As the 2016 Major League Baseball season comes to a close, teams around the league are beginning to evaluate where they stand, and how they are going to make their teams better for next year. While some teams have their sights set strictly on rebuilding for upcoming seasons, other teams may feel that they are just one or two pieces away from going all the way in 2017. Different teams around the league have different philosophical approaches to how they believe they will acquire the missing needs that will take their ball club to the next level. While trades have shown to be an effective method of gathering talents, it remains clear that free agency is also an effective route, without sacrificing anything besides money.
The 2016-17 offseason is loaded with valuable talent who can help teams all around the league. Whether you’re looking for an elite back-end of the bullpen arm, a slugger, or an all-around player, this class has what you’re looking for. The only major absence in this class is the elite starting pitcher. However, there are some solid arms out there who are up for grabs, making them that much more valuable. Recent off-seasons have shown that teams are more willing to spend than ever before, and this year should be no different.
Here are the top 15 MLB players who will be free agents by the end of the season.
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15 Mike Napoli
After a down season in 2015, that saw Napoli spend time in Boston and Texas, Napoli pickedt he prefect time to have a resurgent year in Cleveland. At the age of 34, many thought that Napoli’s better days were behind him. Napoli has silenced those critics with one of the best seasons of his career this year. Cleveland’s designated hitter has been a crucial part of their surprising success in 2016. Napoli is having an excellent season at the plate for the Indians slashing an immensely productive .260/.345/.509 while mashing 29 home runs. Put it all together, and Napoli has an 854 OPS and a 116 OPS+. The major factor that limits his value, is that he can really only play first base or DH. Regardless of that, Napoli should turn his strong 2016 into a nice multi-year deal in the offseason.
14 Michael Saunders
Following a couple disappointing seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Michael Saunders got a fresh start with the Toronto Blue Jays. Saunders first season with the Blue Jays was heavily plagued by injuries and he finished the year playing in just nine games. Saunders put those seasons behind him and now has emerged as one of the top breakout players in baseball this season. Saunders has been a big part of Toronto’s high powered offense this season, belting 21 home runs while slashing .263/.348/.496 good for an .844 OPS and 124 OPS+. Saunders was selected to the American League all-star team this season for the first time in his career. The powerful lefty should be a hot commodity in a weak class of free agent outfielders this offseason. Saunders, who is still only 29 is still relatively young. Expect him to get a nice multiyear deal after a very strong 2016 campaign.
13 Carlos Gomez
After the 2013 season, the argument could easily be made that Carlos Gomez was one of the best overall players in baseball. Since his fantastic 2013 breakout campaign, Gomez has struggled to produce the numbers that once made him an 8-win player. Gomez was one of the best players available at the trade deadline last season and the Houston Astros paid a hefty price to acquire the Brewers outfielder. Since arriving in Houston, Gomez has been nowhere near the player he once was and that has really hurt his value heading into free agency. Gomez was recently designated for assignment by Houston and picked up by the Texas Rangers. There is little doubt that Gomez will still have some suitors willing to pay for him come the offseason. The player nicknamed Go-Go was once an elite defender, excellent baserunner and strong hitter. At age 30, Gomez still could have some good years left in him.
12 Rich Hill
No pending free agent has escalated their value heading into the offseason quite like Rich Hill has been able to do so in 2016. Following a couple of starts with the Boston Red Sox in 2015, Hill signed a free agent deal with the Oakland A’s for the 2016 season. While in Oakland, Hill was fantastic and arguably one of the best pitchers in the American League. The only thing that has been able to stop Rich Hill in 2016 is a nagging finger blister that has cost him some time on the disabled list. Despite the injuries, Hill was shipped to the L.A. Dodgers with Josh Reddick. In total, Hill has pitched to 2.09 earned run average, with a jaw-dropping 194 ERA +. Hill has struck out over a batter per inning, totaling 93 punch outs in just over 80 innings. In a class that is extremely thin on starting pitchers, Rich Hill is the best guy out there. The only thing holding Hill back from a huge payday is that he is 36 years of age.
11 Mark Melancon
The dominant, late inning relief pitcher has become one of the most sought after commodities in the game of baseball. After the Kansas City Royals proved that building an elite back end of the bullpen is a winning formula, many teams have tried to duplicate that same formula. A three time all-star, Mark Melancon has showcased himself as one of the best late inning relievers in the game of baseball today. Melancon is as reliable as it gets in the ninth inning and his excellent cutter has been one of the most efficient pitches in baseball over the past several seasons. “The Shark” was lights out in 2015, finishing the year with 51 saves and a 2.23 ERA. After starting off the 2016 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Melancon was traded to the Washington Nationals. Melancon has been just as good, if not better in 2016. In total, he has already saved 36 games while posting a 1.41 ERA along with a WHIP under 1.
10 Wilson Ramos
The second Washington National on the list, Wilson Ramos is no doubt the best catcher available this offseason. Ramos picked the right time to have a breakout season, as he has been one of the best catchers in the league this year. Ramos earned his first all-star selection this season and it was well deserved. Ramos is slashing .312/.360/.510 good for an .871 OPS. Ramos has belted 19 home runs and has driven in 67 runs. His .312 batting average is the best among catchers in the league. Ramos has drawn some criticism for his pitch framing abilities behind the plate, but advanced metrics show that the Ramos is one of the best in the league at earning call strikes on pitches that are high in the zone. Ramos does also have a strong throwing arm behind the plate. The 29-year-old catcher should be in for a big payday.
9 Dexter Fowler
Following the 2015 season, in which Dexter Fowler finished the year playing extremely well, many thought Fowler would be in store for a big payday. Late in the offseason, it appeared that Fowler was headed to join the Baltimore Orioles on a 3-year $30-million-dollar deal. Several days later, much to the surprise of baseball fans all over, news broke that Fowler would instead be headed back to the Chicago Cubs on a 1-year deal. Well, Fowler has now set himself up for an even better payday than last season. The Cubs everyday Center Fielder is having one of the best seasons of his career. Fowler is slashing a robust .274/.389/.449, which is good for a .838 OPS. Although he was unable to play in the game due to injury, Fowler earned his first all-star game appearance this season and has already accumulated the highest WAR of his career at 3.0.
8 Justin Turner
The Los Angeles Dodgers really hit the goldmine in the offseason of 2014 when they signed Justin Turner to an extremely low risk free agent deal. In two seasons with the Dodgers, Turner has been nothing short of excellent. Tuner has been one of the Dodgers best offensive players this season, as he has belted 24 home runs and driven in over 70 runs. Turner has an impressive slash line of .271/.335/.502 good for an .837 OPS. Although he is not the same player he once was in terms of defensive versatility, advanced defensive metrics still showcase that Turner is a solid third basemen. Over the past two seasons, he has proven that he can hit for power, play a very nice third base and be a middle of the lineup hitter for a playoff team. Turner is on pace to compile a near 5 WAR, which should land him a very nice free agent deal.
7 Mark Trumbo
Arguably one of the best free agent signings of last offseason, Mark Trumbo will not come at the same discounted rate he did last year. Trumbo is having an outstanding season for the Baltimore Orioles. The right-handed slugger is leading all of baseball with 40 homeruns. After starting off his career with some very good seasons, Trumbo had really struggled to regain that power stroke that made him such a threat at the plate. Trumbo has silenced doubters this year, producing the best year of his career at the absolute perfect time. Trumbo just turned 30 years old, and the need for right-handed power is still a constant in baseball. With a .534 slugging percentage, Trumbo will draw some strong interest this offseason and he will be one of the best power bats on the market. His advanced numbers aren’t the best, but his power is a big time attraction.
6 Jose Bautista
Similar to that of Carlos Gomez, the free agent value of Jose Bautista has really taken a hit this season. Shortly after the start of Spring Training, rumors circulated throughout the baseball world that Bautista wanted a deal worth upwards of $150 million. After this injury plagued season, paired with his age, Bautista may be hard pressed to find a team willing to pay him that. However, one thing is apparent: when healthy, Bautista is one of the best power hitters in the league. Bautista has the rare combination of an incredibly patient approach at the plate, paired with wonderful extra base power. In the last six seasons (prior to this year), Joey Bats has slugged more than 25 home runs in each of those seasons, including more than 35 four times. He is an elite player, but injury concerns and a possible decline in performance due to age may hold him back from really breaking the bank this offseason.
5 Ian Desmond
In perhaps the most shocking move of the offseason last year, Ian Desmond signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers worth just $8 million. Desmond reportedly had turned down a deal worth over $100 million from the Washington Nationals several seasons ago. Many thought that Desmond would still do very well in free agency despite the poor 2015, but he wasn’t able to land that big deal. This year, Desmond has reasserted his worth with Texas this season, slashing an impressive line of .291/.340/.469. The former shortstop has now transitioned to centerfield which should also help his earning power this offseason. Desmond is pretty solid in all facets of the game, he can hit for power, has a good throwing arm, and can run the bases well. There should be little doubt that he will sign more than a one-year deal this offseason.
4 Kenley Jansen
The second closer to make the list, Kenley Jansen is going to be one of the most sought after free agents this offseason. Jansen join previously ranked Mark Melancon, as a lockdown late-inning reliever with a devastating pitch. Similar to Melancon, Jansen makes his money off of his cut fastball, which has been a nightmare for opposing hitters. Jansen has been lights out for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the past several seasons, and at just 28 years of age he will be one of the prime targets for any team looking to bolster the back end of their bullpen this offseason. Jansen has racked up more than 25 saves in each of the past five seasons, including an impressive total of already 39 this season. His career 13.8 SO/9 (Strikeouts per nine innings percentage) ranks among the best of all-time and his career 167 ERA + and 1.96 Fielding Independent Pitching make him an elite talent.
3 Aroldis Chapman
In a free agent market that has a couple of other high end closer options, Aroldis Chapman is the clear cut best available closer this coming offseason. Chapman started off this season in some murky water as it was rumored early in the offseason that he would be suspended for a domestic abuse related issue. The pending suspension actually caused a deal that would have sent Chapman to the L.A. Dodgers to be halted. Later in the offseason, Chapman was dealt to the New York Yankees and was suspended for the first 30 games of this season. After the Yankees upper brass believed they would not be playoff contenders this season, Chapman was sent to the Chicago Cubs, making him ineligible to receive the qualifying offer, which would only bolster his value in free agency this coming offseason. Chapman’s statistics are so insanely good that they are almost hard to believe. In 366 career innings, Chapman has 616 strikeouts. Let that stat sink in for a minute.
2 Edwin Encarnacion
The Toronto Blue Jays will have a couple of very tough decisions this offseason. One of the them will be whether or not they chose to resign their slugging first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. The Blue Jays were lucky enough to have him under contract for the past three seasons at the cost of just $29 million. Encarnacion has been stellar the past several years and he is one of the most feared hitters in all of the American League. He has belted more than 34 home runs in each of the past five seasons, including 42 in 2012. Few players in the game of baseball can produce such an impact offensively like Encarnacion can. However, the major concern around him will be his age. Encarnacion will be 34 years of age by the start of next season. While Edwin has shown no signs of regression, his age will be a concern for many teams. He should still be in line for a tremendous payday.
1 Yoenis Cespedes
In the summer of 2015, the New York Mets were in desperate need of a bat. The Mets went out and made one of the biggest splashes of the trade deadline and acquired Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes finished the 2015 season on an absolute tear. The man they call “La potencia” smacked 17 home runs with the Mets in just over 50 games. Cespedes carried the Mets offense all the way to the playoffs, where they caught fire and made it all the way to the World Series. Cespedes seemed to be in line for a huge deal in free agency last winter. However, after failing to receive a long-term deal from anyone, Cespedes returned to the Mets on a 3-year $75-million-dollar deal. Included in the deal, was a one-year opt out clause that Cespedes will almost surely exercise. Cespedes has been just as good as he was last season, producing a slash line of .298/.369/.572. Cespedes is a very solid left fielder, with one of the strongest throwing arms in the game. He should get a big deal this offseason.
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