictions from Dave Cameron, and two different crowdsourcing metrics. These rankings might be my favorite, because in addition to the relative order and salary predictions, they come with the early 2017 Steamer Projections, as well as a few stray notes on each. The top ten here is pretty familiar, but does hold a few interesting surprises:

  1. Yoenis Cespedes, OF
  2. Justin Turner, 3B
  3. Aroldis Chapman, LHP
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
  5. Jose Bautista, OF
  6. Kenley Jansen, RHP
  7. Dexter Fowler, OF
  8. Rich Hill, LHP
  9. Neil Walker, 2B
  10. Mark Melancon, RHP

Once again, all three closers make the top top ten (Jeremy Hellickson, who could be an interesting, if unexpected Cubs’ target, just missed the cut), but Cameron believes that Chapman will make some $20-25 million more than Jansen. Why? Well, Jansen is tied to draft pick compensation, and Chapman is not (because he was traded mid-season). There was a chance that this wasn’t going to be an issue, but the CBA has not yet been finalized, so the same rules are expected to be grandfathered in (of course, there’s no guarantee they’d have changed anyway – just a chance).

But it’s not only draft pick compensation holding Jansen back, as Cameron believes his reliance on his cut fastball – which he throws a whopping 92.0% of the time – is going to make teams slightly less interested than they are in Chapman, who does feature a secondary offering (his slider) much more often. Risk mitigation, and all. All things considered, including where the Cubs pick in the draft, I’d still take Jansen over Chapman, though, and that goes double if he costs $20 million less.

Brett Taylor contributed to this post.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami