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What MLB's 25 All-Time Greats Would Get on 2013's Free Agent Market

Doug MeadCorrespondent INovember 22, 2012

What MLB's 25 All-Time Greats Would Get on 2013's Free Agent Market

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    Back before the days of free agency in Major League Baseball, many of the greatest players in history were paid handsomely for their services at that time.

    Given the climate that now exists, what would those legends be worth today?

    Bleacher Report will take a look at the 25 greatest players in MLB history and assess a value for their services in today's market.

    For this particular list we will attach a value for only hitters, using a list created by Baseball Reference.

    We will take a player's season at the age of 30 to use as a comparison and will take into consideration injury factors and other factors to help state our case.

    Note: All statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.

25. Eddie Mathews

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    By the time the 1962 season started, third baseman Eddie Mathews had firmly established himself as one of the premier corner infielders in the National League.

    A nine-time All-Star in his first 10 seasons, Mathews teamed with fellow slugger Henry Aaron to help drive the offense for the Milwaukee Braves.

    No question teams would line up for Mathews. While he wasn't a great defender at third base, he was steady. In addition, Mathews was gifted with great plate discipline with an OBP hovering around .380.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Five years, $90 million.

24. Roberto Clemente

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    When right fielder Roberto Clemente turned 30 in 1964, he was on his way to winning his second National League batting title and his fourth consecutive Gold Glove Award.

    Few runners dared to attempt to get from first to third on any ground ball hit to right for fear of Clemente's spectacular arm. And few in the game could match Clemente's all-around game.

    Based on what Clemente did in 1964, it's arguable that anyone would have looked at Clemente and thought he couldn't continue delivering year after year.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Eight years, $160 million.

23. Mel Ott

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    At the end of the 1938 season, 29-year-old Mel Ott had just captured his fifth National League home run title and had logged his 13th season in the majors with the New York Giants.

    Ott was gifted with a tremendous eye at the plate as well, oftentimes walking twice as much as he struck out. His .442 on-base percentage that year also led the NL.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Five years, $90 million.

    It's always nice to look with a retrospective eye, but given the fact that Ott started his decline in 1943, a five-year deal would certainly have been appropriate.

22. Wade Boggs

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    When third baseman Wade Boggs turned 30 years of age in June 1988, he was in the midst of winning his fourth consecutive American League batting title and fifth in the last six seasons.

    Boggs, like others on this list, also developed a keen batting eye. In fact, during the 1988 season, Boggs walked almost four times as much as he struck out (125 BB, 34 K).

    Getting a bit of a later start in the majors when he debuted in 1982 at the age of 23, Boggs certainly showed no signs of slowing down.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Six years, $120 million.

21. Cal Ripken Jr.

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    When the 1990 season ended, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. was well over halfway into his record-breaking consecutive-games streak at the age of 30.

    Ripken continued producing as well, averaging 25 home runs and 92 RBI through his first nine full seasons.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Eight years, $225 million.

    No question in my mind that any general manager in baseball would have paid handsomely for Ripken to continue his iron-man streak for their team.

20. Al Kaline

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    When the 1965 season rolled around, 30-year-old right fielder Al Kaline was starting his 13th season in the majors.

    Kaline was firmly established in the American League as one of the best defensive right fielders in the game with seven Gold Glove awards to his credit.

    In addition, he was hitting above .300 at the time, winning a batting title 10 years prior at the age of 20.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Four years, $70 million.

    While Kaline was still productive, little nagging injuries were starting to take a toll.

19. Al Simmons

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    One of the great outfielders of his generation, Al Simmons could play either left or center field with equal aplomb. He routinely reached double-digits in assists with a powerful throwing arm.

    But it was with the bat that he did the most damage.

    In 1932, the year Simmons turned 30, he hit 35 home runs with 151 RBI and batted .322. He had captured the National League batting title the previous two seasons as well.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Five years, $100 million.

    Simmons definitely would have been rewarded based on his previous three seasons. However, five years was definitely appropriate given the declining production numbers in his 30s.

18. Jimmie Foxx

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    In 1937, 29-year-old slugger Jimmie Foxx had just completed his second season with the Boston Red Sox, his 13th overall.

    The two-time MVP was still one of the top sluggers in the majors and had just hit at least 30 home runs for the ninth consecutive season.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Six years, $125 million.

    Foxx was being paid to hit home runs, and he certainly continued doing that for the next three years. The skills severely diminished starting in 1941, but he would have been considered worth the money and years at the time of signing.

17. Joe DiMaggio

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    Joe DiMaggio was serving his country in World War II when he turned 30 years old. However, the body of work in baseball had already been clearly established.

    DiMaggio was a two-time MVP and two-time batting champion before going off to war, and despite three years away from the game, no question he would have been one of the hottest commodities on the free-agent market.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Six years, $150 million.

    DiMaggio was 31 when he came back from wartime service, so anything longer than six years probably wouldn't have been prudent. But no question the annual value would have been appropriate given his body of work to that point.

16. Frank Robinson

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    Let's not forget that right fielder Frank Robinson was called an "old 30" by former general manager Bill DeWitt when he was traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Baltimore Orioles in December 1965.

    Old Frank hit 33 home runs with 113 RBI in that '65 season with the Reds.

    I'm still not sure how DeWitt looked at Robinson as old with that kind of production.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Six years, $132 million.

    For the Orioles, he would have been worth every single penny.

15. Mike Schmidt

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    While Mike Schmidt was already known as a feared slugger by the time he was 30 years of age, he was also the most defensively gifted third baseman in the National League as well.

    When Schmidt turned 30 at the end of the 1979 season, he had already captured four straight Gold Glove awards. He had also led the league in home runs three times, and hit 45 long bombs in that 1979 season as well.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Eight years, $200 million.

    Teams definitely would have paid richly for both the bat and the glove.

14. Mickey Mantle

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    By the end of the 1961 season, Mickey Mantle was already battered and beaten up.

    He had just actively battled teammate Roger Maris for the single-season home run record. Toward the end of the season, Mantle's body broke down once again as Maris went on to break the long-standing record held by Babe Ruth.

    Mantle's knees were the reason for much of the time spent off the diamond. His night life and constant drinking probably didn't help, either.

    Still, Mantle was one of the premier sluggers of his time and still hit 54 home runs that season despite the nagging injuries.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Three years, $70 million.

    I liken Mantle's case somewhat to Josh Hamilton today. The injury concerns and substance-abuse issues—in Mantle's case, active alcohol abuse—certainly would have been taken into consideration. Teams would be willing to pay out the annual value, but not for a great length of time.

13. Rickey Henderson

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    When the 1988 season ended, 29-year-old Rickey Henderson had just led the league in stolen bases for the eighth time in 10 seasons.

    Henderson had already established himself as one of the greatest leadoff hitters in history with his ability to steal at any given time, hit for average and for power.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Five years, $100 million.

    Henderson's greatest asset was his legs, and general managers might have been a little fearful of giving a contract longer than five years, as the legs are generally the first attribute to start slipping with age. Still without question a $20 million-per-year player.

12. Lou Gehrig

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    Much like Cal Ripken Jr. earlier on this list, first baseman Lou Gehrig was already more than halfway into his record consecutive-games played streak when he turned 30 in 1933.

    Gehrig completed his seventh straight season in 1933 with an OPS over 1.000 and led the majors in runs scored for the second time in his career.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Eight years, $220 million.

    General managers would have drooled all over themselves at the thought of Gehrig as a free agent.

11. Nap Lajoie

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    Without question one of the best players of his generation, Napolean "Nap" Lajoie was just finishing his ninth season in professional baseball in 1904. He captured his fourth overall batting title with a .376 average as well.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Seven years, $161 million.

    For what Lajoie continually delivered year after year, general managers would have been lining up to sign the steady-hitting infielder.

10. Eddie Collins

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    In the early 20th century, you'd be hard-pressed to find a second baseman steadier than Eddie Collins.

    Already into his 12th professional season in 1917 at the age of 30, Collins had already won an AL MVP Award with the Philadelphia Athletics. While not blessed with power, Collins was a terror on the basepaths, collecting at least 50 stolen bases in 1917 for the sixth time in his career.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Seven years, $140 million.

    Collins was simply a winner and continued hitting above .300 well into his 40s.

9. Tris Speaker

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    When the 1917 season was completed, 29-year-old outfielder Tris Speaker had already won an MVP Award and World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox.

    He had also established himself as the game's best center fielder and had the 1916 American League batting title to his credit as well.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Seven years, $154 million.

    Speaker's will to win and his ability to spray the ball to all fields, along with his defensive prowess, would have been very highly valued in today's market.

8. Hank Aaron

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    Hammerin' Hank Aaron was still hammering by the time he turned 30 years of age in early 1964. The previous season, he led the National League with 44 home runs and 130 RBI with a .977 OPS.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Nine years, $214 million.

    Aaron would have gotten a contract similar to that of Prince Fielder, even though he was a few years older. Aaron showed no signs of slowing down and played in nearly every game every single season.

7. Rogers Hornsby

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    At 30 years of age, second baseman Rogers Hornsby wasn't just one of best players in the majors, he was managing his team as well.

    Hornsby had just hit .400 for the second consecutive season before he turned 30, and he led the National League with 39 home runs and 143 RBI in 1925 as well.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Eight years, $240 million.

    A guy who hits .400 and hits over 30 home runs with at least 100 RBI? Yeah, he's worth $30 million per year today.

6. Ty Cobb

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    By the time Ty Cobb turned 30 in 1916, he had already won eight batting titles and hit over .400 twice.

    He also led the league in stolen bases five times, six times with the most hits and four times with the most RBI.

    Free-Agent Contract: Eight years, $230 million.

    Yes, he was hated by most opposing players and managers, but don't think for one second they wouldn't have welcomed Cobb on their team.

5. Ted Williams

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    At the end of the 1948 season, Ted Williams celebrated his 30th birthday by winning his fourth overall batting title with a .369 average.

    He also led the league with a .497 on-base percentage and .615 slugging percentage. He "only" hit 25 home runs, but drove in 127 runs and had a league-leading 44 doubles.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Nine years, $250 million.

    Teddy did it all, hit for power, hit for average, got on base close to half the time and drove in a ton of runs. Hard to say that wasn't worth close to $30 million a year.

4. Stan Musial

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    When the 1950 season ended, slugger Stan Musial won his fourth overall National League batting with a .346 average. He also led the majors in slugging percentage and OPS.

    Musial was already a three-time NL MVP as well.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Ten years, $250 million.

    With his credentials, Musial definitely would have received a contract similar to another famous former Cardinal, Albert Pujols.

3. Honus Wagner

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    The Flying Dutchman was a terror on the basepaths and one of the best hitters of the early 20th century by the time he turned 30 in 1904.

    Honus Wagner had led the majors in batting twice by the time the 1904 season started. He had also led the league twice in doubles, runs batted in, stolen bases and slugging percentage.

    In short, Wagner was the most well-rounded player in the National League at the time.

    Free-Agent Contract Today: Nine years, $225 million.

    Wagner was that one rare player that general managers would build a team around.

2. Willie Mays

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    There was no one in baseball who was a more well-rounded ballplayer than Willie Mays.

    He had just started the 1961 season when he turned 30 years old, and Mays delivered once again, hitting .308 with 40 home runs, 123 RBI, a league-leading 129 runs scored and 18 stolen bases.

    He also captured his fifth straight Gold Glove Award in center field as well.

    Free-Agent Contract: 10 years, $300 million.

    I believe that in today's market, Mays would have been the first to crack the $300 million barrier.

1. Babe Ruth

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    In 1924, Babe Ruth led the American League in home runs for the sixth time overall and won his first batting title with a .378 average.

    And he wasn't even 30 years old yet.

    Free-Agent Contract: Eight years, $260 million.

    Ruth definitely wins the award for highest annual salary. Every owner in the league would have recognized the fact that Ruth simply put fans in the seats.

    The word "cha-ching" comes to mind in what owners thought about the prospects of Ruth becoming a free agent.

     

    Note: Next week we will feature the 25 greatest pitchers of all-time and determine what their worth would be as a free agent in today's market.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

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