In choosing a methodology for the ZiPS ranking of the top 25 players under 25, I asked myself (and the algorithms) the question:
What would each of these young players get if they hit free agency after this season?
Below are the top 25 in projected contracts, compared to Keith Law's overall rankings. As you would guess, there's some similarity, but also some clear differences in man vs. machine.
The contract figures are quite large. I'd say literally a ton of money, but that would actually be a lie. Two thousand pounds of hundred-dollar bills amounts to only about $90 million, a figure ZiPS projects all 25 players to exceed in this scenario.
If the figures sound high to you, you're correct. That's a feature, not a bug. Only a small percentage of these players will in fact get contracts anywhere near this value as a young star's most valuable years are typically those that are under team control. Take away this team control and the benefits go directly to a player. Getting to free agency in the early prime years is part of the reason Alex Rodriguez's first long-term contract was so massive and why Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, both due to hit the market after the 2018 season at the age of 26, will land the same.
Don't quite believe me? Just look at the prices that unfettered free agents land. Yasmany Tomas and Rusney Castillo both cost around $70 million, and were far riskier than any of the players on the list below. It's not that the Red Sox and Diamondbacks collectively lost their minds with the contract figures, but simply because that's what prime talent, even unproven talent, would cost when teams get into bidding. The notion that some first-round draft pick wants $5 million isn't, on a philosophical level, an extravagant demand. Teams would happily pay tenfold the amount for that same player as a free agent.
Four players on Keith's list missed the ZiPS 25 entirely. Dansby Swanson would have been ranked 24th but even if you think his poor start is a fluke -- and ZiPS is still confident about his future -- the fact is there are nearly 150 plate appearances of .500 OPS performance on his résumé. ZiPS still wants to see Julio Urias throw a full season of innings before ranking the Dodgers prospect higher. Two Rangers miss the list. Joey Gallo misses because ZiPS is still unsure just how productive he'll be when he doesn't have a .350 isolated power and Nomar Mazara because the computer still sees his upside as more speculative than demonstrated.
25. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
Projected worth: 6 years, $92 million
Law's ranking: Unranked
Baez's on-base percentage will never be a plus in his game. He is and always will be too free of a swinger to be able to avoid getting more than his fair share of outs. The improvement in his defense over the past year in addition to his significant power upside is enough for him to have serious value if he hit the market.