The right criteria can translate 2013 MLB free agents into old-fashioned letter grades. This position-by-position list attempts to do so with the top available players.
Grades simply reflect current playing ability. They factor in batting, pitching, fielding, baserunning, durability and intangibles, but not contract demands or perceived "signability." In this relatively weak free-agent class, nobody—not even Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton or Mariano Rivera—scored a perfect A+.
Keen readers will notice that several individuals appear on multiple slides. Having flaunted their defensive versatility in the recent past, those exceptions are potential fits at several spots on the diamond.
Feel free to report any cases of players being misjudged or snubbed.
1. Russell Martin: B
Martin contributes enough extra-base hits to compensate for a low batting average.
The catcher's greatest assets are his age and defensive skills.
2. A.J. Pierzynski: B
Pierzynski poised himself for a nice payday with great offensive production, but another season of .501 slugging is improbable for the soon-to-be 36-year-old. Buyer beware.
On the other hand, he's very durable.
3. Mike Napoli: B-
He has never caught 1,000 innings in a single summer and probably never will. Napoli fits better on a team with first base/designated hitter needs.
The All-Star possesses as much right-handed power as any available individual.
However, his 2011 season (.320/.414/.631 with 30 HR) is misleading. Frequent swings-and-misses and an extreme upper-cut will prevent Napoli from matching those triple-slash numbers in the future.
1. Adam LaRoche: A-
LaRoche really sticks out among a weak crop of first basemen. He can use several of the same selling points that Mark Teixeira did four years ago to collect $180 million.
Alas, there are factors limiting his earning power, including his 33 years of age and high strikeout rate.
2. Mike Napoli: B
Napoli grades slightly higher at this position because his defense isn't as much of a detriment.
He has more than 1,000 innings of MLB experience at first base.
3. Kevin Youkilis: B
Primarily known as a third baseman, Youk has plenty of experience at both corner infield spots.
Unfortunately, he annually lands on the disabled list with nagging injuries. Interested teams better prepare for his arrival with a satisfactory back-up plan.
He continues to preach patience at the plate.
1. Marco Scutaro: B+
After primarily playing shortstop with the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox, he shifted to the opposite side of the middle infield this past season.
Versatility is a great asset for Scutaro. He filled important voids when Troy Tulowitzki and Pablo Sandoval missed time.
He's also among the best contact hitters in baseball today.
2. Jeff Keppinger: B
Similarities abound between this veteran and the aforementioned Scutaro.
Both selflessly move around the diamond to suit team needs. They are each experts at putting the ball in play.
But realize that their defensive styles don't compare. Keppinger's sure-handedness doesn't make up for his limited range.
3. Kelly Johnson: B
Johnson is a second baseman with formidable power and base-stealing ability.
However, the holes in his swing will always limit his batting average and value as a situation hitter.
1. Marco Scutaro: B
He isn't ideal on the left side at 37 years of age, but nobody more reputable is available at this thin position.
2. Stephen Drew: C+
Drew could provide double-digit home runs if healthy for an entire season.
He's playoff-tested and an above-average defender.
3. Alex Gonzalez: C
The journeyman underwent ACL surgery in mid-May. Unfortunately, he's fixed at a position that puts a lot of strain on one's knees.
His on-base skills aren't great, but Gonzalez can be a home run threat.
1. Kevin Youkilis: B
He'll never win a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger at the hot corner with Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman scattered across both leagues.
Of course, Youkilis isn't competing with any of them in free agency. Clubs should contact his agent before anybody else's.
2. Jeff Keppinger: B-
Despite his eagerness to cover up holes around the infield, Keppinger lacks the arm strength to play third base properly.
3. Scott Rolen: B-
We've probably seen the last of Rolen, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
Scott Rolen is preparing for retirement, but will delay any official announcement. #Reds— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 11, 2012
4. Eric Chavez: C
He's no longer an everyday option.
Considering the dramatic platoon splits, Chavez shouldn't be exposed to southpaws.
1. Josh Hamilton: A-
He won't provide much bang for the buck, especially if a desperate team commits $175 million (via John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus).
The 2010 AL MVP comes with obvious upside, but highly questionable durability and the demons of past alcohol/drug addiction.
Hamilton's free-swinging nature leaves him susceptible to prolonged slumps (e.g. June-July 2012).
2. Ryan Ludwick: B
Set aside Ludwick's tenures with the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates. When surrounded by contending teams and hitter-friendly conditions, he has been very productive.
The 34-year-old is somewhat of a defensive liability.
3. Cody Ross: B
Ross is similar to Hamilton in terms of age and plate discipline.
He barely played left field last season, though he logged 530 defensive innings at the position in 2011.
A chunk of his next contract ought to be donated to Fenway Park. Dominating there in 2012 (.298/.356/.565 with 13 HR) positioned him to sign a three-year deal.
4. Melky Cabrera: B
Taking performance-enhancing drugs and creating a fake website to cover up the wrongdoing shows that the Melk Man has zero integrity.
But can he play? The answer is less definitive.
Cabrera in 2011 form (.305/.339/.470 with 18 HR, 20 SB) would easily climb to No. 2 in this group of left fielders. On the other hand, he was a glorified reserve the summer before (.255/.317/.354 with 4 HR, 7 SB).
We just don't know.
1. Michael Bourn: A-
In addition to his terrific defensive skills, Bourn can steal bases often and efficiently. There's no fear of those talents eroding as he enters his age-30 season.
2. Josh Hamilton: A-
His powerful arm gets more use in center field, but so do his legs. Hamilton probably wouldn't last six months without wearing down.
Playing him predominantly in left ensures that his potent bat stays in the lineup.
3. B.J. Upton: B
Upton has yet to hit his ceiling. Nonchalance might prevent him from ever getting there.
He's basically a hybrid of those who rank above him.
4. Angel Pagan: B
Pagan's strengths conformed nicely to AT&T Park last year, but he needs to get back to doing the little things correctly.
He uncharacteristically struggled to deliver with teammates in scoring position (via Baseball-Reference.com).
This free agent would be valuable in any venue with spacious gaps.
5. Shane Victorino: B
The Flyin' Hawaiian underwhelmed in his contract year. He recorded a career-low .704 OPS and career-high 80 strikeouts.
There's plenty of bounce-back potential for the two-time NL All-Star.
1. Nick Swisher: B+
Minus his 2008 season in Chicago, Swisher has been the epitome of consistency. Teams can expect adequate defense, a great on-base percentage and 25-30 home runs per year.
He's a solid addition to any clubhouse...so long as his enthusiasm doesn't rub players the wrong way.
2. Torii Hunter: B+
Hunter's 2012 batting average was pretty fluky. I'm sure suitors would be content with him finishing at or around his .277 career mark.
His leadership ability, playoff experience and steady fielding make a multi-year investment worthwhile.
3. Ichiro Suzuki: B
The future Hall of Famer is far from washed up. A change of scenery—and escape from cavernous Safeco Field—proved to be the cure to his offensive woes.
However, his swing has slowed down, which means no more batting titles.
Suzuki's over-aggressive nature and ground-ball tendency can end rallies in their infancy.
4. Cody Ross: B
Opposite foul line, same player.
1. Lance Berkman: B
Big Puma sent a mixed message prior to the World Series. His comment to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com: "I hate the DH, even though it might prolong my career."
Berkman's power and plate discipline make him a reputable, middle-of-the-order bat.
2. Raul Ibanez: C+
His on-base skills have deteriorated over the past two seasons and he'll turn 41 next June.
Though Ibanez is a great clubhouse presence, he's merely a platoon player at this point.
3. Delmon Young: C
Young's regular-season performance barely merits a major league contract.
Weight gain inhibits him from being an effective baserunner, and his reluctance to take pitches is another detriment.
1. Zack Greinke: A
Effective pitching in front of L.A. crowds down the stretch dispelled any concerns that he would be intimidated in a large market.
Greinke is in his prime and complicating his approach with cut fastballs. The right-hander has dominated both leagues, though it has been more than two years since his last complete game.
2. Anibal Sanchez: B+
Sanchez resembles Greinke in terms of age, velocity and pitch selection.
He lacks the "wow" factor, however, with a resume devoid of Cy Young's and All-Star appearances. Also, teams cannot overlook his pre-2010 health issues.
3. Hiroki Kuroda: B+
Few National League starting pitchers in recent memory made a smoother transition to the AL.
After excelling in the Big Apple (16-11, 3.32 ERA, 219.2 IP), Kuroda could find work just about anywhere.
4. Kyle Lohse: B+
The beneficiary of a fortunate BABIP for the second straight summer, Lohse fits best on teams with athletic fielders.
5. Edwin Jackson: B
Baseball people expected Jackson to one day emerge as a superstar starting pitcher. Since 2007, his first full season in a major league rotation, he has only been inching toward that prophecy.
At least Jackson takes the mound every fifth day. Plus, he posted a career-best 1.22 WHIP in 2012.
6. Dan Haren: B
MLB suitors have reason to be deterred by Haren's lackluster 2012 campaign. His fastball velocity plummeted (via FanGraphs) and his pitch counts rose in the early innings.
However, all indications suggest that the 32-year-old will return to form and age gracefully. Throwing strikes early and often is a key to his success, and the right-hander continues to do just that.
1. Mariano Rivera: A
Erik Boland of Newsday tweets that the greatest closer of all time is officially interested in returning.
Craig Kimbrel and Sergio Romo are perhaps the only relievers in the sport who could be trusted more entering 2013.
2. Rafael Soriano: A-
Soriano is adamant about closing, evidence of both his confidence and selfishness.
Only two 30-save closers from a season ago are available in free agency. Considering that the other is Jose Valverde, the bidding for Soriano's services should escalate quickly.
3. Mike Adams: A-
September struggles spoiled what would've been another terrific year for the right-hander. The numbing sensation associated with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is to blame, and Adams has since had surgery to address it.
He's equipped with a nasty cutter that will help him induce weak contact at any velocity.
4. Koji Uehara: B+
Uehara's strikeout-to-walk ratio as an MLB reliever is unfathomable (10.76). That ability to command will fetch him a multi-year guarantee.
But staying healthy has been an issue for him in the past.
5. Jeremy Affeldt: B+
A scoreless postseason (10 appearances) did wonders for his free-agent stock.
Affeldt is a rare breed of left-hander reliever who has no difficulty retiring right-handed batters. Suitors ought to offer him closing opportunities to deter him from re-signing with the San Francisco Giants.
6. Ryan Madson: B
Tommy John surgery has an incredible long-term success rate, though the first year back from it tends to vary depending on the individual.
With the proper speed differential between his fastball and changeup, Madson will return to glory.