MLB Free Agent Rankings: Most ace starters pitching worse than expected

A trip around the majors sees Stephen Strasburg strike out a baker’s dozen to cruise past the Cubs, plus Aaron Judge hammers his 27th homer in the Yankees win.

With one half of the baseball season almost complete, the upcoming free-agent class has already evolved considerably.

At the outset of this campaign, top-tier starting pitching looked to be plentiful. But the continued struggles of some moundsmen coupled with the emergence of several sluggers has seemingly altered the market.

Take New York Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka, for example. He’s been as high as No. 3 on this list in previous months, but has struggled so consistently that it’s now looking like he won’t utilize the opt-out in his contract to become a free agent. Thus, we’ve dropped him from our top 10.

Here’s a look at our latest free-agent rankings, based on the total contractual earnings a player stands to make this off-season.

Past FA Rankings: April | May

10. YONDER ALONSO

2017 Salary: $4 million
Age: 30
Position: First base
Bats: Left
17 HR | .283/.377/.570 | 1.6 WAR
  Previous ranking: Not ranked

Why teams will want him: We slept on Alonso during the first two months, but we don’t feel so bad because most of baseball did too. The truth is, his swing transformation has the 30-year-old producing like a star. The question now becomes how much a team pays a late-bloomer with only one great season on his resume.
The latest: Alonso doesn’t want to be traded and is said to be interested in re-signing with the Athletics, reports Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. His power numbers have slowed down after a hot May (three homers, seven RBI in June, compared to 10 and 17 the previous month), but his peripheral stats have remained steady.

9. WADE DAVIS

2017 Salary: $10 million
Age: 31
Position: Closer
Throws: Right
2.00 ERA | 27 innings | 40 strikeouts | 10 walks | 94.3 mph average fastball
  Previous ranking: No. 8

Why teams will want him: Because Davis is a stud closer, the type you place in the back end of your bullpen and don’t worry about. Need proof of the importance of such a pitcher? Imagine how scary the Washington Nationals would be with a stopper of Davis’s calibre.
The latest: Davis has delivered exactly what the Cubs expected when they traded for him last off-season and will be the preeminent reliever of the upcoming free agent class.

8. JONATHAN LUCROY

2017 Salary: $5,250,000
Age: 31
Position: Catcher
Bats: Right
4 HR | .261/.302/.372 | -0.1 WAR
 Previous ranking: 7

Why teams will want him: Despite an extremely poor showing offensively and defensively this campaign, Lucroy will still get his share of bidders, simply because he figures to be the top catcher on the market.
The latest: While his average has crept up after a rough opening month, Lucroy has just four home runs and a meagre .293 wOBA, which would be the worst since his rookie season in 2010.

7. JUSTIN UPTON

2017 Salary: $22,125,000
Age: 29
Position: Left field
Bats: Right
14 HR | .263/.349/.489 | 2.7 WAR
  Previous ranking: Not ranked

Why teams will want him: Upton’s in the middle of a bounce-back season that’s seen him improve in almost every major offensive category. He has accrued 2.7 Baseball-Reference WAR this season, which ranks seventh among American League outfielders.
The latest: The slugger can opt out of his contract at season’s end, leaving four years and $88.5 million on the table. That’s a lot of money to walk away from, but if Upton can continue producing at his current pace, it will be worth considering, even if it’s just to get out of Detroit at a time that the Tigers could be headed for a rebuild.

6. MIKE MOUSTAKAS

2017 Salary: $8,700,000
Age: 28
Position: Third base
Bats: Left
20 HR | .271/.309/.542 | 0.9 WAR
  Previous ranking: No. 10

Why teams will want him: Moustakas is the best third baseman on the market and will assuredly eclipse his career high of 22 home runs. Last off-season, the Dodgers re-signed 32-year-old third baseman Justin Turner to a four-year, $64-million deal after he put together a career season. That contract may serve as a starting point for the younger Moustakas.
The latest: The Red Sox are reportedly keen on Moustakas as an upgrade to their muddled hot corner situation, but given how well the Royals are playing at the moment, they may end up keeping him all year.

5. JAKE ARRIETA

2017 Salary: $15,637,500
Age: 31
Position: Starting pitcher
Throws: Right
4.67 ERA | 88.2 innings | 93 strikeouts | 31 walks | 92.1 mph average fastball
  Previous ranking: 2

Why teams will want him: The right-hander has diminished velocity and is allowing more than one hit per inning—discouraging signs for a 31-year-old. But he’s only one-and-a-half seasons removed from a 2015 that saw him post an eye-boggling 1.77 ERA over 229 innings to win a Cy Young award. Chances are some team will fork over money with that Arrieta, not the current one, in mind.
The latest: For the better part of two months Arrieta has taken one step forward and one step back with each outing. Things didn’t get better Tuesday night when he was blasted by catcher, and now ex-teammate, Miguel Montero, after the Nationals stole seven bases on the battery.

4. JOHNNY CUETO

2017 Salary: $21 million
Age: 31
Position: Starting pitcher
Throws: Right
4.20 ERA | 100.2 innings | 93 strikeouts | 28 walks | 91.6 mph average fastball
  Previous ranking: 5

Why teams will want him: Cueto’s had a mediocre 2017 while plagued by blister issues, but even so, the right-hander has a strong track record that could be attractive to many teams in need of a frontline starter.
The latest: To become a free agent, Cueto, who turns 32 in February, will need to opt out of the remaining four years and $84 million left on his current deal.

3. ERIC HOSMER

2017 Salary: $12,250,000
Age: 27
Position: First base
Bats: Left
9 HR | .306/.365/.465 | 1.2 WAR
  Previous ranking: 4

Why teams will want him: Hosmer doesn’t provide the type of big-time power that you’d like to see from a premium free-agent first baseman, but that’s the main drawback here. He’s a solid middle-of-the-order hitter who’s been on fire since a dismal April. In addition, he’s a three-time Gold Glove winner.
The latest: There’s been some speculation lately that Hosmer might not have a large list of suitors this winter because most teams seem relatively settled at first base. As ESPN’s Buster Olney has noted, that could mean Hosmer’s best chance at a big contract could come from the Royals.

2. J.D. MARTINEZ

2017 Salary: $11,750,000
Age: 29
Position: Right field
Bats: Right
13 HR | .293/.379/.640 | 1.2 WAR
  Previous ranking: 6

Why teams will want him: A legit power bat, Martinez is in the prime of his career. Quite simply, he’s the best hitter on this list.
The latest: He missed the first month and change of 2017 with a foot injury, but since his season debut on May 12, Martinez has posted a 1.019 OPS, trailing only five players in baseball (minimum 125 plate appearances) for that span.

1. YU DARVISH

2017 Salary: $11 million
Age: 30
Position: Starting pitcher
Throws: Right
3.11 ERA | 107 innings | 115 strikeouts | 37 walks | 94 mph average fastball
  Previous ranking: 1

Why teams will want him: He can slide to the top of any rotation. Sure, Darvish can’t yet claim the title of a true ace like, say, a Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw, but as a pitcher who’s just a notch below them, he’s a rare commodity.
The latest: June has been business as usual for Darvish as he continues to build on a superb walk year. In fact, he’s been better in some regards this month, posting a 6.17 K/BB rate that’s a vast improvement over his April (2.41) and May (2.38) ratios. With the Rangers hovering around .500, it’s possible they could trade Darvish by the deadline, but as Jeff Passan reports, it’s likely the right-hander will finish the season in Texas.

BONUS: BLUE JAYS FREE AGENT TO WATCH

Marco Estrada
2017 Salary: $14 million
Age: 33
Position: Starting pitcher
Throws: Right
4.89 ERA | 92 innings | 102 strikeouts | 28 walks | 90.0 mph average fastball
  Previous ranking: 9

Why teams will want him: Estrada has increased his strikeouts this season and is a proven playoff performer. He’s been a top-end starter for the Blue Jays, but could fit nicely as a No. 3 or 4 in a contender’s rotation.
The latest: Estrada must drastically change his fortunes after an ugly June that’s seen him go 0-4 while allowing a whopping 26 runs and 40 hits over 23.1 innings.

Other Blue Jays free agents

• Jose Bautista, OF
• Francisco Liriano, SP
• Darwin Barney, UTIL
• Joe Smith, RP
• J.P. Howell, RP

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