2012 MLB Free Agency: Over/Under on the Contracts for the Top 50 Players

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst INovember 9, 2011

2012 MLB Free Agency: Over/Under on the Contracts for the Top 50 Players

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    Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder both have a very real chance to make $200 million as MLB free agents this winter. That feat has been accomplished just twice before, and both times, it was Alex Rodriguez who signed for the big money.

    Pujols, Fielder and Jose Reyes have huge earning potential this winter, but they all also face a problem of price-setting.

    While precedent suggests players of their quality should make astronomical money, they all enter a market wherein the biggest prospective spenders (the Yankees and Red Sox) are not interested; where the economy has actually depressed top-end salaries a bit in recent seasons; and where they must coax money out of GMs (Jon Daniels and Theo Epstein, especially) who are not disposed to simply hand over money as a matter of course or precedent.

    Once those fallback methods of price-setting are eliminated, it gets very hard to determine the true market value of a ballplayer. Can even superstars like Pujols genuinely generate $200 million in added revenue over the life of an eight- or 10-year deal?

    For that matter, how much additional value does a team get from signing Jamey Carroll? It might seem extravagant to pay $4 million for his services, since he is such an under-the-radar non-attraction, but he is a solid player, and if having him instead of some replacement-level infielder gets your team to the playoffs, he was worth the investment.

    Here are over/under estimates for each of the top 50 available free agents' full contract values. The goal is to set a number that splits the projected range of reasonable cost, and that sparks a bit of debate. I'll also give my pick for each player: Will he get more or less than the over/under set point?

50. Jonathan Broxton

1 of 50

    Over/Under: $3.33 million

    Broxton should be out on the market making the big bucks like Heath Bell or Jonathan Papelbon. At least, that's how it feels. 

    For the past two years, though, Broxton has run more toward Joel Zumaya than Mariano Rivera. He was so bad in 2011, in fact, that he now finds himself in danger of not hitting a free-agent payday at all.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Dodgers

49. Casey Kotchman

2 of 50

    Over/Under: $4.5 million

    If the Rays were even a little less poor, Kotchman might really be in danger of not finding a job. He's a glove-only first baseman, a ground-ball specialist with the bat who lacks any power whatsoever. Yet, because of the world in which we live, the choice for the Rays is basically to pay him north of $3 million or let some other team snag him.

    No device available in the baseball economy gives teams the leverage to offer league-minimum free-agent deals, save for minor-league deals. Kotchman is a bit too good to get one of those, so for some reason, he's going to get paid well again.

    Prediction: Under, barely

    Destination: Rays

48. Bartolo Colon

3 of 50

    Over/Under: $1.5 million

    Colon had a good season on a minor-league deal with the Yankees in 2011. He pitched as well as he has since his dominant 2005 season with the Angels. He still has some heat on the fastball, missed an impressive number of bats last year and far outperformed his $900,000 salary.

    On the other hand, he will turn 39 in May, and is fat. He will get a raise, but a marginal one, and don't count on a repeat of 164.1 innings.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Mets

47. Ryan Doumit

4 of 50

    Over/Under: $7.25 million

    That's the number, because that's the amount the Pirates declined to pay Doumit for his services in 2012. Like most teams, Pittsburgh clearly does not see Doumit as a catcher at this point, having seen several years of poor defense behind the plate.

    Still, this guy can hit. A catcher who can hit from either side of the plate and has secondary skills is a true asset. He will have a lower salary than his option would have granted him, but the overall value of his next deal should be higher than that.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Mariners

46. Ramon Santiago

5 of 50

    Over/Under: $6 million

    A plus defender on either side of second base, Santiago basically has the Tigers' blessing to scour the market for an everyday gig this winter. He doesn't hit much, but given his prowess afield, he does not need to. He should be able to find a bigger and better role than the one he has in Detroit.

    Prediction: Under, but close

    Destination: Mets

45. Cody Ross

6 of 50

    Over/Under: $6.3 million

    Ross made $6.3 million via arbitration last season, partially on the strength of an excellent postseason showing for the World Series-winning Giants. He was unable to repeat that performance in 2011, though he still does some things well. It should now be clear that Ross is an awful fit in center field. His bat doesn't play that well in the corners, but that's where he's most viable.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: White Sox

44. Ramon Hernandez

7 of 50

    Over/Under: $3.25 million

    Hernandez has played well the past few years for the Reds, albeit in a limited role. Still, teams seemed not to be eager to take him off Cincinnati's hands near the deadline. He's a bat-first, right-handed catcher, which is not an ideal profile, but in general, he's a near-perfect backup backstop.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Twins

43. Matt Murton

8 of 50

    Over/Under: $5.6 million

    Murton's two-year lap of the Japanese baseball circuit has been a staggering success. He's still a bit light in terms of power for a corner guy who bats right-handed, but he only affirms his on-base skills every time he takes the field. Some team should take a chance on a two-year deal with Murton; they could reap huge rewards from it.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Mariners

42. Octavio Dotel

9 of 50

    Over/Under: $6.5 million

    Dotel is the first of many names on this list who will profit greatly from the awful Ryan Madson deal to which the Phillies are apparently ready to commit. If Madson is worth eight figures every year, Dotel is worth somewhere north of $5 million. He should at least get two years on a new deal, since Madson got four.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Cardinals

41. Jason Kubel

10 of 50

    Over/Under: $5.25 million

    Kubel made $5.25 million in 2011, and hits the open market as the same player he has always been. He's a solid left-handed hitter but a crummy fielder even in left. Moving to the NL would hurt his value, because he would then be unable to DH, but it sort of feels like NL clubs have better fits for him in this market.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Dodgers

40. LaTroy Hawkins

11 of 50

    Over/Under: $5.25 million

    His pure stuff fading as he runs headlong toward 40, Hawkins has learned over the years not to rely so heavily upon his fastball. He mixes in his two breaking pitches these days more than ever, and ground balls became an unlikely specialty for him in 2011. The good bet is that he returns to the Brewers on a career-ending, but fruitful, two-year deal.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Brewers

39. Jamey Carroll

12 of 50

    Over/Under: $3.2 million

    The last home runs Jamey Carroll hit was over two seasons ago. He has that little power.

    On the other hand, he also has a .356 career on-base percentage, and he's a pretty useful fielder. He will find a role as a starting second baseman, and deservedly so.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Tigers

38. Darren Oliver

13 of 50

    Over/Under: $2.5 million

    Oliver made more than this in 2011, and had a sparkling season. The question is whether you trust a man in his 40s to repeat such a performance. Most actuaries likely would not. The Rangers can afford to, however, because Oliver is a Type A free agent, and no one is going to give away a top draft choice in order to lock up an over-40 relief pitcher.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Rangers

37. Alex Gonzalez

14 of 50

    Over/Under: $5 million

    After a year in which he continued to flash modest power but posted a .270 OBP, Gonzalez is in a tough negotiating position. There are shortstops available. Gonzalez's glove is famous; it's great. But it may not be enough to convince the Braves they should bid up his services.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Twins

36. Freddy Garcia

15 of 50

    Over/Under: $5 million

    Garcia made a bit under $5 million on an incentive-based deal with the Yankees in 2011, but that season gave him some leverage. He should be able to coax a more solid, guaranteed contract out of the Yankees this winter. At 35, Garcia is a bit younger than many think.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Yankees

35. Brad Penny

16 of 50

    Over/Under: $4.2 million

    Penny had a poor year with the Tigers in 2011, but he still does a few things well enough to entice some suitors this winter. He throws fairly hard, and if nothing else, he can eat innings. He's a good fit for the Angels, who need more depth in order to protect themselves from having to push pitching prospects before they are ready.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Angels

34. Aaron Hill

17 of 50

    Over/Under: $9 million

    Hill would have gotten $16 million over the final two years of his last deal, but the Diamondbacks wisely declined their options on those seasons. Arizona has already made a new offer, and it could well still be a two-year commitment. It will just pay Hill less money.

    Prediction: Under, by a hair

    Destination: Diamondbacks

33. Hisashi Iwakuma

18 of 50

    Over/Under: $15 million

    Iwakuma refused to sign with the Oakland Athletics after being posted last winter, but nothing that happened in 2011 helped his value. Now he is, for want of a better term, an unrestricted free agent, and becomes more attractive since suitors need not worry about a posting fee.

    Still and all, Iwakuma carries a lot of risk these days. Some question whether his arm will hold up under a big-league yoke. Some wonder if his fastball permits Stateside success. He's also an older option than some of the other possible imported talents this winter.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Padres

32. Erik Bedard

19 of 50

    Over/Under: $7.25 million

    Bedard is a very good risk right now. After a season in which he was about 10 percent better than league average; continued to be a strikeout pitcher; and pitched more innings than he had since 2007, Bedard likely opened some eyes and some doors as he headed for free agency. Still, many will be scared away by his injury history.

    Prediction: Under, slightly

    Destination: Cubs

31. Grady Sizemore

20 of 50

    Over/Under: $9 million

    The Indians elected not to pay Sizemore $9 million for 2012, a good choice. He still has some of the tools that once made him great, but the speed is gone and Sizemore's injury problems are not going away. He could be another good risk, but must get the right kind of opportunity. He has to be a part-time asset, if an asset at all.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Rangers

30. Francisco Rodriguez

21 of 50

    Over/Under: $13 million

    Ryan Madson made Francisco Rodriguez some extra money. He made everyone extra money. Rodriguez, though, also did a good job of rehabbing his own value by pitching very well into October for the Brewers. He should get his closer badge back this winter.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Mariners

29. Paul Maholm

22 of 50

    Over/Under: $9.75 million

    Another declined option, another Pirates free agent who doesn't figure to come back. Maholm is not worth close to eight figures in one season, but he's a solid ground-ball guy with good command. He could really thrive in front of a good defense and in a good ballpark.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Twins

28. Johnny Damon

23 of 50

    Over/Under: $6.5 million

    Damon flashed his power and speed for the Rays in 2011. He had a clear impact on the team's chemistry and attitude. The man still brings something to the table. He might be aging and losing value, but he remains a useful piece on an AL roster.

    Prediction: Under, narrowly

    Destination: Rays

27. Javier Vazquez

24 of 50

    Over/Under: $11 million

    Since money is apparently no longer an object in Miami, they might as well throw some cash at the underrated Vazquez. This is the active strikeout leader, a workhorse with all the tools to thrive in what sounds like a pitcher-friendly new park. They had better do so, or Vazquez will simply choose retirement.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Marlins

26. Vladimir Guerrero

25 of 50

    Over/Under: $8 million

    That $8 million figure is what Guerrero got from the Orioles to be their full-time DH in 2011. There's no way he gets there in 2012. Guerrero is aging fast, as a player with such violence in his baseball movements and such an intemperate approach to the plate might be expected to do. He will find a home for next season, but in a limited role. 

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Yankees

25. David DeJesus

26 of 50

    Over/Under: $11 million

    Guys like DeJesus and Melky Cabrera are constantly underrated. They're not quite fast enough to play a good center field, but they're not good enough batters to stand out as corner outfielders. Still, each has a lot to offer, and DeJesus is getting a chance to go get paid like a solid regular for the first time this winter. 

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Padres

24. Andruw Jones

27 of 50

    Over/Under: $5 million

    Two straight seasons of great work in a fourth outfielder role have helped to remind many who had soured on Jones of all he could once do on the diamond. He can no longer patrol center field effectively, but he still has great power, and he has reinvented himself as a much more patient hitter recently. Jones will be a positive impact guy off the bench wherever he lands.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Brewers

23. Suk-Min Yoon

28 of 50

    Over/Under: $70 million, including posting fee

    A one-time World Baseball Classic participant, Yoon hired Scott Boras recently. Reports have his team in the Korean Baseball Organization ready to post Yoon after his MVP season. This could be a bidding war nearly in league with the one that unfolded for Daisuke Matsuzaka. It will be the first time a KBO player has been posted to the States, if it happens. The Red Sox won that Matsuzaka auction, and they could be pitching-hungry enough to get involved in this one, too.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Red Sox

22. Clint Barmes

29 of 50

    Over/Under: $16.5 million

    Barmes is a good fielder and fair hitter. He has a modicum of power and a modicum of on-base skills. He can play every day at shortstop, which is of value unto itself. He will be the absolute steal of the offseason, as an up-the-middle guy whose ceiling going forward is an awful lot like that of Jimmy Rollins.

    Prediction: Under, by a very little

    Destination: Brewers

21. Josh Willingham

30 of 50

    Over/Under: $28 million

    Willingham is a power-hitting right-handed corner outfielder. He is what Jonny Gomes only wishes he could be. If Willingham could swat 29 homers while calling Oakland his home in 2011, it seems he could easily crank 35 of them in Cincinnati. The Reds are the ideal fit for him; he is the perfect target for the Reds. If this doesn't happen, there ought to be an investigation. The Reds will pay what it takes.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Reds

20. Coco Crisp

31 of 50

    Over/Under: $21 million

    Great defense in center field and 49-steal speed on the bases are not things at which to scoff. Crisp is an underrated player, year in and year out. The A's probably do not want Crisp back, given their budget constraints, but somewhere, this guy is going to find a long-term home.

    Prediction: Over, though not by much

    Destination: Nationals

19. Yoenis Cespedes

32 of 50

    Over/Under: $27 million

    Don't buy the hype. Live the hype. Watch the video, fall in love, get excited. He might be more of a corner than a true center fielder in the long run, but Cespedes is more than a rare talent: He's the generational talent of Cuba. The deal could get crazy, but deservedly so.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Yankees

18. Heath Bell

33 of 50

    Over/Under: $20 million

    The Padres love Bell, just not as much as Bell loves them. San Diego really seems hemmed in here. Bell will reportedly consider taking arbitration if the Padres offer it. Even if they don't, it's hard to imagine these two not ending up together.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Padres

17. Kelly Johnson

34 of 50

    Over/Under: $15 million

    If inconsistency is a problem for a given franchise, that team is not likely to get interested in Johnson. He's a fine fielder, but his bat seems to come and go with the tides. He has power and draws walks, but sometimes his swing gets hideously ugly.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Rockies

16. Carlos Pena

35 of 50

    Over/Under: $21.5 million

    On a one-year, make-good deal, Pena made good for the Cubs. He hit for power, played stellar defense and brought a sensational makeup element to the clubhouse. He is an 80 baseball person, and he adds a ton of value to a team through his patience, power and error-saving stretches around the bag at first. 

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Indians

15. David Ortiz

36 of 50

    Over/Under: $26 million

    Too good for a one-year deal, too old and fat and risky for a three-year pact, Ortiz should command a two-year deal with eight-figure salaries in each. The drama building between he and the Red Sox could push Ortiz into the arms of a rival.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Blue Jays

14. Hiroki Kuroda

37 of 50

    Over/Under: $17 million

    This is basically an even-money bet on whether Kuroda signs a one- or two-year deal with the Dodgers. Going elsewhere is nigh unfathomable, which robs Kuroda of the leverage that would normally help him snag a two-year pact. Still, he's a gifted pitcher, and the Dodgers might try to lock him in for more than just 2012.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Dodgers

13. Michael Cuddyer

38 of 50

    Over/Under: $22 million

    Cuddyer does some things well. He hits for a bit of power, has a strong arm and can play a number of positions (albeit not all of them well). He's an asset for a franchise.

    He's also overvalued. Way overvalued. The Phillies and Rockies seem determined to push Cuddyer past $25 million on a three-year deal. It's getting out of hand.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Rockies

12. Mark Buehrle

39 of 50

    Over/Under: $23 million

    Buehrle's situation is one of the most interesting and unsearchable of the winter. He's a solid pitcher, but he seems a bit overrated in this pitching vacuum. He briefly discussed retirement, and while that seems to be off the table now, there are all kinds of questions about which teams Buehrle would and would not play for.

    Staying put in Chicago is the best way for Buehrle to get paid. It's the safest move. It's a good bet.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: White Sox

11. Edwin Jackson

40 of 50

    Over/Under: $24 million

    Lacking neither skills nor pedigree, Jackson should be in line for a big payday this winter. He has a problem of perception, though, or rather, a problem of non-perception. People simply do not seem to see Jackson as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

    Given his power arsenal, his durability and his track record of success in wildly different environments, it's hard to explain that anonymity. Jackson is an undervalued asset, and he will find his way to that greatest collector of such assets, Alex Anthopoulos.

    Prediction: Under, barely

    Destination: Blue Jays

10. Jonathan Papelbon

41 of 50

    Over/Under: $45 million

    Papelbon is better than Ryan Madson. In fact, he's much better. He's also (this should shock you) three months younger than Madson. If the Phillies paid $44 million plus a vesting option for Madson, Papelbon has to be looking for $50 million or more in guaranteed money. The implications of that Boras-wrought contract on these negotiations, whether between the Red Sox, the Angels or whomever, are mind-boggling.

    Prediction: Over. Way over.

    Destination: Angels

9. Roy Oswalt

42 of 50

    Over/Under: $20 million

    Oswalt is like Buehrle, only a bit better. He, too, openly contemplated retirement, but now wants a multi-year deal. Oswalt is a borderline ace with a predilection for the South, and the Rangers are an eerily good fit.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Rangers

8. Aramis Ramirez

43 of 50

    Over/Under: $30 million

    After declining his side of a $16-million option to pursue a longer-term deal, Ramirez is not headed back to the Chicago Cubs. He's a very valuable slugger, though his miserable defense at third base mitigates his value a bit. 

    Ramirez should have suitors, but the winner will likely be whoever (and it's probably going to be only one team) gives out a third year.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Brewers

7. Carlos Beltran

44 of 50

    Over/Under: $29 million

    The Madson deal tempts me to push over.under values for all Boras clients through the roof, but let's remember, Beltran has become a 'tweener. He's no longer a center fielder. His bat should be solid, but health is a question. A two-year deal with an eight-figure salary would be palatable to even Boras. Right?

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Red Sox

6. Jimmy Rollins

45 of 50

    Over/Under: $40 million

    Rollins wants five years. The Phillies would surely like to cap their commitment at three. That has to be out the window now, though.

    Ryan Madson got four years. Ryan Madson got four years. No glitch there, that bore repeating. At this point, if Ruben Amaro signs Rollins for less than $40 million, or for fewer than four years, he might as well stand next to the conference-room door once the deal is done and tap his foot until Rollins comes to open it for him.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Phillies

5. C.J. Wilson

46 of 50

    Over/Under: $70 million

    An historical and objective approach to evaluating Wilson would set the price point around five years and $70 million. Ryan Dempster, who went just before Wilson down the path from late-innings bullpen man to starting pitcher, got four years and $52 million from the Cubs after one season of success there.

    Wilson now has done so twice. Yet, there are causes for concern. He looked really fatigued down the stretch in 2011, and struggled in the playoffs. Wilson should get just an extra year at a comparable salary to Dempster's. Instead, with the Yankees and Red Sox interested and two or three other rich teams leading the charge, he could make $85 million over the same span.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Nationals

4. Yu Darvish

47 of 50

    Over/Under: $120 million, including posting fee

    Darvish is young, but has a long and illustrious track record. He is a Japanese ace with an American delivery and an American approach. Unlike too many Japanese pitchers whom teams have failed to develop successfully, Darvish has a power fastball and plus breaking pitch.

    The money could get crazy in this pursuit. Darvish is demonstrably better than Wilson, so any team that feels it can successfully translate his skills and durability to Stateside baseball should bid boldly.

    Prediction: Under

    Destination: Yankees

3. Jose Reyes

48 of 50

    Over/Under: $100 million

    Hamstring and other health questions aside, Reyes is an electric talent. He may be one of the 10 most entertaining and dynamic players in MLB today.

    He may be taking those talents to South Beach. The Marlins seem really interested, and rightfully so. If they really have the money to do everything it sounds like they want to do, adding Reyes is a very clever use of their money.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Marlins

2. Prince Fielder

49 of 50

    Over/Under: $180 million

    Mark Teixeira got $180 million over eight years to join the New York Yankees after the 2008 season. If Prince Fielder falls short of that number this winter, it will be a mild surprise. Though the Red Sox and Yankees are clearly out of the market for first basemen, Scott Boras can use the Cubs and Angels (who are realistically also out) as dummy and decoy sources of financial pressure on his negotiations with Fielder's one true suitor.

    The Texas Rangers lack one thing, and one thing only. They need another left-handed bat. They were exploited at times in 2011 by talented right-handed bullpens, and more than anything, they just seemed a bat short of a bullet-proof lineup. Fielder would fit perfectly into their picture, and could hit 50 home runs at Rangers Ballpark.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Rangers

1. Albert Pujols

50 of 50

    Over/Under: $200 million

    That is the magic number, right? Though there were whispers, once upon last winter, that Pujols could command $300 million, it's now clear that he won't come close. The new question is whether or not he can milk the Cardinals for $200 million over seven years.

    The Cardinals would pay that sum, but would want to do so over nine years. Parsing that difference will take time, but luckily for St. Louis, they don't have a ton of competition for the best hitter of this generation. They will end up splitting it at eight years, and the Cards will probably have to add an extra $20 million to appease their icon.

    Prediction: Over

    Destination: Cardinals