Predicting Landing Spots for Top MLB Free Agents Left After Winter Meetings

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterDecember 7, 2012

Predicting Landing Spots for Top MLB Free Agents Left After Winter Meetings

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    There was certainly no guarantee that the top MLB free agents would sign contracts during this week's winter meetings. 

    But for fans, reporters and analysts looking for some offseason sizzle to keep them warm during the winter, the lack of action from baseball's annual pow-wow in Nashville was disappointing. This year's meetings certainly lacked the excitement of last year's edition, which featured Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes sign big free-agent deals. 

    On the bright side, this extends MLB's hot stove action further into December. Rather than have so much business taken care of during the four-day span of the winter meetings, we now have more time to constantly check the rumor mill about which players might sign where. 

    Almost all of the top free agents are still available right now. Who is Zack Greinke going to sign with? Where will Josh Hamilton go? How will the rest of the free-agent market develop after the two biggest names sign? Will we see the action pick up, or will it still be a slow process through December and January? 

    Eventually, these players will sign, and that will give us plenty to talk about. Here are some predictions for where the top free-agent talent will end up, hopefully before the end of the calendar year. 

Josh Hamilton: Seattle Mariners

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    The idea of Josh Hamilton not signing with a playoff contender like the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Philadelphia Phillies seems outlandish.

    Yet those teams don't appear to be interested in meeting Hamilton's price, especially if he wants a contract spanning four years or longer. While a return to Texas looks possible, the Rangers appear to be more enamored with Justin Upton at this point.

    But the Seattle Mariners really seem to want Hamilton, and that might be the most important thing to him right now. Hamilton may not make the playoffs in Seattle, but he'll be viewed as a star player—one that the team can build around as it tries to re-establish itself as a contender in the AL West.

    If Hamilton is talking about a three-year deal with the Mariners, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports, it seems likely that other teams will take a shot at him. 

    Yet if it's important to be the star of a team, to be embraced by a fanbase yearning for a great player, Hamilton should go to Seattle and be a rock star in that city. 

Zack Greinke: Texas Rangers

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers have reason to be worried that Zack Greinke's preference is to sign with a different team.

    After all, if the 29-year-old right-hander really wanted to be a Dodger, why hasn't he signed with them already. The money is there, waiting for him. 

    But the Texas Rangers have apparently devoted their focus to making him their No. 1 starter, to the point where the team has essentially put Josh Hamilton on hold until Greinke makes a decision. (The Rangers also appear to have a follow-up plan, which is trading for outfielder Justin Upton.) 

    Greinke is the piece that can put the Rangers back in the World Series, and he probably knows it. Not having an ace at the top of its rotation likely cost Texas the AL West title this season, let alone a third consecutive trip to the Fall Classic. 

    The Dallas area likely suits Greinke's lifestyle better than Los Angeles, as he likely won't have to deal with the same level of media scrutiny. Those are surely important considerations for him, along with the money and an opportunity to win a World Series. 

Anibal Sanchez: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    If the Los Angeles Dodgers lose out on Zack Greinke, general manager Ned Colletti will have to move to the next best starting pitcher available. That is probably Anibal Sanchez, who finished the season strong with the Detroit Tigers after the Miami Marlins traded him.

    Sanchez is a hurler capable of 200 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts, but there is some question as to whether he's really a No. 1 starter.

    With the Dodgers, though, Sanchez doesn't have to be the ace. Clayton Kershaw is clearly the No. 1 guy in the team's starting rotation. But the pitching staff does need a strong No. 2 starter behind Kershaw, and Sanchez might be a better fit in that regard than Greinke would have been. 

    The 28-year-old right-hander is reportedly looking for a six-year, $90 million contract, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.

    That package is probably too rich for most teams interested in Sanchez, including the Tigers, who would like to keep him. But for the Dodgers, that figure will seem like a discount compared to what Greinke wants. Colletti will be left with more money available to sign another starting pitcher as well. 

Nick Swisher: Philadelphia Phillies

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    According to CBS Sports' Scott Miller, the Philadelphia Phillies believe that Nick Swisher is "not their flavor."

    Presumably, that's a reference to Swisher's outgoing personality. But if he could get along in the New York Yankees' clubhouse, it's difficult to see how he wouldn't fit in nicely with the Phillies. 

    On the field, Swisher certainly seems like the right fit. Philadelphia needs a corner outfielder who can hit for power. Ideally, that player would hit right-handed. Swisher is a switch-hitter and thus would bat from the right side when the Phillies face left-handed pitching. 

    Swisher also provides position versatility and could be used at first base when Ryan Howard doesn't play against lefties. 

    Most importantly, Swisher hit 24 home runs last season with 93 RBI and an .837 OPS. The Phillies need a player like that in the middle of their batting order to go with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. 

    ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted that the Cleveland Indians could be in the best position to sign Swisher. As an Ohio native, maybe that would appeal to him. Swisher would likely enjoy playing for Terry Francona too. 

    But are the Indians a playoff contender? That's something that could turn Swisher off. He also apparently wants to play in a bigger market, preferably New York or Los Angeles. But with the teams in those cities not interested, Philadelphia is a great situation for him. 

Michael Bourn: Chicago Cubs

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    The market for center fielders dried up fast for Michael Bourn.

    Perhaps he and Scott Boras can shake their fists at the Minnesota Twins for trading Denard Span and Ben Revere to two teams that Bourn would have fit with nicely. But the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies no longer have a need for him.

    Neither do the Seattle Mariners, if they sign Josh Hamilton.

    Bourn would be ideal for the Cincinnati Reds, but they have no interest in meeting Bourn's reported asking price, which is higher than the $75 million B.J. Upton received from the Atlanta Braves, according to ESPN.com.

    So, who's left for Bourn?

    The Chicago Cubs need a center fielder and leadoff hitter. Signing a high-priced free agent is a questionable move for a rebuilding team like the Cubs, but they could use an established hitter who can provide speed and defense, in addition to getting on base. 

    This would give Brett Jackson more time to develop and cut down on his strikeouts. Bourn would also create more RBI opportunities for Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano and Anthony Rizzo. 

    Bourn and the Cubs probably isn't the ideal partnership, but circumstances could bring the two sides together. 

Kyle Lohse: Boston Red Sox

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    The Boston Red Sox could use another talented starting pitcher at the top of their rotation behind No. 1 starter Jon Lester. 

    Kyle Lohse probably falls into that next tier of free-agent pitchers, below the likes of Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez. But he could very well be the best of them, having compiled a 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA in 33 starts for the St. Louis Cardinals this year.

    The Red Sox might ultimately prefer more of a strikeout pitcher. But someone who can keep the ball down and not give up many home runs should have success at Fenway Park. Lohse won't cost as much as someone like Sanchez either.

    According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Boston has been checking in on Lohse. Now that general manager Ben Cherington has addressed the team's offense by signing Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, he can switch his focus to improving the starting rotation. 

    Lohse doesn't allow many runs and can give a team 200 innings. That's the sort of reliable starter that the Red Sox need next season. 

Ryan Dempster: Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Milwaukee Brewers have been attached to Josh Hamilton in many rumors this offseason, trying to keep that hot stove warm and find a fit for the top free-agent outfielder available. 

    But Hamilton was never really what the Brewers needed. They have enough offense with Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart, Norichika Aoki and Jonathan Lucroy.

    What the Brewers really need is pitching. They traded Zack Greinke and are apparently willing to let Shaun Marcum seek employment elsewhere.

    Milwaukee has promising young pitchers such as Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta. However, a veteran who can anchor the starting rotation along with Yovani Gallardo would be a nice pick-up for the Brewers. Ryan Dempster could fill that role nicely. 

    Dempster has a great history pitching in the National League, and he has plenty of experience pitching against NL Central opponents from his nine seasons with the Chicago Cubs (and two with the Cincinnati Reds before that). 

    Milwaukee is also very close to Chicago, where Dempster has spent so much of his MLB career. While he reportedly would prefer to be on the West Coast, closer to his Vancouver home, being in familiar Midwestern surroundings could be comfortable as well. 

Rafael Soriano: Boston Red Sox

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    Yes, I realize that the Boston Red Sox were already mentioned in this slideshow.

    But even if they sign Kyle Lohse, as predicted here, the Red Sox need help at the back end of their bullpen.

    General manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell can't have much confidence in the ability of closer Andrew Bailey to make it through a full season. (And rightfully so. Bailey has averaged 36 appearances over the past three years.) 

    Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano and agent Scott Boras appear to have vastly overestimated the market for a veteran closer this winter—especially one seeking a four-year, $60 million contract. Teams just aren't giving that kind of package to relievers anymore.

    In past years, the Detroit Tigers would have been all over Soriano. But even Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has learned his lesson and appears ready to go with a homegrown reliever. (Or he's waiting for a bargain to develop.)

    The Red Sox might be the only team willing to pay big money for a closer at this point. Soriano could also agree to a one-year deal that would allow him to try the free-agent market again next year.

    Soriano can obviously pitch against AL East competition, having had success with the New York Yankees during the past two seasons. It probably doesn't hurt Boston's consideration that signing Soriano also weakens the Yanks.

     

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