Predicting Contracts for 2014's Top 25 Free Agents Based on This Winter's Deals
If you thought the 2013 Hot Stove League had big-time free agents available, you haven't seen anything yet.
As it stands now, the group of free agents that will hit the open market following the 2013 season is a deep, talented group, one that features former MVP and Cy Young Award winners and future Hall of Famers.
While the names change, many of the deals handed out this winter to free agents will be pointed to by those who represent this new class of available players as a point of reference as to what the true market value for their clients is.
How much will the deals signed by Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Nick Swisher and others factor into the earning power of the Top 25 free agents on the market next winter?
Let's take a look.
*Players are listed alphabetically, not by where they rank in the 2014 Free Agent class.
Players with Options
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A number of players that could have snuck into the Top 25 have options on their deals for 2014 that I believe will be exercised, taking them off of the free agent market in 2014.
Jason Kubel, LF, Arizona ($7.5 million team option)
Jon Lester, LHP, Boston ($13 million team option)
James Shields, RHP, Kansas City ($12 million team option)
Ryan Vogelsong, RHP, San Francisco ($6.5 million team option)
Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay ($7 Million team option)
Carlos Beltran, RF
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Carlos Beltran's first half of the 2012 season made the St. Louis Cardinals look like geniuses for signing the 35-year-old outfielder to a two-year, $26 million deal prior to the season.
Beltran was in the thick of the NL MVP race as we approached the All-Star break, hitting .296 with 20 home runs and 54 RBI.
But he struggled mightily down the stretch, hitting only .252 with 12 home runs and 43 RBI, limping into the postseason and leaving many wondering what he had left in the tank for 2013.
There will be plenty of interest in Beltran following 2013 regardless of how he performs during the season, but that interest may come from second-tier clubs looking to add a veteran presence either at a corner outfield spot or as a designated hitter.
Even in the best-case scenario, Beltran, who will celebrate his 37th birthday less than a month into the 2014 season, shouldn't expect much more than the same deal he signed with the Cardinals two years ago.
Predicted Contract: Two years, $28 million
Robinson Cano, 2B
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He's the best second baseman in the game, a perennial MVP candidate and the most valuable player on the most wealthy team in the game.
But with Hal Steinbrenner's intent on getting the New York Yankees below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, there is an outside chance that Cano, who turns 31 in October, is playing his last season in the Bronx.
One unnamed source told the New York Daily News last month that he doesn't expect Cano to remain in New York—and that his agent, Scott Boras, is shooting for the stars with his superstar client:
“I don’t think he’ll be with the Yankees beyond next season,” one of the sources told the Daily News. “He’s not giving them a hometown discount, and they seem to be more interested in keeping their payroll down than winning.”
Compounding matters for the Yankees is the fact that Cano is represented by super agent Scott Boras, who was responsible for both Alex Rodriguez’s then-record $252 million deal with Texas before the 2001 season, and the 10-year, $275 million pact A-Rod signed with the Bombers in 2007. The new fiscal belt-tightening by Hal Steinbrenner — the Yankees have said they will get their payroll to $189 million by 2014 to avoid a massive luxury-tax hit — will be a factor.
Another baseball source suggested that Cano will seek a deal similar to A-Rod’s, one that has become an albatross for the Bombers, who might be hesitant to tie up that much money and that many years in Cano, 30.
“He knows he’s the best player on the Yankees,” the second source said of Cano. “There’s no reason for him not to be paid that way.”
There's no chance that Cano will get an A-Rod-like deal from the Yankees, and I doubt whether they'd be willing to even come close to a $200 million package to retain the talented second baseman.
Cano won't be without suitors, making his departure from the Bronx more likely than it might be in other years.
Look for Cano to exceed the biggest deals handed out this winter to Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton.
Predicted Contract: Seven years, $175 million
Chris Carpenter, RHP
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He's no longer one of the premier starting pitchers in the game, but if Chris Carpenter can rebound from an injury-filled 2012 season that saw him make only three regular season starts, there will be a contract waiting for him in 2014.
Whether it comes from the St. Louis Cardinals, however, remains to be seen.
Carpenter, who will celebrate his 39th birthday less than a month into the 2014 season, isn't going to be the recipient of any lucrative, multi-year offers as a free agent—but a one-year deal that pays him seven figures certainly is a possibility if he's coming off of a strong 2013 campaign.
Think along the lines of Andy Pettitte for the former NL Cy Young Award winner.
Predicted Contract: One year, $12.5 million
Shin-Soo Choo, RF
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Despite the fact that Cincinnati is playing him in center field, Shin-Soo Choo is a corner outfielder.
He is what he is—good for 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases, between 80-to-90 RBI and a high on-base percentage.
At 31 years old, he'll be one of the younger veteran outfielders on the open market, and being a Scott Boras client, we can be sure that his initial asking price will be way out of whack with where his true market value lies.
I hate to keep using Nick Swisher as a comparison for people, but Choo figures to get a Swisher-like deal next winter.
Predicted Contract: Four years, $60 million
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
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When he's healthy, Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the best players in all of baseball.
Unfortunately, freak injuries have cost him substantial playing time in two of the past three seasons.
That spotty injury history, coupled with the fact that he's a Scott Boras client, makes it difficult to figure out what Ellsbury's true earning power on the open market might be.
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald wrote back in October that Boras was looking for a multi-year deal that paid Ellsbury around $160 million.
For as talented a player as Ellsbury is, I have a hard time believing that a team is going to be so enamored with him that they'd be willing to make that kind of financial commitment to the soon-to-be 30-year-old.
Should Ellsbury be able to stay off of the disabled list and return to his MVP form of 2011, when he hit .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases, he'll have a decent shot at cracking that $100 million mark.
If not, he'll be lucky to get much more than the four-year, $52 million deal that Nick Swisher signed with the Indians.
Predicted Contract: Four years, $75 million
Matt Garza, RHP
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We never thought it would come, but the saga of Matt Garza and the Chicago Cubs will come to a conclusion one way or another in 2013.
The subject of trade rumors in each of the past two seasons, Garza, who celebrates his 30th birthday in November, needs to show teams that the elbow problems that cost him the last two months of the 2012 season are a thing of the past.
If he's able to do that, his track record of success pitching in both leagues will make him one of the more sought-after pitchers on the open market.
He isn't an ace, so there's no Zack Greinke contract waiting for him, but Garza is going to be paid well, especially in light of the five-year, $80 million deal that Anibal Sanchez signed with the Detroit Tigers.
Take a look at their career numbers:
Garza: 57-61, 3.84 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 2.29 SO/BB
Sanchez: 48-51, 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 2.29 SO/BB
If Anibal Sanchez is worth the money he got (which granted, was partly based on his outstanding postseason performance for Detroit), it's impossible to argue that Garza isn't worth as much.
Predicted Contract: Five Years, $75 million
Curtis Granderson, CF
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Is Curtis Granderson really one of the premier sluggers in baseball, or is he a product of the stadium in which he plays?
Over the past two seasons, Granderson has hit 84 home runs.
More than half of them—47—have been hit at Yankee Stadium.
While he's still a solid player, his transformation from a talented outfielder with power to a slugger that does little else has made gauging his value on the open market virtually impossible.
Is he a $100 million player?
I have a hard time making the argument that he is, especially when you consider how reliant his offensive production has become on the outfield dimensions of Yankee Stadium.
That being said, someone is going to pay Granderson handsomely for the 2014 season and beyond.
Predicted Contract: Five years, $82.5 million
Roy Halladay, RHP
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Doc Halladay's $20 million vesting option for 2014 isn't going to vest, making the 36-year-old a free agent.
Halladay needs to throw 259 innings in 2013 and not finish the season on the disabled list to meet the requirements of the option, and that simply isn't in the cards for the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
That's not to say that he will be without suitors—when he's healthy, Halladay remains one of the premier starting pitchers in the game.
But he had the worst season of his career in 2012 since becoming a full-time starter, ending a six-year streak that saw him average 226 innings pitched per season.
Halladay needs to prove that he's regained his form if a team is going to pay lavishly to secure his services. Even then, teams will be leery of committing too many years to him, as it's quite possible that the heavy workload that he's carried has begun to take its toll on his throwing arm.
Predicted Contract: Two years, $30 million
Dan Haren, RHP
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Dan Haren went largely unnoticed during the 2013 Hot Stove League, something that allowed the Washington Nationals to swoop in and sign the 32-year-old to a reasonable one-year, $13 million deal.
It was only two years ago that Haren won 16 games for the Los Angeles Angels and finished in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young Award voting, but he struggled in 2012, posting the highest ERA (4.33) of his career since becoming a full-time starter back in 2005.
Whether his numbers are similar or better to what he produced in 2012, Haren will be a 33-year-old starter in a free agent market that isn't likely to bear much more fruit for him than he found this year.
Predicted Contract: Two years, $28 million (team option for a third year)
Aaron Hill, 2B
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Aaron Hill is either becoming a free agent at the perfect time.
While he'll be the third second baseman on some shopping lists around baseball, after Robinson Cano and Chase Utley, Hill is a far better signing for teams than Utley at this point in their respective careers.
But with both Cano and Utley commanding big bucks, Hill and his representatives could ask for more than they normally would and still appear to be a bargain when compared with the money handed out to his more well-known counterparts.
A solid all-around player, Hill, who will turn 32 before Opening Day in 2014, has taken his game to another level with the Diamondbacks, posting a .304/.364/.517 slash line with 26 home runs and 101 RBI over 189 games played with Arizona.
If he's able to continue along that path in 2013, there's no reason that Hill couldn't command significantly more than the three-year, $20 million deal that playoff hero Marco Scutaro received from the San Francisco Giants.
Predicted Contract: Three years, $33 million
Derek Jeter, SS
The face of the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter is much like Chase Utley—he's far more valuable to the Yankees than he is to any other organization in baseball.
Unlike Utley, Jeter has no degenerative joint issues that anyone is aware of, and while he has a player option on his contract for the 2014 season, it's hard to imagine that he'll exercise it, as the option is only for $8 million.
The more people doubt Jeter, the better he seems to perform. While he will celebrate his 40th birthday during the 2014 season, age truly seems to be nothing but a number for the Yankees captain, who finished seventh in the AL MVP voting in 2012 while leading all of baseball with 216 hits.
As is the case with some of the other high-profile free agents on the market in 2014, there isn't really a good comparison to make between Jeter and anyone who was a free agent signing heading into the 2013 season.
Predicted Contract: Two years, $25 million (mutual option for a third year)
Josh Johnson, RHP
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Depending on how he and the other free agent pitchers fare this season, Josh Johnson stands to be the pitcher that teams most covet in the Hot Stove League following the 2013 season.
Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Johnson will be looked at to lead a stacked Toronto Blue Jays club to the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Johnson, who will celebrate his 30th birthday before the 2014 season gets underway, is a legitimate ace who has overpowering stuff.
Should he regain the form that made him a Cy Young contender back in 2010, there's no reason we couldn't see Johnson start to sniff around the six-year, $147 million deal that the Dodgers handed Zack Greinke this winter.
Predicted Contract: Five years, $120 million
Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
As long as Hiroki Kuroda continues to perform at a high level, he'll have no problem continuing to land one-year deals for between $14-and-$16 million.
But Kuroda, who will celebrate his 39th birthday before Opening Day in 2014, made it pretty clear this past offseason that he's only considering three places of employment: New York, Los Angeles (Dodgers), or back in Japan, where his career started.
He could also opt to retire, always a possibility as players get closer and closer to their 40th birthdays. Should he decide to continue playing in the major leagues, he'll land another one-year deal just like he got this time around.
Predicted Contract: One year, $15 million
Tim Lincecum, RHP
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The absolute hardest player to figure out of all those on the list.
How do you value a 29-year-old right-hander who has already won two Cy Young awards, three strikeout titles and been an All-Star four times in the five years since becoming a full-time member of the rotation in San Francisco?
Lincecum will need to show that his dreadful 2012 season was a fluke occurrence, but if he returns to form, Lincecum will surpass the deals given to Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain over the past 12 months.
When he's on, there may not be a better pitcher in all of baseball.
Predicted Contract: Six years, $157 million
Brian McCann, C
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An All-Star in each of the six full seasons he's played in the major leagues, Brian McCann heads into his walk year needing to show teams that he's healthy and still productive after a subpar 2012 and offseason shoulder surgery.
Even if he falters, McCann will still have his suitors. But it goes without saying that the better he performs both at-and-behind the plate in 2013 will dictate how lucrative of a deal he gets in the winter.
While a return to the Braves is certainly a possibility, the allure of being able to spend some time as a DH, alleviating some of the wear-and-tear he gets as an everyday catcher is sure to be intriguing to a 30-year-old McCann.
A healthy, productive McCann will pull down a better deal than the three-year, $39 million contract that Boston agreed to with Mike Napoli, a deal that has yet to be finalized.
Predicted Contract: Four years, $60 million (with a team option for a fifth year)
Kendrys Morales, 1B
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Now more than two years removed from the broken leg he suffered celebrating his game-winning grand slam against the Seattle Mariners back in 2010, the kind of numbers Morales has for the Mariners will dictate how sought after he is on the open market.
Morales, who will celebrate his 30th birthday before Opening Day in 2014, will get a chance to play first base on a daily basis in Seattle, something he wasn't able to do in Anaheim in 2012 thanks to Albert Pujols.
At his best, Morales was a slugging, on-base machine who played solid defense at first.
Proving that he can still play at that level will find him making far more than the $2.975 million that he earned in 2012, landing a deal more along the lines of what Melky Cabrera received from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Predicted Contract: Three years, $26 million
Justin Morneau, 1B
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The days of Justin Morneau being a perennial MVP candidate are long gone, but there will definitely be interest in the 32-year-old slugger when he hits the open market.
After battling concussion symptoms that cost him nearly two years of his career, Morneau was solid in 2012 for the Twins, hitting .267 with 19 home runs and 77 RBI.
You have to figure that there's a very good chance that the Twins will move him at the trade deadline for additional pieces, but 2013 is all about proving to teams that he is fully recovered from his injuries for the former AL MVP.
There isn't really a good comparison for Morneau in this year's free agent class, but a strong campaign in 2013 could find him taking less of a cut in pay from the $14 million he's earned in each of the past two seasons than some expect.
Predicted Contract: Three years, $30 million
Mike Morse, 1B/OF
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While Mike Morse is currently on the trade block, he is "strongly opposed" to serving as a team's DH, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
That not only limits his potential landing spots in 2013, but it's going to prove to be costly once he hits the open market as a free agent.
Sure, Morse is a solid contributor with the bat, averaging 24 home runs and 78 RBI over each of the past two seasons, but defensively, he's mediocre at best.
If Morse is still adamant about not wanting to serve as a designated hitter after the 2013 season, he may find himself patiently waiting to land somewhere while other, more open-minded veterans take spots that could have belonged to him.
The two-year, $15 million deal that Ryan Ludwick signed with the Cincinnati Reds is a good starting point for Morse, who is a bit more valuable due to his ability to play two positions.
Predicted Contract: Three years, $24.5 million
Hunter Pence, RF
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Hunter Pence will need to rebound from a terrible performance with the San Francisco Giants in 2012 if he hopes to command a sizable contract on the open market.
Pence looked lost and uncomfortable after being acquired by the Giants at the trade deadline, hitting only .219 with seven home runs and 45 RBI in 59 games played.
A strong regular season in Bay Area, one more along the lines of the .285/.339/.475 career slash line he owns, will find Pence with multiple suitors on the open market following the season, suitors willing to dish out a B.J. Upton-esque deal.
Predicted Contract: Five years, $75 million
A.J. Pierzynski, C
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With each passing year, A.J. Pierzynski loses a bit more earning power.
Simply put, there wasn't much of a market for a 36-year-old catcher that was coming off of his career-year at the plate this winter. Even if he's able to duplicate those numbers with the Texas Rangers in 2013, there won't be a tremendous market for a 37-year-old catcher with a lot of tread on his tires.
He might be able to convince a team to give him a two-year deal, but Pierzynski has likely reached the point of his career where he'll have to live with one-year contracts, needing to prove that he can still contribute on a regular basis.
Look for the veteran backstop to receive a deal similar to the one he signed this offseason.
Predicted Contract: One year, $8 million
Martin Prado, IF/OF
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Martin Prado will be the most versatile player on the market in 2014, with the ability to play second base, third base and left field—and play them well.
He's spent his entire career as a member of the Atlanta Braves, and there's no reason to think that Atlanta won't work out an extension with their All-Star before he hits the open market.
Should that not materialize, however, look for Prado to be highly sought-after and well paid on the open market, getting himself a deal between what the Braves handed out to center fielder B.J. Upton and Cleveland signed Nick Swisher for.
Predicted Contract: Five years, $65 million
Mariano Rivera, RHP
The case for the greatest reliever who ever lived—and arguably one of the 10 most dominating pitchers of all-time—is a simple one.
Either he's going to sign a one-year deal to stay with the Yankees or he's going to retire.
Of all the players in baseball, Rivera is one that we can be assured of playing his entire career in one place.
Predicted Contract: One year, $10 million
Chase Utley, 2B
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I'd be shocked if Chase Utley didn't work out a new deal to stay in Philadelphia, for he's far more valuable to the Phillies than he is to any other team.
The reality of the situation is that there isn't much of a market for a second baseman on the wrong side of 35 with degenerative hip and knee problems.
Whether he re-signs with the Phillies or tests the open market, Utley isn't going to be landing anything that resembles the seven-year, $85 million extension that he signed with Philadelphia back in 2007.
As previously mentioned, Utley's greatest value is to the Phillies, and he'll see offers from other teams that echo those sentiments.
Predicted Contract with Phillies: Two years, $22 million (with a team option for a third year)
Predicted Contract on Open Market: One year, $9 million (with a team option for a second year)
Adam Wainwright, RHP
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There's no disputing that Adam Wainwright is one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball, and as such, he figures to become one of the most well-paid pitchers in the game as well.
While his numbers compare favorably to other pitchers who have received nine-figure contracts, like Matt Cain and Zack Greinke, Wainwright has two things working against him.
He has had a major arm injury (elbow surgery cost him the entire 2011 season), and he's going to be 32 years old when the 2014 season gets underway.
Make no mistake about it—teams will come after Wainwright and he's going to be well paid.
He just isn't going to reach the lofty deals that Cain and Greinke landed.
Predicted Contract: Four years, $95 million
Michael Young, 3B
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If Michael Young has been anything over the course of his major league career it's been consistent, both at the plate and in the field.
Willing to move around the diamond to do what's best for the team, Young has averaged a .304 batting average, .796 OPS, 15 home runs and 85 RBI per season for more than a decade.
Spending his 2013 season manning third base for the Philadelphia Phillies, the production figures to remain at a relatively high level, sending a then 37-year-old Young to the open market in search of the last multi-year deal of his career.
Marco Scutaro is a great comparison to use here. While Young is a more potent force on offense than Scutaro is, compensation for versatile infielders in their late thirties doesn't tend to differentiate all that much.
Predicted Contract: Three years, $21 million