Saturday, November 10, 2012

Free Agent Season in Full Swing

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year.  My birthday’s coming up.  Just kidding.  (No really it’s December 9th, feel free to send gifts.)  But it’s the winter meetings.  Time for baseball’s front offices to all get together in a hotel somewhere and play golf, eat in fancy restaurants and talk, in passing, about making trades.  While recent winter meetings have seen a flurry of offseason activity, things are beginning sluggishly again this season.  Last year most of the major moves were made later in the free agent season and this year is looking the same.  But plenty of teams are looking to improve via the free agent market or trades.  For a great breakdown of the free agent market and a ranking of free agents from number 1 to number 175, check out Jeff Passan’s article here.  I’ll just give a couple of thoughts about my top 10 free agents and where they could end up.

1.              Josh Hamilton- He’s the biggest offensive prize on the market, but also one of the hardest to deal with.  The years of abuse drugs and alcohol took on his body make his body seem older than the 31 years it is.  Still he’s a former MVP who plays a premier position and has all 5 tools.  But his past means he’s likely going to be limited to a 4-5 year contract, as well as a move to right or left field.  Also, don’t expect to see him run as much, as that’s how a lot of big guys get hurt.  The traditional players in the free agent market don’t seem to be looking at him.  The Yankees want to get payroll under the luxury tax mark for next year, the Red Sox might be re-building and the Phillies have too much money promised to pitching to be able to afford him.  Even last year’s big spenders the Los Angeles Dodgers have a full outfield of expensive players (Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier).  Suitors for Hamilton include the Mariners (who need some sort of offensive shot in the arm, but one player may not do it), the Orioles (looking to build off last year’s success and having a player of Hamilton’s caliber in left might keep them near the top of the AL East), and the Milwaukee Brewers (who don’t seem to need him as much with their stud offense clicking on all cylinders).  Big League Stew breaks down those three options here.  But the Mariners have trouble drawing free agents, the Brewers don’t make much sense and Peter Angelos doesn’t like spending Baltimore money on free agents.  So really this is wide open.  The Yankees need a new right fielder, but I don’t know that they want to spend the money.  The Angels could use him with Torii Hunter departing, but they spent a ton last offseason.  The Braves make a lot of sense with him in left and Martin Prado moving to third for the retired Chipper Jones, but they likely can’t afford him.  I think San Francisco could use him, but they likely don’t have the money either.  Maybe the White Sox decide to spend again and put him in left or the Tigers decide to replace Delmon Young with Hamilton.  He could go anywhere, that’s what makes him so intriguing.  He’ll get a huge 7 figure deal most likely.  The question is, which team wants him bad enough to pay him the most and offer him 5+ years when most teams want to keep it around 4.
2.              Zach Greinke- The best pitcher on the market, Greinke is an interesting case.  It was said he couldn’t play in big cities, but I’d say LA is pretty large.  He was a Cy Young Winner in Kansas City, fantastic in Milwaukee and strong with the Angels.  They want to re-sign him badly.  The Yankees need pitching, but outbidding others for his services will likely put them over the $189 million luxury tax threshold that they’ve been over the past 5 years.  A huge cut for the Yankees, a laughably high amount for most other teams.  The Phillies have too much money tied up in pitching.  The Red Sox seem to be cutting back, but they could really use him, so maybe they make a run at him with all that salary off the books.  The Dodgers would love to add him and for them money is apparently no object.  The Rangers could afford him and continue to make the Angels life in the AL West miserable.  Or maybe the Tigers decide to go into massive debt and take another “all in” run at a title.  While other teams could definitely use him to take a big step closer to the World Series (Cincinnati, St. Louis, Washington, Milwaukee) they either don’t have the money or have too good of pitching to justify the money he’d get.  I think he will go to a major market team with lots of cash.  Think either LA club, the Rangers, or possibly an Eastern dark horse like the Yanks or Red Sox.
3.              BJ Upton- The second best hitter available comes with question marks.  His effort is routinely questioned, his AVG can be abysmal but he can also slug HR and swipe a ton of bags.  Keeping him in center field seemed to help the Rays settle him down, but he used to play second and could also play left.  Maybe the Yankees put him in left and Ichiro in right.  But they could be outbid in their quest to stay below the luxury tax.  Perhaps the Red Sox decide he’s worth spending some of their newfound financial freedom towards, but they’ve been burned by Rays outfielders before, and surer bets at that.  There are mid-level financial clubs with holes in the outfield (Atlanta, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Oakland) but they will likely be outbid/not want to spend that kind of money on someone with Upton’s background.  The Angels or Rangers make sense.  Someone will pay a little more than they think he’s worth, and that’s who will get him.  The question is which player shows up?  The slugger/speedster or the unhappy 200 hitter with gross lapses in effort.
4.              Anibal Sanchez- A decent secondary option for teams that miss out on Greinke.  He’s struggled in the past, but caught on for the Tigers at the perfect time.  He’ll get overpaid based on his post season performance, but he could have turned a corner and maybe is a better pitcher now.  He’s got good command and his secondary pitches looked great at the end of last year.  Sanchez has the potential to be a steal or a bust.  He’ll go to the team that thinks his postseason was for real, they’ll offer him the most money and that likely means a big market team.  Any of the Greinke suitors, as long as they didn’t get Greinke.  Texas, both LA teams, maybe the Red Sox or Yankees.
5.              Hiroki Kuroda- Very similar to Sanchez in the question factors, but different in every other way.  Sanchez could be great or a bust.  So you pay him expecting something in the middle.  Kuroda is probably the most predictable pitcher on the market, and you are sure to get someone slightly above average.  Likely the same teams in the Sanchez market will be in on the Kuroda market.  A mid-level team will strike at someone, and Kuroda makes the most sense, as he’s a veteran with a strong background of success.  But the most likely candidates are in Texas, LA, NY and Boston.
6.              Nick Swisher- This one is a puzzler.  He was fantastic in four regular seasons in New York and abysmal in four postseasons in New York.  The Yankees almost certainly won’t bring him back.  But where will he go?  Plenty of teams could use him, but he’s not a spring chicken and doesn’t excel at anything.  He could hit 300 and slug 20 HR, but he could also hit 250 and hit 10.  His defense in right is okay.  He could be the guy to fall to a team that can’t afford Hamilton or Upton.  Think Atlanta, San Fran, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Arizona.  Maybe a club that did well last year that wants to add a veteran for depth:  Washington, Detroit, a return to Oakland.  He could end up anywhere.
7.              Michael Bourn- Washington is the front-runner here.  They’ve lobbied for him, made public statements about him and think he’s the perfect leadoff guy for their lineup.  They will likely stay out of the Hamilton and Upton races to save money for Bourn.  The Braves will want to re-sign him, but they can’t outbid the Nationals who have a lot of money.  Maybe another team makes a run at him (San Fran, Cincinnati, Baltimore), but he’s likely staying in the NL East.
8.              Dan Haren- The Angels have let him go.  Most think it’s to save money for signing Greinke.  He’s a great pitcher.  But injuries and a loss of fastball velocity have made him more hittable.  He has the potential to be an ace like he was in Oakland and Arizona, but those days could also be behind him.  I could see the Rangers sweeping in to take him on, maybe the Yankees sell him on a longer deal for less money or the Reds, Diamondbacks, or Tigers bring him in to put them over the top.  He’s a great pitcher that could fall to a team with less money.  Or a top flight team that missed on other options could settle on him.
9.              Rafael Soriano- He was fantastic in relief of Mariano last year.  He closed in New York, replacing a legend.  That should make up for concerns that the only places he’s closed (Atlanta, Tampa Bay) were less intense.  He’ll get good money as the best closer on the free agent market.  (Technically Mariano Rivera is a free agent but he’s going back to the Bronx).  The market for a closer has us looking at new teams that haven’t been on the list yet.  Toronto is a possibility.  So are the White Sox, Red Sox or Tigers.  Or maybe a team with a closer offers him a lot to be a set up man or to fight for a closing job (Angels, Rangers).  He’ll go to whoever offers him the most money.
10.          Mike Napoli- He’s a bad defensive catcher.  He’s a bad defensive first baseman.  He’s a great DH.  But he’s good enough to catch and play first, with his bat making up for any deficiencies.  He won’t hit for a high AVG and will strikeout a ton.  He’ll also have a fantastic slugging percentage, on base percentage and will give you HR and walks.  The Yankees need a catcher if they let Russell Martin go, but they won’t be crazy about Napoli’s defense or price tag.  Maybe the White Sox replace Pierzynski with Napoli.  He’s the best catching option available, but again, he’s more of a part time catcher who should see plenty of time DHing and occasional time at first.  The White Sox are more looking for a true catcher.  And Adam Dunn has locked up the DH position.  The Rangers could re-sign him.  The Mets would love a player like him, but can’t afford him.  The Nationals would be an interesting spot for him if they decide not to re-sign Adam LaRoche, but they would lose a lot defensively.  Maybe he plays first and is a backup catcher in Milwaukee.  That puts Corey Hart back in right.  And who knows what the Dodgers will do.  Napoli is hard to place, but he’ll go to someone and get a lot of money to do something.

And let’s not forget that there are always surprise signings, trades that take teams out of the race for certain guys and anything can happen.  Who thought that Albert Pujols would be an Angel or that Prince Fielder would be a Tiger at this time last year?  So we’ll wait and see. 

Keep checking back here in the offseason for big baseball stories.  And check out the winner’s of the BBA awards at their page here.  A lot of my picks matched up with what the final tally was.  Some of them didn’t.  Always fun to hear the discussion.  And if you get a chance, like my Facebook page here.  I’d really appreciate it.  Okay, more to come soon!

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