How much are the top free agents truly worth?

Justin Turner, Yoenis CespedesGetty Images, Icon Sportswire

Baseball's 2016-17 free-agent class is pretty awful, but it isn't completely devoid of stars. If you like closers, you have a few good ones to choose from. But let's face it: You can't build your whole team around a closer; they're the dessert -- not the main course.

Besides the closers, the icy grasp of entropy awaits. Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Turner are nice players, but both are on the wrong side of 30 and unlikely to be superstars, and the quality of free agents drops off immensely after the top handful.

That makes this winter a dangerous one for MLB execs. Just because the talent level available is weak doesn't mean the money dries up and baseball is awash in cash. A lot of bucks will be chasing very few prizes, and in such an environment, some noodle-scratcher contracts will come to pass. Stephen Strasburg got a pretty nice contract extension from the Nationals, but I think if he hit free agency under these circumstances, someone might have just given him their team.

Below we have the players with the top 25 free-agent valuations, as projected by the ZiPS projection system. This is not necessarily what each player will get paid or what he should expect to get paid, though there's obvious correlation. Rather, these are estimated valuations of what a player's contribution in wins is worth. In other words, this is how much ZiPS says the player is worth. Keep in mind that not every team is concerned with being the most efficient; teams in win-now mode with an obvious hole might rightly overpay to enhance their current core as much as they can.

Players are ranked by their average yearly salary, or A.A.V. (average annual value), beginning with the most expensive.


1. Justin Turner, 3B
Age: 31 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 8
2016 WAR: 4.9

ZiPS' projected value:?Five years, $107.7 million (A.A.V.: $21.54M)

Go back five years, and this would seem to be an odd name to see at the top of such a list. Turner was 26 and showed signs of becoming a journeyman jumping from Triple-A city to Triple-A city, especially after he started at second for the desperate Mets and posted results near replacement level. The Dodgers gave Turner a chance, first as a role player and then as a regular starter, and he didn't disappoint. Turner hit .296/.364/.492 in his three seasons in L.A. for a 136 OPS . That would be very good for a first baseman, but he isn't one. Although he might be stretched as a shortstop or second baseman, he has proven to be a more than competent third baseman.

There will be a lot of money chasing not a lot of talent, and Turner is a rare position player who isn't on the easy side of the defensive spectrum.

Declined qualifying offer


2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF
Age: 31 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 5
2016 WAR: 2.9

ZiPS' projected value:?Five years, $100.1 million (A.A.V.: $20.02M)

Cespedes pretty clearly demonstrated that his 2015 with the Mets was not his baseline expectation, with the increase in offense covering up the fact that his OPS fell from 155 with the Mets in 2015 to 133 over 2016, more in line with his career numbers.

That said, this figure might not get Cespedes. He's the best position player available, and though no team should think of him as a center fielder, he provides real defensive value in left.

SIGNED with Mets (4 years, $110 million)


3. Ian Desmond, OF
Age: 31 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 8
2016 WAR: 2.7

ZiPS' projected value:?Five years, $98.6 million (A.A.V.: $19.72M)

While the stories of a bounce-back season were a little overblown, given that Desmond returned to right about his career numbers, the pre-2015 Desmond was a very good player, if a hair short of being a star. Desmond wasn't a natural center fielder, but he handled the transition admirably, given the lack of experience. A middle infield slot is still where he has the most value to a team.

SIGNED with Rockies (5 years, $70 million)


4. Aroldis Chapman, RP
Age: 28 | B-T: L/L
Years in league: 7
2016 WAR: 2.5

ZiPS' projected value:?Five years, $92.2 million (A.A.V.: $18.44M)

I've started using a projected leverage index to project relievers for these purposes and better reflect how much money teams throw at closers. The one thing you actually can find in this free-agent period is a closer or two, and Chapman is the best one out there. I'd love to see a team try to start him again, but I'm thinking that ship has long since sailed.

SIGNED with Yankees (5 years, $86 million)


5. Kenley Jansen, RP
Age: 29 | B-T: B/R
Years in league: 7
2016 WAR: 2.5

ZiPS' projected value:?Four years, $73.5 million (A.A.V.: $18.38M)

Chapman is the best available, but Jansen is closer than you think, and there are no incidents resulting in suspension on his r?sum?, which might make him a more desirable target for some franchises. The Dodgers have the money to make them the front runners to bring back Jansen and, more importantly, his unfair, mid-90s cutter.

SIGNED with Dodgers (5 years, $80 million)


6. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH
Age: 33 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 12
2016 WAR: 3.7

ZiPS' projected value:?Four years, $71.4 million (A.A.V.: $17.85M)

If someone gives Encarnacion five years and $125 million, they're going to have a tough time gleaning value close to that. Like a lot of sluggers in the year of the home run, the increase in offense masked a decline relative to the league. A 133 OPS isn't something to scoff at, but it's his lowest number since he busted out in a big way in 2012. Encarnacion is a fearsome hitter, but he'll be 34 in January and isn't someone who brings a lot of defensive value.

Declined qualifying offer


7. Dexter Fowler, OF
Age: 30 | B-T: B/R
Years in league: 9
2016 WAR: 4.2

ZiPS' projected value:?Four years, $64.8 million (A.A.V.: $16.2M)

There's some risk for Fowler that he will accept his qualifying offer and end up back on the Cubs, though there are far worse fates. He had the best season of his career, his first 4 WAR campaign, but position players don't usually establish permanent, new levels of play at age 30, and a lot of Fowler's value centers around his playing, well, center.

SIGNED with Cardinals (5 years, $82.5 million)


8. Neil Walker, 2B
Age: 31 | B-T: B/R
Years in league: 8
2016 WAR: 2.4

ZiPS' projected value:?Four years, $64.4 million (A.A.V.: $16.1M)

Back surgery affects Walker's financial outlook (and projection), but there aren't many second basemen available projected to put up a .780 OPS and competently play the position defensively. That sounds a bit like how I described Daniel Murphy last year, though I don't expect Walker to also become a legitimate MVP candidate.

ACCEPTED qualifying offer with Mets (1 year, $17.2 million)


9. Jose Bautista, OF
Age: 36 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 13
2016 WAR: 1.0

ZiPS' projected value:?Three years, $47.3 million (A.A.V.: $15.77M)

When a player is signed to a long-term contract, both the player and the team take a risk. The team risks the player not meeting expectations, but less focused on by the public is that the player takes a risk of his own: that he is locked in at a rate under his market value. Bautista just turned 36, and it looks like he'll never be paid full price for his terrifying peak years.

Declined qualifying offer


10. Carlos Gomez, OF
Age: 30 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 10
2016 WAR: 0.1

ZiPS' projected value:?Three years, $47.0 million (A.A.V.: $15.67M)

Gomez was a wreck for two-thirds of 2016 but showed signs of a pulse with the Rangers, as he put up a couple months that almost salvaged what would have been a mess of a year. ZiPS still projects a comeback to something closer to his 2015 levels, which, while disappointing compared to his 2013-2014 peak, left him as a league-average center fielder. That has value.

RE-SIGNED with Rangers (1 year, $11.5 million)


11. Wilson Ramos, C
Age: 29 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 7
2016 WAR: 3.3

ZiPS' projected value:?Four years, $58.8 million (A.A.V.: $14.7M)

ZiPS is aware of Ramos' ACL tear, which is why he doesn't rank higher. Ramos comes with a risk, but he's still the best catcher out there. If he hits his upside, he'll be one of the best bargains available. I would've given him a qualifying offer if I ran the Nationals; even if he can't play catcher in 2017, Washington first basemen -- mostly Ryan Zimmerman -- were embarrassingly awful in 2016, so Ramos could play there.

SIGNED with Rays (2 years, $12.5 million)


12. Mark Melancon, RP
Age: 31 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 8
2016 WAR: 2.8

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $27.9 million (A.A.V.: $13.95M)

Older than Chapman and Jansen and without the eye-popping stuff, Melancon will be a nice consolation prize for a team that misses out on the bigger sweepstakes. You can't argue with his results, but a lower strikeout rate puts him in the next tier of closers.

SIGNED with Giants (4 years, $62 million)


13. Rich Hill, SP
Age: 36 | B-T: L/L
Years in league: 12
2016 WAR: 4.1

ZiPS' projected value:?Three years, $38.8 million (A.A.V.: $12.93M)

Yes, he'll be 37 in 2017. Yes, he's an out-of-nowhere story. Yes, he was healthy enough to pitch only 110 1/3 innings in 2016. But the free-agent market for starting pitchers looks like the shelves of a convenience store a month into the zombie apocalypse. Hill was actually good when he pitched in 2016, and that's more than you can say for much of the list.

SIGNED with Dodgers (3 years, $48 million)


14. Luis Valbuena, 3B/1B
Age: 30 | B-T: L/R
Years in league: 9
2016 WAR: 2.6

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $25.8 million (A.A.V.: $12.9M)

A below-average third baseman defensively, Valbuena is likely to contribute enough offensively to be an OK option at either third or first base/DH, at least as a stopgap.


15. Josh Reddick, OF
Age: 29 | B-T: L/R
Years in league: 8
2016 WAR: 2.6

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $25.5 million (A.A.V.: $12.75M)

Reddick was never a top-tier right fielder, but he provided just enough offense at his peak to go with his Gold Glove-caliber defense and make him a solid three- to four-win player for a few years. After a downtick in both offense and defense in 2016 (hardly unusual for a good but not great hitter after his peak), he's more in the stopgap territory.

Signed with Astros : 4 years, $52 million (A.A.V.: $13M)


16. Jason Castro, C
Age: 29 | B-T: L/R
Years in league: 6
2016 WAR: 0.9

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $25.4 million (A.A.V.: $12.7M)

If he had been a free agent following the 2013 season, easily his best season professionally, Castro would have made double that figure per year. The 130 OPS stands out as an outlier at this point, and he has settled into being an OK catcher, one ZiPS likes a bit better than his 2016 performance. But considering he'll turn 30 in 2017, the chances for stardom have evaporated.

SIGNED with Twins (3 years, $24.5 million)


17. Kendrys Morales, DH
Age: 33 | B-T: B/R
Years in league: 10
2016 WAR: 0.9

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $22.9 million (A.A.V.: $11.45M)

A DH type with an .850 OPS has value, as Morales did with the 2015 world champions. Under .800? Not so much. Morales was one of several 2015 contributors in Kansas City who had bust years in 2016, and though a team will sign him, he isn't likely to be anything better than a fill-in until a franchise finds its long-term solution.

SIGNED with Blue Jays (3 years, $33 million)


18. Jeremy Hellickson, SP
Age: 29 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 7
2016 WAR: 3.0

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $22.7 million (A.A.V.: $11.35M)

Hey, we got to a second starting pitcher! You wouldn't think Hellickson would get paid significantly more than that, but there again, we haven't dealt with a free-agent pitching market this weak, so we don't have a lot of precedents to look at it. Sure, Ian Kennedy made bank, but the Royals thought he was good. Hellickson is a good innings-eater, but the fact that he has the best five-year WAR projection of any starting pitcher available is more reflective of the market than anything else. Save us, Shohei Otani!

ACCEPTED qualifying offer with Phillies (1 year, $17.2 million)


19. Ivan Nova, SP
Age: 29 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 7
2016 WAR: 2.0

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $22.1 million (A.A.V.: $11.05M)

Under the tutelage of dark wizard (and Pirates pitching coach) Ray Searage, Nova had a shockingly good run in Pittsburgh, as he put up a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts with a shockingly good 52:3 K/BB ratio. That said, given his injury history and mixed results the rest of his career, I don't think teams are ready to believe Nova will be under the same blood magic enchantments outside of Pittsburgh.


20. Mark Trumbo, OF/1B
Age: 30 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 7
2016 WAR: 1.6

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $21.0 million (A.A.V.: $10.5M)

This valuation is for a neutral park as a designated hitter, but Trumbo's projection looks better in a park more tailored to his specific skill set: homers and nothing else. It's not that much better, though, and I expect Trumbo to do much better than the dollar figure above, yet become this year's worst signing. The natural comparison is Cruz, but Cruz at least has some defensive value and an OPS far above Trumbo's, even with the latter hitting 47 home runs.

Declined qualifying offer


21. Steve Pearce, 1B/2B/OF
Age: 33 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 10
2016 WAR: 2.3

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $20.6 million (A.A.V.: $10.3M)

Is Pearce the thinking man's Mark Trumbo? This projection assumes Pearce doesn't get a full-time role, but he'll be a far better bargain than Trumbo when all is said and done.

SIGNED with Blue Jays (2 years, $12.5 million)


22. Michael Saunders, OF
Age: 29 | B-T: L/R
Years in league: 8
2016 WAR: 1.3

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $20.3 million (A.A.V.: $10.15M)

ZiPS actually projects Saunders to be an above-average player again in 2017, but given his checkered injury history, it isn't willing to buy him playing 140 games again as a baseline assumption. There's some upside here, though.


23. Mike Napoli, 1B
Age: 35 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 11
2016 WAR: 1.0

ZiPS' projected value:?One year, $9.8 million

Like Trumbo, I expect Napoli to do better than the contract above, for similar reasons. But despite the 34 homers he hit in 2016, a career high, Napoli put up the second-lowest OPS of his career, at 104, which could impress teams because it's still above average for first basemen. Napoli used to be a more well-rounded hitter -- six seasons at or above a .350 OBP -- so some team figures to pay up for him.


24. Bartolo Colon, SP
Age: 43 | B-T: R/R
Years in league: 19
2016 WAR: 3.4

ZiPS' projected value:?One year, $9.6 million

Colon might be the patron saint of doughy baseball fans approaching middle age and coming off a really nice 2016, but the fact remains that he's going to be a 44-year-old pitcher, and though he deserves a big league job, it's unlikely anyone will go nuts for him financially.

SIGNED with Braves (1 year, $12.5 million)


25. Matt Wieters, C
Age: 30 | B-T: B/R
Years in league: 8
2016 WAR: 1.7

ZiPS' projected value:?Two years, $18.9 million (A.A.V.: $9.45M)

Oh, what could've been. Wieters had a nice run in 2011-2012, with less offense and more defense than was expected when the Orioles took him with the fifth pick in the 2007 draft. Like Gregg Jefferies, Wieters will always be looked at by history as a disappointment, a highly hyped player who had the nerve to end up as only a decent one. It's unlikely that Wieters will ever be a major factor on a championship team, but he can still be part of the supporting cast for one.