2014 MLB Free Agency: Way-Too-Early Predictions for Each Team's Top Acquisition
The 2013 MLB season is just over a month old, but it is never too soon to look ahead to the 2014 MLB free-agent class and how things could potentially shake out this coming winter.
The market lacks a marquee superstar, provided the Yankees re-sign Robinson Cano, but it is not without it's share of impact players.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson make for a strong crop of outfielders, Brian McCann is a top-tier catcher and Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson make up a high-upside, high-risk crop of starters.
So here are some way-too-early predictions for each team's top potential free-agent acquisition this coming offseason.
Baltimore Orioles: 2B Omar Infante
The Orioles have one of the best lineups in all of baseball right now, but second base remains a hole with Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla bringing little to the table and Brian Roberts battling injury once again.
With prospect Jonathan Schoop expected to take over at some point, but still a ways off at 21 years old, the team could look to sign someone like Infante on a one-year deal to bridge the gap.
Boston Red Sox: RP Edward Mujica
The Red Sox have had all kinds of problems at the back end of their bullpen so far this season, and with Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara set to be free agents, it is something that will need to be addressed in the offseason.
The Cardinals bullpen has been even worse, and as a result Mujica has been thrust into the closer role where he's 9-for-9 on save chances with a 1.93 ERA. The Cardinals aren't ones to spend big on relievers, and Mujica will likely walk in free agency, so he could be an option for the Red Sox to explore.
New York Yankees: RF Shin-Soo Choo
The Yankees' biggest focus this offseason will be re-signing superstar second baseman Robinson Cano, but it likely won't be their only area of focus.
Center fielder Curtis Granderson could be on his way out, and replacing him will be no small feat. Signing Choo would not replace his power production, but would give the team a high on-base bat with a good combination of power and speed.
Tampa Bay Rays: C Kurt Suzuki
Catcher has been a hole for the Rays throughout their franchise's history, with Toby Hall and Dioner Navarro the only real stable options the team has ever had.
Veteran Jose Molina has been the primary catcher the past two years, but the team will undoubtedly look for an upgrade over the 38-year-old this offseason. Suzuki is currently platooning with Wilson Ramos in Washington, but his $8.5 million option will no doubt be declined and he could be a fairly low-cost upgrade for Tampa Bay.
Toronto Blue Jays: SP Roy Halladay
The Blue Jays have been a massive disappointment this season, and regardless of how this year wraps up, they are locked into essentially the roster they have right now for the next few seasons.
One spot they will need to fill is that of Josh Johnson in the rotation, and with so much money tied up in other guys they will could look for a high-upside option along the lines of Dan Haren. Considering his injured arm, Halladay could fit that mold, and a return to Toronto to finish up his career where it started would be an interesting storyline.
Chicago White Sox: DH/IF Kevin Youkilis
The White Sox have been quiet the past two offseasons, and after over-performing last year, they have struggled out of the gates this season and could begin rebuilding moving forward.
Gavin Floyd, Paul Konerko and Jesse Crain are their three big free agents, and if Konerko opts to retire, replacing him would be the team's biggest area of need. If Adam Dunn slid to first base, the team could look for a short-term DH option to fill the void; Youkilis has a history with the team already after playing with them in the second half last year.
Cleveland Indians: SP Bronson Arroyo
It was a busy offseason for the Indians as they added a number of veteran pieces to improve their lineup, and it appears the team will do what it can to avoid a full-scale rebuild.
Re-signing Mark Reynolds may become a priority if he can continue putting up the numbers he has so far this season, but at the end of the day the Indians will go as far as their pitching can take them. Arroyo gives the team a proven veteran arm to anchor the staff and could help improve it as a whole.
Detroit Tigers: SS Stephen Drew
The Tigers' big offseason signings of Anibal Sanchez and Torii Hunter have paid off in a big way so far this season, but despite how well they have played, there are still some holes.
Finding a long-term answer at shortstop, where Jhonny Peralta is set to leave in free agency, is likely the biggest need for the Tigers this offseason. Drew signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox to bridge the gap to Jose Iglesias, and if he can prove himself in Boston he'll be in line for a multi-year deal next winter.
Kansas City Royals: RF David DeJesus
Re-signing Ervin Santana could be in the cards, especially after seeing the team reward Jeremy Guthrie with an extension this past offseason, but right field will likely be the team's biggest need.
Jeff Francoeur has been a positive figure in the clubhouse, but his production has been poor since his first season in Kansas City. They likely won't go after any of the big names, but bringing back DeJesus on a short-term deal could make sense to fill out the roster.
Minnesota Twins: SP Edinson Volquez
After posting the worst rotation ERA in baseball last season, the Twins added Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley to the mix this offseason.
The rotation remains one of the worst in baseball, though, and it will likely need to be addressed once again this offseason. Volquez has been far from consistent throughout his career, but he will likely represent the moderate-cost, high-upside arm that the Twins have targeted of late.
Houston Astros: DH Lance Berkman
With their move to the American League this season, the Astros were in the market for a veteran bat this offseason to plug into the DH role.
Former Astros slugger Lance Berkman was kicked around as an option before the team wound up signing Carlos Pena to a one-year deal. They will likely be in a similar position this coming offseason, and a reunion with Berkman allowing him to end his career where it started remains a legitimate possibility.
Los Angeles Angels: SP Matt Garza
The signing of Josh Hamilton stole the headlines for the Angels this offseason, but it was the retooling of their starting rotation that will likely have the greatest effect on how their 2013 season plays out.
Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson will be back next season, but Jason Vargas is a free agent, and the team will likely look to upgrade his rotation spot. Garza has front-line starter stuff when he's healthy, and he would make for a third straight splash signing for a team desperately looking to win a title.
Oakland Athletics: SP Ted Lilly
The A's young rotation was a big part of what got them to the postseason last year, but they still need a veteran presence to help stabilize things.
For now, it is Bartolo Colon that is providing that presence and pitching well in the role, but at 39 years old this may be his last go-around. Though Lilly is not much younger, he could fill the role at a relatively low cost and help lead the young staff.
Seattle Mariners: CF Jacoby Ellsbury
The Mariners have been in the mix for free agents like Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton over the past few years, but they have yet to make that impact signing.
A team on the rise with a number of top prospects capable of helping lead them back to contention, the Mariners could look to make their move this offseason to add an impact bat. Ellsbury would give them a player worth signing to a long-term deal who could help usher in the next era of baseball in Seattle.
Texas Rangers: LF Michael Morse
The Rangers wound up filling the outfield void left by the departure of Josh Hamilton in-house, turning to prospect Leonys Martin in center field and moving David Murphy into an everyday role in left field.
Murphy has struggled in the early going, though, and he's a free agent at season's end, so the team could look to add a bat in left field. Morse would give them some welcome pop in the middle of the lineup.
Atlanta Braves: SS Brendan Ryan
The Braves will need to decide whether or not to bring back Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm in the rotation, and my guess is that Maholm gets a three- or four-year extension and Hudson takes things year-by-year at this point in his career. Setup man Eric O'Flaherty will also no doubt be re-signed.
On the flip side, there is a good chance they let Brian McCann walk in free agency and turn catching duties over to Evan Gattis until top prospect Christian Bethancourt is ready. Expect them to more-or-less stand pat, with a utility infielder to fill out their bench perhaps the biggest area of need.
Miami Marlins: 1B Carlos Pena
With a ton of veterans on one-year deals, many of whom will likely be gone come July, the Marlins will have a ton of holes to plug yet again next offseason.
As they continue to rebuild, the low-cost, one-year route will likely be their approach once again. Pena has always been a great clubhouse guy, and if he is not re-signed by the Astros he would be a good fit in a young Miami clubhouse.
New York Mets: RP Joel Hanrahan
The Mets had one of the worst bullpens in baseball last season, and they attempted to remedy it by signing a number of veterans to short-term deals.
A number of those contracts, including that of Frank Francisco, will be up next season—and as a result the team could pursue a legitimate closer this offseason. In a fairly weak market, Joel Hanrahan appears to be the best option, and he could be the man in the ninth inning for the Mets next season.
Philadelphia Phillies: SP Ricky Nolasco
The Phillies have a pair of big decisions to make regarding big-name veterans Chase Utley and Roy Halladay, and while I expect them to cut ties with Halladay, it's hard to imagine Utley wearing anything but a Phillies uniform.
Replacing Halladay and improving the rotation as a whole would likely be the top offseason priorities. Nolasco is no ace, but he's still only 30 and is a reliable middle-of-the-rotation guy who could help the team now and long-term.
Washington Nationals: SP Tim Lincecum
With Edwin Jackson gone in free agency, the Nationals signed Dan Haren to a low-risk, one-year deal to fill his spot in the rotation. So far, Haren has been far from great, with a 5.17 ERA through his first seven starts.
My guess is they let Haren walk and turn their attention to another rebound candidate in the two-time Cy Young winner Lincecum. As a No. 4 starter he wouldn't be under much pressure, and if he can return to form he would make the Nationals rotation nothing short of amazing.
Chicago Cubs: SP Jason Vargas
The Cubs signed four starters this offseason in Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva and Edwin Jackson. While Jackson is a part of the team's future on a four-year deal, the other three will likely be flipped for prospects at the deadline.
This practice of signing veterans to a one-year deal and flipping them will likely continue as the team team works to build up its farm system. Vargas could be in a position to sign a one-year deal and shoot for boosting his value if he doesn't find any takers early-on in the offseason.
Cincinnati Reds: CF Coco Crisp
With Billy Hamilton projected as the future in center field, the Reds are not likely to sign Shin-Soo Choo to the long-term deal he'll be able to get elsewhere.
However, Hamilton may still not be ready to step into an everyday role by Opening Day next season, so finding a stopgap option to play center field and lead off may be where the Reds turn their attention in the offseason. Provided he's bought out of the last year of his deal, Crisp would fill both roles at a relatively low cost.
Milwaukee Brewers: RP Ryan Madson
Deciding whether or not to re-sign Corey Hart will be the Brewers' biggest offseason decision, and when all is said and done my guess is they'll bring him back.
The bullpen was their main focus last offseason, and while it's been better, there is still work to be done with John Axford and Brandon Kintzler both struggling in late-inning duty. Madson remains a wild card at this point as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery, but if he proves healthy he'd be one of the best relievers available.
Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Josh Johnson
The Pirates took a chance on A.J. Burnett prior to last season, and it has paid off so far, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them take another chance on a high-upside arm like Johnson, especially if Burnett opts to retire.
There's a good chance Gerrit Cole and perhaps even Jameson Taillon will be part of the Pirates rotation next season, but they will still need to fill out the staff if they hope to contend. Johnson may be worth taking a risk on.
St. Louis Cardinals: RP Jesse Crain
The Cardinals will likely part ways with Carlos Beltran following the season, opening up the everyday right field job for top prospect Oscar Taveras, provided he proves ready.
They don't have much in the way of a clear-cut need, and it will likely be a quiet offseason for the Cardinals once again. Adding a proven veteran arm like Crain to the bullpen won't grab headlines, but it would make them a better team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: IF Jhonny Peralta
With Eric Hinske, Eric Chavez and Willie Bloomquist all set to hit free agency, the Diamondbacks' biggest need this winter may be finding a versatile infielder to fill out their bench and provide some offensive pop in the process.
If he's willing to accept a smaller role, this is one that Peralta could potentially thrive in, seeing 300 or so at-bats as a super utility man and pinch-hitter off the bench.
Colorado Rockies: SP Scott Feldman
The search for affordable veteran starting pitching will likely be in full swing in Colorado once again this winter, and Feldman is the type of pitcher who could handle pitching in Coors Field.
He relies a mixture of cutters and sinkers, inducing a ton of ground balls when he's on, and so far this season he has pitched very well. If he keeps it up he may pull himself out of the Rockies' price range, but if he's relatively affordable it could be a good fit for both parties.
Los Angeles Dodgers: C Brian McCann
The Dodgers have spent a ton of money to fill out their roster with big-name veterans over the past year as they look to make a serious run at World Series contention.
As such, most positions around the diamond have a player locked into a long-term deal, but catcher is one area they could stand to improve. A.J. Ellis is solid, but far from an impact bat, and McCann would give them another dangerous hitter capable of pushing the team over the top.
San Diego Padres: SP Dan Haren
The Padres continue to struggle, specifically from a pitching standpoint, as their staff is made up of a collection of No. 3 and 4 starters and lacking a true staff leader.
While Haren is not the pitcher he once was, a move to Petco Park could help get his career back on track, and his veteran presence atop the staff could help with the progression of their young arms.
San Francisco Giants: LF Curtis Granderson
Many expected the Giants to make a run at a big-name bat to play left field last offseason, but they instead opted to go with a platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres.
Their first priority will be re-signing Hunter Pence, but adding Granderson to the mix at the other corner outfield spot would give the team a much-needed power bat to add to the middle of its lineup. Depending on how quickly he gets back into the swing of things this year, he could even wind up being a relative bargain.