Stock Up, Stock Down Update on MLB'S Top Upcoming Free Agents
The 2013-14 free-agent class was looking pretty pathetic early in the season, but several veterans have turned their season around and rebuilt their value, improving the overall depth amongst the group of impact players who will be available.
In fact, there were probably 20 free agents-to-be who were worthy of a spot on this list of five players whose stock is up. It was tough to come up with more than five on the down side.
That doesn't necessarily mean it's a great free-agent class. There's still not much talent available amongst the group of free-agent infielders, especially after Chase Utley agreed to a contract extension in Philadelphia, as was reported by Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia. But it's looking much stronger than it was back in May.
Here are five notable players on the rise and five on the decline.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Shin-Soo Choo put himself amongst the top free agent-to-be outfielders available early in the season when he had a .477 on-base percentage in April with 12 extra-base hits. By the end of June, however, he had slowed down considerably. Players like Nelson Cruz and Hunter Pence appeared to have passed him on the list.
But the 31-year-old is heating back up with a .924 OPS in his last 32 games. Several teams will be looking for corner outfield help, including the Cubs, Giants and Rangers, and Choo has put himself in line for a multi-year deal in the range of four years and $64 million.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers
Convincing a team that you're worth a multi-year deal for a whole lot of money after finishing the season with a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs won't be easy.
But the 33-year-old Cruz has been a very good hitter for a long time. A team will just have to be convinced that he's still that guy who averaged 27 homers per season from 2009 through 2012 even though he might have to throw out his 2013 numbers, which had him on pace for a career-high 39.
If Melky Cabrera can get two years and $16 million from the Blue Jays after his season-ending suspension in 2012, then Cruz could probably get at least two years for around $12 million per season. That's still a pretty good chunk of change, but it's not the four years and $60 million he might've landed had he not been caught cheating.
Stephen Drew, SS, Boston Red Sox
Not only did Jhonny Peralta's suspension make Stephen Drew the clear favorite of free-agent shortstops, but his recent performance could ensure that he's among the most sought-after players on the market.
The 30-year-old started the season slowly, posting a .517 OPS in April, but he's been very good since (.836 OPS, 9 HR since May 1) and one of the hottest hitters in the game this month (11-for-22, 2 HR, 8 BB).
Shortstops in their prime coming off this type of season typically become very rich. The Red Sox, Twins, Pirates and Cardinals could be among the teams bidding on Drew this winter.
Phil Hughes, SP, New York Yankees
It's tough to reach free agency as a 27-year-old with 18- and 16-win seasons on the resume, along with an All-Star appearance, and not be among the most sought-after pitchers. But that's what Phil Hughes will do after an inconsistent season had his team, in the midst of a pennant race, trying to trade him.
He's had several very good outings, but he's also failed to complete five innings seven times in 21 starts. When paying a free-agent pitcher upwards of $10 million per season on a multi-year deal, "reliability" better be one of the top words that describes that pitcher.
Hughes has some upside, which could still get him a nice paycheck, but reliable he is not. It would be a surprise if he got more than a two-year deal.
Matt Garza, SP, Texas Rangers
Right-hander Matt Garza was already expected to be one of the top free-agent starters on the market this offseason. His eventual payday increased, just like the Cubs' asking price in trade talks, when he dominated start after start with the knowledge that he was close to being traded and several teams were keeping a close eye on every pitch. He certainly didn't buckle under the spotlight.
The 29-year-old has also already proven himself in the AL East and in the playoffs. He could have a chance to do it again in 2013 with the Rangers. He's been terrific in his first three starts since being acquired.
It will be a disappointment if Garza doesn't match Anibal Sanchez's five-year, $88 million deal he signed with Detroit last offseason. Just about every team that can afford him will be in the mix, including the Cubs and Rangers.
Josh Johnson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Things have gone so poorly for Josh Johnson in 2013 that the Blue Jays, well out of the playoff race, didn't even bother shopping him last month. His value has dipped so much that they decided they'll either tender him a contract this offseason, hoping he declines, or just let him walk without any compensation.
In 16 starts, the 29-year-old Johnson has a 6.20 ERA with only five quality starts (at least 6 IP, no more than 3 ER). Of course, his agent will probably refer to his pre-2012 numbers (48-23, 2.98 ERA, 8.3 K/9 2005-2011) a thousand times during free-agent negotiations. But a one-year, incentive-laden deal might be what he settles for in 2014.
Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants
It turns out that talk of Tim Lincecum's demise and eventual move to the bullpen were premature. The 29-year-old has resurrected his once Hall of Fame-caliber career over the past two months with three double-digit strikeout games, seven quality starts and a no-hitter.
He's not pre-2012 Lincecum, which probably would've put him in line for one of the richest contracts in baseball history. But he's pitching well enough to earn a significant deal. A three-year, $36 million range could be the starting point.
As streaky as he's been, things could change again in the next month-and-a-half. But for now, he's raised his value significantly in a very short time.
David Murphy, OF, Texas Rangers
Even if Murphy matched his production from 2012 (.859 OPS, 15 HR, 10 SB), he would still go into the offseason as a potential under-the-radar sleeper. But with the season he's having (.666 OPS), he's lucky to find a starting job in 2014.
Barring a red-hot finish, a two-year, $10 million deal might be Murphy's max this offseason, which is still a pretty good deal for a guy who is probably viewed as a very good fourth outfielder.
Edward Mujica, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
And the top free-agent closer heading into the offseason is...Edward Mujica. That's quite a feat for a guy who came into the season with four career saves and wasn't even the team's closer until late April.
Since taking over, the 29-year-old has a 1.94 ERA with 30 saves in 32 chances, nine walks and 34 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. Opponents have a .520 OPS against him during that span.
The Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees are just three teams that will be on the lookout for a closer this offseason. Mujica, who came into the season with a career 3.92 ERA in 316 games, couldn't have had better timing.
Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B, Cleveland Indians
Mark Reynolds' stock has dropped so much that he could reach the free-agent market in the next few days. He was designated for assignment by the Indians today after posting a .532 OPS with 96 strikeouts in his last 71 games.
His Indians career couldn't have had a better start, though. After hitting his 10th homer of the season on May 6, boosting his OPS to 1.026, Reynolds appeared to have turned a corner in a career full of inconsistency. After a terrible start with Baltimore in 2012, he played well the remainder of the season and finished with an .811 OPS and 23 homers over his last 116 games.
He carried over that success to the start of 2013, but it wore off quickly. Now he'll have a tough time matching the one-year, $6 million contract he got from the Indians last offseason.
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