MLB free agency isn't a simple spending contest.
Its winners and losers are determined by specific objectives that each team sets entering the offseason. The key is to improve while remaining fiscally responsible.
Adding established stars obviously bolsters an organization, but so does meeting a pressing need at a bargain price. Departing players can benefit their former clubs in the form of salary relief, especially if they disappointed under the terms of their previous deals.
The annual free-for-all is less than two months away and we've got a pretty good grasp of who will be available. September/October contract extensions are rare, which means the only unknowns are individuals with 2013 options of the player, team or mutual variety.
Continue reading for my free-agency predictions.
Potential free agents: J.J. Putz (team option), Takashi Saito
Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is very likely to pick up a $6.5 million option to retain closer J.J. Putz. He told Nick Piecoro of azcentral.com that it "probably isn't a bad number" for an established closer.
Every other notable D-Backs player is either under a team-friendly contract, eligible for arbitration or even too inexperienced for the process.
With Joe Saunders gone and Daniel Hudson to miss the first half of 2013, I suspect that Towers will pursue a veteran starting pitcher (think Ryan Dempster or Kyle Lohse).
Potential free agents: Michael Bourn, Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, Tim Hudson (team option), Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm (team option), Brian McCann (team option), David Ross
After a gazillion years, the Atlanta Braves finally have to find a successor for future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.
And he's not even their biggest potential loss.
Starting center fielder Michael Bourn will be heavily courted on the free-agent market following an All-Star campaign where he has excelled in every facet of the game. The Scott Boras client is dead-set on getting a nine-figure deal, but who says he'll have to leave town for that?
About $13 million slips off the books when Jones retires, as does another $5.5 million if ownership non-tenders and dismisses Jair Jurrjens.
Offering Bourn a lengthy deal—I'm talking eight years—and backloading it would still leave the Braves with plenty of money to toss around. After all, as MLB Trade Rumors' Ben Nicholson-Smith observes, the Braves currently have only $14.7 million on their 2013 payroll.
Potential free agents: Luis Ayala (team option), Endy Chavez, Nate McLouth, Mark Reynolds (team option), Joe Saunders, Jim Thome, Randy Wolf (team option)
The Baltimore Orioles will give some thought to exercising Mark Reynolds' $11 million option considering his recent home run binge. It makes more sense, though, to scrap his old deal and negotiate a multi-year pact with less average annual value.
For the first time in many offseasons, free agents may want to come to Baltimore. Local fans have responded to their team's winning ways, and the core players who have kept them in the pennant race will all be returning.
Chris Davis, Jim Johnson and Matt Wieters are due significant raises (via arbitration), but expect the front office to be active, nonetheless.
Though Saunders and Wolf will move on, the O's have interesting decisions to make on McLouth and Thome. MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli suspects that the latter may continue playing despite his advanced age.
Dan Duquette could out-bid the competition for pitching reinforcements like Jonathan Broxton and Edwin Jackson.
Potential free agents: James Loney, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz, Scott Podsednik, Cody Ross
The 2012 season has been an excruciating experience for Boston Red Sox fans.
However, they can find solace in the fact that August's salary dump shed hundred of millions of dollars in future payroll obligations. Sans Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto, the team will save upwards of $58 million in 2013 alone!
The managerial situation is a mess, so that may deter any veterans seeking organizational stability. Also, marquee right-hander Zack Greinke has a reserved personality and wouldn't mesh with the cluttered Northeast environment.
But I like Boston's chances of nabbing Mike Napoli and Angel Pagan (for left field) and showing long-term love to Big Papi and Ross.
Whichever tea signs Josh Hamilton will be among the biggest winners in free agency, and the Red Sox are poised to do that—if talks collapse between him and the Texas Rangers.
Potential free agents: Shawn Camp
Theo Epstein admitted earlier this summer that the Chicago Cubs aren't looking to fix their deficiencies with free-agent additions (Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune).
His club won't be an attractive destination anyway.
Remember, the Houston Astros—one of few opponents Chicago has a winning record against—will be switching leagues. That means the Cubbies are practically assured to finish in the NL Central cellar.
Aside from bringing in a few veteran stopgaps, expect them to be relatively inactive.
Potential free agents: Gavin Floyd (team option), Orlando Hudson, Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers (vesting option), Jake Peavy (team option), A.J. Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis (team option)
When it comes to free agency, the Chicago White Sox are in a no-win predicament. Too many of their valuable players have simultaneously expiring deals.
All of GM Kenny Williams' major rentals—Liriano, Myers and Youk—will get away, and you can forget about any notable acquisitions from outside the organization.
If it's any consolation, the White Sox will find a way to sign both Peavy and Pierzynski through the middle of the decade, and Floyd's $9.5 million option is going to be exercised.
Potential free agents: Jonathan Broxton, Miguel Cairo, Ryan Ludwick (mutual option), Ryan Madson (mutual option), Scott Rolen
Ludwick will wait until the offseason before making a decision on his $5 million mutual option, according to John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer. But barring an injury, he'll definitely test the open market to see what his .275/.345/.534 triple-slash line is worth.
At that point, the left fielder will be as good as gone.
The Cincinnati Reds cannot compete for established MLB regulars due to their existing payroll commitments. Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, for example, are amid hefty contracts.
The Reds are thriving with young and talented personnel, so they ought to embrace the "loser" status.
Potential free agents: Travis Hafner (team option), Robert Hernandez (team option), Ubaldo Jimenez (team option), Casey Kotchman, Grady Sizemore
By contrast, the Tribe has hardly spent a cent of its 2013 payroll.
The Cleveland Indians must be excited for the departures of oft-injured and underachieving players. With the possible exception of Jimenez, none of the above will stick around.
Carlos Lee and Juan Pierre are veteran stopgaps that the front office may have interest in. Neither would require more than a couple years.
Potential free agents: Jorge De La Rosa (player option), Jeff Francis, Jason Giambi, Jonathan Sanchez
The mile-high altitude of Coors Field deters free-agent pitchers from even considering the Colorado Rockies.
By default, this team is annually forced to search the scrap heap for viable arms (e.g. Francis).
Any boost the Rockies get from a cost-effective signing will be negated by De La Rosa's player option. The 31-year-old southpaw—whose most recent major league appearance came on May 24, 2011—is guaranteed to earn an $11 million salary.
Potential free agents: Octavio Dotel (team option), Jhonny Peralta (team option), Anibal Sanchez, Jose Valverde, Delmon Young
Exercising team options for Dotel and Peralta should be no-brainers for the Detroit Tigers. Then count on the team relinquishing the rest of its unsigned veterans.
The next step will be poaching a New York Yankees player: Rafael Soriano or Nick Swisher.
We've learned from CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman that Soriano is likely to opt out of his current deal. He's optimistic about getting a lengthy contract as the top closer on the free-agent market.
Swisher's extra-base-hit ability more than compensates for his defensive mediocrity. His combination of durability, plate discipline and enthusiasm is rarely found in a corner outfielder (or anyone, for that matter).
Club president Dave Dombrowski can't go wrong with either player.
Potential free agents: Chris Snyder (mutual option)
For the first time in franchise history, the Houston Astros must employ a designated hitter.
It almost sounds like a threat, right? After all, the American League doesn't want its newest member to be an embarrassment.
But that's inevitable.
There is zero motivation for the awful Astros to spend money in free agency. Houston's numerous weaknesses will take years of player development to adequately address.
Sadly, 50-year-old Roger Clemens is the top target.
Potential free agents: Joakim Soria (team option)
Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star quoted GM Dayton Moore as saying that the Kansas City Royals "want pitchers who are going to give us innings and have the mind-set of a No. 1."
Nothing to infer here—the starting rotation is their chief priority.
Moore went on to describe Jeremy Guthrie (4-3, 3.23 ERA, 1.11 WHIP 10 starts with the team) as "a guy we're going to have interest in." Re-signing the right-hander to a reasonable deal and getting Kansas City native Shaun Marcum on board at a discount would culminate in a winning offseason.
And that's how I see it playing out.
Potential free agents: Zack Greinke, Dan Haren (team option), Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana (team option)
The Los Angeles Angels will spend a combined $16.5 million on Haren and Santana for 2013.
That's the price of picking up one's team option and buying out the other's. Not a bad deal if whichever guy they choose pitches consistently.
But even before that, the front office will be focused on Greinke, the most coveted arm in this upcoming free-agent class.
A tweet from Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times was encouraging, though contract discussions haven't commenced yet.
DiGiovanna reported in July that Torii Hunter won't be chasing dollar bills. In fact, the outfielder says he's "indebted" to club owner Arte Moreno, who treated him well during a two-week absence earlier this season.
I'm confident that he'll be back in L.A.
Potential free agents: Joe Blanton, Brandon League, Juan Rivera (team option), Matt Treanor (team option), Shane Victorino
They took on massive long-term payroll commitments to complete last month's blockbuster with the Boston Red Sox—only an unforeseen trade would allow them some room to maneuver.
However, idleness and a "loser" label won't prevent the Los Angeles Dodgers from contending in 2013.
Potential free agents: Juan Carlos Oviedo, Austin Kearns, Carlos Lee, Carlos Zambrano
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria expects his club to rise to prominence next season, according to The Miami Herald's Clark Spencer. In particular, rookies Rob Brantly and Jacob Turner have impressed him.
But there's been nothing to indicate that Loria will indulge in free-agent spending like he did prior to the 2012 campaign.
I doubt he could net a big fish, anyway—Ozzie Guillen is no longer a skipper that major leaguers enjoy playing for.
Potential free agents: Alex Gonzalez, Shaun Marcum, Francisco Rodriguez
Gonzalez and Marcum seem extraneous now that Jean Segura and Mike Fiers have gotten their feet wet in the big leagues. K-Rod was overpaid and obviously declining.
To discourage closer John Axford from struggling through another uneven season, the Milwaukee Brewers should woo big ol' Jonathan Broxton with a three-year deal ($24 million, let's say).
In a slightly more significant transaction, the team might bring Anibal Sanchez back to the Senior Circuit. He has dominated Milwaukee's NL Central rivals throughout his career (h/t Baseball-Reference.com).
And lastly, if Corey Hart stays at first base like Ron Roenicke hopes (via Dennis Punzel, Wisconsin State Journal), the Brewers will go to war with the New York Mets for custody of Scott Hairston. He would form a marvelous right-field platoon with Norichika Aoki.
Potential free agents: Scott Baker (team option), Matt Capps (team option), Carl Pavano
The Minnesota Twins—60-84 entering September 14—are losers for a second consecutive summer. Their depleted pitching staff is largely to blame.
Ironically, the Twins will soon be thankful for those same injuries that hampered them during the regular season.
Three of their wounded can be dismissed immediately. After combining to drain the organization of nearly $20 million in 2012, Baker, Capps and Pavano will latch on elsewhere.
Minnesota's middle infielders have provided abysmal offense, so I recommend that the team pursue Kelly Johnson.
Additionally, strike-thrower Kevin Correia would deepen the pitching staff.
Potential free agents: Tim Byrdak, Ronny Cedeno, R.A. Dickey (team option), Scott Hairston, Ramon Ramirez, Jon Rauch, Kelly Shoppach, David Wright (team option), Chris Young
Effective role players like Cedeno and Hairston could be pried away from the New York Mets by teams with more spending money.
A source told Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com that the payroll isn't likely to expand for the 2013 season. "They may have $10 million to $15 million max to spend—if Sandy [Alderson] is lucky."
Accomplished setup men like Mike Adams and Kyle Farnsworth will be contacted by the Mets front office, but that's about it.
Potential free agents: Robinson Cano (team option), Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia, Curtis Granderson (team option), Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Russell Martin, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano (player option), Ichiro Suzuki, Nick Swisher
Free agency will relieve the New York Yankees roster of Freddy Garcia (5.93 ERA as a starter in 2012) and Andruw Jones (.147 batting average since the All-Star break).
It's safe to assume that Cano, Granderson and Rivera are returning, and Chavez and Pettitte—if they continue their careers—won't search for work outside of the Bronx.
Hal Steinbrenner wants his Bombers to be below the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014 (via David Waldstein of The New York Times). After adjusting for inflation, that figure would represent the lowest Yankees payroll since 2003!
Swisher's quest for "Jayson Werth money" conflicts with that goal, so he'll be bound for Motown. For half the contract duration and average annual value, the Yankees will settle for Suzuki.
Since arriving in the Big Apple, Soriano has repeatedly scoffed at the idea of being used as a non-closer.
That's fine. Let another team handle his selfishness.
Ultimately, keeping the Kuroda/Martin battery intact—or failing to—determines whether or not the Bombers will be among the winners of free agency. I say multi-year deals get done in both cases.
Potential free agents: Grant Balfour (team option), Bartolo Colon, Stephen Drew (mutual option), Jonny Gomes, Brandon Inge, Brandon McCarthy
Billy Beane caught us all by surprise last winter when he dished out $36 million for Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and that bold move has paid great dividends.
Historically, though, the Oakland Athletics haven't chased players atop the free-agent class. They simply can't afford to.
Stephen Drew is disappointing, and the A's will be seeking an upgrade for 2013.
Unfortunately, the crop of available shortstops doesn't have much to offer. Oakland won't even bother getting involved.
Potential free agents: Jose Contreras (team option), Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco (mutual option), Carlos Ruiz (team option), Brian Schneider, Ty Wigginton (team option)
If the Philadelphia Phillies plan to avoid the luxury tax in 2013, they won't be able to court any first-class free agents.
A handful of elite players consume the vast majority of their payroll.
Awkward as it may be, I'm confident that barely three months after trading away Shane Victorino, the Phillies will ink him to a multi-year pact. The Flyin' Hawaiian has slumped into their price range with a career-low batting average and OPS.
Though he wants to re-sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they won't have room in their starting outfield—and Victorino is adamant about playing every day (via Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times).
Potential free agents: Pedro Alvarez (team option), Rod Barajas (team option), Kevin Correia, Jason Grilli
Rich franchise history and a beautiful ballpark haven't been strong enough incentives to attract available players to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
But supplement that with a fun clubhouse and winning record, and suddenly guys like Rod Barajas are volunteering to take a pay cut (h/t Rob Biertempfel or Trib Total Media).
Grilli will finally get paid like the outstanding setup man that he is. Correia and his laughable strikeout rate, on the other hand, won't be retained.
Left-hander J.P. Howell and fourth outfielder Raul Ibanez would fill holes on an otherwise imposing roster.
Potential free agents: none
In-season extensions assure that Mark Kotsay, Carlos Quentin and Huston Street will be active members of the 2013 San Diego Padres. So far, that's next year's team.
Daunting as that may seem, with new ownership and a $1.2 billion television deal, the Padres have the resources to fill out their roster with high-quality players.
Here they come.
Potential free agents: Jeremy Affeldt, Melky Cabrera, Aubrey Huff (team option), Angel Pagan, Freddy Sanchez, Marco Scutaro, Ryan Theriot
For the first four months of the regular season, the San Francisco Giants had continuous conversations with Melky Cabrera about a long-term deal. Despite all the money the Giants have invested in their pitching staff, general manager Brian Sabean reiterated that extending him was, in fact, realistic.
Then news broke about the outfielder's performance-enhancing drug use.
As a result, I don't believe he'll be re-signed. That passionate, influential fanbase would crucify him.
Rather, the Giants front office will commit to Angel Pagan and former Cincinnati Reds slugger Ryan Ludwick. It's also likely that Affeldt returns.
Potential free agents: Kevin Millwood, Miguel Olivo (team option)
In choosing their next team, free agents take a lot into consideration. Important factors include location, competitiveness, tradition and personal relationships.
So why might players steer clear of the Seattle Mariners?
1. Lengthy plane flights are necessary for every road series
2. The team is in last place (again)
3. Zero World Series berths in franchise history
4. Many of the current M's have limited MLB experience, so they're unknown to unsigned veterans.
Potential free agents: Lance Berkman, Kyle Lohse
The St. Louis Cardinals are fortunate to have a surplus of starting pitchers and formidable bats in their organization. Thanks to Edward Mujica and Jason Motte, the back end of the bullpen is also trustworthy.
Their middle relief needs to be revamped, however, and I'm skeptical that the Cards can find quality reinforcements on the free-agent market.
Brandon League is one option, though his elevated walk rate in 2012 (29 BB in 62.0 IP) raises a red flag.
The previous offseason, Roy Oswalt nearly signed with St. Louis. His tenure with the Texas Rangers has been disastrous, but at least he gained relieving experience.
There's no sure-fire solution with Jonathan Broxton and Rafael Soriano already acquired by more desperate teams.
Potential free agents: Kyle Farnsworth, J.P. Howell, Jose Molina (team option), Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney (team option), Luke Scott (team option), James Shields (team option), B.J. Upton
Restricted by a tiny payroll, the Tampa Bay Rays never bid for the priciest available players. Their strengths are drafting well and trading wisely.
Fernando Rodney (42 SV, 0.68 ERA, 0.78 ERA) was an amazing find for this small-market franchise. Perhaps the training staff will revive Grady Sizemore's career in 2013!
The Rays' meager resources force them to invest in long shots.
Potential free agents: Mike Adams, Ryan Dempster, Josh Hamilton, Colby Lewis, Mike Napoli, Roy Oswalt
The No. 1 priority for the Texas Rangers front office needs to be re-signing Hamilton. For life.
Finalizing the transaction without guaranteeing Albert Pujols money (10 years/$254 million) would qualify as a worthwhile investment.
Roy Oswalt's salary was the worst $5 million that the team spent in 2012. The front office will be overjoyed to see him come off the books.
Brandon McCarthy—yes, the guy recovering from emergency brain surgery—can take Ryan Dempster's vacated rotation spot. He's a terrific clubhouse presence.
Potential free agents: Rajai Davis (team option), Kelly Johnson, Carlos Villanueva
GM Alex Anthopoulos is approaching this upcoming winter with a stern mentality after missing out on Yu Darvish and Ryan Madson in 2011-12 free agency. This time around, he expects to ink impact players.
John Lott of the National Post reports that the team's payroll—which was $83.7 million on Opening Day 2012—will definitely increase.
Canadian-born starting pitcher Ryan Dempster has proven his competence in the American League. With the Texas Rangers allocating their cash among other individuals, a homecoming seems imminent.
Anthopoulos vented his frustration with Adam Lind by admitting that he's "capable of more." Such a statement implies that he may sell low on the Blue Jays slugger.
Free-agent first baseman Carlos Pena could replace him in the middle of the batting order, as could Travis Hafner. Edwin Encarnacion's role as a fielder or designated hitter depends on which of the two is acquired.
Potential free agents: Sean Burnett (mutual option), Edwin Jackson, John Lannan, Adam LaRoche (mutual option), Chien-Ming Wang
Though John Lannan has experienced great results in limited MLB opportunities this season, he certainly won't be brought back by the Washington Nationals. Realize that a 2.41 ERA in 18.2 IP doesn't mean anything.
Adam LaRoche, on the other hand, isn't changing uniforms. As Adam Kilgore writes in the The Washington Post, there is mutual interest between him and the organization.
However, it's doubtful that he'd accept a one-year guarantee coming off such a resurgent campaign. Frankly, he deserves better.
Principal owner Mark Lerner explained to FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi in July that, "We’ve never let dollars get in the way of us making decisions that will help this organization...We try to do smart things."
Keeping LaRoche would be smart, so count on the first baseman getting something in the three-year, $50 million range with a team option for the 2016 season.
With four-fifths of the starting rotation otherwise set, the question is whether the Nats want to lock up Jackson or move in another direction.
Competition for the right-hander ought to be fierce considering his career-best WHIP, 1983 birthday and infamous agent (Scott Boras). For a fraction of the price, I'm assuming that the Nats will pursue Ervin Santana instead.