In recent weeks, several teams have locked up franchise icons, including the Giants' Buster Posey, the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright and the Tigers' Justin Verlander. Without these key players hitting free agency in coming years, teams will have to work with what remains.
A few players stand to gain tremendously from these signings, but will need to put up good numbers this season if they want to cash in on long-term deals this offseason. Here are my top five free agents in need of a strong 2013 campaign.
Granderson was hit by a pitch in the Yankees' home opener on February 22, and is expected to be sidelined for close to 10 weeks, leaving a major hole in the middle of the New York lineup. The 32-year-old is coming off a season in which he hit 43 home runs with 106 RBI, managing a measly .232 average in 160 games.
As Granderson's power numbers have increased, his average has fallen steadily from a career-best .302 in 2007 with Detroit to a career-worst mark last season. Yankees management has stated that they aim to come in below the luxury tax in 2014 (via the New York Times), and are already in pursuit of Robinson Cano, who will hit the open market after this season.
With three of New York's top four prospects as outfielders, it looks as if Granderson will have to come back from his injury to show other teams that he is a strong middle-of-the-lineup presence.
Ellsbury is coming off an injury-plagued 2012 campaign that saw both his personal performance decline and the Red Sox lose 90-plus games for the first time since 1966. Known as a leader on the field for Boston, Ellsbury is going to be counted upon heavily as the Red Sox look to show that last season was a fluke in the loaded American League East.
A career .297 hitter in seven seasons with Boston, the 29-year-old put up career numbers in his last full season in 2011. While hitting .321, Ellsbury found his power stroke, crushing 32 home runs and driving in 105 runs. Even more impressive, he didn't sacrifice the speed he's come to be known for, swiping 39 bases over the course of the year.
If Ellsbury can show that 2011 was no fluke, he could have an eight-year deal set within his sights. Represented by Scott Boras, it's likely he will test the open market come winter, seeing just how high Boston will go to retain his talents.
This winter, the Atlanta Braves quickly replaced the services of the departing Michael Bourn with Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, who came to Turner Field to join his brother B.J. in pursuit of a pennant. With two Upton brothers, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman forming the heart of this lineup, a return to form by Brian McCann could make Atlanta the team to beat in the National League.
McCann suffered several injuries during the course of the 2012 season, and had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. He appeared in 121 games, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 67 runs for Atlanta, but saw a noticeable drop in his average hitting just .230 (well below his career mark of .279).
Out till at least late April while recovering, McCann will lose the first month of the season, and will have to make up for it in a hurry if he hopes to land a big contract next year. The free-agent catching class is weak, with a solid all-around backstop such as McCann leading the pack. It's likely several teams will be vying for his services come this offseason.
Everywhere you look, Robinson Cano is slotted as the top free agent in next year's crop of talent. However, after firing Scott Boras and hiring the New York-minded Jay-Z as his agent this morning (via The New York Times), I believe it is highly likely Cano returns to the Big Apple to finish his career in pinstripes.
His numbers have hardly moved in the past three seasons, averaging 30 home runs, 107 RBI and a .313 batting average. The second baseman will have to carry the load for New York early this season, as the team awaits the return of Rodriguez, Granderson, Teixeira and Jeter. If he shows he can handle this load and become the next face of the franchise, New York will show him the money.
After this morning's events, I believe he stays in New York. Regardless of whether or not he tests the open market, look for Cano to net a deal somewhere in the range of seven-to-eight years and a dollar amount near $200 million.
There is no player in Major League Baseball with more at stake this season than Tim Lincecum.
Last season, Lincecum played a minimal role in the Giants winning their second World Series in three years. With a 10-15 record and an earned run average north of 5.00, "The Freak" was a completely different pitcher than the one who had accumulated two Cy Young awards in his first six seasons. He struggled to locate pitches, and was used primarily out of the bullpen by Bruce Bochy in the postseason.
At age 28, the right-hander has all the potential in the world, but his awkward mechanics and the loss of velocity on his fastball last season has led some to question whether or not he will ever be the same pitcher. Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: 2013 is a make-or-break year for the face of the San Francisco Giants.