Outfield may be the deepest position in this year’s free agent market, along with starting pitchers. With Jason Heyward just signing a new deal with the Cubs, look for the free agent outfield market to start to pick up. There are still a couple of true middle of the order hitters and a plethora of other outfielders who deserve to be in a starting lineup everyday. Here is my breakdown of the 2015 free agent outfield class.
1. Jason Hayward (26): 154 games/.293/.359/.439/13 hr/6.5 WAR
The clear top option on the free agent market. Being just 26 years old, Hayward still offers pretty of upside as a player entering free agency, which is rarely the case. Coming up as the top prospect during his rookie season, Heyward has not disappointed in his time in the major leagues. He started out his career hitting for just a solid average of .260 from 2010-2014. But he really took the next step this past season, hitting .293 and getting on-base at a high clip of .359. Heyward has a quick left handed swing where he can get a good amount of power. The all star is by no means a masher at the plate, as he only hit 13 home runs in 2015 and has only had one season where he hit over 20 bombs. But I expect that Heyward will get more power as he reaches his late 20’s. It is very rare for a free agent to be entering his prime going into his contract, which going to make the outfielder much more appealing to teams. Hayward has the talent to justify the contract and there is upside there. But a team is taking a risk because he hasn’t ever performed to the level that his contract will dictate that he needs to play at. He definitely isn’t a boom or bust player, but I think it will be difficult for him to live up to that contract.
Contract He Got: 8 years, $184 million (Can opt out after 2018)
Contract I would give: 7 years, $145 million
2. Yoenis Cespedes (30): 159 games/.291/.328/.542/35 hr/3.2 WAR
Cespedes was having a pretty normal season for him with the Tigers, then he got traded to the Mets at the last minute of the 2015 Trade Deadline and his whole season changed. Before the trade, Cespedes was hitting 18 home runs in 107 games, after Cespedes hit 17 bombs in 57 games. The Cuban star was been a consistent threat in the league since he signed with the A’s in 2012. He hits for a solid average and has hit over 20 home runs in four of five seasons in the league. There are still a couple of holes in his offensive game. Cespedes is a very aggressive hitter at the plate and that leads to his low walk percentage and also his high strikeout rate. He is by no means a perfect hitter, but he ended last season playing his best baseball (before the playoffs) and he has power that not a lot of hitters have in this league. Cespedes is what he is and I feel that he will not get much better or worse once he signs his next contract.
Predicted Contract: Six years, $160 million
Contract I would give: Six years, $150 million
3. Justin Upton (28): 150 games/.252/.336/.454/26 hr/4.4 WAR
Upton is one of the most polarizing free agent cases in this year’s class. The former number one overall pick is only 28 years old, but has seen nine years of MLB experience. Early in his career he was hit for a better average but didn’t have as much power as he was growing into his body. He also stole a lot more bases in those beginning seasons. From 2009-2012, he stole 18 or more bases in a season. The next two years he stole eight bases a piece. Upton got back to form stealing 19 bags in 2015, but I expect as he gets older, that he won’t be as active on the bases. The past three years he has hit 82 home runs in part because of his bigger frame. His batting average did falter this past season, dropping to the lowest it’s been since 2008. Now this may only be one season, but it is somewhat concerning. Upton still is only 28 years old and any team that signs him will be getting him in the prime of his playing career, but I do see a regression in Upton from more of a balanced player into solely a power hitter. He and Cespedes are very close in value, the only reason I favor Cespedes is because I think that he will hit for more a little more power and will be slightly more reliable. But I don’t think Upton will be a bust by any means.
Predicted Contract: Seven years, $170 million
Contract I would give: Six years, $135 million
4. Alex Gordon (32): 104 games/.271/.377/.432/13 hr/2.8 WAR
Gordon is one of the surest things in this year’s free agent class. He offers a nice blend of speed and power for a lineup and has been a consistent force the Kansas City lineup for the past five seasons. Gordon was thought of as a bust after being a highly touted prospect coming up through the Royals system but putting up weak numbers in the major leagues. But a breakout season in 2011 but him back on the map and he was maintained that solid level of play ever since. The all-star has a very quick swing and possesses speed to turn line drives into doubles. He also has a very steady level of power hitting double digit home runs in every year since 2011. Gordon also has a very good glove and is a true difference make in the outfield.Being that he is slightly older than some of the other free agent outfielders, he should not demand aa long or high paying of a contract as some of the other premier outfielders. He is a player I would target if you are a team needing some help in the outfield because of his ability on the field and the value that he has on the free agent market.
Predicted Contract: Five years, $100 million
Contract I would give: Five years, $110 million
5. Denard Span (32): 61 games/.301/.365/.431/5 hr/0.8 WAR
The National’s center fielder had a difficult 2015 season, as he was injured for most of the year. Span was going to cash in like many of the other free agent outfielders, but this injury will certainly hurt his market. However, even with his injuries riddled season, Span did play well when he was able to get onto the field. He still hit for a high average as he has done for most of his career and was still able to steal double digit bases. I really like Span as a player because of his ability to be a table setter in the lineup with his short compact swing and his ability to wreak havoc for opposing pitchers when he gets on the bases. Span doesn’t give you much in the power department, but he does not need to for the role he can play on a winning team, which is a very important role at that. I believe that the injury makes Span more of a risk than he was before, but I don’t think that it really depletes his value. He has been one of the top leadoff hitters in the game and I expect that type of player to return once he his healthy, and I am willing to take that risk for the contract he is going to get.
Predicted Contract: 1 year, $18 million
Contract I would give: 2 years, $34 million
6. Dexter Fowler (30): 156 games/.250/.346/.411/17 hr/2.2 WAR
Fowler is a very tough player to evaluate for many reasons. He clearly possesses great natural talent with his speed and power potential. He has never really been able to really reach that power potential, even though he played for the Rockies, in their extremely hitter-friendly stadium. He does offer speed on the bases and can make some spectacular plays in the field. When I watch the center fielder he seems to have a very wild swing that shouldn’t translate to the solid batting averages that he has posted in the league. The one real strength of Fowler’s game is that he has a high walk rate, and this has been consistent ever since he came into the MLB. This is a main reason why he will command a pretty big contract this winter, in addition to the promise of the other skills he has shown. I’m just not so sure that I would be the team willing to pay big dollars for a guy that I have problems with when I watch him in the batters box, even though his numbers tell a different story. But I can see why he will get the type of contract he is going to receive.
Predicted Contract: Five years, $70 million
Contract I would give: Three years, $34 million
7. Gerardo Parra (28): 155 games/.291/.328/.452/14 hr/1.6 WAR
Parra had a breakout first half of the season with the Milwaukee Brewers. Everyone knew that the outfielder was very strong defensively and wasn’t a liability in the lineup, but not a lot of people predicted the strong start that he had. Before being traded to the Orioles, Parra hit .328 with nine homers in 100 games and was one of the more surprising players of the 2015 season. However, after he was traded, as many players who get traded midseason do, had a huge drop-off in production. Parra ended up hitting .237 with no home runs as a member of the orange and black, which clearly hurt his value on the free agent market. Parra has never had gaudy numbers with the bat, but he was solid enough to plug into the bottom of a batting order. His 2015 season will no doubt help his free agent value, but there will definitely be the idea that his half a season with the Brewers was an abirition. I lean more to that argument because he does not have a dynamic swing where the ball really jumps off the bat, but he is able to hit to all fields and will also hit double digit homers, but I think that Parra is more of the player he has been for most of his career, instead of the player we saw with Milwaukee to start last season.
Predicted Contract: 3 years, $34 million
Contract I would give: 2 years, $15 million
8. Nori Aoki (34): 93 games/.287/.353/.380/5 hr/1.0 WAR
The Japanese outfielder has been a very steady ever since he entered the league in 2012. Aoki, like many Asian players, has a unique swing where he kind of slaps the ball as he runs down the first base line. This puts extra pressure on the defense and allows him to hit the ball the opposite way. Aoki does not give you anything in the power department and had an injury problem for much of last season. He was only able to play 93 games. This, along with his advanced age in relation to other outfielders available, significantly hurts the outfielder’s market. Nevertheless, Aoki still hit well when he did play last season, and has been pretty much the same player his entire career. I like the value that Aoki presents, but I wouldn’t give him a multi-year contract because of his age and his injury problems.
Contract He Got: 1 year, 5.5 million
Contract I would give: 1 year, $8 million
9. Austin Jackson (29): 136 games/.267/.311/.385/9 hr/1.1 WAR
Jackson came up as a top outfield prospect for the Yankees who was traded to the Tigers in an offseason trade. He has a lot of natural ability to his game. He has hit for average,power and has shown his speed while playing in the MLB, he just has really never been able to put all those skills together. His past two seasons have been the worst of his major league career. Jackson still is only 29 years old and there is still some upside to him as a player, but I don’t expect that he will become the star that he showed as a younger player, but he could be a serviceable outfielder for a team that is looking for free agent bargains.
Predicted Contract: One year, $9 million
Contract I would give: One year, $7 million
10. Rajai Davis (35): 112 games/.258/.306/.440/8 hr/1.6 WAR
He has been a solid center fielder for multiple seasons. He has been a nice piece for both the Tigers and the Blue Jays. He has never been a really dynamic hitter, but he has been able to give the team he is playing for something useful. His career average is .269, but has never hit double digit home runs in a season. He does provide very good defense and still has some speed even though he is getting older. His real calling card throughout his career has been his ability to steal bases. Davis has totaled 40 stolen bases in four different seasons, and still managed to steal 18 bases in 2015. I don’t expect a significant decline in his batting numbers next season, but I don’t believe he will increase his production either. He will be a solid veteran addition.
Contract he got: 1 year, $5.25 million
Contract I would give him: 1 year, $5.5 million
12. Ryan Raburn (34): 82 games/.301/.393/.543/8 hr/1.0 WAR
Raburn is the perfect platoon hitter for a team looking for a good right handed hitter. His average last season against left-handed pitching is .325, but under .200 against right-handed pitching. His average is a little more equal when looking at splits over his career, but he still had a great season last year for the type of player that he is. Raburn had a down year in 2014, but a pretty good year in 2013. He is no doubt a very good bench bat, but I think he has the ability to be very good platoon hitter for a team.
13. Marlon Byrd (38): 135 games/.247/.290/.453/23 hr/0.8 WAR
Marlon Byrd has had a resurgent past couple of seasons since his down year in 2012. Byrd has hit a combined 72 home runs the past three years, and has an batting average of .267 since 2013. He didn’t start the 2015 season strong hitting only .237, but still hitting 19 homers. He started to hit much better after he was traded to San Fransisco. I have thought for a while that Byrd was going to regress, but he really never has. Being 38 years old, and coming off a decrease in production in 2015, I don’t think that he is a viable option to hit everyday in a major league lineup. I do think that he adds value as a right handed power hitter, preferably in the National League.
14. Chris Young (32): 140 games/.252/.320/.453/14 hr/1.2 WAR
He had a semi-sunrise season with the Yankees last year and was able to unexpectedly start for a good portion of the season. Young possesses some good power, but his weakness is that he doesn’t make solid contact consistently enough to be a good everyday player. He is only 32 years old, but at this point in his career, I don;t expect him to decline, but I don’t think he will increase his numbers wither. Coming off of his strongest season 2010, a team might want to plug him into their starting batting order, but that would be a mistake in my opinion.
15. Alex Rios (35): 105 games/.255/.287/.353/4 hr/-1.1 WAR
The former all star started off 2015 looking like he was back to his old tricks. Rios was such a good player for the Blue Jays because of his smooth swing that produced strong batting numbers in pretty much all categories. Over his career, he has hit .290 and has 20 home run power too. He then just fell off the map midway through the season, showing that he will never get back to his middle of the order form, but I still believe that he can contribute as a veteran bench player, and possibly as a platoon player for 2016.
16. Alejandro De Aza (31): 114 games/.262/.333/.422/7 hr/0.9 WAR
De Aza was penciled in as the starting outfielder for the Orioles in 2015, after a strong finish to 2014. However, he got off to such a bad start that Baltimore traded him to Boston. With the Red Sox he hit .292 which will most likely help him get a major league contract this offseason. I don’t believe that he is a starting outfielder, but he offers some good speed off the bench and can be an adequate replacement for an injured player.
17. Delmon Young (30): 52 games/.270/.289/.339/2 hr/0.1
18. Drew Stubbs (31): 78 games/.195/.283/.382/5 hr/0.0 WAR
19. Will Venable (33): 135 games/.244/.320/.350/6 hr/0.3 WAR
20. Jeff Francoeur (32): 119 games/.258/.286/.433/14 hr/-1.1 WAR
21. Shane Victorino (35): 71 games/.230/.308/.292/1 hr/0.0 WAR
22. David DeJesus (36): 112 games/.233/.297/.330/5 hr/0.3 WAR
23. Matt Joyce (31): 93 games/.174/.272/.291/5 hr/-1.0 WAR
24. Chris Denorfia (35): 103 games/.269/.319/.373/3 hr/-0.3 WAR
25. Skip Schumaker (36): 131 games/.242/.306/.336/1 hr/-0.8 WAR
26. Jonny Gomes (35): 95 games/.213/.313/7 hr/-0.3 WAR
27. Dominic Brown (28): 63 games/.228/.284/.349/5 hr/-0.1 WAR
By: Greg Goldstein