Top upcoming free agents boost stock at plate
With the final month of the regular season nearly upon us, pennant races have solidified. So, too, has the market for prospective free-agent hitters.
With Edwin Encarnacion and Yoenis Céspedes, the 2016 season has reinforced industry opinion. They are positioned to secure big paydays, just as their track records had suggested.
Others have improved their financial prospects considerably, either by returning to good health or thriving in unexpectedly prominent roles. Here's a list of upcoming free-agent position players who have done the most to improve their near-term earning potential.
Ian Desmond, OF, Rangers
Always popular in the sport, Desmond earned even more admirers this year. He displayed class in handling the disappointment of a one-year deal with the Rangers, after having turned down a reported seven-year, $107 million offer from the Nationals prior to Spring Training in 2014. Desmond embraced a move from shortstop to the outfield, and he made the All-Star team thanks to strong offensive numbers. An OPS under .700 since the start of July could hinder his market somewhat, but he appears certain to land a multiyear deal.
Dexter Fowler, CF, Cubs
The Cubs' stunning one-year, $13 million deal with Fowler will be remembered as one of last offseason's great signings. It was no accident that the Cubs' midseason swoon coincided with Fowler's trip to the disabled list -- or that they began regaining their form almost exactly when he returned. Fowler, a first-time All-Star, is having arguably his best all-around offensive season; he turns 31 in March and should land a lucrative multiyear contract.
Brandon Moss, 1B/OF, Cardinals
Aside from one month on the disabled list, Moss' platform year has gone precisely according to plan. The Cardinals' numerous injuries have afforded him everyday at-bats, with many recent starts in the cleanup spot. Moss crushes right-handed pitching and has held his own against left-handers. He's made himself into an All-Star corner player with the requisite power.
Mike Napoli, 1B/DH, Indians
When the season began, many viewed Napoli as a great clubhouse guy and reliable playoff performer who was probably nearing the end of his career. Now? He looks rejuvenated at age 34, in his second full season since undergoing life-changing surgery to repair sleep apnea. Napoli should finish with a career high in home runs, surpassing the 30 he hit in 2011, when he was very nearly named World Series MVP. He may land the multiyear deal that eluded him during the offseason of '12-13, when a degenerative hip condition was discovered during his physical with the Boston Red Sox.
Martín Prado, 3B, Marlins
Quietly, Prado has been among the biggest reasons for the Marlins' place among the National League Wild Card contenders. For much of his career, his versatility has been his greatest strength. This year, however, manager Don Mattingly has played him exclusively at third base -- with extraordinary results. Prado has ranked among the league leaders in batting average for much of the season. His positive clubhouse presence and unselfishness -- in addition to the obvious offensive ability -- will make him a popular free agent this offseason.
Wilson Ramos, C, Nationals
While Ramos' improved production could be attributed to Lasik surgery, Nationals officials believe he benefited equally -- if not more -- from living with his family and working out in Florida for the entire offseason. (Typically, Ramos returns in the offseason to his native Venezuela, where he was the victim of a kidnapping in the fall of 2011.) Ramos has hit a career-best 19 home runs and leads all qualifying catchers with an .890 OPS. Ramos, who turned 29 this month, will be the top free-agent catcher this offseason.
Michael Saunders, OF, Blue Jays
The Mariners never seemed to value Saunders' skill set, and following a December 2014 trade to Toronto, he played in only nine games last year due to injuries. But this year, in his native Canada, he's broken out at precisely the right time with an All-Star appearance and career-best numbers in virtually every major offensive category. Saunders, who turns 30 in November, is a relatively young free agent; the Jays likely will make a bona fide effort to keep him.
Mark Trumbo, RF/DH, Baltimore Orioles
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made one of last offseason's best trades when he acquired Trumbo -- this year's Major League home run leader -- from the Mariners for backup catcher Steve Clevenger. Camden Yards is perfect for Trumbo, who is taking advantage of the cozy confines. He'll likely draw the most interest from teams that play in similarly hitter-friendly confines, since his on-base percentage remains low and strikeout total high.
Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers
A season that began with doubts surrounding Turner's durability after microfracture knee surgery is likely to end with him setting a new career high in games played. He's already established a career best in home runs and is on pace to do the same in slugging percentage. Although Turner has lost the athleticism that once allowed him to play all around the diamond, he's a good defensive third baseman with demonstrated 20-homer power. One potential issue: Relatively few teams will be in the market for a third baseman this offseason.
Neil Walker, 2B, Mets
Walker faced questions about his durability during his final years in Pittsburgh, but he's yet to spend a day on the disabled list in 2016. He's also poised to set a career high in home runs and already has helped his value by saying publicly that he's open to playing multiple positions.