WAR, what is it good for? Ranking free agents
There are many ways to evaluate free agents, but for this exercise we decided to let the numbers speak for themselves. What follows is a list of the top 50 free agents this offseason, as ranked by their wins above replacement over the last three years. In order to give more credit to recent seasons, we ranked them by weighted WAR, with 2014 given three times as much weight as 2012, and 2013 getting twice as much. The weighted WAR you see listed below is the sum of that calculation.
This is not intended to be a ranking of how much each player will earn on his next contract, or how much demand there will be for their services, but rather an objective attempt to measure the recent performance of these players. While not perfect, WAR is a good measure for performance over an extended period, and also the most useful tool we currently have for comparing hitters and pitchers.
Ages listed are as of Opening Day 2015, asterisks indicate players who received qualifying offers.
1. Max Scherzer, RHP, 30*
3-year WAR (weighted): 16.9 (35.6)
The asking price will be sky-high for the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner, who is 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA over the past two seasons. Any big, long-term deal for a pitcher entering his 30s carries significant risk, but Scherzer checks every box in terms of stuff, results and durability, with six straight seasons of 30-plus starts.
2. Russell Martin, C, 32*
3-year WAR (weighted): 11.6 (26.8)
He set a career high with a .402 OBP in 2014 and is by far the best catcher on the market. However, that OBP was supported by a .336 BABIP, which was way out of line with his career .289 mark and suggests some regression is in store.
3. Chase Headley, 3B, 30
3-year WAR (weighted): 13.6 (24.4)
He hasn't been able to replicate his breakout 2012 season -- which has inflated his three-year WAR total -- when he finished fifth in the NL MVP voting. Still, Headley posted a .371 OBP and .768 OPS after escaping Petco Park for Yankee Stadium this July, and third basemen who consistently add value on both sides of the ball are not easy to find. His glove makes him more valuable than most realize.
4. Hanley Ramirez, SS, 31*
3-year WAR (weighted): 10.3 (22.6)
Though injuries have hampered Ramirez over much of the past two seasons, he's still one of the most explosive shortstops in the league when healthy. His numbers were so phenomenal in 2013 -- he hit .345 with 20 home runs -- that he finished eighth in NL MVP voting, despite playing only 86 games. He's no longer the 30-30 threat that he was in his earlier days, but he's still hit double-digit home runs in all of his nine seasons and stolen 10 or more bases in all but one of those campaigns.
5. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, 40
3-year WAR (weighted): 12.0 (20.9)
The Yankees declined to give a qualifying offer to the steady veteran, who made $16 million last year and could return for an eighth MLB season or go back to Japan. Even at his advanced age, few pitchers offer the consistency of Kuroda, who has put together five straight seasons with at least 196 innings and an ERA better than league average.
6. James Shields, RHP, 33*
3-year WAR (weighted): 10.1 (20.8)
The '14 postseason didn't bolster Shields' "Big Game" nickname, and his next contract could cover his mid-to-late 30s, which can be dangerous terrain. Still, Shields has thrown the most innings in baseball since 2007 and is one of three pitchers to reach the 200 mark in each of those years, including at least 227 in each of the last four. That sort of durability is difficult to find.
7. Jon Lester, LHP, 31
3-year WAR (weighted): 8.3 (20.5)
He has made at least 31 starts in every season since 2008, but took his performance to another level in '14. In a contract year split between Boston and Oakland, Lester posted career bests in ERA, FIP, WHIP, innings, walk rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Teams will have to decide if they want to bet top dollar on the southpaw sustaining most of that improvement.
8. Victor Martinez, DH, 36*
3-year WAR (weighted): 7.2 (19.5)
Primarily a designated hitter at this stage of his career, Martinez did make 33 starts at first base this past season and two more behind the plate. Defensive role aside, Martinez led the American League with a .409 on-base percentage and topped all Major Leaguers with his .974 OPS. All this while crushing a career-best 32 home runs and striking out only 42 times.
9. Nelson Cruz, LF, 34*
3-year WAR (weighted): 7.6 (19.2)
He figures to appeal more to an AL team that can use him at least part-time at DH, as the Orioles did this year. But even NL clubs might live with the defense after Cruz led the Majors with 40 homers in a power-starved season, driving in 108 runs and slugging .525.
10. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, 28*
3-year WAR (weighted): 8.2 (18.2)
Another strong postseason has only bolstered Sandoval's position. His issues with conditioning and injuries will impact negotiations on a long-term deal, but the Panda still is one of just five third basemen to produce at least 2 WAR in five of the past six seasons.
11. Jake Peavy, RHP, 33
3-year WAR (weighted): 8.7 (14.2)
The veteran rebuilt some value after his July 26 trade from Boston (4.72 ERA) to San Francisco (2.17), though he stumbled in the postseason. Staying in the NL probably makes the most sense for Peavy, who posted a career-low strikeout rate this season, along with his worst strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2003.
12. Colby Rasmus, CF, 28
3-year WAR (weighted): 7.3 (13.7)
Injuries have held Rasmus to 222 games over the past two seasons, and he's put up a sub-.300 OBP in three of the past four. Over the last four seasons, he's averaged 19 home runs per year, with a .430 slugging percentage, setting him apart in a shallow market for center fielders.
13. Melky Cabrera, LF, 30*
3-year WAR (weighted): 7.5 (13.4)
He consistently rates below average according to ultimate zone rating, but with the exception of an injury-plagued 88 games in 2013, Cabrera has cleared an .800 OPS in three of the past four years. The switch-hitter is a threat from both sides of the plate and produced a .301/.351/.458 line this season, drawing a qualifying offer from Toronto.
14. Nori Aoki, RF, 33
3-year WAR (weighted): 7.5 (12.6)
In three seasons since coming over from Japan, Aoki has consistently provided roughly league-average offense, hitting .287/.353/.387 and posting the league's third-lowest strikeout rate. However, he's been an inefficient basestealer, going 37-for-57 (64.9 percent) the past two years, and his defense in right can be an adventure.
15. Adam LaRoche, 1B, 35
3-year WAR (weighted): 7.2 WAR (12.5)
Despite his age, LaRoche has averaged 26.5 homers over the past three seasons, while also steadily improving his walk rate. The 11-year veteran worked a career-high 82 walks this past season, helping him to put up another personal-best .362 on-base percentage.
16. Jason Hammel, RHP, 32
3-year WAR (weighted): 6.2 (12.3)
What are you going to get out of Hammel? Interested teams will be wondering as much after a four-year stretch in which his ERA fluctuated from 4.76 to 3.43 to 4.97 to 3.47, and his FIP followed suit. Even within '14, Hammel posted a 2.98 ERA in 17 games for the Cubs, then 4.26 in 13 games for the A's, with a 5.10 FIP.
17. Alex Rios, RF, 34
3-year WAR (weighted): 7.3 (10.6)
The Rangers declined their $13.5 million option on Rios, who battled injuries and didn't play at least 145 games for the first time since 2006. Rios hit .280, but his power evaporated, with only four homers and a sub-.400 slugging percentage. He also tumbled from a career-high 42 steals to 17.
18. Francisco Liriano, LHP, 31*
3-year WAR (weighted): 4.4 (10.4)
If Liriano leaves Pittsburgh, where he turned around his career over the past two seasons, he'll present a high-risk, high-reward option for potential suitors. The lefty misses bats (9.7 strikeouts per nine innings in '14) but also issues a lot of free passes (4.5 walks per nine), and his ERA and FIP both climbed significantly from 2013 to '14.
19. Torii Hunter, RF, 39
3-year WAR (weighted): 7.8 (10.3)
His bat remains solid, producing a 111 OPS+ last year that matched his career total and put him above league-average for an 11th straight year. But age has chipped away at the nine-time Gold Glove-winner's defense, with advanced metrics showing him well below average the past two seasons.
20. Chris Denorfia, RF, 34
3-year WAR (weighted): 6.4 (10.2)
This ranking is buoyed by a 4.4 WAR seasons in 2013, and does not reflect Denorfia's market value. Splitting his year between San Diego and Seattle, Denorfia hit a career-worst .230/.284/.318 in '14, thanks at least in part to an uncharacteristically low .283 BABIP. His .849 OPS against left-handed pitchers from 2010-13 makes him an attractive platoon option, though.
21. David Robertson, RHP, 29*
3-year WAR (weighted): 5.4 (10.1)
Taking over for legendary closer Mariano Rivera, Robertson held his own in '14, racking up 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA. He was also lights out in his three years as a setup man from 2011-13 before assuming the closer's role upon Rivera's retirement.
22. Jed Lowrie, SS, 30
3-year WAR (weighted): 5.4 (9.2)
Lowrie took a step back for the A's in '14 after hitting a career-best .290 in 2013. He hit just .249 this past season and connected for only six home runs over 136 games after hitting 15 in 2013 and 16 in just 97 games the year before. Regardless, Lowrie would still be an offensive upgrade for a number of teams at shortstop.
23. Pat Neshek, RHP, 34
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.5 (8.6)
Neshek may have earned himself a multi-year deal on the market this winter after a stellar '14 season. Signed to a Minor League deal at the beginning of camp, Neshek posted a 1.87 ERA in 67 1/3 innings over 71 games, while making his first All-Star appearance. Prior to this season, Neshek hadn't worked more than 40 1/3 innings since tossing 70 1/3 frames for the Twins all the way back in '07.
24. Luke Gregerson, RHP, 30
3-year WAR (weighted): 4.3 (8.4)
Gregerson figures to be one of the most sought-after right-handed relievers on the market this winter. He's coming off his best season as a pro, racking up a career-best 2.12 ERA over 72 appearances for the Athletics. Gregerson, who spent his first five seasons with the Padres before being traded to the A's last winter, has now turned in a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the last four years.
25. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, 29
3-year WAR (weighted): 5.5 (8.4)
He was primarily a shortstop over the last six years, but spent the latter half of '14 at second base following a trade to the Nationals. An All-Star in 2011 and 2012, Cabrera's defense has fallen off a bit over the last two years, though he's still hit double-digit homers in four straight seasons.
26. Ervin Santana, RHP, 32*
3-year WAR (weighted): 2.8 (8.1)
Last season, Santana declined the Royals' qualifying offer and didn't sign with the Braves until March. He faces a similar decision this year. Santana notched his second-best strikeout rate (8.2 strikeouts per nine) and FIP (3.39) in '14 despite a pedestrian 3.95 ERA.
27. Michael Cuddyer, RF, 36*
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.5 (7.8)
After hitting a Coors Field-inflated .331 to win a batting title in 2013, Cuddyer actually raised his average by a point this year, but played only 49 games around three DL trips. If he's healthy, he offers a stellar bat -- with a 121 OPS+ over the past six years -- though defensive metrics suggest he might fit better at first base (or DH) by now.
28. Nick Markakis, RF, 31
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.5 (7.4)
The Orioles declined Markakis' $17.5 million option, but are still working to retain him for a 10th year in Baltimore. He offers durability, playing at least 155 games in seven of the past eight seasons, and a career .358 OBP (.342 in '14) that fits at or near the top of a lineup. But after slugging .455 from 2006-12, he's dipped to .371 since.
29. Josh Willingham, LF, 36
3-year WAR (weighted): 4.9 (7.4)
He crushed 35 homers and slugged .524 as recently as 2012, but was limited to 203 games, 28 homers and a .380 slugging percentage while battling injuries in the two years since. There have been reports that he will retire after finishing up '14 in a bench role for the Royals.
30. Mark Ellis, 2B, 37
3-year WAR (weighted): 5.0 (7.2)
Ellis struggled in his debut season with the Cardinals in '14, hitting only .180 over just 73 games. Retirement is certainly an option for the 37-year-old Ellis, though he's not too far removed from posting a respectable 2.8 WAR with the Dodgers in 2013, hitting .270 with 13 doubles and six homers.
31. Andrew Miller, LHP, 29
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.0 (7.0)
Miller looked like a dominant pitcher for the first time in his career in '14, posting a 2.02 ERA over 73 combined appearances between the Red Sox and the Orioles, and then tossing 7 1/3 shutout innings over five postseason appearances.
32. Rafael Soriano, RHP, 35
3-year WAR (weighted): 4.3 (6.8)
The Nationals declined a $14 million club option on Soriano, who has 117 saves over the last three seasons. Though he struggled a bit down the stretch this season, Soriano still locked down 32 saves for the Nats after picking up 43 in 2013, and 42 while filling in for an injured Mariano Rivera the year before.
33. Francisco Rodriguez, RHP, 33
3-year WAR (weighted): 2.5 (6.7)
He led the NL with 66 games finished in '14, but the 14 homers allowed in 68 innings stand out as a potential red flag going forward.
34. Billy Butler, DH, 28
3-year WAR (weighted): 4.9 (6.6)
Butler has said throughout the year that he hopes to remain a Royal, even after the club didn't pick up his $12.5 million option. At just 28 years old, he's played at least 150 games in six straight seasons -- including all 162 in 2013 -- and he had hit double-digit homers in six straight seasons before coming up just one shy of doing so again this year.
35. Chris Young, RHP, 35
3-year WAR (weighted): 2.8 (6.6)
After not pitching in the Majors in 2013, Young enjoyed a renaissance in Seattle, logging a 3.65 ERA over 165 innings. Despite his 6-foot-10 frame, he gets by with craftiness that allows him to overcome a fastball that averages 86.1 mph. Young faded late in the season, but due to a string of injuries, it was his first full season since '07.
36. Ichiro Suzuki, RF, 41
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.6 (6.4)
He's not what he once was (obviously), but even at his advanced age, Ichiro still could draw interest as a part-time outfielder. He got 385 plate appearances for the Yankees last year, easily a career low, and hit .284/.324/.340 while going 15-for-18 in stolen bases.
37. Aaron Harang, RHP, 36
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.1 (6.2)
After a rough 2013, Harang was released by the Indians toward the end of Spring Training before re-establishing his value in Atlanta. The 13-year veteran topped 200 innings for the first time since '07, while posting a 3.57 ERA that was perfectly matched by his FIP.
38. A.J. Burnett, RHP, 38
3-year WAR (weighted): 4.1 (5.9)
Burnett declined a $12.75 million player option that would have kept him in Philadelphia because he reportedly wants to pitch for a contender. He'll be hard-pressed to top that salary on the open market at his age, coming off a year in which he posted a 4.59 ERA, albeit while pitching through a hernia.
39. Kelly Johnson, 3B, 33
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.6 (5.7)
The nine-year veteran played a significant amount at the hot corner for the first time in his career in '14, while suiting up for three different AL East clubs and hitting .215/.296/.362. Johnson puts up low averages but flashes some power (six seasons with 12-plus homers), doesn't show a platoon split and has experience at four positions.
40. Emilio Bonifacio, UTIL, 29
3-year WAR (weighted): 2.5 (5.6)
He can play a lot of positions and he's an efficient basestealer, having succeeded on 84 of his 103 attempts over the last three seasons (81.6 percent).
41. Neal Cotts, LHP, 35
3-year WAR (weighted): 2.8 (5.5)
Hip problems forced him to miss three seasons, but he's been an effective lefty out of the 'pen the last two years, though he's actually tougher on right-handed hitters, holding them to a lower OPS than lefties in each of the last two seasons.
42. Jason Frasor, RHP,
3-year WAR (weighted): 2.4 (5.2)
He got a lot less fanfare than his bullpen mates in Kansas City last season, but Frasor was nearly as effective, posting a 1.53 ERA with a 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 outings for the Royals.
43. Clint Barmes, SS, 36
3-year WAR (weighted): 2.8 (5.2)
Barmes is coming off an injury-riddled '14 campaign, in which he hit .245 over just 48 games. In his three seasons with the Pirates, Barmes has posted an unsightly .224/.271/.314 line, though he has contributed a positive defensive WAR each of the last seven seasons.
44. Stephen Drew, SS, 32
3-year WAR (weighted): 2.5 (5.0)
Drew is coming off his worst offensive season in the Majors, hitting just .162 over 85 combined games between the Red Sox and the Yankees. Hoping to find a more permanent home, Drew is still just one season removed from a breakout 2013 campaign in which he hit .253 with 13 homers, 29 doubles, eight triples and 67 RBIs for the Red Sox.
45. Casey Janssen, RHP, 33
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.4 (5.0)
He's averaged 27 saves per season during the last three seasons, though his 3.94 ERA in '14 was his worst over the six seasons he's spent strictly as a reliever. Janssen will look to improve his strikeout rate in 2015 after striking out just 5.5 batters per nine innings this past season.
46. Brandon McCarthy, RHP, 31
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.0 (5.0)
McCarthy's value could depend on whether teams believe he's shaken the shoulder problems that sent him to the DL every year from 2009-13. He finally stayed healthy in '14, setting a career-high with 200 innings, and he delivered a 2.89 ERA in his final 14 starts after a trade to the Yankees.
47. Kyle Kendrick, RHP, 30
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.0 (4.7)
It's been a rough last two years for Kendrick, who produced ERAs of 4.70 and 4.61 in a combined 62 starts. During that span, he struck out only 5.5 batters per nine innings, and opponents hit .280 against him.
48. Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH, 31
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.9 (4.7)
Morales struggled this past season after finally signing with the Twins in early June and later being traded to the Mariners. Despite hitting just .218 over 98 combined games with Minnesota and Seattle, Morales is only one season removed from hitting 23 homers and 34 doubles with the Mariners in 2013.
49. Gavin Floyd, RHP, 32
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.2 (4.6)
After missing most of 2013 due to injury, right-hander Gavin Floyd returned to the mound with the Braves in '14. He went 2-2 with an impressive 2.65 ERA in nine starts. However, Floyd will be an injury risk for whatever team takes a flyer on him next season.
50. Sergio Romo, RHP, 32
3-year WAR (weighted): 3.0 (4.3)
Romo surrendered 1.4 homers per nine innings this year, by far a career high, and lost his closer job. But Romo turned things back around down the stretch, with a 0.93 ERA and 23 strikeouts over his final 19 1/3 innings. He's consistently excellent against right-handers, who have hit .185/.230/.308 against him in his career.
Best of the rest (3-year WAR/weighted):
A.J. Pierzynski, C (4.1/4.2)
Matt Albers, RHP (2.3/3.9)
Matt Belisle, RHP (2.9/3.7)
WAR data via Baseball Reference