Updated 2014 MLB Free-Agency Predictions Post-Trade Deadline
All of the player movement—or lack thereof—that we saw prior to the 2013 MLB trade deadline, coupled with performances from the first four-plus months of the season, has helped us predict the fates of 2014 free agents.
Even with so much of the season remaining, certain contracts and future player/team matches seem inevitable.
We won't go overboard and guess what happens to every notable individual. That's a tough enough task at the onset of the offseason. Rather, the goal here is to arrive at whatever reasonable conclusions we can based on recent history and insider reports.
9 Players Receive Qualifying Offers
At the beginning of the MLB offseason, teams can extend one-year qualifying offers to their impending free agents. Players then get a week to decide whether to sign the offer or put themselves on the market with the baggage of draft-pick compensation.
All nine guys who had the $13.3 million guarantees in their laps following the 2012 World Series turned them down to pursue long-term commitments.
The value of these offers, according to the collective bargaining agreement, is determined by averaging the 125 highest player salaries from the previous year, per Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors. This coming winter, MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes estimates that they will be worth about $14 million.
As dominant forces at their respective positions who are still in their physical primes, Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury are all but assured to receive these offers. The former perennially contends for MVP honors, while Ellsbury provides as much overall value as any center fielder when healthy.
Shin-Soo Choo and Brian McCann continue to thrive on midmarket clubs—the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves—who have inexpensive successors lined up in the form of Billy Hamilton and Evan Gattis. Expect offers to be made in these cases anyway, given the assurance that failing to retain them results in additional farm system depth.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is a fascinating case. At 38 years old, he's enjoying an incredible campaign. The elderly ace declined a qualifying offer from the New York Yankees last offseason, as he weighed the possibilities of pitching on the West Coast or in Japan, but ultimately re-signed for $15 million.
Kuroda is in virtually the same position again, and the Yankees will be even more desperate. CC Sabathia's mediocrity and the possible departures of Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte leave their rotation extremely vulnerable.
Kendrys Morales has been impressive in his first season with the Seattle Mariners, providing power that they've sorely lacked in recent years. Likewise, Ervin Santana is starring for the Kansas City Royals, who boast a respectable starting rotation for the first time this millennium. Their teams won't let them leave without a fight.
The best years of Curtis Granderson and Tim Lincecum are in the past, but they're getting set to leave clubs that need their home runs and quality starts. Qualifying offers would represent pay cuts in both cases, so the Yankees and San Francisco Giants shouldn't hold their breath for nods.
You don't see Chase Utley here because he and the Philadelphia Phillies have been working on a contract extension, Ryan Lawrence of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Similarly, expect Hunter Pence and the San Francisco Giants to agree to terms on a multiyear deal before the summer is done.
Starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza aren't eligible for qualifying offers after being traded in July.
9 Club Options Declined
Dozens of players head toward this winter with 2014 club options. Valuable, durable players like Ben Zobrist will surely be retained by their current teams, whereas the free-agent class figures to expand when several veterans suffering from major injury or statistical decline see their options declined.
Left-hander Johan Santana—$25 million option versus $5.5 million buyout—leads the pack. The former Cy Young Award winner underwent his second shoulder surgery this spring. Although his rehab has been smoother than it was two years ago, per Dave Hutchinson of The Star Ledger, there's no expectation for Santana to return this summer. The New York Mets have no interest in paying him top-of-the-rotation money amid their rebuilding process.
The potential risk and reward associated with Brett Myers is significantly less, but he'll be given an unceremonious goodbye in much the same way. His attempt to re-emerge as a starting pitcher has gone horribly awry. The veteran right-hander posted an 8.02 earned run average in four appearances for the Cleveland Indians prior to suffering an elbow injury, from which he has struggled to heal from.
One name you might not know is 32-year-old Tsuyoshi Wada of the Baltimore Orioles. He signed with the organization only a few weeks after Korean lefty Wei-Yin Chen, but Tommy John surgery in May 2012 prevented him from imitating his success. Wada's latest 10-strikeout performance at Triple-A was extremely impressive, but his overall 5.02 ERA and .285 BAA certainly don't warrant a $5 million salary for next season.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki and outfielder Chris Young will earn more money than ever—$8.5 million and $11 million, respectively—if retained for their age-30 seasons. However, they have atypically regressed into backup roles at what should be the primes of their careers.
According to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News, Lance Berkman will try to grind through hip and knee injuries to rejoin the Texas Rangers for the stretch run. He's currently on the disabled list and had been contemplating retirement. His selflessness is admirable, but posting a .732 OPS at designated hitter while playing half your games at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark is not close to validating $12 million in 2014.
Oft-injured Franklin Gutierrez has averaged only 50 major league games per season since 2011. Although healthy right now, his production has been underwhelming at Triple-A. The $500,000 buyout makes much more sense for the Seattle Mariners than picking up the $7.5 million option.
Finally, two more accomplished southpaws, Jon Lester and Barry Zito, have overstayed their welcomes.
Lester shows no signs of improvement coming off his worst campaign ever. He yields way too many extra-base hits and doesn't induce swings-and-misses like he used to. July's acquisition of Jake Peavy—who's signed through next summer—coupled with the surplus of starting pitching in the high minors will convince the Boston Red Sox to buy him out for $250,000. They could potentially re-sign him to a new one-year, heavily performance-based contract.
Not as much thinking is required in the Zito decision. He posted a 5.09 ERA, 1.68 WHIP and averaged barely five innings per start this season prior to being demoted to the bullpen, according to Dayn Perry of CBS Sports. His contract requires a steep $7 million buyout, but that's not so bad when you consider the alternative: $18 million.
Kendrys Morales Is This Year's Adam LaRoche
The aforementioned qualifying offer was designed to help teams retain their great players. As we saw last winter, it works best with guys who just barely have the "great" label.
Adam LaRoche, for example, slashed .271/.343/.510 in 2012 and appeared to be the top first baseman on the market. On the other hand, he had never been a particularly disciplined hitter, and heading into his age-33 season, there wasn't a high probability of him improving.
LaRoche ultimately settled for two years and $24 million from the Washington Nationals. Others presumably would have matched or even beat that offer had he not been tied to draft-pick compensation.
All the same challenges will lead Kendrys Morales to re-sign with the Seattle Mariners. As much as the league covets his switch-hitting and contact skills, the 30-year-old Cuban isn't quite All-Star-caliber.
Edward Mujica Gets at Least $20 Million, Leaves St. Louis
Most MLB teams still have no idea how to evaluate relief pitchers.
Last winter, we saw Brandon League sign for more than five times the guaranteed money that Koji Uehara received. Joel Hanrahan's arbitration settlement with the Boston Red Sox bested Jason Grilli's two-year free-agent deal.
For whatever insane reason, this league loves younger relievers with ninth-inning experience, even though neither age nor saves is indicative of future performance.
Edward Mujica will reap the benefits of a flawed philosophy.
Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit demonstrate more swing-and-miss ability and have sustained excellence going back several years. Perhaps their 2014 salaries will exceed Mujica's, but suitors will hesitate to make long-term commitments given their birth certificates.
Meanwhile, Mujica doesn't turn 30 until May. That, combined with his high save percentage, should translate into at least three years and $20 million of financial security.
New York Yankees Blow Past Luxury Tax Threshold
The New York Yankees were reluctant to negotiate multiyear contracts last winter, as the Steinbrenner family aimed to trim payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014.
That goal still hasn't been retracted, according to Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com, but it would appear near-impossible to meet if the franchise intends to contend.
Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Kevin Youkilis will all come off the books this winter. Of course, the pair that the Yankees truly need to re-sign—Cano and Kuroda—can make cases for considerable raises.
Successfully suspending Alex Rodriguez through the end of next season would obviously help the organization. However, courtesy of the New York Daily News, we're learning that the third baseman plans to fight any suspension handed to him.
Given the numerous potential departures, lack of superb prospects at high minor league levels and deterioration of the veterans signed to long-term contracts, it's going to require a lot of spending to keep the Yankees in the hunt for a 2014 playoff berth.
Matt Garza Beats Anibal Sanchez's Contract
Last year's Anibal Sanchez trade and last month's one centered around Matt Garza have plenty in common.
Both right-handers began their walk years in fiery fashion. Sanchez boasted a 2.56 earned run averaged through the end of May with more than a strikeout per inning, while Garza—who began the season on the disabled list—won five consecutive starts prior to being dealt.
They were acquired by American League teams to help with the playoff push—not necessary to lead their new starting rotations, but to make an impact down the stretch nonetheless.
After spending much of his career under the radar, the then-28-year-old Sanchez dominated for the Detroit Tigers when it mattered most: in September and the postseason.
Proving he possessed great swing-and-miss stuff and the endurance to consistently pitch into the later innings, the Venezuelan native sparked a bidding war (subscription required) between the Tigers and Chicago Cubs, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times details. The end result was a five-year, $80 million contract to stay in Motown. Among pitchers, only former AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke signed for more in free agency that winter.
Garza turns 30 in November and has more mileage on his arm, but he'll cash in thanks to the weak crop of available starters.
Steady veterans like A.J. Burnett, Tim Hudson and Hiroki Kuroda are all retirement candidates who seem very likely to re-sign with their current teams if they do decide to continue pitching. Roy Halladay, Dan Haren and Josh Johnson will be coming off miserable seasons. Attaining Tim Lincecum or Ervin Santana will require sacrificing a future draft pick.
The absence of reputable Garza alternatives—anybody with comparable pure stuff and AL/postseason experience—should make him worth splurging on.
Robinson Cano Signs Largest Contract of 2014 Free-Agent Class
No surprise here.
Robinson Cano has the same combination of power-hitting, durability and defensive adequacy that led to monster paydays for Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira on the open market.
At the same time, those three notorious examples will deter teams from giving him a true lifetime contract. Getting your money's worth the first few years—and even that isn't assured—doesn't compensate for the excruciating back end of such deals. Hall of Fame-caliber players abruptly break down in their mid-30s all too often.
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers will headline the bidding for Cano, with sleeper teams like the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers likely to get involved.
He'll cash in anywhere from six years/$120 million to eight years/$200 million, although the star second baseman would've been in a better situation had he retained Scott Boras as his agent.