Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Early look at MLB free agency
By Jim Bowden
Robinson Cano will command a hefty contract this offseason.
Throughout baseball, general managers and their scouting departments are already out in force evaluating this offseason's impending free-agent class. They’re watching every at-bat, every pitch and every defensive touch. They’re also conducting background checks on player character and medical reports. The preparation is essential, rigorous and exhaustive considering the millions of dollars that might be invested.
Here is an early breakdown of some of the top free agents who will be available in this year’s market:
Top position players
Robinson Cano | 2B | .291, 22 HR, 73 RBIs Cano remains baseball’s best second baseman since Roberto Alomar. He’d like to start and finish his career with the Yankees. However, with one of the best negotiators in baseball in CAA’s Brodie Van Wagenen as his agent and Jay-Z as his marketing/promotional engine, it won’t be easy. The length of Cano’s contract will be the biggest barrier.
Best fits:New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jacoby Ellsbury | OF | .300, 7 HR, 44 RBIs, 44 SB Ellsbury is one of the best leadoff hitters and center fielders in baseball. Like Cano, he’d rather remain with his current team. However, with agent Scott Boras calling the shots, the highest bidder is likely to land him. He’s on pace to lead the AL in stolen bases for the third time, and he has proved he can stay healthy. What also has been established is that his 32 home runs in 2011 was an aberration.
Best fits: Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners and New York Mets
Jose Abreu | 1B/DH | Cuba Abreu is considered the best right-handed power hitter in this class. He hits for average and power and should, in terms of numbers, produce somewhere between fellow Cuban defectors Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. His only position should be first base or designated hitter.
Best fits:Miami Marlins, Texas Rangers, Mariners and A’s
Brian McCann | C | .272, 17 HR, 45 RBIs McCann is the best free-agent catcher available in this class. He has had some problems with his knees and shoulders, but when healthy, he puts up a .280 average with 20 home runs and 85 RBIs per season. He calls a great game, and the seven-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger winner can still keep a running game in check.
Best fits: Yankees, Rangers, Angels and Atlanta Braves
Carlos Beltran | OF | .304, 20 HR, 62 RBIs Beltran still is one of the best run producers from the right field position, especially in big games. His knees have been his biggest challenge and will continue to be the rest of his career. However, he can still hit for average and power while playing an above-average right field. Because of his history of injuries, he’ll be limited to a short-term deal. Talent-wise, however, he’s the second-best outfielder on my board.
Best fits: Cardinals, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants
Top starting pitchers
Matt Garza | RHP | 8-2, 3.23 ERA, 1.11 WHIP Garza was the best starting pitcher traded at the July 31 deadline, and he continues to dominate as a solid No. 2 starter. Despite his injury troubles in recent years, he made at least 30 starts every year from 2008-11, which will help land him a lucrative long-term deal this offseason if his medicals are clear. All of his pitches are back to their normal velocities and breaks.
Best fits: Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Royals and Angels
Hiroki Kuroda | RHP | 11-7, 2.33 ERA, 1.02 WHIP At 38, Kuroda is enjoying the best season of his career. He has dominated the AL East for most of the season and has now posted double-digits wins in four consecutive seasons. His ERA and WHIP are both career bests. He’d get another multiyear deal if he decides to pitch in the United States. The Dodgers would love to have him back as their fourth starter next season.
Best fits: Yankees, Dodgers or Japan
Bartolo Colon | RHP | 14-5, 2.97 ERA, 1.19 WHIP Colon might be 40, but he’s still pitching as though he’s 30. Based on his age and the fact that he previously tested positive for PEDs, Colon is looking at another one-year contract. However, after putting up his best numbers since his Cy Young season in 2005, some team will overpay him. His fastball, slider and changeup still are working well even though his velocity has waned. His command in the zone remains special.
Best fits: A’s, Royals
A.J. Burnett | RHP | 5-8, 2.95 ERA, 1.23 WHIP Burnett has found a home in Pittsburgh, and he's followed up 2012’s 16-10 campaign with the lowest ERA of his career even though he doesn’t have the wins to show it. His leadership for the Pirates’ young pitchers has been significant and started back in spring training. His average fastball remains at 92 mph, and his curveball and change command is much better than it was during his Yankees days. He has told people the only place he wants to sign as a free agent is Pittsburgh.
Best fit: Pirates
Ervin Santana | RHP | 8-6, 3.25 ERA, 1.12 WHIP Santana has had a tremendous bounce-back season and resurrected his market value back to his 2010-11 level when his ERA sat in the mid-3.00s and his average annual workload was about 220 innings. The velocity on his fastball and slider has been consistent all season. He is a main reason the Royals are legitimate wild-card contenders. The Royals would like to re-sign him, but the cost has skyrocketed.
Best fits: Royals, Orioles, Blue Jays and Giants
Grant Balfour | RHP | 0-2, 1.96 ERA, 30 SV, 1.07 WHIP Balfour had converted 44 consecutive saves dating back to April 29, 2012, before blowing one July 23. In the process, he broke Dennis Eckersley’s franchise consecutive saves record and became one of the league’s premium closers. His swagger, high energy and leadership has been an asset in developing Oakland's young relief corps.
Best fits: A’s, Red Sox, Yankees and Angels
Joaquin Benoit | RHP | 2-0, 1.53 ERA, 14 SV, 1.02 WHIP Tigers manager Jim Leyland tried Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke and Jose Valverde before figuring out Benoit was the best closer on the staff. He hasn’t disappointed, converting all 14 of his chances and solving what was a huge problem for the Tigers when the season started. His success has put him in prime position to cash in this offseason.
Best fits: Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Angels
Edward Mujica | RHP | 2-1, 1.74 ERA, 31 SV, 0.75 WHIP I always love closers who don’t have overpowering stuff but get the job done with pinpoint control, late life and the ability to pound the strike zone. During my career as a general manager, I was blessed with Rolaids Relief Award winners such as Jeff Brantley, Jeff Shaw and Danny Graves -- guys who got it done in that same fashion as Mujica. He has been almost perfect this year, and he’ll have to be going forward; his seat will always be tenuous considering all the young power arms the Cardinals have in their arsenal, especially right-hander Trevor Rosenthal.
Best fits: Cardinals, Colorado Rockies and Angels
Fernando Rodney | RHP | 4-3, 4.15 ERA, 27 SV, 1.49 WHIP Rodney’s career year was 2012, and it’s doubtful that he ever gets back to that level again. However, with a 98 mph fastball and a confounding changeup, he’ll somehow get another hefty contract. It should be a short-term deal because of his inconsistency this year. This will probably be his last year in Tampa Bay, as most expect he’ll take his bow and arrow elsewhere. A second division team might sign him with designs to deal him for prospects at next year’s July trade deadline.
Best fits: Cubs, Rockies and Houston Astros