MLB Free Agency 2013: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for the Top 20 Free Agents

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2012

MLB Free Agency 2013: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for the Top 20 Free Agents

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    As the MLB offseason continues on, new rumors seemingly come in each day regarding where the winter's top free agents could be calling home in 2013.

    It's tough to predict where players will wind up, as so much hinges on where other players sign and how teams allocate their money. We can, however, opine on whether a potential suitor would be a good or bad fit.

    So here is a look at the best- and worst-case scenario landing spot for this year's top 20 free agents and why I view those teams as such.

A.J. Pierzynski

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    Best-Case Scenario: Chicago White Sox

    It's hard to picture Pierzynski playing anywhere other than with the White Sox at this point, as he has spent the past eight seasons playing on the South Side and has been a polarizing figure in the city of Chicago.

    Coming off of a season in which he set career highs with 27 home runs and 77 RBI, the 35-year-old still has plenty left in the tank—and given the inexperience of his potential replacement Tyler Flowers, the White Sox would be wise to bring him back on a short-term deal.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Chicago Cubs

    There is no question the Cubs need a catcher, as Welington Castillo, who hit .265 BA, five HR, 22 RBI over 170 at-bats last season and has just 63 big league games under his belt, is currently No. 1 on the depth chart behind the plate.

    However, there are few players that Cubs fans hate more than Pierzynski, and given his age and the fact that he is coming off of a career year, the organization is asking for trouble if it goes after Pierzynski. Fans would be looking for any reason to boo him, and the combination of age and a potentially big contract is a recipe for disaster.

Shaun Marcum

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    Best-Case Scenario: Chicago Cubs

    Much like Paul Maholm last offseason, Marcum represents the perfect middle-tier, relatively low-cost option on the market to help fill out the Cubs' rotation.

    The Cubs would likely only add him on a one- or two-year deal, and if he performs well they could do exactly what they did with Maholm and flip him for prospects. In turn, Marcum could have a solid chance of playing with a contender if he signs with Chicago, or he could wind up being a key cog in the team's rebuilding.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Minnesota Twins

    Marcum would appear to be the type of arm the Twins could have interest in as they look to bolster their rotation, since he won't be overly expensive given his injury history and has the potential to be their staff ace.

    The right-hander figures to be viewed as a fallback option for teams that miss out on the big guns, and if the Twins make an aggressive early offer he could be swayed. Big picture though, the Twins are more than a few arms from contending and Marcum would be picking money over winning.

Marco Scutaro

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    Best-Case Scenario: San Francisco Giants

    A postseason hero, Scutaro was fantastic from the get-go in San Francisco as he hit .362 BA, three HR, 44 RBI in 61 games with the Giants after coming over from the Rockies at the deadline.

    The middle-infield market is incredibly thin, and there certainly aren't any better options than Scutaro at second base, so the Giants will likely do whatever it takes to bring Scutaro back, even if it means overpaying for him a little bit.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Anyone Else

    The Giants may very well end up regret bringing Scutaro back, but much like the Aubrey Huff signing following the 2010 season, the team will reward his performance with a good-sized extension.

    If he signs somewhere other than San Francisco it will be because a team made him an offer he could not refuse and went well above even what the Giants would be willing to pay him. Should that happen, it would almost certainly end in regret given the fact that Scutaro is already 37 and unlikely to duplicate last season's numbers.

Ryan Dempster

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    Best-Case Scenario: Toronto Blue Jays

    A Canadian native, Dempster could certainly help a questionable Blue Jays rotation with a return to his home country.

    He was far from stellar in his American League debut last season, as he posted a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts with the Rangers after coming over at the deadline. However, given a full season to get acclimated to a new team rather than being thrust into a pennant race. he should be able to return to his previous form.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Kansas City Royals

    There is no question the addition of a veteran like Dempster to a young Royals team would be beneficial to the Kansas City organization in more ways than one.

    However, at 35 years old, Dempster has reached the point in his career where he is searching for his first World Series appearance, and while the Royals are heading in the right direction, they are still at least a few years away from being legitimate contenders.

Mike Napoli

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    Best Case Scenario: Texas Rangers

    Too bad he was not a free agent at the end of last season, as Napoli was one of the breakout stars of 2011 with a .320 BA, 30 HR, 75 RBI regular season and a terrific postseason.

    Though his average plummeted to .227 this past season, Napoli remains one of the best power options among backstops in the game today, and for a Rangers team that may lose Josh Hamilton, bringing him back could help keep the offense among the game's best.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Tampa Bay Rays

    The Rays have a number of areas they could stand to upgrade offensively, and catcher is certainly among them after they spent last season with Jose Molina as their primary backstop.

    Given the position he plays, Napoli should command a salary in the $10-$12 million per year neighborhood. For a low-budget team like the Rays, an essentially one-dimensional offensive player like Napoli simply isn't worth paying so much for.

Torii Hunter

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    Best-Case Scenario: New York Yankees

    The Yankees let Nick Swisher walk this offseason and as a result will be looking to fill the right field spot. Bringing back Ichiro Suzuki remains an option, but if they opt to play the market there may be no better option than Hunter.

    The 37-year-old has never played in the World Series, and joining the Yankees would certainly give him a chance to do that. Coming off of a .313 BA, 16 HR, 92 RBI season, he could replace Swisher's regular-season production, and as a career .305 hitter in the postseason he should be a significant upgrade in October.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Los Angeles Angels

    Both the Angels and Hunter have expressed interest in staying together, but following the departure of Ervin Santana and Dan Haren, the team will be looking to spend on pitching—and it may not have enough money to also fit Hunter into the budget.

    Bringing him back would likely mean a weaker-than-expected starting rotation, and with Peter Bourjos capable of stepping into the starting job, letting him walk seems like the best option for the Angels.

Dan Haren

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    Best-Case Scenario: San Diego Padres

    The Angels bought out Haren's $15.5 million option for 2013 with a $3.5 million buyout, making him a free agent following a 12-13, 4.33 ERA, 142 K season.

    The Padres have a young, inexperienced staff that would benefit from a veteran presence like Haren atop it, while spacious Petco Park is the perfect place for Haren to sign a one-year deal and boost his stock for a big contract next offseason. They've already shown interest (h/t U-T San Diego), so the pairing is a legitimate possibility.

    Worst-Case Scenario: New York Yankees

    For a player looking to put together a bounce-back season, New York is not the ideal place to play. Aside from the constant media scrutiny of the city, Yankee Stadium is a launching pad and Haren has always been susceptible to the home run throughout his career.

    Success with the Yankees on a one-year deal would likely result in a major payday for Haren, but at this point in his career a return to the National League and a home park that plays as a pitcher's park seems like the better move.

Angel Pagan

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    Best-Case Scenario: San Francisco Giants

    In what was an unheralded move at the time, the Giants flipped Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez to the Mets for Pagan last offseason in a change-of-scenery move.

    Pagan responded with a terrific season as he hit .288 BA, eight HR, 56 RBI, 95 R and showed off his speed with 29 steals and an NL-high 15 triples. At 31, he should have at least a handful more seasons like this in him, and after playing a key role in the Giants' title run expect them to push hard to bring him back.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Texas Rangers

    With Josh Hamilton expected to be gone, Pagan could be an option for the Rangers to fill his spot in the outfield. However, his skill set may not play quite as well in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

    His defensive skills and gap power are huge assets in spacious AT&T Park, and while they would still be a welcome addition to the Rangers roster they may not be as significant in a smaller park.

    Also, his game is completely different from Hamilton's, and stepping in as his replacement could be tough for a player who does not exactly have a great track record of success in MLB.

Hiroki Kuroda

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    Best-Case Scenario: New York Yankees

    Kuroda spent the first four seasons of his career here in the U.S. with the Dodgers before joining the Yankees on a one-year, $10 million deal last season.

    He quickly became the team's most reliable starter behind ace CC Sabathia, and he went on to go 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA as he set a number of personal bests. The Yankees would be wise to bring him back since he has proved capable of succeeding in New York.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Japan

    At this time last season, it appeared as though Kuroda would either re-sign with the Dodgers or return to the Japan. Instead, the 37-year-old opened up his options and joined the Yankees.

    He's getting up there in age, but he remains a solid starter, and if he ends up back in Japan at this point it would be because he was unable to find an MLB deal to his liking.

Adam LaRoche

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    Best-Case Scenario: Washington Nationals

    Coming off of a .261 BA, 25 HR, 100 RBI season in 2010, LaRoche joined the Nationals on a two-year, $15 million deal. He played in only 43 games in his first season with the team and hit just .172.

    However, he came back healthy this past season and hit .271 BA, 33 HR, 100 RBI to lead the Nationals offense. He opted out of a $10 million option in favor of a potential multi-year deal, and the Nationals could still look to bring him back. If they do, and sign a center fielder as many expect, that could mean Michael Morse is on the block.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Boston Red Sox

    The Red Sox acquired LaRoche once before, as he came over in a trade from the Pirates and played six games with the team in 2009 before being flipped to the Braves for Casey Kotchman.

    Were they in a position to succeed right now, LaRoche would be a solid short-term answer to the hole at first base in Boston, but given the current state of the franchise, it would be better suited giving those at-bats to a younger player.

Rafael Soriano

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    Best-Case Scenario: Detroit Tigers

    The Tigers should gladly part ways with incumbent closer Jose Valverde this offseason, and while they have a number of internal options they could hand the closer's job to, they may still consider adding a closer instead.

    Soriano would have a chance to remain with a contender and anchor a good Tigers bullpen that should have plenty of leads heading into the ninth inning. The Tigers are in a position where they have the pieces to win now, and if they do opt to pursue a closer, they'd be willing to pay top dollar.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Milwaukee Brewers

    The Brewers had the worst bullpen in baseball last season, as closer John Axford blew nine saves and eventually lost his job to Jim Henderson.

    Despite their pitching woes, the Brewers were right in the thick of things for a playoff spot thanks to their impressive offense. This coming season, the staff will rely even more on a group of young starters—and as a result the bullpen could be overly taxed. Not an ideal situation to be in as a closer.

Brandon McCarthy

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    Best-Case Scenario: Baltimore Orioles

    The Orioles made the postseason as one of the surprise teams of 2012, and they did it with a revolving door rotation that featured 12 different pitchers start a game and only one guy top 20 starts.

    They have done a great job of cultivating homegrown talent and have avoided getting bogged down by any long-term deals. McCarthy offers ace potential, but should come at a bargain after making just 43 starts over the past two seasons and posting a 17-15 record with a 3.29 ERA.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Chicago Cubs

    While they are currently rebuilding, the Cubs have indicated that they'll look to add two starting pitchers this offseason in an effort to make the team a bit more competitive this coming season and to take some pressure off of a young staff.

    McCarthy would be a great addition for Chicago, but from McCarthy's standpoint he will have far better options as far as picking a winner. Should he opt to go with a short-term deal and look to improve his stock, he would be better off choosing a team with a better supporting cast.

Edwin Jackson

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    Best-Case Scenario: Toronto Blue Jays

    The Blue Jays were devastated by injuries last season, particularly in the rotation, and entering this season their rotation is filled with question marks.

    They'll no doubt look to add a starter or two, and while they may not be in the running for the top-tier guys, adding Jackson would give them a solid innings-eater who has proved to be durable and is still in the prime of his career.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Cleveland Indians

    The Indians rotation was bad last season, and beyond Justin Masterson it doesn't have much to work with this coming season either.

    They're a team that needs to begin a full-scale rebuild, but they could still look to add someone like Jackson to anchor their staff and help take some pressure off the rest of the team. He would no doubt help, but the Indians would be better off not spending, and Jackson would be better off almost anywhere else.

Nick Swisher

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    Best-Case Scenario: San Francisco Giants

    According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, there are at least six teams interested in Swisher right now, and among them are the reigning champion Giants, who have holes in left field and center field.

    The Giants will likely make a strong push for Michael Bourn, but I think they'll wind up adding Swisher—and he'll not only provide an offensive boost in the middle of their lineup, but also a terrific influence in what is already a great clubhouse.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Seattle Mariners

    Also on that list of six teams is the Mariners, who could stand to upgrade at nearly every position offensively after a dismal showing from their lineup in 2012.

    Swisher would be a great addition to the young team, but he would represent its first big offensive signing in a few years and would likely be expected to do more than he's capable of for a team that may still be a few years from contention.

B.J. Upton

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    Best-Case Scenario: Philadelphia Phillies

    According to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly, the Phillies have already been in contact with Upton's agent and are serious contenders to add the 28-year-old.

    Upton has long been a candidate expected to benefit from a change of scenery, and joining the Phillies would give him a chance to blend in with a group of superstar players and perhaps play without quite so much pressure and attention on him.

    Worst-Case Scenario: New York Yankees

    The Yankees are in the market for a right fielder, but they could also look to shop Curtis Granderson this offseason as the slugger will be a free agent at the end of 2013 and may not be a part of the team's future plans.

    Either way, Upton could be an option, and while he has tremendous tools and upside, he strikes me as the type of player who would not be able to handle the bright lights and extreme pressures of playing in New York.

Anibal Sanchez

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    Best-Case Scenario: Detroit Tigers

    Sanchez was acquired by the Tigers from the Marlins along with Omar Infante at the deadline, and he posted a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts after coming to Detroit.

    He further boosted his free-agent stock with a stellar postseason that included a gem against the Yankees in the ALCS when he allowed just three hits in seven shutout innings.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Boston Red Sox

    Sanchez is reportedly seeking a six-year, $90 million deal (h/t Jon Morosi of Fox Sports), and while he is one of the better options on the market, that asking price may very well scare some teams off.

    One team that may be willing to pay that and certainly has the funds is the Boston Red Sox, and while they may be willing to give Sanchez the money he wants, they are heading in the opposite direction of a team like the Tigers. If Sanchez signed with them he would be joining a rebuilding effort of sorts.

Kyle Lohse

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    Best-Case Scenario: Los Angeles Dodgers

    If things play out like I expect them to and the Angels win their bidding war with the Dodgers for Zack Greinke, the Dodgers may turn their attention to Lohse as their first fallback option.

    Lohse could be slotted in the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and would be just another big addition to the free-spending Dodgers, who appear willing to spend whatever it takes to build a winner.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Minnesota Twins

    The Twins are in the hunt for starting pitching this offseason, and understandably so after their starters posted an AL-worst 5.40 ERA this past season.

    Lohse began his big league career with the Twins, spending six seasons in Minnesota before joining the Reds—and while a homecoming would certainly benefit Minnesota, it would be far from Lohse's best chance to win another championship.

Michael Bourn

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    Best-Case Scenario: Washington Nationals

    The Nationals have long been on the hunt for a center fielder and a prototypical leadoff hitter, and Bourn would give them both as he is a Gold Glove defender and perhaps the best speed threat in the game today.

    He'd be joining a team that has set itself up to be a legitimate title contender for the foreseeable future, and a team that could be pushed over the top by the addition of someone like Bourn atop its lineup.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Philadelphia Phillies

    The Phillies are in an interesting position as a franchise right now, as they have a ton of money tied up in a handful of veteran superstars. It's a group that certainly isn't getting any younger, but still has enough talent to be a contender if it can avoid injury.

    That said, we saw last season what happens when injury does strike, and while the addition of Bourn would be a nice move for 2013, this is a team that could very well find itself rebuilding within the next couple seasons.

Zack Greinke

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    Best-Case Scenario: Los Angeles Angels

    As the best pitcher on the free-agent market by far, Greinke is in position for a big payday. With the two front-runners expected to be the two Los Angeles teams, he could find himself as the beneficiary of a bidding war between the two sides.

    Both teams disappointed in not making the postseason last year, but moving forward I think the Angels are in a slightly better position to win it all, though both teams are in deep divisions.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Kansas City Royals

    They stand as little more than a long shot at this point, but the Royals could make a run at bringing Greinke back to the place where he started his career and won a Cy Young in 2009 (h/t Jon Heyman of CBSSports).

    There's no doubt the Royals are a team on the rise, and they could be a factor in the AL Central with the addition of Greinke, but as far as picking a contending team there are a number of better choices for Greinke. It would give him a small market where he has experienced past success, but a reunion at this point does not seem to be his best move.

Josh Hamilton

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    Best-Case Scenario: Baltimore Orioles

    Hamilton is reportedly seeking a seven-year, $175 million deal (h/t John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus), and while there are high-payroll teams that will have interest in him, smaller market teams in the Orioles, Brewers and Mariners have also been identified as suitors (h/t Jon Heyman of CBS Sports).

    He would be the face of the franchise in all three places, but of that group the Orioles give him perhaps the best chance to win right now. He'd get to play in a hitter's park in Camden Yards and would join Adam Jones and Chris Davis to form a potent middle of the order.

    Worst-Case Scenario: Texas Rangers

    At this point, it seems as though the best thing for both the Rangers and Hamilton would be for the two to go their separate ways.

    After Rangers fans rained down boos on him in the team's final game of the season (h/t Dallas Morning News), re-signing him to the big deal he's seeking would put a tremendous amount of pressure on him and would put the fans in a position to turn on him quickly if he doesn't perform.