2014 MLB Free Agency: Predicting Next Winter's Highest-Paid FA at Each Position
If you're a fan of bidding wars and big names hitting the open market, than this past offseason will have served as a tease for what's to come.
MLB's 2014 class of free agents includes a multiple-time Cy Young Award winner, former MVPs, perennial All-Stars and some of the biggest names in the game today.
And it pales in comparison to the group that follows heading into the 2015 season.
But that's for another day.
Despite the luxury tax threshold sitting at $189 million for the 2014 season, teams are going to pay—and pay handsomely—to snag the best players on the free agent market and bring them into their respective clubhouses.
Who stands to make the most on the open market?
Let's take a look.
Catcher: Brian McCann
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What's the going rate for a 29-year-old, six-time All-Star catcher who has never been linked in any way, shape or form to PEDs?
We'll find out in about 10 months when Brian McCann hits the open market.
That he's going to receive a lucrative, multi-year deal hinges on his ability to bounce back from a disappointing, injury-marred 2012 season, proving that he's healthy after undergoing surgery on his ailing right shoulder in October.
But assuming he does just that and returns to the level of production we've come to expect from him, there won't be any shortage of suitors for the backstop.
Between his game-calling experience and combination of power and an excellent batting eye (he walks nearly 10 percent of the time while striking out in less than 15 percent of his plate appearances) that results in consistently high on-base percentages, there will be no shortage of suitors for his services.
The chance to stay in the lineup while serving as a designated hitter with an American League club makes the most sense for McCann, who can likely extend the productive years of his career by not taking as much of a beating behind the plate as he normally would.
You'd have to think that McCann is going to be looking for a Yadier Molina-type deal, somewhere around five years and $75 million. He's not the defensive dynamo that Molina is, so it's hard to see someone giving him that much. But he'll come close
Projected Contract: Five years, $65 million
Other Notable Free Agent Catchers
First Base: Justin Morneau
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Seemingly healthy for the first time in three years, Justin Morneau heads into his walk year needing to prove that he can stay that way.
Felled by concussion symptoms and a neck injury that derailed his career, the 32-year-old first baseman is coming off of a season that saw him play in more than 130 games for the first time since 2009, posting a .267/.333/.440 slash line with 19 home runs and 77 RBI.
No longer the perennial MVP candidate that he was earlier in his career, Morneau can still offer a team power from the left side of the plate and, despite a down season in 2012, a solid glove at first base as well.
Even if he remains healthy throughout the season, his lengthy injury history will certainly play a part in what teams offer him when he hits the open market, making it hard to imagine that he'll be able to land anything close to the six-year, $80 million extension he signed with the Twins prior to the 2008 season.
Projected Contract: Four years, $50 million
Other Notable Free Agent First Basemen
Second Base: Robinson Cano
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He's the best second baseman in baseball and a perennial MVP candidate, but Robinson Cano is no lock to return to the New York Yankees.
Chances are that he will, but all it takes is one team to get the bidding up to a ridiculous level (I'm looking in your direction, Dodgers) and the Yankees could choose to go in a different direction.
Cano, 30, will not give the Yankees a hometown discount, according to Mark Feinsand and Christian Red of the New York Daily News, and he's now represented by Scott Boras, who, as we know, will keep a player on the market until he's squeezed every possible penny out of a team in negotiations.
Earning $15 million in the last year of his contract, you can be sure that Cano and Boras will be looking for a significant raise in annual salary over the life of his new deal, well north of $20 million per season.
With a solid glove, a smooth swing and power, someone will give it to him.
Projected Contract: Seven years, $175 million
Other Notable Free Agent Second Basemen
Second Basemen That Will Have 2014 Options Picked Up
Ben Zobrist ($7.5 million)
Third Base: Michael Young
Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
While there are plenty of options at the other positions we've looked at so far, the pickings at third base aren't quite as plentiful.
Michael Young, 36, is the best option of a veteran class. Coming off of his worst season in a decade with numbers that were still solid: a .277/.312/.370 slash line with eight home runs and 67 RBI, he will be looking to parlay his first season with the Philadelphia Phillies into one more multi-year contract.
Versatile enough to play around the horn in the infield and a terrific clubhouse presence, Young would have suitors even if he posted numbers similar to those he had in 2012.
If, however, he's able to get back to hitting .300 with an OPS north of .800, those suitors will multiply, increasing the likelihood of Young getting what he wants.
He won't command a $16 million salary as he is in 2013, but a massive salary reduction isn't in his future either.
Projected Contract: Two years, $24 million
Other Notable Free Agent Third Basemen
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
Love him or hate him, you can't help but respect Derek Jeter for the way he's played the game for nearly two decades.
It's hard to imagine him finishing his career in anything other than Yankees pinstripes, and he certainly has far more value to the Bronx Bombers than any other team in the game, but we know better than to assume that things will work out as they should.
Jeter, who celebrates his 39th birthday in June, is coming off of a broken ankle that required surgery to repair and ended any chance the Yankees had against the Detroit Tigers in last year's ALCS.
While his defense has always been a point of contention, there's no disputing that Jeter still swings a mean stick, as he led all of baseball with 216 hits last season, the eighth season of his career that he cracked the 200-hit mark in.
Jeter holds an $8 million player option for 2014, and there's always a chance that he'd exercise it. More likely is that he'll decline the option, making him a free agent, and look to land a multi-year deal with the Yankees, taking him past his 40th birthday.
As long as Jeter puts up Jeter-like numbers, he'll have suitors, whether it be the Yankees or a team that believes it is one player away from making a serious postseason run—and no player in the game has as much postseason experience or success as the Yankees captain.
Projected Contract: Two years, $28 million
Other Notable Free Agent Shortstops
Shortstops That Will Have 2014 Options Picked Up
Yunel Escobar ($5 million)
Left Field: David Murphy
Brad White/Getty Images
One of the more under-the-radar .300 hitters you'll find in baseball, David Murphy has quietly put together a solid career.
Since 2008, Murphy has a .283/.346/.449 slash line, averaging 14 home runs, 61 RBI and 10 stolen bases a season. While some would point to the fact that he plays half of his games in Arlington, his home and away splits are very close.
Murphy doesn't strike out much, knows how to get on base and is just a solid, all-around ballplayer—and any manager worth his contract would tell you that you simply can't have too many of those on a team.
Projected Contract: Four years, $40 million
Other Notable Free Agent Left Fielders
Left Fielders That Will Have 2014 Options Picked Up
Jason Kubel ($7.5 million)
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury
A case could be made for Curtis Granderson as the pick here and I'd have no arguments about that—both he and Ellsbury are going to be paid handsomely this winter.
But Ellsbury's a complete player (with major injury concerns), while Granderson has turned into an all-or-nothing guy—either he goes deep or he strikes out.
When Ellsbury is healthy, he's a MVP candidate who hits for average and power, plays above-average defense in center field and has speed to burn on the basepaths.
The problem is staying healthy. Ellsbury has been felled by injury in two of the last three seasons, playing in only 18 games in 2010 and 74 games in 2012.
If he can stay on the field—and produce—Ellsbury will wind up with a more lucrative deal than his American League East counterpart. If not, Granderson will be the one.
Projected Contract: Five years, $85 million
Other Notable Free Agent Center Fielders
Chris Young ($11 million team option won't be exercised by Oakland)
Right Field: Shin-Soo Choo
Marilyn Indahl/Getty Images
No matter how he performs with the glove roaming center field for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013, make no mistake about it: Shin-Soo Choo is a corner outfielder.
An on-base machine—his career .381 on-base percentage is nearly identical to those posted by Derek Jeter and David Wright—Choo's combination of power and speed allows him to be an effective, if somewhat unconventional leadoff hitter.
He's a mediocre fielder on a good day, but his ability with a bat in his hands—and having Scott Boras as his agent—a 31-year-old Choo will be making far more than the $4.9 million he's set to earn in 2013.
Projected Contract: Five years, $55 million
Other Notable Free Agent Right Fielders
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher: Jason Vargas
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Jason Vargas isn't a front-of-the-rotation starter, and he certainly won't be confused with some of the elite right-handers set to hit the market in 2014.
But he's durable, consistent, and the best southpaw available via free agency.
Over the past three years with the Seattle Mariners, Vargas, 31, went 33-36 with a 3.96 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, throwing an average of 204 innings per season.
As a solid, innings-eating arm in the middle of a contender's rotation, Vargas is an excellent option who won't break the bank—as we'll see when he takes the mound for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this season.
Projected Contract: Five years, $60 million
Other Notable Free Agent Left-Handed Starters
Left-Handed Starters That Will Have 2014 Options Picked Up
Jon Lester ($13 million)
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum
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With a league-leading 17 wild pitches in 2012, it was fair to wonder whether you were watching Tim "The Freak" Lincecum or Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn take the mound for the San Francisco Giants.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner finished the season with a 5.18 ERA and 1.48 WHIP and was relegated to the bullpen during the playoffs, making only one start as the Giants won their second World Series in three years.
One of the most dominant pitchers in the game from 2008 through 2011, it's hard to imagine that Lincecum, 28, won't be able to make the necessary adjustments in his mechanics and return to the land of elite starting pitchers.
Even if he does bounce back, Lincecum, who is set to make $22 million in 2013, will find some teams still wondering what that 2012 season was all about and unwilling to give him a Zack Greinke-like six-year deal pushing $150 million.
But all it takes is one team convinced that 2012 was a fluke for Lincecum to land his big payday.
That team certainly exists—it's just a matter of figuring out who it is.
Projected Contract: Six years, $142 million
Other Notable Free Agent Right-Handed Starters
Right-Handed Starters That Will Have 2014 Options Picked Up
James Shields ($12 million)
Ryan Vogelsong ($6.5 million)
Closer: Mariano Rivera
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
While the 2013 season may very well be the last of his legendary career, as long as Mariano Rivera continues to shut down the opposition in the ninth inning, there will always be a spot for him at the back of the Yankees bullpen.
Coming off of the first major injury of his career—a torn ACL suffered while shagging fly balls in the outfield before a game against the Kansas City Royals last May—all eyes will be on Rivera to see if he's lost something.
But we've been waiting for Rivera's decline to come for years. Even with the injury and Rivera being 43-years-old, he's an athletic freak and anyone who has bet against Rivera typically loses.
I'm not going to be that guy.
Projected Contract: One year, $13 million
Other Notable Free Agent Closers