Recent Free-Agent Comparisons for Each Elite MLB Player Available

Jason Martinez@@mlbdepthchartsContributor INovember 21, 2013

Recent Free-Agent Comparisons for Each Elite MLB Player Available

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    Crawford's seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox is being used as a comparison to one current free-agent outfielder.
    Crawford's seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox is being used as a comparison to one current free-agent outfielder.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    No two players have the same exact set of skills, and certain attributes can't always be measured with statistics. Thus, it's very difficult to claim that "player A" is a perfect comparison for "player B" in any case.

    Yet, as baseball fans, player comparisons can be very helpful in understanding what a particular player brings to the table or what that player might bring to the table in the future. 

    In free agency, player comps take on a whole new level of importance as player agents will argue that their client deserves a certain amount of money because of what a very similar player is making. And teams hoping to keep the price down will try to do the same.

    For the eight elite players currently available on the free-agent market—this is based off of my rankings at—I've matched them up with a similar player who will serve as a good comparison for what kind of contract they're likely to receive this offseason. 

    Use the comments section to let me know if you can come up with a better comparison.

Robinson Cano / Albert Pujols

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    There's no comparing Robinson Cano to any other second baseman in the game, at least in terms of their earning power. Dustin Pedroia became the highest-paid second baseman in the game when he signed an eight-year, $110 million contract extension with the Red Sox in July. Cano could triple that amount. 

    Albert Pujols (pictured), who signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels for his ages 32-41 seasons, appears to be the closest comparison.

    Cano is entering his age 31 season, and like Pujols two offseasons ago, he has been one of the most productive players in baseball throughout his career with a reputation for rarely missing a game and for never having a bad year. 

    While Pujols' overall production at the plate outweighs Cano's, it could be argued that Cano plays a more premium position on the field and noted that he's a two-time Gold Glove Award winner as a second baseman. 

    Both players earned the right to long-term deals that pay them well past their prime. Yet that can also be a very risky investment, as the Angels have quickly found out because of Pujols' injury troubles in 2013 and decline in production when he has been on the field.

    Pujols' current state, which could be looked upon as "on the decline," could actually hurt Cano's value because, whether it's true or not in Pujols' case, it reminds teams how quickly a superstar player can reach the end of his prime because of age and/or injuries. 

    It won't affect Cano's annual salary, though, as he'll likely surpass Pujols'. He just might have to settle for eight years instead of 10. 

Jacoby Ellsbury / Carl Crawford

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Agent Scott Boras has already compared his client, Jacoby Ellsbury, to Carl Crawford (pictured). This is smart, considering that Crawford signed a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox and, as Boras pointed out, he isn't a proven leadoff hitter, center fielder, home run hitter and doesn't have a World Series ring. 

    Ellsbury is all those things, and even though he only hit a significant amount of homers in one season—he hit 32 in 2011—he still did it and is capable of doing it again.

    This shouldn't push the 30-year-old Ellsbury too far ahead of Crawford, though, if at all. At the time that Crawford became a free agent, he was entering his age 29 season and had a much more impressive track record.

    It can be said that Ellsbury has had two pretty good seasons (2008-2009), an MVP-caliber season (2011), a great season (2013) and two seasons lost to injury (2010 and 2012).

    Crawford, on the other hand, has seven consecutive very good seasons leading up to his free agency following the 2010 season. He never reached 20 homers, but he had 19, 18 and 15 twice, along with a whole lot of doubles and triples. 

    Crawford's multiple injuries and awful season in 2011 won't help Ellsbury's cause, although as Dave Cameron of ESPN Insider (subscription required) recently pointed out, Crawford is actually the exception to the rule, and players with the same skill set haven't declined drastically as they approach their mid-30s.

    So with solid arguments for each side of a "Jacoby Ellsbury versus Carl Crawford as free agents" debate, a contract in the same neighborhood makes a lot of sense.


Ervin Santana / John Lackey

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    John Lackey (pictured) was the best free-agent starting pitcher heading into the 2010 season, although no one would mistake him for a staff "ace."

    That lack of a clear No. 1 starter on the free-agent market helped his cause as he landed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. For a pitcher entering his age 31 season with a career 3.81 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 7.1 K/9, that was a steep price to pay. 

    Fast forward four years and another former Angels starter, Ervin Santana, who is also very good but not an "ace," is the top pitcher available in a free-agent market without a clear No. 1 starter.

    Also entering his age 31 season, Santana was terrific for the Royals in 2013 and in many ways, No. 1 starter-like with a 3.24 ERA and 14 starts of at least seven innings pitched with no more than two earned runs allowed. 

    Still, his career 4.19 ERA, to go along with an average of 29 homers allowed per season, tells you he's a guy you might not want to give big money to lead a rotation. Lackey not only proved that when he posted a very mid-rotation-like 4.40 ERA in his first season with Boston; his missed season of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery served as a reminder of how fragile pitchers are and how risky any long-term deal can be. 

    Santana could get a $100 million deal this offseason, and it's very likely that whichever team he ends up with won't get five great years out of him. Maybe he'll give them one great year, two good ones and a couple disappointing seasons. But at some point, he's probably going to look like an overpay.

Shin-Soo Choo / Jason Bay

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Just because Jason Bay (pictured) was a bust in New York doesn't mean it was a terrible signing at the time. 

    When the Mets dished out $66 million over four seasons to sign Bay, he was considered one of the top players in the game. He was entering his age 31 season with an .894 OPS and an average of 30 homers and 99 runs batted in over his six full big league seasons. And his 2009 season (.921 OPS, 36 HR, 119 RBI) with the Red Sox may have been his best. 

    There wasn't any reason to think his best days were behind him, just as there's no reason to think Shin-Soo Choo's performance will decline as he enters his age 31 season with a contract that is likely to exceed $100 million. 

    Considered as underrated throughout his career as Bay was when he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Choo is about to become overpaid and overrated. That doesn't mean he won't be a solid player for his next ballclub. It just means that it will be difficult to live up to his inflated contract.

    If his next five seasons are anything like his last five (.851 OPS, 17 HR, 19 SB per season), it will be hard to complain about the money Choo's making. But the slightest decline in production or injury that keeps him out for an extended time will be difficult to ignore. This was also the case with Bay, who finished his Mets career with a .687 OPS and 26 homers in 288 games.

    Of course, Bay's concussion during his first season with the Mets could've led to his decline, but injuries occur. Just because Bay was deserving of a big contract and had put up great numbers throughout his career didn't make him risk-free. 

    Choo is a risk because he is a baseball player who is in line for a $100 million contract. 

Carlos Beltran / Manny Ramirez

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Manny Ramirez (pictured) finished his age 36 season with 11 consecutive All-Star selections under his belt and the fourth-most votes in the MVP race after a 37-homer season between the Red Sox and Dodgers. He had also reached free agency for the second time in his career. 

    While Ramirez was a liability in the outfield, the Dodgers eventually gave him a two-year, $45 million deal about a month before the season started. After acquiring him the previous July, the Dodgers experienced firsthand what kind of impact he could still have with his bat. 

    As Carlos Beltran enters his age 37 season, he's in line to be one of the rare players on the wrong side of 35 to land a three-year deal, and maybe even four. He won't get $22.5 million per season as Ramirez did, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he signed a deal for $20 million per season.

    With his knee troubles a thing of the past, the switch-hitter is going to cash in after posting an .860 OPS with an average of 26 homers and 88 RBI over the past three injury-free seasons.

    Fortunately for him, there was no actual decline in Ramirez's performance to point at to show why a player of Beltran's age shouldn't get a multi-year deal. He just couldn't stay on the field because of PED suspensions and injuries.

    The injury risk is high for a player approaching the age of 40, which is no surprise, but that just makes it more likely that Beltran will sign with an American League team that can utilize him in the designated hitter spot occasionally.

    If Ramirez had stayed on the field, it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't have continued to hit into his late 30s. Beltran is in the same class, just much more capable of playing the outfield and without all the other stuff that comes from "Manny being Manny."


Matt Garza / Anibal Sanchez

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Following the 2012 season, Anibal Sanchez (pictured) had compiled a 3.75 ERA with a 3.3 BB/9 and 7.6 K/9 through 869 big league innings. Solid No. 3 starter, maybe No. 2? The Tigers gave him a five-year, $88 million deal for his ages 29-33 seasons.

    To be fair, he is their No. 3 starter. But that's a high price to pay for a No. 3 starter. 

    Sanchez's impressive season in 2013, though, makes it a much less questionable investment. In fact, it looks like a bargain after he posted a league-best 2.57 ERA with 2.7 BB/9 and 10.0 K/9.

    That doesn't make the deal that Matt Garza will sign any less risky, though. Entering his age 30 season, his career numbers (3.84 ERA, 3.0 BB/9, 7.6 K/9) are eerily similar to Sanchez, and I'm guessing his contract will also be.

    Even if a team isn't convinced that Garza will progress as Sanchez did in 2013, which is a rare feat anyway, his agent will be able to use the argument that his client had success in the tough American League East and has an ALCS MVP on his resume. And he'll probably ask for $89 million just to say he got his client more than Anibal Sanchez. 


Ubaldo Jimenez / A.J. Burnett

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Not even A.J. Burnett (pictured), as inconsistent as he's been at times, has ever had a run as bad as Ubaldo Jimenez did from around mid-2011 to early in the 2013 season. Jimenez went from "ace" to on the brink of being pulled from the starting rotation almost overnight. And then back to his previous form.  

    Still, Burnett had enough highs and lows throughout his career that he was a free-agent risk when he signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2009 season. His 18-win season with a league-high 231 strikeouts in 2008 certainly helped, as will Jimenez's strong bounce-back campaign of 2013 when he posted a 3.30 ERA in 32 starts. 

    Pitchers with top-of-the-rotation stuff who reach free agency prior to their age 32 seasons, as Burnett did—he was entering his age 32 season—and as the soon-to-be 30-year-old Jimenez is now doing, often get paid more because of their potential to be a No. 1 starter, whether they have been or not. 

    In Burnett's case, he suffered through three rough seasons in New York before finally finding a home in Pittsburgh, where he flourished during the past two seasons. Jimenez, a well-grounded individual known for his terrific work ethic, would appear to be a better candidate to succeed in a big city. 

    Regardless, he struggled badly for close to two seasons, as Burnett did in 2010 and 2011 with the Yankees (5.20 ERA), and it's hard to predict if that will ever happen again or not. Some team will pay him a lot of money and then cross their fingers that it doesn't. 

Brian McCann / Yadier Molina

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    An elite catcher reaching free agency is very rare, which is why Brian McCann has three comparisons, none of whom has ever been a free agent.

    Yadier Molina (pictured), who signed a five-year, $75 million contract extension prior to his age 29 season in 2012, might be the best all-around catcher in the game. McCann is also near the top of that list, although he's not in the same league defensively as Molina, one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. 

    While teams trying to sign McCann at a price lower than what will likely be a $100 million asking price will point to Molina's $15 million-per-season deal, McCann's agent will argue that he should be making closer to what Buster Posey and Joe Mauer, the two highest-paid catchers in baseball, are making.

    The fact that Mauer is already converting to first base and Posey might do so in the near future will only give the McCann camp more leverage because of the high likelihood that he'll stay behind the plate throughout the course of his deal while hitting in the middle of his team's lineup.

    Both sides will have solid arguments and, in the end, McCann will get somewhere between Molina's annual salary and Posey's average salary of $18.2 million per season for his ages 30-35 seasons. That would be just about $100 million for six years.