2014-15 MLB Free Agency: Updated Contract Predictions for Top 15 Players

Matthew Smith@@MatthewSmithBRCorrespondent IIIOctober 20, 2014

2014-15 MLB Free Agency: Updated Contract Predictions for Top 15 Players

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    With the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants set to square off in the World Series, we are here to take a look forward at what is sure to be an active MLB offseason.

    Specifically, we will predict the final contract numbers for the top 15 free agents.

    Before getting started, there are two things that must be noted.

    First, this is not a column about where each player will land. Sure, supporting reasons may be given for some players, but if you want to see Bleacher Report's full predictions for where the top 15 MLB free agents will land, check out this pieceWe will primarily be looking at the number of years and overall dollar amount each of these players will receive.

    Second, J.J. Hardy was on the aforementioned list and projected to head to the New York Yankees. Well, he signed an extension to stay with the Baltimore Orioles. He has been replaced on this list by a dominant closer.

    So let’s do this. Here are the contract predictions for the top 15 players set to hit free agency.

15. Zach Duke, LHP

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    To say that the dominance Zach Duke demonstrated this past season was a surprise would be an understatement.

    See, from 2005 through 2013, Duke compiled a 4.57 ERA with a 4.28 FIP, 1.487 WHIP and a worrisome 1.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) in 215 games, per Baseball-Reference.

    True, he showed flashes with the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds after being converted to a relief pitcher, but what he did in 2014 for the Milwaukee Brewers took MLB by storm. There is no other way to describe the 2.45 ERA, 2.14 FIP, 1.125 WHIP and 4.35 K/BB he put up.

    All told, he set himself up for a multiyear contract after signing a minor league deal with the Brewers back in January. The deal will be limited to a degree since he doesn’t have the track record of a guy like Andrew Miller, but he will still earn a substantial raise.

    Prediction: Duke signs a two-year, $9 million contract with the Chicago White Sox.

14. Koji Uehara, RHP

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Koji Uehara isn’t going anywhere.

    And it’s not just because he prefers to return. Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell made it very clear what he thinks of the pitcher, who lost his job as closer toward the end of the season. In a presser with general manager Ben Cherington, Farrell had this to say, via ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes:

    I think we’ve been very clear that we’d like to keep Koji with us, and I’m confident we’ll make every effort to do just that. What he went through late in the season, we’ve been able to determine and see that he went through that previously when he was with Texas. 

    While every elite pitcher, every pitcher, is going to have some stretches where their performance is less than—we feel that has been the case with Koji—and despite the age, he’s still a very good performer and a guy that we want to anchor the back end of the bullpen with.

    Glowing words from the manager, indeed. And while Farrell isn’t the one who signs the checks, it's safe to say that the sentiment is shared by the powers that be.

    Either way, Uehara returns to the Red Sox next season.

    For his career, the right-hander has a 2.52 ERA, 0.845 WHIP and has converted 61 out of 72 save opportunities. Those numbers overshadow five rough outings at the end of this past season.

    Prediction: Uehara signs a one-year, $10 million deal to stay with the Red Sox.

13. Adam LaRoche, 1B

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    It is widely held that the Washington Nationals will decline their part of the $15 million mutual option on Adam LaRoche’s deal. HardballTalk’s Bill Baer, for example, recently posited that the “Nationals are expected to instead pay the $2 million to buy him out of his contract.”

    That the Nats are going to move on isn’t due to a lack of production. LaRoche is averaging 26 home runs, 85 RBI and 24 doubles per season with a .256/.346/.458 slash line since 2012, per Baseball-Reference.

    Flat out, he is still a very productive first baseman. It’s just that with Ryan Zimmerman under contract until 2019 (at the earliest), there simply isn’t a spot on the 25-man roster for the left-handed hitter.

    Expect for LaRoche to be courted by a few teams before landing with the club that needs him most.

    Prediction: Laroche signs with the Milwaukee Brewers for $33 million over three years.

12. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS/2B

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Asdrubal Cabrera recently said that “I would love to stay here” when the subject of remaining with the Washington Nationals came up, per MASN.com’s Dan Kolko.

    And while that may be the case, the Nationals may not offer him the most money.

    After all, there are plenty of clubs that need either a shortstop or a second baseman, and after his trade to the Nationals, Cabrera proved that he can play both.

    One thing that will hold Cabrera’s contract down is a rather precipitous drop-off in power. In 2011, for example, he posted a .460 slugging percentage, but that number went down to .423 the following campaign and then to .402 in 2013 before bottoming out at .387 this past season.

    He is a 28-year-old former All-Star, however. That will certainly help his cause.

    Prediction: Cabrera signs a three-year, $30 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays to play second base.

11. Pablo Sandoval, 3B

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The San Francisco Giants will extend Pablo Sandoval a qualifying offer. Heck, they may even put forth a legitimate effort to re-sign the third baseman due to his production during the regular season and his dominance in the postseason.

    "The Giants don’t feel comfortable offering more than three years,” however, according to Nick Cafardo from The Boston Globe, citing team sources. And it goes without saying that there are clubs willing to offer four years or more.

    Simply put, Sandoval is the best player available at a position that is in almost universal need across MLB. That said, the only clubs that will realistically top what the Giants may offer are those that won’t have to surrender a first-round pick after finishing with one of the 10 worst records in the game.

    Expect the switch-hitter to don a different uniform in 2015.

    Prediction: Sandoval agrees to a five-year, $75 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.

10. James Shields, SP

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    For a second there, it looked like the Kansas City Royals were going to make a run at re-signing James Shields.

    Just under two weeks ago, for example, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman wrote that general manager Dayton Moore would “indeed make a run” at bringing him back. Given the strong playoff showing and Shields' role in getting them there, Heyman argued, bringing the right-hander back made financial sense.

    Unfortunately, that report was quickly followed up by one from the New York Daily News’ Andy Martino, who wrote that per “major league sources, although the team will make a genuine effort to re-sign him, it is not hopeful.”

    True, no one knows what will happen, but Martino is likely correct. The Royals won’t be able to match the number of years or overall value of what Shields is going to be offered.

    Prediction: Shields signs a five-year, $90 million contract with the Texas Rangers.

9. Chase Headley, 3B

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    No doubt, Chase Headley did himself a few favors after his trade to the New York Yankees in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

    True, an epidural has something to do with it, but he performed admirably, posting a .262/.371/.398 slash line with six home runs in 58 games. He had several big hits and was outstanding at third base, playing to a 2.1 WAR during his time in the Bronx.

    Regarding how much money the free agent will earn, there are plenty of opinions. As an example, Tim Dierkes from MLBTradeRumors.com has him inking a four-year, $48 million contract this offseason given his defensive acumen and on-base percentage, among other things.

    It is maintained here that he will sign a short-term deal as clubs are leery about his injury history and sagging power numbers.

    Prediction: Headley signs a one-year, $10 million deal with $5 million in performance and health incentives with the San Francisco Giants.

8. Max Scherzer, SP

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    In case you missed it, Max Scherzer turned down a reported six-year, $144 million contract offer from the Detroit Tigers during spring training. The hope from him and his agent, Scott Boras, was that his production this year would set him up for a contract that would pay him substantially more.

    They were right.

    Scherzer went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP and a 1.175 WHIP in 220.1 innings pitched. Oh, he also struck out 10.3 batters every nine innings.

    In other words, he firmly entrenched himself as the best right-hander set to hit the open market.

    Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller recently predicted he would sign a six-year, $185 million deal. We're going to go a bit lower.

    Prediction: Scherzer signs a six-year, $175 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

7. Andrew Miller, LHP

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Andrew Miller is in a unique position.

    He is by far the best left-handed reliever available. Moreover, he is the best lefty to hit the free-agent market since Billy Wagner did so following the 2005 season.

    Look no further for proof than the 2.02 ERA, 1.51 FIP and 0.802 WHIP Miller put up this season for the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. He also proved clutch in the 2014 postseason, posting a 0.273 WHIP with eight strikeouts in five scoreless appearances for the Orioles.

    His excellence extends beyond 2014, however. Since 2012, he has put up a 2.57 ERA, 2.37 FIP and has a 1.050 WHIP with 13.6 strikeouts every nine innings, per Baseball-Reference.

    As the result of his production and status as the premier left-hander, there will be several teams vying for his services, forcing the club that needs him most to go above and beyond in its pursuit.

    Prediction: Miller signs a four-year, $42 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.

6. Hanley Ramirez, SS

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has a lot of decisions to make in a short amount of time. At the top of the list is naming a general manager, and the early word is that he is leaning toward his long-time friend Josh Byrnes, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.

    When it comes to his roster, it is hard to see him inking Hanley Ramirez to a multiyear contract. Friedman (or whoever is the new GM) will extend a qualifying offer, but that will surely be declined by the shortstop in hopes of securing a long-term investment for significantly more money.

    And while Ramirez won’t get the $100 million he’d hoped for, he will find a nice payday with an American League team that can use him at short, third base and designated hitter. In fact, a move to the AL is the only way he is going to find any longevity since his bat is the one thing that truly has any value.

    Prediction: Ramirez signs a four-year, $50 million pact with the Houston Astros.

5. David Robertson, RHP

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Jonathan Papelbon is the last closer to hit the open market that was as dominant as David Robertson has been over the past four seasons.

    Papelbon had quite a few more saves, of course, but that is only because Mariano Rivera was standing in Robertson’s way until this past season. And when given the chance to be the full-time closer for the New York Yankees, the right-hander didn’t disappoint, posting a 3.08 ERA with a 1.057 WHIP and 13.4 K/9 en route to 39 saves.

    Robertson’s performance assured that, at minimum, he will receive a qualifying offer from the Yankees, which Joel Sherman from the New York Post argues will be accepted, keeping him with the club.

    While the premise Sherman relies upon is sound, Robertson and his agent will surely look for a long-term deal that pays significantly more than the $15.3 million attached to a qualifying offer. And he’ll get it—from Brian Cashman.  

    Prediction: Robertson stays with the Yankees after agreeing to a four-year, $45 million contract.

4. Jon Lester, SP

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    His meltdown against the Kansas City Royals in the eighth inning of the American League Wild Card Game aside, Jon Lester set himself up for a fine payday this offseason.

    After all, he is 116-97 with a 3.58 ERA and a 1.276 WHIP over the course of 252 starts at the major league level. Even more impressive, he is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA and a paltry 0.762 WHIP in three starts in the World Series.

    Simply put, Lester knows how to win during the regular season and usually turns it up a notch when it matters most. As a result, the left-hander will have multiple clubs offering him a massive contract, including the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

    Prediction: Lester signs with the Cubs for $160 million over six seasons.

3. Russell Martin, C

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Russell Martin came through at exactly the right time.

    What else can you say about a guy who picked the year he was heading into free agency to put up a .290/.402/.430 slash line? And in addition to being the best offensive catcher available, he is a born leader with the ability to frame pitches and has great rapport with his staff.

    When it comes to where he will be playing in 2015, several columnists, including Travis Sawchik from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, have written that Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington wants to retain Martin. To that effect, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman cited “league sources” when he wrote that Martin will get a qualifying offer from the Pirates.

    That said, the Pirates likely don’t have the financial fortitude to compete with some of the other clubs that need Martin’s defensive ability, leadership and prowess at the plate.

    Prediction: Martin signs a four-year, $65 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

2. Nelson Cruz, DH

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Coming off a 50-game suspension following his implication in the Biogenesis doping scandal, Nelson Cruz floundered in no-man’s land last offseason until the Baltimore Orioles scooped him up on a one-year, $8 million deal.

    It was a genius move by general manager Dan Duquette.

    All Cruz did was lead MLB with 40 home runs while driving in 108 and putting up an .859 OPS. He is now a free agent waiting to cash in on the power, and if the Orioles hope to keep Cruz on the 25-man roster, they had better come prepared.

    To that end, Peter Schmuck from the Baltimore Sun wrote that if the club thinks they will get a discount because of the good will built up, it “could be problematic.” Cruz “has to feel the Orioles already got plenty of added value on the way to their first American League East title since 1997,” Schmuck notes.

    Schmuck is right, and it is there that the two sides are going to run into trouble. 

      

    Prediction: Cruz signs a three-year, $50 million deal with the Texas Rangers.

1. Victor Martinez, DH

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Since 2004, Victor Martinez has had an on-base percentage above .350 and a slugging percentage north of .430 in every season he’s played in sans one—2008.

    He has been that good and that consistent for that long. And while Martinez is indeed a 35-year-old designated hitter, he is also the purest hitter with the longest track record on the free-agent market this season.

    It is a skill set that he will be handsomely rewarded for.

    There are two schools of thought regarding his upcoming contract.

    First, teams will shy away from offering more than two years due to his age and inability to play the field. The other thought process has the signing team including a third (perhaps fourth) year in order to separate their offer from the rest.

    That latter is the likelier scenario.

    Prediction: Martinez stays put, signing a three-year, $50 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.

    Unless otherwise noted, all traditional, team and historical statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference. Transaction, injury and game information are courtesy of MLB.com.

    Follow @MatthewSmithBR

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