The GM's Office: Rafael Soriano

Anibal SanchezAP Photo/Paul SancyaAnibal Sanchez has helped give the Tigers arguably the best rotation in baseball.
The cream of the 2013 free-agent crop was obvious and expensive.

Teams entered the offseason flush with cash and spent prodigiously. Outfielder Josh Hamilton was the best position player, while B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn followed not far behind. Right-hander Zack Greinke was clearly the top free-agent pitcher available. All together, the four top free agents signed multiyear contracts worth close to $300 million.

And what do those teams have to show for it? The trio of outfielders has hit a combined .205 with a paltry nine home runs, five stolen bases and 93 strikeouts. Greinke added a lone win and a broken collarbone.

Conversely, there are a number of lower-priced free agents who are more than earning their paychecks. Since the top four free agents haven’t lived up to their usual performance levels, which free agents have been the best bargains in baseball so far? Here’s a ranking of the top 10 so far:

Note: Performance to date, salary and long-term commitment were all considered for this ranking.
Michael BournPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesMichael Bourn remains a free agent as many teams quickly filled their center field needs.


In about a month, pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training, and yet several significant free agents remain unemployed. Some were even once thought to be among the best in this offseason’s free agent class, but because of bad timing, trades or teams’ reluctance to part with draft picks, the lucrative contracts these players were seeking simply haven’t materialized.

Here are the best players left on the free agent market, as well as where they fit best and a prediction of where I think they will sign.

1. Michael Bourn | CF
The center fielder market collapsed pretty quickly for the best leadoff hitter and defensive center fielder in this year’s free agent market when the three NL East teams with obvious holes in center field filled their needs right out of the chute: The Washington Nationals traded with the Minnesota Twins for Denard Span. Then the Atlanta Braves signed B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75 million deal. Soon after, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Ben Revere from the Twins.

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5 best moves yet to be made 

December, 27, 2012
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Jurickson ProfarOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesTexas is hesitant to trade Jurickson Profar, but a certain slugger could change their mind.
We've already seen plenty of wheeling and dealing this winter, but there are some teams with holes still to fill. Here are five moves out there to be made that would change the fortunes of a few contenders.

1. Texas Rangers-Miami Marlins trade

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Scott Boras still holds all the cards 

December, 7, 2012
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BorasRafael Suanes/US PresswireScott Boras has plenty of clients still in play, and there is money out there.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last year, well into January, Prince Fielder remained unsigned. But as colleague Jerry Crasnick wrote at the time, it wasn’t going to cause his agent, Scott Boras, to sweat: "In Boras' world view, the trade market is almost tapped out, the non-tenders have been picked over and teams are seriously assessing their rosters and coming to the realization that they still have holes to fill and a need to act before spring training."

So when Fielder got a jaw-dropping $200-million-dollar-plus contract from the Detroit Tigers, it may have shocked the marketplace, but not the agent. This is the Boras M.O. -- there are a lot of teams, there’s plenty of money, and for every client it’s only a matter of time.

This year is no different. The 2012 MLB winter meetings will be defined by so many deals that didn’t happen, but for Boras, that’s by design. The sense here is that players aren’t in a hurry to sign because almost everybody has at least something to spend, and when they’re ready to start writing checks, Boras’ guys will get their cut.

Here are four key free agents he reps, the sense of the market for each, and some teams that should be taking a close look.

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Agents to watch at winter meetings

November, 28, 2012
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Scott BorasKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireScott Boras won't be the only agent to watch at baseball's annual Winter Meetings this weekend.
Make no mistake -- Scott Boras is always the headliner among agents at baseball’s annual winter meetings.

He loves the limelight and will make sure to walk by the media area at optimum times and hold court. He’s always entertaining, and his strong and often controversial opinions make the TV cameras' red lights go on and writers fill their notepads. This year will be no different with his representation of free agents Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Rafael Soriano, among many others.

However, there’s been a not-so-subtle changing of the guard. For decades, high-profile agents like Tom Reich and Adam Katz, Ron Shapiro, Jim Bronner and Bob Gilhooley and Randy and Alan Hendricks often stood front and center with Boras, dominating the meetings from behind the scenes. But now, larger corporations such as CAA and SFX have taken over a lot of the game’s player representations.

Regardless, the game’s top power brokers will gather this weekend at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. Here is a quick glance at some of this year’s most important agents to watch:

Excel Sports Management | Lead agent: Casey Close

Top free agent: Zack Greinke | Others: Andy Pettitte, Scott Hairston, Jeremy Guthrie (recently signed three-year, $25M deal with Royals), Casey Kotchman, Jamey Wright Greinke's likely suitors: Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals

Background brief: After beginning his career at IMG and accruing 20 years of experience, Close joined Excel in 2011, partnering up with Jeff Schwartz and Mark Steinberg. Their client list is cross-sport, ranging from Derek Jeter and Clayton Kershaw to the NBA’s Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin and Deron Williams, as well as golf’s Tiger Woods.

Style/strategy: They are well-prepared, engaging and have a tremendous track record. They operate in a very private and professional manner and seem to attract the kind of players who handle their own business the same way. Excel is particularly good at recognizing its clients’ value and market and often gets top dollar for its clients. Excel's honest, straightforward approach has gained the respect of the industry.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: There are not a lot of clubs that have the financial wherewithal to play on Greinke.


MVP Sports Group | Lead Agent: Dan Lozano

Top free agent: Nick Swisher | Others: Brian Wilson, Jonny Gomes (recently signed two-year, $10M deal with Boston)

Swisher's likely suitors: Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas

Background brief: Lozano boasts 24 years of experience, negotiating some of the game’s largest deals, including Albert Pujols’ $240 million deal with the Angels last December and Joey Votto’s $225 million contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds during spring training. The two deals totaled more than half a billion dollars, a record for any agency in any one offseason.

Style/strategy: Lozano and his staff are hard-working, loyal, passionate and treat their clients like family. His firm uses a stealth approach, as demonstrated by the Albert Pujols negotiations last December, when the Angels swooped in to get him at the last minute. Lozano doesn’t play games, preferring direct and straightforward negotiations with club executives. He always comes extremely prepared with top-notch communication skills.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Swisher’s poor postseason performance could undermine the fact he’s had eight straight years of 20-plus home runs.


Reynolds Sports Management | Lead agent: Larry Reynolds

Top free agent: B.J. Upton (recently signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Atlanta) | Others: Torii Hunter (recently signed a two-year, $26M deal with Detroit)

Upton's likely suitors: Atlanta, Philadelphia, mystery team

Background brief: Reynolds possesses 28 years of experience as an agent, and prior to negotiating Hunter's recent two-year deal, he got him a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels in 2007, which was then the largest contract in club history.

Style/strategy: Reynolds makes a concerted effort to tailor each negotiation to the player and club he is dealing with. He spends a great deal of time studying the negotiating styles of the club executives in order to formulate the best plan to maximize the player’s compensation. Reynolds has a wide array of knowledge of the collective bargaining rights, performance comparables and how to stretch the present market. Negotiations can get adversarial and difficult depending on the situation. At the same time, Reynolds always tries to be reasonable and isn’t afraid to close deals earlier in the process than most agents.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Getting a sixth year for Upton could be difficult.


Paragon Sports International | Lead agent: Brian Grieper

Top free agent: Mike Napoli

Napoli's likely suitors: Red Sox, Rangers and Mariners

Background brief: Paragon is a medium-sized baseball agency with offices in Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago and represents some of baseball’s top young talent and prospects. Grieper has cultivated relationships with club officials at all levels over a decade in the agent business. Many of these officials have gone on to become GMs, assistant GMs and scouting directors.

Style/strategy: Grieper stresses open dialogue, intense preparation and creative analytical and statistical analysis. He develops personal relationships with clients through trust and loyalty. The quality of representation was best illustrated when Grieper made Napoli -- who he has represented since high school -- the highest paid catcher during arbitration, earning him a one-year deal worth $9.4 million. His raise of $3.6 million is the second highest in the history of third- or fourth-time eligible hitters, ranking behind only Prince Fielder. Grieper is very direct and accurate with information, and he negotiates in a respectful and professional manner.

Problems/barriers in negotiations: Napoli is best suited with an American League team because of his value being able to DH along with playing first base and catcher. Obviously this could limit the number of teams that bid on Napoli’s services.

For more on Michael Moye, who is representing Josh Hamilton, check out Jerry Crasnick’s piece today.
LeagueRob Carr/Getty ImagesBrandon League will be a free agent next winter and could be available via trade.

There aren’t many teams that could withstand losing a sure-fire future Hall of Famer. But the New York Yankees can.

While much of Gotham was trying to figure out who the Yankees should target in trades, the fact is the Yankees own significant bullpen depth that might make a trade unnecessary.

When Mariano Rivera went down in a heap after tearing his ACL shagging a fly ball in Kansas City on Thursday, it already was a natural assumption that setup man David Robertson would slide into the closer’s role. Similar to how Rivera served as understudy to John Wetteland in the late-1990s, Robertson has cut his teeth under Rivera to become one of baseball’s top five closers-in-waiting.

The Yankees also boast bullpen depth with right-hander Rafael Soriano, who was the AL’s second-best closer to Rivera when the Yankees signed him two years ago. He provides a solid backup plan if Robertson struggles. Cory Wade also is ready to step up after starting the year with a 1.46 ERA, with 15 strikeouts and just two walks in 12 1/3 innings. Further, lefty Boone Logan has posted an impressive 0.96 ERA in 12 appearances.

On top of that, Phil Hughes or David Phelps remain candidates to be moved back to the bullpen when Andy Pettitte makes his first start in the next 10 days.

Despite losing his all-world closer, Yankees president Hal Steinbrenner must be quietly pleased with himself, as he pushed to sign Soriano, going against general manager Brian Cashman’s advice a couple years back. Now that signing looks critical. Because of that depth, the Yankees don’t necessarily have to make a trade for relief help. In fact, the Yankees’ bigger need is starting pitching, but they are who they are and they’ll take the temperature of the relief market anyway.

In fact, they match up extremely well with the Houston Astros. Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez and closer Brett Myers are easily their most tradable pieces would solidify the Yankees' bullpen and rotation. To obtain both Rodriguez and Myers, however, it will be expensive, probably costing a couple of top prospects.

With a 1.17 ERA and six saves in his first eight appearances, Myers has successfully made the transition back to the bullpen after four years of starting. Remember, the last time he closed games on a regular basis was with the Phillies in 2007, when he had 21 saves in 48 relief appearances. Along with Wade, Myers could serve as the Yankees’ seventh-inning bridge to Soriano and then Robertson.

Of course, a trade for Myers and Rodriguez would cost the Yankees some farm system depth, and that might not be something they are willing to do. If the Yankees decide to go outside the organization, here are six other relief pitchers who could be available at a lower cost:


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