Thursday, March 14, 2013
Future free agent hitters
By Jason A. Churchill
With just about every major free agent from the 2012-13 class having signed -- the one exception being right-hander Kyle Lohse -- we can now take a glance at next year's class. The one caveat here being that any player currently scheduled to hit free agency following this coming season could sign a contract extension, removing them from the market.
Clubs searching for offense next offseason may get a shot at the following:
There are two centerfielders slated for free agency in Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson. Granderson could be valued as a plus defensive left fielder by a club with a better center field defender already on the roster. Ellsbury is coming off an injury-riddled 2012 after a similar 2010.
Oakland's Chris Young and Coco Crisp each have club options for 2014. Young's is for $11 million with a $1.5 million buyout. Crisp's is worth $7.5 million with a $1 million buyout. The Mariners have a similar option on Franklin Gutierrez, $500,000 buyout, included.
In the corners, Shin-Soo Choo and Hunter Pence lead the charge and the Arizona Diamondbacks hold the same club option on Jason Kubel as the A's do on Crisp, buyout and all. Milwaukee's Corey Hart would like to re-sign in Milwaukee, but he may be a first baseman moving forward, and he's currently expected to miss some time after knee surgery.
Carlos Beltran, who will be 37 less than a month into the '14 schedule, hopes to stick with the St. Louis Cardinals, but prospect Oscar Tavares may have something to say about that.
Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist is most valuable as an infielder, but is a good outfielder and isn't likely to have his affordable $7 million option declined, anyway.
Perhaps the top free agent on the entire market for 2013-14 is New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. We have to believe the club will extend themselves enough to keep their best player, and an extension-or-trade scenario during the upcoming season isn't out of the question. Rumor Central's Jason Catania discussed that notion over the weekend.
Shortstop Stephen Drew will again hit the market after a one-year deal with the Red Sox expires in October. Veteran second baseman Chase Utley is playing for perhaps his final contract at age 35.
There is a plethora of bats that fit here, though none profile at the hot corner. First basemen include Justin Morneau, Kendrys Morales, Hart, Michael Morse and Paul Konerko. Morse is slated for the outfield in Seattle this season, but athletically fits best at first or as a designated hitter.
Konerko could decide to retire -- he'll be 38 before the start of the '14 campaign.
Atlanta's Brian McCann, who will reportedly miss the start the of the season, and Carlos Ruiz highlight another shallow market for backstops. Ruiz is clearly not in his prime at 34, but has caught about the same amount of innings in pro ball as Joe Mauer.
A.J. Pierzynski, who signed one-year pact with the Texas Rangers earlier this winter, will again be a free agent after the season. He'll turn 37 in December.
ESPN's Fantasy experts on Cano for 2013:
ESPN Fantasy BaseballCano's fantasy projection
"Now 30 years old and in the prime of his career, Cano is riding a streak of four consecutive seasons with at least a .300 batting average and 25 home runs. To put that into historical perspective, only one second baseman in history has had more total such seasons: Rogers Hornsby, who had five. Cano is the best run-producing second baseman in fantasy baseball, he has Yankee Stadium's short porch helping his cause -- he has hit 21 more home runs there (68) than on the road (47) since it opened -- and he's playing for a new contract this summer. If he has any warts, they're either his career-worst performance against lefties in 2012 (.239/.309/.337), his rising swing-and-miss rate (20 percent, up 2 percent from 2011) or the fact that his Yankees lack some of the firepower that their teams of the past decade had, impacting his runs/RBIs potential. But we admit that we're nitpicking; Cano's chances at another top-10-in-the-game season remain outstanding."