MLB Free Agency: 1 Dark-Horse Suitor for Top Remaining Targets
The free-agent field continues to thin by the day, but there are plenty of impact players still available on the market, including the top two hitters in Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn.
As rumors swirl, favorites to land each free agent inevitably emerge, but on the back burner there are always a handful of dark horse candidates as well who could make sense as potential landing spots.
What follows is a look at one dark horse candidate for each of the top seven remaining free agents on the market.
Dark Horse Suitors: San Diego Padres
The Padres have built a solid core of talent that will only benefit from the continued development of one of the best farm systems in baseball.
But starting pitching remains an area of need.
Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard are solid atop the staff, but the trio of Jason Marquis, Eric Stults and Tyson Ross behind them do little to inspire confidence.
Jackson is not an ace, but he is a proven commodity who can be counted on to stay healthy, throw 200 innings and win double-digit games with potential for more.
Dark Horse Suitor: Philadelphia Phillies
Age has begun to catch up to Philadelphia's core of superstars, but the Phillies still have enough talent to contend for a title if they can stay healthy and perform up to their potential.
The team filled two big holes with the additions of Ben Revere to play center field and Michael Young to play third base, but they could still look to add another outfielder to start over either Domonic Brown or John Mayberry.
They're in on Josh Hamilton, as they offered him a three-year, $80 million deal on Tuesday, according to 94-WIP radio. If they miss out on him, Swisher remains an option for a team not against adding another pricey veteran with their win-now mentality.
Dark Horse Suitor: Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have already had a huge offseason, adding Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Maicer Izturis, Esmil Rogers and Melky Cabrera.
Johnson and Buehrle will front the team's rotation ahead of Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero and J.A. Happ, and while that group is nothing to scoff at, the team could still add another starter as it looks to make a serious run at the AL East title.
Sanchez would give them a proven innings eater to help offset the injury concerns that surround Johnson and Morrow, and while his price tag is high, he could be the piece that pushes them over the top.
Dark Horse Suitor: Seattle Mariners
Even though he turned down his end of a $10 million option to return to the team, the Nationals were viewed as the favorites to re-sign LaRoche after GM Mike Rizzo identified bringing him back as the team's No. 1 priority (h/t CBSSports).
However, to this point the two sides have yet to reach an agreement, and LaRoche could still wind up elsewhere. With James Loney signing with the Rays and Mike Napoli signing with the Red Sox, the field of teams looking for a first baseman continues to get smaller.
One team in need of offense in general is the Mariners, and while they've been linked to Josh Hamilton (h/t Ken Rosenthal), adding LaRoche remains an option for them as well.
Dark Horse Suitor: Milwaukee Brewers
After trading Zack Greinke at the deadline and with Shaun Marcum gone in free agency, the Brewers lack experienced starting pitching beyond ace Yovani Gallardo.
The team has an impressive offense and is capable of contending in the NL Central if its pitching can fulfill its end of the bargain.
Michael Fiers looks to have a bright future and Gallardo is one of the best in the league, but adding Lohse could be enough to push the team over the top. The former Cardinal has enjoyed success in the NL Central over the past two seasons and could help the Brewers as they look to return to the postseason.
Dark Horse Suitor: Texas Rangers
As more and more teams fill their outfield needs, the market for Michael Bourn continues to shrink. Where Josh Hamilton ends up signing could certainly play a role in who lands the speedy center fielder.
After missing out on Zack Greinke and James Shields, the Rangers will now likely make bringing Hamilton back their main focus, but should he decide to sign elsewhere, they would need to look at other options to bolster their offense.
While Bourn would certainly bring a different skill set to the Rangers lineup, he'd be an asset nonetheless. It will likely take missing out on Hamilton, but don't count Texas out on Bourn.
Dark Horse Suitor: San Francisco Giants
The Giants have locked up a trio of key players from last year's championship team so far this offseason, re-signing Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt to multi-year deals.
With those three back, the team's biggest need is an impact bat to play left field, and Hamilton certainly fits the bill.
Back in October, the Vegas odds had the Giants as the favorite to land Hamilton, but there has been little in the way of news linking the two so far this offseason.
The simple fact that the market has been such a mystery so far is reason enough to think anything can happen, and Hamilton signing with the Giants, while not out of the question, would certainly be a surprise.