- Keith Law, ESPN Insider
Major league teams have more money than ever to spend on players, so I'm expecting the recent trend of salary inflation to continue this offseason even without many superstars available as free agents. That's a good thing for many players on my list of the top 50 free agents available, because this year's free-agent class has a lot of impact in the top 10 or so names, but after that, the crop becomes pretty sparse.
This isn't surprising, given how many players sign long-term extensions to stay with their current teams. Hunter Pence, who would have been in the top 10, re-signed with San Francisco right at the end of the season, taking another impact guy off the market before he even reached it. So beyond the top of the list, you see a lot of fringe regulars and back-end starters. There's also the occasional upside play on a guy who has been injured or is coming off a year below his career norms.
With these rankings, I try to give a rough idea of the offer I'd be comfortable making to each player, assuming I were 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. (For example, the marginal revenue product of one win, meaning the additional revenues generated by one more victory, for the Pirates likely went up as their 2013 season went on and it became clearer that they were a playoff team with a shot at the division title.)
My numbers are not predictions, and they often will fall short of actual market values, due to the "winner's curse" phenomenon, where 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.
I've also noted which players have received a $14.1 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.
Keith Law ranks the top 50 free agents in this winter's class, starting with Robinson Cano.