2013 MLB Free Agency: A Comprehensive Guide to This Year's Market
With the parade for the world champion San Francisco Giants now wrapped up, the real business of baseball takes center stage.
The Hot Stove has now officially begun, and for dozens of players on the open market, their window of opportunity is now upon them.
Bleacher Report will present to you a comprehensive guide to free agency this offseason. With the changes in the new collective bargaining agreement, there are a few distinct changes, and we'll highlight those changes as we move along.
This is the time of year when each team's front office personnel puts their heads together to construct their team for next season and beyond.
In other words, right now is their season.
We'll go over key dates—some of which are already upon us—the process of arbitration and we'll take a look at some of the bigger names on the free agent market as well.
1. Players No Longer Have to File for Free Agency
In the past, every player who was eligible was required to file for free agency.
That's no longer the case.
With the changes made to the new collective bargaining agreement signed last November, players no longer have to file—they automatically become free agents the day following the World Series.
On Monday, over 160 players were automatically without a team.
2. Deadline for Exercising or Declining Contract Option Years
In the three days following the end of the World Series, each team is required to either exercise or decline option years on contracts for their players. By extension, players who have mutual options must also make their decision by midnight EDT on Wednesday as well.
The past three days saw a bevy of decisions, as each team was tasked with making those decisions.
The New York Yankees exercised the options years on the contracts of second baseman Robinson Cano and centerfielder Curtis Granderson ($15 million each). However, reliever Rafael Soriano chose to opt out of his contract that called for $14 million in 2013.
The New York Mets exercised options for third baseman David Wright ($16 million) and starting pitcher R.A. Dickey ($5 million).
The Chicago White Sox declined option years for third baseman Kevin Youkilis ($13 million) and reliever Brett Myers ($10 million). They in turn used the savings to re-sign starting pitcher Jake Peavy to a two-year, $29 million contract with a vesting option for the 2015 season.
The Atlanta Braves exercised the options for catcher Brian McCann and starting pitchers Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm at a total cost of $27.5 million.
The American League champion Detroit Tigers exercised the options of shortstop Jhonny Peralta ($6 million) and reliever Octavio Dotel ($3.5 million).
Many other decisions are still left to be made as of this writing, and the players involved will know by midnight on Wednesday whether or not they're still employed by their current teams or will be shopping their services elsewhere.
3. Qualifying Offers Due
Another change in the new collective bargaining agreement involves qualifying offers and changes in compensation.
Here is a look at the current rules governing qualifying offers:
-- Each team has five days from the end of the World Series (Nov. 2) to make qualifying offers to its own free agents.
-- Players then have seven days to accept or decline the qualifying offer.
-- Qualifying offers are based on the average value of the top 125 salaries in the 2012 season, approximately $13 million. The offer is for one year, and the qualifying offer is the same for each free agent who is offered the contract by their team.
-- The players who receive a qualifying offer can either accept or decline. If the offer is declined, once the player signs with a new team, the new team surrenders its top draft pick.
-- The new team who forfeits its first-round pick when a free agent is signed does not give that pick to the player's former team. The first round simply becomes condensed.
-- The team losing the free agent player will receive a compensatory pick at the end of the first round if it made a qualifying offer to its player.
-- If a team is holding a top-10 draft pick for 2013, it will not lose that selection. It would forfeit their next-highest draft pick if it signs a free agent who declined a qualifying offer from their former team.
-- For any player who did not receive a qualifying offer from their former team, they are free to sign with any team without compensation involved.
-- If a player was traded midseason, the team acquiring that player is not eligible for compensation.
Does that make sense?
4. When Making a Qualifying Offer Doesn't Make Sense
Not every free agent is going to automatically receive a qualifying offer from their former teams.
For example, Detroit Tigers left fielder/designated hitter Delmon Young automatically became a free agent on Monday. However, Young made $6.75 million in the 2012 season.
If the Tigers made a qualifying offer to Young, they would essentially be doubling Young's 2012 salary by making the offer.
The point is moot, since Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has already stated the team won't be considering bringing Young back at this point.
But you get the picture.
5. Let the Free-Agency Fun Begin
Six days following the end of the World Series—Saturday, Nov. 3—is the date that all free agents can begin negotiating with teams other than their former clubs.
While there have been times in previous years where free agency was a literal free-for-all all winter long, many of the major signings take place during the MLB Winter Meetings.
Nashville, TN is the stage for this year's meetings between Dec. 3-6.
If it's anything like last year, when key free agents Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle were all signed during the meetings in Dallas, it could be a very active week once again.
6. Arbitration Eligibility
Any MLB player with more than three years of service time is eligible for arbitration. Players and teams submit salary offers for a new contract.
This year, the deadline for teams to tender a contract to any arbitration-eligible player is Nov. 30. For players who have accumulated over six years of service time, it's a bit trickier.
If a free agent has declined a qualifying offer but has not yet signed with another team, they have the option of accepting arbitration with their former team. Once they do so, they are locked into a contract for the following season. The contract is either negotiated by the team and player before reaching arbitration, or the arbiter decides what the salary will be.
An example of this was Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. Last year, the Red Sox offered Ortiz a two-year, $18 million contract that was declined. Since Ortiz did not receive better offers from other teams, he accepted arbitration in early December. The two sides agreed on a one-year, $14.75 million contract shortly before a scheduled arbitration hearing.
Any player who is not offered arbitration by Nov. 30 is considered a non-tender free agent and is free to sign with any team.
7. Baseball's Winter Meetings
The Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, TN will be abuzz with activity starting on Dec. 3.
That's when the annual baseball Winter Meetings take place, and it's generally a period of frenetic activity during the free-agency period.
Last year, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Aaron Harang were all signed during the meetings, representing nearly $500 million alone.
While this year's crop of free agents isn't quite as enticing, Nashville will still likely be a hot spot as team officials, agents and players all scramble for face time.
8. January, 2013: Arbitration Figures Are Submitted
In the month of January, teams and players submit their salary figures for the purposes of arbitration. Once those figures are exchanged, a time is set for month of February for a certified MLB arbiter to rule one way or the other.
The two sides can also negotiate a contract between the time figures are submitted up to the time of the arbitration hearing.
Last offseason, only seven of 142 total arbitration cases actually made it before an arbiter, representing just five percent.
Garrett Jones, Jose Veras, John Lannan, Jeff Niemann and Brad Bergesen all lost their respective cases, with Emilio Bonifacio and Anibal Sanchez—both of the Miami Marlins—the only two players winning theirs.
9. February, 2013: Arbitration Cases Are Heard
The entire month of February is when arbitration cases are heard by independent arbiters. However, as seen in our previous slide, the vast majority of cases never reach that phase.
Still, it's a process where each side presents a case as to why their offer should be declared the winner. Teams will present a case in which a player's performance is assessed. Players in turn will cite their accomplishments as to why their salary figure should be awarded.
The process can be messy, with both sides arguing based on strengths and weaknesses. Each side is given one hour each to make their presentations, followed by a 30-minute rebuttal period.
A panel of arbitrators then submits their ruling, generally within a 48-hour period.
10. A Look at the Top 10 Free Agents This Offseason
Now that the free agency and arbitration process has been dissected and analyzed, we'll take a look at the top free agents for the class of 2013.
This winter's crop isn't considered to be nearly as strong as last year, but there certainly are some players out there who could help in changing the fortunes of their new teams.
11. Hiroki Kuroda
After signing a one-year, $10 million deal with the New York Yankees, starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda delivered in a big way.
Kuroda posted a 16-11 record and 3.32 ERA in 33 starts with an equally impressive 1.165 WHIP, demonstrating the sharp command that has defined his game.
According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, Kuroda would be content with another one-year deal, preferring to keep his options open in case he wants to return to Japan following next season.
12. Anibal Sanchez
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez is likely to be sought after by quite a few teams following his impressive showing in the postseason.
Sanchez posted a 2.43 ERA in his final six regular season starts before bearing down even more in the postseason.
In three playoff starts, Sanchez posted a 1.77 ERA that included an impressive seven-inning performance against the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that he would love to bring Sanchez back. The Tigers are not eligible for compensation should Sanchez sign with another team because he was traded midseason.
13. Shaun Marcum
Starting pitcher Shaun Marcum will be an interesting case study this offseason as teams try to his assess his long-term value.
While Marcum is one of the top pitchers available on the open market, the words "when healthy" clearly apply.
Marcum made only 21 starts in 2012, missing two months with right elbow tightness. This would be a concern for any pitcher, but especially for one who has already undergone Tommy John surgery.
There's no question Marcum can deliver, posting a 33-19 record and 3.62 ERA in the three seasons following his surgery. But at this point, durability is the chief concern, and teams will be hesitant to reward Marcum with more than a two-or-three year deal as a result.
14. B.J. Upton
The first of three centerfielders on this list, B.J. Upton has tremendous upside for teams considering his services.
First, he's just 28 years old and just coming into his prime years. Second, he can deliver with his bat and his legs—a career-high 28 homers this past season and a fifth straight year with at least 30 stolen bases.
However, teams will also have to consider that Upton can be an enigma at times with the bat. He registered his third straight season with at least 160 strikeouts and his fourth straight year with a batting average less than .250.
Still, with this year's market for position players not considered strong, Upton will likely get a lucrative multi-year deal.
15. Kyle Lohse
With a 30-11 record and 3.11 ERA over his past two seasons, free-agent starting pitcher Kyle Lohse figures to generate strong interest this winter.
Lohse contributed mightily to the success of the St. Louis Cardinals over the past two seasons. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported last month that an MLB exec told him that Lohse could be in line for a three-year, $45 million deal.
16. Nick Swisher
Right fielder Nick Swisher is nothing if not consistent.
Over his career, Swisher has averaged 28 HR and 90 RBI based on a 162-game schedule, and year after year, he has fallen somewhere within those parameters.
It's the postseason stats that may work against Swisher.
Swisher has a career .169 average during the playoffs with just four homers and eight RBI in 48 postseason games.
It had been reported over two months ago that Swisher was looking for a contract similar to the one signed by Jayson Werth of the Washington Nationals (seven years, $126 million).
That may be a bit of a reach, but several teams who are in dire need of a strong outfield bat will make a push for his services.
17. Brandon McCarthy
Injuries are certainly a concern for starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy, but he's shown when healthy that he's become an elite pitcher. Over the past two seasons, McCarthy has posted a 3.29 ERA and walks just over 1.5 batters per nine innings.
McCarthy's command and control lends itself well to several teams looking for help at the top of their rotation.
Oakland Athletics general Billy Beane has already expressed a strong desire to retain McCarthy, and he'll likely have to outbid other teams who are intent on bolstering their starting rotations.
18. Michael Bourn
Free-agent centerfielder Michael Bourn shined as a leadoff presence for the Atlanta Braves last season. His season-adjusted slashline of .274/.348/.391 slashline was a career-best.
Throw in sparkling defense and blazing speed, and you have a player that will absolutely generate interest among several teams this winter.
19. Zack Greinke
Starting pitcher Zack Greinke is without question the most prized pitcher in this winter's free-agent class.
The Los Angeles Angels traded three top-25 prospects (Jean Segura, John Hellweg, Ariel Pena) to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Greinke in late July. For what they sacrificed, they'll be doing all they can to lock Greinke up long-term.
However, other teams will no doubt be in the mix as well, so it's certainly no guarantee that Angels GM Jerry DiPoto can be successful.
He's certainly trying, however. On Wednesday, DiPoto dealt pitcher Ervin Santana to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for minor league pitcher Brandon Sisk. The move freed up a potential $13 million for the Halos.
Word is that DiPoto is trying to deal pitcher Dan Haren before the end of the day on Friday, freeing up even more cash.
Then it will be up to DiPoto to pull the string on signing Greinke. He'd have a whole lot of egg on his face if his efforts weren't successful after all the wheeling and dealing.
20. Josh Hamilton
No question the top player on this year's free-agent list, outfielder Josh Hamilton and his contract will generate much buzz over the coming weeks.
Hamilton hit 43 HR and 128 RBI during the season, but slumped terribly in the months of June and July and in the final days of the regular season when his Texas Rangers most needed him.
Owner Nolan Ryan expressed concern earlier this month about Hamilton attempting to quit smokeless tobacco in the middle of the season.
Teams will attempt to weight various factors in regard to Hamilton's worth, including his past substance abuse issues, injury history and streaky nature of his play.
An MLB executive who spoke with Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com said that Hamilton could receive a five-year, $150 million contract. That would represent the largest annual salary in baseball.
The Rangers will most likely make a qualifying offer in order to receive compensation in next year's draft should Hamilton sign somewhere else. But they've also said they'll let the process play itself out as well.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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