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Outfielders rule position player free agents

The MLB Christmas shopping season, known as free agency, continues after news Sunday afternoon that former Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann reached a five-year $110 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.

After ranking Zimmermann and his fellow pitching free agents earlier this week, SFBay now presents its list of the top position players (again, this is free agents; this list does not include players available through potential trades):

Jason Heyward

The youngest of the top free-agent position players also happens to be the best. At 26, “The J-Hey Kid” provides a combination of on-base ability, speed, defense and a bit of thump.

The three-time Gold Glove Award winner has seen his batting average climb in each of the past two seasons and his career .353 on-base percentage is the second-highest among the top 10 free agents. A 162-game average of 19 home runs, bolstering his career .431 slugging percentage, shows that he has enough power to be plugged in to the middle of most batting orders.

Heyward is also coming off what was by far his best season as a big leaguer, finishing with his second consecutive Gold Glove and in the top 20 in MVP voting (15) for the second time (2010, 20). Of his .293/.359/.439 slash only his slugging percentage was not a career high (.479 in 2012), other career highs came in hits (160), doubles (33) and stolen bases (23).

The merger of youth, speed, offensive production and elite defense makes the former St. Louis Cardinal and Atlanta Brave a target for any team in search of an outfielder, and he will be pursued by most.

Despite lacking any semblance of consistency over his career, and a reputation for being injury prone, the former first-round pick will be the latest to reap the reward of a breakout contract year. With a price tag of $160 million over seven years, the Boston Red Sox are the most likely destination for Heyward.

Other leading contenders for acquiring his services include the Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yoenis Cespedes

Heading into opening day of the 2015 season, the 30-year-old Cuban outfielder was expected to be among the top free agents available in the offseason. After his best career season, though, he has further increased that value.

After a strong start “La Potencia (The Power)” was sent from the Detroit Tigers to the New York Mets at the trade deadline. His performance down the stretch was the driving force for the Mets NL East title and eventual World Series berth. Over the two-month period Cespedes slugged his way to a number 15 finish in the NL MVP race, posting a .287/.337/.604 slash with 17 homers and 44 RBIs. He also finished 10th in the AL MVP race as an Oakland Athletics rookie in 2012.

An all-star (2014) and Gold Glove winner (2015), Cespedes carries a career .271/.319/.486 slash with a 162-game average of 30 home runs, 103 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. As he is still in the midst of his prime, like Heyward, he will also be the target of many teams.

Having seen his marketability and production from across the city, the New York Yankees will likely overpay to bring in a new power hitter. Instead of a contract nearly identical to that of Heyward, the Yankees will bring him to the Bronx at $200 million over eight years.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will also be in the running, as they are in need of a power-hitting outfielder and have seen his close-up. The Mets have an outside chance at retaining him as well, but it is minimal.

Justin Upton

At 28, Upton provides a fair balance between the top two in more than age. Not quite the on-base guy of Heyward, and a bit less power than Cespedes, the former San Diego Padre carries a price tag equally lower than the others.

With a .271/.352/.473 career slash and 162-game average of 26 home runs and 84 RBIs, he is a three-time all-star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He also finished fourth in the NL MVP race in 2011 and in the top 25 three times (25th in 2009 and 17th in 2014).

Having eclipsed the 100-RBI mark only once in his career (102 in 2014) hurts his value as a supposed run-producing bat.

The Cardinals, searching for a Heyward replacement, will reach an agreement with the younger of the Upton brothers at $120 million over six years.

The San Francisco Giants will also be in the running for their longtime NL West adversary, especially should they miss out on pitcher Zack Greinke. The Angles and Baltimore Orioles will also be very much involved in his decision process.

Though just below the level of the above listed, newly-minted champion Alex Gordon also brings an astounding resume into the free-agency process.

Five Gold Gloves, all-star appearances in each of the past three seasons and a career .269/.348/.435 slash make Gordon just another complete outfielder. The career Royal will keep his 162-game averages of 19 bombs, 75 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in Kansas City at a discounted rate of $85 million over five years.

A career .288/.331/.424 slash would be enough to make Daniel Murphy a high-value target for any team in search of a second baseman. After his historic 2015 postseason, however, the 30 year-old may have earned himself a few extra dollars in free agency.

His seven home runs this past October was one shy of the all-time record and carried the Mets to a NL pennant.

Though his highest value is to the team with which he has spent his entire career, the Dodgers have enough money to bid the Mets right out of the water, if need be. LA, having lost Howie Kendrick to the free-agent market, will bring Murphy to Hollywood for $75 million over five seasons.

With Zimmermann being the first big name off the books, the market for pitching is set. In the coming days, the same will happen to every day players and that is when the excitement of the MLB offseason will begin.

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