MLB Free Agency: Predicting the Contracts of Top 25 Soon-to-Be Free Agents

Zachary Petersel@@ZPeterselFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2012

MLB Free Agency: Predicting the Contracts of Top 25 Soon-to-Be Free Agents

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    Coming off the mega-deals that were handed out to Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Matt Cain and Joey Votto, the soon-to-be free agents in baseball have to be drooling.

    The 25 names on this list are some of the biggest names in baseball. Some are recent greats such as Mike Napoli and Jacoby Ellsbury, while others are established names and potential Hall of Famers like Robinson Cano and Ichiro. 

    All of these players will be rumored to be signing extensions soon. Here are my predictions of the contracts they will sign.

C Brian McCann

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    After Yadier Molina signed for five years and $75 million, Brian McCann had to be drooling. 

    McCann is two years younger, has been to six straight All-Star Games (more than Molina) and hit just about as many home runs last season (24) as Molina has in his last three combined (26).

    I think McCann will end up topping Molina's five-year deal but fall short of Joe Mauer's eight years and $184 million.

    Prediction: Seven years, $119 million

C Mike Napoli

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    Talk about someone raising his value in the playoffs.

    Coming into 2011, Mike Napoli was a fringe catcher who had been traded twice in one offseason. After his monstrous World Series, Napoli's name is in the discussion for the game's best hitting catcher. 

    Everything will depend on how Napoli performs this season, but with 20-plus home runs each of the last four seasons, I think he brings the same advantage Yadier Molina brings—just on the offensive end.

    Prediction: Four years, $56 million

3B David Wright

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    After four straight excellent seasons to start his career, Wright has struggled since the Mets moved to Citi Field in 2009. 

    Those struggles will end this season.

    With the new dimensions at the Mets' stadium and Wright the established leader on the team, he will re-establish his value as a top-five third baseman in the league. I think the Mets will model the extension given to Ryan Zimmerman and keep him in Flushing. 

    Prediction: Seven years, $120 million

OF Josh Hamilton

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    Hamilton is the biggest enigma on this list because there is nobody to compare him to. What he has gone through off the field to play baseball is unparalleled in recent history.

    The fact that he is also injury-prone, only playing more than 133 games once in his five-year career, makes it hard to imagine this type of player getting anything more than a one-year deal. 

    However, when this player also averages 32 home runs, 117 RBI and has a .543 slugging percentage for his career every 162 games, how could you not want him on your team?

    So where do the Rangers draw the line? I think Hamilton stays with the Rangers on an incentive-laden deal with the upside to pay him like the top-five OF he is, while the Rangers get some insurance for his injury and off-the-field problems.

    Prediction: Five years, $75 million

OF B.J. Upton

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    B.J. Upton has so much potential and upside that with a great season in 2011, he will get paid a ton of money.

    Upton has had seasons of 24 and 23 home runs, a .300 batting average and four years of 36 or more steals. He also had seven home runs in only 66 at-bats in the Rays' 2008 run to the World Series.

    A 27-year-old free agent that hits .300 with 30 home runs and 40 steals while providing outstanding defense in center field would be one of the most sought-after free agents in recent memory.

    I am not banking on Upton putting it all together, but since the upside is there, his floor is still very high.

    Non-breakout prediction: Four years, $65 million

    Breakout prediction: Eight years, $150 million

OF Shane Victorino

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    Shane Victorino is as underrated as they come.

    A late bloomer who got his first chance at everyday at-bats at age 25, Victorino has been a stud for the Phillies in their run as NL East division champs. With a four-year triple slash line of .280/.342/.452 with 28 steals a year, three Gold Gloves and two top-20 MVP finishes, Victorino will be a sought-after free agent if the Phillies cannot re-sign him.

    If Aaron Rowand could get a five-year deal for $60 million back in 2007 as a 30-year-old, Victorino should be able to do better than that, despite being a year older.

    Prediction: Five years, $75 million

OF Michael Bourn

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    With Scott Boras as his agent, we know Bourn is going to get the best possible deal regardless of location. 

    The most prolific base stealer in baseball today, Bourn may be able to get a deal akin to what Jose Reyes got last season. While he does not provide the all-around game Reyes does in terms of slugging percentage, Bourn provides consistency at the top of the lineup. He's averaged 152 games played over the past three seasons with 50-plus steals, a .280 batting average and around 100 runs.

    Prediction: Five years, $80 million

OF Ichiro

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    Despite his age, Ichiro most definitely qualifies as a top-25 free agent-to-be.

    After the 2012 season, Ichiro will be 39 years old. However, if he can re-establish his value with a 200-hit campaign this year, I cannot see how Seattle lets him go—especially with his value overseas in the global market.

    Prediction: Two years, $30 million

SP Zack Greinke

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    If Greinke reaches free agency, he will most certainly top Matt Cain's recent seven-year, $127.5 million deal because he has been just as good and will have an additional 29 teams inquiring for his services.  

    Coming off of a 2011 season where Greinke had the league's best K/9 ratio with a FIP under three, he enters 2012 as a top Cy Young candidate, which would only increase his value even more.

    Greinke will only be 28 heading into the offseason, so a seven- to 10-year deal will not be out of reach. CC Sabathia just signed a seven-year extension with the Yankees worth $161 million, and I think Greinke will look to top that deal being two years younger at the time of signing.

    Prediction: Seven years, $170 million

SP Cole Hamels

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    Who was the happiest man when the news broke that the Dodgers sold for $2 billion? 

    Try Cole Hamels.

    The Dodgers' new ownership group will look to make a splash in its first offseason with the team, and I think Hamels is going to be its big target.

    Prediction: Seven years, $160 million

SP Gavin Floyd

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    Even starting pitchers like Gavin Floyd do not usually get to free agency anymore.

    Despite a 4.08 ERA over the past four seasons, Floyd has never won fewer than 10 games, pitched fewer than 187 innings or struck out fewer than 145 batters.

    That type of experience is extremely valuable. If Gil Meche could get five years and $55 million after four years in Seattle with fewer wins, a worse ERA and injury concerns, Floyd will most certainly top that average annual value.

    Prediction: Four years, $60 million

SP Shaun Marcum

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    Like Shane Victorino on this list, Marcum is one of the most underrated players in the NL.

    All Marcum has done over his last seasons is win 63 percent of his games with a 3.67 ERA and a 2.85 SO/BB ratio. He missed 2009 with Tommy John surgery, but has been great these last two seasons with the Blue Jays and then the Brewers.

    As was the case with Gavin Floyd, if Marcum hits free agency, he will provide his new team with a consistent starter capable of providing 200 quality innings year in and year out.

    Prediction: Four years, $65 million

SP Francisco Liriano

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    Liriano's value depends entirely on how he does this season. 

    After dominating in his first season as a 22-year-old, Liriano was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and has had only one good season since. Pitching as a 28-year-old this year, Liriano has one final chance to re-establish his value before hitting free agency.

    Having said that, if Oliver Perez could still get three years and $36 million after only one good year, Liriano should be in good shape regardless.

    Prediction for good 2012: Five years, $70 million

    Prediction for bad 2012: Two years, $20 million

SP James Shields

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    James Shields had been one of the most consistent starting pitchers from 2007 to 2010, but in 2011 he took a giant step forward. 

    I do not think the budget-stricken Rays can afford him, but if he can repeat his 2011 performance this year, Shields will be one of the biggest targets heading into the 2013 offseason.

    Prediction: Five years, $90 million

RP Brandon League

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    Brandon League is my only closer on this list, but after finally getting a shot to close last season, he had his best season as a pro.

    Although Ryan Madson was only able to get a one-year deal, I think League will be the top closer on the market after the 2012 year. Some team will be willing to go the extra mile to sign him. 

    Prediction: Three years, $30 million

2B Robinson Cano

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    Cano has a $15 million club option for 2013, so he will have to wait to fully cash in until the 2013 offseason. 

    But if he does not sign an extension sooner, it will definitely be worth the wait.  

    Cano is the game's top offensive second baseman. As he showed us at last season's Home Run Derby, he is just growing into his power. At 29 years old, Cano still has six to seven great years left. In order for the Yankees to keep him, they are going to have to pay him for 10 years.

    Prediction: 10 years, $220 million

OF Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Ellsbury will only be turning 30 years old after the 2013 season, which means he will still have plenty of great years left in the tank.

    Since his main asset is speed, I think the contract he earns will be modeled after those of Jose Reyes and Carl Crawford with a little twist.

    Ellsbury, with his 20-plus home run power, is a perennial MVP candidate. 

    If he can show that his 32 home runs last season were not a fluke, there is no real comparison to what Ellsbury can earn. I think the Sox will try to sign him before he proves his power again, and will model a contract after Joe Mauer's power explosion in Minnesota. 

    Prediction: Nine years, $180 million

OF Adam Jones

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    Potential. Potential. Potential.

    There will be scouts who do not buy in, but more importantly for Jones and his agent, there will be at least one team who still believes.

    Whether or not Jones improves on his 25-homer, 12-steal campaign of 2011, that type of year will still get him paid. How much he earns depends on if he can convince one ownership group he can continue to improve and be the next late bloomer that becomes a star.

    Prediction: Five years, $80 million

OF Nelson Cruz

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    Much like Adam Jones on this list, all it takes is one owner to believe.

    Cruz has never had a problem hitting when he is on the field, but he just cannot stay healthy for a full season.

    Considering Jose Reyes had three straight injury-plagued seasons where he averaged 98 games each year and still got six years and $100 million, Cruz should be able to do as well when he hits the market.

    Even though shortstop is a more valuable position than right field, power is more valuable than speed, so I think the average dollar values will cancel out.

    Prediction: Four years, $65 million (modeled after Jason Bay contract with the Mets)

OF Chris Young

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    While you will not be getting a good batting average with Chris Young, you will get a player who can do just about everything else. 

    A virtual 20-20 lock every season, Young will also score 80-plus runs and provide quality defense. He can hit leadoff and lower in the order as he is heading into his peak seasons. He still has room for year-to-year improvement.

    His team option in 2014 will be for $11 million. I think the D-Backs or another organization will hover right around that average annual value, but add a couple of years if he maintains his current level of production. 

    Prediction: Three years, $30 million

OF Hunter Pence

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    After he moved from the vacant lineup that was the Houston Astros to the stacked lineup in Philadelphia, Pence put his talents on display.

    Pence hit .324 with a .560 slugging percentage in his time with the Phillies. If he maintains that type of production over the course of a full season in 2012, Pence will make himself a pretty penny.

    I think Pence will get a similar deal to that of Matt Holliday when he signed with the Cardinals in 2010 at 30 years old, just a year younger then Pence will be at the end of 2013.   

    Prediction: Six years, $90 million

Tim Lincecum

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    Lincecum just signed a two-year extension with the Giants worth $40 million, so his next extension will probably have to wait at least a year.

    That being said, I do not foresee Lincecum having the same upside as some of the other top-tier pitchers on this list, like Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels. Those two are on the upswing, while many of Lincecum's important stats have been in decline. 

    Increasing BB/9 and FIP with a declining K/9 are all signs of a pitcher going in the wrong direction.

    Don't get me wrong, I would take Lincecum's 217 innings with a 2.74 ERA and 220 K's from 2011 every day of the week and twice on Sundays. But by the time 2014 rolls around, I do not know what type of pitcher Lincecum and his violent delivery will be.

    Prediction: Five years, $80 million

SP Josh Johnson

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    If Josh Johnson could stay healthy, he probably would be right alongside Greinke and Hamels as one of the most deserving players of a huge contract extension. 

    The problem with that theory is Johnson has only started more than 30 games once in his last five big league seasons because of shoulder and elbow trouble.

    More than anyone on this list, Johnson's next two seasons will determine how much money he gets paid.

    If he is healthy and pitches as well as he has throughout his career to this point, Johnson will get at least $100 million. If he gets hurt in either of the two years, there is no chance he gets more than $20 million guaranteed because he will be too big of a risk for even the free-spending Marlins to keep around.

    Healthy two-year prediction: Six years, $130 million (modeled after Johan Santana contract)

    Injured two-year prediction: One year, $9 million plus incentives (try to rebuild his value)

SP Matt Garza

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    Matt Garza has always had the potential to be an ace. In his last two seasons, he has begun to fulfill that potential.

    After 15 wins in 2010 and a 3.32 ERA with 197 strikeouts in 198 innings in 2011, Garza looks to be on the brink of a breakout that will put him among the elites of the game.

    If he can combine these two seasons in either 2012 or 2013 before he hits free agency, he will most certainly earn himself a big payday.

    Prediction: Six years, $90 million

SP Ubaldo Jimenez

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    Despite being our lone post-2014 free agent, Ubaldo has as much earning potential as anyone on this list.

    After Ubaldo's 15-1 first half in 2010, his potential was limitless. With a powerful arsenal including a fastball that averages 94-plus mph, his stuff has always enticed scouts and front offices around baseball. 

    However, after underperforming for the past year-and-a-half, baseball people wonder which pitcher is the real Jimenez.

    After trading a bundle to acquire him at the 2011 trading deadline, the Indians are going to do everything they can to keep him. However, if he ever returns to his pre-break 2010 form, Ubaldo will pitch himself out of their price range. 

    Prediction: Six years, $100 million