The 2016 Major League Baseball free agency season officially got underway at 12 a.m. Saturday.
Starting pitching and outfielders are expected to be the most sought-after positions in one of the strongest free agent classes in recent memory as both positions have several top-notch players and plenty of depth. Starting pitchers David Price and Zack Greinke, along with outfielder Jason Heyward, are expected to draw the most attention among the over 150 free agents available.
Price and Greinke are No. 1 or No. 2 (or vice-versa) of the best available starters on the open market. Price, 30, is in his prime and posted an 18-5 record with a 2.45 ERA along with 225 strikeouts for Toronto. The five-time All-Star led the league in innings pitched in 2014, and has reached 200 in five of his six full seasons as a starter. ESPN Insider Keith Law believes that durability, along with consistently producing outstanding results should land him a contract of at least $25 million a year.
Bleacher Report considers the Chicago Cubs to be the front-runner for Price’s services, but there are several other teams that could sneak in and “steal” the free agent. The Blue Jays will attempt to bring back the ace left-hander, while the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, and New York Yankees will likely make a bid. Price is the top-available free agent available according Major League Baseball Trade Rumors, No. 2 in CBS rankings, and No. 3 on ESPN’s list.
If Price isn’t the top-pitcher available, then Greinke is. Greinke is a NL Cy Young candidate after going 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA along with 200 strike outs in 222 2/3 innings. The two most likely scenarios is that 32-year-old will either land in San Francisco or remain in Los Angeles. Boston, Toronto, and Washington are other possibilities. Greinke won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award with Kansas City.
Heyward is the top available outfielder in ESPN and CBS’s free agent list. Following a slow start, the 26-year old left-handed hitter heated up and finished with a.293 average along with 13 homers and 23 steals for St. Louis.
While not a prototypical power-hitting corner outfielder, Heyward is an excellent defensive outfielder and baserunner that gets on-base with regularity. He will likely be pursued by the Cardinals, as well as the Los Angeles Angels, Yankees, Chicago White Sox, and Houston Astros. Sports Media 101.com predicts that Heyward will be in the Bronx next year.
With those players making up the top three spots, other top-free agents and where they could land include:
- Yoenis Cespedas. The 30-year-old had a career year last season, hitting.291 with 35 homers – 25 of the homers coming over the season’s final three months — and 105 RBIs. He has batted.271/.319/.486 (122 OPS+) with 27 homers and 92 RBIs over his four-year career. Cespedas is a very good left-fielder with an strong arm. He won’t likely return to the New York Mets but could end up next door in the Bronx, per Wallace Matthews of ESPN. The Astros, Giants, Mariners, White Sox, and Rangers will likely be in the mix.
- Chris Davis. Davis has hit 157 homers since 2012, including a league-high 47 since last season. The 30-year-old strikes out at a high rate, but is athletic and a very good defensive first baseman. Davis received a qualifying offer from Baltimore and could get a deal in the range of $15 million per year for four or five years. In addition, Baltimore, St. Louis, Houston, Seattle, San Diego, and Toronto could make a bid for the big left-handed hitter.
- Johnny Cueto. Health is a concern as the 29-year-old missed two weeks due to an elbow injury. The right-hander also struggled after being traded to the Kansas City Royals though he capped his season with a complete game to take Game 2 of the World Series. Boston is the leading candidate to obtain Cueto’s services. There will be several other bidders with the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Astros, and Blue Jays possibly getting involved.
- Justin Upton. The former No. 1 overall selection has been somewhat of a disappointment throughout his career, however, he remains a good source of power from the right side – posting 82 home runs in the past three years. He batted just.251 with 26 homers and 19 stolen bases last year for San Diego. The 28-year-old received a qualifying offer from the Padres, but the Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Nationals, and Giants are also potential suitors.
- Alex Gordon. The 32-year-old is a strong on-base guy with above-average power and is an outstanding left fielder. Gordon may stay in Kansas City, but St. Louis, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Los Angeles Angels also are possibilities, per Fansided.com.
- Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmermann struggled in 2015, going 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA last season. The Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, along with the Tigers and Astros make sense for the 30-year-old right-hander.
- Dexter Fowler. Fowler hit.250 with a career-high 17 homers and had a career-best 84 walks last season. The 30-year-old may return to the Cubs, but the Mets, Nationals, Angels, Marlins, and White Sox are a decent match.
[Photo by Ed Surga/Getty Images]