Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/20/14

Don’t forget – you can view all of the free agents stats and compare them side by side on our Free Agent Leaderboard. Free Agency officially starts tomorrow, as the kinda-sorta-but-not-really-exclusive negotiating period comes to an end today, and players who haven’t re-signed with their former teams are free to sign with anyone they choose. Well, that’s not really true. They can sign with any team that makes them an offer. I’m pretty sure Jose Valverde couldn’t re-sign with the Tigers no matter how much he wanted to. With free agency starting up, you’re also about to get inundated with lists of the top free agents. 50 seems to have been the agreed upon number, as Tim Dierkes already has his Top 50 up at MLBTradeRumors, while Keith Law has said that his list goes up on ESPN Insider when the clock strikes midnight. I’m sure there will be others, and some of them will probably ask you to view their list in a slideshow. Those people are the Jose Valverde of list makers. Don’t be one of those people. Slideshows are the worst. Here at FanGraphs, we’re not giving you a slideshow. We’re not giving you a Top 50 Free Agent list either, because, to be honest, my list would have looked an awful lot like Tim’s, and probably an awful lot like Keith’s. I just didn’t see a lot of usefulness in telling you that I agree that Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton are the two best free agents on the market, nor was I super interested in trying to draw a distinction between Carlos Lee and Carlos Pena. They’re both not good anymore. Does anyone really want to read about those guys today? Me either. So, instead of producing our own list of 50 best free agents on the market in some order, we’re going to provide a different slant – using the Contract Crowdsourcing results that went up in full this morning, I’m going to provide a list of the 25 players that I would be most interested in signing at those given prices. And, for extra fun, the five players who I would not go anywhere near at the prices you guys projected them to sign for. You’ll see bigger contracts at the top than at the bottom, even though you can get a better ROI on a smaller deal if the guy goes bananas, as Aaron Hill did last year. That said, those kinds of years are tough to predict, and in general, I think teams are better off getting a good player at a good price rather than a role player at a great price, even if in retrospect, some of those players will turn into good players and provide a lot of value beyond what they’re being paid. The goal here isn’t to provide the best value in terms of $/WAR, but to identify — at least, in my view — which contracts are likely to have the biggest magnitude of effect on a team’s chances of winning going forward. And, on the flip side, the contracts that could do the most harm to a team’s ability to contend over the life of the deal. So, without further ado, here are my Top 25 Free Agent Values, followed by the Five Free Agent Landmines to avoid this winter. 1. Nick Swisher, OF: 4 years, $56 million Back at the end of August, I wrote up Swisher’s potential value in response to a report that he was hoping for “a Jayson Werth contract”, and found that to be unlikely at best. In the couple of months since that post was written, Swisher had another awful postseason, and now reports suggest that the Yankees aren’t even going to attempt to re-sign him, which can’t be good for his market value. So, even the 6/90 to 7/100 suggestions of late August seem inflated, but there’s no reason Swisher should have to settle for 4/56. Swisher’s been a +4 win player for each of the last three years, mixing in consistent offensive performance with solid defense and durability. He’s not sexy, but he’s rock solid across the board, with no obvious flaws or red flags to be found. He’s the safest bet in the entire class, and a four year deal would only take him through age 35. If a team can actually get Swisher for 4/56, they should jump on it before the rest of the league realizes that they’re skipping out on a bargain. 2. B.J. Upton, OF: 4 years, $52 million Upton hasn’t been as good or as consistent as Swisher, but he’s also four years younger, and a four year deal would barely even extend into his decline phase. Upton’s probably never going to develop into what he was projected to be as a prospect, but there aren’t that many guys who can play center field and post a wRC+ of 107, as Upton has throughout his career in Tampa Bay. For a team that needs a center fielder, Upton’s the best bet on the market, especially at a deflated price like this. 3. Anibal Sanchez, SP: 4 years, $52 million Sanchez has flown under the radar to some extent, overshadowed by Josh Johnson in Miami and Justin Verlander in Detroit, but he’s a legitimately good starter who has seemingly put his health problems behind him, throwing nearly 600 innings over the last three years. His stuff is good, his results are good, and his durability problems are probably overstated at this point. For essentially the same deal that Mark Buehrle got last winter, this would be a nice addition for any team looking to bolster their rotation. 4. Zack Greinke, SP: 6 years, $114 million Greinke’s the best pitcher on the market and will almost certainly command the biggest paycheck, especially if Texas, Anaheim, and Los Angeles engage in a bidding war for his services, which could push his final contract quite a bit higher than this. If 6/114 was going to get it done, my guess is he’d already be an Angel. Despite his inconsistencies, he has a chance to be a difference maker, and he’s hitting the market in a year where there aren’t many others who can say the same. 5. Angel Pagan, OF – 3 years, $30 million Pagan probably earned himself some extra cash with his postseason performance, as the switch-hitter showed he can play center field and provide some offense at the top of a championship batting order as well. Two months ago, I called him the most underrated player in the game. This winter, he’ll get some real money, but even at 3/30, he’s got value potential, and could be a great fit on a number of contending teams. 6. Melky Cabrera, OF – 2 years, $16 million First off, I don’t think Melky would even want a two year deal at this kind of price. He’s the classic “pillow contract” guy, and a one year deal both limits the signing team’s risk and gives Cabrera the chance to re-enter the market next year if he proves he can hit and pass drug tests at the same time. So, my guess is he signs for something more like $6-$8 million on a one year deal, but either way, whoever lands him could get a real steal, as even pre-2012 Melky was worth this kind of contract, and if you believe that any of his improvement will carry over to 2013, he could end up being one of the better performers of the entire class. 7. Josh Hamilton, OF – 5 years, $100 million You can’t talk about Hamilton’s value without mentioning the long list of risks, but value is a combination of risk and reward, and focusing on one without the other is short sighted. And, of course, the reward for bringing in Hamilton could be quite high, as he’s one of the game’s best players when he’s healthy. He’s basically this year’s Jose Reyes, who many wanted to shy away from at a similar price last year due to injury concerns, but Reyes proved to be a legitimate value in year one of his deal, and Hamilton could easily do the same for whoever takes a shot on his potential without being scared away by the risks. 8. Hiroki Kuroda, SP: 2 years, $24 million The latest reports indicate that Kuroda will probably accept another one year deal, so even this estimate will probably prove to be a bit too high. Kuroda was a steal for the Yankees last year and remains a quality starter, and any time you can get a quality free agent starter without the risk of a long term deal, that’s a nice addition. 9. David Ortiz, DH – 2 years, $26 million Why no one wanted to give Ortiz a two year deal last winter is beyond me, but it seems like everyone has realized the error of their ways, and recognize that he’s still got a lot to offer an AL team who needs an offensive upgrade in a hurry. The age and injury concerns limit the length — and risk — of the deal, and at $13 million per year, Ortiz is a bargain. The lack of long term value is the only reason he’s this low. 10. Torii Hunter, OF: 2 years, $20 million While pretty much everything about Hunter’s career year screams “fluke!” and the stats that measure his core skills are going the wrong way, we can’t ignore the fact that Hunter has put up +11.6 WAR over the last three years, and certainly didn’t look like he was getting old in 2012. On a short term deal at a price that essentially pays him like a league average player, Hunter could provide a nice value buy for any team who wants an short term outfield patch. 11. Ryan Dempster, SP: 3 years, $36 million Fun fact: Over the last three years, Zack Greinke has a 23% K%, while Ryan Dempster has a 22% K%. Greinke has an ERA- of 96, while Dempster has an ERA- of 99. Sure, Greinke’s better, and he’s younger, but is he that much better than Dempster, to the point where there’s a bidding war for his services while Dempster is basically being seen as a back-end starter near the end of his career? I’d happily take both. At 3/36, Dempster’s basically this year’s Jimmy Rollins – a good player in his thirties who seems to be taking too big of a hit for his age and not getting enough credit for his performance. 12. Brandon McCarthy, SP: 2 years, $20 million With McCarthy, you can’t talk about him without talking about the fact that his season ended due to brain surgery, and there’s just no way to know if that’s going to have any kind of long lasting effect, either physically or mentally. Juan Nicasio came back from a similarly scary situation, and McCarthy seems like a guy who wants to keep pitching, so but that incident probabl...


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