MLB Free Agency 2013: Updating Each Team's Top Target Entering Free-Agent Frenzy
You've salivated over the thought of watching Josh Hamilton hit in the middle of your favorite team's lineup; you've gotten giddy like a kid on Christmas morning thinking about having Zack Greinke take the ball every fifth day for your favorite club.
From fans to front offices, everyone wants the best of the best to comprise their team's 25-man roster on opening day.
But alas, there's only one Josh Hamilton, only one Zack Greinke. Twenty-nine of the 30 teams in MLB are sure to be disappointed when they don't land that star player.
That's not to say that your favorite team won't wind up with said star due to a lack of trying, as every general manager in the game will assemble the most effective sales team they can and put their best foot forward in an attempt to nab their primary free-agent target this winter.
Let's take a look at who those players are.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Hiroki Kuroda
Diamondbacks CEO and president Derrick Hall told D-Backs fans during his monthly chat on MLB.com that the team is looking to improve the left side of its infield, something that makes sense given that it traded both 3B Ryan Roberts and SS Stephen Drew last season.
While it went out and acquired SS Cliff Pennington from the A's in the Chris Young trade, it'll likely need to look to the trade market again for a third baseman, as it's slim pickings via free agency. So it'll turn to their two other areas of need: backup catcher and an innings-eating starter.
Enter Hiroki Kuroda, 37, who is coming off of an excellent season for the Yankees, one that saw him throw 219 regular season innings, the second season in a row that he's eclipsed the 200-inning mark.
Kuroda isn't going to command a long-term contract, and his familiarity with the NL West after spending the first four years of his major league career with the Dodgers makes him a perfect fit for a young Diamondbacks rotation.
Atlanta Braves: CF Michael Bourn
While the Braves have never wavered from their stance that they wanted to keep Michael Bourn in center field for the foreseeable future, it's looking more and more unlikely that Bourn's time in Atlanta might be over.
CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury says that Bourn and his agent, Scott Boras, are looking for a lucrative, multi-year deal in the $100 million range, a figure that would certainly take the Braves out of the running if the report is accurate.
But there's no guarantee that any team is going to be willing to invest so much in Bourn. While the Braves made him the $13.3 qualifying offer, that was done not because they think he'd accept it, but so the team can recoup draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere.
Regardless, you can be sure that Braves GM Frank Wren will continue to try to work out a deal to retain his centerfielder until he's exhausted every avenue and is forced to turn his attention to other areas of the team.
Baltimore Orioles: Josh Hamilton, LF
According to Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi, Josh Hamilton sits atop the Orioles' shopping list this winter.
Hamilton, injury-prone and someone with plenty of baggage, is without question the most explosive offensive player available on the open market.
Obviously, if the above report from Baseball Prospectus' John Perotto is accurate, Baltimore probably doesn't have a chance.
But there isn't a team in baseball who is going to give Hamilton that kind of a deal, not with so many question marks surrounding him.
An outfield, from left to right, of Hamilton, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis would be the most explosive in the game.
Boston Red Sox: Kyle Lohse, RHP
Multiple teams will be looking to sign 34-year-old Kyle Lohse after he went 30-11 and had a 3.11 ERA over the past two years, but he's almost certain to be Plan B after teams try and persuade Zack Greinke to join their starting rotations.
I doubt the Red Sox will be one of those teams, given that Greinke is going to command more than $100 million and the team just cleared more than a quarter of a billion dollars off of their payroll between the trades of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, along with the departure of Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Lohse isn't going to come cheap, but a three-year deal in the $45 million range sounds about right, and that won't bog down the payroll in Boston, allowing GM Ben Cherington to have the flexibility to make other necessary moves.
A top of the rotation that features Lohse, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz is a good start for a team that is trying to turn things around after a disastrous 2012 campaign.
Chicago Cubs: Jason Marquis, RHP
While the Cubs have a bunch of holes to fill, spending big on the free-agent market makes little sense for a team who is rebuilding and still years away from contending.
Don't let the failed trade for Dan Haren fool you——that was all about trading for a guy who could be useful over the first half of the season before being flipped to a contender at the trade deadline for prospects. They won't pursue him as a free agent.
But the Cubs need starting pitching, preferably inexpensive veteran arms who can eat a bunch of innings and keep things relatively close during their starts.
While he's battled injuries in each of the past two seasons, 34-year-old Jason Marquis is that pitcher.
He doesn't figure to command much in the way of salary (he made $3 million last season) or years, and he was serviceable as a member of the Padres in 2012, averaging more than six innings per start while posting a 4.04 ERA and 1.30 WHIP after signing with the team at the end of May.
Chicago White Sox: A.J. Pierzynski, C
Soon-to-be 36-year-old A.J. Pierzynski is more valuable to the White Sox than he is to any other team, and as he told Dave van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune, he wants to return:
I'd love to come back. At the same time, I also know they have other question marks on their roster, as far as payroll and, 'allocation of resources.' That's a phrase the White Sox like to use.
So they have to figure out where to allocate their resources and we'll see if I'm included in that or not. Obviously, I'd love to finish my career there, but it's not up to me.
A fan favorite, Pierzynski is coming off of a career year for the White Sox, and while he may never reach 27 home runs or 77 RBI again, he knows their pitching staff better than anyone else.
Tyler Flowers hasn't proven that he's ready to take over behind the plate, and Josh Phegley is a totally unproven commodity. Chicago really doesn't have any options behind the plate other than to re-sign Pierzynski.
Cincinnati Reds: Michael Bourn, CF
It's no secret that the Reds have been looking for an answer at the leadoff spot and longed for more production out of center field than what they've gotten from the talented but inconsistent Drew Stubbs.
Enter Bourn, who gives the Reds the prototypical leadoff hitter they covet while not losing any of the defense that Stubbs provides.
Minor league stolen base sensation Billy Hamilton could eventually become the table-setter in Cincinnati, but he's at least a year or two away from making a major impact.
Cleveland Indians: Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B
Kevin Youkilis makes sense for the Indians on a number of levels.
Aside from the fact that he can play either corner infield position well, the 34-year-old can still hit for power and posted a .346 on-base percentage and .771 OPS after being traded to the White Sox.
Those might not be gaudy numbers, but they are superior to those posted by Jack Hannahan and Casey Kotchman, the Indians' primary corner infielders in 2012.
His veteran presence and relationship with new Tribe skipper Terry Francona is an added bonus, one that could pay dividends as Tito tries to turn things around in Cleveland.
Colorado Rockies: Nobody
I hate to say it, but until the Rockies figure out which completely inexperienced former major leaguer they want as their manager——Walt Weiss or Matt Williams——there's no telling what the team is going to do in free agency.
They need pitching desperately, but no pitcher in their right mind wants to make half of their starts in Coors Field.
Detroit Tigers: Rafael Soriano, RP
While the Yankees made a qualifying offer to Rafael Soriano, nobody expects the closer, who celebrates his 33rd birthday next month, to accept it.
New York Yankees make offers to Rafael Soriano, Hiroki Kuroda, Nick Swisher es.pn/Wh3mQ8— ESPN_baseball (@ESPN_MLB) November 2, 2012
Detroit can't get former closer Jose Valverde out of the Motor City fast enough after his miserable performance in 2012, and Soriano is without question the best closer available via free agency this winter.
CBS Sports' Chris Cwik says that the Scott Boras-represented Soriano is looking to cash in on his 2012 season with a four-year, $60 million contract, numbers that even the free-spending Mike Illitch would flinch at.
That being said, the Tigers need a closer, and they'll go hard after Soriano to shore up the back of their bullpen.
Houston Astros: Lance Berkman, 1B/DH
This should come as no surprise to anyone:
Astros interested in Lance Berkman at DH on.si.com/VJyOR9— SI MLB (@si_mlb) November 3, 2012
Berkman, 36, appeared in only 32 games for the Cardinals during an injury-plagued 2012 season, hitting .256 with two home runs. With Houston moving to the AL West in 2013, Berkman could limit the wear and tear on his body as a full-time designated hitter.
Bringing back one of the organization's prodigal sons in Berkman would at least pay dividends at the box office, on the field as well for a young team that is still years away from contending.
Kansas City Royals: Francisco Liriano, RHP
Even after acquiring Ervin Santana from the Angels, the Royals have only just begun putting their 2013 starting rotation together, according to GM Dayton Moore (h/t MLB.com):
Our goal is pretty simple. We wanted to upgrade our rotation as much as we can. We wanted to get guys that have the mindset of a No. 1 starter and the ability to pitch innings. We think Ervin certainly has that type of mindset and the ability to pitch innings.
I don't know where he fits. We're not done. We're going to continue to try to upgrade our rotation through trades that make sense, work internally, evaluate our young pitchers, perhaps one or two our guys in the bullpen, and we're going to explore free agency. ... It's very difficult to answer where he winds up because we don't have the full stable of candidates for our rotation at this point.
Like Santana, Francisco Liriano is a pitcher coming off of a down 2012 season, but one who has upside, the mentality of a No. 1 starter and the ability to eat innings.
He's far from a sure thing, but it was only two years ago that Liriano was a 14-game winner with an ERA under four and averaging more than a strikeout per inning.
Considering that Royals owner David Glass is far too frugal to spend money on the more dependable free agents out there, such as Kyle Lohse, Brandon McCarthy or even Zack Greinke, someone like Liriano is probably the best that the Royals can hope for.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: RHP Zack Greinke
While the Angels were well aware of the fact that trading for Zack Greinke at the trade deadline was nothing more than a rental situation, the team certainly had its sights set on keeping the 29-year-old in Anaheim on a long-term basis.
As Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi notes, an Angels rotation without Greinke would be mediocre at best:
Last spring, Angels roster teemed with starters. Now, rotation would be Weaver, Wilson, Williams, Richards, Mills. (They need Greinke.)— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 5, 2012
Angels owner Arte Moreno certainly isn't afraid to spend money if he believes it will help his club, as he did last winter when he spent more than $300 million to bring Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson into the fold.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Zack Greinke, RHP
The Dodgers have already been linked to multiple free-agent pitchers, as ESPN's Jason Stark notes:
Even w/ 6 veteran starters under contract, #Dodgers want to add another. Besides Greinke & Kuroda, hearing Anibal Sanchez also on their list— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) November 6, 2012
Of that group, it goes without saying that Zack Greinke is at the top of their wish list.
Greinke, 29, would give the Dodgers as dynamic a one-two punch at the top of their rotation as any team in baseball, with Greinke complimenting perennial Cy Young contender Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers certainly have the money to meet, or beat, any offer that Greinke might receive from other teams, so this likely comes down to a matter of personal preference for the former AL Cy Young award winner and not a matter of money.
Miami Marlins: Adam LaRoche, 1B
The downside I can see for the Marlins, were they to sign Adam LaRoche, would be that it kills any thought of putting oft-injured left fielder Logan Morrison at first base.
Other than that, LaRoche would be a more productive option than incumbent Carlos Lee—and taking a piece away from their division rivals, the Nationals, is always an added bonus.
LaRoche brings with him a powerful swing to add to the middle of the lineup, one that already features slugger Giancarlo Stanton and the previously mentioned Morrison. With Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio potentially on-base in front of that trio, the Marlins could rack up runs in a hurry.
Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hamilton, CF
It might be unrealistic, given what Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto reports Josh Hamilton's contract demands to be, but a number of people have speculated that Milwaukee will wind up as his new home, including Ken Davidoff of Newsday.
Milwaukee could definitely use another starting pitcher or two, and its offense was one of the better units in all of baseball in 2012 and doesn't necessarily need another big bat.
However, bats like Hamilton's don't become available every day, and adding his bat to the middle of a lineup that features Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart could make Milwaukee's lineup the best in the National League.
Minnesota Twins: Brandon McCarthy, RHP
As with Josh Hamilton to the Brewers, this one might be more of a pipe dream than reality, but there's no disputing that the Twins need multiple quality starting pitchers in the worst possible way.
Only the Colorado Rockies, who toyed with a bizarre four-man rotation—something that was really an eight-man rotation—posted worse numbers than Twins starters did in 2012.
As a group, Minnesota watched their starting pitchers go 34-63 with a 5.45 ERA, allowing the opposition to hit nearly .300 against it (.296) and giving the Twins no chance to win games.
Pairing Brandon McCarthy with the emerging Scott Diamond would give Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire two starters that he can send out to the mound every fifth day with the knowledge that they will both give the team a chance to win.
New York Mets: Cody Ross, RF
Personally, I don't think the Mets will spend a dime on any quality free agents this winter, but should they not be able to acquire the pieces that they need via trade, the team may have no choice but to shop on the open market.
First and foremost, the team needs quality outfielders with power, but outfielders who aren't going to cost an exorbitant amount of money.
Cody Ross fits that description.
Ross, 32, is coming off a solid season with the Red Sox where he hit .267 with 22 home runs, 81 RBI and posted an OPS of .807, numbers that would have made him the best outfielder on the Mets in 2012 and numbers that have him asking for a significant raise over the one year, $3 million deal he signed last winter:
In Cody Ross's talks with the Red Sox, his side was looking for something in the 3-year, $25 million range.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 6, 2012
While the Mets are "strapped for cash," that's a deal they can afford to give out.
New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
Hiroki Kuroda was the Yankees' best starting pitcher in 2012, going 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Had he gotten any run support from one of the most potent lineups in baseball, there's little doubt that Kuroda would have won 20 games.
The Yankees extended a $13.3 million qualifying offer to Kuroda, and they'd probably love for him to accept it, being able to keep him around on a one-year deal.
Chances are that it will take at least two years to get him locked up, perhaps with an option year, and while the Yankees prefer not to commit long-term to aging pitchers, Kuroda is simply too important to their success to allow him to go elsewhere.
Oakland A's: Stephen Drew, SS
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle says that while the A's declined their half of the $10 million mutual option on Stephen Drew's contract, they hope to bring him back to Oakland as their starting shortstop.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the two sides are talking about a new deal, though Drew is sure to have multiple suitors as the best shortstop available via free agency in a weak market for teams looking to bolster the left side of their infield.
Philadelphia Phillies: Michael Bourn, CF
Shortly after the Phillies cleaned house with the trades of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the team's primary target* in free agency this winter would be 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.
Can you name a free agent on the market who fits the description of what Manuel seeks better than Bourn?
*ESPN Insider subscription required to view the full article.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Mike Napoli, C/1B
Napoli's 2012 numbers (.227/.812, 24 HR, 56 RBI) were down substantially from 2011 (.320/1.046, 30 HR, 75 RBI), but he's the best option at a position the Pirates have a glaring need: catcher.
Even in a down season, the 31-year-old posted a .343 on-base percentage, and he still has plenty of power in his bat.
With 24-year-old Tony Sanchez struggling to post more than a .760 OPS in his second season in Double-A (he's since been promoted to Triple-A, where he's posted an even less-impressive .724 OPS), that's not the greatest indication of future success at the major league level for the best catching prospect in the system.
Enter Napoli, who would prove to be an upgrade over Rod Barajas and allow the Pirates to keep Michael McKenry in a reserve role, which is what he's best suited for.
Napoli's ability to play first base gives the Pirates a bit of versatility on days they want to spell Garrett Jones—or feel the need to move Jones back to the outfield.
Texas didn't make him a qualifying offer, so there's no draft pick compensation required, and with his numbers down from 2011, Napoli's asking price won't be as high as it would have been a year ago. A three-year deal in the $9-12 million range could be enough to have him call Pittsburgh home.
San Diego Padres: Dan Haren, RHP
Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune did something that not many people have been able to do—he got Padres GM Josh Byrnes to name one of the players that comprises the team's wish list this winter:
“Attractive and realistic,” said Byrnes of his list. “Guys we want and think we can get. We went through a list of 40 pitchers to come up with eight to 10 we’re really trying to get.”
When it appeared Haren was headed to the Cubs, Byrnes Friday afternoon admitted Haren was among the “eight to 10” starting pitchers the Padres were very interested in.
Dan Haren, a free agent after the Angels declined his $15.5 million option for 2013, would give the Padres a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter, something they sorely need.
While he had a down year in 2012, going 10-12 with a 4.33 ERA, the 32-year-old finished seventh in the 2011 AL Cy Young award voting, going 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA and 192 strikeouts over 238 innings of work.
San Francisco Giants: Nick Swisher, LF
Having spent the beginning of his career across the bay in Oakland, Nick Swisher landing with the Giants would be a homecoming of sorts for the Ohio native.
He may be a right fielder with the Yankees, but Swisher has spent time at all three outfield positions over the course of his career as well as first base.
With Hunter Pence firmly entrenched in right field and the team still trying to figure out if Brandon Belt is the long-term answer at first base, that leaves only one spot for him.
Sliding Swisher into left field, replacing the ineffective combination of Gregor Blanco and Justin Christian seems like a perfect cure for what ails the Giants—and gives them options should Belt take a step backwards in 2013.
Seattle Mariners: Josh Hamilton, CF
The Mariners need productive outfielders in the worst possible way, and if said outfielders have some power and can get on base with any regularity, it'd be a plus.
Enter Nick Swisher, the soon-to-be free-agent right fielder from the New York Yankees.
Swisher has West Coast roots, having started his career in Oakland, and with Eric Thames best suited as a fourth outfielder, Swisher immediately upgrades the position.
His veteran presence and phenomenal clubhouse demeanor could work wonders on a young club who really lacks a veteran leader on offense.
Plus, if the Mariners bring in the fences before 2013, as Larry Stone of the Seattle Times believes that they will, that could make them even more enticing a destination for the 32-year-old Swisher, as well as other free-agent bats on the market.
St. Louis Cardinals: Stephen Drew, SS
Yahoo! Sports reported in September that shortstop Rafael Furcal was likely to miss most, if not all of the 2013 season, as he needed Tommy John surgery, but MLB.com's Jennifer Langosch says that Furcal was likely to avoid going under the knife to repair his damaged elbow.
He hasn't thrown a ball since late August, and if there's a setback in his rehabilitation, the Cardinals will find themselves forced to use players better suited for a utiliy role, like Pete Kozma, at the position on a daily basis.
Even if Furcal doesn't suffer any setbacks in his rehabilitation, it's only a matter of when, not if, he'll go down with injury and miss significant time once again.
Stephen Drew could be a long-term answer at the position, allowing St. Louis to use Kozma and Daniel Descalso in a platoon situation at second base until prospect Kolten Wong is ready to take over permanently.
Tampa Bay Rays: James Loney, 1B
The second go-around for Carlos Peña in Tampa Bay hasn't gone exactly as planned. While the power has been there, his .197 batting average was less than acceptable.
James Loney didn't break out of his funk upon his trade to the Boston Red Sox in August, but he's only 28 years old and from 2006 through 2011, posted a .288/.346/.432 batting line with 11 home runs and 70 RBI per season.
With an opening at the position and Loney not being someone who is going to command an exorbitantly high price on the open market, he could slide into the first base spot for the Rays, allowing GM Andrew Friedman more time to investigate bolstering other spots in the lineup through trade.
Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton, CF
It's no secret that making a long-term investment in Josh Hamilton comes with as many pitfalls as it does positives. One of the great run producers in the game today, Hamilton has a checkered past full of injury and substance abuse issues.
But there isn't a team in baseball better equipped to handle Hamilton's baggage than the Rangers, who have been aptly doing just that since 2008.
Hamilton needs the structure and familiarity that the Rangers offer. The Rangers need Hamilton's production in the middle of their lineup.
Seems like a perfect match to me.
Toronto Blue Jays: Zack Greinke, RHP
After watching Ricky Romero struggle after everyone else in the starting rotation was lost to injury, the Blue Jays need to spend their resources to bolster their starting rotation.
In a chat with Sportsnet.ca's Mike Cormack, general manager Alex Anthopoulos intimated that was the plan for this winter:
The rotation is where right now we still need to do some work, but it's a lot easier going into an off-season when you have really one area to really attack, and every trade dialogue, every free-agent dialogue, can be geared to one area rather than having 40 balls in the air and having to fill three spots in the bullpen, two spots in the rotation, two position players," he explained. "It becomes a lot to balance and you only have so many assets to trade, only so many dollars to spread around free agent-wise. I do feel like this is, collectively from our core - and I know it seems hard to say with the way we're playing right now - this is probably the best core that we've had since I've been here.
Greinke may ultimately prove to be out of the Blue Jays price range, but they'll make a hard run at adding his right arm to the equation in Toronto, where a solid rotation could find them atop what is suddenly a wide-open American League East.
Washington Nationals: Michael Bourn, CF
Speculation has run rampant for more than a year that this winter, the Washington Nationals have only one player at the top of their wish list—Braves centerfielder Michael Bourn.
Bourn would give the Nationals the leadoff hitter that they desire while allowing them to move Bryce Harper to right field and Jayson Werth to left field.
If Adam LaRoche departs as a free agent, Michael Morse can slide over to first base. If LaRoche re-signs in Washington, Morse can be used as trade bait to add additional pieces.
With Bourn on base in front of a very talented lineup, the Nationals could find themselves scoring runs at a far higher rate than they did in 2012, not to mention the runs saved by his Gold Glove defense in center field.