Predicting Most Aggressive MLB Teams When Free Agency Opens
The 2012 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants was an absolute thriller—provided you owe your allegiance to the Giants, of course.
For the rest of us, this year's Fall Classic was one of the snooziest snoozers in recent memory. After being forced to endure it, I'm thinking all of us could do with a bit of excitement.
The "hot stove" season should do the trick. There won't be as many marquee free agents available as there were last year, but some big-name players will be looking for new homes, and quite a few teams out there have plenty of holes to fill and plenty of money to spend to fill them.
While we can't be sure which team is going to make the biggest splash in free agency, it's not overly hard to predict which teams are going to be aggressive players right out of the gate.
When free agency kicks off a few days from now, I'm betting that the following eight teams will start making some noise right away.
Washington's season met with a disappointing end, as the Nationals saw their 2012 campaign come to a close after they blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
On the whole, though, 2012 was a huge success for the Nationals. The franchise got to enjoy postseason baseball for the first time in over 30 years, and the Nats made it plenty clear that they're going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
The Nationals have a very solid core in place, so they won't need to spend a ton of money on marquee players in order to shore up their chances of going to the World Series in 2012. However, you can rest assured that they'll be willing to spend a good chunk of change now that they have an excited fanbase to keep the revenue rolling in next season.
With the club's season ending the way it did, Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post anticipates the Nationals overhauling their bullpen this winter. They picked a good year for such a task, as this year's crop of free agents features plenty of quality relievers.
Beyond their bullpen, the Nats will have to address their starting rotation if they fail to retain Edwin Jackson. There's also a train of thought that they will be in the market for a center fielder, as young phenom Bryce Harper is better off in right field for the long haul.
The Nats picked a very good year to be in the market for a center fielder. It's doubtful that they'll be in on Josh Hamilton, but they could kick the tires on guys like Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan.
I doubt that the Nats will spend exorbitant amounts of money this winter, but they will be an improved club come spring training. Not to mention a more expensive one.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are on this list pretty much by default. When are they ever not aggressive in free agency?
Indeed, the Yankees have one more year to play with before they have to abide by Hal Steinbrenner's wish to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014. As such, it wouldn't be such a huge shock if Brian Cashman goes in search of players he can sign to one-year deals this winter.
He'll certainly have plenty of areas to stash these players if that's the route he chooses to take. The Yankees have a long list of free agents coming off the books, and they're looking right at an offseason that could see them add a new right fielder, a new catcher, a new third baseman, rotation help and bullpen help.
Yeah, it's going to be a tension-filled winter for the Bombers, and things are going to be even more tense if Rafael Soriano opts out of his contract and Mariano Rivera decides to retire (the phrase "worst-case scenario" comes to mind).
I'll be shocked if the Yankees pursue any of the high-priced free agents on this year's market, a list that includes obvious targets like Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke and not-so-obvious targets like Delmon Young and Kyle Lohse.
Cashman will likely be content to fill his outfield and rotation needs by re-signing Ichiro and Hiroki Kuroda. Elsewhere, he'll look to round out the club's bullpen and bench with bargain buys.
It won't be as exciting as the 2008 offseason, to be sure, but one day we're all going to look up and realize that Cashman has already made a dozen or so major league free-agent signings and a few more minor league free-agent signings.
He did it last year, and he'll do it again this year.
San Francisco Giants
With two World Series titles in three years under their belts, the Giants have the makings of a dynasty. All the credit in the world is owed to GM Brian Sabean, who has made some truly terrific moves in the last two seasons.
But he better be ready to make some more in the very near future; he's going to have to.
The Giants have a ton of free agents set to hit the market. They won't have any interest in retaining Melky Cabrera once he is free to sign with other clubs, but the Giants will probably do everything they can to bring back Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt at the very least.
Even if Sabean does manage to retain those three, he'll still have some holes to patch up in his bullpen and left field that should probably be addressed. He should also be motivated to round out the team's bench and the team's starting pitching depth, which could be an issue if Tim Lincecum is forced into full-time bullpen duty in 2013.
Given the amount of success he's had in the last three years with cheaper, more under-the-radar players, it's hard to imagine Sabean breaking the bank for a big-name free agent. However, the hole the Giants have in left field makes them a dark horse to sign Hamilton, and Sabean is going to have a little extra wiggle room on his payroll once he declines Aubrey Huff's $10 million option for 2013.
For the record, Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com says that decision has already been made. The Giants just need to fill out the paperwork.
The core of the Giants will remain very much intact for 2013, but don't be surprised if next year's club features plenty of new faces. It's going to be a busy offseason in the Bay Area.
The Tigers made it all the way to the World Series, but it didn't take long for the Giants to highlight each and every one of Detroit's flaws. And they had a lot of them.
The Tigers' lineup is perilously thin outside of the core trio of Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, their bench is not particularly deep and we already knew that their bullpen was a mess.
Detroit's lineup will get a boost when Victor Martinez returns from his torn ACL next season, but this must not stop Dave Dombrowski from aggressively pursuing some help for the club's lineup. In particular, finding at least one quality outfielder is in his interest, as the guys who played alongside Jackson in 2012 continually left a lot to be desired.
Patching up the lineup and filling out the team's bench with better talent almost seem like secondary concerns compared to the repair job the bullpen is going to need this winter. Jose Valverde is a lock to be shown the door, and that will put Dombrowski in the market for a new closer. In addition, adding a couple quality setup men wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.
The Tigers have three very good starting pitchers locked up for 2013 in Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer, but the rotation will be a priority if Anibal Sanchez signs elsewhere. And if the Tigers are unable to afford him, Dombrowski won't be able to afford any of the other top starters on the market, meaning the Tigers' rotation could actually get a downgrade when all is said and done.
This is, of course, assuming that team owner Mike Ilitch doesn't have more millions lying around like he did when he lured Prince Fielder to town.
He surprised everyone then, and he may surprise everyone again.
Los Angeles Dodgers
But don't think that they're about to lie low this offseason. The Dodgers took on a ton of money through trades during the regular season, but Ned Colletti is backed by an ownership group that seems to care little about price tags after paying over $2 billion for the ball club last spring.
As such, consider the Dodgers an option for anyone and everyone. In particular, needs they'll be looking to fill include help in the outfield, bullpen and starting rotation.
Patching up the bullpen will probably end up being a simple matter of re-signing Brandon League, Jamey Wright and Randy Choate. Seeing as how they have three solid starting outfielders lined up for 2013 and beyond, Colletti will only be on the lookout for fourth outfielder types.
If he's going to spend a lot of money in any one area, it will be the club's starting rotation.
According to ESPNLosAngeles.com, Colletti said earlier this month that starting pitching is an area the Dodgers are going to have to "seriously look at," and the general thinking among the baseball punditry is that the Dodgers will have the best of the best in their sights.
That list includes Zack Greinke, Jake Peavy, Anibal Sanchez and Ryan Dempster. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com suggested that the Dodgers may even seek a reunion with Hiroki Kuroda.
In no particular order, I'd anticipate the Dodgers making a series of small moves and one very big move this winter.
Boston Red Sox
If they wanted to, the Red Sox could buy up every high-priced free agent on the market and they would probably still have some money left over.
Such is life when for a team that sent $250 million in salaries to the Los Angeles Dodgers back in August. They now have unparalleled financial wiggle room.
However, don't expect the Red Sox to make a move for any of the high-rent guys. Neither Josh Hamilton nor Zack Greinke will be relocating to Boston, and they can probably be counted out of the running for some of the second-tier guys as well.
This is not to say that they don't have holes to fill, nor is it to say that Ben Cherington won't be a very busy man this offseason. On the contrary, he's going to be very busy.
The first order of business for Cherington will be to re-sign David Ortiz and Cody Ross. It's been reported by Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com and others that Ortiz is as good as locked up. Alex Speier of WEEI.com has reported that Ross wants a deal similar to the three-year, $21 million contract that Josh Willingham got from the Minnesota Twins last winter, and my best guess is that he'll get it.
Once those two are signed, Cherington will need to find a new first baseman, a lot of pitching help and potentially a new left fielder as well.
The Red Sox won't be handing out any more Carl Crawford contracts, but they're definitely going to have a new look come spring training.
In a span of about two weeks, the Texas Rangers went from being the clear favorite in the American League to being barely good enough to earn a wild-card berth. Soon after, their season came to a bitter end.
It was a wake-up call for the Rangers, and now begins an offseason that will require them to make some hugely important decisions.
Above all, the Rangers need to make a decision on Josh Hamilton. Their partnership with him over the last five years has been a good one, but it got more than a little sour in 2012, and you just get the sense that the Rangers aren't going to retain Hamilton unless he agrees to take a hometown discount.
Hamilton isn't the only free agent the Rangers stand to lose. They also stand to lose slugging catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli, veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster and three solid relievers in Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe.
The bright side for the Rangers is that they only have about $87 million in salaries committed for the 2013 season, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. If they lose the bulk or even all of their own key free agents, they'll have plenty of payroll space to fill with free-agent signees.
The Rangers should be expected to go after one of the top hurlers on the market, regardless of whether it's Zack Greinke, Jake Peavy, Anibal Sanchez or Kyle Lohse. They're also likely going to need to find outfield and bullpen depth as well.
The Rangers opened the 2012 season with a payroll just north of $120 million. Even if they don't re-sign Hamilton, I'm expecting their payroll to take a hike for the 2013 season.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels were perceived to be the big winners of last year's offseason, as they were able to sign both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to massive contracts.
And then they missed the playoffs. Not exactly what they had in mind.
Making sure such a disappointment doesn't strike again in 2013 won't be easy. For starters, Angels GM Jerry DiPoto has some pretty tough in-house decisions to make.
The most pressing concern is what to do with the club's starting rotation. Both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have expensive options that the Angels are rightfully hesitant to pick up. DiPoto told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times that both options could be picked up, one of the two could be picked up, both players could be traded or one player could be traded.
Clearly, DiPoto is pretty conflicted on his options to say the least.
Beyond Haren and Santana, DiPoto also has to worry about re-signing trade deadline acquisition Zack Greinke. He's going to be the top starting pitcher on the market, and other interested parties could easily outbid the Angels for his services.
In addition to the club's rotation concerns, DiPoto also needs to concern himself with re-signing veteran right fielder Torii Hunter and shoring up a bullpen that costs the Angels a few too many wins during the regular season.
Regardless of whether DiPoto brings back familiar faces or finds fresh ones, he's going to have a ton of work to do in free agency in the coming weeks and months. Given the circumstances, it's in his interest to get the bulk of his to-do list out of the way as quickly as possible.
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