Saturday, October 26, 2013
Top free agents poised for big paydays
By Buster Olney
As a free-agent catcher who can produce at the plate, Brian McCann could fetch top dollar.
ST. LOUIS – As the Cardinals and Red Sox play on, MLB’s other 28 teams are preparing for the offseason market that will begin next week. There has been some early trade talk, officials say, some feeling out for what could be available, and teams are preparing their budgets and trying to figure out where the spending will go.
There is some consensus on that point: The free-agent market is going to be flush with cash, some highly ranked evaluators predict, but not with quality free agents. Which bodes very well for the best of the lot.
As one executive noted, there figure to be situations in which the middle class of free agents will appear so uninspiring that a bidder will make a push for the top one or two players at a given position, rather than settle for something less from the pack. “It’s like what happened with Albert Pujols,” the executive said. “That deal was driven by [the specter] of TV money, where they are looking for a name. It’s an overpay, but they dive into it because of the splash.”
With teams set to receive the significant windfall from Major League Baseball’s new television contract, some evaluators expect that the best of the free agents could see the bidding for their services climb to unexpected heights.
If this happens, here are some stars who might benefit the most:
There just aren’t that many catchers who can have an impact offensively, and McCann will hit free agency at a time when some high-budget teams will be looking to fill the position, including the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox and Phillies, among other clubs.
McCann, who will turn 30 in February, struggled through a shoulder injury in 2012 and was still recovering from surgery as 2013 began, so each interested team will make its own assessment of how much that affected his offensive numbers. But he has posted six straight seasons of 20 or more homers, and there aren’t a lot of catchers who can claim that. Plus, if an AL team signs him, it will do so with the knowledge that he can shift to DH in seasons to come.
McCann was the target of a lot of cyberspace criticism after he had an on-field confrontation with Jose Fernandez, but his reputation as a teammate is pristine.
His injury history will scare some teams from going into nine figures with an offer, and there are evaluators who say you should not invest big money long term in a player who relies heavily on speed. But the fact is that there just aren’t a lot of players like him on the market, and it figures that somebody will go above and beyond with him to change the conversation swirling around a franchise. Seattle would seem to be one candidate, and there has even been speculation among scouts that the Dodgers will pursue Ellsbury because he’s a true center fielder, then dump their surplus (Matt Kemp?).
Remember how Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski presented owner Mike Ilitch with options after Victor Martinez injured his knee in the winter of 2011-12 and how Ilitch reached for Prince Fielder -- at the cost of $214 million? Well, some executives are convinced that this type of scenario could develop for Cano, whose negotiations with the Yankees stalled early in the year over his request for a $300 million deal.
There are debates among evaluators about how hard he plays, whether a deal over seven or eight years is pure folly. But there is one thing about Cano that cannot be disputed: He is a star. He is one of the best-known players in the sport, and, without question, he is the biggest star among all of the free agents in this market. He is even represented by a star agent, Jay Z.
This is why some executives predict that, in the cold of winter, some owner not named Steinbrenner is going to get big-eyed -- to steal a phrase from Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- about the notion of having Cano. And he will reach … and yes, overreach.
• With less than a week remaining in the baseball season, Jake Peavy has become the linchpin in determining the championship. Here’s a look at why, followed by two other key players who will factor into the final outcome:
Highest ERA in postseason history by SP (min. 4 starts)
According to Elias
The Red Sox have as many as five games left, and Peavy is scheduled to start two of them. Given all of the uncertainty with Clay Buchholz as he goes into his Game 4 start, Boston desperately needs Peavy to come up big in at least one of his remaining outings. He struggled in his ALCS start against the Tigers because, in his words, he struggled to make adjustments.
“Everything is fixed, fixable,” Peavy said. “It wasn't too much to read into it, really. People want to make it just a small, small adjustment that can make all the difference in the world. And there are absolutely no excuses tomorrow night. This is what I've lived for my whole life is to -- my whole baseball career, I should say -- to have this opportunity to go out there on the biggest stage and have a chance to help your team win a World Series game and a World Series title.
“I'm as prepared as I'll ever be, physically, mentally, and we'll go out there tomorrow night and see if we can execute pitch by pitch, and find a way to win.”
He is to the Cardinals what Mariano Rivera was to the Yankees in 1996, and what Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton were to the Reds in 1990 -- an overpowering reliever who shortens the game for St. Louis with his ridiculous sinker and slider. Rival scouts believe that, as the Cardinals move within range of the end of their season, manager Mike Matheny will deploy Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal even more aggressively, perhaps turning to them as soon as the sixth inning, with perhaps one out from Kevin Siegrist or Randy Choate mixed in along the way.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, this postseason, the Cardinals have had the most appearances from pitchers age 23 or younger in a single postseason in MLB history (21 appearances, ahead of the 1981 Dodgers, who had 18). The Cardinals’ young pitchers have been the story of the postseason, Derrick Goold writes.
He is swinging the bat better than any other member of the Boston or St. Louis lineup and, with a little luck, he could have had three homers in the first two games of this series (he was robbed of an HR by Carlos Beltran in Game 1). Now, as the Series shifts to St. Louis, he moves to first base for Game 3, at least, though it’s hard to imagine that John Farrell will take him out of the lineup with Ortiz hitting so well and right-handers going for the Cardinals in every start.
Ortiz seems to be well-liked by just about everybody in baseball because of his personality. Well, over the next three days, we are going to find out how the baseball gods feel about him, once we see the degree of difficulty he faces in manning a position he is simply not accustomed to playing regularly.
1.Tim Wallach interviewed for the Tigers’ managerial opening, writes Ramona Shelburne. In my opinion, his personality would be perfect if the Tigers wanted to go outside of their organization in looking for the replacement for Jim Leyland because Wallach is understated and direct. Terry Francona has been telling anyone who will listen that Wallach is ready to manage in the big leagues. Wallach and Dombrowski have a relationship that goes way, way back, when both were with the Montreal Expos.
2. We wrote last week about how an official with knowledge of the Nationals’ managerial search said he would be shocked if Matt Williams isn’t the team’s next skipper, and that stands today. The Nationals are getting their man, writes Thomas Boswell.
3. Tim Lincecum and the Giants made their deal official, and defended it, as Henry Schulman writes. Lincecum is a good guy, and the criticism of the contract shouldn’t be confused for criticism of him -- and nobody could possibly blame him for taking an incredible deal. Said one rival official on the deal’s terms of two years, $35 million and the full no-trade clause: “Isn’t that redundant?”