MLB Free Agency 2013: Ranking Rumor Mill's 25 Most Perfect Player-Team Matches
With the Thanksgiving holiday in the rear-view mirror, baseball fans will now look forward to the first week in December.
The annual owners' meetings take place in Nashville, TN, and it's a general rule of thumb that much of the free-agent transactions that occur during the offseason either come to fruition or start falling into place.
But until then, rumors about where each free agent will land will still be flying. Experts and prognosticators will give their best educated guesses as to which team is the best fit for each player.
We're not going to do that here, but what we will do is rank the best player-team matches that the rumor mill has churned out thus far.
25. Ryan Ludwick: Cincinnati Reds
When the Cincinnati Reds signed outfielder Ryan Ludwick to a one-year, $2.5 million contract last February, they were taking a flier on a player who might or might not have been to the point of regression in his career.
Turns out the $2.5 million was a bargain.
Ludwick took to Great American Ballpark like a feline to catnip, hitting .275 with 26 home runs. Not surprisingly, he declined his mutual option for the 2013 season that called for $5 million.
The Reds are still talking to Ludwick, but thus far they've engaged in just preliminary discussions.
Ludwick is likely looking for a three-year deal. While the Reds may not be willing to commit that length of time, it certainly appears that Ludwick and the Reds continue to be a good match.
Just not sure they'll find better options out there for the kind of money Ludwick will likely command.
Good fit? Yes, but the Reds thus far seem unwilling to commit to anything longer than two years.
24. Shane Victorino: Pittsburgh Pirates
Free-agent outfielder Shane Victorino is looking for a nice contract, and he's also looking to play every day.
That option to play every day was taken away from him by the Los Angeles Dodgers the day they pulled off a mega-deal with the Boston Red Sox and acquired left fielder Carl Crawford.
Now, Victorino has been tied to several teams, but one where he could be a possible fit is the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates could certainly use some pop and a bit of speed at the top of their lineup. Victorino would join Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, and Garrett Jones could be moved full-time to first base.
Good fit? I'm not sure Victorino is worth the investment, especially if he continues to hit poorly against right-handed pitching.
23. Mike Adams: Philadelphia Phillies
Reliever Mike Adams had successful surgery in October for thoracic outlet syndrome and should be ready for spring training.
Adams posted a nifty 1.71 ERA from 2008-2011 before falling back somewhat last season with the Texas Rangers. However, if the surgery was indeed successful and Adams returns to form, the Philadelphia Phillies could be the best fit.
Bob Brookover of Philly.com listed Adams as one of the eighth-inning reliever options the Phillies could consider this winter.
A healthy Adams and closer Jonathan Papelbon would certainly be a formidable combination for the Phillies in the late innings. Their young relievers had some issues acting as a bridge between the starting rotation and Papelbon last year.
Acquiring Adams would significantly bolster that bridge.
Good fit? Yes, but given the price tag that Adams could command, the Phillies might be passing.
22. Ryan Dempster: Chicago Cubs
Starting pitcher Ryan Dempster spent eight-plus years with the Chicago Cubs, serving as both a starter and closer during his tenure there.
It's possible that Dempster could end up back in the Windy City.
According to Bruce Levin of ESPN, the Cubs have not ruled out the possibility of bringing Dempster back.
"I don't want to treat Ryan any different than I would treat the other free agents," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We talked about it last week, there has been contact, and I am sure there will be contact in the future, but I don't want (the media) to treat him differently. I am not going to comment on him and not comment on the rest of the (free agent pitchers)."
Good fit? Yes, but at what cost? Dempster is coming off a four-year, $52 million contract. He won't see those numbers again, but there are likely teams out there other than the Cubs willing to spend to have Dempster in their rotation.
With the Cubs' long-term plan of building a contender with home-grown talent and prudent signings, this to me doesn't qualify as prudent.
21. Joakim Soria: New York Yankees
Former Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria was one of the best at his craft from 2008 to 2011, averaging 36 saves per season and posting a 2.37 ERA.
However, he's coming off his second Tommy John surgery. Despite the fact that he's only 28 years of age, his effectiveness going forward will be an issue.
Soria's agent, Oscar Suarez, has said that his client will be ready for spring training, but likely won't pitch in regular season games until at least May.
Suarez also told Andrew Marchand of ESPN that if the New York Yankees came calling, his client would listen.
"If the Yankees call, we will be all ears," Soria's agent, Oscar Suarez, said by phone Monday. "If there is a fit, Joakim would be elated to work with Mo (Mariano Rivera). He would close everywhere except there."
Good fit? Sure, but not a likely fit. Soria has already drawn interest from several teams looking at him as a closer. The new Yankees are much more cost-conscious these days—I look for them peeking at more affordable and less risky options.
20. Brandon McCarthy: Minnesota Twins
One of worst kept secrets in baseball is the news that the Minnesota Twins are looking to upgrade their pitching staff.
Recent reports have the Twins interested in free-agent pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
Brandon McCarthy thrived in his two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, developing a sharp command of the strike zone and posting a 3.29 ERA.
When healthy, that is.
Good fit? Sure, it would be a fit. But don't the Twins want to stay away from injury-prone, high-risk pitchers at this point? If the idea is to build a starting rotation that can help the Twins compete day in and day out, McCarthy may not be the best option.
19. Edwin Jackson: Toronto Blue Jays
Even after acquiring Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Miami Marlins, the Toronto Blue Jays could be on the market for one more starting pitcher.
Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald said last week that the Blue Jays could be targeting Edwin Jackson.
Good fit? Oddly enough, this might not be a bad fit at all. Jackson has a lifetime 3.08 ERA at the Rogers Centre. For a .500 pitcher with a 4.40 career ERA, it might be more of a fit than anywhere else at this point.
18. Rafael Soriano: Detroit Tigers
Oddly enough, there are very few rumors circulating about possible landing spots for free-agent closer Rafael Soriano.
A lot of that could have to do with the fact that he's reportedly looking for a four-year, $60 million contract.
ESPN baseball guru Buster Olney suggested that Soriano's agent, Scott Boras, is looking to engage the Detroit Tigers in talks.
Good fit? Sure, Soriano would be a great replacement for the departed Jose Valverde. However, the Tigers probably aren't keen on giving up a draft pick in exchange for signing Soriano. They've also hinted they might be considering internal candidate Bruce Rondon to close games for them as well.
17. Jonathan Broxton: Cincinnati Reds
Closer Jonathan Broxton saved 23 games for the Kansas City Royals before his trade to the Cincinnati Reds last season. He also saved four games for the Reds, but mainly served as a seventh-eighth-inning man.
With the Reds looking to move closer Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation, general manager Walt Jocketty has reached out to Broxton about the possibility of returning to Cincinnati.
Good fit? Yes, for the right price. Broxton isn't the closer he was for the Dodgers, but he adapted with the Royals and certainly found a comfort level. Jocketty has also contacted Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria, but neither will be ready to pitch at the start of next season.
16. Mike Napoli: Boston Red Sox
Free-agent catcher Mike Napoli was in the Boston area this past weekend, and it likely wasn't because he wanted to visit Plymouth Plantation in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Boston Red Sox invited Napoli for the visit, backing up the report that they have targeted Napoli to help bolster their offense.
Good fit? Yes, but not as catcher. I like Napoli at first base much better, and his swing is definitely a match for Fenway Park.
15. Michael Bourn: Washington Nationals
Center fielder Michael Bourn has certainly attracted his share of interest already this offseason on the free-agent market.
Earlier this month, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the Washington Nationals were the front-runners for Bourn's services.
Heyman's reasoning was that Harper would be moved back to a more natural corner outfield slot and that Michael Morse would be moved to first base in case the Nats are unable to re-sign Adam LaRoche.
If LaRoche does re-sign, Morse would then become trade bait.
Good fit? Yes, but if Bourn is looking for $100 million, the Nats won't be biting.
14. Adam LaRoche: Baltimore Orioles
First baseman Adam LaRoche came back from labrum surgery in 2011 to post huge numbers for the Washington Nationals in 2012.
His 33 HR and 100 RBI were a big help to the offense, and he was arguably their most consistent producer all season long.
LaRoche also couldn't have picked a more perfect time to have a career year.
As a free agent in a market soft on quality-hitting first baseman, LaRoche has already commanded interest.
One of those teams interested is just down the beltway from LaRoche's former home: the Baltimore Orioles.
CBS.com reported earlier this month that the O's could have interest in LaRoche as a possible replacement for Mark Reynolds.
Good fit? No doubt LaRoche would be a nice addition in Baltimore, but at 33 years of age, I seriously doubt GM Dan Duquette would be offering a long-term deal. Duquette will fill holes this offseason, but he won't be breaking the bank in order to achieve his goals.
13. Kevin Youkilis: Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians were one of the worst-hitting teams from the right side of the plate in 2012.
To that end, they'll be looking for quality right-handed hitting, and one option could be free-agent infielder Kevin Youkilis.
Good fit? The Indians are as good a fit with Youkilis as any other team, especially at first base and designated hitter. In addition, he'd be reunited with former manager Terry Francona.
If the Tribe can sign Youk for $7-$8 million for two or three years, I like the deal. Any more than that sours me completely.
12. Nick Swisher: Seattle Mariners
After five seasons with the New York Yankees, right fielder Nick Swisher will be looking for a new home in the 2013 season and beyond.
The Seattle Mariners are looking for more offense after finishing last in runs scored for the fourth consecutive season in the American League.
Could the two be a match? According to several reports, the Mariners have more than just a passing interest.
Good fit? Definitely a good fit. Swisher not only adds consistent offense, he's also good as a replacement for Ichiro Suzuki in right field. And he adds insurance at first base should Justin Smoak continue to disappoint.
11. Kyle Lohse: Boston Red Sox
Free agent right-handed pitcher Kyle Lohse put together a 30-11 record and 3.11 ERA in his last two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
That's a far sight better than anything produced by Boston Red Sox pitchers over the last two years.
For that reason, the Red Sox are interested and have been in contact with Lohse.
Good fit? Yes, but if Lohse is looking for a three or four-year deal, the Red Sox might consider that too much for a 34-year-old pitcher.
10. Stephen Drew: Oakland Athletics
Stephen Drew is a wanted man this winter, but mainly because of the relative dearth of quality shortstops.
That's not to say that Drew isn't a quality player, but he still lacks full mobility after a gruesome ankle injury in 2011 sidelined him for nearly one full year.
Drew's $10 million option for the 2013 season was declined by the Oakland Athletics, but they are still hopeful they can come to terms on a more suitable deal.
Good fit? Given the lack of depth at that position in the free-agent market, it is a good fit, but only for the short term. The A's drafted Addison Russell this past June, and he is already the No. 3-ranked prospect in the organization.
9. Josh Hamilton: Texas Rangers
With all of the teams that have already been linked to free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, there is still one team that stands out above the rest in terms of the best fit: the Texas Rangers.
With any team, Hamilton will likely provide a positive impact. But with the side issues—substance abuse history and injury history—it's a slippery slope in terms of length of contract and average annual value.
ESPN.com's Jim Bowden wrote two weeks ago that the Rangers were the best fit.
According to Bowden:
I won’t be surprised if Hamilton’s best offer comes from a surprise team like the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles or Milwaukee Brewers. But I think the best fit for Hamilton remains the Rangers. They are the most familiar with Hamilton and all the issues that come with him. They have a strong support team in place for him and are willing to give him a competitive average annual value.
Good fit? Yes, and for the reasons that Bowden expressed. I'll also add that the Rangers are simply better with Hamilton. It's not a coincidence that they rose to power with the arrival of Hamilton.
The issues make it difficult for any team to put together an offer that makes sense. But for the Rangers, they know what to expect and are more than ready to continue dealing with the issues.
8. Dan Haren: San Diego Padres
Free-agent starting pitcher Dan Haren is drawing his own share of interest this offseason, despite posting the worst numbers of his career since becoming a full-time starter.
Haren's 4.33 ERA was the highest since his early days with the St. Louis Cardinals. In addition, he went on the disabled list in 2012 for the first time in his career with back issues.
Haren insists that he's healthy, and several teams have checked in on him, including the San Diego Padres.
Good fit? Potentially a good fit here. Haren has worked with GM Josh Byrnes in the past when both were affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The spacious real estate at Petco Park will help Haren as well, especially if he continues to see reduced velocity in his fastball.
Is he a fit with any team if he commands upwards of $15.5 million, the amount of money the Los Angeles Angels declined on his 2013 contract?
7. Lance Berkman: Houston Astros
The Houston Astros are preparing for a move to the American League West Division next season. One of the pieces the Astros need at this point is a designated hitter.
To that end, according to ESPN, Astros owner Jim Crane and free agent Lance Berkman sat down and had a talk earlier this month.
"He was just seeing where we were at," Crane said. "He expressed some interest in maybe working a deal out. We haven't gotten to that (contract discussion). I think his knee is still up in the air. So we've got to get that all worked out. It was a get-acquainted meeting, really."
Good fit? Yes, a great fit. It may have been just a get-acquainted meeting, but it makes perfect sense if the two sides can work out a suitable financial arrangement.
For Berkman, it saves his knees and allows him to keep his productive bat in the lineup. For the Astros, it's a chance to bring a former star back home and add a familiar face to a lineup loaded with newcomers.
6. Anibal Sanchez: Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers are returning six veteran starters next season (Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly), they are on the hunt for a quality starter.
Billingsley is attempting to stay away from Tommy John surgery as he rehabs his elbow, and Lilly is returning from season-ending shoulder surgery.
The Dodgers have their eye on several free-agent starters, including Anibal Sanchez.
Good fit? I like this fit a lot. Sanchez benefits from the spacious real estate at Dodger Stadium and gives the Dodgers a reliable option in the middle of their rotation. As long as Billingsley and Lilly remain question marks, the Dodgers have veterans, but aside from Kershaw far from top-shelf.
5. Andy Pettitte: New York Yankees
Despite suffering a broken leg last season, Andy Pettitte made a strong return from retirement.
Pettitte posted a 5-4 record and 2.87 ERA in 12 starts—not bad for a pitcher, let alone one who is 40 years of age.
According to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, Pettitte has not decided whether or not he'll return in 2013 or not.
Good fit? Certainly one of the better fits on this list. Pettitte helped stabilize a shaky rotation for the Yankees, and he'll do the same if he returns next season as well.
Don't think for one second he'll sign anywhere else—it's the Yankees or a second retirement.
4. Zack Greinke: Los Angeles Angels
While Josh Hamilton is the biggest position player on the free-agent market, Zack Greinke represents the best among pitchers in the 2013 free-agent market.
As such, Greinke is being highly courted by several teams. Some reports suggest the Los Angeles Dodgers may be the front-runners.
If I had a gazillion dollars, I'd be a front-runner too.
According to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, an "industry insider" told him that the Dodgers are favored to land Greinke above the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers.
However, the Angels have already set themselves up financially to make an appropriate offer for Greinke's services. With Ervin Santana, Dan Haren and Torii Hunter now off the books, general manager Jerry DiPoto will look to lock Greinke up.
Good fit? Absolutely a good fit. Greinke pitched well following the trade from the Milwaukee Brewers (6-2, 3.53 ERA in 13 starts), and he would give the Angels a formidable trio at the top of the rotation along with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
3. Mariano Rivera: New York Yankees
File this one under the "no-brainer" category.
The New York Yankees have yet to make an offer to legendary closer Mariano Rivera for the 2013 season, but it's just an inevitability the two sides will come to an agreement sometime in the next few weeks.
Good fit? For one more year, yes. Rivera certainly wasn't showing signs of slowing down before his ACL injury, and he's certainly keen on going out on a good note.
Even at 43 years of age, I'll take a healthy Rivera over Rafael Soriano any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
2. B.J. Upton: Philadelphia Phillies
At just 28 years of age, free-agent center fielder B.J. Upton is one of the youngest players on the free-agent market. Presumably, his prime years are still ahead of him.
Upton is a great blend of power and athleticism—something the aging Philadelphia Phillies could absolutely use.
CBS.com baseball expert Danny Knobler tweeted last week that the Phillies were the favorites in signing Upton.
Good fit? I absolutely love this fit. Upton doesn't just bring the elements of power, speed and athleticism, he's also a right-hander to complement left-handed sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup.
1. Marco Scutaro: San Francisco Giants
Upon his arrival in San Francisco in late July, infielder Marco Scutaro transformed into a spark plug.
His .362 average in 61 games more than helped offset the loss of Melky Cabrera's bat, and his performance in the postseason is a big reason why the Giants can call themselves World Series champions once again.
Good fit? This should be the biggest no-brainer on this list and deserving of the top spot. The Giants are optimistic they can keep their hero in San Francisco, according to Harry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. And considering their need for a second baseman who can actually stay in the lineup, it's a fit that's needed and one that will be cheered by Giants fans.
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.