Baseball teams looking to bolster their roster in free agency may be disappointed this year. There are no bona fide aces like there were in years past, and few hitters, if any, that can alter a franchise’s path with the stroke of a pen. Instead, a team should be happy if it gets an everyday bat or middle-of-the-rotation starter that doesn’t break the bank or break down at some point in the season.
Below are top 50 free agents, sorted by anticipated value, a five-year estimate using the 2018 Steamer projections found on FanGraphs as a starting point, adjusted for age. For players without 2018 projections, a three-year weighted average was used. I chose to use a five-year projection because teams often hand out multiyear deals to free agents.
Disagree with some of the rankings? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments below.
1. Yu Darvish, 31, RHP, five-year value: 13.5 fWAR
Darvish will be remembered for recording just 10 outs in his two World Series starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but during the regular season he struck out 209 batters in 186.2 innings with a slider that saved 1.8 runs per 100 times thrown, the seventh-best slider in the majors last season among starters qualifying for the ERA title.
2. Lorenzo Cain, 31, CF, 11.0 fWAR
Cain finished the season with a .300 average and .803 OPS, producing runs at a rate that was 15 percent above the average after adjusting for league and park effects (115 wRC+). His 3.5 runs added through his base running placed him 27th in the majors and eighth among center fielders. Coupled with his five defensive runs saved in the field, that makes him one of the more well-rounded free agents available this season.
3. Carlos Santana, 31, 1B, 10.0 fWAR
Santana draws tons of walks (13.2 percent of plate appearances in 2017), hits for power (.196 ISO, 19th among first basemen last year) and received a Gold Glove nomination for his glovework at first base (10 defensive runs saved, second-most at the position in 2017).
4. Jake Arrieta, 31, RHP, 9.0 fWAR
Arrieta struck out 163 batters over 168.1 innings during the 2017 regular-season for Chicago, giving the Cubs a quality arm that helped take them to the NLDS. He lost some zip on his fastball — average velocity went down from 94.3 to 92.6 mph in one season — but his change-up and curve are still good enough to keep hitters off balance. The former held opponents to a .158 average with just four extra-base hits in 57 at-bats ending on the pitch, while the latter allowed a .165 average with 34 strikeouts in 79 at-bats.
5. Zack Cozart, 32, SS, 9.0 fWAR
Cozart saw a huge uptick in production in 2017, creating runs at a rate that was 41 percent higher than average (141 wRC+) while producing 5.0 wins above replacement. His 12.2 percent walk rate was a career high as was his .251 isolated power, a measure of a player’s ability to create extra-base hits.
The risk in signing him is he hasn’t played a full season since 2014 and was limited to just 122 games this past season. However, hard-hitting shortstops don’t come on the market too often.
6. Jonathan Lucroy, 31, C, 8.0 fWAR
Lucroy’s power numbers took a hit in 2017 — his slugging percentage dropped from .500 in 2016 to .371 in 2017 — but he made contact with a career-high 94.4 percent of pitches in the strike zone. His batting average on balls in play was also significantly lower than it has been in recent years, indicating he may have been the victim of some bad luck in 2017.
|Jonathan Lucroy||Total pitches seen in strike zone||Barrels or hits with solid contact||Quality contact percentage||BABIP||Exit velocity (mph)||Launch angle (degrees)|
7. Mike Moustakas, 29, 3B, 8.0 fWAR
Moustakas set a Royals franchise record with 38 home runs this year but has to improve his 5.7 percent walk rate and .314 OBP if he is to join the ranks of the game’s elite power hitters.
8. Clayton Richard, 34, LHP, 7.5 fWAR
Richard is an extreme groundball pitcher (59.2 percent of balls batted in play in 2017, average is 44.2 percent) who was a nightmare for left-handed batters, allowing a .676 OPS against, 20 percent lower than the league average, with a 29 percent strikeout rate this season.
|Clayton Richard in 2017||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS||K%||BB%|
9. J.D. Martinez, 30, OF/DH, 7.5 fWAR
Home runs were up league-wide for a third-straight season, and Martinez contributed to the surge with a career-high 45 this year. Before we chalk that up to a fluke, consider he hit a higher percentage of balls on the sweet spot of the bat in 2017 than he did in each of the previous two years.
10. Eric Hosmer, 28, 1B, 7.5 fWAR
Hosmer, nominated for his fourth Gold Glove Award, is coming off his best season, hitting for a career-best .318 average and .882 OPS to go with 25 home runs. He also made strides in his plate discipline, swinging at just 30 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, the lowest rate of his career.
11. Neil Walker, 32, 2B/1B, 7.5 fWAR
Walker missed over a month with a hamstring injury and was traded to the Brewers in August but posted a respectable .265 average with an .801 OPS for the season, the 13th highest OPS among second basemen in 2017.
12. Jaime Garcia, 31, LHP, 6.0 fWAR
Garcia struck out 129 batters in 157 innings, increasing his rate of swinging strikes from 9.2 to 11.1 percent, his highest rate since the 2014 season, thanks to a slider he uses when ahead in the count.
13. Todd Frazier, 31, 3B, 6.0 fWAR
Frazier has been an above-average hitter these past few years, producing 2.5 or more fWAR for six straight seasons, but he saw his walk rate skyrocket to 14.4 percent in 2017, beating his previous best by nearly five percentage points, indicating he may become a more efficient hitter in the future.
14. Welington Castillo, 30, C, 5.5 fWAR
Castillo was an above-average hitter in 2017 (113 wRC+), batting .282 with 20 home runs and 76 other extra-base hits. Plus, his 49 percent caught-stealing rate saved the Baltimore Orioles five runs last season, fourth-most among catchers.
His pitch-framing wasn’t bad, either. He got 414 called strikes on pitches out of the strike zone (3.1 percent), the ninth-highest rate among 33 catchers receiving at least 10,000 pitches last season.
15. Alex Cobb, 30, RHP, 3.5 fWAR
Cobb put his injury-riddled 2016 campaign behind him and threw 179.1 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017, striking out 128 batters while walking 44, giving him his lowest K%-BB% (11.3 percent) since 2012. He also improved toward the end of the season, especially in August through September, when his FIP dipped to 3.16 after reaching 4.43 up until that point.
16. CC Sabathia, 37, LHP, 3.5 fWAR
Sabathia posted a 3.69 ERA over 27 starts last season for the New York Yankees but his whiff rate dropped to a career-low 8.8 percent, with his fastball, breaking ball and off-speed pitches all seeing a decline.
17. Alex Avila, 30, C, 3.0 fWAR
Avila has shown discipline at the plate (16.5 percent walk rate) to go with tremendous power. According to Baseball Info Solutions, almost half of the balls he put in play (48.7 percent) were classified as “hard hit,” giving him 29 hits on the sweet spot in 2017 (1.8 percent of pitches seen), an improvement over 2016 (0.8 percent) and 2015 (1.2 percent).
18. Tyler Chatwood, 27, RHP, 3.0 fWAR
Chatwood appeared in 33 games for the Colorado Rockies, and, as you would expect, had better results when away from hitter-friendly Coors Field. His .350 batting average against on balls in play dropped to a much more manageable .217 on the road, perhaps making him a bargain for a team playing in a pitcher-friendly park.
19. Lance Lynn, 30, RHP, 1.5 fWAR
Lynn started 33 games for the St. Louis Cardinals and walked more than 10 percent of the batters he faced. Only Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks had a higher walk rate among qualified starters. Lynn’s strikeout and home run rates were also career worsts, making his 3.43 ERA seem like a mirage. For example, if he was to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing, his ERA would have been 4.82.
Still, free agency is not overflowing with pitching talent, so Lynn’s 1.3 projected wins above replacement in 2018 will still be sought-after.
20. Lucas Duda, 31, 1B/DH, 1.0 fWAR
Duda hit a combined .217 with 30 home runs between his time with the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays last season and saw his walk rate improve to 12.2 percent, his best mark since the 2013 season. He did, however, increase his whiff rate to 10 percent, struggling more against left-handed pitching than he did in years past.
21. Jason Vargas, 34, LHP, 1.0 fWAR
A bottom-of-the rotation starter, Vargas threw 179.2 innings for the Kansas City Royals last year, striking out just 17.7 percent of batters faced, a steep decline from the year before (23.4 percent). His change-up does need to be respected: he held opposing batters to a .184 average with 74 strikeouts in 288 at-bats ending on the pitch. When used against right-handed batters with two strikes it resulted in an out almost 9 out of 10 times thrown (88.9 percent).
22. Eduardo Nunez, 30, 2B/3B/SS, 0.5 fWAR
Nunez won’t win you over with his durability — he has appeared on the disabled list nearly every season since his rookie year in 2010 — but he is a career .282 hitter who batted a career-high .313 with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases in 2017.
23. Carlos Gomez, 31, OF, 0.5 fWAR
Gomez showed he can still be productive at the plate in 2017, batting .255 with 17 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Steamer projections, however, have him producing half as many wins above replacement in 2018 (1.1 vs. 2.3 in 2017) probably as a result of an above-average batting average on balls in play (.343).
24. Logan Morrison, 30, 1B, 0.5 fWAR
Morrison had a breakout season for Tampa Bay, hitting 38 home runs with a career-high 13.5 percent walk rate. And he showed he can handle both right- (137 wRC+) and left-handed pitchers (109 wRC+), reducing the need to platoon him on game day.
25. Jhoulys Chacin, 29, RHP, 0.5 fWAR
Chacin tossed 180.1 innings for the San Diego Padres in 2017, striking out 153 batters and walking 72, the latter producing the fourth-worst walk rate in the majors last season (9.4 percent). Still, the 29-year-old right-hander was worth 2.3 wins above replacement in 2017 and is projected to be an above-average pitcher again in 2018 (1.1 fWAR per Steamer projections).
The Rest of the Top 50
26. Austin Jackson, 30, OF, 0.5 fWAR
27. Joe Smith, 33, RHP, 0.5 fWAR
28. Jarrod Dyson, 33, OF, 0.0 fWAR
29. Jay Bruce, 30, OF, 0.0 fWAR
30. Brandon Phillips, 36, 2B/3B, 0.0 fWAR
31. Yonder Alonso, 30, 1B, 0.0 fWAR
32. Brett Anderson, 29, LHP, 0.0 fWAR
33. Jose Bautista, 37, RF, -0.5 fWAR
34. Curtis Granderson, 36, OF, -0.5 fWAR
35. Wade Davis, 32, RHP, -1.5 fWAR
36. Bryan Shaw, 29, RHP, -2.0 fWAR
37. Greg Holland, 31, RHP, -2.0 fWAR
38. Anthony Swarzak, 32, RHP, -2.5 fWAR
39. Juan Nicasio, 31, RHP, -2.5 fWAR
40. Jon Jay, 32, OF, -3.0 fWAR
41. Addison Reed, 28, RHP, -3.5 fWAR
42. Mike Minor, 29, LHP, -3.5 fWAR
43. Alcides Escobar, 30, SS, -4.0 fWAR
44. Jake McGee, 31, LHP, -4.5 fWAR
45. Matt Albers, 34, RHP, -4.5 fWAR
46. Pat Neshek, 37, RHP, -4.5 fWAR
47. Yusmeiro Petit, 32, RHP, -4.5 fWAR
48. John Lackey, 39, RHP, -5.0 fWAR
49. Andrew Cashner, 31, RHP, -5.0 fWAR
50. David Hernandez, 32, RHP, -5.0 fWAR