We ranked 2017’s top free-agent outfielders. Overall ranking in the 2017 free-agent class is in parenthesis.
1. (3) J.D. Martinez, OF: Four of the next five players will be represented by Scott Boras, including Martinez, who hired him as free agency dawned. Players tend to hire Boras because he generally proves himself adept at extracting a significant amount of money, and Martinez, coming off a 45-home run, .690-slugging season, wants to get paid. Even with home runs up around baseball, Martinez’s age-29 season was a whopper, and he positioned himself as well as anybody. The drawbacks are clear. He’s not a good fielder and not a particularly good baserunner, and when you’re seeking $200 million, those tend to be prerequisites. Home runs tend to wash away such concerns, and Martinez packs enough to mitigate the apprehension.
2. (6) Lorenzo Cain, CF: Will his legs hold up? That’s what the Royals have asked themselves for the past six years. They see Cain hobbling around the clubhouse like a decrepit old man and wonder how much of it is show and how much pain he’s really in. When he’s out on the field, Cain is a wonder, particularly in center and on the basepaths. The bat plays, too. If the legs go, though, the rest of the game could suffer quickly, and the notion of Cain keeping his speed and his health for the next five years simply doesn’t square with someone who will be 32 this April. If that means a shorter-term, higher-dollar offer, it might be the prudent play.
3. (10) Jay Bruce, OF: While it’s not quite as acute as with Hosmer, the difference of opinion between the analytical and scouting crowds is rather strong with Bruce, too. He’s still just 30 and coming off back-to-back seasons in which he slugged .500. His OBP leaves plenty to be desired, and his glove is better in scouts’ reports than data analyses. The list of corner outfielders available this winter does not run deep, and that plays well enough in Bruce’s favor that he could wind up getting four years.
4. (20) Carlos Gonzalez, OF: This was not the CarGo of years past, and it’s why he’ll be the first on this list to go for a one-year deal. Anything longer would strike him as a lowball in dollars. With one year, he gets to pick where he’ll prove himself, potentially join a playoff contender and re-enter the market in a much stronger class but with achievement, not disappointment, on his side.
5. (28) Carlos Gomez, OF: Once upon a time, he had the best center-field glove in the big leagues. With his 32nd birthday just before the Winter Meetings start, Gomez will fight the perception that he may not age well, limiting the possibilities of a longer-term deal someone with his reputation might fetch otherwise.
6. (37) Jon Jay, OF: Gets on base. Plays a workable center field and solid corner. The antithesis of flashy but still the sort almost every front office would love to get on a one-year deal.
7. (49) Matt Holliday, OF: Before a bout with Epstein-Barr virus and a back injury, Holliday was in the midst of a resurgence, with an OPS over .900. He finished the season under .750. Though he turns 38 in January, he may be the best bet of the over-35 crowd.
8. (50) Austin Jackson, CF: True, his greatest seasons come from a significant amount of ball-in-play luck. (See: 2012, 2017.) Still, Jackson is an average center fielder, and among that, his bat and his age (30), he’s the new Chris Young: a lefty killer who holds his own against righties.
9. (52) Jarrod Dyson, OF: The epitome of a glove-and-wheels player, the former 50th-round pick is either an excellent fourth outfielder or a solid 400-plate appearance center fielder.
10. (53) Melky Cabrera, “OF”: He’s a mess in the outfield, but the 33-year-old Cabrera still can hit from both sides of the plate, and he’s plenty employable accordingly.
11. (62) Jayson Werth, OF: Laugh at the notion of veteran presence as you may. Teams do not. And while Werth is no longer an $18 million-a-year player, bringing him aboard in a role similar to what Houston’s wizened sorts did for the young Astros – and benefitting from his excellent plate discipline – will make a team look smart.
12. (63) Jose Bautista, OF: It’s difficult to give up on players who walk as much as Bautista does. Even if his bat isn’t what it once was, and in 2017 it didn’t look close, bringing in Bautista at the right price is a high-upside value play. TL;DR: Jayson Werth clone.
13. (70) Cameron Maybin, OF: It’s fairly evident by this point that the 30-year-old Maybin won’t ever fulfill the oceans of promise he held coming up. Between his wheels and a legit center-field glove, he’s still a plenty productive major league player.
14. (73) Seth Smith, OF: A consistently solid hitter – his weighted on-base averages the past three seasons have been .331, .331 and .332 – Smith serves best as a platoon partner against righties who can be subbed in the late innings.
15. (74) Chris Young, OF: A notorious lefty killer, his .590 OPS against southpaws last season was 200 points lower than vs. righties. If age has taken his center-field range, the great bench value he brought is diminished.
16. (77) Andre Ethier, OF: Transitioning quite nicely into the old guy who destroys rookies’ souls and brightens the rest of our days in the process.
17. (79) Ben Revere, OF: Now here’s a little story I’ve got to tell, about one free agent who ran quite well, it started way back in history, with a weak-armed outfielder named Benny. He was a 30-year-old named Ben Revere. He didn’t hit for power but he had no fear. It was rare that he fanned, his game was quite bland. For a big league deal there would still be demand.
18. (86) Curtis Granderson, OF: As positively dreadful as he was with the Dodgers, Granderson is worthy of a fourth-outfielder spot or perhaps a platoon role that pits him against right-handed pitching only. Enough lefty killers exist to make it a fruitful arrangement.
19. (90) Daniel Nava, OF: The prettiest swing in baseball is Nava’s from the left side, where he hit .341/.423/.474 in 2017. Late bloomers are great, and Nava earned a big league deal with his most recent performance.
20. (91) Rajai Davis, OF: Another fourth outfielder who, on today’s short benches, serves a particular role with his ability to swipe bases and play a respectable center field.
21. (109) Ichiro Suzuki, OF: He says he wants to play until he’s 50. Satchel Paige and Minnie Minoso could use a little company.
22. (129) Gregor Blanco, OF: May need to play his way onto a team during spring training, but his speed is a valuable enough asset that he usually stays once he’s there.
23. (130) Michael Saunders, OF: In the first half of the 2016 season, Saunders hit .298/.372/.551. He has fallen so badly it’s tough to see a team guaranteeing him much, if anything.
24. (141) Franklin Gutierrez, OF: Injury problems again plagued Gutierrez, whose potency against left-handed pitching makes him desirable nonetheless. He’s the sort who can sign a minor league deal and easily made the club out of spring.
25. (152) Oswaldo Arcia, OF: Didn’t get a shot with Arizona after hitting .320/.410/.639 in the bonanza known as the Pacific Coast League. Still the sort who packs enough power to turn a minor league invite into something more.
26. (155) Hyun-soo Kim, OF: Following a solid rookie season, his power disappeared, and he’s likely to as well. From Major League Baseball. Not earth. That would be sad.
27. (161) Melvin Upton Jr., OF: Amazing to think he’s still just 33 years old. His $72 million mess of a contract feels like it was a decade ago. Will take another crack at returning after playing just 12 games at Triple-A in 2017.
28. (166) Craig Gentry, OF: Once upon a time, he could hit a bit and play a nice center field. The embers of that bat remain warm. That glove vanished long ago and with it his utility as a backup center fielder.
29. (169) Anthony Gose, RP/OF: Hit 99 mph in his first outing as a lefty reliever. Showed promise. Hit the DL with a sore elbow and never returned. At 27, he’ll be back at some point – and if ever he finds a modicum of control could get fast-tracked.
30. (170) Alejandro De Aza, OF: Needs a strong 2018 season or may not get another crack at the big leagues.
31. (174) Tyler Collins, OF: Will pursue a major league contract this winter, only to find teams like this .
32. (175) Peter Bourjos, OF: At least Bourjos used to make up for his mediocre bat with an elite glove. Now he’s just average in center field, too.
33. (180) Michael Morse, OF/1B: Even if he never plays an inning of baseball again, hopefully he makes a full recovery from the concussion that ended his season – and that would never have happened if Hunter Strickland hadn’t held his ridiculous, petty, childish grudge on Bryce Harper and thrown at him, setting off the brawl in which Morse was injured.
34. (184) Colby Rasmus, OF: Still not clear if he has any intentions of returning after quitting in the middle of the season. Whether he does or doesn’t, here’s to Rasmus finding contentment wherever life takes him.
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