Best MLB Free Agents Still Available and Where They're Headed
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The MLB free-agent market is running bare, but there are still useful players to be had.
With most of the league's best players getting snapped up in December, there's rarely much reason to be enthusiastic about a late January free-agent signing. Oftentimes, any acquisition at this time is merely a stopgap, filling a hole with an unexciting player with spring training on the horizon.
In 2013, however, there are a couple players left who definitely have the skill to make a substantive impact, and a few others who have the potential to make solid contributions.
Let's rank the best remaining free agents and predict where they'll likely land.
6. Grady Sizemore (Won't Sign)
The oft-injured Sizemore isn't signing anywhere.
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The days of Grady Sizemore making All-Star games are long gone.
Once one of the premier center fielders in baseball and a perennial 30-30 threat, Sizemore's sparkling young career was derailed by injuries.
Between 2009 and 2011, Sizemore played in just 210 games combined. He missed the entirety of the 2012 season with complications stemming from both back and knee surgeries.
There's zero chance that Grady Sizemore, 2013 edition even remotely resembles vintage Grady from way back in 2008.
That said, it's not unreasonable to believe that he could be a productive third or fourth outfielder. He won't have the power or the wheels he used to, but he could still an intelligent ballplayer who could get on base if he ever reaches full health.
Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News reported that both the New York Yankees and Mets were interested in Sizemore's services. However, Ken Rosenthal of NBC Sports said that Sizemore won't sign until he is healthy, which could be closer to midseason.
So while Sizemore might be one of the more useful players available, he has pulled himself off the market for the time being.
5. Freddy Sanchez (Kansas City Royals)
Freddy Sanchez is ready to return in 2013.
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Like Sizemore, Freddy Sanchez missed the entirety of the 2012 season after undergoing back surgery. Unlike Sizemore, he is ready to get back on the field.
Sanchez's agent told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his client has received interest from teams, but no offers. Any prognostication about where he'll land is purely speculative.
That said, a guy with Sanchez's abilities and pedigree is bound to catch on somewhere.
He may be 35, but Sanchez has batted at least .289 in each of his last four seasons. Sanchez comes up short in terms of slugging and is not quite the fielder he once was, but few second basemen are more reliable at getting you a single when you need one.
The best destination for Sanchez would be a team that needs a second baseman and some veteran leadership. It's a soft bet, but the Kansas City Royals seem to fit that mold.
4. Shaun Marcum (Texas Rangers)
Shaun Marcum is likely heading south for the season.
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Shaun Marcum is a fine fourth or fifth starter. Nothing less, nothing more, but he's still a useful, productive pitcher.
In each of his last four seasons, Marcum never posted an ERA higher than 3.70 and struck out at least seven batters per nine innings. Over 110 starts in that time period, Marcum put together a 42-26 record with the Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers.
According to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres are all vying for Marcum's services.
The Pirates have since inked Francisco Liriano as their fifth starter, so count them out. That narrows down the race to two teams: a playoff contender and a cellar-dweller.
Smart money says the Rangers win out in that scenario.
3. Scott Hairston (New York Mets)
Hairston is destined to return to the Big Apple.
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No player left on the market has more pop than Scott Hairston.
The corner outfielder has a muscular frame and a dead-pull swing, allowing him to feast on lefty pitching. Though he gets on base more often against southpaws, he is equally powerful against right-handers. In 2012, Hairston hit nine of his 20 home runs off of righties.
Everyone knows that the New York Mets need Hairston's bat in their patchwork lineup; it's just a matter of the two sides reaching an understanding.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports seems to think that the price tag might be too rich for the post-Madoff Mets:
If the Yankees are not pursuing Hairston, though, then it looks like the Mets are the lone suitor. Sooner rather than later, Hairston will be back wearing blue and orange.
2. Michael Bourn (Texas Rangers)
No teams seem interested in Bourn for a long-term deal.
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Michael Bourn is interested in some long-term job security. No team seems interested in giving it to him.
The 29-year-old center fielder did just make his second All-Star appearance and is a two-time Gold Glove winner. At the same time, he plays the game entirely with his legs, and when his speed starts to diminish in the next few years, he isn't a sound enough hitter to maintain his value.
That's why one of the best position players on the market now is one of the least attractive free-agent options. No team wants to commit to Bourn for anything more than three years, worried about the player he could become.
NBC Sports' Matthew Pouliot poses the Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves as realistic landing spots for Bourn.
The Mariners are not likely to give eight digits a year to another position player with no power. That leaves two quality teams in the Rangers and the Braves. Considering Atlanta just passed over Bourn in favor of B.J. Upton, the tie goes to Texas and its open wallet yet again.
1. Kyle Lohse (St. Louis Cardinals)
This offseason has been a disappointment for Lohse.
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Back before free agency kicked off, sources said that Kyle Lohse could command a $60-75 million deal, according to Buster Olney of ESPN (Insider required).
Fast forward three months, and Lohse is still on the market. Something has gone wrong.
Per Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports, Lohse blames his unsatisfactory offseason on compensation rather than price. The prospect of giving the St. Louis Cardinals a first-round pick to sign a 34-year-old pitcher has scared teams away, severely limiting Lohse's options.
For a pitcher coming off a season in which he finished seventh in the National League Cy Young voting, such a muted response is shocking. At this late point in the game, however, it is certainly not a fluke.
Though Lohse has not been in contact with the Cardinals, he may be forced to come crawling back to his former team on the cheap. If his suspicions about the untenable compensation are true, then he has no other choice.