Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Top 150 Free Agents

Sunday, November 03, 2013


This year's annual free agents column has expanded to a top 150, though I'm writing up just the top 55 (it was going to be 50, but I couldn't help myself). The rest are presented in a list. Not included are players whose contract options are sure to be exercised.

 

Players are ranked based not on how I personally rate them, but instead on how I expect the teams to view them. Basically, I go by whom I think will get the biggest contracts (or at least would if they shopped themselves around. Yes, I'm looking at you, Hiroki), using my own secret and closely guarded algorithm for contracts of differing lengths (in Matt's head, a one-year, $15 million deal would be about equal to a two-year, $26 million deal, but not as good as a three-year, $36 million deal).

 

All ages are as of April 1, 2014.

 

1. Robinson Cano (2B Yankees - Age 31): Cano's status as the winter's top free agent is undisputed, but it remains to be seen who will compete with the Yankees for his services. The Dodgers were the obvious choice, but they've added Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero for second and still have to sign Clayton Kershaw to a long-term deal. Seattle perhaps? It'd be nice to see the Orioles flex some muscle and make a big bid, but it's not their style. Maybe a usual suspect like the Tigers or Rangers could make some noise. Cano will probably get $200 million regardless, but it's going to take a mystery team or two to get him up to $250 million.

 

2013 stats: .314/.383/.516, 27 HR, 81 R, 107 RBI, 7 SB in 605 AB

 

2. Jacoby Ellsbury (OF Red Sox - Age 30): After an MVP-type 2011 and an injured and unproductive 2012, Ellsbury basically settled right back in at his career numbers last season. The 32-homer outburst from 2011 looks like it might go down as a Brady Anderson-like outlier, but Ellsbury is still plenty valuable even without the power. Also, he's entering free agency at a great time, with the Rangers, Mariners and Mets in definite need of leadoff hitters. Even teams like the Yankees, Tigers, Nationals and Phillies can't be ruled out. The Red Sox would love to have him back, too, but someone is going to give him Carl Crawford money (seven years, $142 million) and Boston isn't likely to match.

 

2013 stats: .298/.355/.426, 9 HR, 92 R, 53 RBI, 52 SB in 577 AB

 

x. Masahiro Tanaka (RHP Japan - Age 25): Tanaka isn't a free agent, but if he were, he'd be No. 3 on the list. Expectations are that he'll be posted this month, though MLB and the NPB are currently working on coming to terms on a new posting agreement. My guess is that the team that signs Tanaka will end up making a commitment that rivals the one Ellsbury will get. However, Tanaka himself will probably end up with just about half that money, with the rest going to his club in Japan, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. He should be valued as a $20 million-per-year pitcher, though. The Yankees, Dodgers and Rangers are all expected to be very much involved.

 

2013 stats: 24-0, 1.27 ERA, 183/32 K/BB in 212 IP

 

3. Shin-Soo Choo (OF Reds - Age 31): Choo had almost 70 points of OBP on Ellsbury last season, but since he shouldn't be viewed as a center fielder going forward, he's probably not in for quite as big of a contract. That's not say he'll be hurting. The Reds should make an effort to bring him back, the Rangers, Mets and Mariners are among the teams that could use his leadoff skills and perhaps the Red Sox would consider him for left if Ellsbury departs. He seems destined for a nine-figure deal that would top the five-year, $90 million extension Hunter Pence agreed to with the Giants.

 

2013 stats: .285/.423/.462, 21 HR, 107 R, 54 RBI, 20 SB in 569 AB

 

4. Matt Garza (RHP Rangers - Age 30): Garza didn't fare particularly well in his return to the American League, going 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA in his 13 starts after being traded from the Cubs to the Rangers. There are also lingering doubts about his arm after he missed the second half of 2012 with a stress reaction in his elbow. Still, he has the best combination of track record and relative youth of any of the free agent starters, which should earn him a five- or six-year deal. It also doesn't hurt that he's the one elite free agent who won't cost a draft pick; because he was traded at midseason, the Rangers can't get compensation for losing him. He'd seem to be a lock to get at least $80 million this winter, and $100 million may not be out of reach.

 

2013 stats: 10-6, 3.82 ERA, 136/42 K/BB in 155 1/3 IP

 

5. Ervin Santana (RHP Royals - Age 31): The Angels gave Santana away to the Royals rather than pay him $13 million in 2013. He'll be much more costly this time around after finishing with a career-best 3.24 ERA in 211 innings. That he does give up a lot of homers will likely scare away some teams that play in smaller ballparks, but it won't stop him from getting about $18 million per year. Despite the old concerns about his shoulder, he's made 30 starts in four straight seasons now. He's made at least 23 in all eight of his seasons in the big leagues.

 

2013 stats: 9-10, 3.24 ERA, 161/51 K/BB in 211 IP

 

6. Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP Indians - Age 29): No free agent did more to enhance his stock down the stretch than did Jimenez. The Indians won each of his last six starts, with Jimenez allowing just six runs -- five earned -- in 41 1/3 innings during the span. He fanned at least 10 in four of his last eight starts, and he finished the second half with a 1.82 ERA and a 100/27 K/BB ratio in 84 innings. Of course, all of this comes after a 2012 season in which he was one of the league's worst starters, finishing with a 5.40 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP. Jimenez will certainly be a risky signing, but he offers more upside than any other free agent starter in his age group.

 

2013 stats: 13-9, 3.30 ERA, 194/80 K/BB in 182 2/3 IP

 

7. Brian McCann (C Braves - Age 30): Throw out the 2012 season in which McCann was limited by a shoulder injury and he's still trending downwards; his best seasons were 2006 and 2008 and, in the last six years, he's finished with OPSs of .896, .834, .828, .817, .698 and .797. It makes it easy to forget that he's actually the youngest of the top position player free agents here. But even if McCann doesn't have many more All-Star Games in his future, he's likely to remain a solid starting catcher for several more years. Universally respected, he's probably in line for $60 million for four years, if not something like $80 million for five. The Rangers and Yankees could be his top suitors.

 

2013 stats: .256/.336/.461, 20 HR, 43 R, 57 RBI, 0 SB in 356 AB

 

8. Curtis Granderson (OF Yankees - Age 33): After hitting 40 homers in both of the previous two seasons, Granderson picked the wrong winter to head into free agency for the first time. Of course, even those willing to overlook the injuries that ruined his 2013 should note that his 2012 was one of the weakest 40-homer campaigns ever (.319 OBP, 195 strikeouts, 26 of 43 homers coming at Yankee Stadium). He's also turning 33 in the spring. Perhaps he'll be adequate in center field for a couple of more years, but he might be more valuable in a corner. Ideally, he could be had on something like a three-year, $54 million contract. At least one team will probably go to four years, though.

 

2013 stats: .229/.317/.407, 7 HR, 31 R, 15 RBI, 8 SB in 214 AB

 

9. Carlos Beltran (OF Cardinals - Age 36): The Cardinals could scarcely have hoped that they'd get 296 games (plus 29 more in the postseason) from Beltran over the course of his two-year, $26 million contract. It will be interesting to see if he takes less to stay in St. Louis this time around with the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox possibilities to come sniffing around. Two of his former teams, the Royals and Mets, could also make plays for him. Although his defense has gone downhill, he's worth $40 million for two years in this market.

 

2013 stats: .296/.339/.491, 24 HR, 79 R, 84 RBI, 2 SB in 554 AB

 

10. Hiroki Kuroda (RHP Yankees - Age 39): This is Kuroda's third straight year as a free agent after he left money on the table to sign with the Yankees the previous two offseasons. He hasn't lost anything on the mound, having finished with the same ERA and WHIP last season as he did in 2012, and he should be able to command the highest one-year salary of any pitcher in this year's free agent crop if he wants to shop himself around. However, he'll probably choose between those same two options he did last year: staying with the Yankees or returning to Japan.

 

2013 stats: 11-13, 3.31 ERA, 150/43 K/BB in 201 1/3 IP


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Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
Email :Matthew Pouliot



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