Odds of Top 15 MLB Free Agents Earning $10 Million Per Season This Winter

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2012

Odds of Top 15 MLB Free Agents Earning $10 Million Per Season This Winter

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    Of the 750 major league players on opening day rosters, how many of them were set to make at least $10 million this season?

    Less than you think.

    Only 91 players received seven-figure salaries in 2012, roughly 12 percent of the league. Of those, pitchers were the largest group with 35 players, followed by outfielders with 21. Catchers were the least represented, with only two backstops making seven figures.

    Without the likes of Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Andre Ethier on the market as we once thought they would be, this year's crop of free agents lacks some of the star power that we've seen in years past. 

    That's not to say that there aren't a number of free agents who are going to have multiple suitors, that we won't see a bidding war and that the percentage of major leaguers making at least $10 million annually is going to go down.

    It might actually go up.

Michael Bourn, CF, Atlanta Braves

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    Timing is everything, and it works out nearly perfectly for 29-year-old Michael Bourn, who is set to hit free agency as the premier defender and leadoff hitter available.

    Speaking of age, Bourn celebrates his 30th birthday in December. While 30 is certainly not old by any means when it comes to baseball, it does bring with it the theory—fair or not—that a player has pretty much reached the peak of his career, and well, the descent isn't always slow, smooth and steady.

    Especially when it pertains to a player such a Bourn, when so much of his game, both offensively and defensively, is predicated on his speed. He's an excellent fielder, but what makes him phenomenal is his ability to cover more ground than most, getting to balls that the average center fielder would know they had no chance of reaching on the fly.

    Worries about his speed declining as his next contract reaches the later years duly noted, Bourn won't have a lack of suitors once he hits free agency.

    Aside from his current team, the Braves, two of their division rivals, the Nationals and Phillies, along with the Giants, have been linked to him recently. 

    A bidding war would be the best thing that could happen to Michael Bourn, and there's almost a guarantee that we are going to see one.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

Ryan Dempster, RHP, Texas Rangers

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    While he's gotten over his rough start in Texas to put up solid numbers for the Rangers: a 2.93 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched over his last seven starts, Ryan Dempster and the Rangers are not involved in a long-term relationship.

    Dempster's ERA, which was 2.54 with the Cubs, is 4.48 with the Rangers. Couple that with the fact that the Rangers recently worked out a new deal with Colby Lewis and they don't need to pay Dempster the seven-figure-salary that he's going to be seeking.

    That's not to say that Dempster won't get paid this winter, because he's going to have plenty of suitors.

    It's not out of the realm of possibility that Dempster, 35, is looking for a deal similar to the four-year, $52 million contract he signed with the Cubs prior to the 2008 season. 

    He might not get the contract length he wants, but with quality starting pitching always in demand, Dempster isn't about to take a reduction in pay.

    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

Zack Greinke, RHP, Los Angeles Angels

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    With Matt Cain and Cole Hamels agreeing to long-term extensions with the Giants and Phillies, respectively, earlier this season, that left Zack Greinke as the unquestioned top pitcher available as a free agent this winter.

    Greinke, 28, got off to a rough start in his return to the American League after being traded from the Brewers in July, pitching to a 6.19 ERA and 1.59 WHIP over his first five starts in an Angels uniform. Immediately, talk circulated that he'd cost himself a big payday this winter.

    So much for that.

    Over his last seven starts, Greinke has pitched the best baseball of his career, better than the guy who won the American League Cy Young award in 2009 with the Royals, posting a 1.69 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, holding the opposition to a .200 batting average and .566 OPS.

    MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez says that the Angels plan on declining their team options on both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana so that they can put that money towards a long-term deal with Greinke, but they will most certainly have competition for his services.

    Greinke's next contract will feature annual salaries that dwarf the $13.5 million he's earning in 2012, and he could very well approach the $20 million per year mark, depending on how heated the bidding gets to obtain his services.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

Josh Hamilton, CF, Texas Rangers

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    One of the most productive and talented players in the game today, Josh Hamilton is going to command big bucks once he hits the open market as a free agent.

    ESPN's Buster Olney notes that some teams are hesitant to commit to multiple years due to the 31-year-old's spotty injury history and off-field issues, including his current team, the Rangers, who have started investigating possible replacements should Hamilton sign elsewhere.

    He's bucked the injury bug for most of the 2012 season, leading the majors with 43 home runs and sitting in second place with 124 RBI. That kind of production doesn't grow on trees, and there are a number of teams in the league who would benefit by having Hamilton hitting in the middle of their lineup.

    Olney speculates that Hamilton is going to be seeking somewhere between $20-to-$25 million a season in any deal that he signs, and it stands to figure that the shorter the deal, the higher he'll want his annual salary.

    Of all the bats available via free agency this winter, Hamilton by far has the best chance at landing a nine-figure deal—and it's a sure thing that he's going to eclipse the $13.75 million salary he's earning in 2012 in each year of his new deal.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

Torii Hunter, RF, Los Angeles Angels

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    The end of the 2012 regular season is likely to bring an end to Torii Hunter's streak of six consecutive seasons with at least 20 home runs, but he's about to hit .300 for the first time in his career, so it's a fair trade-off.

    Hunter, 37, while he's lost a step is still an outstanding defensive player, posting the fifth highest UZR/150 among right fielders in the game this season. (h/t Fangraphs)

    He told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com that his preference is to stay with the Angels, but he realizes that it may not be possible:

    I want to stay. Everybody knows that. But if it comes down to it, and I have to be a free agent -- [I've] been there before, man. Minnesota let me go, and hopefully the Angels don't let me go.

    It's rare, besides Derek Jeter, that a guy stays with the same team [for his whole career]. And I really want to call this place home. I want to retire here. But if it's not going to happen, no animosity, no nothing. I love them, and I'll always love them. I'll always come back to do things, whatever, years from now, because this organization is A-1 to me.

    For me, it's not about greed and getting all you can get. I've made good money. Now I just want to win. And I can see this team winning in the near future. Whether it's this year, whether it's next year, I can see it -- the potential. Why would I want to leave a place I want to stay and I know is going to win?

    Regardless of where he winds up playing in 2013, there's no question that he's going to be taking a significant reduction in pay, as there's no way that anyone is going to pay him close to the $18 million that he's making in 2012.

    Could he wind up with a deal similar to what Carlos Beltran got from the Cardinals last season, $26 million over two years?

    It's not a stretch to think that there's a chance, though Hunter may come in a few million lower based on his age and nothing more.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 65 percent

Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, New York Yankees

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    Are the Yankees in playoff contention without Hiroki Kuroda?

    Maybe, but there's no question that Kuroda has been the Yankees best starting pitcher in 2012.

    Signed to a one-year deal for $10 million, Kuroda has turned in a performance that finds him among the American League leaders in ERA, WHIP and innings pitched, and one that has seen him throw three complete games and two shutouts in the second half of the season when the Yankees needed him most.

    With no reinforcements on the way from the minor leagues, the Yankees will certainly look to bring Kuroda back for another season in 2013, but they'll have more competition than last winter.

    One team to keep an eye on is the Padres, who Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal notes have a GM in Josh Byrnes that has tried to sign Kuroda on two different occasions, only to fail both times.

    Could the third time be the charm?

    It's going to take a two-year deal for more than $20 million to find out.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Washington Nationals

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    The question for Adam LaRoche isn't whether he's going to make $10 million in 2013, it's whether it's going to be with the Nationals or not.

    A mutual $10 million option exists on his current contract for the 2013 season and it's virtually a guarantee that the first baseman, who celebrates his 33rd birthday in November, will decline his half of the deal.

    The Nationals hope to re-sign LaRoche to a multi-year deal according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, but they do have internal options to fill the position, including right fielder Michael Morse. 

    LaRoche told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post that while he'd like to stay with the Nationals, he's not guaranteeing anything:

    I would love to stay. I’m kind of getting tired of bouncing around. My kids enjoy it here. It might be nice to stay for a few more years. I have no idea what their long-term plans are. But I’d like to stick around.

    We’ll see where it is at the end of the year. I throw that on my agent – what’s the right move here? He knows loud and clear that I would like to stay in Washington. On the other hand, I’m not going to do something stupid where I turn down what could be two or three more extra years somewhere else.

    He'll arguably be the best first baseman available and is certain to generate interest from a number of teams. 

    Whoever winds up signing him will do so with a contract that pays him at least $10 million annually. A three-year, $36-to $42 million deal sounds about right.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

Kyle Lohse, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Let's see who can figure this out first.

    Here are the numbers for two free agent starting pitchers over the past two seasons.

    Pitcher A: 30-11, 3.07 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 393 IP, 362 H, 245 K

    Pitcher B: 31-11, 3.61 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 376 IP, 355 H, 398 K

    Which pitcher would you rather have? While Pitcher B has a higher strikeout total, the stats are pretty similar across the board, and the argument could be made that they'd be worth around the same amount of money were they both free agents at the same time, right?

    Do you know who our two mystery pitchers are?

    You can bet that Kyle Lohse's agent will be pointing to the fact that his client, Pitcher A, has actually been better in some regards than Pitcher B, one Mr. Zack Greinke.

    But Lohse isn't going to get Greinke money. I'm not talking about contract length, because obviously Lohse, who celebrates his 34th birthday next week, is significantly older than Greinke.

    The argument can be made that there's no reason that there should be such a huge disparity in their annual salaries, especially if Lohse is only able to procure short-term deals, something that is likely.

    But there will be.

    Look for Lohse to approach $15 million a season as he gets a nice raise over the $11.875 million he earned in 2012.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

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    One thing that the Red Sox have going in their favor when it comes to David Ortiz is that he's a one-dimensional player; he cannot play the field.

    That eliminates every National League team from making a run at Big Papi, cutting the playing field in half before the Hot Stove League even gets going. While most people assume that Ortiz won't be leaving Boston, a place he's called home for a decade, negotiations could get contentious.

    Ortiz told the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber that after answering questions about his future in Boston in each of the past three years (including 2012), he's not interested in doing it again:

    Yeah, of course, it’s something I don’t want to be worried about anymore, If I can play, I can play. You can’t take that away from me. I think it’s easier for me not to be answering the questions you’re asking me right now the whole year. It’s been, what, three years now that I’ve got to be answering this question, and I’ve been one of the most productive players on this ballclub. Why me?

    In my case, it’s not even all about the money It’s all about respect. That’s the way I see it.

    Translation: Ortiz wants a two-year contract from Boston.

    Whether he'll get it is a valid question. Ortiz celebrates his 37th birthday in November and was limited to 90 games this season because of an Achilles injury. 

    But he's revered among fans and supposedly beloved by owner John Henry, a man who will certainly be under the microscope this winter as the Red Sox come off of a disappointing season.

    It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox test his statement that "it's not even all about the money," choosing to capitulate to a two-year deal but at an annual salary lower than the $14.575 that they are paying him in 2012.

    Even if he has to take a paycut to get the deal he wants, you'd have to imagine that anything under $10 million a season would be viewed by Ortiz as a lack of respect, the one thing he doesn't believe the team has shown him.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 90 percent

Angel Pagan, CF, San Francisco Giants

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    Believe it or not, Angel Pagan will be one of the 15 best players available as free agents this winter.

    He leads baseball with 15 triples on the season, has scored nearly 100 runs and has been serviceable on defense while becoming an integral part of the Giants' success this season as a table-setter atop their lineup.

    It can be said that Pagan was a steal at $4.85 million this season, and you wouldn't be wrong. The 31-year-old is most definitely going to get a raise from somebody this winter.

    But he'll likely have to wait until after other, higher-profile center fielders such as Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton have been signed and are no longer on the market.

    When that offer comes, it's almost certain to be for far less than $10 million annually—but you can never rule anything out completely when it comes to owners and general managers making player personnel decisions.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 2 percent

Jake Peavy, RHP, Chicago Whie Sox

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    Finally healthy after years of battling injuries, 31-year-old Jake Peavy has been able to stay healthy in 2012, ensuring that he's going to land a multi-year contract this winter.

    The only questions are how lucrative a deal it's going to be and what owner is going to be signing his checks.

    He'll celebrate his 32nd birthday two months into the 2013 regular season and hasn't quite returned to his Cy Young Award-winning form from 2007 while with the Padres, but his name dots the American League's pitching leaderboard in nearly every major category, including WHIP, ERA and innings pitched.

    The White Sox are going to decline the $22 million team option that they hold on Peavy for the 2013 season because for as good as Peavy has been this season, he's not a $22-million-a-year pitcher, allowing him to reach free agency.

    With his lengthy injury history, some teams may shy away from offering Peavy a short-term deal with a higher annual salary, and that could be attractive to the veteran hurler.

    Regardless of who Peavy signs with, he's going to be taking a pay cut from the $17 million that he was paid this season—but he'll stay well north of the $10 million mark in annual salary over the course of the deal.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

A.J. Pierzynski, C, Chicago White Sox

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    The White Sox don't have much of a choice with catcher A.J. Pierzynski; catcher-of-the-future Tyler Flowers isn't ready to take over the job on a full-time basis and only White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper knows the team's pitching staff as well as Pierzynski does.

    And it's a safe bet that Cooper won't be putting on catching gear anytime soon.

    That puts the veteran, who celebrates his 36th birthday in December, in the driver's seat during negotiations on a new deal.

    He knows that this could be the last contract that he signs, and he's going to look to make as much money as possible.

    After making $6 million in 2012, it wouldn't be a shock to see him ask for $10 million annually on a new deal, especially if it's only going to be a two-or-three-year commitment.

    He won't get it, but he'll ask for it.

    Only two catchers in the game, Joe Mauer and Brian McCann, are making at least $10 million in 2012. Pierzynski is an excellent catcher, but he's not on their level.

    But a two-year deal for $15-to-$18 million? A few teams could be interested at those numbers.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 55 percent

Mariano Rivera, RHP, New York Yankees

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    The Yankees will simply hand Mariano Rivera a signed check and just tell him to fill in the blanks.

    Rivera won't gouge the club, but he'll be certain to pull in more than $10 million in what will be his 19th—and likely last—big league season.

    Then again, reaching 20 years with one team isn't something you see every day, so maybe, just maybe, there's a two-year deal to be reached between both parties.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

Nick Swisher, RF, New York Yankees

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    He might be the best clubhouse presence in baseball, his passion for the game is contagious, and you can pencil him in for 25 home runs, 80 RBI, and a high on-base percentage every season.

    Oh, and he's about to become a free agent for the first time.

    Nick Swisher, who celebrates his 32nd birthday in October, is going to get a significant raise over the $10.25 million he's making with the Yankees in 2012—and that's what will ultimately push him out of the Bronx.

    CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported last month that Swisher is expected to be seeking a long-term deal similar to the seven-year, $126 million deal that the Nationals gave to Jayson Werth prior to the 2011 season.

    I'd say that there's a better chance of Joe Girardi asking me to to pitch in a playoff game than Swisher getting such an insane contract, but he's going to be sought-after and well paid.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 100 percent

B.J. Upton, CF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    He's likely to be the consolation prize for the team that misses out on Josh Hamilton and/or Michael Bourn, with some General Manager somewhere convinced that that B.J. Upton can still reach the lofty heights that people expected from him when he broke into the majors back in 2007.

    But Upton, 28, is what he is, and that's a player who can play solid defense, hit 20 home runs with 80 RBI and 30 stolen bases while hitting .240 and striking out a ton.

    Is that production worth $10 million a year?

    When Vernon Wells and Jason Bay are making a combined $42 million this season for hitting a combined .199 with 19 home runs, 48 RBI and eight stolen bases, Team Upton is going to argue that he is.

    More likely than not, some GM is going to give him the deal that he wants.


    Odds Of Earning $10 Million Per Season: 90 percent