It’s finally one of the best times during the year: MLB free agency. It’s a time where teams get to rebuild their teams, rid themselves of the cancers that haunted them in 2012 and add the players necessary to make a run at a World Series championship in 2013.
This free-agent class isn’t as strong as we’ve seen in previous years, but there are definitely a couple of impact players that could push a team from the bottom of a division all the way up to the top and into the postseason.
The 2013 free-agent class is led by one of the best hitters in baseball, Josh Hamilton. He’s easily the best offensive threat available and is sure to get a large contract from someone. On the mound, Zack Greinke is clearly the best option.
Will either of these players go back to the teams that they played for in 2012, or will they try a change of scenery?
Aside from those two All-Stars, here’s a look at the three best free agents at each position.
1. Mike Napoli (.227/.343/.469, 24 HR, 56 RBI)
Although Mike Napoli doesn't get too many hits, he usually hits the ball hard and far when he does.
He's become one of the best power-hitting catchers in the league and is versatile enough to play first base as well. A team willing to bet that 2012 was just a fluke, compared to his 2011 numbers, could be making a great investment.
2. A.J. Pierzynski (.278/.326/.501, 27 HR, 77 RBI)
Teams looking for a veteran catcher to help with the pitching staff will definitely be calling A.J. Pierzynski's agent. He still shows a ton of power and can hit in the heart or middle portion of the lineup. Pierzynski is more likely to go year-to-year with contracts until he decides to retire.
3. Russell Martin (.211/.311/.403, 21 HR, 53 RBI)
Russell Martin was a big asset at the bottom of the New York Yankees lineup over the past two years. His power has definitely increased since coming over to the Bronx Bombers from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that could be due to the short porch in right field. Still, he'd be a good addition to virtually any team.
1. Adam LaRoche (.271/.343/.510, 33 HR, 100 RBI)
After a disastrous start to Adam LaRoche's Washington Nationals career in 2011, he certainly proved his worth in 2012.
LaRoche was a beast for the NL East-winning Nationals, slugging home run after home run. He got hits, he drove in runs and he scored runs. He may re-sign with Washington, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson, but other teams should try to outbid the Nats.
2. Lance Berkman (.259/.381/.444, 2 HR, 7 RBI)
Lance Berkman missed most of the season with injuries and isn't sure if he'll retire or play in 2013, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. If he decides to play, teams will have to evaluate his knee and whether he's capable of playing every day or not. Berkman might be a better fit in the American League, where he can DH.
3. Carlos Pena (.197/.330/.354, 19 HR, 61 RBI)
Carlos Pena is now known as a lean, mean strikeout machine, and that's not a good thing. He still can boost a lineup as a first baseman or DH but has to work on lowering his strikeout rate.
Pena seems to prefer playing for the Tampa Bay Rays, but after a bad year, it will be interesting to see if they give him a contract. He can still provide some power and drive in runs, but the team that signs him will have to deal with his plate issues.
1. Marco Scutaro (.306/.348/.405, 7 HR, 74 RBI)
The NLCS MVP and World Champion second baseman is bound to get a nice contract, right?
He's been consistent at the plate in his career and has proven that he can hit in the postseason. Which team needing a second baseman or shortstop wouldn't be intrigued about signing Scutaro to a one- or two-year contract?
2. Kelly Johnson (.225/.313/.365, 16 HR, 55 RBI)
Kelly Johnson is right on the line of starting for a bad team or being one of the first guys off the bench for a good team. He hits for power, but he just didn't get that many hits.
Granted, he hasn't played on the best of teams over the course of his career, but he should still be able to create some value for whoever is interested in signing him.
3. Ryan Theriot (.270/.316/.321, 0 HR, 28 RBI)
Ryan Theriot is probably the best backup second baseman option on the free-agent market. I don't think that he's capable of being a starter any longer and would bring more to a team looking for a utility infielder. He can play basically any infield position and some outfield as well.
1. Stephen Drew (.223/.309/.348, 7 HR, 28 RBI)
Stephen Drew is easily the top shortstop on the market, just because he's capable of playing on a daily basis for a playoff contender.
We saw this in the second half of the season with the Oakland Athletics. Drew won't make a major impact in the lineup but can hold his own and also play solid defensively. There's a chance that he returns to Oakland in 2013, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
2. Alex Gonzalez (.259/.326/.457, 4 HR, 15 RBI)
Alex Gonzalez missed most of the season after tearing his ACL and is a free agent after failing to meet the vesting option in his contract.
I'm not confident that he can still start, but he may find a starting role with a subpar team. He should still be able to hit, but he is an aging veteran and will clearly get a one-year deal.
3. Jason Bartlett (.133/.240/.193, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
Much like Alex Gonzalez, Jason Bartlett failed to meet his vesting option requirements, and he's now a free agent. He had a poor year due to injuries and is no longer the starting shortstop that he once was.
A backup role for Bartlett is in the very near future, assuming he even receives a contract during the offseason.
1. Kevin Youkilis (.235/.336/.409, 19 HR, 60 RBI)
Kevin Youkilis does have his injury issues as he continues to age, as he'll turn 34 this offseason. He didn't have a great year playing for both the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox in 2012, but could be a valuable asset if he can stay healthy.
Youkilis has lost his consistency, but he did turn his season around somewhat after the mid-year trade. He's more than capable of playing first base as well. The White Sox do have some interest in bringing him back, according to Jim Margalus of South Side Sox.
2. Eric Chavez (.281/.348/.496, 16 HR, 37 RBI)
Eric Chavez couldn't have stepped up more this season with the New York Yankees, playing very well when Alex Rodriguez was injured and playing poorly. I see him heading back to New York just in case the Yankees decide to part ways with A-Rod, or if they just want him to DH against right-handed pitchers.
3. Placido Polanco (.257/.302/.327, 2 HR, 19 RBI)
The former everyday second baseman turned third baseman will be one of the best bangs for your buck. He isn't going to earn anything close to what he was over the last three years, as he's a few years away from celebrating his 40th birthday.
He's still serviceable at both positions, which does make him an intriguing option, whether as a starter or backup.
1. Josh Hamilton (.285/.354/.577, 43 HR, 128 RBI)
Well, this one doesn't need much explanation. He's one of the best players in the game and is the most attractive position player on the free-agent market. Josh Hamilton is an MVP candidate year in and year out and will be paid like one within the next couple of months.
2. Melky Cabrera (.346/.390/.516, 11 HR, 60 RBI)
Melky Cabrera's free-agent status is one of the more interesting stories this offseason. Cabrera was suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and missed a good chunk of the season for it. At the time, however, he was having quite the year and leading the league in hitting.
3. Shane Victorino (.255/.321/.383, 11 HR, 55 RBI)
The Flyin' Hawaiian is a great option for a team looking for a veteran, top-of-the-lineup guy that can win you games. He's solid defensively in basically any of the three outfield positions and had some interest in re-signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.
1. Michael Bourn (.274/.348/.391, 9 HR, 57 RBI)
Teams looking for a center fielder have several good options, as it may be the deepest position this offseason. Michael Bourn tops all center fielders with his ability to play great defensively and offensively.
He's a speedster that has the ability to lead off in a lineup and instantly make it around the bases to score a run.
2. Angel Pagan (.288/.338/.440, 8 HR, 56 RBI)
Angel Pagan emerged as one of the top outfielders in baseball during the playoffs and will definitely be rewarded for it. He's always playing hard and produces like an All-Star at the same time.
Pagan wasn't very successful during his time with the New York Mets, but he made up for it with the world champion San Francisco Giants. Chris Haft of MLB.com expects him to earn at least $10 million per year in a multi-year deal.
3. B.J. Upton (.246/.298/.454, 28 HR, 78 RBI)
B.J. Upton had a breakout year in 2012 with the Tampa Bay Rays, showing how much power he actually has. He's a speedy outfielder who set a new career high in home runs with 28, while also racking up 29 doubles.
The Texas Rangers may have interest in Upton, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, but they see him more as a corner outfielder.
1. Nick Swisher (.272/.364/.473, 24 HR, 93 RBI)
Nick Swisher isn't expected to return to the New York Yankees next season, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, which means that teams should jump at the opportunity to land him.
He's a switch-hitting corner outfielder who can also play first base or DH. He can slap doubles into the corner or slug home runs to either field.
2. Cody Ross (.267/.326/.481, 22 HR, 81 RBI)
Cody Ross is probably going to head back to the Boston Red Sox despite their poor season, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI. Ross had a very successful first year in Boston in 2012, stepping up when several key pieces of the lineup were injured or underperforming.
3. Torii Hunter (.313/.365/.451, 16 HR, 92 RBI)
Torii Hunter may be old, but he's still a valuable player. He had a great year with the Los Angeles Angels last season, setting a new career high in hitting and knocking at least 15 home runs out of the park for the seventh straight season.
1. David Ortiz (.318/.415/.611, 23 HR, 60 RBI)
The Boston Red Sox and David Ortiz aren't very close to a new contract, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, but I still expect him to return on a two-year deal.
He's one of the few DHs in the league who can't really play a position. He can play first base during interleague play, but that's about all. He's still one of the top power hitters in baseball when he's healthy.
2. Delmon Young (.267/.296/.411, 18 HR, 74 RBI)
The AL champion Detroit Tigers won't be bringing Delmon Young back in 2013, according to George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. He's a strong hitter but strikes out a ton. He's not a great outfielder either, which makes a DH role much more suitable for him.
3. Luke Scott (.229/.285/.439, 14 HR, 55 RBI)
Luke Scott probably won't be back in Tampa Bay for another season, which means he'll have to find a new team that's looking for a DH, first baseman or corner outfielder. He's really underperformed the past two seasons, which will hurt him in the negotiation process.
1. Zack Greinke (15-5, 3.48 ERA, 212.1 IP)
Zack Greinke is easily the top arm on the market. The right-hander will absolutely receive an offer from his most recent team, the Los Angeles Angels, who are clearing up payroll to give him a big contract, according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.
Greinke was having a good year with the Milwaukee Brewers before the Angels dealt for him. He proved that he could pitch in one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
2. Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA, 211 IP)
Kyle Lohse was a monster for the St. Louis Cardinals this year with rotation leader Chris Carpenter sidelined for nearly the entire season. He won a career-high 16 games and also pitched pretty well during the postseason.
Lohse will be very picky about who he signs with, as he's looking to pitch for a winner, according to B.J. Rains of Fox Sports Midwest.
3. Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA, 195.2 IP)
The Detroit Tigers are very interested in re-signing Anibal Sanchez after acquiring him midseason from the Miami Marlins, according to George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press.
Sanchez was a big asset for the AL champion Tigers down the stretch and in the postseason. He had some rough patches during his Marlins career and clearly needed to play for a contender.
1. Rafael Soriano (2-1, 2.26 ERA, 42 SV)
Unless Mariano Rivera retires, I don't foresee the New York Yankees bringing Rafael Soriano back. He pitched extraordinarily well for the Bronx Bombers when Rivera got hurt, and I don't think he wants to be a setup man any more. He is expecting a four-year deal with whoever he signs with, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
2. Jose Valverde (3-4, 3.78 ERA, 35 SV)
The Detroit Tigers aren't going to bring Jose Valverde back after a tough season and an even tougher postseason. He is still capable of closing but may be better fit for a setup man role, or he could join a team with some competition at closer for motivation to pitch better.
He couldn't get the job done in the playoffs, as Phil Coke took over the closer role.
3. Joakim Soria (didn't pitch in 2012)
Joakim Soria missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he should be back and ready to pitch by spring training. Soria was once one of the better closers in baseball for one of the worst teams in baseball.
Now that he's free from the Kansas City Royals, he should look for a job where he can win. It would be interesting if he took the setup man job with the New York Yankees, but that's pure speculation on my part.