There is nothing more exciting than the midnight deadline at which all free agents are free to negotiate with every team. From that point forward, anything is possible. Your team could dramatically enhance its prospects for success by signing the right free agent(s). Or it could be left without adding a single marquee player, or even worse, agreeing to an albatross of a contract (I’m looking at you, Vernon Wells…)
Now of course this whole free agent enterprise is more complex than simply picking the guys that you want the most, like a fantasy draft. Each team has to take into account a myriad of factors, including positional needs, available payroll, and whether your team is looking to win now or rebuild.
But what if we threw all that aside? What is each free agent’s Value in a Vacuum (VIAM)? So here is how the exercise works. You are Team X. Your budget is the average of all MLB teams. You have no particular needs that stand out over any other. Given these factors, what is the value, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being high value, 1 being, well, Carlos Zambrano), of each of the top fifty free agents, considering the sort of contract they will command in this market.
For this assignment, I am using top fifty free agents list from mlbtraderumors.com, a list as good as any. (Is anyone really going to argue over who is the 50th best versus 51st best free agent?)
1. Albert Pujols—8—Admittedly, he is getting older and is going to command an enormous contract, both in years and in average annual value (AAV). But the guy is a proven winner who deeply cares about winning and is maybe the most consistently excellent player in baseball history. Drop-off is expected, but even his drop-off is better than most guys’ best season.
2. Prince Fielder—8—Comparable in present ability to Albert, and younger, but massive body is a bit of a concern to break down at the back end of the long-term contract he will demand.
3.Jose Reyes—6—Absolute game-changer when he is healthy. He features all five tools at a premiere position. The problem is, how many games can you expect him to play?
4. C.J. Wilson—3—Wilson is a very good pitcher. Unfortunately, in a year in which he is the top free agent starter, you have to pay him--in years and AAV--as an ace, when he is really a high-end number three/low-end two.
5. Yu Darvish—3—Darvish will command at least the sort of money as Matzusaka did several years ago, which was over $100 million combined when both the posting fee and contract are taken into account. It is doubtful he can live up to that sort of contract. This valuation also reflects a belief that in general GM’s have overvalued players from Japan. This is not meant to be a knock against Japanese players, but MLB scouts. There has only been one Ichiro. Other than him and Hiroki Kuroda, The rest have underachieved relative to scouts’ expectations. Think about it.
6.Edwin Jackson—4—Edwin will probably command a 4-year contract. But while he has shown flashes of brilliance, those flashes have been overshadowed by a career of mediocrity. Still, he is young (only 28), and durable. He could be a low-end number three/high-end four.
7. Jimmy Rollins—5—The value on this one is highly dependent on how many years Rollins gets. Jimmy is still a good player, and a proven winner. But he is no spring chicken.
8.Aramis Ramirez—4—Getting older, but still a solid player. But I wouldn’t overspend, as he has seen prolonged slumps the last couple seasons. And those slumps could start getting longer…
9. Carlos Beltran—6—With the right situation, and the right length contract (short!), Beltran could be a major offensive contributor.
10. Jonathan Papelbon—6—Papelbon is still a top-shelf closer, though he will command top dollar. If Boston was thinking outside the box, with their rotational woes, they might consider converting Papelbon to a starter and make Bard the closer.
11. Michael Cuddyer—7—Cuddyer can play nearly every position on the field, and has proven that he can be an all-star offensive player. Unless someone decides to overpay, Cuddyer could be a major bargain.
12. Mark Buehrle—7—Buehrle is known to be nearing retirement, so he probably wouldn’t be interested in a super-long contract. Potentially the best starting pitcher value of the 2012 offseason.
13. David Ortiz—2—Someone (Yankees?!?) is going to grossly overpay for this quickly-aging DH. This could be the year he drops off the table (see: Dunn, Adam)
14. Ryan Madson—3—This is a case of baseball’s overvaluation of closers. Madson is a good pitcher, but he is going to get a huge contract for half a season of successfully finishing games.
15. Hiroki Kuroda—7—Getting older, so he probably will only get 1 or 2 years. Despite his age, however, Kuroda has been strikingly consistent, perhaps even getting better over the last couple years.
16. Carlos Pena—4—Probably won’t get more than a year or two. Does not really offer much by way of positive value, especially playing first base. If he can’t get it done at Wriglely Field, then where?
17. Francisco Rodriguez—3—See: Madson, Ryan
18. Roy Oswalt—7—Roy hasn’t always been healthy, but when he has, he has been great.
19. Javier Vasquez—2—I’ve seen this movie too many times.
20. Heath Bell—7—If you want a closer, this is the guy to get. Consistent, all-star, great team guy
21. Coco Crisp—4—Is he still playing? In all seriousness, if your team is banking on Crisp as a starter, you’ve got big problems. But maybe as a fourth/fifth outfielder, he could have some value.
22. Hisashi Iwakuma—2—See my thoughts on Japanese players at #5 above.
23. Kelly Johnson—6—After a rough season, if Johnson bounces back , he could be a decent value.
24. Josh Willingham—4—Slugging corner outfielders aren’t hard to find.
25. Paul Maholm—3—Low-end four/high-end five starter. Will get paid like a three.
26. Grady Sizemore—8—He’s going to be cheap. You either believe or you don’t. I’m rolling the dice.
27. Bartolo Colon—4—After a successful season, he will be spending his offseason with a celebratory meal. One long celebratory meal…
28. Erik Bedard—3—Great when he’s healthy. All two weeks.
29. David DeJesus—4—Most teams have a comparable (though much cheaper) player on their Triple-A squad.
30. Jason Kubel—6—The only thing Kubel does well is hit. But he does it pretty well.
31. Ramon Hernandez—3—Good player, but in addition to the contract, Hernandez will cost teams a first round draft pick because somehow he is a type-A free agent. Pass.
32. Jeff Francis—6—Francis on a one-year deal could be a decent value for a team trying to fill out the back end of the rotation.
33. Chris Capuano—4—About the same as Francis, but with lower upside
34. Ysuyoshi Wada—2—See #22
35. Clint Barmes—4—On a one-year deal, he might be a decent utility player. But teams might do just as well promoting someone from Triple-A
36. Casey Kotchman—8—Kotchman is young and had a great season last year. I’m not sure why there isn’t more interest in him. Assuming interest stays low, there is great value here.
37. Freddy Garcia—4—I’m not a believer in the comeback season, but on a one-year flier, you could do worse.
38. Aaron Hill—9—Hill had a bad year in 2011, but started to turn it around after a late season trade to the D-Backs. But keep in mind that he has a mind-boggling offensive performance roughly every-other season. And last year was the bad one…
39. Johnny Damon—4—Meh…
40. Aaron Harang—6—In the right situation, Harang could thrive as a back-of-the rotation guy on a one-year deal.
41. Jamey Carroll—3—Definition of a replacement level player. Just pull up a minor leaguer.
42. Rafael Furcal—6—When healthy, Furcal is a good player. And even though it seems like he has been around forever, he is only 33.
43. Juan Pierre—3—He is what he is. A light-hitting corner outfielder with some speed.
44. Frank Francisco—5—Francisco is a good reliever. He is a good value unless he is paid as a closer.
45. Jason Marquis—2—No reason to have this guy on your team.
46. Joel Pineiro—5—Like Harang (#40) Piniero can eat some valuable innings as a back-of-the-rotation guy on a one year deal
47. Jonathon Broxton—5—Likely to get overlooked because of health problems. Remember, in 2010, he was an elite closer. Risk/reward here.
48. Joe Nathan—6—Not sure how much he will command, but Nathan is a battle-tested closer with a brand new elbow ligament
49. Kerry Wood—4—Kerry Wood’s career has run its course
50. Bruce Chen—3—Pass.
Concluding Thoughts: All in all, this is not a great free agent class. After the two first basemen, the other top name guys are going to be grossly overvalued and overpaid because of it. Teams are better off grabbing a couple mid to lower level free agents with some upside on low risk one or two year deals.
By the way, please feel free to squabble with my valuations in the comments!