2014 Top 50 Free Agents With Predictions: MLB Rumors - MLBTradeRumors.com
The eighth annual MLB Trade Rumors Top 50 Free Agents list is here! The entire list of available free agents can be found here, and you can filter by position and signing team with our free agent tracker here.
This is the third year for our free agent prediction contest, which allows you to test your prognostication abilities against those of the MLBTR writing team as well as other readers. Last year 5,239 people entered, with Josh Larabee taking home the batting title with 20 correct picks and a .400 average. I topped MLBTR writers with 16 correct. The contest is back for 2014 and is open now! You can enter your picks anytime between now and November 10th at midnight central time, and you're free to make changes up until that point (I will certainly make changes up until the end). A Facebook account is required. Once all top 50 players have signed, the winners will receive sweet prizes. Here are the top 50 free agents for which you'll be making predictions, along with my guesses. Player names our linked to our Free Agent Profiles.
1. Robinson Cano - Yankees
. Cano is likely to join Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, and Prince Fielder as baseball's fifth $200MM player. Cano made news in April, dropping agent Scott Boras in favor of Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports, which will be supported by CAA's Brodie Van Wagenen in negotiations. Cano, 31, is the complete package, a durable second baseman who hits in the middle of the order and provides a .310 batting average, 30 home runs, and 100+ RBI with above average defense. He's averaged more than six wins above replacement per season for the Yankees since 2010, a level of production justifying a yearly salary north of $25MM. There was talk in September of Cano seeking ten years and $305-310MM, which would be the largest contract in baseball history by far. We think he'll fall well short of $300MM, especially with the Dodgers looking unlikely. Casting a wide net, Cano's speculative suitors aside from the Yankees could include the Rangers, Mariners, Blue Jays, Tigers, Angels, Mets, Nationals, and Cubs, though none of those teams seem like an obvious match. At any rate, it will be an ownership-level conversation for Jay Z and Van Wagenen.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury - Mariners
. Ellsbury is a 30-year-old center fielder and leadoff man whose speed contributes to strong defense and big stolen base totals. His power is mostly of the doubles and triples variety, as he's only reached double digits in home runs once. That was in his 2011 season, an MVP-caliber campaign in which he hit 32 home runs and accounted for a superstar level nine WAR. Ellsbury spent significant time on the disabled list in the 2010 and '12 seasons. The first injury was cracked ribs after a collision with Adrian Beltre and the second a shoulder injury after a collision with Reid Brignac, prompting agent Scott Boras to say in July, "Jacoby Ellsbury is a very durable player. He just has to make sure that people donít run into him." I think a goal for Boras will be to top Carl Crawford's seven-year, $142MM deal from three years ago. Boras will surely be making his pitch directly to team owners, who could green-light a huge contract even if the GM disapproves. The Mariners have money to spend and may find extra appeal in that Ellsbury is an Oregon native. Otherwise, the Red Sox could bring him back, or the Rangers, Tigers, Yankees, and Cubs could be fits.
3. Shin-Soo Choo - Tigers
. Choo posted a robust .423 on-base percentage this year, leading all free agents and ranking fourth in baseball. He's another Boras leadoff man with a shot at $100MM, so you can be sure we'll hear the agent talking about how leadoff hitters are the new 40 home run hitters. Despite playing center field this year, Choo fits best in an outfield corner. There are questions about his defense and ability to hit left-handed pitching, and as with Cano, Ellsbury, McCann, Santana, and others, a team will have to forfeit its highest available draft pick to sign him. The 31-year-old South Korea native should require a contract in excess of Hunter Pence's five-year, $90MM deal, making a return to the Reds unlikely. The Tigers' interest in signing Choo to play an outfield corner is unknown, but surely Boras' relationship with owner Mike Ilitch will lead to a conversation. The Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Mariners, Cubs, and Astros are other potential matches.
4. Brian McCann - Rangers
. McCann, 30 in February, is a power-hitting catcher with a middle of the order reputation. He's an above average defensive backstop as well, so he's not destined to move off the position in the immediate future. Still, with a five-year term expected, an American League team makes more sense to allow for increasing time at designated hitter as the contract winds down. Like Ellsbury, McCann bounced back from a shoulder injury to have a strong 2013, and like Choo, he hasn't been good against left-handed pitching lately. The Rangers are a natural fit, but the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Phillies, and Dodgers could be other considerations for agent B.B. Abbott.
5. Masahiro Tanaka - Dodgers
. Not technically a free agent, Tanaka is expected to be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league. MLB and NPB are closing in on an agreement for changes to the posting system, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Rangers paid $51.7MM to negotiate with Yu Darvish two years ago, and executives who spoke with Yahoo's Jeff Passan expect something like $75MM to negotiate with Tanaka. Whatever the fee, it will not count against the team's luxury tax payroll, and a contract will still have to be negotiated with Tanaka's as yet unknown agent. Tanaka is known to have a great splitter and while he doesn't project to be as good as Darvish, some reports have suggested he could step directly into a Major League rotation as a number two starter. At just 25 years old, an MLB team would get much of his prime years, making him a potential match even for teams not expected to contend in 2014. The Dodgers, Yankees, and Angels are expected to be major players, while I can see the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins, Royals, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Phillies, Cubs, Padres, and Rockies being involved as well.
6. Ervin Santana - Yankees
. Santana is competing with Tanaka and Garza for the title of best available starting pitcher, after posting 211 innings of 3.24 ball for the Royals this year. Santana throws relatively hard, avoids walks, and doesn't turn 31 until December. He has been homer-prone at times, and some teams may balk at losing a draft pick and giving Santana our projected five-year, $75MM deal. Nonetheless, the list of suitors should be long if the Royals aren't able to retain Santana, potentially including the Yankees, Twins, Blue Jays, Nationals, Mariners, Rockies, Phillies, Dodgers, Astros, and more.
7. Matt Garza - Nationals
. Limited to 259 innings over the last two seasons, our projected four-year deal in excess of $60MM would be unprecedented for a pitcher with a questionable recent health history. Once Garza recovered from a stress fracture in his elbow and a lat strain, he went on to make all 24 starts for the Cubs and Rangers this year. Since he was traded midseason, he's ineligible for a qualifying offer, adding value in comparison to Santana. Garza is a hard thrower who has consistently posted sub-4.00 ERAs, with good K/BB ratios in recent years. The Nationals figure to bring in some kind of starter, while the Phillies, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Mariners, and Yankees also seem like potential fits. The Astros are my dark horse here.
8. Hiroki Kuroda - Yankees
. Kuroda provided the Yankees with a 3.31 ERA over 421 innings from 2012-13, and they'd like to have him back even though he will pitch next year at age 39. MLBTR's Steve Adams describes Kuroda as a "groundball pitcher with plus command," noting that teams may be reluctant to forfeit a draft pick to sign him. Kuroda figures to be picky in free agency, but we don't know if his preference will be a return to the Yankees, California, or Japan, or to simply retire at the top of his game.
9. A.J. Burnett - Pirates
. Burnett will be even more picky than Kuroda, as he's deciding between the Pirates or retirement. He has given the Bucs 393 1/3 innings of 3.41 ball from 2012-13 and would pitch next year at 37. He still misses lots of bats and keeps the ball on the ground. His decision will greatly impact the Pirates' offseason. Their best bet is to hammer out a one-year deal before qualifying offers are due Monday night.
10. Mike Napoli - Red Sox
. Napoli, 32, is one of the top sluggers on the free agent market after hitting 21 home runs with 92 RBI in the regular season and adding a few more key hits in the postseason. A three-year, $39MM deal with the Red Sox last offseason was negotiated down to one year and $5MM when a physical revealed he has avascular necrosis (AVN) in both hips. He ended up earning the full $13MM through incentives, staying relatively healthy and strengthening his position for this offseason. Another asset: he's played in the postseason six times out of eight total seasons. On the other hand, Napoli does strike out a lot and some teams will have a hard time sacrificing a draft pick and giving him our projected three-year, $42MM contract. After missing out on Jose Dariel Abreu, we'll learn soon if the Red Sox are willing to guarantee a third year to Napoli, for real this time, fresh off a World Championship.
11. Ubaldo Jimenez - Blue Jays
. From April 29th onward, Jimenez posted a 2.61 ERA and 9.7 K/9 in 165 2/3 innings, and he finished especially strong. It seems likely Jimenez will turn down a qualifying offer from the Indians and will require a new team to forfeit a draft pick, unlike Nolasco. Still, he posted an excellent 3.30 ERA this year and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2010, so Jimenez has upside that Nolasco doesn't. Jimenez, 30 in January, seems to have a good shot at the Edwin Jackson contract: four years, $52MM. Suitors could include the Blue Jays, Angels, Yankees, Twins, Mariners, Astros, Nationals, Phillies, Cubs, Dodgers, Padres, and Giants.
12. Carlos Beltran - Yankees
. Beltran is a middle of the order bat who can likely be had on a two-year deal because he'll turn 37 in April. He's a 25 home run switch-hitter with a strong October reputation. An American League team might be wise, given the chance of Beltran picking up some DH at-bats. He's had interest in the Yankees for a decade now, and this might finally be the year it happens. The Royals, Rangers, Orioles, and Pirates are other potential fits if Beltran doesn't re-sign with the Cardinals.
13. Curtis Granderson - Mets
. After a pair of 40 home run seasons, Granderson lost most of 2013 to separate incidents in which a pitch broke a bone (his forearm and a finger). Granderson is "widely regarded as one of the most amiable players in the game," noted MLBTR's Steve Adams, who predicted a three-year, $45MM contract. Aside from the fact that he'll play next year at age 33, one factor that might hurt Granderson's market value is if he receives and turns down a qualifying offer from the Yankees. As of press time, the Yankees are undecided on making the qualifying offer according to Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News, while agent Matt Brown says it's possible they could accept if offered. If he does hit the market, the Mets have to come away with some kind of decent outfielder, and Granderson is capable of playing all three positions. Granderson is a Chicago guy, and the Cubs or Sox could make it work.
14. Stephen Drew - Mets
. Drew signed a one-year, $9.5MM make-good contract with the Red Sox last December, and for the most part he did just that. Drew, 31 in March, played in 120+ games for the first time since 2010 despite enduring a hamstring injury. Though he weathered a postseason slump, Drew has an above-average bat for a shortstop. He excelled defensively during the regular season and on the big stage in the playoffs. Drew will probably be dragging a qualifying offer around, but his competition is light on the shortstop market. Agent Scott Boras has a shot at four years at more than $10MM annually. The Red Sox may feel they have a ready replacement in Xander Bogaerts, so the Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates are Drew's most likely suitors.
15. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - White Sox
. Salty had the best overall year of any free agent catcher, and he won't turn 29 until May. He's a switch-hitter with good power. Drawbacks include a poor line against southpaws and lots of strikeouts. Saltalamacchia was benched by the Red Sox in the World Series in favor of David Ross. If Salty fell out of favor enough to avoid a qualifying offer, it will be to his advantage in the marketplace and could allow him to top my predicted four-year, $36MM deal. I don't love the White Sox prediction, so other possibilities include the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rangers, Phillies, and, to think outside the box, the Angels and Marlins.
16. Scott Kazmir - Twins
. The lefty signed a minor league deal with the Indians before the season, and 29 strong starts later he's back on the radar as a top 20 free agent. Just 30 in January, Kazmir has never been an innings guy, but he does flash front of the rotation stuff. I've predicted a two-year, $16MM deal. With the reasonable price, upside, and no draft pick compensation, Kazmir could wind up with a dozen suitors.
17. Nelson Cruz - Phillies
. Cruz is one of the better power bats on the free agent market, but he's 33 years old, limited defensively, and was suspended 50 games this year for his connection to Biogenesis. The Rangers intend to make Cruz a qualifying offer, and he's yet another player whose market will be hurt by draft pick compensation. While he will probably fall short of Beltran's contract, a two-year deal at $26MM or so seems possible despite the concerns. The Phillies, in search of right-handed outfield power, could be a nice match if the Rangers don't retain him. The Royals, Mets, Pirates, and Diamondbacks could be other considerations.
18. Omar Infante - Tigers
. One of the ten best second basemen in the game, Infante doesn't strike out much and is solid defensively. He's not getting a qualifying offer. I think he can find a three-year deal in the $25MM range, maybe to stay with the Tigers. The Cubs, Yankees, Orioles, and Royals are other possibilities.
19. Joe Nathan - Tigers
. With the Rangers seemingly willing to let their closer walk, Nathan will be seeking a win-now team willing to overpay to solidify the ninth inning with the legendary but aging righty on a two-year deal for around $26MM. The Tigers could replace Joaquin Benoit with Nathan, while the Yankees and Angels are other possibilities.
20. Ricky Nolasco - Phillies
. Nolasco, 31 in December, saw his stock rise after joining the Dodgers in a July trade and posting a 3.52 ERA in 87 innings. Three rough outings in September took some of the shine off, but even innings eaters make good money these days. And unlike Ervin Santana, Nolasco is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer. I've come around to the idea that Nolasco should be able to find Edwin Jackson's four-year, $52MM deal. He could solidify the Phillies' rotation, and may also be an option for the Twins, Giants, Angels, Rockies, or Mariners if the Dodgers don't retain him.
21. Jhonny Peralta - Cardinals
. Peralta, who will play most of next season at age 32, is a strong hitter for a shortstop. Defensively, he's considered to have strong hands but limited range, so some teams may view him as a third baseman. His stock will be hurt by this year's 50-game Biogenesis suspension, which prompted the Tigers to acquire his successor in Jose Iglesias. Peralta still may manage a three-year deal in the $30MM range, given the limited market at his position. The Cardinals could plug their shortstop hole with Peralta, while other potential matches include the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, and Pirates.
22. Bartolo Colon - Indians
. Colon, 41 in May, resurrected his career by getting bone marrow and fat stem calls injected into his elbow and shoulder in 2010. Returning to the Majors in 2011, Colon started pitching increasingly well, at least in terms of ERA, and his 2.65 mark in 190 1/3 innings this year ranked second in the American League. Colon tested positive for testosterone in August 2012, earning a 50-game suspension and keeping his price down for the A's for 2013. The testosterone use was later found to be tied to Biogenesis, and Colon did not get a second suspension for his involvement. Colon's age and health/PED profile makes a qualifying offer unlikely, but his performance this year could merit $10MM or more on a one-year deal. I'm not sure if the Indians would be open to a reunion with Colon if the A's are not able to retain him. Most teams could find room for the righty on a one-year deal.
23. Bronson Arroyo - Mets
. Arroyo is the only pitcher in baseball to make at least 32 starts per year from 2005-13. Arroyo, 37 in February, is the game's most consistent innings-eater. It appears he'll move on from the Reds after eight seasons, probably without a potentially budget-busting qualifying offer. I've pegged Arroyo at two years and $24MM, which could be palatable for the Mets, Twins, Giants, and several other teams looking to solidify the backend of their rotation.
24. Marlon Byrd - Pirates.
Byrd, 36, hit a career low with a PED suspension in June 2012. The outfielder signed a minor league deal with the Mets and improbably became their starting right fielder. He hit five home runs in May and didn't look back, mashing 24 overall between the Mets and Pirates. A two-year deal in the $15MM range seems possible. If a contract can't be hammered out with the Pirates, the Royals, Orioles, Mariners, Phillies, Rockies, or Giants could make sense.
25. Grant Balfour - Yankees
. After saving 62 games over the 2012-13 seasons, Balfour will likely be seeking a closer gig in free agency. The Aussie, 36 in December, could get something like $18MM over two years. As with Joe Nathan, the Yankees, Angels, and Tigers make sense, but with more than a half-dozen closer types on the market, a few of them will need to settle for set-up jobs.