It's only the beginning of June, but we're already starting to hear about potential MLB free agents' destinations, contract extensions and trades of superstar players.
Part of this is because teams whose stars have expiring contracts must decide whether to trade them for a boatload of prospects, or hang on to the stars at the risk of losing them to free agency and only getting a compensatory draft pick or two in next year's draft.
Over the next few seasons, several of baseball's best players are going to get new contracts. Here are the next 10 I foresee getting a big payday, one of over $100 million.
Like so many other players before him, Andre Ethier is having a terrific season right before he hits free agency.
Ethier's contract expires this year. When it does, there will be several teams lining up for his services. The right fielder has nine home runs through about a third of the season and leads the league with 46 RBI, which puts him on pace for approximately 30 home runs and 150 RBI.
His .314 batting average and .917 OPS also put him among the league's best hitters, and he will likely have the Dodgers bidding whatever it takes to keep him in Los Angeles. The team's new ownership group is likely to be active in the free-agent market this offseason, so they're not going to want to let their best hitter not named Matt Kemp walk away from the team.
Ethier is only going to be 30 after the season, so he's still in his prime, and he'll get a raise from the $11 million he's making this year. I can see Ethier getting a deal in the range of seven years and $105 million, for an average of $15 million per year. That would be less than Matt Kemp's eight-year, $160 million deal but still represents a sizable salary.
Other teams that could bid on Ethier are the Blue Jays, Giants, Nationals, Rangers (if Josh Hamilton signs with a new team) and Red Sox.
It's going to be very interesting to see what kind of contract offers Josh Hamilton gets this winter. It's hard to argue that he's not the most talented player in baseball right now; he leads the majors with 21 home runs and 57 RBI, and had a four-homer game last month.
However, off-field problems will make teams leery of offering him a fully guaranteed, long-term deal.
Hamilton has severe alcohol and drug addiction issues that kept him on the restricted list for all of 2003, 2004 and 2005. He had an alcoholism relapse over the winter, and one will always wonder whether Hamilton will regress into his old ways at some point. He's also had injury problems that have kept him from playing a full season since 2008.
Then again, all it takes is one team to offer him a large long-term deal, and I think one will.
I think the Dodgers are going to go hard after Hamilton, the best hitter in this year's free-agent class. The Dodgers have money to spend and could use some more offense.
What will be telling is what kind of deal the Rangers offer him; they know Hamilton better than anyone, and if they hesitate to give him a long-term fully guaranteed deal, that should show other interested teams they should be concerned.
I see Hamilton getting either a deal in the range of seven years and $150 million, or an incentive-laden deal that may start at six years, $120 million but could extend to as much as eight years and $200 million, based on the number of games he plays or the number of at-bats he has.
The Rangers and Dodgers will probably be bidding against each other for Hamilton, but I think in the end he'll stay in Texas, where he's comfortable.
The 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner is due for a big payday this offseason.
He's off to a solid 2012, sitting at 6-2 with a 3.46 ERA, and will be the best right-handed pitcher on the market, as Matt Cain signed an extension with the Giants before this season.
Greinke might be a tad overrated by fans, media and front offices alike, since his 3.46 ERA would only be the second best of his career if he keeps up this pace.
He has been a dominant pitcher, though. In his 2009 Cy Young year, he was 16-8 for a terrible Royals team with a 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts in 229.1 innings.
Big-market teams may stay away from Greinke due to concerns about the anxiety issues that have plagued Zack in the past, but Matt Cain's six-year, $127.5 million extension set the market for Greinke.
Between the two, I think I'd rather have Cain, but he signed his deal when the only team bidding for his services was the Giants; Greinke will be a free agent with several teams bidding, which will raise the price and could allow him to get more money than Cain.
I see him getting a deal in the range of Matt Cain's from a team such as the Brewers, Dodgers, Marlins, Red Sox or Tigers.
The Philadelphia Phillies are in a tough spot with one of their best pitchers, Cole Hamels.
The 2008 World Series MVP is having the best season of his career in his walk year. He's 8-2 with a 2.81 ERA and is second in the National League with 80 strikeouts.
But will the Phils have the money to sign him? Their Opening Day payroll was over $172 million, and they already have a ton of money locked into Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
The Dodgers will almost certainly pursue Hamels, who is from southern California, to form a tandem with Clayton Kershaw that could be the best one-two punch of starting pitchers in the majors.
I find it hard to imagine the Dodgers would let themselves be outbid for Hamels, so if the Phillies are serious about hanging on to him, they should offer him a lucrative contract before he hits free agency.
Hamels' deal will be in the range of other recent deals for left-handed starting pitchers, such as Cliff Lee's five-year, $120 million deal, with a $27.5 million vesting option for a sixth year; Johan Santana's six-year, $137.5 million deal, with a $25 million team option for a seventh year; and CC Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million deal.
I see Hamels getting somewhere between Santana and Sabathia's deal. He'll only turn 29 this winter, so I can see the Dodgers and the Phillies being willing to offer a seven-year contract worth $150 million.
David Wright's name has been in the news a lot lately. He likely won't hit free agency until after 2013 since the Mets have a $16 million option for next year that they will almost certainly exercise, but the Amazins are doing their best to lock him up to a contract extension before he hits the open market.
The Mets have been preparing to offer Wright a long-term deal, but he announced over the weekend that he will not discuss a contract extension until after the season.
I think the Mets will not let Wright leave Flushing no matter the cost. He means too much to the team, and they cannot afford to lose their franchise player at a time when the club is trying to bring back the fans it has lost over the past few seasons.
I foresee an extension in the range of eight years and $160 million for the 29-year-old, which is around what FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal thinks he will seek.
The Red Sox's center fielder is due to hit free agency after the 2013 season, and while his health is a concern, I expect him to earn a contract over $100 million.
Ellsbury emerged as a legitimate five-tool player in 2011. He has always hit for average, stolen bases and played great defense, but his power erupted last year; he hit 32 home runs to go along with a .321 average and 39 stolen bases.
He finished second in the MVP voting to Justin Verlander, and there's a decent chance he would have won it if the Red Sox had made the playoffs. (For the record, while the Red Sox as a team choked last September, Ellsbury did not, hitting .358 with eight home runs after Sept. 1).
The question with Ellsbury has always been his health. He missed almost all of the 2010 season with injuries stemming from a collision with Adrian Beltre, and has missed all but the first week of 2012 after colliding with the Rays' Reid Brignac.
However, Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client and is a great talent when on the field. He'll only be 30 when he hits the market, but I don't see the Red Sox letting him go unless they have major questions about his health.
Five to seven years at about $20 million per year is a realistic estimate if he can stay on the field once he returns this season and for next season.
The Yankees hold a team option for Curtis Granderson for 2013 that will almost certainly be exercised. The team's longstanding policy against negotiating contract extensions with its players during the regular seasons means his contract will have to wait until after next season, but when it comes, it will almost certainly be for much more than $100 million.
Granderson had a breakout year for the Yankees in 2011, smashing 41 homers with a league-leading 119 RBI. He finished in fourth place in MVP voting, and he's off to another great season in 2012. He's tied for second in the majors with 17 home runs, which puts him on pace for about 50.
It will be interesting to see how the Yankees negotiate Granderson's contract. They are trying to get their payroll below $189 million by the 2014 season for luxury tax purposes, and they also have to negotiate with Robinson Cano, but it's hard to imagine the Yankees losing a top free agent by being outspent.
Matt Kemp got an eight-year, $160 million extension over the winter, and while Kemp is younger and is probably a better overall player than Granderson, the Yankee center fielder's deal will likely come when other teams are bidding for his services as well.
I can see the Yankees giving him a shorter deal (since he will be entering his that season at 33), but at a comparable yearly average. I'd guess it will be in the range of six years and $110 million to $130 million.
The Yankees will have their hands full next winter, because in addition to getting their payroll under $189 million and negotiating with Curtis Granderson, they'll have to give Robinson Cano a new contract.
Like Granderson, Cano has a 2013 team option that will be exercised, and even if the Yankees are willing to break their policy and offer him a contract extension before he hits free agency, Cano likely will decide to test the free-agent waters. He's a client of Scott Boras, who is best known for advising his clients to hit the open market and get every last dollar they can.
Cano is probably the best second baseman in the game and can be counted on for a .310 average and 25 home runs. He is also outstanding defensively, and most scouts would say Cano is the Yankees' best hitter.
He's one of few homegrown talents on the team, and the Yankees cannot and will not let him leave the Bronx.
It will take a lot of money to sign him, perhaps seven years and $140 million, but he'll get his money, and the Yankees will keep Cano.
Clayton Kershaw is in the first year of a two-year deal that will expire after 2013. The Dodgers will still control him in 2014, so he may not be a free agent until after that season. However, it's likely the Dodgers will try to lock up the best young pitcher in the game after next year.
When they do, Kershaw will be compensated nicely for his stellar performance.
The southpaw won the 2011 Cy Young Award as a 23-year-old, posting a 21-5 record with a stellar 2.28 ERA and a league-leading 248 strikeouts.
He's having a good 2012 too. He's just 4-3 but has a 2.55 ERA.
No matter when the Dodgers sign Kershaw, he will be very young for a first-time free agent. If they sign him after 2013, he will be just 25.
Left-handed starting pitchers are generally compensated better than their right-handed counterparts. The largest contract given to a starting pitcher was CC Sabathia's current eight-year, $182 million deal (which includes the seven-year, $161 million deal he signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season, plus the one-year extension he got this past winter).
Kershaw will be several years younger than Sabathia was when he signs his deal, and with all due respect to Sabathia, Kershaw may be better.
Is eight years, $200 million for Kershaw really that crazy?
If he does hit the open market, one would think virtually every big-market team would bid on him. However, Magic Johnson and the Dodgers' new ownership group will do their best to make sure that does not happen.
In 2011, Justin Verlander became the first pitcher to win an MVP award since Dennis Eckersley won it in 1992. By the time the 2015 season starts, he'll probably make history again. By that time, he'll have earned the biggest contract for any right-handed pitcher in major league history.
Verlander went 24-5 in 2011 with a 2.40 ERA. He led the majors in innings pitched and strikeouts and is doing the same this year. In 12 starts, he has 86 strikeouts in 87.2 innings. He also has thrown three complete games and owns a streak of 54 straight starts of at least six innings pitched.
Verlander is a phenomenal pitcher who can dial it up to 100 miles per hour in any inning when needed.
His current deal expires after 2014, but assuming he keeps up his success, look for the Tigers to lock him up before he hits free agency. Either way, Verlander should eclipse Matt Cain's six-year, $127.5 million deal for the biggest contract given to a right-handed starting pitcher.
If he does hit free agency after the 2014 season, Verlander will be 31. I can see a team offering seven years and over $150 million to this stud. While it's hard to predict exactly who will need a top-line starting pitcher in two-and-a-half years, it's safe to say there will be plenty of teams bidding for this pitcher.