Is free agency dead? Not exactly, but this off-season will feature fewer potential franchise-changing signings than usual. For one thing, several clubs who once could be counted upon to spend big—we're looking at you, Yankees, Red Sox and Mets—say they're in frugal mode. Also, most organizations now strive to keep young stars from reaching the open market. This season alone, Matt Cain (Giants), Andre Ethier (Dodgers), Cole Hamels (Phillies) and Yadier Molina (Cardinals) re-upped with their current teams, keeping them from becoming free agents this winter.
This is an article from the Nov. 5, 2012 issue
Even so, there is talent to be had for teams seeking outfielders and starting pitchers. Here's the top five in the Reiter 50, SI.com's annual ranking of the best 50 domestic free agents. The rest of the list will be available at SI.com/mlb.
1 JOSH HAMILTON, OF
2013 age: 32 2012 stats: .285/.354/.577, 43 HR, 128 RBIs, Best fit: Brewers
A free agent with Hamilton's gifts can usually expect a nine-digit contract taking him into his 40s. But his history of drug addiction and injury means he will likely receive an offer high on dollars but short on years. Milwaukee surprised everyone with a late season push into contention. Signing Hamilton (above) would give it the NL's scariest heart of the order as it tries to get back into the playoffs.
2 ZACK GREINKE, SP
2013 age: 29 2012 stats: 15--5, 3.48 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.5 K/9 Best fit: Dodgers
The market will run deep with quality starters—including Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Hiroki Kuroda, Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson—but Greinke stands alone as the only in-his-prime ace despite his 3.83 ERA in the three seasons since his AL Cy Young Award. Every pitching-needy team will covet him, but the Dodgers, with new owners whose pockets have yet to be demonstrated to have bottoms, will be a favorite to get him.
3 B.J. UPTON, OF
2013 age: 28 2012 stats: .246/.298/.454, 28 HR, 78 RBIs, 31 SB Best fit: Rangers
Upton hasn't fulfilled the promise he demonstrated in 2007, when at age 22 he hit .300 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. But he has shown flashes, such as this past September, when he hit 12 homers. His age and tools make him one of this winter's most attractive free agents. Should the Rangers decide to part ways with Hamilton they will need a centerfielder, and they might invest in Upton's persistent potential.
4 MICHAEL BOURN, OF
2013 age: 30 2012 stats: .274/.348/.391, 9 HR, 57 RBIs, 42 SB Best fit: Nationals
Teams that hope Bourn's subpar second half (he hit .225) might depress his value will be disappointed. Many clubs covet a classic leadoff hitter who is also the game's best defensive centerfielder. Washington is a likely landing spot: The up-and-coming Nationals want to move Jayson Werth out of the leadoff spot and Bryce Harper out of center, and have a strong relationship with Scott Boras, Bourn's agent.
5 NICK SWISHER, OF
2013 age: 32 2012 stats: .272/.364/.473, 24 HR, 93 RBIs, Best fit: Phillies
Swisher contributed to the Yankees' October malaise, batting .167 during the playoffs, a figure that would impress only Alex Rodriguez. Still, clubs will pursue him for his patience and consistency—he is one of six players to hit more than 20 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. The Phillies traded outfielders Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino at the deadline and could use Swisher to bolster an aging lineup.