MLB Free Agents 2015: Early Predictions for Winter's Top 25 Available Players

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIISeptember 2, 2014

MLB Free Agents 2015: Early Predictions for Winter's Top 25 Available Players

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Jon Lester and Max Scherzer are about to cash in. 

    Those aces headline the 2015 MLB free-agent class, but they're far from the only players destined for big paydays this winter. The following 25 big leaguers are ranked in order of the total value of the contracts that they're predicted to haul in. 

    In forecasting the years and dollars, the overall strength of each position on the marketplace was taken into consideration. For shortstops, that's good news, but for closers not so much. The age of each player was also part of the equation.

    Included on the list is one Japanese right-hander who could follow in the footsteps of Masahiro Tanaka and yet another Cuban star who's in line for one of the most lucrative contracts of the entire offseason. 

25. Koji Uehara

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 39

    The Boston Red Sox traded everybody this summer. Everybody except for Koji Uehara. 

    That Uehara survived the sell-off signals that the club has plans for the closer beyond the end of the season. The right-hander has been lights out since taking over the ninth inning for the Red Sox. However, since the reliever turns 40 next April, the team should be able to bring him back on a one-year contract. 

     

    Prediction: Uehara re-signs with the Red Sox on a one-year, $10 million deal.

24. Stephen Drew

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 32

    Stephen Drew's 2014 season has been a debacle.

    Drew's campaign didn't even get underway until June after his ill-advised decision to reject the Boston Red Sox's qualifying offer. While splitting time with the reigning World Series champions and the New York Yankees, Drew has hit well under .200.

    The best option for the infielder will be to accept a one-year deal and attempt to rebuild his value in 2015. Any number of teams will be looking for a shortstop this offseason, and the Cincinnati Reds fall into that group. 

     

    Prediction: Drew signs a one-year, $10 million deal with the Reds.

23. Rafael Soriano

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 35

    If the Washington Nationals don't pick up Rafael Soriano's $14 million club option for 2015, the reliever will be yet another closer available in a crowded market. 

    A stop on the South Side could be in his future. The Chicago White Sox's bullpen has been one of the worst in baseball in 2014, and the addition of the veteran right-hander could help to stabilize the group. 

     

    Prediction: Soriano signs a two-year, $14 million deal with the White Sox.

22. Francisco Rodriguez

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 33

    Francisco Rodriguez has been a bargain for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014. 

    The reliever has recorded 39 saves, while pitching on a $3.25 million salary. Bringing him back will mean that the Brewers will have to write Rodriguez a much bigger check. There's certainly some risk in such a deal, as Rodriguez has scuffled a bit in the second half. However, even though his ERA has gone up, the right-hander has succeeded in 12 out of 14 save opportunities since the All-Star break. 

     

    Prediction: Rodriguez re-signs with the Brewers on a two-year, $17 million deal.

21. Michael Cuddyer

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    2015 Opening Day Age: 36

    The New York Mets need bats and Michael Cuddyer has always been able to hit. The 2013 National League batting champ has posted an OPS over .900 in each of the past two seasons with the Colorado Rockies.

    Of course, it has to be noted that Cuddyer hasn't exactly done a great job of staying on the field in 2014. The right-handed hitter has appeared in just 34 contests for the Rockies this season. The injuries are a red flag, but at the right price the outfielder/first baseman would be worth a flyer for New York. 

     

    Prediction: Cuddyer signs a two-year, $18 million deal with the Mets.

20. David Robertson

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 29

    David Robertson has made stepping in for the legendary Mariano Rivera look easy.

    The closer has locked up 35 of 38 save opportunities and limited the opposition to a .184 average. Ideally, the New York Yankees wouldn't go beyond two years on a deal for Robertson, as Dellin Betances is waiting in the wings. 

     

    Prediction: Robertson re-signs with the Yankees on a two-year, $18 million deal.

19. Chase Headley

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 30

    Third base has been a problem for the Los Angeles Angels in 2014.

    Collectively, the players who have occupied that spot have posted a .617 OPS. Admittedly, Chase Headley hasn't been having a great season while splitting time with the San Diego Padres and the New York Yankees, but he'd still be an upgrade over those numbers. One factor that will help Headley's case in finding a new job is that the third baseman market is remarkably light. 

     

    Prediction: Headley signs a two-year, $20 million deal with the Angels.

18. Jed Lowrie

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 30

    Like Chase Headley, Jed Lowrie is an infielder who benefits from playing a position where it's highly difficult to find quality contributors on the free-agent front. 

    Lowrie definitely hasn't matched his numbers from 2013, but the Oakland Athletics are in a bind. With Addison Russell now a member of the Chicago Cubs organization, Oakland doesn't have any in-house options to replace the veteran. The club needs to do whatever it can to re-sign Lowrie—even if that requires spending a few million dollars more than the team would prefer. 

     

    Prediction: Lowrie re-signs with the Athletics on a two-year, $20 million deal.

17. Kendrys Morales

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 31

    The Seattle Mariners have been surprise contenders thanks to the club's dominant pitching staff. The lineup, however, has been one of the least imposing in the American League. For that reason, it would make a lot of sense for the M's to retain Kendrys Morales.

    The switch-hitter played his best baseball in August after his disastrous decision to reject the Mariners' qualifying offer last offseason left him out of a job until June. 

     

    Prediction: Morales re-signs with the Mariners on a two-year, $25 million deal.

16. Jorge De La Rosa

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 33

    The Colorado Rockies have the worst starting staff in the entire NL. That's why it's essential that the team re-signs Jorge De La Rosa.

    The lefty is no ace, but he has the unique ability to get outs at Coors Field. In 2014, De La Rosa owns a 9-2 mark with a 3.19 ERA at home. On the road, the starter has posted a 4-8 record with a 5.29 ERA. 

     

    Prediction: De La Rosa re-signs with the Rockies on a two-year, $25 million deal.

15. Brandon McCarthy

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 31

    Brandon McCarthy has been a whole new pitcher since arriving in the Bronx.

    In 10 outings with the New York Yankees, McCarthy has recorded a 5-4 mark with a 2.80 ERA. Those numbers should help the starter get plenty of job offers this winter. The Detroit Tigers could end up being one of those teams—especially if they lose their own free-agent ace to a higher bidder.

     

    Prediction: McCarthy signs a two-year, $25 million deal with the Tigers.

14. Jake Peavy

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 33

    San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean has an uncanny knack for plucking discarded players off the scrap heap. The executive has done it again with the midseason acquisition of Jake Peavy. Since joining the Giants, Peavy has produced a 2.40 ERA in six starts. 

    With Matt Cain sidelined and Tim Lincecum banished to the bullpen, keeping Peavy around beyond the end of the 2014 season is a no-brainer.

     

    Prediction: Peavy re-signs with the Giants on a two-year, $28 million deal.

13. Russell Martin

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 32

    The free-agent catching market is devoid of talent, which is excellent news for Russell Marin. The Pittsburgh Pirates backstop has an .866 OPS since the Midsummer Classic, as he swings his way toward a lucrative multiyear deal.

    A return to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he started his career, could be on the horizon for Martin. The right-handed hitter would offer significantly more offensive production than the team's current group of catchers. Plus, the veteran is well-respected for his defensive abilities. 

     

    Prediction: Martin signs a three-year, $30 million deal with the Dodgers.

12. Francisco Liriano

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    2015 Opening Day Age: 31

    Francisco Liriano sure picked a great time to turn his season around.

    The left-handed starter has posted a 2.78 ERA in nine outings since the All-Star break after putting up an ERA just south of five in the first half. Next year, Liriano would be a match with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are in serious need of pitching help following an ugly 2014 season.

    The team should also have the cash to sign an arm like Liriano. According to Nick Piecoro of AZCentral.com, the D-Backs saved approximately $30 million in salary thanks to their midseason trades. 

     

    Prediction: Liriano signs a three-year, $36 million deal with the Diamondbacks.

11. Melky Cabrera

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    2015 Opening Day Age: 30

    Melky Cabrera has been racking up hits in 2014, as he ranks second in all of baseball in that category. The outfielder's strong campaign with the Toronto Blue Jays should result in Cabrera earning a healthy raise from the two-year, $16 million deal he's finishing up.

    Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe speculates that the Baltimore Orioles could be a team to watch out for when it comes to the switch-hitter. That's not an outlandish suggestion considering the success that the O's have had with the signing of Nelson Cruz, who like Cabrera has served a suspension for PED use. 

     

    Prediction: Cabrera signs a three-year, $42 million deal with the Orioles.

10. Kenta Maeda

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 26

    Kenta Maeda isn't going to be the next Masahiro Tanaka. 

    As Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe put it, "Most scouts don't believe Maeda is as good." Still, the 26-year-old has posted some impressive numbers in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball. In 2014, Maeda owns a 10-7 record with a 2.73 ERA while pitching for the Hiroshima Carp. As Cafardo notes, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a track record in the Japanese market and could be a landing spot for the pitcher. 

    One complication in predicting the terms of Maeda's deal is that it's yet to be determined just what kind of a posting fee the Carp will ask for. 

     

    Prediction: Maeda signs a three-year, $42 million deal (plus a $10 million posting fee) with the Dodgers.

9. Ervin Santana

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 32

    With the third-worst ERA in baseball, the Minnesota Twins rotation needs help. 

    Ervin Santana could provide just that. After having to wait until spring training to find a gig with the Atlanta Braves, Santana has produced an effective season while pitching in the NL East. If the Braves tag the starter with a qualifying offer, his market could once again disappear. Still, a three-year, $45 million payout is a realistic valuation for Santana.

     

    Prediction: Santana signs a three-year, $45 million deal with the Twins.

8. Victor Martinez

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 36

    In 2014, Victor Martinez has been one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball while playing with Miguel Cabrera in Detroit. Next year, the switch-hitter could be sharing a lineup with a player who has drawn comparisons to the two-time AL MVP Award winner.

    According to Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona recently likened Jose Abreu to Cabrera. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reports that the Chicago White Sox will be one of the clubs that is looking to become Martinez's next employer. 

     

    Prediction: Martinez signs a three-year, $48 million deal with the White Sox.

7. Nelson Cruz

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 34

    Playing on a one-year, $8 million salary, Nelson Cruz has been an absolute steal. 

    According to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun, Cruz has said that he'd "like to stay" with the O's beyond the end of the season. If Baltimore is gong to make that happen, the team will have to pay up. Considering how elusive power is and that Cruz is leading all of baseball with 35 home runs, keeping the right-handed hitter around should be a top priority this offseason. 

     

    Prediction: Cruz re-signs with the Orioles on a three-year, $48 million deal.

6. Hanley Ramirez

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 31

    There aren't many shortstops who can do what Hanley Ramirez does at the plate. 

    The main issue for Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers is that it's unclear just how many more seasons he'll be able to hand the spot defensively. According to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, the right-handed hitter is reluctant to move off the position. There's also his significant injury history to consider. 

    The shrewdest move for the Dodgers would be to sign Ramirez at a generous yearly salary for a shorter time frame in order to limit the club's exposure. 

     

    Prediction: Ramirez re-signs with the Dodgers on a three-year, $63 million deal (with an option for a fourth year at $21 million with a $6 million buyout).

5. James Shields

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 33

    After the Boston Red Sox's midseason fire sale, the club is noticeably lacking in established veteran starters. Signing James Shields would help the team in that department. 

    On his way to throwing 200-plus innings in eight consecutive seasons, the right-hander has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in MLB. Shields will also be available at a far more reasonable price tag than the likes of Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. 

     

    Prediction: Shields signs a four-year, $64 million deal with the Red Sox.

4. Pablo Sandoval

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 28

    It's no easy task to find a player like Pablo Sandoval.

    The switch-hitter offers power and he owns an .816 OPS over the course of his big league career. Plus, Sandoval is a highly accomplished defender at third base. What really makes Sandoval valuable is that he's very young for a free agent. The Venezuelan will be 28 years old for more than half of the 2015 season. His youth makes Sandoval a strong fit on an aging New York Yankees roster. 

     

    Prediction: Sandoval signs a five-year, $75 million deal with the Yankees.

3. Yasmani Tomas

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 24

    The player who will benefit the most from Rusney Castillo's seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox is Yasmani Tomas. Like Castillo, Tomas is a Cuban outfielder who's generating a ton of buzz.

    As Peter Gammons notes, teams actually "see more ceiling, more power" in Tomas than Castillo. According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, Tomas has 70 power on the 20-80 scale and should hit the market this winter.

    While there promises to be plenty of teams making offers to the right-handed hitter, the Philadelphia Phillies are definitely a club to watch out for. The NL East squad is expected to be "aggressive players" in the derby, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.  

     

    Prediction: Tomas signs a seven-year, $80 million deal with the Phillies.

2. Jon Lester

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 31

    The Chicago Cubs have all sorts of talented young bats.

    What the organization doesn't have is a front-line starter. That's where Jon Lester enters the equation. According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, there's already been rumblings that the left-hander will be an "offseason target" for Chicago.

    With the Cubs, Lester would join back up with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. The starter would also have the chance to lead the pitching staff for a team that is suddenly becoming one of the most promising in all of baseball. 

    Lester has already explained that his decision won't just be about money. The three-time All-Star told John Tomase of the Boston Herald, "I'm not going to the highest bidder." Instead, he wants to go to the ideal spot for him and his family. That could just end up being Wrigley Field. 

     

    Prediction: Lester signs a six-year, $144 million deal with the Cubs.

1. Max Scherzer

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    2015 Opening Day Age: 30

    It's good to be Max Scherzer. 

    The 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner is on the verge of a major payday, as his agent Scott Boras explained back in July, via James Schmehl of MLive.com

    "The way it's going, Max has positioned himself to be prominent."

    Surveying the market, it's difficult to imagine a better place for Scherzer to maximize his earning potential than with the New York Yankees. If Masahiro Tanaka is healthy in 2015, bringing in Scherzer would immediately provide the Yankees with one of the most imposing one-two punches in all of baseball. 

     

    Prediction: Scherzer signs a six-year, $150 million deal with the Yankees.

     

    Note: All stats and videos courtesy of MLB.com. All salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProspectus.com.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.