MLB Free Agency: Projecting Contract Value of Josh Hamilton and Top 15 Targets

Eric BrachCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2012

MLB Free Agency: Projecting Contract Value of Josh Hamilton and Top 15 Targets

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    The 2012 playoffs are just around the corner. That means the 2013 free agent market is just down the block.

    The jockeying for position in these last two and a half weeks of the seasons pales in comparison to the offseason jockeying they'll undertake this winter. The following is a guide for readers of the top impact players that will be available on the open market this winter.

    Any players with a club option for 2013 are excluded—hence the omission from this list of guys like David Wright, Brian McCann, R.A. Dickey, and Robinson Cano. They don't come with no strings attached. But what of everyone else? Who are the top stars available, and how much will they fetch? 

    (All salary information sourced from www.Baseball-Reference.com)

Lance Berkman

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    2012 Salary: $12 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $4-6 million 

    Rationale: Berkman’s annual salary peaked at $14.5 million while playing with the (then) free-spending Houston Astros at the end of the last decade. Two years ago, he signed a one-year contract with the Cardinals that paid him $8 million.

    In 2011, Berkman put up .301/34/94 numbers at the plate and helped lead the Cards to a World Series championship. He was re-signed to a one-year deal that paid 50% more in Pujols’ absence.

    Unfortunately, this year, he’s been on the DL nearly all season long and has a .263 average with just two homers and seven RBI—those are not misprints—in just under 100 plate appearances.

    If a team takes a chance on Berkman—and one might—it would be with the understanding that he’s an aging slugger who probably can’t play the outfield any more. It’s first base, DH, or nothing. And with so many free agent first basemen on the market this coming offseason, it’s unlikely any team will be willing to pay Berkman more than half of what he made for a pretty miserable 2012.

Michael Bourn

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    2012 Salary: $6.845 million 

    Likely 2013 Salary: $11 million

    Rationale: Michael Bourn has been a pleasant surprise for the Braves, and he’s done much to keep the team in contention. He’s regained his base-stealing form and is leading the league in steals, games played, at-bats, and plate appearances—in other words, he’s the leadoff man the Braves have been missing in the outfield since the days of Otis Nixon.

    The Braves (and their fans) seem to be enjoying the taste of success, and barring a late-season meltdown, there will be significant push to re-sign Bourn—even with the hefty premium he’ll likely command.

Melky Cabrera

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    2012 Salary: $6 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $6-8 million

    Rationale: Why was Melky doping? To help the Giants win the pennant? Maybe. To earn a huge free agent contract? Again, maybe.

    The Royals signed Melky to a hugely escalating two-year deal in the 2010 offseason: $1.25 million for year one, $6 million for year two. Predictably, they traded him before having to cough up the cash, and .346-hitting Cabrera was doing wonders for San Francisco before getting caught.

    Teams will worry about Cabrera’s ability to perform without the juice—but they’ll also be afraid of letting him slip through their fingers if it turns out he really does have what it takes.

    Cabrera is 27 years old, about to hit the prime of his athleticism, and though his drug suspension will likely keep him from raking in serious dollars, it’s unlikely that everyone will let him slide by because of this mistake. After all: look at the year Ryan Braun is having.

Josh Hamilton

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    2012 Salary: $13.75 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $16-20 million 

    Rationale: Hamilton is turning in another great year. After deservedly winning the MVP in 2010, Hamilton slumped in 2011, but he’s back this year with a solid lead in the home run and RBI titles, and there’s no question he’s helping the Rangers carry the AL West.

    He’s the best talent on the market, but there’s not a prayer the Rangers will let him go. They’ll pay what it takes—and it will take a lot—to keep Hamilton in Texas.

Torii Hunter

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    2012 Salary: $18 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $12-15 million

    Rationale: Hunter’s been great with the Angels these last five years, and it’s likely the team will want to keep him around, even though with Trout, Trumbo, Bourjos, and Kendrys Morales around, it will be hard to find a place to put him.

    The Angels will be willing to spend, and though Hunter might get offered an extra million or two elsewhere, it’s likely he’ll want to stay with a team that’s poised to keep competing throughout the foreseeable future. Look for the Angels to make an offer to Hunter that’s lower than what he’s currently making, though still eminently reasonable, and look for Hunter to turn the question to binding arbitration before rejoining the Halos in Southern California.

Carlos Lee

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    2012 Salary: $18.5 million

    Likely 2013 Salary $5 million

    Rationale: Those free-spending Astros signed Lee to an escalating deal five years ago, when he was in his prime. The 2012 team dumped him off to the Marlins mid-season in exchange for prospects, knowing they would never be able to pay what Lee wants.

    Lee, like Berkman, is 36 years old. He’s removed from his home run stroke, and though he’s still hitting for average—.276 is respectable, if not jaw-dropping—his power and speed are both gone, and Lee, too, will be relegated to first base or DH. There’s no more outfield play left in him.

    Luckily for teams in the market, Lee is no longer represented by super-agent Scott Boras, or his asking price might be too high to stay in the bigs. It’s likely that someone, somewhere, will be willing to pay Lee to stick around to play the role of the patient veteran.

    Just don’t imagine that team to be very competitive.

David Ortiz

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    2012 Salary: $14.575 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $13 million

    Rationale: Big Papi has been the heart of Boston since he came to town a decade ago and has been an All-Star almost every year. Though his body is starting to fall apart, he’s still crushing the ball, and though he may be sick of Boston due to the managerial/front office shenanigans, it’s unlikely the team will want to let him go elsewhere, despite the likely emergence of suitors.

    Ortiz has some pop left in him, and though other squads may offer him a bit more, it’s likely he’ll want to finish his career—and get his likely 500th home run—in a Red Sox uniform.

A.J. Pierzynski

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    2012 Salary: $6 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $8 million

    Rationale: Pierzynski is a 10-5 player who is arbitration-eligible, and though the White Sox may be willing to let it come to that, they won’t want to let him go.

    Pierzynski was granted free agency at the end of a decent, if uninspired 2010 season, but after just a month on the market, he re-signed with the team an accepted a pay cut. Now, on the tail end of his contract, Pierzynski is coming off a career year, hitting 278 with a monster 26 homers and .513 slugging, helping to power the White Sox to the playoffs.

    Without another catcher in the pipeline to replace him, Pierzynski is a valuable asset to the White Sox, even at the age of 35. Look for a three-year deal in the $25 million dollar range to keep Pierzynski with the team until his retirement.

Ichiro Suzuki

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    2012 Salary: $17 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $10-13 million

    Rationale: The Mariners had to let Suzuki go—they thought they were going to lose him.

    Though Suzuki is beloved and his number will surely be retired in Seattle, he hasn’t won a hitting crown, been an All-Star or even garnered a single MVP vote in the last two years. He’s 38, and though he’s still good, he’s slowing, and the cash-poor, non-contending Mariners didn’t think they could afford to pay him the big dollars he would have wanted—and likely deserved—in the next round of contract talks.

    Someone out there will pick up Ichiro for a two- or three- year deal to finish off his career, and though they’ll probably overpay by a bit, he will be welcome wherever he ends up.

Jonathan Broxton

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    2012 Salary: $4 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $6-8 million

    Rationale: After a tough 2011 with the Dodgers in which he lost his closer’s job, Broxton signed with the Royals on a one-year deal. After performing well in the bullpen, posting 23 saves and a 2.27 ERA in just a half a season, Broxton was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds, where he now serves as set-up man for fire-baller Aroldis Chapman. The Reds have used him to shore up their bullpen, and once the season ends, Broxton will likely be heading out for greener pastures (read: money and a return to the closer’s role.)

    It’s odd to note that the Royals’ strategy appears to be to sign stars hitting free agency on an off year, signing them, then dumping them for prospects once the end of the contract nears (see: Melky Cabrera, and countless others). To mix a number of metaphors, it’s akin to signing girls on the rebound from a bad breakup and then dishing them off to the high school quarterback once they’ve been rehabilitated.

    Regardless, Broxton is only 28, and with his return to form, he’ll receive a nice-sized contract to take over the closer’s role somewhere in the bigs.

Bartolo Colon

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    2012 Salary: $2 million 

    Likely 2013 Salary: $5-7 million

    Rationale: The steal of last year’s free agent class, the once-washed up Colon has put up a 10-9 record for the red-hot A’s with an ERA of 3.43 and a league-low 1.4 walks per nine innings pitched. The man is a former Cy Young Award winner, and though he was down, he’s proved that he is not out with an excellent season in Oakland.

    There’s always a market for strong arms, and someone will pay to add Colon to their staff for the next few seasons after the 2012 Bartolo Colon has had.

Ryan Dempster

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    2012 Salary: $14 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $14 million

    Rationale: A 2.25 ERA while with the Cubs. 6-1 after a midseason trade to the Rangers. Dempster’s name has been tossed around all season, and once the dust settles on 2012, someone will come courting him again.

    The fact of the matter is that Dempster is 35 years old, and he’s no ace. Still, he’s been getting the job done, and someone, somewhere will be willing to match what Dempster’s currently making to get him to spend a few years in their uniform.  He’ll be overpaid, more than likely—at his age, there’s only so many more runs of luck an old pitcher has in him—but he will nonetheless be a hot commodity in the offseason talks, particularly if he pitches well in the playoffs.

Zack Greinke

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    2012 Salary: $13.5 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $13-14 million

    Rationale: Zack Greinke is one of the best under-the-radar pitchers in the big leagues. He won a Cy Young Award in 2009, but since he’s spent his whole career (save the last month or two) in Milwaukee and Kansas City, he’s more or less done his work in quiet. And that’s a shame.

    Greinke owns a win-loss record of 69-43 over the last five seasons. He’s a workhorse pitcher with talent, and at 28, he’s still young. The fact that he’ll probably get paid less than Ryan Dempster in the open market is a shame, though it’s true. What Greinke needs isn’t another off-speed pitch; it’s a publicist.

    Someone will pick up Greinke at just about the salary level he’s earning now. And that someone will have gotten a steal of a deal.

Hiroki Kuroda

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    2012 Salary: $10 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: $12-15 million 

    Rationale: Yes, Kuroda is 37 years old, and yes, this is only his second winning season in his MLB career. But Kuroda has also racked up an impressive 3.17 ERA pitching in a tough AL East, and he’s the number two starter for the storied New York Yankees.

    Without a doubt, Kuroda will see some dollars thrown at him in the free agent market this offseason. More than likely, the big bidder will be Big Brother in the Bronx, and he will stay with the Yankees.

Kyle Lohse

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    2012 Salary: $11.875 million 

    Likely 2013 Salary: $14-18 million

    Rationale: In 2010, Lohse went 4-8 with a 6.55 ERA. In 2011, he was 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA. In 2012, he’s 14-3 with a 2.81 ERA, and he just might swoop in and steal the NL Cy Young Award.

    Is there any doubt that Kyle Lohse is about to get paid?

    With teams in need of starting pitching and the Cardinals signalling a willingness to let aging free agents be sweet-talked away by other squads, there’s a good chance Lohse – and his agent, Scott Boras – will turn to the open market for a huge, multi-year payday.

Mariano Rivera

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    2012 Salary: $15 million

    Likely 2013 Salary: ?

    Rationale: Mariano Rivera is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. His enshrinement in the Hall of Fame is already a certainty, and his statistical record is nothing short of legendary. He possesses the the 13th-best ERA of all time, and no other player of recent baseball lineage even cracks the top 100. His career WHIP is the second-best ever. He’s the all-time career saves leader. And yet. Will he come back to play next year?

    Since tearing his ACL at the age of 42—also, interestingly, the number he wears on his back—the question of whether or not Rivera will ever return to play major league baseball has loomed large. If he does, it will almost certainly be as a Yankee—Rivera has played for 18 years, and every one has been in the Bronx; the idea of him pitching for anyone else is anathema.

    But will he return? The question looms large over the Bronx. And right now, nobody seems to have a concrete answer.