With the end of MLB‘s regular season almost upon us, we sit only weeks away from Opening Day of the hot-stove league and the start of free agency.

Much has been made of this year’s crop of free agents, and most of the chatter hasn’t been complimentary. The market lacks quality starters but makes up for it with a number of solid position players and substantial bullpen help.

Our initial big board reflects that, as it’s heavy on the bats and light on the arms.

Players are ranked primarily on the impact they’re expected to have on a team in 2017, with statistics, injury history and potential regression taken into consideration. You’ll find a player’s age on Opening Day 2017 next to their name in parentheses.

Speaking of injuries, medical issues knocked catcher Wilson Ramos (torn ACL) and second baseman Neil Walker (back surgery) off our big board completely. If they were healthy, Ramos would have landed in the top five and Walker would have made the top 20.

Who made the cut? Let’s find out.


1. OF Yoenis Cespedes (31)

It’d be stunning if Yoenis Cespedes didn’t opt out of his current deal with the New York Mets to land a bigger and longer payday. An anonymous general manager recently told Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball that he expects Cespedes to land a contract between $150 million and $200 million.

Those kinds of numbers aren’t surprising, as he’s coming off another big season and will be the most sought-after free-agent outfielder on the market. So long as a team lets him stick in left field, it’ll be getting a potential Gold Glove defender and a dynamic game-changer to plug into the middle of its lineup.


2. 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (34)

We’ve gotten so used to seeing Edwin Encarnacion put up big numbers for Toronto that it’s hard to envision him wearing a different team’s uniform. But his bat plays anywhere, and with the veteran slugger posting career highs in homers (42) and RBI (127), his services are going to be in high demand. 

While his defense has improved at first base, he’s not really an everyday option at the position and will need to take some reps as a designated hitter, limiting his market to the American League only. His off-field legal issues, which remain unsettled, could become an issue for some teams.


3. 3B Justin Turner (32)

Justin Turner wants to stay in Los Angeles, per Heyman, but figures to be looking for his first big payday after a three-year stint with the Dodgers that has seen him hit a combined .296 with 50 home runs, 192 RBI and a .858 OPS. 

He’s versatile enough to play multiple positions, which could be a selling point in negotiations as he pursues a deal like Ben Zobrist’s four-year, $56 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, but Turner will likely be viewed as a full-time third baseman by most clubs.


T4. CL Aroldis Chapman (29) and CL Kenley Jansen (29)

It’s entirely possible—and probable—that both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen will best Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year, $50 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2012 season, a record-setting deal for a free-agent reliever at the time.

After all, we are talking about two of the game’s most dominant late-inning weapons who are in their prime.

But aside from a roughly seven-month age gap, the only real difference between the two is that Chapman is a lefty who served a 30-game suspension in April for violating MLB’s domestic-violence policy, while Jansen is a baggage-free right-handed stud.


6. OF Ian Desmond (31)

Ian Desmond bet on himself last winter and won, putting together a 20-20 season for the Texas Rangers (.284 BA, 22 HR, 20 SB, .781 OPS) while providing above-average defense in center field, a position he’s essentially learned on the fly. 

It’s doubtful he’ll do better than the seven-year, $107 million extension he reportedly turned down from the Washington Nationals heading into 2014, per MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, but teams from both leagues will be looking to add him. That could see Desmond get closer to that deal than expected.


7. OF/DH Mark Trumbo (31)

Mark Trumbo has been a shell of the player who earned a spot on the AL All-Star team, posting a putrid .197/.273/.450 second-half slash line. His mammoth right-handed power will be in demand, but teams can’t ignore such a brutal two-and-a-half month stretch to close out the regular season.

He’s also still a significant defensive liability in the outfield and is best utilized as a full-time designated hitter. That’s going to limit his market and earning power, despite his MLB-leading 46 home runs.


8. OF Jose Bautista (36)

Like Encarnacion, it’s odd to imagine Jose Bautista anywhere but Toronto. While he likely has some productive seasons left in the tank, there’s legitimate concern about what kind of player Joey Bats will be at the end of his next deal. Injuries caused him to miss all but 18 games in June and July.

Still, he’s looked like himself of late, hitting .250 with an .831 OPS and nearly as many walks (22) as strikeouts (26) in September. When he’s healthy, he’s still capable of being a force in the middle of a team’s lineup. But given his age, there’s a limit to how much that’s worth.

Unless Bautista can convince everyone that he’s about to turn 26, not 36, the five-year, $150 million-plus extension that both Heyman and Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star reported he sought from the Blue Jays back in February is nothing but a dream. He’s going to wind up with a shorter, less lucrative deal.


9. CL Mark Melancon (32)

He’s not as flashy as Chapman or Jansen—and name recognition among fans counts to some extent when teams are considering free agents—but the numbers say that Mark Melancon is nearly as effective.

For teams that miss out on both of the more highly touted closers, Melancon is a terrific fallback option.


10. SP Rich Hill (37)

Rich Hill might be the best free-agent starter available, but there are legitimate questions about his ability to stay healthy over the course of a full 162-game season. Injuries limited him to only 19 combined starts and 105.1 innings between the Oakland A’s and the Dodgers in 2016.

When healthy, he looked like a Cy Young candidate, pitching to a combined 12-5 record with a 2.05 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings of work. Per Brooks Baseball, his curveball remains a filthy, almost unfair pitch that opposing hitters can’t figure out.

But he’s closer to his 40th birthday than his 30th and has only surpassed the 100-inning mark twice over parts of 12 big league seasons. That, along with his health, could limit the kinds of offers he receives.


11. OF Dexter Fowler (31)

A legitimate table-setter atop a lineup thanks to his penchant for getting on base (even while striking out more than 100 times a season), Dexter Fowler remains a tremendous athlete who can hit for average and power while causing problems with his speed. He’ll decline his end of a $9 million mutual option to stay with the Chicago Cubs next season in search of a multiyear deal.


12. OF Josh Reddick (30)

After a horrific first month with the Dodgers that saw him hit .161 with a .396 OPS, Josh Reddick is finishing the season strong, hitting .400 with a 1.004 OPS in September. He’s no longer the defensive stud he once was, but Reddick‘s throwing arm remains a cannon, and he’s still got 20-home run pop in his bat.


13. DH Carlos Beltran (39)

Carlos Beltran has put together a terrific season, hitting a combined .295 with 28 home runs, 92 RBI and a .846 OPS for the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. While he’s a full-time DH at this point, the future Hall of Famer can still be a productive player and a leader for an AL club.


14. 1B/DH Mike Napoli (35)

Mike Napoli‘s contributions in the clubhouse often overshadow his production on the field, but it’s hard to ignore a season that’s seen him set new career highs in multiple categories, including home runs (34), RBI (101), hits (132) and runs scored (92).


15. SP Jeremy Hellickson (29)

Jeremy Hellickson put together a strong season in Philadelphia (12-10, 3.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP), and the Phillies are expected to extend him a qualifying offer. Having draft-pick compensation attached to him will negatively impact his market, even with a dearth of quality starters available.


16. C Matt Wieters (30)

Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Matt Wieters is what he is: a solid defensive backstop who can hit for some power but shouldn’t be counted on to be a key cog in a team’s offensive attack.


17. OF Michael Saunders (30)

Michael Saunders stayed healthy enough to play in more than 130 games for the first time since 2013, and a sizzling start to the season made Saunders a first-time All-Star. But his late-season swoon isn’t going to help him make the case that he’s worthy of an All-Star deal in free agency.


18. SP Ivan Nova (30)

Ivan Nova’s career has been rejuvenated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where pitching coach Ray Searage has once again worked his magic with a wayward starter. If teams believe he can continue to build off what he’s learned with the Pirates, he could wind up with a robust market of suitors.


19. SP Andrew Cashner (30)

Andrew Cashner has front-of-the-rotation stuff but has never been able to control it enough—or stay healthy enough—to reach his potential. That’s still enough for a team to take a chance on him, especially in a weak market.


20. RP Brad Ziegler (37)

Brad Ziegler, a sidearm/submarine-style veteran, has been even better with the Boston Red Sox than he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitching to a combined 2.17 ERA and 1.31 WHIP while serving in multiple roles out of the bullpen, including closer.


21. SP Bartolo Colon (43)

“I think everybody just loves Big Sexy,” Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez told ESPN.com’s Kevin Van Valkenburg in July, speaking of baseball’s beloved elder statesman. Bartolo Colon is truly an ageless wonder, going 14-8 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over more than 186 innings for the Mets. He can hit a little, too.


22. SP Doug Fister (33)

Doug Fister isn’t the same pitcher he was in 2014, when he finished eighth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, but he is still a capable back-of-the-rotation arm who can eat some innings.


23. DH Kendrys Morales (33)

A full-time DH, Kendrys Morales delivered his first 30-homer season since 2009 and should remain relatively productive through the life of his next deal. That kind of performance makes it a stretch to think that he’ll exercise his portion of an $11 million mutual option to stay in Kansas City next season.


24. OF Carlos Gomez (31)

CarGo has looked more like his usual self with the Rangers after a brutal stint with the Houston Astros, both at the plate—he’s posted a .291/.371/.564 slash line over 31 games—and in the field, with above-average defense.


25. OF Matt Holliday (37)

Matt Holliday rediscovered his power stroke, going from four home runs in 2015 to 19 in 2016. But he struggled overall, hitting just .242 with a .768 OPS. Unlikely to have his $17 million team option picked up by St. Louis, he could wind up in the AL as a part-time DH.


Honorable Mention: SP R.A. Dickey, OF Rajai Davis, SP Colby Lewis, 1B/OF Brandon Moss and OF Colby Rasmus.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs and are current through games of Sept. 28.

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