Top free-agent list this winter

Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Bourn looks on Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Bourn looks on during batting practice before a game against the Miami Marlins. (Sept. 17, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The system has changed for Major League Baseball this year, with the introduction of qualifying offers for compensation purposes rather than arbitration, but the basic principle has not.

Money talks, and those conversations begin in earnest this weekend, followed by the GM meetings, which start Wednesday in Indian Wells, Calif. In most cases, when it comes to free agency, bet the over, as teams on the cusp of contention -- or those desperate to get back to October -- tend to get cavalier about the price tags when offseason shopping.

This group lacks market-busting types such as Albert Pujols ($240 million) and Prince Fielder ($214 million) of a year ago. Despite more of a middle class this winter, they can quickly turn upwardly mobile when teams have cash to spend. And with a new collective-bargaining agreement in place, there's labor peace, as well as more money coming in from freshly minted TV deals with MLB.

How much that emboldens clubs in the weeks ahead remains to be seen, and there is sure to be a sizing-up period as everyone watches where the jumping-off point will be. With the qualifying offers already in place-- it's set at $13.3 million for 2013 -- players have until Friday at midnight to decide whether to accept them.

Those who accept remain with their current teams for next season. Those who don't become free agents and will cost their next club a draft pick as compensation if they do sign elsewhere.

This list is not all-inclusive but is a cross-section based on relative market value this winter, and not a strict ranking according to contract terms.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

1. JOSH HAMILTON, OF

A perennial MVP candidate. Concerns over lingering health issues and ongoing battle with drug addiction should keep Hamilton well below the $200-million threshold.

Prediction: Brewers, five years, $125 million.

2. ZACK GREINKE, RHP

Another X-factor because of his struggles with social anxiety disorder. Greinke still is the best starting pitcher available on the open market this winter, and that's worth plenty.

Prediction: Angels, six years, $130 million.

3. MICHAEL BOURN, OF

Bourn turns 30 in December, so he's going to start losing speed over the length of this next contract. With Scott Boras as his agent, he won't lose much money.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Prediction: Nationals, five years, $76 million.

4. B.J. UPTON, OF

Like your home runs with a healthy side order of strikeouts? Upton has power but has trouble getting on base to utilize his speed. Nice fit for Citizens Bank Park.

Prediction: Phillies, six years, $94 million.

5. NICK SWISHER, OF

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Yankees helped raise his Q rating, but Swisher has value as a switch hitter with a discerning eye at the plate and decent pop. Good investment for teams that don't play in October.

Prediction: Padres, four years, $48 million.

6. TORII HUNTER, OF

Good timing by Hunter, who batted a career-best .313 in his walk year. Lives in Dallas suburbs . . . likes Texas . . . Rangers will need an outfielder. Hmm.

Prediction: Rangers, two years, $22 million.

7. ADAM LAROCHE, 1B

The Nats fell short of the jackpot but LaRoche didn't, thanks to a 33-homer, 100-RBI season that should make him popular this winter. He could even stay inside the Beltway.

Prediction: Orioles, four years, $68 million.

8. KYLE LOHSE, RHP

Lohse is 30-11 in his last two seasons and is coming off 211 innings with a 2.86 ERA for the Cards this year. The Boras Binder won't need much filler to get Lohse what he wants.

Prediction: Red Sox, four years, $60 million.

9. ANIBAL SANCHEZ, RHP

A solid July trade only looked better in the playoffs for the Tigers as Sanchez enhanced his market value with a 1.77 ERA in three postseason starts. That October pedigree is attractive.

Prediction: Tigers, five years, $85 million.

10. HIROKI KURODA, RHP

Kuroda has told friends he'll pitch for either the Yankees or the Hiroshima Carp next season but hasn't decided yet. Also, he's interested only in another one-year deal.

Prediction: Yankees, one year, $15 million.

11. ANGEL PAGAN, OF

Pagan was ecstatic in San Francisco, and the Giants were thrilled about swiping him from the Mets for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez. A happy Pagan is a productive Pagan.

Prediction: Giants, three years, $28 million.

12. RAFAEL SORIANO, RHP

It takes guts -- or Scott Boras as his agent -- for a closer to opt out of a guaranteed third year at $14 million. Boras is the best at exploiting a need. He won't have to look far.

Prediction: Tigers, three years, $45 million.

13. SHANE VICTORINO, OF

After talking his way out of Philly and not having much of an impact in L.A., Victorino, at 31, could benefit from a reboot after a disappointing walk year. A return to the NL East might help.

Prediction: Braves, two years, $19 million.

14. EDWIN JACKSON, RHP

The restless Jackson continued his transient lifestyle by signing a one-year deal with the Nats last winter, but a pitcher with his talents should stick at some point. Still might want to rent.

Prediction: Blue Jays, four years, $50 million.

15. DAN HAREN, RHP

The Angels chose to pay Haren a $3.5- million buyout rather than $15.5 million for one season, so he could find more security elsewhere. Why not drive north on the 5? Prediction: Dodgers, three years, $38 million.

16. MARCO SCUTARO, 2B

An unlikely October hero for the Giants, but at age 37, how much does he have left? Betting the world champs think he can be more than a good-luck charm next season.

Prediction: Giants, two years, $14 million.

17. RYAN DEMPSTER, RHP

Dempster didn't turn out to be the difference-maker the Rangers expected after July trade with the Cubs. Shrinking in a pennant race could spook big-market contenders.

Prediction: Twins, three years, $36 million.

18. ICHIRO SUZUKI, OF

Ichiro convinced the Yankees he can be a full-time player after his July trade from the Mariners, but life is going to be different in 2013 wherever he winds up. Starting with a huge pay cut.

Prediction: Yankees, two years, $10 million.

19. A.J. PIERZYNSKI, C

The combustible Pierzynski has settled in comfortably on the South Side, where the Sox's surprising success in 2012 was due in part to his big year. No need to end this relationship just yet.

Prediction: White Sox, two years, $12 million.

20. MELKY CABRERA, OF

From All-Star Game MVP to persona non grata for the Giants, Cabrera was suspended for PEDs and then demonized for his efforts to cover it up. Potential value signing for small market.

Prediction: Indians, one year, $6 million.

21. RUSSELL MARTIN, C

Martin didn't get many hits for the Yankees -- a late surge nudged him up to .211 -- but he did get his share of important ones. Still, Martin is a stabilizing influence and handles the Bronx well.

Prediction: Yankees, three years, 23 million.

22. DELMON YOUNG, OF

Got unwanted attention for instigating a hate crime on a Manhattan sidewalk. Then he raised eyebrows with his ALCS MVP. With fences moved in, Seattle is a nice, quiet place to put up numbers.

Prediction: Mariners, two years, $18 million.

23. MIKE NAPOLI, C

Napoli's average plummeted by nearly 100 points and his strikeouts spiked, but he still brings good power from behind the plate. Too bad Mets can't afford it.

Prediction: Red Sox, two years, $20 million.

24. SCOTT HAIRSTON, OF

Everyday slugger or platoon power? That's the debate when pricing Hairston, and he's worth a bump from the $1.1-million bargain the Mets got him for last season.

Prediction: Yankees, two years, $6 million.

25. STEPHEN DREW, SS

The surprising A's have moved beyond Hollywood fable status into a legit contender, and Drew became part of the fabric there.

Prediction: A's, two years, $14 million.

You also may be interested in: