Early Top Fits for Each Member of 2016's Stacked MLB Free-Agent Class

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIFebruary 28, 2015

Early Top Fits for Each Member of 2016's Stacked MLB Free-Agent Class

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    David Price, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto are among the nastiest starters in baseball. The trio is also slated to headline the stacked 2016 MLB free-agent class.

    Aces dominate next year's crop of big-money free agents, but there's also a few big bats to be found like Price's current teammate with the Detroit Tigers Yoenis Cespedes.

    With major leaguers slowly working their way back into shape on diamonds across Arizona and Florida, now is the perfect time to jump ahead and forecast how next winter's free-agent market could shake out.

    What follows is a look at the early top fits for the most prominent names set to hit the free-agent front. In determining where these players could land next, factors such as age, career track records and the needs of the respective teams were all taken into consideration.

    The 10 stars who crack this list are all on the verge of cashing in. In the top 10, they're ranked in order of the predicted values of the paydays they're expected to rake in. Price is the most famous name in the class, but the lefty doesn't claim the No. 1 spot.

Honorable Mention

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Before running down the top 10 players in the loaded 2016 MLB free-agent class, let's take a look at some of the big leaguers who are also set to earn major payouts next offseason:

    • Tyler Clippard, RP, Oakland Athletics
    • Hisashi Iwakuma, SP, Seattle Mariners
    • Austin Jackson, CF, Seattle Mariners
    • Scott Kazmir, SP, Oakland Athletics
    • Ian Kennedy, SP, San Diego Padres
    • Howie Kendrick, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • Mat Latos, SP, Miami Marlins
    • Daniel Murphy, 2B, New York Mets
    • Mike Napoli, 1B, Boston Red Sox
    • Rick Porcello, SP, Boston Red Sox
    • Denard Span, CF, Washington Nationals
    • Ben Zobrist, UTL, Oakland Athletics

10. Matt Wieters, C

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: Matt Wieters

    2016 Opening Day Age: 30

    The Top Early Fit: Arizona Diamondbacks

    It's nearly impossible to find a backstop like Matt Wieters.

    The 28-year-old is not only a respected defender, but he is also formidable at the plate. Tommy John surgery wrecked his 2014, but in each of the three seasons before that, Wieters connected on at least 22 home runs.

    Next winter, Wieters would be a strong option for the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose top catcher is currently Tuffy Gosewisch. Adding a two-time American League Gold Glover would only help a D-backs' starting staff that has been a major liability in recent seasons.

    The Predicted Contract: Four years, $48 million

9. Jeff Samardzija, SP

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: Jeff Samardzija

    2016 Opening Day Age: 31

    The Top Early Fit: Chicago White Sox

    Jeff Samardzija has the opportunity to earn himself a ton of money in 2015.

    Last season, the 30-year-old put up a 2.99 ERA and pitched a career-high 219.2 innings. Those are some impressive numbers, but 2014 also marked the first time in his career that Samardzija was a truly elite starter. As a result, it's crucial that the veteran has a similarly successful season in his first year with the Chicago White Sox.

    Based on how the club's rotation is currently constructed, the White Sox will have to seriously consider keeping Samardzija around. The AL Central team appears to be on the rise after a busy offseason, and the right-hander is the ideal No. 2 starter to go along with lefties Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.

    The Predicted Contract: Four years, $72 million

8. Doug Fister, SP

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: Doug Fister

    2016 Opening Day Age: 32

    The Top Early Fit: Washington Nationals

    If Doug Fister can replicate his 2014 stat line in the upcoming campaign, the veteran is going to be in a great spot entering the free-agent market. Last season, Fister posted a 2.41 ERA while totaling a career-best 16 wins for the Washington Nationals.

    One minor roadblock that potentially stands in the way of Fister cashing in is that he doesn't have the most consistent resume. In six seasons in the big leagues, Fister has only topped the 30-start plateau on two occasions.

    With the Nats in danger of losing another key member of the starting staff next offseason, locking up Fister would be a shrewd move.

    The Predicted Contract: Four years, $76 million

7. Yoenis Cespedes, LF

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: Yoenis Cespedes

    2016 Opening Day Age: 30

    The Early Top Fit: New York Yankees

    The owner of a .350 batting average in the postseason and the two-time winner of the home run derby, Yoenis Cespedes has a knack for stepping up when everyone is watching.

    One team that could offer the Cuban endless fan and media attention is the New York Yankees. The club, which ranked No. 17 in slugging percentage in 2014, could also use a right-handed hitter with Cespedes' power potential.

    The 29-year-old is most famous for making throws from the outfield that defy the laws of physics. Cespedes has also demonstrated considerable pop, hitting at least 22 home runs in each of his three seasons in the majors.

    The Predicted Contract: Five years, $85 million

6. Jason Heyward, RF

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    The Free Agent: Jason Heyward

    2016 Opening Day Age: 26

    The Top Early Fit: St. Louis Cardinals

    Jason Heyward is a difficult player to peg because the he's by far the youngest big leaguer on this list.

    After acquiring the right-fielder in an offseason swap with the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals have plenty to ponder as the club considers whether to ink Heyward to a multiyear contract extension.

    The 2014 NL Gold Glove winner's greatest asset is his defense. Heyward can cover an unreal amount of ground in the outfield, as you can see in the video above. However, there are some significant question marks surrounding his bat.

    Heyward is extremely suspect against left-handed pitching, posting a .221 average in five seasons. The 25-year-old has also had down seasons power-wise in 2013 and 2014, connecting on 14 and 11 home runs, respectively.

    The Predicted Contract: Six years, $90 million

5. Ian Desmond, SS

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: Ian Desmond

    2016 Opening Day Age: 30

    The Early Top Fit: New York Mets

    Ian Desmond's run with the Washington Nationals could be nearing its end. Just ask the shortstop.

    “I’m going to enjoy this ride,” said Desmond, via James Wagner of The Washington Post. “And you know what? If it’s my last year here, it’s my last year here. But I’m going to enjoy every single day."

    The next stop for the 29-year-old could be with the New York Mets. Shortstop has been a black hole for years in Queens, and the club was looking into the possibility of trading for Desmond during the offseason, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News.

    At this point, the best option for the Mets would be to wait until Desmond becomes a free agent next winter. Having clubbed at least 20 home runs in each of the past three seasons, Desmond provides just the bat that the pitching-rich Mets need.

    The Predicted Contract: Five years, $90 million

4. Justin Upton, LF

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: Justin Upton

    2016 Opening Day Age: 28

    The Top Early Fit: Houston Astros

    There's no way around it: The Houston Astros are trending upward.

    The club's roster and minor league system are flooded with high-upside players, and adding an established veteran to the mix next winter is just what the Astros need. Even though he has eight years of big league experience, Justin Upton is just 27 years old.

    The left-fielder also has the kind of power that any team would want—especially one like the Astros who play in the hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park. Last season, the Astros' home stadium was the eighth-best place to hit home runs, per ESPN's Park Factor rankings.

    The Predicted Contract: Six years, $108 million

3. Johnny Cueto, SP

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: Johnny Cueto

    2016 Opening Day Age: 30

    The Top Early Fit: Boston Red Sox

    Johnny Cueto is about to make a mint.

    Last year, the right-hander was the runner-up for the NL Cy Young Award after ripping off a 20-9 record and a 2.25 ERA while piling up 242 punchouts. The owner of a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the past four seasons, Cueto is exactly the kind of No. 1 arm that the Boston Red Sox absolutely need.

    There's a chance that the 29-year-old won't even make it through the entire season in Cincinnati. In 2015, the NL Central is shaping up to be the best division in baseball. If the Reds go in the tank early in the season, Cueto will become a popular name on the trade market.

    The Predicted Contract: Six years, $150 million

2. David Price, SP

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: David Price

    2016 Opening Day Age: 30

    The Early Top Fit: New York Yankees

    With the exception of 11 starts he made for the Detroit Tigers in 2014, David Price has spent his entire career pitching in the AL East. The four-time All-Star could be returning to the division in 2016.

    The New York Yankees were uncharacteristically frugal over the winter, which makes next offseason the perfect time to break out the checkbook to sign the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner. The lefty ace would be an ideal complement to go alongside Masahiro Tanaka and would provide the Yankees with a frightening one-two punch.

    The possibility of Price remaining in Motown can't be ruled out either. Price told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that he's open to negotiating with the Tigers throughout the season. However, he did add that he'd prefer that his future not be a topic of conversation "every day."

    The Predicted Contract: Seven years, $175 million

1. Jordan Zimmermann, SP

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    The Free Agent: Jordan Zimmermann

    2016 Opening Day Age: 29

    The Early Top Fit: Los Angeles Dodgers

    Jordan Zimmermann gets lost a little in the shuffle of aces in the nation's capital, but there's no question that he's earned the distinction as the premier pitching target of this class, thanks to his outstanding track record.

    The right-hander has reeled off a sub-3.00 ERA in two of the past three seasons and has spun a no-hitter in his final start of 2014. Zimmermann is also nearly a year younger than David Price.

    Suffice it to say that the 28-year-old will have all sorts of options next offseason. Considering that Zack Greinke has an opt-out clause at the end of 2015, the Los Angeles Dodgers could make a lot of sense as a potential landing spot for Zimmermann. For now, Greinke's not tipping his hand on his future plans, as he explained via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

    I’ve thought about it some. Maybe it’s just a question that you guys ask me because I answer some questions I shouldn’t. But it seems to be a pretty obvious thing that it’s something that you don’t talk about.

    The teams have options all the time. They don’t comment before the season ends if they’re going to accept or decline a player’s contract. ... So I won’t have any answers until the season’s over.

    Greinke is set to make $77 million from 2016 to 2018, which means there's no guarantee he'll opt out of his current deal. If he does, there could be an opening for Zimmermann at Dodge Stadium.

    The Predicted Contract: Six years, $182 million

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com. All salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProspectus.com.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.