- In the first installment of the Top 100, we find several of this year's top free agents (Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez) as well as a few surprises (Chris Taylor, Byron Buxton) to kick off the week.
SI's MLB writers are proud to present our Top 100 for the 2018 season. The exercise is intended to demonstrate the players most likely to have an impact on the 2018 season based on past performance (we created a weighted WAR average over the past three seasons), injury history and future predictors. And then we argued among ourselves, tinkered with the list and, over time, concluded our rankings.
The goal was to evaluate each player independently (as well as we could, at least). We know that stats can be skewed by a player's team (would Chris Taylor be ranked if he were playing in Tampa Bay? Would Steven Souza crack the list if he were a Yankee?), but we felt our weighting system was the best way to rank players along with one essential question: Which player would you rather have if you needed to compile a roster in 2018? The player that was universally agreed upon was the one who received the higher ranking. Salary was not considered, and 2018 rookies were not included. Many thanks to the essential online resources: Baseball Reference, Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball, among others, for their assistance in helping us create this list.
The rankings are inexact. They are controversial. They may exclude players that you think are essential. So let's get to it.
100. Todd Frazier, Mets
Jay Jaffe: Frazier's batting average has fallen in each of the past three seasons, and his on-base percentages were just above .300 in both 2015 and '16. Even so, his tremendous power (102 homers over three years), good plate discipline and above-average defense make him a reliable two-way contributor, one whose 10.8 WAR from 2015 to '17 is tied for ninth among all MLB third basemen.
99. Odubel Herrera, Phillies
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Herrera is one of those players who might be 40 slots higher or 50 slots lower on next year's list. His talent has never been questioned; it's whether he brings his head to the ballpark. Herrera had multiple run-ins with former Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, known to many as "Patient Pete," for a host of transgressions—not running out grounders, poor plate discipline, bat flipping on balls that weren't home runs—that reportedly irritated his opponents as well as his own teammates. His performance decreased from 4.3 WAR in 2016 to 2.2 last season (partly due to him playing 21 fewer games), a notable regression from a player who was supposed to be a centerpiece of the Phillies' rebuild.
Herrera is a talented centerfielder with strong range and a quick bat, but the Phillies may tire of him if he brings as much drama as he did last year.
98. Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks
Jack Dickey: The best way to counteract the effect of juiced balls is to keep hitters from hitting them, and Ray has done his damnedest in that department. Among pitchers who threw at least 120 innings last year, none saw batters' swings produce less contact. (Hitters made contact 68% of the time when they swung at a Ray pitch; Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer, the AL and NL Cy Young winners, finished second and third in that metric.) Ray's 15–5, 2.89 ERA breakthrough in 2017 was made possible both by his development of a lethal curveball and some luck on balls in play; his numbers might take a half-step back in '18. While he still needs to cut back on his walks to join the league's elite, his left arm has deservedly become one of the sport's most prized treasures.
97. Eric Hosmer, Free Agent
Jack Dickey: A decade or two ago, the 28-year-old four-time Gold Glover would have been 20 spots higher on this list and in possession of his dream contract. He had an .882 OPS in 2017, finished 14th in the AL MVP voting, and didn't miss a single game. In 2018, though, he's still unsigned as camp approaches, and the reasons why have at least as much to do with the game's souring on Hosmer's skills as they do with the overall free-agency climate. Despite playing first base in a homer-happy era, he has little power—his .465 slugging percentage over the last two seasons ranks 56th in MLB. More than 57% of the balls he has put in play during that period have been grounders; he is second only to speedy slap-hitter Dee Gordon in that category. Advanced metrics loathe his defense, and he has a pattern of alternating good seasons with bad ones. Teams don't chase that sort of player these days.
96. J.A. Happ, Blue Jays
Jon Tayler: Ever since it was introduced to the public in 1966, the Toyota Corolla has been one of the best-selling cars in automotive history. Over 40 million of them have been bought over those five decades; there are more of them on earth then there are people in Canada. This despite the fact that, even charitably speaking, the Corolla is a shoebox with wheels attached—a middle manager in car form, eternally trundling about the globe’s streets with all the panache of a pancake. But if you don’t care about the fact that you’re driving a pair of khakis, the Corolla will get you from Point A to Point B dependably; you won’t be wanting because of it, even if you can always imagine yourself doing a little better. That, in a nutshell, is Happ. He’s a 35-year-old lefty whom you couldn’t pick out of a police lineup of two people, and yet all he’s done over the last two-plus seasons is be a reliable, beguiling presence in the rotations of Pittsburgh and Toronto. You can do better than Happ; you could also do a lot worse.
95. J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Realmuto is the last top-flight player stuck with the ignominy of playing in Miami, but he's one of the top five starters at his position. Entering his age-27 season, Realmuto boosted his home run total to 17 last season from 11 in 2016 and his extra-base hit total to 53 from 42. He's also widely regarded as the league's fastest and most athletic catcher; he's stolen 20 bases over the past two seasons and has the best pop time (the time it takes to get the ball out of the glove and to an infielder) of any catcher in the big leagues. It'd be a shame to see him enter his prime on a team as awful as the Marlins, and he could really help a team like the Nationals or Rockies.
94. David Price, Red Sox
Jon Tayler: So what do we have with Price now? 2017 was a miserable struggle for the most part, as an elbow injury both delayed the start to his season and cost him all of August. Then he returned as a reliever and surprisingly excelled in that role in the postseason, a period he's traditionally spent getting his brains beaten in. And on top of that, he also spent most of the year bickering with reporters, Boston TV analysts/Hall of Famers, Twitter folks, and virtually everyone who had anything remotely non-positive to say about him. Price will be back as a starter, and his work in relief showed that, if nothing else, his elbow is likely back to normal. The safest bet for 2018 is that he’ll continue to be an enigma for the Red Sox, equal parts frustrating and brilliant.
93. Lance Lynn, Free Agent
Gabriel Baumgaertner: The highest compliment that one can pay to Lance Lynn is that you forget he's even there. Outside of missing the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lynn has made at least 29 starts in each of his five years as a big league starter and never finished the season with an ERA above 3.97. He is Mr. Dependable ... which makes it all the more confounding that he remains a free agent well into February.
92. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Carpenter finished with a career-low .241 batting average in 2017 but managed a .384 on-base percentage by drawing 109 walks (third behind Joey Votto and Aaron Judge). It's an accurate summary of Carpenter's skill set: Even when he's slumping, he won't be an easy out. I'd probably have him higher on the list, but his defensive value is decreasing with age (he's primarily a first baseman now). His biggest asset remains one that can't be quantified: When Carpenter is up in a high-leverage situation, the opposing pitcher and fans never feel comfortable.
91. Willson Contreras, Cubs
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Contreras is 25, has a rocket arm and 20-homer power. He is nearing 6.0 career WAR even though he hasn't even played 200 MLB games. There's a compelling case that he should be higher on this list, as the only factor that seems to be hurting him is service time.
90. Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays
Connor Grossman: Without wielding much of an offensive game, Pillar compensates big time as one of the preeminent defensive centerfielders in the game. Since he became an everyday player for the Blue Jays in 2015, only Kevin Kiermaier ranks better defensively through the lens of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Those metrics, however, also showed a bit of a decline for the Toronto outfielder in 2017.
89. Johnny Cueto, Giants
Connor Grossman: Persistent blister issues completely derailed Cueto’s 2017 season after a stellar campaign in '16, as he threw 70 fewer innings last year than he did the year before, yet allowed more runs and saw his home-run-per-nine rate double from 0.61 to 1.34. Might Cueto settle somewhere between his '16 and '17 self? That’s the guess here.
88. Jean Segura, Mariners
Gabriel Baumgaertner: It's easy to forget that Segura is still just 27 years old: He's entering his sixth season as a full-time starting shortstop and is already on his third team. The great thing about Segura, however, is that he hits wherever he goes. After receiving some down-ballot MVP votes in 2016 as a member of the Diamondbacks, Segura compiled another strong season in his first year in Seattle despite missing 37 games. He eclipsed the .300 mark for the second season in a row and stole at least 20 bases for the fifth consecutive season. His plate discipline has never been great, but it's hard to fault a player who likely would have finished his second straight season with 200-plus hits if not for a trip to the disabled list.
87. Zack Cozart, Angels
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Cozart might be the most surprising name to appear on this list, but there's a good chance he'll be essential to the Angels' playoff chances in 2018. The former Reds shortstop has always been a capable hitter, but he compiled a career-best .297/.385/.548 with 24 homers and an eye-popping 141 OPS+ over 122 games last season. Durability has always been a question for the 32-year-old, but he'll enter a lineup protected by Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, Kole Calhoun and occasionally Shohei Ohtani. His average was inflated in the hitter-friendly confines of Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark (.327 at home to .258 on the road), but not his power numbers (he hit 12 homers at home and 12 on the road). He does appear to be a strong regression candidate, but perhaps he can continue his late-career surge on a team that should be right in the middle of the playoff race.
86. Cole Hamels, Rangers
Jon Tayler: Owner of the best spoonerism in baseball (that would be “Hole Camels,” to the uninitiated), Hamels’ prime has receded into the distance as he enters his late-autumn years. There’s a lot to be worried about with regards to the 34-year-old lefty's future: He managed only 148 innings last year due to injury; his strikeout rate of 6.4 per nine was his worst ever; and his 4.20 ERA, while nice, was his highest in about a decade. Hamels is still capable of reaching back and finding his old self every now and then, and that plus his pedigree gives him a spot on this list. His 2017, though, doesn’t augur well for a repeat appearance next winter.
85. DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
Connor Grossman: LeMahieu is perennially underrated, and this list is no exception. The Colorado second baseman has flirted with 200-hit seasons in the past two years, including a batting title in 2016, complemented by a pair of Gold Gloves. He should command a nine-figure contract next offseason as a free agent.
84. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Even if it feels hard to trust Gonzalez whenever he takes the hill, he was one of baseball's most improved pitchers between 2016 and '17 ... and that was in his age-31 season. Gonzalez compiled his best year since he finished third in the 2012 Cy Young voting, finishing with a 2.96 ERA over 32 starts. His best asset may be his reliability: He's started at least 31 games in five of his six seasons in Washington (he started 27 in the other) and still keeps hitters off-balance with his careful blend of fastball-sinker-changeup-curveball. He still walks way too many hitters, but Gonzalez proved that he's not finished after following a career-worst season in 2016 with one of his best last year.
83. Didi Gregorius, Yankees
Gabriel Baumgaertner: He had the unenviable task of replacing Derek Jeter, and now he's one of the most reliable shortstops in baseball. Despite playing 17 fewer games than he did in 2016, Gregorius finished with career highs in homers and OPS+. Add in the fact he's a plus defender and is protected by the most dominant lineup in baseball, and he's one of the most valuable complements in the game. His growth is also proof that Yankees GM Brian Cashman—who acquired him from Arizona in a three-team deal that cost New York relief pitcher Shane Greene—is the best working executive in baseball.
82. Brandon Belt, Giants
Jay Jaffe: Belt has never homered more than 18 times in a season, but AT&T Park squelches lefthanded power like no other venue. Just 34 of Belt's 98 career homers have come at home, including a career-high eight last year—that despite his missing the season's final 51 games due to a severe concussion. Still, Belt's keen batting eye and line-drive swing make him an above-average offensive contributor among first basemen, and his defense there is outstanding; his +28 DRS over the past three years is just four runs behind Paul Goldschmidt's MLB-leading total, and that's with Goldy playing 857 more innings.
81. Andrew Miller, Indians
Jon Tayler: The year after Miller broke the bullpen (or at least the postseason), the lanky lefty was slightly more human, as a knee injury cost him a few weeks, and his control took a slight dip. However, we’re still talking about a guy who throws 94 mph with a slider that cuts like a scythe, and who struck out 95 batters in 62 2/3 innings, and who recorded four or more outs in a third of his regular-season appearances. He’s not the talk of baseball any more (or not as much), but he’s still plenty valuable gobbling up high-leverage outs for Terry Francona’s crew.
80. Jose Quintana, Cubs
Jon Tayler: Whether on Chicago’s North or South Side, Quintana seems destined never to get the recognition he deserves. Perennially one of baseball’s most underrated players, the Colombian lefty had a down year overall by his standards, finishing with a pedestrian 104 ERA+ in 188 2/3 innings split between the White Sox and Cubs. But he was his old self after being traded in mid-July, posting a 117 ERA+ and 10.5 strikeouts per nine over 84 1/3 frames in his first taste of the Senior Circuit. He’ll never be an ace, but you could do far worse than Quintana in the middle of your rotation.
79. Brandon Crawford, Giants
Connor Grossman: The Giants' shortstop doesn’t wield the offensive firepower of Carlos Correa or Francisco Lindor, but Crawford’s glove continues to keep him ranked among the game’s best shortstops. By UZR and DRS, the three-time Gold Glover slots as the third- and fourth-best shortstop, respectively, in those categories.
78. Ervin Santana, Twins
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Long after we've all been reduced to dust in our futile battle against the long march of time, Santana will be somebody's fourth starter and inducing soft contact over seven strong innings. He may not overpower his hitters, but Santana had his best season since 2009 at age 34—a 3.28 ERA, five complete games, three shutouts and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He'll miss the first month of the 2018 season with a finger injury, but he's one of the most methodical pitchers in baseball with plenty of mileage left.
77. Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Gabriel Baumgaertner: His defense is abysmal, but this guy is such an incredible hitter. The advanced stats support this assertion just fine, but Murphy is a player whose at-bats are essential viewing. He might have the best command of the strike zone of any hitter in the big leagues, evidenced by his low strikeout total (77 in 593 plate appearances) and his .322 batting average (one year after hitting .347). He finished 2017 with a 40% extra-base hit rate (69 out of 172 hits) and a 136 OPS+. He's not the best hitter in baseball, but he might be the smartest.
76. Edwin Encarnacion, Indians
Jon Tayler: It felt a little off last year to watch Encarnacion walk the parrot around the bases at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, with no Jose Bautista either to precede him or to greet him after his trot. Splitting up Canada’s version of the Bash Brothers (les Bash Freres?) was a sad reality, though while Bautista withered and died in the Great White North, Encarnacion didn’t miss a beat in his new home, virtually equaling his 2016 totals in homers and OPS+ and helping the Indians win 102 games. He’s still got plenty of value with the bat; the question with Encarnacion is, at 35 and with a glove made of stone, how useful he can be as time goes on. If nothing else, hopefully he’ll be someone’s clobbering DH until he can’t carry the parrot any longer.
75. Jonathan Schoop, Orioles
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Schoop is entirely too low on this list. Find me another second baseman in his mid-20s with a plus glove with 30-homer power. Sure, he still can't learn how to take a pitch (he finished 2017 with a .338 OBP and 35 walks to 142 strikeouts), but he is establishing himself as one of the most powerful infielders in the big leagues. If he can find a way to get on base more in 2018, he's a potential top-30 player next season.
74. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
Jon Tayler: The three best defensive centerfielders in the American League, if not all of baseball, reside within the same division, all toiling up and down the East Coast. Which of Kevin Kiermaier, Kevin Pillar or Bradley Jr. you prefer is up to you, but there’s no denying the brilliant glove work of JBJ. His jumps are excellent, his routes are GPS-precise, and he’s made an exhilarating habit of robbing hitters of homers and extra-base hits. His offense is still a work in progress, particularly after he took a step back with the stick in 2017. But his defense alone makes him worth your while.
73. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Add Stroman to the list of players who I think should be higher on the list. He may not have the sustained track record of some of the other starters on this list, but he's entering his age-27 season after a stellar 2017 performance that saw him strike out 164 hitters, log a 149 ERA+, and finish with 6.0 WAR. His sinker-slider combination (with his sinker hovering around 93–94 mph) is one of the most devastating one-two punches that any pitcher features in baseball. He's a stud, and he might win the AL Cy Young in 2018.
72. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
Jon Tayler: Those who declared Hendricks’ miraculous, out-of-nowhere 2016—a league-best 2.13 ERA, 196 ERA+, and a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting—a mirage had to be feeling rather smug after his less inspiring ‘17 campaign. Managing only 139 2/3 innings and watching the velocity on his already laggard fastball drop two miles per hour, from 87.8 to 85.8, Hendricks saw his ERA spike, mostly due to a jump in his home-run rate. But “spike” is relative: For as tough as his year was, the righty still posted a 3.03 mark and a 144 ERA+—top results for anyone, even if they were a disappointment compared to the season previous. The trick will be whether Hendricks keeps slipping due to injury, or whether he can stay healthy and get closer to that 2016 level. His dazzling changeup should help.
71. Dallas Keuchel, Astros
Connor Grossman: The 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner has plenty of momentum heading into a contract year. Although injuries limited him to 145 2/3 innings, he made the most of them by finishing with a 2.90 ERA, averaging 6 1/3 innings per start and, most importantly, improving across the board from his disastrous '16 season that saw him decline in almost every relevant metric. That year-over-year inconsistency, though, prevents Keuchel from climbing this list any higher.
70. Jon Lester, Cubs
Jon Tayler: Like Cole Hamels a few places back, it’s clear that the 34-year-old Lester isn’t what he used to be. His 2017 was rough by any measure: his first season under 200 innings since 2011; his worst ERA (4.33) since ‘12; and a 100 ERA+ that is the definition of league average. Home runs and walks were Lester’s bugaboo last year; coupled with a slight dip in velocity (he’s down to 91.1 mph on his fastball), that doesn’t bode well for the future. That all likely has the Cubs worried about the $75 million they still owe him over the next three seasons. Lester still gets strikeouts and swings-and-misses, though, so there’s no point in writing him off quite yet.
69. Alex Bregman, Astros
Jon Tayler: We got a taste of what Bregman was capable of throughout the season and especially in the playoffs, when the No. 2 pick of the 2015 draft uncorked four homers and played daring if slightly wild defense at the hot corner. He turns just 24 in March, and already he’s shown good plate discipline and power. In particular, his dramatic cutdown on strikeouts (he went from a whiff rate of 24% in limited duty in 2016 to 15.5% in ‘17) and swings and misses (11.8% swinging-strike rate to 6.4%) is a great sign of his developing patience, as is his jump in contact (74.7% to 85.7%). If Bregman can improve his glove work alongside that newfound control at the dish, look out.
68. Byron Buxton, Twins
Jon Tayler: For the last few years, we’ve all dreamed of what Buxton could do. The former No. 2 pick of the 2012 draft and two-time top prospect in baseball is a freak of nature in terms of athleticism, as you can see in his otherworldly defense and base running. But he was never able to put it together on offense in the majors, looking so lost at the plate that you started to wonder if it would ever come together. But Buxton’s time may finally have arrived: After another slow start in 2017, he laid waste to the AL in the second half after some mechanical adjustments, hitting .309/.358/.538 in 260 plate appearances from July 1 through the end of the season. No other player on this list has as much helium in his game as Buxton; don’t be surprised if he’s jumped into the top 25 of next year’s edition.
67. Evan Longoria, Giants
Connor Grossman: Don’t tell the Giants that the rest of the baseball world has stopped betting on power hitters north of 30. (Then factor in the ballpark Longoria will be playing 81 games in.) To Longoria’s credit, he’s personified durability, averaging 160 games played per year since 2013, and he's notched at least 20 home runs in nine of 10 seasons. But his best days are likely behind him.
66. Josh Reddick, Astros
Jon Tayler: In the staid world of professional baseball players, Reddick stands out. Whether it’s his use of George Michael’s cheesefest banger “Careless Whisper” as his at-bat music while on the A’s or his predilection for near-naked locker-room celebrations—garbed only in an American flag speedo and goggles throughout the Astros’ run last year—in the playoffs, Reddick seems like the kind of guy worth having a beer or 12 with, even if the night’s likely to end with him daring you to blow up a mailbox with a firecracker. He’s more than the life of the after-game party, though: The 30-year-old was an integral part of Houston’s attack in 2017, posting career highs in OPS+ (134) and WAR (4.4). A lot of that had to do with the Astros’ smart deployment of the lefty-swinging Reddick, keeping him away from southpaws (a career .654 OPS against) and unleashing him versus righties (.800). Reddick is as good a complementary piece as exists—and he probably makes a killer karaoke partner, too.
65. Ian Kinsler, Angels
Jay Jaffe: Even in a season in which he set career worsts in batting average (.236) and OPS+ (90), Kinsler was still a league-average player thanks to his broad base of skills. He's an adept baserunner and defender (+37 DRS over the past three years) who averaged 5.7 WAR from 2013 to '16, reaching 6.0 in the last two of those seasons. That's a strong enough track record to give him the benefit of the doubt even as he heads into his age-36 season.
64. Chris Taylor, Dodgers
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Taylor looks like a prime regression candidate—he entered 2017 with 128 games and two homers over three big league seasons. In '16, he hit .207 over 34 games with the Dodgers. In '17, he was one of the primary reasons the Dodgers made the World Series: The centerfielder was called up to the Dodgers after a brief stint in Triple A in late April and went on to hit .288/.354/.496 with 21 home runs and a 122 OPS+. Better yet, he stole 17 bases and posted a 41% extra-base hit rate. Perhaps he regresses in 2018, but if he's anywhere near as successful as he was last season, the Dodgers have one of the best bargains in the game.
63. Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox
Jon Tayler: The man known as “Dirty Craig” (which, uh, gross) bounced back in Boston after a rough start to his Red Sox career. Over 69 innings, he racked up a preposterous 126 strikeouts (or 16.4 per nine) thanks to his wipeout slider and walked just 14 batters of the 254 he faced—a return to his normal excellent control after a 2016 blip of 30 free passes in 53 innings. That should be a relief (no pun intended) to Dave Dombrowski, who handed over a large chunk of his farm system to San Diego to bring Kimbrel to Fenway expecting a shutdown closer but instead receiving a shaky reliever with a cool stance. The Kimbrel he got in 2017, though, is arguably the best in baseball, and good enough to make our list with ease.
62. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Connor Grossman: There’s something to be said for throwing one pitch—a pitch every hitter knows is coming—and still finding absurd amounts of success with it. Just ask Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Jansen pitches to the strike zone more than almost every reliever in baseball, and only Dellin Betances generates more soft contact.
61. J.D. Martinez, Free Agent
Jay Jaffe: Unceremoniously released by the Astros in the spring of 2014, Martinez revamped his mechanics and approach and has since emerged as a top-tier slugger. Not only did he hit a jaw-dropping 29 homers in 62 games after being acquired by the Diamondbacks last July 18, but he also led the majors with a .690 slugging percentage on the season. Despite missing about one-quarter of each of the past two years due to injuries, his 105 homers from 2015 to '17 are tied for eighth, and his 148 OPS+ is tied for 10th. The rest of the package, particularly his defense, is nothing special, but he's still a middle-of-the-lineup force.
60. Elvis Andrus, Rangers
Jon Tayler: In terms of all the stunning turnarounds we’ve seen in baseball, Andrus has to be near the top. After seven years of being a thoroughly mediocre hitter who offered speed and just about zero else, Andrus has reinvented himself over the last two seasons. Previously an archetypal slap hitter with a great glove, the reedy Venezuelan shortstop bought into the fly-ball revolution and started putting it in the air. The result: 20 home runs last year after just 35 the previous eight years combined, along with a career-best .471 slugging percentage. There’s still a lot of swing-and-miss in Andrus’ game, and that uptick in dingers is probably in part owed to the league’s overall jump in homers, but there’s no doubting that, after years of forgettable grounders, he’s something entirely new—and entirely more valuable.
59. Luis Severino, Yankees
Jon Tayler: The focus in New York is on the young sluggers leading the Yankees back to World Series contention: Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez (now joined by Giancarlo Stanton, because the rich deserve to be richer). But don’t forget Severino, who took a massive leap of his own last year after a lost 2016. The Dominican righthander—the hardest-throwing starter in the majors last year, with an average fastball velocity of 97.6 mph—punched out 230 in 198 1/3 innings, earning All-Star honors and a third-place finish in the Cy Young voting. And despite a horrible wild-card game start against the Twins, he bounced back to hold the Indians and Astros to seven runs across 15 2/3 innings and three starts in the Division Series and ALCS. Oh, and he’s only 24 years old. As I said before, the super-wealthy have earned those extra bucks.
58. Ender Inciarte, Braves
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Color me skeptical of how high Inciarte is ranked. He is one of the game's most reliable contact hitters and best defensive outfielders, but only 43 of his 201 hits were for extra bases last year, and he took only 49 walks. His 22 stolen bases look nice on first glance until you realize he was caught nine times, good for a middling 70% success rate. His defensive range and great arm make him a valuable asset for the Braves (as does the fact that he's due to make just $26.8 million over the next five seasons), but there are a host of players—Byron Buxton and Jonathan Schoop are just two examples—that I'd rather have than Inciarte. He's a guy that the numbers love just a little bit too much.
57. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
Jack Dickey: Few hitters swing and connect with the thunder of the mighty Cespedes. The 6.3-WAR season he put up between the Tigers and the Mets in 2015 vaulted him to the ranks of the league's top sluggers: He hit .291/.328/.542 and provided some defensive value by way of his fearsome arm. In the seasons since, though, Cespedes has come back to earth. He's missed time with injuries (he was limited to 132 games in '16 and just 81 last year), and the injuries have turned his defense from an asset into a liability. Still, he's only 32, and his OPS has held steady in the high .800s when he's been on the field. A gimpy Cespedes still rakes.
56. Brett Gardner, Yankees
Jay Jaffe: The Yankees have been routinely seduced and let down by many a big dollar free agent, but the homegrown Gardner is their Steady Eddie. While his power is just modest, particularly for a corner outfielder (his 21 homers in 2017 set a career high), his on-base skills, speed and base-running smarts make him a quality leadoff hitter. What's more, his range makes him an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium's oversized leftfield pasture; his +20 DRS in 2017 marked the fifth time he was at least 10 runs above average.
55. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
Gabriel Baumgaertner: It's pretty simple with Pollock. When he's healthy, he's one of the most versatile outfielders in the game. The problem is that he has a whole lot of trouble avoiding the disabled list. After playing in just 12 games in 2016, Pollock missed 50 games in '17. He managed a respectable .266/.330/.471 line with 14 homers and 20 stolen bases, but fans and pundits alike are still looking for him to replicate his magnificent 2015 season, which saw him finish with a .315/.367/.498 line with 20 homers and 39 stolen bases. Considering his advanced defensive range and speed, he's easily one of the best outfielders in the game ... when he's healthy, of course.
54. Jose Abreu, White Sox
Jon Tayler: While the team around him melted away like morning dew, Abreu quietly put up his best season in the States since his rookie year in 2014, leading the AL in total bases as the only threat in Chicago’s ramshackle lineup. There are few hitters who have been more consistent than Abreu since he came to the majors: In that span, only 11 other players with 2,500 or more plate appearances have an OPS+ higher than his 142. The White Sox’ teardown has robbed him of a chance at postseason stardom on the South Side, and it’s an open question as to how much longer he’ll last on that roster. But while he’s just outside MLB’s top tier of first basemen, there’s no denying how good he’s been despite flying so far under the radar.
53. Yu Darvish, Cubs
Jay Jaffe: It will take awhile for the newly minted Chicago Cub to live down his World Series pitch tipping, but that fixable problem shouldn't cloud judgments regarding the lanky Japanese righty. The combination of Darvish's expansive repertoire and ability to miss bats makes him one of the game's most entertaining pitchers, and thanks to some analytics-driven editing following his midseason trade to the Dodgers last year, his stuff may now be more potent.
52. Jake Arrieta, Free Agent
Gabriel Baumgaertner: We don't know where Arrieta will be pitching next season, but he remains one of a handful of pitchers who can be considered a true ace despite an inconsistent 2017. He looked like he had ruined his free-agent value by June 27 of last season: A dreadful start against the Nationals left him with a 4.67 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP and an opponents' batting average of .268. Arrieta endured a bit of bad luck (opponent's batting average of balls in play was an unusually high .318), but he hardly looked like the Cy Young winner of 2015.
Then, Arrieta recovered his form, compiling a 2.26 ERA and .206 opponents' batting average over his last 14 regular-season starts and surrendering just five hits and one earned run over his two postseason starts (despite allowing 10 walks). Arrieta is still a legitimate frontline starter for any team. His power sinker keeps his home run rate down and he will thrive in a pitcher-friendly park. If he can agree on the right contract, he'd be an ideal addition for Milwaukee or Minnesota.
51. Tommy Pham, Cardinals
Gabriel Baumgaertner: One of the breakout stars of the 2017 season, the 29-year-old outfielder was an astonishing 6.4-WAR player in his first full season. With Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina aging into their mid-30s, Pham is the centerpiece of the Cardinals' 2018 lineup along with the newly acquired Marcell Ozuna. After a season where he logged a .306/.411/.520 slash line to complement 23 home runs and 25 stolen bases, the Cardinals should feel comfortable even if they stashed him in the minors and on the bench for over a decade.