Pricing the free agents

12/20/2012 - MLB

I served as a general manager for more than a decade, and committing big dollars to a free agent is always a gamble. You have to try to balance age, injury history, tools, performance and makeup before making an offer.

The following is my estimate of what I what I think will be the 50 biggest contracts given out this winter, based on average annual value (AAV). (I also did this last year if you want to check how I did.) I use AAV because that is what the MLB Players Association is most concerned with when evaluating contracts. When the AAV is equal, tie goes to the contract with greater overall value.

This is not my preferential order, and player salaries and terms are often based on position, supply and demand. To get a better feel for the market, I also talked to agents, scouts and execs who will be heavily involved with this offseason's bidding.

A few other things to keep in mind as you read this list.

• Industry revenues continue to grow, and that will have a huge impact on free-agent contracts.

• The value of middle relievers continues to grow -- expect their salaries to do the same. This particular free-agent class has a solid quantity of quality setup relievers, so expect some surprising salaries for their ilk.

• Corner outfielders are scarce outside of Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, Cody Ross and Torii Hunter, but center field is deep with B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino and Angel Pagan.

• There is only one shortstop on the board, Stephen Drew, and I think he will benefit from that significantly.

• I think Angel Pagan has a chance to become the Aaron Rowand of this free-agent class with someone overpaying beyond his abilities because of his successful 2012.

• Hamilton's situation obviously will be the most interesting. He's looking for seven years, but I think he'll get five with a club option.

With all that said, let's get to the value rankings.

NOTE: Ages are as of Opening Day 2013.

Big Board Bar

1 Josh Hamilton

Analysis: His history of injuries, addiction and lapses on the field this year will prevent him from getting the type of contract length that players such as Joey Votto and Prince Fielder received. Four years would be the most appropriate length, but someone will offer him five with a club option. In terms of AAV, I think he will land just north of Votto and south of Fielder.
SIGNED: Angels -- 5 years, $125 million