The Yankees are the lone team that will be affected now that they're fairly certain they'll need to find a third baseman with Alex Rodriguez suspended through the 2014 season, pending an appeal. Meanwhile, two key free-agents-to-be, outfielder Nelson Cruz of the Rangers and shortstop Jhonny Peralta of the Tigers, are likely to lose some value after their 50-game suspensions.
By not appealing the suspensions, Cruz and Peralta are removing themselves from their current teams' playoff chase. In doing so, however, they are giving themselves the best chance to maximize whatever value they'll have left in free agency.
Here's a closer look at each of the three scenarios.
New York Yankees/Third Base
Without any strong in-house options to take over at third base, the Yankees will look to fill the void through free agency or a trade.
The question is whether they will go with another one-year stopgap, as they did when they signed Kevin Youkilis this past offseason knowing that Rodriguez would miss much of the season recovering from hip surgery, or keep an open mind to finding a long-term answer at the position.
While Rodriguez will still be owed $61 million from 2015 to 2017, he'll be approaching his 40th birthday when he returns, and it's unrealistic to expect that he'll still be capable of manning the hot corner. Therefore, I think the Yankees will approach the offseason with the mindset that they have an opening at third base for the next several seasons.
The upcoming third baseman free-agent class offers very little, however, as does the farm system, so the Yankees could target another veteran to fill the hole for one year and revisit the long-term need in the future. That is, unless general manager Brian Cashman can trade for a third baseman who is still under team control for multiple years.
That uninspiring free-agent class will include the injury-prone Youkilis (35 years old next season), Michael Young (37 years old next season) and Eric Chavez (36 years old next season). Peralta, who could shift over from shortstop, is another option, and his price tag has likely dropped after his suspension.
Trade targets who are under control for just one season include Chase Headley, who the team reportedly asked about last month, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, along with Aramis Ramirez of the Brewers and Pablo Sandoval of the Giants. Considering the Yankees' lack of elite talent and overall depth in the farm system, this route is most probable since the price tag won't be as high.
If acquiring a third baseman to fill the spot for at least the next two seasons was a priority, though, they could look at David Freese, who might be the most realistic trade candidate because of the Cardinals' ability to shift Matt Carpenter over to third base with rookie second baseman Kolten Wong nearly ready for the big leagues.
Before Melky Cabrera was suspended during the 2012 season, he was having a career season (.346 BA, 11 HR, 25 2B, 10 3B, 60 RBI, 13 SB in 113 games) that would have very likely landed him at least a four-year free-agent contract in the range of $13-16 million per season.
Coming off the suspension, he settled for a two-year deal worth $8 million per season with Toronto. Getting away with it for a few more months would've made Cabrera a much richer man.
Even at age 28, no team was willing to risk that Cabrera's breakout season was not due mainly to performance-enhancing drugs. His subpar performance in 2013 can only hurt a player like Cruz heading into free agency after a suspension. The difference between Cabrera and Cruz, however, is Cruz's level of consistency over the past few seasons.
From 2009 to 2012, Cruz had an .844 OPS with an average of 27 homers, 31 doubles, 83 runs batted in and 14 stolen bases per season. While the 33-year-old was on pace for a career-high 39 homers in 2013, his .841 OPS this year is pretty much in line with what he's done during the prime of his career.
During Cabrera's pre-2012 four-year span, he had a .729 OPS with an average of 11 homers, 28 doubles, 58 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. Two of those seasons (.641 OPS in 2008, .671 OPS in 2010) were completely awful. He was on a completely different level in 2012 and arguably one of the best hitters in the game before his suspension.
If Cruz had continued on his normal pace, it wouldn't have been much of a surprise to see a team match the four-year deal (ages 33-36 seasons) worth $56 million that Nick Swisher got from the Indians this past offseason.
But with the questions looming around just how good Cruz will be moving forward as he creeps towards his mid-30s and without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, a two-year deal in the $20-24 million range sounds about right. A bidding war, however, between several teams interested in outfield/designated hitter help—the Orioles, Cubs, Astros, Royals, Mets, Phillies, Giants and Rangers might all be on that list—could push his next free-agent deal closer to $30 million.
So while he won't be hurting for cash or suitors, Cruz could still lose more than $20 million and a couple seasons of job security for cheating. If the Rangers miss the playoffs, though, because their offense just isn't good enough without him, it's safe to say they will have been punished more than Cruz.
Peralta's resurgence in 2013 was one of the big storylines early in the season after he struggled with a .689 OPS last year. He reported to spring camp 20 pounds lighter, according to James Schmehl of MLive.com, and manager Jim Leyland noted how much better he was moving defensively.
While his defense isn't anywhere close to what new shortstop Jose Iglesias will be bringing to the table, it was passable, and his bat more than made up for any lack of range on the field. And unless Peralta was using performance-enhancing drugs in 2011, it's hard to know much they've helped his numbers this season. That's because they're nearly identical (.824 OPS, 21 HR, All-Star in 2011; .822 OPS, 11 HR, All-Star in 2013).
So what does the suspension mean in regard to free agency? It won't drop him much on a list of shortstop free-agent rankings, simply because there isn't any competition. He might drop slightly behind Stephen Drew. But he'll certainly take a hit in his wallet because a 31-year-old shortstop coming off his second stellar season in three years with an .800-plus OPS and 20-plus homers and no suspicion of cheating will have significantly more value than one who was caught cheating.
Not only will Peralta still benefit, however, from the lack of options at shortstop in the free-agent market, he may also still be the best option at third base. I'm guessing he'll get a two- or three-year contract at $10 million per season, which is nearly double the average annual salary of his current three-year deal.
Timing is everything. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Peralta is looking out for himself by not appealing the suspension and making sure he heads into free agency without a suspension looming. Teams like the Twins, Pirates and Cardinals could be looking for shortstop help, while the Astros, Angels, Dodgers, Marlins, Yankees and Phillies will probably be on the lookout for an upgrade at the hot corner.
Despite the tainted numbers, there will be no shortage of interest. He'll just get much less than the estimated four-year, $44-52 million he would've gotten had he continued at his current pace without the "cheater" tag now attached to his name.