Where Does the 2014 MLB Free-Agency Class Rank Among Last 10 Years?
While this year's class of free agents appears relatively thin in some areas, particularly in the middle infield and third base, it's a strong group overall, with catching, outfield, pitching depth and a handful of superstars that will command deals worth $100 million or more.
But compared to free-agent classes of recent history, how does it stack up?
Starting with the 2005 group and including this year's class, I've ranked the past 10 based on how it would've been viewed at the time and not on how well they have performed.
At the time, Ramon Hernandez was considered one of the better hitting catchers in the game with a .793 OPS with 51 homers over the previous three seasons. The 29-year-old parlayed that success into a four-year, $27.5 million deal with Baltimore.
This was also the year that the only Japanese catcher would come to the major leagues, as Kenji Johjima signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal to join fellow countryman Ichiro Suzuki with the Mariners.
There wasn't a lot available in this group, especially after Paul Konerko re-signed with the White Sox in late November. Shortstop Rafael Furcal's career in Atlanta had come to a close, and he was about to begin a five-and-a-half year run with the Dodgers, who originally lured him to the West Coast with a three-year, $39 million deal.
Nomar Garciaparra still had one more great offensive season ahead of him at age 32, but he was relegated to first base after he also signed with the Dodgers.
Brian Giles was the biggest name available, although he eventually opted to stay at home and remain with the Padres on a three-year, $30 million deal. Same with Hideki Matsui, who re-signed for four years before he was eligible to negotiate with other teams.
Roger Clemens was available as a free agent once again. Well, sort of. He hinted at retirement before finally re-signing with Houston in May. A.J. Burnett and Kevin Millwood, each coming off of terrific seasons, were about to land multiyear deals with Toronto and Texas, respectively.
The class thinned out after that, with Paul Byrd and Jeff Weaver serving as the top backup plans.
The Mets signed a 34-year-old Billy Wagner (pictured) to a four-year, $43 million deal and were rewarded with three stellar seasons before missing most of the fourth recovering from elbow surgery. The Blue Jays gave B.J. Ryan $47 million over five seasons, only two of which were productive.
After settling on a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Blue Jays the previous offseason, Bengie Molina got a three-year deal worth $16 million to play for San Francisco, where he continued to be a productive player throughout the course of the contract.
The Blue Jays re-signed Gregg Zaun to a two-year deal after he had posted a .765 OPS with 29 homers over the previous three seasons.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez was one of the top players available after having several big seasons with the Cubs. He wasn't available for long, though, as they re-signed him to a five-year, $75 million deal by November 12.
Ray Durham was about to turn 35 but was coming off of a career season with the Giants (.898 OPS, 26 HR, 93 RBI), and they weren't about to let him get away, re-signing him to a two-year, $14.5 million deal in early December.
Slim pickings remained as Akinori Iwamura, Adam Kennedy and Julio Lugo were the next best available free-agent middle infielders.
Barry Bonds, Carlos Lee, Gary Matthews Jr. and Alfonso Soriano were all highly sought after strong seasons in 2006.
Only Bonds settled on a one-year deal due to his pending legal troubles and steroid allegations, while Lee, Matthews and Soriano each agreed on big-money multiyear deals with new teams.
It turned out to be the year of the bust, as the top two free-agent starters, Barry Zito (pictured) and Jason Schmidt, ended up being major disappointments for their new clubs.
Roger Clemens also became a free agent again, remaining unsigned until May when he returned to the Yankees on a one-year deal. He was joined on the market by an impressive trio of pitchers—Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina—whose careers were winding down.
Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Eric Gagne's value had declined greatly since his days of dominance as the Dodgers closer. He settled on a one-year, $6 million deal with the Rangers and pitched well when healthy. His big league career was over by the next year, though.
As was the case in 2007, Bengie Molina once again stood alone atop a weak market for free-agent catchers before signing a three-year deal with the Giants. This time, he re-signed with the eventual World Series champs on a one-year, $4.5 million deal, but he finished the season on the runner-up Texas Rangers after he was traded there in July.
No one would've expected that Chone Figgins' days of being even an average big leaguer were behind him. If the Mariners would've know that, they wouldn't have given him a four-year, $36 million deal. But you couldn't blame them at the time, as Figgins had finished in the top 25 of AL MVP voting four times while posting a .755 OPS and averaging 44 stolen bases per season.
Adrian Beltre's value was down after a terrible final season in Seattle, forcing him to settle on a one-year deal with Boston. Orlando Hudson, Marco Scutaro and Miguel Tejada were solid options for the middle infield, while first baseman Adam LaRoche finished the season with a bang after being traded to Atlanta (.957 OPS, 12 HR in 57 games).
Matt Holliday was the top free agent available after an incredible two-month stint in St. Louis after they acquired him from Oakland. He remained on the market until January but returned to the Cards on a seven-year, $120 million deal.
Jason Bay (pictured), who was coming off of an MVP-caliber season in Boston, appeared to be a nice consolation prize for teams missing out on Holliday, but he was mostly a bust after signing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets.
Veterans Mike Cameron and Johnny Damon, entering their age 37 and 36 seasons, respectively, were still good values at this point in their careers, and Marlon Byrd, who had 20 homers, 43 doubles and 89 runs batted in for the Rangers in 2009, was set to cash in on a multiyear deal.
There was a huge drop-off from the previous season in this area. John Lackey was clearly the best starter available, and the Red Sox awarded him a five-year, $82.5 million deal. Lefty Randy Wolf was next in line, landing a three-year deal with the Brewers for close to $30 million.
The biggest story involving free-agent pitchers, however, was the Reds' signing of Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who could reportedly exceed 100 MPH regularly with his fastball. At the time, the thinking was that he'd be a starting pitcher. Four years later, he's one of the best closers in baseball, although there is still talk of him becoming a starter at some point.
Jose Valverde, who had 116 saves over the previous three seasons, landed a two-year, $14 million deal with the Tigers, while the Rays were able to land their next closer, Rafael Soriano, on a one-year, $7.25 million deal because he was not yet a household name in the ninth inning around the league.
There were limited options for team's seeking a catcher, which gave 37-year-old Ivan Rodriguez one last chance to land a starting job. He had a subpar season after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Houston, although he did hit his 300th career homer early in the season.
To no one's surprise, the Yankees landed the best hitter available. Mark Teixeira, who already had 203 career homers in six big league seasons, signed an eight-year, $180 million deal to join the "Evil Empire."
Adam Dunn, who had played primarily in the outfield throughout his career, began to spend most of his time at first base from the time he signed a two-year, $20 million deal with Washington prior to the 2009 season.
Orlando Hudson, considered one of the top second basemen in the game at the time, settled on a one-year deal with the Dodgers, which ended up being his last productive seasons in the majors (.774 OPS).
After an impressive late-season stint with the Dodgers, who acquired him at the trade deadline of 2008, Manny Ramirez remained on the free-agent market before finally agreeing in March on a two-year, $45 million deal to stay in Los Angeles.
Bobby Abreu left the Yankees for the Angels, Pat Burrell left Philadelphia for Tampa Bay, Raul Ibañez left Seattle for Philadelphia and Milton Bradley left Texas for the Cubs. All four free agents were coming off of terrific 2008 seasons.
Not only did the Yankees sign the top hitter available, they inked the top pitcher, CC Sabathia (pictured), to a seven-year, $161 million contract, which was the biggest contract ever for a pitcher at the time. A week earlier, they had signed A.J. Burnett, arguably the second-best free-agent pitcher, to a five-year, $82.5 million deal.
The pitching depth didn't end there, though. Derek Lowe and Ryan Dempster also earned big-money deals, and Andy Pettitte re-signed with the Yankees once again.
After a stellar career with the Angels, Francisco Rodriguez also bolted for New York. Except it was the Mets who signed him to a three-year, $37 million deal, a year after he set an all-time record with 62 saves in a single season.
The Angels replaced Rodriguez with long-time Rockies closer Brian Fuentes, who saved 48 games in 2009 after signing a two-year, $17.5 million deal.
This group had just one notable player, Jason Varitek, but he was coming off of one of his best big league seasons (.872 OPS, 18 HR, 73 RBI) and had just helped lead the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years. He re-signed with Boston and played there until he retired after the 2011 season.
Adrian Beltre (1.017 OPS, 48 HR, 121 RBI) turned a monster performance during his age-25 season with the Dodgers into a big payday with Seattle. Troy Glaus was a solid backup plan for teams at the hot corner, while Carlos Delgado was the top first basemen after averaging 36 homers per season from 1996-2004.
Edgar Renteria and Nomar Garciaparra were two of the top shortstops in the game, and second baseman Jeff Kent still had plenty left in the tank even as he approached his 37th birthday.
Carlos Beltran's (pictured) first venture into free agency came shortly after his postseason debut, in which he first showed the baseball world how good of a player he was in October (20-for-46, eight home runs with Houston). The result was a seven-year, $118 million deal with the Mets, who made the playoffs just once in those seven seasons.
J.D. Drew and Magglio Ordonez weren't in Beltran's class but were solid alternatives to those losing out on the Beltran sweepstakes.
A pair of future Hall of Famers highlighted this group, as a 42-year-old Roger Clemens was available briefly before re-signing with Houston, and Pedro Martinez, a Red Sox World Series hero who was close to reaching the end of the line in his brilliant career, signed with the Mets.
Also high on the list was Carl Pavano, who turned a career season with the Marlins into a mega-deal with the Yankees. In an injury-plagued four-year career in the Big Apple, Pavano made just 26 starts and posted a 5.00 ERA while collecting nearly $40 million.
Armando Benitez had a 1.29 ERA and a league-leading 47 saves with the Marlins in 2004, making him the top closer available ahead of Troy Percival, who had just ended a 10-year run with the Angels that resulted in 316 saves and four All-Star appearances.
Their best days were already behind them, however, as the Giants and Tigers, respectively, quickly figured out.
Jorge Posada (.970 OPS, 20 HR, 90 RBI) had arguably his best offensive season in 2007 and entered the offseason as one of the top free agents available. After turning down a big offer from the Mets, the 36-year-old agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal to finish out his career with the Yankees.
Seven years into a 10-year, $252 million contract, Alex Rodriguez exercised an opt-out clause to become a free agent. It didn't take long, however, for the Yankees and Rodriguez to agree on a new 10-year deal worth $275 million. The last four years of that deal could be amongst the biggest contract albatrosses of all time.
Third baseman Mike Lowell, the only other impact infielder on the list, re-upped with Boston for three years and $37.5 million.
Barry Bonds didn't officially retire, but his career was over at age 43 despite a stellar final season (1.045 OPS, 28 HR). No teams were willing to take a chance on the all-time home run leader and the distractions that would come with an impending trial after he was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Veterans Torii Hunter (pictured), Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand each signed big-money deals to come to the West Coast, while Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome got a four-year, $48 million deal from the Cubs.
The Yankees continued to keep the free-agent market from becoming too interesting by retaining all of their stars. After Andy Pettitte declined his player option, accepted salary arbitration and signed a one-year, $16 million deal.
Future free-agent bust Carlos Silva was one of the best starters in a weak market, while Curt Schilling opted to retire after a 20-year playing career. Hiroki Kuroda ended up being a terrific bargain for the Dodgers after coming over from Japan to sign a three-year, $35.3 million deal.
Francisco Cordero was the lone big-name closer on the market after a 44-save season with the Brewers. He cashed in on his All-Star performance by signing a four-year, $46 million deal to set a record for the largest contract ever for a relief pitcher.
Russell Martin's value was down after he hit just .211 for the Yankees in 2012, and A.J. Pierzynski, who had a career season with an .827 OPS and 27 homers, wasn't in line for a big-money deal because he was approaching his 36th birthday.
Two solid veteran starters, however, is better than the average year on the catching free-agent market.
Mike Napoli, who was set to become a regular first baseman after spending years as a catcher, and David Ortiz, who plays first base only a handful of times each season, highlight a very weak group that offered almost no help once Marco Scutaro re-signed with the Giants.
The outfield market was one of the deepest and most talented of recent memory, with Josh Hamilton leading a group that also included Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera, Torii Hunter, Angel Pagan, Nick Swisher, B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino.
Zack Greinke was the lone front-line starter available, but there were several established No. 2 or 3 starters to choose from, including Ryan Dempster, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Hiroki Kuroda and Anibal Sanchez.
Closers were not in high demand, which is why Rafael Soriano remained unsigned until mid-January and little-known Kyuji Fujikawa landed a two-year deal from the Cubs.
There wasn't a lot made out of the Red Sox's signing of Koji Uehara, who got a one-year, $4.25 million deal with a $5 million vesting option for 2014, but he ended up paying tremendous dividends for the World Series champs.
John Buck, Miguel Olivo and A.J. Pierzynski each offered teams a solid starting option based on their 2010 production, while three-time All-Star catcher Victor Martinez was about to sign a four-year, $50 million deal to become Detroit's full-time designated hitter.
Adrian Beltre (pictured) took full advantage of a one-year deal signed with Boston in order to try and boost his value after a poor 2009 season. After hitting 28 homers and a league-leading 49 doubles, Beltre signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Rangers.
While no one expected Derek Jeter to leave the Yankees, he was technically a free agent until he signed a three-year, $51 million deal in early December.
The White Sox not only re-signed star first baseman Paul Konerko, they signed Adam Dunn, who was coming off of back-to-back 38-homer seasons with Washington, to share first base and designated hitter duties with him.
First baseman Aubrey Huff was also a popular name on the free agent-market after posting an .891 OPS and hitting 26 homers for the World Series champion Giants.
A distant second amongst third basemen was Juan Uribe, who parlayed a strong season that concluded with some huge postseason homers for the Giants into a three-year, $21 million deal with the Dodgers.
Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth were about to strike it rich on nearly identical seven-year contracts, partly because the outfield market was so thin after them.
Manny Ramirez was productive in 90 games during the 2010 season, but his big league career would only last five more games after signing with the Tampa Bay Rays. He retired after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug and hasn't made it back to the majors after un-retiring and playing in the minors the past two seasons.
The lone ace of the group was Cliff Lee, who ended up signing a five-year, $120 million deal with the Phillies. Hiroki Kuroda and Jorge De La Rosa, each of whom re-signed with their respective teams, were solid options, but the group thinned out after that, with Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez and Jake Westbrook leading the next tier of free-agent starters.
Like Jeter, Mariano Rivera made the Yankees sweat it out, but he eventually re-signed for two years and $30 million in early December. And when Rafael Soriano was still on the board in mid-January, they went ahead and locked him up, as well, to a three-year, $35 million deal that included an opt-out clause after the second year.
Joaquin Benoit, Scott Downs and J.J. Putz were other notable relievers in line for multiyear deals.
Teams looking for catching help were unlikely to find it on the free-agent market. Ramon Hernandez, who posted a .788 OPS with 12 homers in 91 games with the Reds in 2011, was the best of the bunch, and the Rockies, regrettably, rewarded him with a two-year, $6.4 million deal.
Plenty of star power was available amongst free-agent infielders, including Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols (pictured), Aramis Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins. David Ortiz, who is a designated hitter but plays first base occasionally, could also fit into this group.
Carlos Beltran, although viewed as somewhat of a risk being not that far removed from knee problems that forced him to miss most of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, was the top outfielder, while Coco Crisp, Michael Cuddyer, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham were each in line for multiyear deals.
Most of the focus was on Yu Darvish, who was being posted from his team in Japan, so he wasn't technically a free agent. Fellow Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who was posted the previous season but went unsigned, was a free agent this time around and would end up being one of the most productive pitchers in this class.
C.J. Wilson was the best of the bunch, while Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson and Hiroki Kuroda rounded out the group.
Long-time Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who had already notched 219 saves, was the best of the group, with Heath Bell and Ryan Madson also set to land new closer gigs in 2012.
Having an All-Star catcher like Brian McCann on the free-agent market is a rarity, but this group also has depth with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski and Dioner Navarro in line for starting jobs and veterans John Buck, Carlos Ruiz and Geovany Soto also being capable options.
The group isn't that deep, but the top of the list includes Robinson Cano, Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli. It can't be all that bad.
Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu, who already signed with the White Sox, has big potential, and Corey Hart, James Loney and Kendrys Morales should all land starting jobs. Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta will also be popular names on the free-agent market this winter.
Even with Hunter Pence off the market after re-signing with the Giants, the outfield market is filled with talent. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, both of whom could land $100 million deals, are the cream of the crop, while Carlos Beltran, Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson are impact hitters coming off of terrific seasons.
There may not be a clear "ace" amongst this group, but there are several who could easily slot in at the top of many rotations around the league.
Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana should land big-money deals for several years, while Bronson Arroyo, Bartolo Colon, Dan Haren and Tim Hudson could be had on shorter-term deals.
It won't be tough for teams to find late-inning bullpen help in this market. Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Jesse Crain, Edward Mujica, Joe Nathan and Fernando Rodney could all land closing gigs for 2014 and beyond.
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