Written by Warren Schorr
The baseball season just ended three weeks ago and already the rumor mill and hot stove are cranked up.
Free agency in baseball works a little differently than other sports with the time it takes for the big names to sign with a team. In the NFL, NBA and NHL, when free agency starts at 12:01 a.m., teams are already in contact with the players. That’s not the case in baseball. Usually the most action in free agency is during the Winter Meetings which are held December 9th-12th in Orlando, FL this year. The winter meetings is when every team sends their top brass in the organization, i.e. owner, president, general manager and manager, to meet with the agents of players and to work out contracts. This year’s free agent market has a couple big names, but it has a lot of depth in starting pitching. One thing that is for sure, is this year free agents are going to get paid big money this off-season with the new national television contract money finally getting into the owners pockets. A lot of teams are going to be overpaying for players and bad contracts will be signed. Let’s take a look at the top free agents on the market and where they might end up.
Robinson Cano– He’s the biggest name on the market this year and it will be interesting to see how negotiations go since he left high-profile baseball agent Scott Boras to be the first client in Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports agency. Cano is reportedly looking for a contract that’s around 10 years $300 million, which would be the biggest contract in MLB history. If the Cano went else this would be a major blow to the Yankees, with him being their best player, and all the injuries they have piled up and the age of all their other big time free agents.
Prediction: Cano will resign with the Yankees for somewhere around $205 mill over 8 years.
Jacoby Ellsbury– The long time Red Sox is the next best position player after Cano. Before Ellsbury spent significant time on the DL in 2012, he had a near MVP type season in 2011, but his power numbers were down in 2013 only hitting 9 HRs and driving only 53 runs. Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras, so you can expect a big contract. Rumors are he will be looking for something north of Carl Crawford’s deal, which was 7 years for $142 million.
Prediction: Ellsbury will get 7 years for $144 million and will sign with the Mariners.
Shin-Soo Choo– Choo had himself a huge bounce back year with the Reds after a disappointing couple of seasons with the Indians. Choo had an OBP of .423 SLG .462 and OPS .885 and for a lead-off hitter, those are massive numbers. Boras, who also represents Choo, is saying Choo will get over $100 million, and as someone who has seen Choo play lots of ball, is crazy. Choo is a liability in the outfield and on the base paths and at age 31 will be a question.
Prediction: Choo will sign with the Rangers to replace Nelson Cruz in RF for 6 years $110 million.
Brian McCann– The top catcher on the market, especially offensively, will probably switch leagues to the AL. The reason he will go to the AL is he is 31 years old and if he gets a 5-year deal, he can play DH the last couple years.
Prediction: McCann will sign for 5 years $80 million with the Angels to fill their catcher hole.
Carlos Beltran– Coming off two great years in St. Louis is turning 37 in April so this will probably around a 2-year deal. Beltran still showed great power and is still an average right fielder. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Cardinals he might be poised to go back to the AL so he can DH when not playing the field.
Prediction: Beltran resigns with the Cardinals on the same deal he did the last time he was a free agent 2 years $26 million.
Nelson Cruz– Cruz is coming off a 50 game suspension for PED. Use doesn’t hurt his value, but draft pick compensation will. Before he served his suspension, Cruz hit 27 HRs along with 76 RBIs, pretty good numbers in 109 games. Cruz is a liability in right field but teams could over look that with his power.
Prediction: Cruz gets 4 years, $60 million with the Diamondbacks.
Stephen Drew– Drew was the recipient of a qualifying offer from the Red Sox which is a 1 year $14 million contract that he denied, so he thinks he can do better on the market. Drew is decent offensively but makes up for his sub-par offense with phenomenal defense with a fielding average of 98%.
Prediction: Drew gets 3 years $38 mllion from the Mets. What a country we live in that Stephen Drew will make $12.6 million per year.
Curtis Granderson– Granderson had a 2013 to forget with freak injuries plaguing his entire year. While they were freak injuries it still a little worrisome for Ganderson since he is 33. If he can regain his form from the previous two seasons of 40 HRs he could be a bargain at around $15 million per year.
Prediction: Mets continue to spend big and Grandson heads to Queens on a 3 year $45 million deal.
Those are the big names on the market but there is good value to be had with the likes of Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamcchia, Jhonny Peralta and Kendrys Morales, who will still get above normal market value.
The main takeaway from the hitters is, if you are a power hitter, you are going to get paid this off-season.
Teams can never have enough starting pitchers and there is quality on the market. If you thought the hitters are getting paid, holy smokes, these guys aren’t even Aces (Maybe frontline starters at best) and are going to be getting big money. They should thank Tim Lincecum who signed at 2 year $35 million deal in late October setting the market for the rest of these pitchers.
Masahiro Tanka– The Japanese sensation is not a free agent but he is going to get posted by his team in Japan. A team has to pay a fee to Tanka’s Japanese team just for the right to negotiate a contract with Tanka. The posting fee for Tanka is being rumored around $75 million which is $20 million more than Yu Darvish’s posting fee 2 years ago. Tanka is 25, the same age as Darvish when he entered MLB, but he is said to not be a much of a sure thing as Yu.
Prediction: The big money Dodgers will put up a posting fee of $70 million then sign Tanka to a 7 year $70 million contract essential paying $145 million for the player.
Ubaldo Jimenez– Jimenez resurrected his career in the second half of last season with the Indians being the Ace they traded for 2 years ago. While Jimenez may never be the same pitcher he was when he made the All-Star team with the Rockies, his second half numbers with an ERA of 1.83 and strike out per 9 ratio over 10. Those are fantastic numbers for someone who people thought would never find it again.
Prediction: Yankees GM Brian Cashman said they are looking to add 400 innings of starting pitching here is candidate one, Ubaldo will sign with the Yankees for 4 years $72 million.
Ervin Santana– Santana spent last season with the Royals and had a nice bounce-back year. I don’t really like to put a lot of emphasis on win-loss records because Santana had 9-10 record last year when he pitched better than that. His ERA was 3.24 and he threw over 200 innings. His age wont scare teams away at 31 and he would be a nice number two in a team’s rotation.
Prediction: Santana will get 5 years $75 million Blue Jays. With teams having all this money that’s why Santana is getting this type of deal.
Matt Garza– His mid-season trade to the Rangers from the Cubs was a disaster. Maybe that Arlington heat got to him? Maybe he missed facing the offensively challenged National League line-ups? Whatever it was, he was not very good in the second half of the season. Teams will look at the second half numbers, but won’t be scared away since he has consistently put up sub 4 ERAs.
Prediction: Garza signs with the Nationals who need starting pitching for 6 years and $80 million.
Ricky Nolasco– After his trade from the Marlins to the Dodgers in the middle of the season, he posted a solid ERA of 3.52 in just under 100 innings. Teams love pitchers that eat innings and that’s exactly what Nolasco does. Additionally, he doesn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.
Prediction: Nolasco signs for 5 years $60 million with the Twins who need to bolster that starting rotation.
Other starting pitchers such as Scott Kazmir, Bartolo Colon, AJ Burnett and Bronso Arroyo will come cheaper for teams not looking to spend top dollar on the tops guys and would all be nice middle of the rotation pitchers.
On Thursday, Jason Vargas signed with the Kansas City Royals for 4 years and $32 million which has sent shock waves around baseball. Vargas was seen as a player who would get a 2-year deal and I bet the other top pitchers on the market who are better are doing cartwheels right now.
This deal definitely changes the deals for Garza and Nolasco who will probably get a couple more years. These pitchers also are affected by the Vargas deal because they were seen in the same tier as him. A guy like Kazmir who was probably going to get a 2-year deal could now be looking at a 3 or 4-year deal.
If teams are looking for relief pitchers this is solid market for closers with Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour and Brian Wilson leading the way. Teams will always sign more than enough pitchers just because you can never have enough.
This season there will be tons of trade talk and not just with marginal players, but big names. We already saw that this week when the Tiger and Rangers made a trade involving Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler. The trade fills needs for both teams and the Tigers free up a bunch of money to sign Max Scherzer to an extension before he hits free agency.
The Cardinals need a shortstop and it’s rumored they have been talking to the Rangers about Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar.
Lots of rumors will surface this off-season about David Price of the Rays in the last year of his contract and the Rays won’t be able to afford him with their low payroll. The Rangers, Angles and others will need to part with their top prospects to acquire Price.
This is baseball’s silly season when rumors are swirling every day about every player so be careful when trying to figure out which ones are true and which ones aren’t.