The 2014 Major League Baseball season is beginning to wind down. Playoff races are heating up across the league and while some teams are making a serious claim for a playoff spot, other teams are quickly dropping in the standings. Some of the teams at the top of the standings have impending free agents that are leading the way for them, while some teams at the bottom of the standings also have guys that are playing out the final year of their contract in hopes of a bigger payday through free agency.
Free agency has turned into such a major part of the sport that you see massive stars like Jon Lester get traded at the deadline because a team knows that they would be unable to afford him in free agency. This is something that was never seen decades ago. Instead of showing loyalty for the team that drafted you or sticking with the fans that stood behind you through thick or thin, players have been leaving for more money. As long as the league continues its ways without a salary cap, this is something that will never change.
When it comes to the large crop of players that will become free agents following the end of the 2014 season, there are plenty that will be warrant big money deals. Some of these players haven’t been able to sign a new deal in several years and will look to get a huge paycheck because of that. Who are the top 10 upcoming MLB free agents?
10 David Robertson
While he will never be Mariano Rivera, in the first year that the New York Yankees have been without the future Hall of Famer, David Robertson has performed well. With more than 30 saves already and an ERA hovering just above 3.00, Robertson is showing the league that he can be a full-time closer. Coming into the season, he had just eight saves, but his inexperience in the ninth inning has proved to be a non-issue. The Yankees will be inclined to give him a big time deal to keep him in pinstripes, which means Robertson should get more than the $5.22 million he is getting this season.
9 Sergio Romo
The 31-year-old closer for the San Francisco Giants is one of the best relievers that will be a free agent following the 2014 season. In 2013, he was among the best in the league and while he has regressed a bit in 2014, he will be able to demand and receive a lot of money from whatever team wants to sign him. He doesn't have a great ERA but he's averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He is finishing up a contract that paid out $9 million over the course of two seasons. When compared to the other closers and relievers that will also be available, Romo has been the most consistent.
8 Yovani Gallardo
In the final year of a five-year, $30 million deal, the 28-year-old from Mexico is working towards big money that is usually given to aces. The Brewers do have a club option for $13 million, but that might be too rich for their blood. Gallardo has won at least 12 games in each of the past five seasons. Thus far in 2014, he is just 8-6, but has a solid ERA of 3.32. His strikeout totals per nine innings has dropped in the past two seasons, which could worry some teams about giving him big money. If he can add another three or four wins to his tally during the remainder of the season, he could lessen those fears about the future. Regardless of how he finishes out the season, he will be on his way to a massive payday.
7 Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda is in the final season of a three-year, $17.15 million contract. He has spent his entire career with the San Francisco Giants and has turned into one of the most consistent players in all of baseball since 2009. As a young player that season, he finished seventh in the National League Most Valuable Player voting after hitting .330 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs. Once a defensive liability, Pablo Sandoval has worked to become an all-around player that doesn’t commit errors each time a ball comes to him. With a career average of .296 and more than 100 career home runs, Sandoval will be one of the most sought after infielders in 2015.
6 Billy Butler
One of the players with the most upside on this list is Billy Butler. The 28-year-old first baseman with the Kansas City Royals is in the final year of a four-year, $30 million contract, but the Royals do own a team option on him for 2015 at $12.5 million. If the team somehow decides to let him walk, he will warrant a huge pay raise. His power numbers are down this season, but with a career average of .296 and more than 125 career home runs, Butler is the type of player that can succeed anywhere he may go. Butler is a player that can hit better than .300 and hit 30 home runs, a combination that isn't easy to come by.
5 Hanley Ramirez
For the first time since before the 2009 season, Hanley Ramirez will have a chance to hit free agency and get mega-money. He is in the final season of a six-year, $70 million deal and the belief is he could ask for as much as $130 million. The production is certainly there for the native of the Dominican Republic and he has the talent to deserve that type of money, but who gives it to him will be the real question. Will the Los Angeles Dodgers try to get him signed before the end of the season, or will there be a bidding war? He isn’t the same type of player he was when he was with the Florida Marlins, but he can still hit for power and average.
4 Johnny Cueto
At 28-years-old, Johnny Cueto is among the most talented starting pitchers in baseball. This year, he has been remarkable for the Reds, going 15-7 with a 2.20 ERA. He currently leads the league in wins, innings, and starts, and has been nearly impossible for offense to figure out. He has a sub-1.000 WHIP and has recorded four complete games, including two shutouts. He may not be able to reach free agency this offseason, as the Reds hold an option for the 2015 season at $10 million. Whether it is this offseason, next offseason, or the Reds do the right thing and offer Cueto an extension, he will soon be getting paid what he deserves.
3 James Shields
In two seasons with the Kansas City Royals, James Shields has done more for the franchise than any other player. He has solidified their starting rotation by going 25-15 through his first 61 starts. A year ago, he was in the American League Cy Young discussion and led the league in innings. Throughout his career, Shields has found a way to stay healthy and stay on the mound. When looking at other pitchers in the past eight years, that is something that can’t easily be said. Now in the final year of a seven-year, $38.75 million deal, Shields will finally be able to cash in on the biggest contract he will ever see in his life.
2 Jon Lester
Jon Lester, the 30-year-old former Boston Red Sox player, was sent to the Oakland Athletics at the trade deadline and has pitched excellently for them. In total this season, Lester has gone 13-8 with a 2.58 ERA and with a huge contract set to go his way, the Red Sox knew they needed to deal him. The Athletics, making a claim to be a serious World Series contender, gladly traded their biggest offensive star to the Red Sox to get Lester and will now have to worry about signing him to a long-term deal. Currently at the end of a six-year, $42.75 million deal, Lester could be looking at $15-$20 million a year, or more.
1 Max Scherzer
The top free agent following the conclusion of the 2014 season is Detroit Tigers ace, Max Scherzer. The 30-year-old reigning AL Cy Young recipient is on his way to another award-winning season. At 14-4 this season, Scherzer is now 35-7 during the past two seasons, spanning 58 starts. He has averaged more than 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings throughout his career and has been especially difficult to hit in the past two seasons. Since coming to the Tigers before the 2010 season, he has gone from a pitcher with a sub-.500 record in the NL to one of baseball’s best. He is making more than $15 million this season and will see a huge increase whenever he signs his next contract.