2013 MLB Free Agents: Contract Predictions for Top Players

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistOctober 9, 2012

2013 MLB Free Agents: Contract Predictions for Top Players

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    We can count on a few things to happen shortly after the World Series comes to an end.

    It's going to get colder in the Northeast, the debate over the American League MVP award will still rage on and a group of MLB's biggest names are going to get paid handsomely.

    But how much cheddar are we talking about and who's slicing the cheese?

    Let's take a look.

Mike Napoli, C/1B

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    On the heels of a phenomenal performance for the Rangers in the playoffs last year, everyone assumed that Mike Napoli would carry that hot streak into the 2012 regular season and continue to put himself in line for a big payday.

    Things haven't quite gone according to plan for the 30-year-old catcher—who also plays first base—in 2012.

    He spent much of 2012 banged up, from a sprained left ankle to quad injuries and a knee issue, eventually spending time on the disabled list due to one of his quads bothering him more than he could handle.

    Through it all, Napoli managed to hit 24 home runs, but he also saw his batting average slip to a career-worst .227. His .343 on-base percentage, while still solid, was a far cry from the .414 mark that he posted for the Rangers last season.

    Napoli told John Machota of the Dallas Morning News that he hopes to be a Ranger in 2013, but added: "we’ll see what happens."

    Whether that happens depends largely on if his agent, Brian Grieper, still believes what he told CBS Sports' Jon Heyman back in April. When asked by Heyman where Napoli fit among the most well-paid catchers in the game, Grieper replied:

    "Mike Napoli is somewhere between Victor Martinez and Yadier Molina. Depending on how he performs this year, he could be closer to Molina or Martinez.''

    Molina's five-year, $75 million deal is certainly not in the cards for Napoli.

    Martinez, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2011 season, could be more in line with where Napoli's value lies, but even that will be a difficult deal for Napoli to land.

    While his game calling can be iffy at times, when the dust settles, Napoli will ultimately find that there's no place like home.

     

    Predicted Deal: Re-signs with the Texas Rangers for three years, $33 million

Hiroki Kuroda, RHP

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    Hiroki Kuroda emerged as the ace of a Yankees staff that included names like CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte in 2012, no small feat considering that the 37-year-old was making the switch from the National League to the American League for the first time.

    His numbers (16-11, 3.32 ERA) likely would have been better had he received adequate run support; eight of his 11 losses on the season came in games when the second-most potent lineup in baseball failed to score more than two runs.

    Kuroda seems to be comfortable in New York, and the Yankees would not have made the playoffs without him. Look for their relationship to continue, though it won't be on another one-year contract.

     

    Predicted Deal: Re-signs with the New York Yankees for two years, $27.5 million.

Adam LaRoche, 1B

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    There's a $10 million mutual option on the 32-year-old first baseman for the 2013 season, one that the Nationals are likely to exercise while LaRoche is likely to decline, though it's not because he doesn't want to stay in Washington, as he tells Bill Ladson of MLB.com:

    I want to be a part of this, not just this year, but in the future, too. If it works out -- great. If not, it's unfortunate. It would be part of their plan. I have no idea. You have to talk to the boss about that one.

    The boss, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, also spoke to Ladson and says that he is all for keeping LaRoche at first base:

    We would love to have him back. We are certainly going to talk about that at the prudent time. Adam and his people agree that we have things on our mind right now that are going to take all of our attention. We'll certainly be in a communication directly after the season.

    LaRoche paced the Nationals with 33 home runs and 100 RBI, and provided the team with excellent defense at first base in 2012.

    He's sure to have interest from other clubs, but it's hard to see him moving on from a perennial contender.

     

    Predicted Deal: Re-signs with the Washington Nationals for three years, $40 million.

Kyle Lohse, RHP

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    After pitching to an 88-98 record, a 4.79 ERA and 1.43 WHIP over the first decade of his career, Kyle Lohse either figured it all out, flipped a switch or found some magical potion that transformed him into one of the better starting pitchers in baseball.

    Over the past two season, Lohse has gone 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and logged nearly 400 innings of work. He led the National League in games started (33) and winning percentage (.842) in 2012, and hits free agency at nearly the perfect time.

    The one downside to Lohse is that he's 34-years-old. While that's not ancient in baseball, it may preclude teams from giving him the long-term deal that he seeks.

    Lohse pitches to contact and throws strikes, so whatever team he winds up signing with will need to have a solid defense behind him.

    The five-year, $77.5 million deal that C.J. Wilson signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prior to the 2012 season is probably far more than any deal that Lohse will receive, considering that his primary suitors may be teams like the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays.

    Whether he's blowing smoke or not, Royals' owner David Glass has said that he is prepared to "do what he needs to do" to improve the club and that the team is "committed to improving our starting pitching," according to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.

    To that end, Royals' GM Dayton Moore tells Dutton that he expects the payroll to increase in 2013: 

    I feel like it will (be significantly higher than this year)…I''ve felt all along that we’ll always have the necessary resources to move forward and do what we need to do to improve our team.

    With a strong nucleus of young stars in Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, the Royals serve as an intriguing landing spot for a veteran starter who is pitching as well as he ever has, yet hasn't engendered much interest from bigger market clubs.

     

    Predicted Deal: Signs with the Kansas City Royals for three years, $40 million.

Nick Swisher, RF

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    Meet Player X.

    Player X plays the same position as Nick Swisher and he's around the same age, give or take a year or two. Let's see if you can figure out who Player X is when we look at what an average season for both he and Swisher has been since 2009:

    Player X: 146 G, .284/.361/.473, 21 HR, 85 RBI

    Swisher: 150 G, .268/.367/.483, 26 HR, 87 RBI

    So tell me—who is Player X?

    Player X is the Los Angeles Dodgers' Andre Ethier, the same player who signed a five-year, $85 million extension with the Dodgers earlier in the 2012 season.

    The contract that the 30-year-old Ethier signed, along with the fact that his numbers are virtually identical to the 31-year-old Swisher's, is certainly going to be noted by "Team Swisher" in negotiations with any team once he hits free agency.

    While the Yankees love having Swisher in the clubhouse—there may not be a player who positively impacts a team's clubhouse in the entire league as much as Swisher does—Ethier's contract, or anything close to it, is going to be too rich for the Yankees' taste.

    It's entirely possible that nobody gives Swisher a deal near what Ethier received, but Swisher won't have a lack of suitors.

    His ability to play all three spots in the outfield, plus first base, opens up some doors where teams already have established right fielders in place.

    The Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants both jump out as teams who could use Swisher in their outfield (the Red Sox could especially use him their clubhouse), but don't count out the Atlanta Braves.

    While the Braves have Martin Prado in left field and Jason Heyward in right field, consider that with Chipper Jones' retirement, Prado may be moved back to the infield to play third base.

    But there's only one Nick Swisher, and there's only one team who is going to sign him.

     

    Predicted Deal: Signs with the San Francisco Giants for five years, $70 million.

B.J. Upton, CF

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    In some circles, B.J. Upton is still thought of as a player with limitless potential that has yet to meet his lofty expectations.

    But in reality, Upton is what he is, and that's a 28-year-old who excels in two major categories. He's hit more than 20 home runs three times and stolen more than 30 bases five times in his six full MLB seasons. He's only hit .300 once—way back when he was 22-years-old—and his batting average (.246) and on-base percentage (.298) in 2012 leave much to be desired.

    That being said, Upton is an outstanding defender in center field and his speed and power, coupled with the thought of "maybe this is the year it all comes together," will make Upton one of the more sought-after free agents on the market this winter.

    Sure, his agent Larry Reynolds and Tampa Bay Rays' GM Andrew Friedman will talk about keeping Upton in Tampa Bay, but as CBS Sports' Jon Heyman notes, there isn't a person alive who thinks that the Rays can afford to keep him in the fold:

     

    nice crowd in st. pete today. but i havent found 1 person who thinks #rays will come up w/ the $ to sign bj upton.

    — Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) October 4, 2012

     

    Upton, who earned $7 million this season, figures to wind up with an annual salary between $10-to-$15 million. While he will have many suitors, there's one team in particular for whom he makes the most sense, and they just so happen to be a team that has been linked to Upton for more than a year.

     

    Predicted Deal: Signs with the Washington Nationals for five years, $65 million.

Ichiro Suzuki, LF/RF

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    When the Yankees traded for Ichiro Suzuki, I presented you with five reasons why the Yankees had fleeced the Mariners in the deal, with one of those reasons being that Ichiro could still hit.

    Many of you disagreed.

    In 67 regular season games with the Bronx Bombers, Ichiro posted a .322/.340/.454 batting line with five home runs, 27 RBI, 73 hits and swiped 14 bases in 19 attempts.

    Oh, and he's provided outstanding defense in both corner spots in the outfield and looks like he's having more fun than he has in five years.

    With Nick Swisher's expected departure and the Yankees not having a viable replacement for him in the minor leagues, bringing Ichiro back in 2013 makes plenty of sense.

    The future Hall of Famer likely wants more than a one-year deal, but that's something that is easily worked around by including a team option.

     

    Predicted Deal: Re-signs with the New York Yankees for two years, $30 million

David Ortiz, DH

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    According to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, David Ortiz may not even make it to the open market:

    Cherington: #RedSox talking to Ortiz and Ross about new deals. Both are free agents next season.

    — Michael Silverman (@MikeSilvermanBB) October 3, 2012

    But he's technically a free agent, so he's worth mentioning.

    Ortiz missed much of the 2012 season with an achilles injury, and he's been critical of the Red Sox more often than you'd expect, but that doesn't mean he wants out of Boston—he just doesn't want another one-year deal, as he explains to WEEI's Rob Bradford:

    The thing is when people talk about me signing a multi-year contract, they make it seem like I'm asking for a four- or five-year deal. A guy like me isn't going to be looking for more than two years in the market. I know I'm going to be 37 years old and the only reason I might be asking for whatever I'm asking for is because I'm in good shape to provide something the next couple of years. The reality is my problem is not what I want or what I need, my problem is what I want to be by this time next year -- If I [will] be looking forward to going to the playoffs, or if we're going to be in the situation we are right now, which is disgusting. I like to win. I like the atmosphere around here when we are winning. I like the feeling of preparation going to the playoffs. I haven't lost that taste. The taste of that has not been there. I got used to that.

    Ortiz has gotten used to the taste of success in Boston, and Boston has gotten used to the crack of the bat when Big Papi gets a hold of one.

     

    Predicted Deal: Re-signs with the Boston Red Sox for two years, $30 million.

Jake Peavy, RHP

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    The Chicago White Sox are going to decline the $22 million team option they hold on 31-year-old right-hander Jake Peavy for the 2013 season, choosing instead to pay a $4 million buyout and allow the former Cy Young award winner to test free agency for the first time in his career.

    But there's no reason to think that, while there will be a number of teams interested in him, that Peavy is going to be leaving Chicago anytime soon.  The veteran hurler recently told the Chicago Sun-Times' Tom Ginnetti that the windy city is where he wants to be: "I'd like to come back here. I love Chicago and this team. I hope we'll be able to work something out.''

    Peavy was an integral part of Chicago's rotation in 2012 and proved that his injury issues are behind him.

    The five-year, $77.5 million deal that C.J. Wilson signed with the Los Angeles Angels figures to be used by Peavy's team in negotiations as a benchmark for what their client is worth.

    While he's sure to garner interest from a number of clubs, he fits with what the White Sox are trying to do. Along with Chris Sale, he gives the team a dominating one-two punch at the front of their rotation.

    It won't be cheap or easy, but Peavy will ultimately remain exactly where he is.

     

    Predicted Deal: Re-signs with the Chicago White Sox for four years, $65 million.

Michael Bourn, CF

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    Michael Bourn is the prototypical leadoff hitter.

    He hits for a high average, gets on base and has a ton of speed. Couple that with the fact that he's the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and you've got a player who will be highly sought after as a free agent this winter.

    Back in spring training, Braves GM Frank Wren made it very clear to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where the Braves stood on center fielder Michael Bourn and his impending free agency:

    Our basic philosophy is we have expressed that we would like to retain Michael and then, from there, we go silent. When we approach him, before or after the season, those are things we prefer not to talk about.

    He is a guy that we like on our team. We think he fits really well. We like everything about him. We think his makeup is great. Good teammate. He works hard. He plays the game well. So, he is the perfect fit for us so our desire is that he stays with us beyond this year.

    Bourn, who is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, is undoubtedly going to be looking for a big payday, perhaps far larger than what Vivlamore's colleague, David O'Brien believes:

    I'd guess he'll ask about 5-6 yrs, close to $15 mill per. ASK. RT @thawk654: @ajcbraves more like 5 years $50-$60 mil

    —David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) June 1, 2012

    ESPN's Buster Olney wrote shortly after the Phillies cleaned house with the trades of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, that their primary target* this winter is someone they drafted back in 2003, center fielder Michael Bourn.

    Without naming names, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel stated his case for adding Bourn to the equation in a conversation with NJ.com's Bill Evans: 

    We used to be very productive (offensively). We had in our heyday a great small game. People didn't realize how much smallball we did play. We had an 80-90 percent stolen base percentage. We could steal second, we could steal third. We could come home on a high-chopped ground ball.

    We could get on, we could double-steal and set up our third and fourth hitters and all that. We haven’t been able to do that, because we don’t have that runner. We had two or three of those guys. We had a lot of power and we had a defensive outfield we took for granted. We had a really fast, fundamentally sound defense.

    As is the case with every other free agent we'll look at, there's only one Michael Bourn and only one team who can ultimately wind up with him atop their lineup.

     

    Predicted Deal: Signs with the Philadelphia Phillies for five years, $55 million

     

    *ESPN Insider subscription needed to view the full article.

Zack Greinke, RHP

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    After a rough start to his career with the Los Angeles Angels, one that saw him pitch to a 6.19 ERA and 1.59 WHIP over his first five starts, the 28-year-old Greinke pitched like the former Cy Young award winner that he is. Over his last eight starts, the right-hander went 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, striking out 50 batters in 57.1 innings of work.

    Needless to say, Greinke is going to be the best starting pitcher in free agency and won't have a lack of teams trying to acquire his services.

    Greinke's agent will point to the seven-year, $127.5 million extension that Matt Cain signed with the Giants as a point of reference for his client, and it's entirely possible that he gets that.

    Don't expect a return to the Milwaukee Brewers, as Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told Tom Haudricourt of the Milawukee Journal-Sentinel: "I don't think we're going to sign a guy for five years and $120 million...We made (Greinke) a great offer. We'll see how much he likes it in Anaheim."

    A return to the Kansas City Royals, where he started his career, is also out of the question, if we read between the lines in comments that Royals GM Dayton Moore made to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star:

    Our market is what it is. We’re not going to have a payroll of $100 million. We know that going into it. We embrace who we are…We've  got to stay consistent with our approach. We’re not going get crazy and go nuts in free agency.

    With concerns over whether he could handle the spotlight that comes with playing in Boston or New York, we can likely count the Red Sox and Yankees out as possible suitors.

    Baltimore could be an interesting fit, as the Orioles are clearly a team on the rise and perhaps only a front-of-the-rotation starter from making a serious run at a World Series title.

    But there's always the chance that he stays on the West Coast, and that very well could result in a bidding war between his current team, the Los Angeles Angels, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who need a front-of-the-rotation arm to pair with staff ace Clayton Kershaw.

    Call it a gut feeling, but I'm not convinced that Greinke has as much "California Love" as some would lead you to believe.

     

    Predicted Deal: Signs with the Baltimore Orioles for six years, $130 million.

Josh Hamilton, CF

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    He's a mediocre defensive player on his best day and a pretty rotten one the rest of the time, but there's not many players in the game that can do more damage with a bat in their hands than Josh Hamilton.

    Of course, Hamilton comes along with a unique set of luggage with his spotty injury history and off-field issues to boot.

    Typically speaking, a player of Hamilton's offensive prowess, one who hit .285 with 43 home runs, 128 RBI and 103 runs scored in his contract year would be the subject of an all-out bidding war between the big market clubs in baseball.

    But the Cubs aren't likely to play ball, considering that they are still in the process of rebuilding and still a few years from being legitimate contenders.

    The Dodgers' outfield, with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, is set for the foreseeable future.

    The Red Sox, after unloading nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in salary and desperately trying to change the culture in the clubhouse, probably aren't anxious to spend buckets of cash on a player who has the baggage that Hamilton does.

    The Yankees, while they'll have an opening in right field with the expected departure of Nick Swisher, are hopeful to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold and still have new contracts to work out before then with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter, among others, so they aren't likely to bid for his services.

    Washington? They've got their eyes on a center fielder, but he's more the leadoff-type than the masher in the middle of a lineup.

    Forget the Angels. They've got outfielders and designated hitters coming out of their ears, even if Torii Hunter departs as a free agent this winter.

    San Francisco figures to have interest, but I'd put the Rangers and Detroit Tigers as the two most likely landing spots for the 31-year-old slugger.

    Why Detroit?

    Tigers' owner Mike Illitch isn't getting any younger—he's 83, though he doesn't look it—and, as he proved with the Prince Fielder signing, money is not an object when it comes to improving his team.

    ESPN's Buster Olney asked a number of general managers where they thought Hamilton would wind up, and he quotes one as saying "Detroit? "They're always the wild card, aren't they?"

    With both corner spots in the Tigers outfield works in progress, Hamilton would be an upgrade, at least offensively, over their current options.

    It goes without saying that a middle of their lineup, one that would include Hamilton, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez would be one of, if not the most potent in the entire game.

    Olney went on to say that Hamilton is expected to ask for an annual salary somewhere between $20-to-$25 million, but that the length of the contract, not so much the annual salary, will be the major sticking point in negotiations with any team.

    In the face of being booed off of the field in the Rangers' wild-card game loss to the Oakland A's, Hamilton told ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon that Texas remains his first choice:

    I always would love to stay here. They understand that. They know that. When we talked earlier in the year, we didn't get things worked out, so we said we'd wait until the year was over. They obviously get first shot. I told them they'd get first shot at the end of the year. We'll see what happens.

     

    Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News believes that Hamilton's botched attempt to catch Yoenis Cesepedes' fly ball in the wild-card game will cost him as a free agent:

     

    If Rangers lose and make early exit from postseason, the Hamilton muff will have impact on Rangers' willingness to bid on him.

    — Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) October 3, 2012

     

    I'm not ready to subscribe to that line of thinking, but it certainly re-emphasizes the fact that Hamilton can go from mediocre defensive player to defensive liability in the blink of an eye.

    Dropped fly ball or not, Texas certainly makes sense on a number of levels, especially since they already know Hamilton's issues and have a support system in place to nip any issues in the bud when they arise.

    Whether Hamilton is willing to accept fewer years than he'd like to stay where he wants to play is the real question—that, and how willing he is to slide over to a corner spot permanently, which is something that he will have to do in his new home.

     

    Predicted Deal: Signs with the Detroit Tigers for three years, $67.5 million