While there are still a few notable free agents left in the 2015-2016 class (Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Yovani Gallardo), it's never too early to start looking ahead. This year was filled with premier talent, and thus far, teams have already spent close to $3 billion on free agents; however next year doesn't have nearly the same level of players available.
There are undoubtedly a few position players and pitchers that will have teams offering huge sums of money for their services, but overall, the 2016-2017 free agent class is weak.
Next offseason could have as many as 22 catchers on the open market, but that number will likely be closer to 16. Of those players, the cream of the crop would appear to be Matt Wieters, and Jason Castro. Wieters was expected to be on the open market this year, but he surprised the industry by accepting Baltimore's qualifying offer. While his offense suffered in 2015, he was still a league average hitter by wRC+, which for the catching position, is more than desirable.
His defensive contributions are another story, as both StatCorner and Baseball Prospectus rate him as a poor framer, and came to the same conclusion that he cost the Orioles runs over the last three seasons.
Jason Castro is the opposite of Wieters, as he posted a below average wRC+ (76), but rates as an elite pitch framer. By Baseball Prospectus' Framing Runs metric, he graded out as the 11th best catcher in baseball, as he produced a value of 11.0 during 2015.
Other available catchers: Alex Avila, Drew Butera, Francisco Cervelli, A.J. Ellis, Nick Hundley, Jeff Mathis, Dioner Navarro, A.J. Pierzynski, Wilson Ramos, David Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Geovany Soto, Josh Thole.
The 2015-2016 class of first baseman wasn't exactly glowing, but there were undoubtedly some attractive options. Chris Davis was the crown jewel of the group, while Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, and Mark Reynolds helped fill out the second tier of options. While the 2016-2017 class doesn't have a player like Davis, who can expect to sign a deal north of $100 million, there's ample depth for teams to explore.
Of the 17 players who will become free agents, the best options appear to be Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, and Mitch Moreland. Encarnacion will be heading into his age 34 season, but as long as he doesn't collapse offensively in 2016, there will be a number of teams interested in signing the slugger. While he's primarily a DH, he's played at least 481.1 innings at first base every year since the 2012 season, which could intrigue a team from the National League.
Adam Lind will be entering his age 33 season, and while he doesn't have as much offensive value as Encarnacion, he might generate more interest because he won't require a high AAV. In 2015, Lind hit 20 home runs, and produced a slash line of .277/.360/.460, with a wOBA of .351 and a wRC+ of 119.
Moreland is the youngest of this trio, and if he can build upon his breakout 2015 season, he should be able to command a multi-year deal. In 515 plate apperances, Moreland hit 23 home runs, and produced an fWAR of 2.1, the best of his career. He'll need to at least replicate his success in 2016, otherwise Moreland's stock could fall.
Other available first basemen: Ryan Howard, Chris Johnson, Garrett Jones, Adam LaRoche, James loney, Logan Morrison, Michael Morse, Brandon Moss, Mike Napoli, Sean Rodriguez, Justin Smoak, Mark Teixeira, Mark Trumbo.
Teams in need of a second baseman after the 2016 season will need to act quickly, as the options are quite limited. The top two targets would seem to be Justin Turner, and Neil Walker, as the rest of the free agents aren't very attractive. Over the last two seasons, Turner has proved to be one of the best offensive infielders in baseball, despite not playing everyday. Since 2014, he's accumulated 7.2 fWAR, but he's only played in 235 games.
In that time, he's produced a slash line of .314/.384/.492, with a wOBA of .381, and a wRC+ of 148. His BABIP in 2014 was abnormally high (.404), which sent off a huge red flag, but his performance in 2015 helped alleviate concerns about his future. His batting average dropped considerably, but his wOBA and wRC+ were still elite, and barring any drastic changes in Turner's approach, there's no reason to think his production will suffer in 2016.
Walker is coming off another above average offensive season, but a few of his statistics declined. His wOBA dropped from .356 in 2014, to .325 in 2015; and his wRC+, which was 131 in 2014, was just 108 in 2015. Fortunately for Walker, without much competition in the free agent market outside of Turner, he should be able to secure a multi-year deal.
Other available second basemen: Emilio Bonifacio, Daniel Descalso, Aaron Hill, Kelly Johnson, Martin Prado, Sean Rodriguez, Chase Utley, Luis Valbuena.
As weak as second base was, the shortstop position is even weaker. There will be just four players available, and none of them are above average. While Yunel Escobar and Alcides Escobar could become free agents, they each have reasonable club options for the 2017 season, which will likely be excercised. That means for teams in need of a shortstop, they'll either have to make a trade to acquire a player or sign Erick Aybar, Daniel Descalso, Stephen Drew, or Alexei Ramirez.
This is undoubtedly the weakest overall position in the 2016-2017 class, which makes it all the more strange as to why Ian Desmond is still a free agent. While he had a disappointing overall 2015 season, he returned to his expected levels of production after the All-Star break, and Desmond would provide a team with security at the shortstop position going forward.
In general, the infield market is pretty weak next offseason, and the same holds true for third base. The already mentioned Turner could be a fit here, as third base has been his primary position over the last two seasons. Other than Turner, the best option will be Adrian Beltre, barring an extension with Texas. He'll be entering his age 38 season, which will scare some teams away from offering him a contract, regardless of how productive he might be in 2016.
Since the 2010 season, Beltre has produced an fWAR of at least 4.6, and he has remained surprisingly valuable defensively, even as he's aged. His offensive contributions took a hit last season, as his wOBA decreased from .380 to .337, and his wRC+ fell from 141 to 108.
Other available third basemen: Daniel Descalso, Stephen Drew, Chris Johnson, Kelly Johnson, Martin Prado, Luis Valbuena.
This offseason, the depth of available outfielders was extraordinary; so much so that Dexter Fowler is still on the open market. However next offseason doesn't have nearly the same shine to it that this year's class did. There likely won't be a player that can command a $100 million dollar deal, which was common place this offseason.
Of the more than 20 available options, the best outfielders appear to be Jose Bautista, Carlos Gomez, Colby Rasmus, and Josh Reddick. Bautista will be entering his age 36 season, and is likely best suited to stay in the American League, that way he can eventually move to the DH slot.
As for Gomez, he seems primed to be the most sought after center fielder. He's coming off a down year in which he posted a below league average wRC+ (96), but that was likely the result of the injuries he sustained during the 2015 season.
Rasmus on the other hand experienced an uptick in value during the 2015 season, although he didn't come close to putting up the same production that he did in 2013 with the Blue Jays. Nonetheless, Rasmus hit 25 home runs in 137 games, and posted a wOBA of .339 and a wRC+ of 115. He'll be in his age 30 season starting in 2017, which should allow him to get a multi-year offer. The most interesting aspect of Rasmus' impending free agency is whether or not the Astros will extend a qualifying offer to him.
While Rasmus will be a sought after commodity, Josh Reddick should get more attention. He's a year younger than Rasmus, and over the last five seasons, Reddick has provided more consistent value. Assuming that he puts together another above average season, and remains healthy, Reddick should be one of the most heavily pursued outfielders next offseason.
Other available outfielders: Gregor Blanco, Chris Coghland, Rajai Davis, Sam Fuld, Franklin Gutierrez, Kelly Johnson, Daniel Nava, Sean Rodriguez, Michael Saunders, Ichiro Suzuki, Alejandro De Aza, Peter Bourjos, Michael Bourn, Coco Crisp, Craig Gentry, Jon Jay, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, Nick Swisher.
This is by far the deepest position heading into next offseason. There will be more than 25 starting pitchers on the open market, and that number is likely closer to 30, as more than a few club options won't be exercised, and there are two pitchers with player opt-outs. However of the guaranteed free agents for the class of 2016-2017, the best options will be Stephen Strasburg, Brett Anderson, and Clay Buchholz.
Strasburg hasn't truly lived up to the hype that came with him, however that's more so due to the unrealistic expectations that the media set for him. In his career, Strasburg has thrown 776.2 innings, and owns a 3.09 ERA, along with an FIP of 2.83. He's averaged a K/9 of 10.44, a BB/9 of 2.22, and a HR/9 of 0.85. Simply put, he's been dominant, and if he can put together a full season in 2016, he'll set himself up for a hefty payday.
As for Anderson and Buchholz, they won't approach the figures that Strasburg is expected to command, but they should be well sought after in their own right. Anderson has always been a groundball pitcher, and over the last three seasons he's become elite. Since 2013, he's flashed a groundball rate of 64.9 percent, the best mark in baseball for pitchers who've thrown more than 250 innings.
If Buchholz can put together a full season in 2016, that should help alleviate some concerns about his durability, but it likely won't take them away completely. In 18 starts last year, Buchholz pitched 113.1 innings, and was fantastic. He finished the season with a 3.26 ERA, a 2.68 FIP, and an fWAR of 3.2. However in his career, he's never eclipsed 200 innings, and has consistently dealt with injury troubles.
Other available starters: Andrew Cashner, Jesse Chavez, Scott Feldman, Jeremy Hellickson, Rich Hill, Edwin Jackson, Colby Lewis, Ivan Nova, Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Travis Wood, and potentially Scott Kazmir (player opt-out), James Shields (player opt-out), and Gio Gonzalez (team-option).
Barring an injury, the best relievers on the open market should be Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman. In 340 career innings, Jansen has a K/9 of 13.98, a BB/9 of 2.86, and a HR/9 of 0.69. He's pitched to the tune of a 2.28 ERA, as well as a 2.14 FIP. He's been fantastic as the Dodgers' closer over the last four seasons, and will reach free agency at the age of 29.
As for Chapman, he's been better in almost every category, but he'll undoubtedly come with some baggage stemming from his domestic violence incident. While no charges have been filled against him, Rob Manfred could still suspend him, and if that suspension was for more than 48 games, he wouldn't become a free agent until 2017-2018. That being said, he'll likely be the top relief option on the market, as he's stuck out over 15 batters per nine innings over the course of his career, and owns an ERA of 2.17, and an FIP of 1.97.
Other available relievers: Santiago Casilla, Brett Cecil, Brian Matusz, Mark Melancon, Jonathan Papelbon, Sergio Romo, Marc Rzepczynski, Drew Storen, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler.