Top Free Agent Position Players

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Free agent season is officially upon us. Whether or not the Indians will be players on the market remains to be seen. Certainly the team has serious gaps that the farm system doesn’t yet seem ready to fill. Today: a look at the top available position players. It isn’t a great free agent class, but most of the top players can play first basemen or in the outfield, positions at which the Tribe is in need of an upgrade.

These rankings are my opinion of how good each player will be over the next few seasons, not how much money I expect it will take to sign each player. I will venture a guess at how much each of these guys will sign for. In some cases that figure will be more than I think they’ll be worth, and in some cases it will be less.

Top Free Agent Position Players:

1) Josh Hamilton (OF) – Hamilton is a high risk, high reward player. His 43 home runs were the second most in baseball, but 2012 was also only the second time he’s played more than 133 games in a season. 2010 was really the only year in which his production warranted the kind of salary he’s likely to command. I don’t expect the team that signs Hamilton to get full value for his price. My Guess: 6 years, $138 million

2) B.J. Upton (OF) – Upton was the #2 overall pick in 2002 and he’s never really lived up to the expectations put on him after that lofty draft position and his great 2007 season. He’ll still only be 28 next season though, and he’s proven to be an above average hitter with great speed and power that can carry a team for a couple weeks at a time when he gets hit. He’s the one player on this list whose best year really could still be ahead of him. My Guess: 5 years, $70 million

3) Michael Bourn (OF) – Bourn was fantastic in 2012, picking a great time for the best season of his career. He’s a great fielder and a great runner, but a pretty average hitter. That package has value, but it hasn’t shown to hold that value very far into many careers. Bourn might again be the best of these players in 2013, but the back end of his contract probably won’t work out well for the team that signs him. My Guess: 5 years, $75 million

4) Nick Swisher (OF/1B) – The former OSU Buckeye has been incredibly consistent in his career, putting up an OPS+ of between 120 and 129 in six of the last seven years, never playing fewer than 148 games. His playoff struggles are well documented, which might depress his value a bit. The Indians shouldn’t be concerned by that sort of thing though, if having a new acquisition struggle in the playoffs is their biggest problem, fans will take it! My guess: 4 years, $56 million

5) Melky Cabrera (OF) – What you think of Cabrera’s value is almost entirely dependent on how good a player you think he is without any PEDs. I happen to think that sort of thing can’t make a huge difference, and so while I don’t expect a repeat of his 2012 numbers, his 2011 season in Kansas City (when his OPS+ was 121) seems reasonable. Still, there will be concern on the part of many teams, and so Cabrera may end up taking a one-year deal to show he can still be productive. My guess: 1 year, $9 million

6) Angel Pagan (OF) – Pagan was very good in 2012, after a mediocre 2011. He probably added a few million to his new worth with a strong second-half and visibility throughout the postseason (though his postseason numbers weren’t actually very good). His defensive ratings have bounced all over the place, so different teams may see his value very differently. My guess: 3 years, $36 million

7) Adam LaRoche (1B) – LaRoche bounced back from an injury plagued 2011 (in which he was awful when healthy enough to play) to have the best season of his career. His hitting actually wasn’t too far out of line with his previous production, his BABIP was below his career figure, and he’s turned himself into a strong defender at first base. He may have another two or three strong seasons before age catches up with him. My guess: 3 years, $39 million

8) Mike Napoli (C/1B) – Napoli came back to Earth after his incredible 2011 season, but he still displayed great power and a strong batting eye. The falloff from his peak season may make some teams shy about a long term deal for Napoli, but it wouldn’t take much of a rebound to make him a very valuable player in 2013. My guess: 2 years, $24 million

9) Shane Victorino (OF) – Victorino suffered through the worst year of his career, with the lowest BA, OBP, and SLG of any of his seven full seasons. He’s still only 31 though (32 come Opening Day) and remains a solid fielder and top tier base runner (39 for 45 in SB, 8th overall in the base running portion of fWAR), so even in such a poor hitting season, he put up strong WAR figures. If his offense rebounds, he could turn out to be a great bargain this offseason (or 2012 could prove to be the beginning of the end for him). My guess: 3 years, $30 million

10) Torii Hunter (OF) – At age 36, Hunter had probably the best season of his career. Both B-R and Fangraphs rated his defense as its best in years, his base running as very strong, and he put up the best batting average and OPS+ of his career. His power has dropped off, but everything else seems to be clicking. He had an incredibly high .389 BABIP (highest in the A.L.), so expect some falloff in 2013, but he should be a solid player for a couple years yet. A strong clubhouse reputation will help his contract too. My guess: 3 years, $33 million

Here are some 2012 numbers for each player (players’ ages are as off Opening Day, 2013):

Player


Age*


Last Team


PA


OPS+


RC+


bWAR


fWAR


J.Hamilton

31

Rangers

636

139

140

3.4

4.4

B.Upton

28

Rays

633

109

107

2.6

3.3

M.Bourn

30

Braves

703

99

104

6.0

6.4

N.Swisher

32

Yankees

624

126

128

3.5

3.9

M.Cabrera

28

Giants

501

158

149

4.7

4.6

A.Pagan

31

Giants

659

121

113

4.0

4.8

A.LaRoche

32

Nationals

647

128

127

4.0

3.8

M.Napoli

31

Rangers

417

110

114

1.4

2.0

T.Hunter

37

Angels

584

132

130

5.5

5.3

S.Victorino

32

Dodgers

666

91

94

2.4

3.3

Other Notables: Lance Berkman, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Chris Iannetta, Ryan Ludwick, A.J. Pierzynski, Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis, Delmon Young

I am bullish on Upton and would love to see the Tribe make him a serious offer, he’s plenty young enough to still be near his prime when Lindor and other youngsters might be ready in a couple years. Since landing one of the top free agents may me something of a pipe dream for Indians fans, my slightly lowered sights would be set on being the team that gets a discounted 2013 from Cabrera or gambles that Victorino bounces back at the plate. Signing Napoli and having him and Santana split catcher and first base, keeping both of them fresh is another intriguing idea. Jonny Gomes could be a solid cheap option at DH or maybe even in the outfield (Upton, Napoli, and Gomes are all righties, while Victorino is switch-hitter, so any of them would help the Tribe's unbalanced offense).

On the other hand, a Delmon Young signing would torment me (please don’t do that).

Should the Indians make a serious pursuit of any of these guys or save their money for another day? I don't think saved money always goes back into the team years later, and a lot of extra TV money is about to start pouring in from the national contracts, so I'd like them to go after a couple players that will allow them to trade away some other players without sinking to 100 loss depths. What say you?

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