Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

2012 Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 50-1

St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols celebrates his single next to Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder in the 2nd inning of Game 3 of the MLB National League Championship Series baseball playoffs in St. Louis

St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols (5) celebrates his single next to Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder (28) in the 2nd inning of Game 3 of the MLB National League Championship Series baseball playoffs in St. Louis, Missouri, October 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)


Instead of breaking the rankings up further, here’s the entire top 50. Links to the articles for free agents 111-51 can be found below.

Again, I’m ranking the free agents based more on how I believe teams view them than how I see the players myself. Personally, I’d take a chance on Vladimir Guerrero over Johnny Damon this winter and I’d pursue Erik Bedard before Roy Oswalt. However, I think Damon and Oswalt are likely to get better contracts.

Free agents Nos. 111-91, Nos. 90-71, Nos. 70-51

(All ages are as of April 1, 2012. Compensation noted as Type A or Type B when applicable)

50. Freddy Garcia (Age 35, Yankees, Type B): Despite pitching in Yankee Stadium and making half of his starts against AL East teams, Garcia finished last season with his lowest ERA (3.62) since 2001. He came in an 2.84 against those teams not in the AL East. While he did miss time with a finger injury, he avoided arm problems for the second straight year. The Yankees have interest in bringing him back, but he’ll likely want to know that he’s assured a rotation spot before he re-signs.

49. Mark Ellis (Age 34, Rockies, Type B): After a horrible start for Oakland, Ellis rebounded to .274/.317/.392 in 263 at-bats for the Rockies. Still a well above average defender at age 34, he’s due a cut from last year’s $6 million salary, but he won’t have any trouble landing a starting job. The Rockies will make an attempt to re-sign him.

48. Ramon Hernandez (Age 35, Reds, Type A): Hernandez passed up a chance at more money last winter to stay with the Reds for $3 million and turned in another fine season, hitting .282/.341/.446 in 298 at-bats. He’d probably prefer to stick around Cincinnati again, but with Devin Mesoraco ready for the job, Hernandez is nearly certain to move on. The Dodgers and Rays could be among his top suitors.

47. Matt Capps (Age 28, Twins, Type A): Capps was a disaster as Minnesota’s closer last season, but it wasn’t as though it was a complete meltdown; he finished with a 4.25 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. The scary thing is that he struck out just 34 in 65 2/3 innings. Capps certainly would have gotten a multiyear deal had he been a free agent last winter, and given his youth, he still might receive one now. However, the loss of strikeouts is a big concern and, as a flyball pitcher, he was actually pretty ideally suited to working at Target Field.

46. Ryan Ludwick (Age 33, Pirates, Type B): With a .229 average and 19 homers in 699 at-bats, Ludwick hasn’t done much of anything since the Cardinals traded him to the Padres in 2010, and the Pirates aren’t expected to have any interest in re-signing him after he hit .232 with two homers in 112 at-bats after being picked up from San Diego at the deadline. That said, he still offers 25-homer ability and pretty good defense in right field. He’s spent pretty much his entire career playing half his games in parks that punish right-handed power hitters.

45. Jonathan Broxton (Age 27, Dodgers): Broxton appeared set up for a long run as a dominant closer a year and a half ago. Of course, he then went and posted a 7.13 ERA in the second half of 2010 and missed most of 2011 with elbow problems that required minor surgery. Broxton is very young (the ever-injured Joel Zumaya is the only younger player to qualify for free agency this year), and the surgery to remove loose bodies isn’t something that should prevent him from being ready for 2012. There’s an awful lot of upside here, and someone should guarantee him $5 million or so to see if he can make it most of the way back.

44. Aaron Harang (Age 33, Padres, Type B): It was a bit of a surprise that the Padres declined their half of a $5 million mutual option on Harang after he went 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA in 28 starts for the club. One figures he’ll make at least that much in free agency, though other teams would be smart to be cautious. Harang made 17 of his 28 starts at Petco Park last year, finishing with a 3.05 ERA in 109 1/3 innings. He had a 4.70 ERA in 61 1/3 innings elsewhere. Given his flyball tendencies and diminished stuff, he needs a big ballpark in order to be a success.

43. Cody Ross (Age 31, Giants, Type B): Apart from his strong finish and better postseason with the Giants in 2010, Ross hasn’t been a very good regular the last two years. What’s really odd about his 2011 was that he stopped hitting lefties, coming at .234/.336/.362 against them. A right-handed hitter, he’s typically had big platoon splits in the past, but he was actually quite a bit better versus righties last season. Ross was in line for a multiyear deal before hitting .197 in the second half. Now he’ll probably have to take a one-year pact.

42. Vladimir Guerrero (Age 37, Orioles, Type B): Guerrero’s strong finish should ensure that he gets another DH job next year, though he won’t make $8 million like he did with the Orioles. After a dreary first half, Guerrero rebounded to hit .304/.319/.456 after the break and .349/.362/.532 in September. He might have one more 25-homer season left in his Hall of Fame bat.

41. Bartolo Colon (Age 38, Yankees): Colon followed up a strong first four months by going 0-4 with a 5.37 ERA in his final 10 starts for the Yankees. Still, he ended the season with a 4.00 ERA in 164 1/3 innings and peripherals that were even a little better than that. He seems less likely than Garcia to return to New York, though there will probably be more demand for his services on the open market. There’s a non-zero chance that he could regain a little more velocity in his second year back from shoulder surgery.

40. Joe Nathan (Age 37, Twins): Nathan didn’t have the smoothest of recoveries form Tommy John surgery, but after struggling for two months and then sitting out a month with a sore elbow, he posted a 3.38 ERA and a .193 average against in his final 29 1/3 innings. He sounds more interested in pitching for a contender than racking up saves, so he might sign on as a setup man with a large-market team.

39. Bruce Chen (Age 34, Royals, Type B): Chen missed time with a strained lat, but he still won 12 games for the second straight season and finished with an impressive 3.77 ERA in 25 starts for the Royals. The Red Sox wanted to acquire him to start a potential playoff game against the Rays, but he stayed put and threw eight scoreless innings in Kansas City’s finale against the Twins. His tumbling strikeout rate doesn’t seem to bode well, so it wouldn’t be a very good idea for any team to sign him to a two-year pact. The Royals, though, appear likely to offer him one.

38. Johnny Damon (Age 38, Rays): Damon is hardly a prototypical designated hitter, but he got the job done in that role for the Rays, hitting .261/.326/.418 with 16 homers and 19 steals. It should also be noted that Tropicana Field has been playing as one of the game’s top pitchers parks lately and that Damon hit far better in road games last season, coming in at .280/.345/.463. That he’s very durable and he can still play an adequate left field are big pluses, even if he can’t match the other available DHs bomb for bomb.

37. Aaron Hill (Age 29, Diamondbacks, Type B): Hill was in the midst of a second straight brutal year with the Blue Jays before the trade to Arizona reversed his fortunes. He went from .225/.270/.313 before the deal to .315/.386/.492 in 33 games afterwards. He also hit .278/.435/.444 in the five games against the Brewers in the NLDS. The Diamondbacks declined his $8 million option for 2012, but they’ll probably offer him $4 million-$5 million to stay. A better defender than Kelly Johnson, he offers the most upside of the second basemen available, which could lead to a couple of two-year offers.

36. Jason Marquis (Age 33, Diamondbacks): Brought in by the Diamondbacks to help solidify their rotation, Marquis suffered a fractured leg in his third start with the team and missed the rest of the season. He was 8-6 with a 4.43 ERA before going down. It’s doubtful that his act would work in the AL with his awful strikeout rate, but he can provide 30-33 average starts as a National League fourth starter.

35. Clint Barmes (Age 33, Astros, Type B): He’s not in the same league with Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, but Barmes had a better 2011 than anyone else from this class of free agent shortstops, which includes Rafael Furcal, Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt. It helps that his walk rate has turned respectable these last two years. With his pop and solid defense, Barmes could well get a two-year deal to man shortstop for some team.

34. Joel Pineiro (Age 33, Angels): Pineiro was pretty successful in his return to the AL in 2010, but his strikeout rate bottomed out and he failed to get quite so many grounders last season. Much of the blame has to go to the sore shoulder he came down with in spring training. Pineiro did finish the season healthy, and he still has strong enough groundball and walk rates to succeed even while striking out just a batter every other inning. He’ll likely have to settle for a one-year deal, so a team with a strong infield defense could do a lot worse.

33. Derrek Lee (Age 36, Pirates, Type B): Lee redeemed himself in the second half, hitting .323/.379/.576 with 10 homers in 158 at-bats. Most of that production came after Baltimore traded him to Pittsburgh, so the Pirates are going to make a bid to re-sign him. Lee, though, could draw interest from contenders once the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder situations sort themselves out.

32. Rafael Furcal (Age 34, Cardinals, Type B): Furcal’s injury woes led to some retirement talk last season, but it doesn’t sound like he’s giving up that easily. While he’s been around a long time, Furcal is just 34 and only a year and a half older than Barmes. He still has sufficient range for shortstop, and he excelled offensively as recently as 2010, when he hit .300/.366/.460 in 97 games for the Dodgers. He’d be an upgrade for the Brewers and the Phillies’ best option if Rollins leaves.

31. David DeJesus (Age 32, Athletics, Type B): DeJesus probably would have been in line for a three-year deal worth $20 milllion-$25 million had he just turned in his usual campaign. Instead, he was a bust for the A’s, hitting .242/.323/.376. It’s good news for whatever team lands him now, as he should be a relative bargain on a one-year deal. He did rebound to hit .276/.356/.465 with five homers over the final two months of last season.

30. Casey Kotchman (Age 29, Rays): Seven years and four teams after debuting with the Angels, Kotchman finally had his breakthrough season in 2011, hitting .306/.378/.422 in 500 at-bats. He also played his trademark excellent defense at first base, and he was equally worthy of the Gold Glove that went to Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez. Since he’s so limited in the power department, he’s not going to command a big salary as a free agent. However, he’s more likely to land a two-year deal than older first-base options like Lee and Carlos Pena.

29. Coco Crisp (Age 32, Athletics): Crisp had a healthy season for the first time in a while, but it wasn’t a particularly productive one, as he hit just .264/.314/.379 in 531 at-bats. On the plus side, he was an exceptional 49-for-58 stealing bases and he played his usual above average defense in center field. Since Grady Sizemore can’t truly be counted on, Crisp rates as the top center fielder on the market. He’d prefer to stay on the West Coast, so San Francisco looks like an obvious destination.

28. Tsuyoshi Wada (Age 31, Japan): Wada picked a great time to have his best season to date, finishing 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA and a 168/40 K/BB ratio in 184 2/3 innings for the Softbank Hawks. He’s known to want to make the jump to MLB, and the Dodgers, Mariners and Yankees are among the teams that have sent scouts to check him out. A finesse lefty, Wada throws in the high-80s and uses a slider and a changeup. One figures he’d be at least a No. 4 starter in the US and maybe something more, particularly in year one with the league so unfamiliar with him.

27. Carlos Pena (Age 33, Cubs, Type B): Pena shook off his rough 2010 with the Rays to hit .225/.357/.462 with 28 homers in his first year in the National League. It’s probably time to reduce him to a platoon role -- he hit just .133 in 120 at-bats against left-handers -- but he should be enough of an asset against right-handers to justify a $7 million-$8 million salary next year.

26. Erik Bedard (Age 33, Red Sox): Even if his healthiest season since 2007, Bedard made just 24 starts. But he was generally impressive in those 24, finishing with a 3.62 ERA and a 125/48 K/BB ratio in 129 1/3 innings. His stuff remains intact, as he was working between 89-92 mph regularly and showcasing the outstanding curve that helped him fan 221 batters in 182 innings for the Orioles four years ago. Bedard has as much upside as any pitcher available in free agency, and given that he’ll be 20 months removed from shoulder surgery on Opening Day, he looks like a better bet now than he has been in years. That doesn’t make him worth a multiyear deal, but a team could guarantee him $7 milllion-$8 million with a chance to earn as much again in incentives.

25. Grady Sizemore (Age 29, Indians): Now that he’s three injury-ravaged years removed from being one of baseball’s best players, the Indians couldn’t justify picking up Sizemore’s $9 million option for 2012. There should, however, be several large-market teams willing to gamble that he can overcome his knee problems. Sizemore would prefer to stay in center field, but he said he’s open to anything. The Nationals look like an obvious fit with their hole in center, and the Red Sox love gambles like this, though Sizemore’s weak arm would be an issue in right field. Seattle is also sure to be mentioned here, since Sizemore is a Washington native and he used to play for current Mariners manager Eric Wedge in Cleveland.

24. Francisco Cordero (Age 36, Reds, Type A): Cordero’s collapsing strikeout rate didn’t prevent him from finishing 2011 with a 2.45 ERA and 37 saves in 43 tries, but the Reds correctly deduced that he wasn’t worth $12 million in declining his option for 2012. Cordero struck out 10 batters per nine innings each from 2005-08, but he’s been down to 7.8, 7.3 and now 5.4 in the three years since. Part of it is intentional; Cordero has started mixing in more changeups in an effort to get quick outs. However, the fact is that his fastball isn’t what it used to be. There’s a good chance he’ll re-up with the Reds, possibly for around $16 million for two years.

23. Hisashi Iwakuma (Age 30, Japan): Iwakuma was posted last winter, drew a $19 million bid from the A’s and then returned to the Rakuten Golden Eagles after failing to reach a contract agreement with Oakland. This time the right-hander is a true free agent and still has every intention of making the jump to MLB. A shoulder injury limited Iwakuma in the first half of last season, but he bounced back strong to finish with a 2.42 ERA and a 90/19 K/BB ratio in 119 innings. In 2010, before Japan introduced a new baseball that depressed offense league-wide, he had a 2.82 ERA and a 153/36 K/BB ratio in 201 innings. The A’s viewed him as being worth about $9 million per season a year ago, and while the shoulder injury could scare a few teams off, it shouldn’t prevent him from getting a multiyear contract this winter. $21 million for three years could get it done.

22. Kelly Johnson (Age 30, Blue Jays, Type A): Johnson couldn’t hold on to his big gains from 2010, falling from .284/.370/.496 to .209/.287/.412 before an August trade shipped him from Arizona to Toronto. After that, he rebounded to hit .270/.364/.417 in 115 at-bats. Johnson probably isn’t quite as adept at second base as Ellis or Hill, but defense metrics have been pretty kind to him recently, rating him as an above average defender these last two years. If that’s to be believed, then he’d be worth at least $8 million per year as a free agent. However, there may not be anyone willing to pay a second baseman that kind of money this winter, and since Johnson is a Type A free agent, meaning the team that signs him would lose a draft pick, he may just end up accepting arbitration from the Blue Jays.

21. Paul Maholm (Age 29, Pirates): Maholm was having one of his best seasons before going down wish a shoulder strain in mid-August, and he did finish with a new career low ERA of 3.66 in 162 1/3 innings. Always durable previously, he made at least 29 starts in each of his previous five major league seasons. The Pirates declined his $9.5 million option, even though that would seem to be close to the going rate for a left-hander with his track record. The shoulder injury makes him a riskier signing in a long-term deal, so he might be better off signing a one-year deal with a contender and taking his chances on the market again next winter.

20. Javier Vazquez (Age 35, Marlins): With his velocity still well down, Vazquez looked done for 2 1/2 months last year. In fact, his ERA stood at 7.09 on June 11. However, from there, he allowed more than three earned runs just once in 19 starts, going 10-5 with a 1.92 ERA. In his last six outings, he allowed a total of three runs in 45 innings. Despite all of his success, Vazquez is believed to be leaning towards retirement so that he can spend more time with his family. If he does return, it will likely be with Miami, allowing him to work close to his home in Puerto Rico.

19. Jason Kubel (Age 29, Twins, Type B): Kubel has youth working on his side, but he is a natural DH who has finished with OPSs of .750 and .766 the last two years. Target Field probably deserves some responsibility for his drop-off since his big 2009; he has just 12 homers at home, compared to 21 on the road, in the two seasons since it opened. His overall home-road split was even in 2010, but last year, he came in at .253/.314/.377 in Minnesota and .288/.345/.476 elsewhere. With all of the DH options available this winter, Kubel is probably going to end up signing as a left fielder. He’s not atrocious defensively, but he is well below average. The team that goes beyond $16 million for two years will be overpaying.

18. Roy Oswalt (Age 34, Phillies, Type A): Oswalt wasn’t a fourth ace for the Phillies when he finished 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP last season. A back injury limited him to 23 starts and robbed him of a little velocity when he was on the mound. Oswalt’s degenerative disks can be managed, but they’re going to be an issue for the remainder of his career. He’d be an awfully risky proposition on a multiyear deal as a result. Oswalt is believed to want to remain in the NL, though it’d be better for his back if he didn’t have to worry about hitting. The Phillies will probably let him move on, perhaps to the Nationals or Yankees.

17. Josh Willingham (Age 33, Athletics, Type A): Willingham established new career highs in homers with 29 and RBI with 98 last season, but it was hardly a career year, as he actually finished with his lowest OPS (.810) in his six seasons as a regular. That Willingham does have a history of back problems figures to hurt him this winter; he’s the most consistently productive outfielder available, but he’s played in 102, 133, 114 and 136 games the last four years. He’s probably most valuable to a team that can use him as a DH at least once per week. That might be Cleveland, Detroit or Toronto. However, NL teams like the Braves and Reds should also be interested.

16. Francisco Rodriguez (Age 30, Brewers, Type A): Rodriguez was unhappy as a setup man after being traded to the Brewers, but it didn’t show in the results, as he had a 1.86 ERA after the deal. Overall, he came in at 2.64 and finished with a 79/26 K/BB ratio in 71 2/3 innings. It was the second season in a row that he posted the best walk rate of his career. K-Rod isn’t as overpowering as he used to be, but since he’s become much more of a pitcher, he should have several more quality years as a closer in his future. A three-year, $30 million deal might be within reach.

15. Hiroki Kuroda (Age 37, Dodgers, Type B): C.J. Wilson is the only free agent starter who looks like a better bet for 2012 than Kuroda, who had a career-best 3.07 ERA in 202 innings last season. Kuroda, though, won’t be going to the high bidder. He probably could have commanded a three-year contract in the $30 million range last year, but since he wasn’t sure how much longer he wanted to stay in the US, he opted for a one-year, $12 million deal to remain with the Dodgers. He’s again expected to either re-sign with the Dodgers or return to his native Japan.

14. Ryan Madson (Age 31, Phillies, Type A): Likely to command a lesser annual salary than Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell, Madson might be the wisest investment in the closer market this winter. He shined in the ninth inning last season after struggling there previously, converting 32 of 34 save chances for the Phillies. His worst ERA over the last five years was a 3.26 mark in 2009. The Phillies are sure to make re-signing him a top priority, but they could face competition from the Blue Jays, Red Sox and others. He might be the one closer to get a four-year deal.

13. Michael Cuddyer (Age 33, Twins, Type A): It’s easy to see why Cuddyer is such a fan favorite, but he’s going to be a dangerous signing this winter as he enters his age-33 season. While he may be thought of a consistent offensive force, he’s managed an OPS over .800 just three times in his career, and though he’s helped the Twins by stepping in at third base and second base the last two years, he’s not an asset defensively anywhere other than maybe first base. Expectations are that Cuddyer will get a three-year contract anyway. The Twins will try to get him re-signed, but they could lose out to the Phillies, Indians or Giants once the bidding gets to the $25 million-$30 million range.

12. Heath Bell (Age 34, Padres, Type A): Bell’s strikeout rate took a big dive last season, but it didn’t stop him from finishing with a 2.44 ERA for the Padres. It might have been a temporary blip, given that his velocity was unchanged. With a 2.43 ERA in road games the last three years, Bell is hardly a Petco Park creation. He is older than the other top closers on the market, but since he didn’t put much mileage on his arm during his 20s, that’s not a very big concern. Unless suitors get smart and leverage the closers against one another this winter, Bell could command a three-year, $30 million deal. Alternatively, Bell could simply accept San Diego’s impending arbitration offer and earn $10 million or so that way.

11. David Ortiz (Age 36, Red Sox, Type A): Far from washed up, Ortiz has reemerged as one of the AL’s best hitters since May 2010. He finished fourth in the league with a .953 OPS last season, and he was simply incredible against left-handers, revamping his approach to hit .329/.423/.566 against them. Ortiz is a Red Sox icon and he probably wouldn’t be so good anywhere other than Fenway -- he’s had sizeable home-road splits five years running -- but a divorce is a possibility, mostly because Boston is going to be wary of giving a multiyear contract to a 36-year-old DH. Ideally, the two sides would be able to settle at $25 million for two years.

10. Aramis Ramirez (Age 33, Cubs, Type B): Now 33 and never very good at third base in the first place, Ramirez would likely be more valuable if moved across the diamond to first. However, there’s no way that’s happening this winter. Ramirez is far and away the top choice in a weak class of free agent third basemen. He got off to a very poor start last season, but he was one of the NL’s best hitters over the final four months on his way to ending the year with a .306/.361/.510 line. The Angels, Tigers, Dodgers and Marlins are candidates to make bids, with Oakland and Colorado becoming possibilities if his price tag falls.

9. Edwin Jackson (Age 28, Cardinals, Type B): Jackson has never inspired a whole lot of confidence, but given that he’s young, durable and throws 95 mph, someone figures to offer him a four-year contract this winter. It helps that he’s one of the very few free agents who, in theory anyway, still has his best days ahead of him. Jackson ended last season 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA for the White Sox and Cardinals before struggling in the postseason. He was pushed back to Game 4 in the St. Louis rotation for the World Series, and he walked seven in 5 1/3 innings in a loss then. Overall, he was 1-1 with a 5.60 ERA in four postseason starts. The Royals, Nationals and Cubs could be among the bidders here.

8. Carlos Beltran (Age 34, Giants, Type A): Technically, Beltran is a Type A free agent. However, he can’t be offered arbitration, which means the team that signs him won’t have to worry about losing a draft pick. After missing much of the previous two seasons due to knee problems, Beltran moved to right field and returned to All-Star form last year, coming in at .300/.385/.525 in 142 games for the Mets and Giants. He’s not the all-around superstar he once was, but with his 25-homer power and on-base skills, he’s a legitimate No. 3 or 4 hitter in a contender’s lineup. The Giants want him back, but they could face competition from the Tigers, Red Sox and maybe even the Yankees (Nick Swisher could be traded in that scenario). He mightd be looking at $30 million for two years or $40 million for three.

7. Mark Buehrle (Age 33, White Sox, Type B): The future wasn’t looking too bright when Buehrle finished the worst strikeout rate and second worst ERA and WHIP of his career in 2010, but he improved significantly in each category last season. Buehrle has now thrown over 200 innings in 11 straight seasons, and he seems like an ideal choice to provide stability for a young pitching staff. Of course, it will be expensive stability. The thought for years is that Buehrle is going to want to finish his career with St. Louis, but the Cardinals don’t look like a fit at the moment. If the White Sox don’t want to go there, the Nationals or Cubs may give him $50 million for four years.

6. Jonathan Papelbon (Age 31, Red Sox, Type A): It was a disastrous ending to Papelbon’s season, as he blew two of his final three save chances, including the loss in game 162 against the Orioles. Before that, though, Papelbon was 30-for-31 converting saves, and he ended up with an incredible 87/10 K/BB ratio to go along with his less impressive 2.94 ERA. While Papelbon may not inspire quite as much confidence as he used to, the fact is that he’s throwing just as hard and getting as many swings and misses as ever before. He seems like a bigger injury risk than the other top closers, but he’s never been on the disabled list as a major leaguer. He’ll get the top contract among closers this winter, possibly something like $48 million for four years, and the Red Sox might as well be the ones to give it to him.

5. Jimmy Rollins (Age 33, Phillies, Type A): Rollins appears well past his peak offensively, but he was somewhat better last season, coming in at .258/.338/.399 in 567 at-bats for the Phillies. He’s still a very good defender despite having lost a step, and there’s no concern that he’ll have to move off shortstop during the life of his next contract. So, how much is he worth? Rollins has been an acceptable leadoff man just once in the last three years, and he’s probably going to make more sense as a No. 7 hitter by 2013 or 2014. The Phillies should kick in a little extra in an effort to limit his new contract to three years because the potential years four and five could get really ugly.

4. C.J. Wilson (Age 31, Rangers, Type A): Wilson had to be happy to see CC Sabathia re-sign with the Yankees quickly, leaving him as the undisputed top starter available in free agency. His postseason performance was disappointing, but Wilson has ranked among the AL’s top 10 starters both years since moving into the rotation and, because of all of the time he spent in the pen, he doesn’t have a whole lot of mileage on his arm. He seems like a better investment now than A.J. Burnett and John Lackey did when they got their five-year, $82.5 million contracts. Wilson figures to land in that same neighborhood, and the Yankees might be the team to sign him.

*. Yu Darvish (Age 25, Japan): Darvish, of course, is not a free agent. If he were, though, he’d slot in ahead of Wilson as the top pitcher available, even with the concerns about how he’d adjust to MLB and to pitching once every five or six days. Darvish finished second in the Pacific League with a 1.44 ERA last season. He threw six shutouts in his 28 starts and finished with a 276/36 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. It was the third time he’s led his league in strikeouts and the fifth straight season that he’s finished with an ERA under 1.90. He’s also led his league in WHIP five straight seasons. Darvish isn’t yet a lock to come to MLB, but there have been strong indications that he’ll be posted. It could take $30 million-$50 million to acquire his rights and then $10 million per year to sign him from there.

3. Jose Reyes (Age 28, Mets, Type A): Reyes turned in his best offensive season in his walk year, coming in at .337/.384/.493, but he also missed 30 games with more hamstring injuries. It’s easy to forget now that he actually averaged 158 games per season in a four-year span from 2005-08. Reyes is still so young and incredibly dynamic when he’s in the lineup that he could land a seven-year deal even with the expectation that he’ll miss 20-40 games most years. Some suspect that the Brewers will be that team. The Nationals, Red Sox and Giants are other possibilities. He’s unlikely to command $20 million per year, but he won’t miss by all that much.

2. Prince Fielder (Age 27, Brewers, Type A): First basemen with Fielder’s body types have a history of aging poorly, but it’s no longer a concern that the 27-year-old is going to eat his way out of the league. He’s arguably in better shape now than he was a rookie in 2006, and while he’s error-prone at first base, it’s not really due to a lack of mobility. Fielder is a fantastic hitter and that’s not going to change anytime soon. He’ll probably fade quickly in his mid-30s, but he should rival Pujols over these next five years, and since he’ll likely be the cheaper of the two, it wouldn’t be so bad to pay for a couple of those lesser years in order to get him now. The Cubs and Dodgers could be the primary bidders here, and it should take $180 million for eight years to sign him.

1. Albert Pujols (Age 32, Cardinals, Type A): Pujols is coming off his worst year in 11 as a major leaguer, many still believe he is a couple of years older than his listed age and he plays a position at which the demand probably won’t exceed the supply this winter. And, duh, of course he should get the biggest contract of anyone anyway. Pujols might well be the greatest right-handed hitter of all-time, and he showed no signs of decline prior to 2011. Also, most of the 2011 drop-off came in the first two months of the season, and he came back to post an 1.155 OPS for the world champs in the postseason. Ideally, the Cardinals could lock him up for six years instead of eight, but $200 million for seven years would be a fair compromise.