Handicapping the Destinations of MLB's Biggest Free-Agent Targets
For a market that was supposed to be more about depth than star power at the top, the money that we are seeing exchanged between Major League teams and free agents is really picking up steam.
We are accustomed to seeing ridiculous contracts given out to relief pitchers—Brandon League re-signing with the Dodgers ensured that trend would continue—but we have yet to see what the market will be for position players and starting pitchers.
B.J. Upton's five-year deal with the Braves will factor into what Michael Bourn gets. We just don't have a concrete idea of what else is going to happen.
Players like Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke and Nick Swisher are still waiting to get the offer they want from the team they want. When they hear what they want from someone, the decisions will be made. Until that time, the speculation will continue to run rampant.
Rumors are the life blood of the Hot Stove season. They drive the way we analyze things, as well as the way teams attempt to negotiate with a player.
With all of the news and rumors floating around right now, here is our look at where the top remaining free agents are likely to end up.
RHP Zack Greinke
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Market For Greinke
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the market for Greinke appears to be down to the Rangers and Dodgers.
The Zack Greinke derby is currently between the Dodgers and Rangers, with a great likelihood that one of those teams will win the services of the top free-agent pitcher in the market, people close to the situation say.
The Dodgers have been viewed as a fairly clear favorite for Greinke, but Texas is showing signs of determination, according to major-league sources.
Jayson Stark of ESPN reported that the Rangers appeared to be going all in on Greinke in order to stabilize the top of their rotation.
Buzz this morning points toward Rangers zeroing in on Greinke & trading for a bat instead of signing Josh Hamilton & dealing for an arm— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 6, 2012
Where Will Greinke Land?
Signs have been pointing towards Greinke ending up in Los Angeles for so long that you have to wonder what the hold up is.
Scott Miller of CBS Sports wrote that people within the Dodgers organization are skeptical he will sign with them since the market doesn't appear to be growing at this point.
The Rangers have seemed like the best fit for Greinke once the Angels basically dropped out of the race. They have money to spend, an obvious need and are built to win right now. As long as the money doesn't get ridiculous—let's be honest, it will—he will fit in nicely alongside Yu Darvish at the top of this rotation.
OF Josh Hamilton
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Market for Hamilton
It seems like every team has been linked to Hamilton at some point during the Winter Meetings. Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times reported that the Mariners were making a big push for the 2010 AL MVP.
Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported that Hamilton had a meeting with the Boston Red Sox earlier this week.
The #RedSox indeed met with Josh Hamilton in Nashville before he left town.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 5, 2012
The Rangers and Hamilton have talked about a deal, but they are on hold as of Tuesday, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Where Will Hamilton Land?
If you try to figure out who really is in play for Hamilton, your head is going to explode. The Rangers know better than anyone else what he can do, though they are not likely to go past a certain year and dollar amount.
The Red Sox don't seem like a serious candidate since they just got away from a slew of bad, long-term contracts.
The Mariners are an interesting candidate. They have been abysmal on offense for years, with no solutions in the minors. Jesus Montero still has potential, and it would be foolish to give up on him already, but one player can't save a lineup.
If Hamilton is going anywhere, bet on the Mariners right now. He wants to get paid and find long-term security. The Mariners have to go above and beyond in order to land him, since they aren't close to competing in the loaded AL West.
OF Michael Bourn
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Market for Bourn
Good luck trying to figure this one out. The Braves were out after they signed B.J. Upton. The Nationals were out after they acquired Denard Span. The Phillies are out after acquiring Ben Revere on Thursday.
The fact that Bourn's agent is Scott Boras, who will fight to get his client every possible dollar, isn't likely going to help him find a home soon.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Mariners, Phillies and Rangers have been in the mix, though this was reported before the Phillies acquired Revere. That helps us dwindle the list down to two: Seattle and Texas.
#mariners like bourn very much. Other possibilities include phillies and rangers (tho tex is in many, many other things)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 5, 2012
Where Will Bourn Land?
Bourn is a player whose market is going to be determined by how much a team believes that his speed will hold up as he moves deeper into his 30s.
The Rangers are going to be in play on everything until they make that one big splash, be it with Greinke, Hamilton or a potential trade for Justin Upton.
The Mariners could try to fix some of their offensive problems by adding Bourn to hit at the top of their lineup, giving them someone who can get on base at a decent clip and set up Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero for the RBI.
I don't see either team signing Bourn, as of this moment. There are too many other things at play for both the Rangers and Mariners. If something else falls apart, Bourn will still be there for the taking.
OF Nick Swisher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Market for Swisher
Swisher's market is baffling to me. He is a good defensive outfielder and can shift to first base, if need be. He hits for power, draws walks and is just 32 years old. For a player who likely won't command more than three or four years, I'd rather have him than Josh Hamilton.
Of course, Swisher is likely in wait-and-see mode right now. Hamilton's contract will have a huge impact on how much Swisher can ask for.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the two teams still actively engaged in talks are Seattle and Cleveland.
We discussed the Mariners' need for offense, but the Indians are desperate to find someone who can provide a little pop and versatility. They do have Shin-Soo Choo in right field already, so there could be a subsequent move made, or Swisher shifts to first base, where the Indians also have a hole.
Where Will Swisher Land?
Swisher is used to playing in front of big crowds and pennant races with the Yankees, so the Indians and Mariners would represent a significant step down in that regard.
The Indians have never been aggressive on the free-agent market, so it all depends on how much of their wallet they are willing to open to Swisher.
Like Bourn, I don't think we know Swisher's true destination yet. His market is so dependent on what happens with Hamilton that it is difficult to say where he will land.
Swisher does know the west coast very well after starting his career in Oakland. The Mariners have to do something to upgrade their offense at some point, right? If just the Mariners and Indians are in it for Swisher, I would lean towards the Mariners.
1B/3B Kevin Youkilis
Harry How/Getty Images
Market for Youkilis
Youkilis is suddenly looking like a hot commodity given the lack of third basemen available, with the Yankees and Indians reportedly in the mix for the former All-Star.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Indians want Youkilis to fill their hole at first base.
Looks like Indians stepping up their intensity on talks with Kevin Youkilis. Would love to land him for 1B.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) December 5, 2012
The Yankees' offer to Kevin Youkilis is one year at $12M, according to source.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) December 6, 2012
Last but not least, stop me if you have heard this before, the Mariners are in the market for Youkilis, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.
Never before has an injury-prone, declining third baseman been so coveted in baseball. Youkilis has missed 142 games the last three seasons. His batting average has dropped 72 points since 2010 (.307 to .235), his on-base percentage has dipped by 75 points (.411 to .336) and his slugging percentage has plummeted 155 points (.564 to .409).
Where Will Youkilis Land?
If Youkilis wants a familiar environment, as well as an opportunity to really stay healthy, he will sign with Cleveland. Terry Francona is going into his first year as manager, and the report says the team wants him to play first base.
If Youkilis wants to win now, the Yankees are the best option. He will get to play every day, at least until Rodriguez gets healthy, assuming that happens this year, and he knows the division very well.
Once the Yankees got in on Youkilis, you almost expect them to land him. They have a need and only have to offer one year, which won't change their payroll for 2014, when they want to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.