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Predicting Which MLB Free Agents Will Have Biggest Impacts on New Teams

Josh CohenCorrespondent IIDecember 24, 2012

Predicting Which MLB Free Agents Will Have Biggest Impacts on New Teams

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    After this free agency period, some of the MLB's biggest talents will be making some noise in new cities.

    Many of the marquee players on the market have already gotten snapped up, changing uniforms as they went to the highest bidders.

    Shelling out an eight- or nine-digit contract is always a risky endeavor.

    That money could pay for a guy like Alex Rodriguez, who went on to win three MVP awards after signing a record-breaking deal with the Texas Rangers.

    On the other hand, it could also bankroll a historic bust, like the mammoth contract Mike Hampton got from the Colorado Rockies.

    Let's take a look at the premium players changing places, working our way to the most impactful signee of the winter.

Mike Napoli

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    Mike Napoli regressed in 2012, but the Boston Red Sox are hoping he'll round back into All-Star form.

    The 31-year-old catcher chose to leave the Texas Rangers and take Boston's three-year, $39 million offer. According to NBC Sports, though, Napoli's physical revealed an issue with his hip, and the status of his deal is currently undetermined.

    Napoli had a breakout season in 2011, his first with the Rangers, but his numbers were much more ordinary last year.

    He topped 20 homers for the fourth straight season, but his average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all dropped significantly, from .320/.414/.631 in 2011 to .227/.343/.469 in 2012.

    Boston is clearly banking on Napoli returning to his 2011 level of production. $13 million per year will be well worth it if he does. If not, it's hardly too rich a deal for a veteran catcher with plenty of pop.

Dan Haren

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    Dan Haren is the quintessential low-risk, high-reward signing for the Washington Nationals.

    Washington signed the 32-year-old righty to a one-year, $13 million contract, a pittance for a guy of his caliber. Haren is a couple years past his days of Cy Young contention, but he's still a top-of-the-rotation starter when he's on.

    Last season, however, Haren had a down year. His 4.33 ERA and 142 strikeouts were his worst marks since the 2004 season, and he went on the DL with a bad back for the first time in his career. Not the kind of development you want to see in a pitcher in his 30's.

    That said, the Nationals have no shortage of dominant pitching. Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg are two of the best starters in baseball, while Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler are no slouches, either.

    Haren does not have to be great to be worth the money for Washington. As long as he just stays on the mound, he'll be a very capable back end for the best rotation in baseball.

B.J. Upton

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    The Atlanta Braves have made a pretty reasonable investment in B.J. Upton.

    After the Tampa Bay Rays let Upton hit free agency, the Braves won him over with a five-year deal worth $75.25 million.

    This is one of those all-too-rare situations where a guy gets just what he's worth.

    Upton has not matched his production from his first full season. In 2007, he hit .300 with an OPS of .894. Since then, his average and OPS have settled in the .240's and the mid-.700's, respectively.

    That said, about $15 million per year for an inefficient 30-30 threat sounds about right. The Braves need the power in the middle of their lineup, and the speed is a nice bonus. Expect the usual from Upton in Atlanta.

Melky Cabrera

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    Speaking of cost-effective contracts, the Toronto Blue Jays may have just stolen Melky Cabrera.

    Toronto snagged the infamous outfielder for $16 million over two years, though it's a mystery just how productive he'll be.

    In August of last season, Cabrera was batting .346, a career high and second-best in the National League, and his 159 hits topped the NL. He was just a few weeks removed from being named All-Star Game MVP, and he had never been better.

    If that's the guy Toronto is getting, Cabrera will grossly outperform this contract. But Cabrera's season ended that August, as a 50-game suspension for elevated testosterone levels cast a black cloud over his stellar stat line. He did not return to the San Francisco Giants when his suspension ended.

    It's possible that Cabrera could approach his 2012 numbers without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. It's probable that he won't. Either way, $8 million a year is a pretty reasonable price for Toronto to take that gamble.

Zack Greinke

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    Zack Greinke was clearly the top pitcher on the market, and he got paid accordingly.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers broke the bank for Greinke; his six-year, $147 million contract is the largest ever for a right-handed pitcher.

    Adding that type of deal to a team that already has Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez is a tall order, but Greinke has the skills to make it worthwhile.

    He has not been able to replicate the supreme performance from his Cy Young-winning season in 2009, but he still has the command and the wicked curveball to warrant ace status.

    In all likelihood, the Dodgers are not getting the best pitcher in baseball. Yet they needed a top-flight starter to support their stacked lineup, and Greinke's price tag is the going rate for an ace. He may not bring a Cy Young to Los Angeles, but he will still be paid appropriately.

Josh Hamilton

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    When you're adding Josh Hamilton to a team with multiple MVP-caliber players, the money doesn't seem to matter so much.

    The 2010 AL MVP is taking his five tools to Hollywood, signing a five-year, $125 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Considering the lineup the Angels can throw out now, Hamilton might be worth even more.

    Playing alongside Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre last season, Hamilton hit 43 home runs, drove in 128 RBIs and posted an OPS of .931.

    Those are impressive numbers, but imagine the numbers Hamilton could put up with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols batting around him. For that matter, imagine what Trout and Pujols could do with Hamilton in the middle of the order. 

    Even with Pujols and Trout in 2012, the Angels fell short of a playoff spot. Los Angeles went out to add the best player on the market, and he's going to give the Angels a better performance than any other free agent around.

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