MLB free agency is officially underway. While the free agent pool is short on big name stars, it is filled with quality depth that can help any team take themselves to the next level. Let’s take a look at some of the notable free agents available, and who are their most likely suitors.
Robinson Cano, 2B – far and away the best free agent on the market this year. He hits for average, hits for power, gets on base, plays great defense, all while playing at a premium position. Any given game, the team with Cano has a sizable matchup advantage, and that is invaluable. Sounds enticing. All that production comes with a price, and it’s well documented at this point that that price is sky high. Cano and his agent Jay-Z have reportedly been asking for a 10 year, $310 Million deal. Cano is already 31, so a 10 year deal is unlikely, even for the sometimes-recklessly-spending Yankees. Not to mention no player has ever been paid an average of over $30 Million a year. The Yankees have been firm in saying they won’t pay for Cano’s demands, and while both sides aren’t budging, the Yankees are in the drivers seat. They’ve been negotiating with numerous other free agents including Shin Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka assuming he posts from the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, and of course recent signee Brian McCann. No one will pay Cano $310 Million. But the Yankees best offer will be more than anyone else.
Nelson Cruz, OF – Before being suspended 50 games for his connection with the Biogenesis clinic in Florida, Nelson Cruz was having a quietly strong year. He hit 27 HR and slugged .506 in just 109 games, while making his 2ns All-Star Game. He’s 33 so he still has plenty left in the tank for what he gives you; a power bat with serviceable defense. He’s reportedly asking for a 4 year $75 Million deal. Seems pricey but for a contender looking to upgrade their offense, he’s a perfect fit. With Marlon Byrd’s magical season over, and being 36 and a free agent, the Pirates have a big hole to fill.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF – Ellsbury is 30 years old coming off a fantastic rebound year, following a 2012 season cut short by injury, with the world champion Boston Red Sox in which he bat leadoff, hitting just under .300 and stole a league leading 52 bases. The Mariners have the 7th lowest payroll in baseball and beyond their 2 frontline starting pitchers; Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, no player makes over $2.7 Million. The Mariners have an impressive amount of young pitching coming up including Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen. Add Ellsbury into the mix offensively and defensively; the Mariners could be formidable contenders in another years’ time.
Shin Soo-Choo, OF – Choo had a fantastic all around offensive year in 2013 for the Cincinnati Reds. From the leadoff spot, he hit .285, hit 21 HR, stole 20 bases, and was 2nd in the NL in on-base percentage to teammate Joey Votto, with a .423 on-base percentage. Some of that can be attributed to being hit by a major league leading 26 pitches, but Choo is still a high-end leadoff man. He’s posted an OBP of .373 or higher 5 out of the last 6 years, including 4 times over .390, twice topping .400. But Choo is 31, and his Achilles heel has always been his defense. Agent Scott Boras is pushing for his client to get over $100 Million. I’m not sure if he’ll top it, but he’ll get close. The Mets lost Matt Harvey for this upcoming year as he’s recovering from Tommy-John surgery. They won’t be competitive in 2013. But next year, they’ll have Harvey, Wheeler, and Syndergaard in the rotation. Add Choo, and a couple more pieces next year during free agency into that roster, and they’ll have a legitimate chance to compete for the first time since 2006.
Curtis Granderson, OF – Grandy had phenomenal 2011 and 2012 seasons, topping 40 HR each year. A hand injury sustained in spring training this year derailed is 2013 season and limited him to just 61 games. Now, at 32, he’s a free agent, and teams are concerned not only about his health but his game as well. He hasn’t hit over .262 in the past 5 seasons, and teams worry that Grandy’s power numbers were over-inflated by tiny Yankee Stadium, and don’t think he can sustain those numbers outside of such a hitter-friendly park. Since trading Justin Upton to Atlanta last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been missing a power bat to compliment MVP-candidate Paul Goldschmidt. While Chase Field isn’t Yankee Stadium, it is one of the most hitter friendly stadiums in all of baseball, and could help vault Granderson’s numbers back to where they were in 2011 and 2012, and help the Diamondbacks make a push past the Dodgers to the top of the NL West.
Mike Napoli, 1B – Napoli quietly had a fantastic 2013 season with the Red Sox hitting 23 HR, driving in 92 runs, and getting numerous big-time hits during the postseason. Many expect Napoli to return to Boston next year, and I agree. He signed a 3 year $39 Million deal before last season that was nullified when his physical revealed injuries in both hips. Napoli was more valuable at catcher in previous years, but due to his medial history, his days of catching are over, and at 32, that is probably the wise choice to preserve his bat long term. The deal then became a 1 year $5 Million deal. He far and away outplayed that contract, and is back to full strength. We already saw the Red Sox are willing to commit to him long term, relatively speaking for a 32 year old player, with their original offer last year. He isn’t going anywhere.
Prediction: Red Sox
Joe Nathan, RP – Nathan had a great 2013 season, finishing with the 5th-most saves in the majors with 43, and had an outstanding 1.39 ERA and .90 WHIP. Nathan may be 39, but he’s still performing at an elite level. Earlier this month, Nathan declined his 1 year $9.5 Million option with the Rangers. He should be able to pull in more annually on a 2 year deal. The Tigers don’t have many holes on that team, but closer is one of them. They haven’t had a reliable closer since Jose Valverde, and even that’s a stretch. The Rangers sent the Tigers $30 Million in the Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder trade. So while a big chunk of that can be put towards locking up Max Scherzer long term, the cash can help them land Nathan and help shore up one a bullpen that had the 7th worst ERA in the majors last year. This seems like a match made in heaven.
Carlos Beltran, OF – Beltran may be 36 but he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down in recent years. He hit .296 this year, hitting 24 HR, and driving in 84 runs. The Yankees have reportedly been negotiating with Beltran in recent days, and reportedly made him an offer. With Curtis Granderson expected to leave the Yankees this offseason, the Yankees will have a gaping hole in the outfield. In that stadium, the switch-hitting Beltran can probably return to 30-homer status.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C – Salty hit a respectable .273 with 14 HR ad 65 RBI this year, while playing above average defense. With Napoli no longer catching and no other legitimate catcher on the free agent market, the Red Sox bringing Saltalamacchia back makes the most sense.
Prediction: Red Sox
Matt Garza, SP – Garza is widely viewed as arguably the best pitcher available in the free agent market. Between the Cubs and the Rangers this year, Garza went 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA and a WHIP of 1.24. But a major concern for Garza is his health, as he’s only pitched 259 innings in the past 2 years combined. And already 30, teams will have to wonder about his long-term durability and value. The Dodgers were considered a viable option, but the recent signing of Dan Haren probably takes them out of the mix. The Blue Jays on the other hand, lost Josh Johnson this offseason, and saw prized acquisition R.A. Dickey struggle mightily this year. Bringing in Garza to add stability to that rotation would make a lot of sense for Toronto.
Prediction: Blue Jays