This year's free agent class might be the worst I've ever seen. It's certainly the worst, whether we're talking top-tier talent or overall depth, of any class I've ranked since joining ESPN in 2006. As good as last year's crop was, this year's is that bad and then some. There's as little starting pitching as you'll ever see, virtually no help at any of the three skill positions in the infield and way too many platoon corner bats or DHs. That doesn't mean we will see a winter without long-term deals and huge salaries; there's money out there to be spent, but nothing great to spend it on.
With these rankings, I try to provide a rough idea of the offer I'd be comfortable making to each player if I was the general manager of a contending team (or would-be contending team) and operating at or above the median payroll level.
Estimating the actual dollar value of a player to any specific team is nearly impossible, because we don't know what the marginal revenue product of a win is for each club, and that number can change for a team from season to season, or even within a season, if it's much better or worse than expected.
My numbers are not predictions, and they often will fall short of actual market values. That is due to the "winner's curse" phenomenon, in which the winner of an auction for a good of uncertain value is the bidder whose internal estimates of that value are the highest (and thus perhaps too optimistic), and because teams with large payrolls can and often do pay more for a win in the free-agent market.
This document will be updated as the offseason wears on. When a player signs, we'll add a note in the profile as to which team he signed with and for how much. We also add a note if he received a $17.2 million qualifying offer. If a player receives one and signs elsewhere, the signing team will lose a draft pick, and having a qualifying offer "attached" can really hurt the value of non-elite free agents.
Now on to the rankings.
1. Yoenis Cespedes, OF
Age: 31 | B-T: R/R
HT: 5-10 | WT: 220
Career WAR: 18.7
By opting out of the remaining two years of his contract, Cespedes leaves nearly $48 million on the table but seems likely to get more than that on a longer-term deal as the offseason's best free agent (in a terrible class, of course).
Cespedes has really remade himself as a player, or at least seems to have done so, becoming far more selective in 2016 without losing any other aspect of his game. He posted his best walk rate ever, yet his strikeout rate and power didn't budge at all. The Mets asked him to play a lot of center field, even though he's incapable of coming within spitting distance of average out there, so his total-value stats, such as WAR, are misleading. He's not going to play center for a smart club in 2017, and that negative defensive value he posted in center will just go away.
Put him in right field, where he'll have average range and help you with his plus arm, and even if his newfound patience means a .340 OBP instead of .320, with his 30-homer power he's going to profile as a 4-5 win player. The market might overpay him because he's the best there is, and you're buying into his mid-30s, but four years and $80-90 million would probably give you a good overall return, even if the market wants to pay him $25-30 million per year instead.