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Does Each Top 25 MLB Free-Agent Target Care More About Money or Winning?

Joel ReuterFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 24, 2016

Does Each Top 25 MLB Free-Agent Target Care More About Money or Winning?

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    The upcoming Major League Baseball free-agent class does not have the superstar power that last year's did, but as far as impact talent it may be deeper with a number of solid veterans potentially headed for a change of scenery.

    The two driving factors of any free agent's decision tend to be money and an opportunity to win a championship, and depending on where a player is at in his career, he will tend to lean toward one factor or the other.

    So here is a look at the top 25 players of the upcoming free-agent class, and whether they will likely care more about winning or money when deciding on where to sign their next contract.

Angel Pagan

2 of 26

    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    Pagan enjoyed a terrific 2010 season in which he hit .290 BA, 11 HR, 69 RBI, 37 SB and posted a 5.1 WAR, but his numbers nose-dived in 2011 and he was swapped by the Mets for Andres Torres in an offseason change of scenery move.

    He's been much closer to his 2010 form this season, and as a result the 31-year-old should see plenty of interest as a second-tier guy this offseason. This is likely his last chance to cash in on a multi-year deal, so I expect him to wind up playing for the highest bidder in 2013.


Brandon McCarthy

3 of 26

    Money or Winning?

    Winning

     

    Why?

    McCarthy has battled injuries throughout his big league career, as he's made 25 starts just once and will fail to reach that mark again this season after taking a line drive off the head to end his season.

    He's shown flashes of being an ace over the past two seasons in Oakland, going a combined 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA over 281.2 innings of work. His injury problems will likely mean he'll have to settle for a one-year deal, and as a result he'll look for the best situation to showcase his talents and set himself up for a potential multi-year deal that following offseason.

Shane Victorino

4 of 26

    Money or Winning?

    Winning

     

    Why?

    Acquired by the Dodgers at the deadline, Victorino has not exactly set the world on fire in Los Angeles, hitting just .227 BA, 1 HR, 11 RBI over 181 at bats, and as a result there is likely not a huge pay day waiting for him this winter.

    Instead, expect Victorino to latch onto a contender on a one or two-year contract, as he looks to turn things around and get back to the postseason after making it the past five seasons in Philadelphia. 


Anibal Sanchez

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    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    Sanchez was acquired by the Tigers from the Marlins at the deadline, and he's been hit-and-miss as far as his starts in Detroit have gone. 

    However, he threw a gem his last time out with a complete-game shutout in which he allowed just three hits and struck out 10. If the Tigers can make the postseason and Sanchez can perform well on the big stage it could certainly boost his stock. Expect him to sign with whoever is willing to open their wallets this offseason.

Mike Adams

6 of 26

    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    While there will be some closing options on the market such as Jonathan Broxton, Ryan Madson and Jose Valverde, the reliever likely to command the biggest contract is actually setup man Mike Adams.

    Since the start of the 2008 season, which marked Adams' first full season in the league, the right-hander has posted a 1.90 ERA in 296 appearances. He makes $4.4 million in his final year of arbitration this year, and could be in line for a contract similar to the three-year, $27 million deal Heath Bell signed last offseason.

Ryan Ludwick

7 of 26

    Money or Winning?

    Both

     

    Why?

    The Reds hold a $5 million mutual option on Ludwick for next season, and the Reds will almost certainly exercise their end of things with Ludwick turning in an impressive .276 BA, 26 HR, 80 RBI season thus far.

    However, expect Ludwick to decline his end as he will no doubt be able to earn more money and at least another year as a free agent. That said, the 34-year-old will likely opt to sign with a contender as this could very well be his last contract, and he has appeared in just one postseason series in his career. 

Shaun Marcum

8 of 26

    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    The Brewers gave up a lot to get Marcum prior to the 2011 season, shipping Brett Lawrie to Toronto to acquire the right-hander. After a 13-7, 3.54 ERA season last year, he's battled injuries this season and made just 19 starts.

    He's been solid in those starts, going 5-4 with a 3.86 ERA, but he has no doubt lost some value. My guess is he signs a one-year deal with whoever offers him the most money and attempts to boost his stock towards a multi-year contract the following offseason.

Mike Napoli

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    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    Had he been a free agent after last season, Napoli would have cashed in big-time after he hit .320 BA, 30 HR, 75 RBI in his first season with the Rangers.

    However, he's fallen back to Earth this season with a .226 BA, 20 HR, 46 RBI line, and while he still has top-tier power among catchers he won't cost nearly as much to sign. If he leaves Texas, which seems like a real possibility, his only reason will be to get more money elsewhere. 

Dan Haren

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    Money or Winning?

    Winning

     

    Why?

    The Angels hold a $15.5 million option on Haren for next season, and while he undoubtedly would have been worth that in the past, he has been average at best this season in going 12-11 with a 4.35 ERA.

    With the Angels looking to re-sign Zack Greinke, it seems likely that the team will decline Haren's option. Even with him falling short of expectations, he'll receive plenty of interest on the open market, and as he enters the later stages of his career he'll likely look for a situation that will give him a chance to win a championship.

Cody Ross

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    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    A down contract year with the Giants in 2011 resulted in Ross settling for a one-year, $3 million contract from the Red Sox this past offseason, as he was brought in as the starting right-fielder after Josh Reddick was traded.

    He's enjoyed a bounce-back season, hitting .270 BA, 21 HR, 77 RBI on the season, and at still only 31 years old he should have no problem finding a multi-year deal. After settling for a bargain contract this past offseason, he'll look to cash in this winter. 

Edwin Jackson

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    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    Jackson entered last offseason looking to cash in on a decent year and the fact that he still had plenty of upside at the age of 28. When the pickings were slim for multi-year deals he settled on a one-year, $11 million contract with the Nationals.

    He's since dropped agent Scott Boras (h/t Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports), and in the midst of another solid year at 9-10 with a 3.77 ERA, he will once again be seeking a big contract this offseason. 

A.J. Pierzynski

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    Money or Winning?

    Winning, with the White Sox

     

    Why?

    Pierzynski has enjoyed a breakout season at the age of 35, setting new career highs with 27 HR and 75 RBI, and he has indicated that he would like to stay with the White Sox to close out his career.

    He is finishing out a two-year, $8 million deal, and while he could like fetch a hefty two-year deal on the open market as the top available catcher, I expect him to give Chicago a discount and sign something like a two-year, $12 million deal to close out his career on the South Side.

Ryan Dempster

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    Money or Winning?

    Winning

     

    Why?

    After spending the past nine seasons with the Cubs, Dempster was dealt to the Rangers at the deadline, and he will be looking for his last big contract at the age of 35.

    In the final year of a four-year, $52 million deal, the right-hander could certainly boost his stock with a strong performance for the Rangers in the postseason. He's appeared in just two postseason series in his career, and he'll no doubt be looking for a chance to win a ring before he retires.

Mariano Rivera

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    Money or Winning?

    Winning, with the Yankees

     

    Why?

    The greatest reliever in baseball history, Rivera made just nine appearances this season before a torn ACL landed him on the disabled list for the remainder of the season.

    He's spent all 18 of his big league seasons with the Yankees, and he's not going anywhere. He'll likely come cheaper than the two-year, $30 million deal he signed last time he became a free agent, but whatever the cost the two sides will come to some sort of agreement.

B.J. Upton

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    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    Upton looked to be headed for superstardom after a .300 BA, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 22 SB season back in 2007 at the age of 22. However, he's been unable to match those numbers since as he's hit just .249 and averaged 154 strikeouts per season.

    He's put together a strong second half with 19 HR and 45 RBI, and he is still only 27 years old. Somehow I just get the feeling that someone is going to overpay for Upton based on his potential and tools, and that he is going to have a hard time turning down a big-money deal.

Torii Hunter

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    Money or Winning?

    Winning, with the Angels

     

    Why?

    In the final year of a five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels that actually wound up being a fairly good signing, Hunter is enjoying his best season in years with a .306 BA, 16 HR, 86 RBI line.

    He's already said that he'll take less money to stay with the Angels (h/t Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times), and while the Angels could go with an outfield of Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos and let Hunter walk, my guess is they bring the veteran leader back on a one-year deal.

Hiroki Kuroda

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    Money or Winning?

    Winning

     

    Why?

    Kuroda originally stated that he was only interested in playing for West Coast teams or returning to Japan, but he wound up signing a one-year, $10 million deal with the Yankees.

    He's been immeasurably important this season, going 14-11 with a 3.34 ERA and providing the Yankees with a reliable starter behind CC Sabathia. Expect the 37-year-old to sign another one-year deal with New York or to return to Japan.

Adam LaRoche

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    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    After missing almost all of the 2011 season, LaRoche has come back strong in 2012 with a .269 BA, 32 HR, 98 RBI line this year hitting in the middle of a good Nationals lineup.

    He has a $10 million mutual option for next season, and while the Nationals will likely exercise their end, expect LaRoche to decline his as he looks for a multi-year deal. With Michael Morse better suited at first base, the Nationals could just let LaRoche walk, and he would be among the best power hitters on the market. He'll likely go to the highest bidder. 

David Ortiz

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    Money or Winning?

    Winning

     

    Why?

    While it's hard to imagine Ortiz in anything but a Red Sox uniform at this point, the team could let him walk this offseason although they certainly have the financial flexibility to bring him back with roughly $80 million in salary room opening up.

    Ortiz was great this season before an Achilles injury shelved him, and if the Red Sox do decide to part ways with him he would likely have no interest in signing with a non-contender.

Kyle Lohse

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    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    With Chris Carpenter sidelined before the season began and Adam Wainwright returning from Tommy John surgery, Lohse opened the season as the ace of the Cardinals staff, and he has certainly fit the bill so far this year with a 16-3 record and 2.77 ERA.

    He's in the final season of a four-year, $41 million deal and should be able to surpass that annual salary even at the age of 33, as he'll be one of the top arms on the market. The Cardinals have a number of in-house option to replace Lohse, so they'll likely avoid what will be a high asking price.

Jake Peavy

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    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    Peavy has enjoyed a bounce-back season this year, going 11-12 with a 3.40 ERA and making the All-Star team, but even those improved numbers won't be enough for the White Sox to exercise their $22 million option on him.

    Outside of Zack Greinke, Peavy will be the top arm on the free-agent market and given the fact that Greinke is only going to sign with certain teams to avoid high-pressure markets, Peavy could be the pitcher all the top teams wind up bidding on.

Michael Bourn

23 of 26

    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why?

    Arguably the best leadoff hitter in baseball, the Braves acquired Bourn from the Astros as the deadline in 2011 for four players ,and he has helped solidify their lineup and the center field position.

    If the Braves hope to retain him it is going to cost them, as a number of teams will be in the running for the speedster's services. Expect money to be the deciding factor on where Bourn winds up, whether it is back with Atlanta or elsewhere.

Nick Swisher

24 of 26

    Money or Winning?

    Money

     

    Why? 

    Swisher has proven to be a steal at six years and $36 million, and in his four seasons with the Yankees he's posted an average line of .265 BA, 26 HR, 86 RBI while racking up a 9.2 WAR and playing corner outfield and first base.

    Reports have indicated that Swisher could use the seven-year, $126 million deal that Jayson Werth signed as a jumping off point in negotiations (h/t Jon Heyman, CBS Sports). Something like a four-year, $60 million deal may be more realistic, but regardless, it is unlikely that the Yankees will retain him, so expect the bidding war to begin.

Zack Greinke

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    Money or Winning?

    Money, in a small market

     

    Why?

    The Angels paid a steep price to acquire Greinke at the deadline, and they will make a serious run at re-signing him this winter. He's gone 15-5 with a 3.42 ERA with the Brewers and Angels this season, and is without question the best arm on the market.

    His battles with social anxiety disorder, meaning he'll likely avoid the big-market teams, but there will still be a number of teams in on him this winter. He turned down an extension offer from the Brewers that reportedly exceeded $100 million (h/t Sports Illustrated), so he won't come cheap.

Josh Hamilton

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    Money or Winning?

    Money, from a winner

     

    Why?

    Hamilton is the marquee name of the free-agent class, and even with abundant health concerns he will likely earn a deal well in excess of $100 million from whoever winds up signing him.

    He could very well re-up with the Rangers, but if he does legitimately test the waters my guess is he'll lean towards signing with a team that has a chance to win now as opposed to being a building block on a rebuilding team.

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