Everything you need to know about this year's free-agent class

Everything you need to know about this year's free-agent class

Congratulations to the Cubs, champions of Major League Baseball in 2016. They were the best team all year, leading the Majors with 103 regular-season wins, and all the plaudits they are receiving are well-deserved.

One thing you can't do in the big leagues is rest on your laurels. And when the clock strikes midnight ET on Tuesday morning, the Cubs' braintrust -- led by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein -- along with the front offices of the other 29 clubs, will already be focusing on the next big event in MLB: the opening of free agency.

The unofficial start of the Hot Stove season begins five days after the end of the World Series, and the opening of free agency just so happens to coincide with Election Day.

Until then, players can negotiate with their current clubs, but they can't test the market until the floodgates open on Tuesday. Once they do, signings can happen at any time and will keep the stove hot during those cold winter days when we can only dream about the sunny days of Spring Training.

Who are the headliners?

The biggest name we'll see in free agency is Yoenis Cespedes, who has reportedly hit the market by exercising the opt-out clause in the three-year deal he signed with the Mets on Jan. 26. Elite position players available will include Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, the Toronto pair of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, aging but still potent Carlos Beltran and MLB home run king Mark Trumbo.

Cespedes' monster two-run jack

Catcher Wilson Ramos of the Nationals is 29 and coming off the best season of his career, though a late-season right knee injury complicates his status, as he is not likely to be ready for Opening Day.

Closers on the market include a trio of the game's best in Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. The top starters include Rich Hill, Ivan Nova and C.J. Wilson.

Any other intriguing names?

Of course. There always are big bargains, under-the-radar contributors and players bouncing back from injury. The list of free-agent hitters includes outfielders Ian Desmond, Michael Saunders, Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus; infielders Mike Napoli, Neil Walker, Erick Aybar and Steve Pearce; and catchers Matt Wieters, Jason Castro and Kurt Suzuki.

Starters include Doug Fister, Andrew Cashner, Brett Anderson and the ageless Bartolo Colon.

Other relievers include Greg Holland (who missed all of 2016 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery), Jonathan Papelbon, Neftali Feliz, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Joe Smith, Shawn Tolleson, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Drew Storen, Brad Ziegler, J.P. Howell and Fernando Rodney, who had his option declined by the Marlins.

Fister's scoreless outing

What about international signings?

Two Cuban players could figure heavily into the action this offseason. Infielder Lourdes Gurriel, 23, is the younger brother of 32-year-old Yulieski Gurriel, who impressed after debuting in MLB for Houston last season, and Norge Ruiz, a highly touted right-handed pitcher.

One long-shot possibility is 22-year-old phenom Shohei Otani from Japan, a pitcher and hitter who is unlikely to be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball but would be highly coveted if he were to become available. Otani is coming off a year in which he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, along with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings. He also posting a .322/.416/.588 line with 22 home runs. Whenever Otani is posted -- whether it be this offseason, the next or a couple of years down the road -- he will likely set off the largest bidding war we've ever seen for a Japanese player.

What are qualifying offers?

Last year, 20 free agents received qualifying offers, and for the first time, some players (in this case, Anderson, Wieters and Rasmus) accepted.

��������������������������� Qualifying questions: Who receives 2017 offer?

What position has the most talent in free agency this year?

Oddly enough, it might be closer. Chapman throws harder than anyone in baseball and has been dominant since arriving from Cuba. Jansen has proven to be among the very best in the National League, and Melancon has been dominant as well. Those three head a deep group that also includes veterans such as Papelbon, Casilla, Romo, Holland, Feliz, Tolleson, Uehara and Ziegler. All have done the job well and for a long time.

Statcast: Chapman hits 103.3 mph

What position is the weakest in free agency this year?

Starting pitching. There will be no seven-year, $200 million deals in this class. There's talent, but the pickings are relatively thin compared to previous recent years. Hill, for example, might top the list after a run of brilliance that has extended from late 2015 all the way through this postseason, but he's also 37 years old and has significant injury history. After him, if club options are picked up, there are some question marks of consistency and health when it comes to Cashner, Nova, Anderson and Wilson.

What teams will be the most active?

This one is hard to predict, but several teams who flirted with postseason berths, only to come up short in the final weeks of the regular season, could be players for free agents to shore up roster holes. Those clubs include the Mariners, who might be in the mix for a left fielder and a starting pitcher, and the Yankees, who are young and talented but could be looking to shore up their rotation. Same goes for the Braves, a team with a strong young core that could be looking to take a step forward as it moves into a new ballpark next season.

Of course, this is all Hot Stove guesswork. The answers will start arriving soon.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.