MLB Hot Stove: We held a five-round draft to determine 2018's top 25 free agents

As we make our way through the MLB offseason calendar, the free agent season is upon us. That means teams are already engaging and signing members of the 2017-18 free agent class. So in order to get you up to speed on which players are available this time around, we decided to hold a free agent draft.

Making the selections will be your five trusty CBS Sports MLB writers: R.J. Anderson, Mike Axisa, Jonah Keri, Dayn Perry, and Matt Snyder. We'll draft for five rounds, which means our hive mind will in essence be ranking the top 25 free agents available. We're not drafting to assemble the start of a roster or even the start of a playable lineup. Rather, we're all going by the "best player available" philosophy, regardless of any positional redundancies created by prior picks. We'll use a snaking draft format, so that the order reverses each round. For the first round and subsequent odd-numbered rounds, our randomly assigned draft order will be R.J., Mike, Dayn, Matt, Jonah. That reverses for even-numbered rounds. 

Before we jump in, a quick but important note ... 

At this writing, we don't know for certain whether Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Otani will be a part of this free agent class. It's increasingly looking like he'll be posted and make the leap to MLB prior to the 2018 season. However, because of the present uncertainty at press time, we're not including him in this free agent draft.

If he were a part of the MLB free agent pool at press time, then he'd be No. 1 overall without much debate. Injuries cut short Otani's 2017 season, but the 23-year-old still batted .332/.403/.540, while flashing a 3.20 ERA and frontline swing-and-miss stuff on the mound. MLB's artificially restrictive system for signing international free agents is going to depress Otani's earnings, at least with his first stateside contract, but if he does get posted he's easily going to be the most coveted member of the 2017-18 class. 

So before you go upchucking all over the comments section about Otani's absence from the forthcoming draft, let us repeat ourselves for sufficient emphasis ... 

  1. Shohei Otani, as this is being typed, is not yet officially a member of the 2017-18 MLB free agent class.
  2. Because he is not yet a member of the 2017-18 MLB free agent class, we are not drafting him. 
  3. If he were eligible at this moment, then he would be the No. 1 overall pick without hesitation

With all that laid out, let's jump right in ... 

First round

No. 1
J.D. Martinez Arizona Diamondbacks RF
R.J. Anderson: "I took Martinez over Yu Darvish because when it's close it's always preferable to go with the hitter over the pitcher (and the younger player over the older player). Martinez is a monster at the dish who contributes in each of the slash categories -- he's hit .300 or better in three of the last four seasons; has upped his walk rate in each of those four seasons; and has averaged 32 home runs along the way. If he were a better defender, he'd be considered one of the top players in baseball; as it stands, he'll have to settle for being tabbed No. 1 in our free-agent draft."
No. 2
Yu Darvish Los Angeles Dodgers SP
Mike Axisa: "Yes, Darvish was terrible in the World Series. But he was excellent in his other 33 starts of the year and throughout the rest of his career. I don't love paying big for a 31-year-old starter with so many innings on his arm -- between Japan and MLB, Darvish has thrown over 2,100 career innings -- especially so soon after Tommy John surgery. In this free agent class though, Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher on the board, and with Martinez having gone No. 1 overall, Darvish is an easy call for me at No. 2."
No. 3
Lorenzo Cain Kansas City Royals RF
Dayn Perry: "The top two are pretty obvious, but here we have our first drop-off in the 2017-18 free agent class, at least in my opinion. You can argue for a number of guys in this spot, but I'll take an up-the-middle defender who adds value at the plate and on the bases. Yes, Cain's on the wrong side of age 30, but he's still got a broad base of skills and should be able to stick in center for at least another handful of seasons."
No. 4
Jake Arrieta Chicago Cubs SP
Matt Snyder: "We're never gonna see the Terminator version of Arrieta again, but he was the Cubs' clear best pitcher for their exceptional second half before a hamstring sidelined him. Sure, he's north of 30, but there isn't a lot of tread on his tires for that age. He's well worth an AAV-heavy four- or even five-year deal."
No. 5
Eric Hosmer Kansas City Royals 1B
Jonah Keri: "Sure, people who pay attention to advanced stats will argue that Hosmer's price tag and reputation are overinflated, due to his playoff pedigree, high batting averages, and smooth appearance around the bag, all of which mislead on his true value. But let's not slag the guy too hard. Hosmer just hit a career-best .318/.385/.498 in 2017, he's an incredibly durable player who's played in 152 or more games in five of the past six seasons, and he just turned 28, making him one of the youngest free agents in this class. He's going to get paid."

Second round

No. 6
Mike Moustakas Kansas City Royals 3B
Jonah: "We're going back-to-back with Royals. Moustakas broke Steve Balboni's long-standing single-season franchise home-run record last season, while slugging .521. But he also posted the worst defensive numbers of his career, and continues to make too many outs at the plate. The good news is that Moustakas is just 29 years old, so he could plateau around this level for the next few years."
No. 7
Lance Lynn St. Louis Cardinals SP
Matt: "Lynn is only one season removed from having Tommy John surgery, sure, but he still tied for the NL lead with 33 starts. He worked 186 1/3 innings, pitching to a 3.43 ERA. Again, that was his first year back from TJ surgery. He had a 2.87 ERA (131 ERA+) in his two years before Tommy John as well. Perhaps the best feature of Lynn is his ability to eat innings. He's worked at least 175 innings in each of his five full seasons, including 200-plus in 2013 and 2014, his two injury-free seasons as a full-time starter before last season's recovery circumstances. He's as good a bet as anyone to reach 200 innings in each of the next few seasons. There's a ton of value in that, especially now with the overemphasis on bullpens in the postseason. Pitchers like Lynn can save those relievers a bit in the regular season."
No. 8
Alex Cobb Tampa Bay Rays SP
Dayn: "There's some risk here, as Cobb underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2015, and his velocity still isn't back to pre-surgery peak. That said, he's got a usable four-pitch repertoire, he's coming off a good season in terms of run prevention, and he set a career high in innings this past season. We've got a couple of interesting closers on the board, but I'd rather take a flyer on a starter like Cobb."
No. 9
Zack Cozart Cincinnati Reds SS
Mike: "I don't expect Cozart to ever repeat his 2017 offensive output again, but I do believe he still has several above-average seasons left in him, even at 32. This isn't a great free agent class. Give me the legitimately elite defensive shortstop who will help offensively over what's left on the board."
No. 10
Todd Frazier New York Yankees 3B
R.J.: "Over the last three seasons, Frazier has averaged 34 home runs and a 110 OPS+ while playing respectable defense at the hot corner. It's fair to wonder how he'll age, but we'll worry about that when we get there -- for now, he's likely to remain an above-average player."

Third round

No. 11
Carlos Santana Cleveland Indians 1B
R.J.: "Santana doesn't have a sexy skill set -- he's a DH or a first baseman, and not one who's likely to launch 30-plus home runs in any given season. But he's played in at least 150 games in six of the last seven years, and he's never reached base less often than 35 percent of the time. As such, Santana might be both the best and the safest player remaining on the board."
No. 12
Wade Davis Chicago Cubs RP
Mike: "The Terminator version of Wade, the guy who was so automatic for the Royals all those years, may be gone forever. His command wavered considerably at times this season and he was much more homer prone -- Davis allowed six homers in 2017 after allowing three total from 2014-16 -- though it is 2017, and I guess every pitcher is homer prone these days. Davis is still great and the best reliever on the board, and with all the top bats and starters picked, the closer gets the nod here."
No. 13
Logan Morrison Tampa Bay Rays 1B
Dayn: "He's a former top-100 prospect, so there's a pedigree here. We've also been waiting for true breakout season from Morrison for a long time, and that finally happened in 2017. He hit 38 home runs, put up an OPS+ of 135, and played in 149 games. The big spike in his walk rate (73 unintentional walks) and fairly balanced monthly splits give hope that he's found a new level, at least for the near term. Do I feel strongly about this pick? No, I do not."
No. 14
Jay Bruce Cleveland Indians RF
Matt: "Yes, power is much cheaper these days, but still only 14 players hit more home runs than Bruce did in 2017. He doesn't have to be platooned, but he does feast on righties. A passable defender in right field some of the time, Bruce will be around league average to slightly above in batting average and on-base with the plus power. It's not a deep free agent class, but we could do a lot worse here than a solid five-hole hitter who doesn't have to be a DH or first baseman."
No. 15
Jonathan Lucroy Colorado Rockies C
Jonah: "Lucroy has oddly alternated huge offensive seasons with mediocre ones over the past four seasons, but it's hard to see him coming through with a big bounceback in his age-32 season. Still, he remains a capable on-base threat whose solid defensive track record suggests that maybe his lousy pitch-framing numbers in 2017 were a fluke."

Fourth round

No. 16
Greg Holland Colorado Rockies RP
Jonah: "Holland steamrolled all comers through the first few weeks of the season before lapsing into a sudden blown-saves jag during the summer. Still, his 70 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings for the year point to a pitcher whose slider remains a deadly weapon when it's on. With bullpens taking on an increasingly pivotal role in the game, Holland's ability to shore up the ninth inning (or any inning, if we really are on the cusp of junking traditional bullpen roles) bodes well for his bank account."
No. 17
Addison Reed Boston Red Sox RP
Matt: "Reed has kind of flown under the radar in the past two years as an excellent reliever, a surprise given that he's been in New York and Boston. In those two seasons combined, he has a 2.40 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 167 strikeouts in 153 2/3 innings. The 28-year-old righty is effective, durable, hasn't been prone to the home run at all and has proven himself in several different roles. With the over-emphasis on relievers in the postseason, he's about to get paid."
No. 18
Yonder Alonso Seattle Mariners 1B
Dayn: "Alonso enjoyed an incredibly productive start to the 2017 season, in part because of some swing changes he implemented. Over time he seemed to regress, but the more patient approach he showed in the first half stuck. Even after his second-half decline, his numbers remained north of his career norms. I'll make this pick hoping that Alonso's revamped approach makes him an above-average producer for the next couple of seasons."
No. 19
CC Sabathia New York Yankees SP
Mike: "The best free agents still on the board at this point are Sabathia, non-elite relievers, and reclamation projects. I'll go with Sabathia, who has reinvented himself late in his career and has become one of the game'e best soft contact pitchers the last two seasons. His age (37) and balky right knee are obvious concerns, but Sabathia is a gamer, and he's still quite effective. Throwing 148 2/3 innings with a 3.69 ERA in Yankee Stadium in the year of the home run is nothing to sneeze at."
No. 20
Carlos Gomez Texas Rangers CF
R.J.: "Gomez has quietly redeemed himself since leaving the Astros -- he managed a 113 OPS+ in more than 500 plate appearances over a year-plus with the Rangers. He's never going to make another All-Star Game, but he's an average player and that's nothing to sneeze at in this slot."

Fifth round

No. 21
Welington Castillo Baltimore Orioles C
R.J. : "There's going to be a lot of focus on what Castillo cannot do -- namely frame the baseball and repeat last season's offensive peak. Still, he's a league-average hitter for his career, and he's proven adept at other aspects of catching. That's enough to make him a second-division starter."
No. 22
Neil Walker Milwaukee Brewers 2B
Mike : "Injuries have been a problem the last few seasons, but Walker can still hit -- he authored a .265/.362/.439 batting line in 2017, including .279/.376/.478 against righties -- and this season he added first base and third base to his defensive portfolio. The switch-hitter who can play three infield positions will be a sneaky good pickup for someone, as long as he stays healthy."
No. 23
Mike Minor Kansas City Royals RP
Dayn : "Minor's days as a starter are probably over Tommy John surgery and subsequent shoulder issues, but last season in KC he showed the makings of a dominant multi-inning reliever. He struck out 88 batters in 77 2/3 innings, pitched to a 2.55 ERA, and made 20 appearances that spanned more than three outs. Also, his fastball gained three full ticks or so after his move to the bullpen."
No. 24
Brandon Morrow Los Angeles Dodgers RP
Matt : "There's definitely concern with Morrow's overuse in the playoffs, specifically the World Series, by Dave Roberts. There's definitely concern with Morrow's injury history, too. Those are the reasons he's not the first reliever off the board here, because anyone who saw his raw stuff down the stretch knows this guy could be one of baseball's top relievers next year. He was sitting 98-99 with a slider bleeding up into the 90s in the playoffs. From the regular season through the NLCS, Morrow worked 52 innings, allowing just 11 earned runs (1.90 ERA) while striking out 58 against eight unintentional walks. The WHIP was 0.85. Again, look at the stuff we saw. We can't be sure he's healthy and that strong for a full season, but once you get down here in free agency, I'm more than willing to take the plunge."
No. 25
Carlos Gonzalez Colorado Rockies RF
Jonah : "What the heck, let's go back to the well one more time for another Rockie. CarGo's offensive stardom has faded, and his .606 OPS on the road in 2017 raises serious concerns about how well he'll perform at sea level. Still, we're talking about a player who smashed 65 homers between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, a left-handed bat with an All-Star track record. At age 32, he's certainly worth a flyer."


And there you have it. In order to make outpourings of righteous opprobrium more convenient for the link-clicker, we'll now lay out these draft picks in team-by-team format ...

Round/Team

R.J. Nation

Mike United

Squadron Dayn

Matt State

The Jonahs

1

OF J.D Martinez

SP Yu Darvish

OF Lorenzo Cain

SP Jake Arrieta

1B Eric Hosmer

2

3B/1B Todd Frazier

SS Zack Cozart

SP Alex Cobb

SP Lance Lynn

3B Mike Moustakas

3

1B Carlos Santana

RP Wade Davis

1B Logan Morrison

OF Jay Bruce

C Jonathan Lucroy

4

OF Carlos Gomez

SP CC Sabathia

1B Yonder Alonso

RP Addison Reed

RP Greg Holland

5

C Welington Castillo

INF Neil Walker

RP Mike Minor

RP Brandon Morrow

OF Carlos Gonzalez


So who ya got?

And before we call it a day, let's name-check the other notable free agents -- the ones not selected in our draft. In general order of appeal, and broken down by position/role ... 

The Leftovers

Catchers

Alex Avila
Chris Iannetta
Nick Hundle
Geovany Soto
Rene Rivera
Miguel Montero
Hector Sanchez
Jose Lobaton

First basemen/DHs

Lucas Duda
Mitch Moreland
Mark Reynolds
Danny Valencia
Adam Lind
Carlos Beltran
Mike Napoli

Second basemen

Brandon Phillips
Chase Utley
Cliff Pennington
Danny Espinosa

Shortstops

Alcides Escobar
Darwin Barney
J.J. Hardy
Erick Aybar

Third basemen

Eduardo Nunez
Yunel Escobar
Jose Reyes
Conor Gillaspie
Trevor Plouffe

Outfielders

Jon Jay
Howie Kendrick
Austin Jackson
Curtis Granderson
Jarrod Dyson
Cameron Maybin
Seth Smith
Matt Holliday
Jayson Werth
Ben Revere
Melky Cabrera
Jose Bautista
Chris Young
Michael Saunders
Cameron Maybin
Andre Ethier
Rajai Davis
Ichiro

Starting pitchers

Andrew Cashner
Tyler Chatwood
Jaime Garcia
Jason Vargas
Chris Tillman
Jeremy Hellickson
Jhoulys Chacin
Michael Pineda
Trevor Cahill
John Lackey
Wade Miley
Miguel Gonzalez
Doug Fister
Brett Anderson

Relief Pitchers

Juan Nicasio
Bryan Shaw
Brandon Kintzler
Jake McGee
Anthony Swarzak
Tommy Hunter
Steve Cishek
Pat Neshek
Joe Smith
Tony Watson
Yusmeiro Petit
Brian Duensing
Luke Gregerson
Trevor Rosenthal
Fernando Abad
Fernando Rodney

Now let the dollars start flying ... 

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