Predicting Where the Top 25 MLB Free Agents Will Land This Offseason
Predicting Where the Top 25 MLB Free Agents Will Land This Offseason
The 2014 Major League Baseball free agency that will take place this winter should prove to be quite exciting for baseball fans. It will not be nearly as intense as it has been in years past because the market is simply not as deep as we are used to seeing. With that being said, the fact that there are not as much quality to choose from will force teams to scramble and make questionable deals.
Numerous teams that are believed to be playoff contenders next season will do whatever it takes in free agency to bolster the starting rotation. This is where the winter meetings will see the most excitement. Even though there are technically 61 free-agent starting pitchers, there are really only a handful of quality players that teams will want to make a deal with in the offseason.
A big reason for that is only one-third of the players are 31 years of age or younger. Sure, adding A.J. Burnett (37 years old) to a one- or two-year contract to get over the hump may be a good call. However, it would make much more sense to go after Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza because they are both 30 years old, pitched very well in 2013 and should give teams a better chance over a longer period of time.
In general, pitching is going to be what general managers are going to want to talk about during the winter meetings. However, many organizations will be looking to add a slugger in their batting order to produce those extra runs that were missing the past season.
Make sure to click through the slideshow to see where the top 25 MLB free agents will land this offseason.
25. Corey Hart
The fact that Corey Hart missed the entire 2013 season after he underwent two knee surgeries does not bode well for his chances in free agency. With that being said, he is still a top-notch slugger who excels on defense at first base. The good news for Hart is that he does not need to impress other suitors because he already told the Milwaukee Brewers that he would take a discount to stay with the franchise.
Destination: Milwaukee Brewers
24. Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz has never really been one to post a solid batting average. Good thing for him is that there will be more than enough teams looking to acquire him for his impressive power. The Texas Rangers made a qualifying offer on Monday, but do not be surprised if the Philadelphia Phillies are in contention as they attempt to add the much needed power to their lineup.
Destination: Philadelphia Phillies
23. Grant Balfour
There are only a handful of stellar closers that will be available in free agency this offseason and Grant Balfour is one of them. His outstanding performance will guarantee him a great contract with a team trying to make a push.
There are not too many relievers who have posted less than a 2.60 earned run average in four straight seasons, especially one that has sat in the eighth or ninth inning role over that span. The fact that Balfour has blown just five saves in two years makes him one of the most sought after closers on the market. Even though there will be several teams in on him, one in particular that needs his talents is the Colorado Rockies. More importantly, they are willing to pay.
Destination: Colorado Rockies
22. Kendrys Morales
Kendrys Morales put up some great numbers in his first season at Safeco Field. Even though his defense is less than desirable, his power and age (30 years old) is enough for teams to take a chance on the first baseman/designated hitter. The Minnesota Twins is one team that will be looking to upgrade their power numbers and Morales would be a great way to do that with one acquisition. The fact is he is guaranteed to give them 20 or more home runs and at least 75 RBI each season.
Destination: Minnesota Twins
21. Joaquin Benoit
Right-handed relievers will be in high-demand during the winter meetings, especially ones who throws hard with great command. What will help Joaquin Benoit in free agency is that he proved to be a great asset in his first real season in the closer role. Not to mention, he posted a 2.01 ERA, 73 strikeouts and 24 saves in 66 appearances. The Rockies will certainly be in on him. However, look for a team such as the New York Yankees to make a splash after legendary closer Mariano Rivera will no longer be on the roster after his retirement.
Destination: New York Yankees
20. Ricky Nolasco
What will help starter Ricky Nolasco in free agency is that he pitched very well in the first half of the season for the Miami Marlins despite having one of the worst offenses in the league backing him up. The fact that he went to the Los Angeles Dodgers and excelled will also improve his chances of a good contract. Expect teams to be after Nolasco who want to provide a veteran presence in the middle of the rotation and need someone to eat up innings. The Los Angeles Angels will need to upgrade for a reasonable price, which makes Nolasco their man.
Destination: Los Angeles Angels
19. James Loney
James Loney’s age, power and durability will all be good factors that will help his cause in signing a solid contract. The 29-year-old hit .299 with 13 home runs, 75 RBI, 33 doubles, 44 walks and a .348 on-base percentage in 598 plate appearances the past season. The fact that it was one of the best statistical seasons of his career bodes well for him as teams look to upgrade first base for several years down the road. Look for the Pittsburgh Pirates to make good on their promise to improve the roster and take a step further in the playoffs in 2014.
Destination: Pittsburgh Pirates
18. Marlon Byrd
Marlon Byrd resurrected his career with the Pirates, which means he will be in no rush to leave the organization. Even though Byrd’s power numbers came while playing with the New York Mets in the first half of the season, his impressive hitting with Pittsburgh is enough for the team to re-sign him.
17. A.J. Burnett
Assuming Burnett does not retire expect to see him with the Pirates. The veteran told several media outlets that he has no intention of signing a contract with another team. He was thrilled with the way that the city of Pittsburgh embraced him. Not to mention, if he is going to play he wants it to be with a contender.
16. Hiroki Kuroda
Hiroki Kuroda has put forth a terrific career in the big leagues, especially with the Yankees over the last two years. Kuroda is another starter on this list that is unsure if he will play next season, as retirement from the majors is a definite possibility. If he does decide to stay, I cannot imagine him declining New York’s qualifying offer to test the open market.
15. Stephen Drew
Stephen Drew is one of the best defensive shortstops in the American League. Throw in the fact that he also brings promising power to the plate and we have one of the top sought after free-agent infielders of 2014. As much as the Boston Red Sox would love to keep Drew, I have to imagine he intends to take his talents elsewhere for more money. One team that does not have a lot of money to spend, but is certainly interested in an upgrade to propel them to the next level is the Oakland Athletics.
The Athletics would be wise to move Jed Lowrie to second base and have Drew start at shortstop next season. It is an intelligent move that will upgrade two important positions, as second baseman Eric Sogard simply is not getting the job done.
Destination: Oakland Athletics
14. Matt Garza
Garza may supply teams with a lesser performance than expected but his numbers are always consistent. Texas certainly did not get their money’s worth after they acquired him in a midseason trade. However, that will not prevent teams from taking a chance on a starter who has a career 3.84 ERA in 194 appearances (191 starts). Garza is someone who will get batters to miss and eat up innings. With the Cleveland Indians most likely losing two starters in free agency, expect them to make a hard push for him.
Destination: Cleveland Indians
13. Curtis Granderson
I understand that Curtis Granderson’s batting average has really fallen off the past couple of years. However, what he lacks in getting on base he makes up with great power. Granderson crushed a combined 84 home runs in 2011 and 2012. Obviously, teams simply do not let that kind of power go to waste, which is why he will have his fair share of suitors. Even though injuries forced him to miss a significant amount of time in 2013, it will have zero effect on his status in free agency.
With the possible departure of Cruz, do not be surprised if the Rangers make a serious play for Granderson to ensure their contention next year.
Destination: Texas Rangers
12. Joe Nathan
After Joe Nathan decided to move on from the Rangers he instantly became the most sought after closer in free agency. His 6-2 record, 1.39 ERA, 73 strikeouts, 43 saves and 3.2 wins above replacement in 67 appearances are the some of the best numbers he has put up in years. He is someone organizations will be able to count on as he will instantly improve any bullpen he is placed in. If the Yankees want to get back to the playoffs they will need a reliable closer to get them there.
11. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has made it very clear that he intends to the sign with the team that offers him the most money over the longest period of time. He should have no problem finding security in a contract since he is widely considered to be the second best catcher available in free agency. He might be the better bet than Brian McCann for several reasons, more specifically his better batting average and on-base percentage. The fact that the Marlins are in desperate need of a franchise catcher means they could very well shell out of Saltalamacchia.
Destination: Miami Marlins
10. Jhonny Peralta
Jhonny Peralta is one of the top infielder free agents in terms of defensive performance and offensive capability. His 11 home runs and 55 RBI are nothing to write home about. However, the numbers become a little bit more impressive when they are combined with his career-high .303 batting average and .815 OPS. The fact that Peralta can handle himself at shortstop and third base just adds to what he is expected to earn. The Indians desperately need an upgrade at third base, which is why Peralta would be the perfect fit.
9. Ubaldo Jimenez
It could not have come at a better time for Jimenez to prove that he is still capable of pitching at a high-level. The right-hander is expected to get several decent offers in free agency after he went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA, 194 strikeouts, 2.7 wins above replacement and a .239 opponent batting average in 32 starts. Not to mention, his 1.71 ERA after the All-Star break led the AL.
His combination of age, experience and durability will work wonders for him on the market. The Orioles will be looking to upgrade their rotation for the long-term, which is why they will go hard after Jimenez.
Destination: Baltimore Orioles
8. Brian McCann
McCann will be one of the most sought after free agents due to his impressive power and stellar defensive skills at one of the most important positions. Many teams will do whatever they can to lure him their way. With that being said, there are really only a couple that have a shot at signing him. One team that could have McCann on their roster next season are the Rangers after they have reportedly made certain moves to ensure the possibility of inking a deal.
7. Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana has set himself up brilliantly to make a lot of money over the next few years. His outstanding numbers could not have come at a better time considering the limited amount of quality starters in free agency this offseason. Not to mention, several teams will get in a bidding war for his services. Do not be surprised if the Twins do whatever it takes to land Santana as the organization is determined to turn their woes around.
6. Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli got the short end of the stick last year when doctors discovered a problem with his hip that could make him an ineffective player with durability issues. Obviously, Napoli proved everyone wrong with his incredible season in 2013 that saw his usual power numbers combine with a great performance on defense. His presence was a huge reason Boston was able to go the distance and win the World Series, which is why they have no intention of letting him walk.
Destination: Red Sox
5. Carlos Beltran
Carlos Beltran is open to signing with a contender that offers him the most money. Even though the St. Louis Cardinals were wise to acquire him a few years ago, which helped the franchise win a World Series, do not expect it to happen a second time around. There are simply too many teams that are prepared to ensure Beltran is in their lineup next season. One team in particular that would have no problem spending a lot of money for his impressive offensive production is the Yankees.
4. Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka is the next Japanese pitcher that every team wants a piece of heading into next year. Many consider him to be the top starter in a weak free agency, which will certainly turn in his favor. The fact that he is only 25 years old and already has seven years of experience at the professional level just adds to the intrigue. The Dodgers have cleared the way to be the favorites to land him. There is no question the signing would devastate other teams around the league considering it would give Los Angeles one of the top rotations in baseball.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury
Jacoby Ellsbury is someone who is capable of putting up solid power numbers, but is more content with racking up stolen bases and posting a solid batting average. Not to mention, he is a top-notch defensive player in the outfield, which makes him that much more desirable. It appears Ellsbury is content with moving on to the highest bidder after winning two titles with Boston. The Seattle Mariners’ outfield is a complete mess and it will not get any better without making some acquisitions this offseason. Expect Seattle to make an offer that Ellsbury simply will be unable to refuse.
Destination: Seattle Mariners
2. Shin Soo-Choo
Shin Soo-Choo is the top outfielder on the free agent market. He is expected to sign an offer north of $100 million and rightfully so. He consistently posts terrific numbers at the plate and is a true asset on defense. More importantly, he might just be the most productive leadoff hitter in the big leagues. The fact that he ranked in the top-five among Major League center fielders in batting average, doubles, total bases, walks, on-base percentage and numerous other offensive categories proves just how good he truly was on offense.
The Mets have not been shy about their interest in Choo. However, they better be prepared to pay up as there are several teams in on him.
Destination: New York Mets
1. Robinson Cano
There is no question Robinson Cano is the top free agent on the market this offseason. His unbelievable talent will attract teams from all walks of life. However, it is only the ones with the big checkbook that will even be allowed to take a meeting. Cano is looking for a monster contract and deservedly so. With that being said, do not expect a 10-year, $300 million offer from any team.
Two teams that could make a big play for Cano are the Angels and the Tigers. It is true that both organizations have shown interest in getting under the salary cap, but there is no doubt Cano would be a big enough game changer to dismiss those notions. On the other hand, it is hard to believe the slugger will leave New York. The Yankees can offer him a solid contract that will allow him to stay in a place where he has made his career flourish.