Predicting Boom or Bust for MLB's Top Free Agents, Trade Acquisitions

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2012

Predicting Boom or Bust for MLB's Top Free Agents, Trade Acquisitions

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    As the offseason rolls on and more and more players find new homes, the landscape for the 2013 season continues to take shape.

    Predicting how each team's new additions will fare before they even take the field may be a bit premature, but it's also a lot of fun to do.

    So here we are.

    What follows are my predictions on whether each of the top players finding new homes in 2013 will boom or bust. I've included on this list free agents, both signed and unsigned, as well as players who have found new homes via trade.

Josh Hamilton

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    Status: Signed with Los Angeles Angels.

    Boom or Bust? Hitting in a stacked lineup, surrounded by the likes of Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales, will have a similar feel to the past few seasons when Hamilton hit in the Rangers' loaded order.

    Leaving the hitter's paradise of the Ballpark in Arlington could cut into his power numbers a bit, but Hamilton should make a major impact on an Angels team with title aspirations.

    Verdict: Boom

Zack Greinke

2 of 30

    Status: Signed with Los Angeles Dodgers

    Boom or Bust? The Dodgers got their man in Greinke, as their biggest need of the offseason was a frontline starter to slot behind Clayton Kershaw in their rotation.

    Greinke may not be worth what the Dodgers gave him, as he's a solid No. 2 pitcher but not quite the superstar ace his salary may imply. However, with the Dodgers now working with a seemingly endless flow of money, his signing should be a plus.

    Verdict: Boom

Jose Reyes

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    Status: Acquired by Toronto Blue Jays (via Miami Marlins)

    Boom or Bust? Reyes failed to match his stellar numbers of 2011 during his first season in Miami, but he was productive nonetheless, with a .287 BA, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 40 SB season.

    He now joins a Blue Jays team with a legitimate shot at title contention, and he'll be setting the table for one of the best lineups in baseball. He managed to stay healthy last year. As long as he can do that again, he should be a lock for 100 runs and 250-plus total bases.

    Verdict: Boom

James Shields

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    Status: Acquired by Kansas City Royals (via Tampa Bay Rays)

    Boom or Bust? The Royals have completely overhauled their rotation, and the biggest acquisition is Shields. He'll be the ace of the staff, and he cost the team top prospect Wil Myers in a blockbuster deal that also netted the Royals Wade Davis.

    Shields has been a durable, front-line starter in Tampa for years, and he's been at his best the past two seasons in going 31-22 with a 3.15 ERA. He's exactly the type of proven veteran the Royals needed to lead their staff.

    While he may not be enough to make them contenders just yet, he should continue to post stellar numbers.

    Verdict: Boom

Michael Bourn

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    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? Bourn is one of the best speed threats in the game, topping the 40-steal mark in each of the past five seasons and leading the league three times. He's also a terrific center fielder who covers a ton of ground.

    However, given the contract he's likely to receive, he's far too one-dimensional. With a .339 career OBP and 155 strikeouts last season, he's far from an elite table-setter. Whichever team lands him will be overpaying.

    Verdict: Bust

Kyle Lohse

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    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? Lohse is coming off a career year with the Cardinals, as he went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA, serving as the team's ace with Chris Carpenter on the shelf.

    He'll be 34 this coming season. While he should have at least a few more good seasons, he is a prime candidate for regression and could wind up being massively overpaid by the end of whatever contract he signs.

    Verdict: Boom in 2013, bust by 2015

Anibal Sanchez

7 of 30

    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? Though he battled injuries early in his career, Sanchez has been rock solid over the past three seasons and no doubt boosted his stock with a strong stretch run and postseason performance with the Tigers.

    Sanchez is reportedly deciding between re-signing with the Tigers and joining the Cubs (h/t Detroit Free Press), and he'll likely make his decision soon. He'll be a welcome addition to either team, though they are very different situations.

    Verdict: Boom

B.J. Upton

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    Status: Signed with Atlanta Braves

    Boom or Bust? Upton hit the free agent market with as much raw talent and upside as any player. But he has not been able to consistently turn that potential into production during his eight seasons in the big leagues.

    The Braves gave him a five-year, $75.25 million contract, and he'll have a hard time living up to that salary unless he can improve greatly on the .246 average he posted last season. 

    Verdict: Bust

Josh Johnson

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    Status: Acquired by Toronto Blue Jays (via Miami Marlins)

    Boom or Bust? Johnson has always had ace-caliber stuff, evidenced by his ERA title in 2010 when he went 11-6 with a 2.30 mark. Now he'll be counted on to front a staff with legitimate title aspirations.

    After battling injuries the previous two seasons, Johnson stayed healthy in 2012. But he was average at best,  going 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA. The pressure of pitching for a contender, the move to the American League and his less-than-impressive numbers last season all point to a letdown.

    Verdict: Bust

Nick Swisher

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    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? With Josh Hamilton off the market, Swisher becomes the closest thing to a proven run producer still available, aside from Adam LaRoche, who most expect to return to the Nationals.

    He's not an elite slugger, but he should be good for a .270 BA, 25 HR, 80 RBI season. If the price is right, he could be a significant addition to the middle of any team's lineup and clubhouse.

    Verdict: Boom

Edwin Jackson

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    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? While he's never been a front-line guy, Jackson has been a solid, durable, middle-of-the-rotation starter in making at least 31 starts each season since 2007 and winning 64 games with a 4.29 ERA over that span.

    He settled for a one-year, $11 million contract last offseason, but he'll likely be looking for a multi-year deal this time around. If he gets a raise over that salary or even matches it over several years, he's likely to be overpaid. He's a solid pitcher but far from an ace, and that's top-of-the-rotation money.

    Verdict: Bust

Wil Myers

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    Status: Acquired by Tampa Bay Rays (via Kansas City Royals)

    Boom or Bust? The Minor League Player of the Year, Myers hit .314 with 37 homers and 109 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A, and all signs point to him being ready for the next level. He likely would have pushed for the starting right-field job in Kansas City.

    He'll no doubt find his way into the Rays lineup this coming season. While there will be some growing pains, he has the potential to be the impact bat they desperately need alongside Evan Longoria. Consider him the front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year and a major addition to the middle of the Rays' lineup.

    Verdict: Boom

Brandon McCarthy

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    Status: Signed with Arizona Diamondbacks

    Boom or Bust? McCarthy has looked like a bonafide ace at times over the past two seasons in Oakland, going 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA and a stellar 1.179 WHIP.

    However, he made just 43 starts over that span as arm troubles and a freak head injury have robbed him of time. He joins a deep and talented Diamondbacks rotation with plenty of depth. So it was a low-risk, high-reward move for the team and could pay huge dividends.

    Verdict: Boom

Shin-Soo Choo

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    Status: Acquired by Cincinnati Reds (via Cleveland Indians)

    Boom or Bust? In desperate need of an upgrade offensively in center field and atop the lineup, the Reds acquired Choo from the Indians in a three-team deal.

    While he's not a prototypical leadoff hitter. His .381 career OBP is the biggest reason for him filling that spot. And he's also not a center fielder after spending his entire career playing right. He's the type of player who does nothing great but everything well.

    As long as a .280/.380/.450, 15 HR, 20 SB season isn't considered a disappointment, Reds fans should be more than pleased with the addition of Choo.

    Verdict: Boom

Rafael Soriano

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    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? Soriano was terrific last season in replacing the injured Mariano Rivera as Yankees' closer, saving 42 games with a 2.26 ERA and 9.2 K/9.

    He turned down a qualifying offer ($13.3 million) from the Yankees to become a free agent, and he's had a hard time finding anyone willing to exceed that salary thus far.

    Closer is such a fickle position that teams don't appear willing to offer up that much money, At this point, turning down the Yankees' offer looks like it was a mistake.

    Verdict: Bust

Mark Buehrle

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    Status: Acquired by Toronto Blue Jays (via Miami Marlins)

    Boom or Bust? After spending the first 12 seasons of his career with the White Sox, Buehrle now joins his second team in as many years with a move to the Blue Jays.

    While I expect Josh Johnson to run into problems with his move to Toronto, I expect the opposite of the veteran Buehrle. He was the Marlins' best pitcher last season and has enjoyed consistent success throughout his career. He'll emerge as the ace of the Blue Jays staff and be the true prize of that deal.

    Verdict: Boom

Adam LaRoche

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    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? LaRoche turned down a $10 million mutual option to look for a multi-year deal after a solid .271 BA, 33 HR, 100 RBI season with the Nationals. That came after he played in just 43 games in 2011 before an injury ended his season.

    With few power options on the market, and Josh Hamilton now signed, interest in LaRoche could pick up. There is still a strong possibility he re-signs with the Nationals. But wherever he goes, he should continue to be an underrated run-producer if he stays healthy.

    Verdict: Boom

Tommy Hanson

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    Status: Acquired by Los Angeles Angels (via Atlanta Braves)

    Boom or Bust? When the Angels realized their chances of landing Zack Greinke were slim, they moved quickly to Plan B, shipping reliever Jordan Walden to the Braves for Hanson.

    The big right-hander struggled last season, going 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA, and he's arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason and due for a big raise. However, at 26 years old and with a solid track record prior to last season, the Angels may well have gotten one of the biggest steals of the offseason in landing Hanson for a setup reliever.

    Verdict: Boom

Hiroki Kuroda

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    Status: Re-signed with New York Yankees

    Boom or Bust? Kuroda proved to be as important as any player on the Yankees this past season. He went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA and gave the Yankees a second starter they could rely on behind CC Sabathia.

    After signing a one-year, $10 million contract last offseason, the Yankees gave him a raise and brought him back on a one-year, $15 million deal. He'll be 38, so he's no sure thing to replicate last season's numbers. But it's a low-risk move for the Yankees and one they almost had to make.

    Verdict: Boom

Denard Span

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    Status: Acquired by Washington Nationals (via Minnesota Twins)

    Boom or Bust? Long on the trading block, Span finally found his way out of Minnesota and into a terrific situation in Washington where he fills a void in center field and atop the lineup for a team in a great position to contend.

    His acquisition makes the entire lineup better. If he can hit somewhere in the neighborhood of .300 with a solid OBP and 20 or so steals, he'll be well worth the price the Nationals paid in giving up one of their top pitching prospects in Alex Meyer.

    Verdict: Boom

Trevor Bauer

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    Status: Acquired by Cleveland Indians (via Arizona Diamondbacks)

    Boom or Bust? Bauer's career has taken a rough turn. He went  from untouchable prospect on a team that looks to be set to contend for the foreseeable future to a building block on a team set to start from scratch.

    After absolutely dominating the minors last season (12-2, 2.42 ERA, 10.8 K/9), he was overmatched at the big league level with a 6.06 ERA in four starts and quickly fell out of favor with the organization. He'll likely be slotted in the Indians' rotation next season, for better or worse, and that is a recipe for disaster.

    Verdict: Bust

Angel Pagan

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    Status: Re-signed with San Francisco Giants

    Boom or Bust? The Giants acquired Pagan from the Mets last offseason in a swap of underperforming outfielders, as Andres Torres was sent the other way.

    After a solid 2010 season, there was certainly room to believe Pagan could bounce back, and he did just that in posting a 4.0 WAR and serving as a catalyst in the lead-off spot.

    For his role on the World Series champs, he earned a four-year, $40 million contract and he'll have to avoid regressing to his 2011 form. He may even need to improve on last year's numbers to justify that salary.

    Verdict: Bust

Dan Haren

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    Status: Signed with Washington Nationals

    Boom or Bust? Haren entered the 2012 season as one of the top pitchers in baseball, but back and hip problems cut into his velocity and he suffered through the worst season of his career, going 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA.

    His value depended greatly on where he signed, and the Nationals were a perfect fit. He's not expected to be any more than a fourth starter, and on a one-year deal, he has plenty of incentive to boost his stock. The move should pay huge dividends for the Nationals and Haren.

    Verdict: Boom

Torii Hunter

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    Status: Signed with Detroit Tigers

    Boom or Bust? Despite the fact that he'll be 37 this coming season, Hunter is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He batted a career-high .313 to go along with 16 home runs and 92 RBI.

    After enduring a rough season from Brennan Boesch, Hunter will be a welcome addition to the Tigers' lineup. Hitting in the No. 2 spot, he has as good of protection as anyone in baseball in the form of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. As long as he stays healthy, he should have no problem earning his two-year, $26 million salary.

    Verdict: Boom

Mike Napoli

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    Status: Signed with Boston Red Sox

    Boom or Bust? Napoli was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2011, when he hit .320 BA, 30 HR, 75 RBI in what was his first season in Texas.

    However, his average plummeted to .227 this past season. And since he's a .247 hitter for his career aside from 2011, that mark may be more in line with what to expect moving forward.

    He has premiere power for a catcher, but with the Red Sox using him at first base, a .230 BA, 25 HR, 80 RBI line is average at best and certainly not worth $13 million per season.

    Verdict: Bust

Ryan Dempster

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    Status: Signed with Boston Red Sox

    Boom or Bust? Dempster was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career during the first half last season, going 5-5 with a 2.25 ERA through 16 starts with the Cubs before being dealt to the Rangers at the deadline.

    In his first action for an American League team, Dempster went 7-3 in 12 starts, but struggled to a 5.09 ERA. He opted to return to the AL, and expectations are high for the 36-year-old as he'll serve as the Red Sox No. 2 starter. I expect him to be better than he was for the Rangers, but far from a top-of-the-rotation guy.

    Verdict: Bust

Marco Scutaro

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    Status: Re-signed with San Francisco Giants

    Boom or Bust? The Giants struck gold when they acquired Scutaro from the Rockies at the deadline. He hit .362 in 61 games for them down the stretch for a 2.1 WAR.

    He continued his hot play into the postseason, winning NLCS MVP and driving in the winning run in the clinching game of the World Series. That no doubt boosted his free agent value, and the Giants gave the 37-year-old a three-year, $20 million deal.

    He'll have a hard time matching his 2012 numbers, but he's still one of the more productive second baseman in baseball, even at his age.

    Verdict: Boom

Shaun Marcum

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    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? Acquired from the Blue Jays prior to the 2011 season, Marcum had a solid two-year run with the Brewers, going 20-11 with a 3.60 ERA over 54 starts.

    However, his value no doubt took a hit when he missed a good chunk of last season with an injury and only made 21 starts. He's battled arm problems in the past, but when healthy he has top of the rotation stuff. He'll likely wind up being a steal for whatever team signs him.

    Verdict: Boom

Michael Young

29 of 30

    Status: Acquired by Philadelphia Phillies (via Texas Rangers)

    Boom or Bust? A Ranger for his entire 13-year big league career, Young has ranked among the game's best pure hitters for years now, with six 200-hit seasons and a .301 career batting average.

    However, he struggled through the worst season last year, finishing with a .277/.312/.370 line. At 36 years old, chances are that those numbers aren't an aberration and instead the beginning of the end.

    For a Phillies team counting on him to make an offensive impact at the hot corner, he could be a major disappointment.

    Verdict: Bust

A.J. Pierzynski

30 of 30

    Status: Unsigned free agent

    Boom or Bust? With Russell Martin and Mike Napoli signed, Pierzynski is the only starting-caliber catcher still on the market. He's headed for a solid payday after turning in a career year at the age of 35.

    He's unlikely to repeat his .278 BA, 27 HR, 77 RBI line, but he's been a solid producer for years now and should continue to be a plus bat. I think he'll wind up in a good situation.

    Verdict: Boom