Free agency typically follows a specific pattern in which the perceived top player at a particular position sets the market for his peers to follow.
This year's outfield market may splinter in several directions, though, as certain players within it are closely linked because they possess such similar skill sets. Fans and executives alike are wondering how the outfield market will shake out, as well as the order in which the top names will sign. With Jason Heyward reportedly off the market and with the Cubs, here is how I see it playing out for Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Davis.
Gordon, along with Heyward, embodies how analytics have impacted baseball. In the past, neither has been viewed as one of the top players at his position, but both are highly coveted in today's game.
In a way, Gordon is essentially an older version of Heyward, as both are stellar defenders who bring above-average offensive skills to the table but don't generate head-turning statistics in any offensive category.
Upton and Cespedes are also closely linked, as both are right-handed power hitters who can be a bit inconsistent because of their proclivity to swing for the fences. In addition, each has strong complementary tools, such as speed and a strong throwing arm.
Meanwhile, Davis is in his own bucket. The slugger can probably handle a corner-outfield position, but he is best suited for first base. He is arguably the top home run hitter in baseball, but he also strikes out as much as anyone in the game. These traits make Davis a high-risk, high-reward asset.
With Heyward apparently signed, look for Gordon to quickly ink a deal, either with the Royals, the Giants or the Angels.
The first man to sign from the Upton-Cespedes group will likely be the first to recognize the market trends and move quickly. But both have to be very careful in how they perceive and react to the market, as one could be left with a lesser contract than he expected. The most logical landing spot for Upton is Baltimore, as the Orioles need two corner outfielders and will be looking to replace Davis' power output if he departs.
Meanwhile, look for Cespedes -- the only player in this group who won't cost the team that signs him a Draft pick -- to wind up with the Angels or Tigers.
Davis seems to be locked into a game of chicken with the Orioles, as they reportedly had a seven-year, $150 million offer on the table, but Davis has been holding out for more. It may be a while before we see how the market settles for him. Though the slugger could arguably make the biggest impact of any of these five players in the short term, there are a limited number of clubs that have both a spot for Davis and the willingness to invest an enormous amount of resources in such a high-risk commodity.
How this all plays out will be fascinating. With so many talented outfielders available and several sub-markets to monitor, we may not see the free-agent domino effect that typically occurs during Hot Stove season. That means several of these players could be left to play the waiting game through the end of 2015 and into January.
Dan O'Dowd is an MLB Network analyst and MLB.com columnist who served as general manager of the Rockies for 15 years, building a National League pennant winner in 2007. Prior to his time with Colorado, he worked in the front offices of the Orioles and Indians. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.