MLB Free Agency 2014: Predicting Every MLB Teams' Biggest Target This Winter
Immediately following the World Series, Major League Baseball's free agency period will begin, and the crop of talent expected to be available should make for a very interesting winter.
While it's a group that is thin in terms of infield talent, there are several high-caliber starting pitchers and outfielders that will put a dent in some team's payroll.
Don't expect any of the top pitchers to come close to matching Zack Greinke's six-year, $147 million that he received from the Dodgers last offseason. However, don't be surprised if teams try to match the five-year, $80 million deal that Anibal Sanchez received from Detroit.
And while there is much more depth in the free-agent outfield market, two of the biggest contracts handed out this offseason could actually go to a catcher (Brian McCann) and second baseman (Robinson Cano).
While there will certainly be a good share of bidding wars between teams that have similar priorities and targets, I've matched up 30 different free agents with the team most likely to make that player a top priority this offseason. The slides are sorted in order of worst to best record in 2013, current as of Sept. 3.
Take a look and feel free to offer your opinion in the comments section.
Houston Astros: RHP Tim Lincecum
I don't think anyone really knows which direction Houston will go this offseason. They're not a good team, but they have some good young talent on the roster and have a very good group of prospects on the way.
Third base and corner outfield could be a priority for the offense, but a team ready to take the next step can never go wrong in trying to strengthen their starting rotation.
The question now would be whether any starter capable of leading a young Astros rotation to the next level would even be interested in signing with Houston. Furthermore, will Houston—after shedding their payroll of all players who made more than $1 million—be willing to begin spending on free agent talent?
Here's why two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum (pictured) could be the answer. While his price tag will still be high—expect him to rake in around $12 million per season on a multi-year deal—it's come down significantly after he struggled for most of the past two seasons.
He's also righted the ship lately, for the most part, and has been a very consistent starter over the last three months (3.90 ERA, 99.1 IP, 87 H, 34 BB, 99 K). He's not as risky as he would have been considered to be earlier in the season.
In addition, Lincecum's interest in joining an up-and-coming team like the Astros could be higher than other free agents who are older (Lincecum is only 29) and have yet to win a World Series (Lincecum has two championship rings). He'd likely be more willing to come into a situation where he knows the team could struggle for another year or two if he believes in the direction of the club and thinks they can be playoff-caliber by Year 3 of a possible four or five-year deal.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's rotation projection for 2014 with Lincecum:
1. Tim Lincecum, RHP
2. Jarred Cosart, RHP
3. Jordan Lyles, RHP
4. Brett Oberholtzer, LHP
5. Brad Peacock, RHP
Miami Marlins: SS/3B Jhonny Peralta
Like the Astros, the Marlins are very bad, but there's reason to be optimistic for the future.
Their top prospects heading into the season—starting pitcher Jose Fernandez and outfielder Christian Yelich—might even be better than advertised, and that's saying a lot because there are still several very good pitching prospects on the way.
There are a few obvious holes, though, heading into the offseason. Third base has been a black hole and there doesn't appear to be much help on the way. The free-agent market doesn't offer much help, either, which is why shortstop Jhonny Peralta (pictured) should be the team's the top target.
Aside from paying Giancarlo Stanton a few million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, the Marlins don't have much of a payroll commitment for 2014. Shelling out a three-year, $21-24 million deal for the 31-year-old Peralta—who had an .822 OPS before getting hit with a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal—could be a possibility.
The suspension obviously makes the deal a risk, but he'd probably be in line for a much bigger deal otherwise. The red flag could be enough to put the Marlins on his radar.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's lineup projection with Peralta:
1. Chris Coghlan/Justin Ruggiano, CF
2. Donovan Solano, 2B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Logan Morrison, 1B
6. Jhonny Peralta, 3B
7. Rob Brantly/Jeff Mathis, C
8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
Chicago White Sox: CF Curtis Granderson
Curtis Granderson (pictured) will be a top free-agent target for several teams, including the Yankees, who will be looking to re-sign the 32-year-old.
However, it might be time for the 32-year-old, who has spent his entire season in Detroit and New York, to return to his hometown of Chicago.
After consecutive 40-homer seasons, even an injury-plagued 2013 season isn't likely to keep Granderson's price tag down much. He'll be paid handsomely through his next contract, and the big-market Chicago franchises are two of the few teams that will be able to afford him.
I also have the Cubs landing a top center field free agent (see next slide), leaving Granderson for the team on the South Side. The White Sox could lose long-time star Paul Konerko to free agency, which opens the opportunity to move the defensively-challenged Dayan Viciedo to first base/designated hitter duties along with Adam Dunn.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Granderson:
1. Alejandro De Aza, CF
2. Gordon Beckham, 2B
3. Curtis Granderson, LF
4. Adam Dunn, 1B
5. Avisail Garcia, RF
6. Dayan Viciedo, DH
7. Conor Gillaspie, 3B
8. Alexei Ramirez, SS
9 Josh Phegley/Tyler Flowers, C
Chicago Cubs: CF Jacoby Ellsbury
Don't expect a quiet offseason for the Cubbies as they head into Year 3 of the Theo Epstein regime. After two losing seasons, fans will not tolerate anything less than a winning 2014 season, preceded by an offseason where the team lands at least two impact players.
It just so happens that one of the impact players on the free-agent market, Jacoby Ellsbury (pictured), would fill two needs in Chicago—center field and leadoff hitter. He is also a very familiar face to the leaders of the team's front office from their days together in Boston.
They'll be bidding against potential big spenders—including the Red Sox, Mets and Mariners—but the Cubs will have a legitimate shot at landing the 29-year-old if they can offer at least five years and $75 million. A healthy and productive season in Boston (.773 OPS, 7 HR, 51 SB so far) might even push his totals to six years and $100 million.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Ellsbury:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Nate Schierholtz, RF
5. Junior Lake, LF
6. Mike Olt, 3B
7. Welington Castillo, C
8. Darwin Barney, 2B
Milwaukee Brewers: LHP Jason Vargas
The Brewers offense has had plenty of bright spots this year, with breakout seasons from Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura to go along with solid production from catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
There are also solid options around the diamond for 2014. If Ryan Braun returns without a steep decline after his P.E.D. suspension, the offense could score plenty of runs next year, and another reliable starting pitcher would help convert that offense into more wins.
The pitching staff is a mess right now. But with over $22 million tied up in their top two starters next season—Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse—don't expect them to go after a big name in free agency.
Jason Vargas (pictured), who has a 3.80 ERA in 19 starts for the Angels this season, could likely be had on a three-year, $27 million deal, which should be within the team's price range. The 30-year-old is one of the more reliable starters around, and he's also a lefty, which would balance a rotation with only right-handed options heading into the offseason.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Vargas:
1. Yovani Gallardo, RHP
2. Kyle Lohse, RHP
3. Jason Vargas, LHP
4. Wily Peralta, RHP
5. Marco Estrada, RHP
Minnesota Twins: RHP Erving Santana
With money coming off the team payroll after trading Justin Morneau and his $14 million salary to Pittsburgh last week, the Twins need to re-invest into their starting rotation, which has a few pretty good arms closing in on the majors but whose 2014 outlook still looks very bleak.
Just as he's done with the Royals, Ervin Santana (pictured) could give the Twins a shot in the arm as an effective innings-eater who consistently works deep into ballgames and limits opponents to less than three earned runs per game.
After a terrific season (3.19 ERA in 27 starts so far in 2013), the 30-year-old could command a deal in the range of at least five years and $90 million. Considering how bad the Twins have been the past three years, they should probably give it to him.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Santana:
1. Ervin Santana, RHP
2. Kevin Correia, RHP
3. Samuel Deduno, RHP
4. Kyle Gibson, RHP
5. Andrew Albers, LHP
San Diego Padres: RHP Josh Johnson
As bad as the Padres seem to be year after year, they don't appear to have too many holes on their projected 25-man roster heading into the offseason. They just need to stay healthy, which has been a huge problem the past two seasons.
While just about the entire pitching staff went down in 2011, the Padres were without outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin for most of this season, as well as catcher Yasmani Grandal. First baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Jedd Gyorko and third baseman Chase Headley have all spent time on the disabled list as well, and shortstop Everth Cabrera was suspended 50 games.
With all those guys in the lineup, this is a pretty decent team. So unless general manager Josh Byrnes plans on trading anyone, they don't really need to spend big money on a free-agent hitter.
The pitching staff projection also looks solid. But, as they say, you can never have enough pitching. They won't go after a big name, but count on them adding a back-of-the-rotation veteran as they usually do each offseason (a la Jason Marquis last winter).
Most free-agent pitchers looking to rebuild their value would love to sign with the Padres, who play half their games in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. And no other pitcher needs to rebuild his value more than Josh Johnson (pictured), who had another injury-prone season in 2013. If he's deemed healthy—he was recently shut down for the season with a forearm injury—he'd be an ideal fit for the Padres, who could land the 29-year-old on a one-year, $6 million deal.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Johnson:
1. Ian Kennedy, RHP
2. Andrew Cashner, RHP
3. Tyson Ross, RHP
4. Cory Luebke, LHP
5. Josh Johnson, RHP
San Francisco Giants: LF Hunter Pence
After a disappointing season, the Giants will have to once again try and reload in the offseason in hopes of a quick recovery back into playoff contention.
As was the case in 2013—when they re-signed two key components to their championship season of 2012, Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan—the first line of business this offseason should be to lock up Hunter Pence (pictured) before he hits free agency.
There will be plenty of other outfield options, too, which is good because the Giants could use two outfielders. If the 30-year-old Pence, who has a .788 OPS with 17 homers and 21 stolen bases this year, stays in the fold on a multi-year deal, that could net him around $56 million over four years. After taking care of Pence, the team could then focus their attention elsewhere at the start of the free-agency period.
In addition to the outfield, the team will likely be looking for another starting pitcher as well.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Pence:
1. Angel Pagan, CF
2. Marco Scutaro, 2B
3. Brandon Belt, 1B
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
7. Brandon Crawford, SS
8. Gregor Blanco, LF
Seattle Mariners: RF Carlos Beltran
It seemed like the Mariners have been in the mix for several big name free agents over the past couple of seasons but have fallen short in the bidding.
Instead of signing several free agents to one-year deals or acquiring those with one year left on current contracts—as they did prior to 2013—the M's could find that it's time to be more aggressive after another disappointing season.
Adding a veteran star like Carlos Beltran (pictured) to the middle of a very young lineup could propel the team to the next level. The 36-year-old, who is finishing up his third consecutive season without any major injury trouble, could be in line for a three-year deal within the $42 million range. Knowing that they could move him to designated hitter if his knees give him trouble down the line, the M's could be a perfect match.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Beltran:
1. Brad Miller, SS
2. Nick Franklin, 2B
3. Kyle Seager, 3B
4. Carlos Beltran, RF
5. Justin Smoak, 1B
6. Mike Zunino, C
7. Michael Saunders, LF
8. Jesus Montero, DH
9. Dustin Ackley, CF
New York Mets: CF Shin-Soo Choo
The Mets are expected to celebrate the expiring contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay by finally going out and adding some much-needed outfield help this offseason. The search could start with Shin-Soo Choo (pictured), who is having a huge season with the Reds.
In 133 games playing, primarily center field and serving as the team's leadoff hitter, the 31-year-old has an .882 OPS with 19 homers and 17 stolen bases. Choo is an on-base machine who would fit nicely in front of David Wright in the Mets lineup.
The cost could be significant—likely four years and at least $56 million—but it would be well worth it if Choo continues to produce as he has over the past several seasons. Based on his track record (.852 OPS in 831 career games), it's a pretty safe bet.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Choo:
1. Eric Young, Jr., LF
2. Daniel Murphy, 2B
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. David Wright, 3B
5. Ike Davis, 1B
6. Juan Lagares, CF
7. Travis d'Arnaud, C
8. Ruben Tejeda, SS
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Roy Halladay
The Jays won't be short on rotation options heading into 2014. What they are lacking is reliability behind R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, with several of their other starters dealing with injury woes this season.
And while bringing back former ace Roy Halladay (pictured)—who is 36 years old and just coming back from a shoulder injury that kept him out of action for more than three months—seems like a risky proposition, whoever signs him will get an absolute bargain if he is completely healthy in 2014.
Halladay's familiarity with the Jays could give them a leg up on other teams hoping to sign him to a reduced and/or incentive-laden contract. Even if he doesn't return to form, he'd still be a good mentor for young pitchers like Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, who are coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Halladay:
1. Roy Halladay, RHP
2. Mark Buehrle, LHP
3. R.A. Dickey, RHP
4. Brandon Morrow, RHP
5. J.A. Happ, LHP
Philadelphia Phillies: RF Nelson Cruz
Not expected to go the rebuilding route in any way, shape or form, the Phillies will likely take an aggressive approach to free agency in order to fill holes in the rotation, bullpen and a few spots around the diamond, including right field.
As expected, Delmon Young was not the answer in right field for the Phillies in 2013. They'll get another shot, though, to fill the hole for 2014 and beyond with the slew of outfielders that will be available this offseason.
While Nelson Cruz (pictured) does have a red flag because of his 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis investigation, he's been one of the most consistent power hitters in the game for some time now (.843 OPS, 27 HR, 81 RBI per season since 2009).
The 33-year-old will come at a reduced price, which will allow more teams in on the bidding. But the Phillies might have the biggest need, and they will certainly the resources to land him on deal within the three-year and $36 million range.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Cruz:
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Nelson Cruz, RF
5. Domonic Brown, LF
6. Ryan Howard, 1B
7. Cody Asche, 3B
8. Erik Kratz, C
Colorado Rockies: 2B Omar Infante
While they could probably use another starter, the Rockies won't waste their time trying to lure a good one to pitch half his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field; it's just not happening.
So instead, they'll look to free agency to fill a lineup hole or two.
The Todd Helton era is likely coming to a close, giving the Rockies the option of moving Michael Cuddyer to first base and opening the right field competition to a bevy of in-house options or going outside the organization to find the answer.
They could also look to shore up the infield with second base in need of a major upgrade.
DJ LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge have not stepped up to claim the job in 2013, so the Rockies could look to Omar Infante (pictured), who is having an outstanding season with the Tigers. The 31-year-old has a .799 OPS with nine homers in 97 games. Detroit could look to bring him back, although the chance to play in a hitter's ballpark with fellow Venezuelan Carlos Gonzalez could work in Colorado's favor.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Infante:
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Omar Infante, 2B
3. Carlos Gonzalez, LF
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
5. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
6. Nolan Arenado, 3B
7. Wilin Rosario, C
8. Corey Dickerson, LF
Los Angeles Angels: RHP Bronson Arroyo
The massive contracts from underperforming former superstars Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols will certainly handcuff the Angels in free agency over the next few seasons. General manager Jerry DiPoto, or whoever takes the reins if DiPoto is fired, will have a challenging offseason ahead.
Finding another starting pitcher without breaking the bank on anything more than a two-year, $16 million deal is probably the best they can do. One veteran who could fit within that price range, mostly due to his age (37 in Februrary) and lack of overpowering stuff, is right-hander Bronson Arroyo (pictured).
In the midst of an eighth consecutive solid season in Cincinnati, Arroyo is the type of reliable starter the Angels are lacking behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Joe Blanton wasn't the answer, unfortunately, and now they'll be forced to spend more money to make up for that mistake.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Arroyo:
1. Jered Weaver, RHP
2. C.J. Wilson, LHP
3. Bronson Arroyo, RHP
4. Garrett Richards, RHP
5. Tommy Hanson, RHP
Washington Nationals: RHP Hiroki Kuroda
After an extremely disappointing season, the Nats will dust themselves off and realize that they still have one of the most talented rosters in baseball. Free agents will also notice this.
Even a veteran like Hiroki Kuroda (pictured), who has been very particular with his teams of choice, could see Washington as his best chance to win a championship before he retires.
While they don't necessarily have to replace Dan Haren with another veteran—rookie Taylor Jordan has been very good in nine starts this season—Kuroda is one of the best pitchers in baseball and doesn't appear to be slowing down at age 38. Signing him this winter will probably require a two-year, $30 million commitment, but chances are that it will be well worth it.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Kuroda:
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP
2. Gio Gonzalez, LHP
3. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
4. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
5. Ross Detwiler, LHP
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Grant Balfour
The D'backs have a plethora of closer options heading into the offseason, including Brad Ziegler, J.J. Putz and Heath Bell. Even David Hernandez, who has regressed in 2013, was thought to be the team's "closer of the future" after consecutive strong seasons in 2011-2012.
None of those options, however, should give the team the feeling that the ninth inning is in good hands.
A more reliable option earlier in the season could have made their division lead much more difficult for the Dodgers to overcome, as Los Angeles was nearly buried before they began their amazing run that began in June. If not for the Putz and Bell blowing several saves, the lead could have reached a demoralizing level for the Dodgers to overcome.
General manager Kevin Towers has a reputation for finding under the radar bullpen arms. After 2013, he might want to go with a sure thing. Grant Balfour (pictured), who has 60 saves in 64 chances over the past two seasons, might be the best option this winter.
Although they'll have a ridiculous amount of money invested in their bullpen—the 35-year-old Balfour could cost two years and $16-20 million—such a move is necessary for the team to get back on track in 2014.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected bullpen with Balfour:
CL: Grant Balfour, RHP
SU: Brad Ziegler, LHP
SU: J.J. Putz, RHP
MID: David Hernandez, RHP
MID: Heath Bell, RHP
MID: Joe Thatcher, LHP
LR: Josh Collmenter, RHP
Kansas City Royals: SS Rafael Furcal
David Lough has quietly given the Royals solid production (.784 OPS in 62 games) since taking over the regular right field job earlier in the season. While that might not keep the team from looking for an upgrade in the offseason, it likely makes it less of a priority than finding an answer for the black hole of production at second base.
Chris Getz (.570 OPS) and Elliot Johnson (.530 OPS) have been the main culprits, while Johnny Giavotella hasn't produced either in limited action. Surprisingly, veteran Miguel Tejeda was the most productive second baseman on the team (.700 OPS in 26 games) before his season ended with a calf injury.
While the second base market is thin, the team could turn to another veteran shortstop to slide over and fill the spot. Rafael Furcal, who has missed the season recovering from Tommy John surgery, might be worth a look if they aren't able to land top free agent Omar Infante, as would be expected.
The 35-year-old didn't have a productive 2012 season (.671 OPS, 12 SB), but he's still probably capable of doing a lot more than the current options in Kansas City. With a career .346 on-base percentage, Furcal has always been good at working the count and finding a way to get on base. Even if he's no longer a threat to hit .300 and steal 25 bases, as he was earlier in his career, the switch-hitter could help to make things happen at the top of the lineup ahead of Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Furcal:
1. Alex Gordon, LF
2. Rafael Furcal, 2B
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
4. Billy Butler, DH
5. Sal Perez, C
6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
7. Lorenzo Cain, CF
8. David Lough/Justin Maxwell, RF
9. Alcides Escobar, SS
Cleveland Indians: 1B Justin Morneau
In a bit of a surprise, it's the Indians pitching staff that has this team hanging around in the playoff race, and it's an anemic offense that's holding them back. Several lineup regulars have struggled in the second half, making it difficult to know where the team will look to upgrade this winter.
The team could potentially move Nick Swisher back to the outfield full-time, pushing Drew Stubbs into a fourth outfielder role, where he'd mostly face left-handed pitchers (.752 OPS vs LHP, .633 OPS vs RHP). It would also open up the possibility of signing a first baseman, such as James Loney, Justin Morneau (pictured) or Mike Napoli.
After signing Swisher and Michael Bourn to high-priced contracts last offseason, the team could opt to go with the option that costs less. That would likely be Morneau, who has rebuilt his value with a solid season (.739 OPS, 17 HR, 74 RBI), but his next contract isn't likely to exceed two years and $16 million.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Morneau:
1. Michael Bourn, CF
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Jason Kipnis, 2B
4. Carlos Santana, C
5. Justin Morneau, 1B
6. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
7. Ryan Raburn, DH
8. Michael Brantley/Drew Stubbs, LF
9. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
New York Yankees: 2B Robinson Cano
If Alex Rodriguez's suspension is upheld, the team could be looking for a replacement at third base, as well one other spot in the lineup (either corner outfield or designated hitter) this offseason.
In addition, the team must try and re-sign second baseman Robinson Cano (pictured), who will be seeking a mega-deal in excess of $200 million.
The Yankees are one of the few teams that might be willing to give Cano a deal close to his asking price, and the Dodgers aren't expected to bid on the 30-year-old, so chances are strong that he'll remain in pinstripes. Savings from a Rodriguez suspension will also help a great deal.
Whatever the case, the Yankees could be in for a long season if they lose their star second baseman.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Cano:
1. Brett Gardner, CF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Alfonso Soriano, LF
5. Mark Teixeira, 1B
6. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
7. Zoilo Almonte, DH
8. David Adams, 3B
9. Chris Stewart, C
Baltimore Orioles: LF/RF Corey Hart
It took a few months, but the O's finally filled the void of a right-handed hitting designated hitter when they acquired Michael Morse last week.
They'll be in the same boat in the offseason when Morse becomes a free agent. If Morse can finish strong—he's 3-for-7 in his first two games—he could be on the top of the team's wish list. If not, they could go after a similar player.
Corey Hart (pictured), who missed the season with injuries to both knees, fits the bill as a right-handed power bat who can fill in occasionally at first base and the corner outfield. He's also been a consistently productive hitter throughout his career, with an .830 OPS and an average of 24 homers and 78 runs batted in per season from 2007-2012.
The O's could get him at a reduced rate coming off of the knee injuries, although a three-year, $33 million deal is still realistic based on his past success.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Hart:
1. Nick Markakis, RF
2. Manny Machado, 3B
3. Chris Davis, 1B
4. Adam Jones, CF
5. Matt Wieters, C
6. Corey Hart, DH
7. J.J. Hardy, SS
8. Nolan Reimold, LF
9. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
Tampa Bay Rays: 1B/DH Kendrys Morales
While the Rays will have a tough time duplicating the offseason signing of James Loney—who has given them a solid return on a one-year, $2 million deal—they could still find a player willing to come to Tampa Bay at a reduced cost.
That player could be Kendrys Morales, a Cuban who could jump at the chance to play in Tampa Bay, a city with a huge Cuban population.
The 30-year-old also doesn't have the type of numbers that would earn him a huge deal that is only affordable for big-market teams. He is putting up solid numbers (.772 OPS, 17 HR, 69 RBI) this season, though, so the Rays will have to be willing to give him at least two years and $15 million.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Morales:
1. David DeJesus, RF
2. Ben Zobrist, 2B
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Matt Joyce, DH
5. Wil Myers, RF
6. Kendrys Morales, 1B
7. Desmon Jennings, CF
8. Yunel Escobar, SS
9. Jose Lobaton, C
Cincinnati Reds: CF Franklin Gutierrez
If not for an unimpressive season by top center field prospect Billy Hamilton in Triple-A, the Reds could have gone into the upcoming offseason without much work to do. Instead, Shin-Soo Choo's likely departure will leave the team looking for at least a one-year stopgap so Hamilton can continue to develop in the minors and possibly help at some point in the near future.
While the top center fielders on the market, Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson, could make sense if the Reds wanted to add a significant amount of dollars to their payroll, they could opt for a high-risk, high-reward pickup at a low cost in injury-prone Franklin Gutierrez (pictured).
The 30-year-old could be the bargain of free agency, if he can stay healthy, which he hasn't done since 2010. This will keep his price tag down in the one-year, $3-5 million range. With a career .824 OPS against left-handed pitchers, Gutierrez could hit near the top of the order on occasion and still provide solid value with his defense when he's not hitting.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Gutierrez:
1. Brandon Phillips, 2B
2. Todd Frazier, 3B
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Ryan Ludwick, LF
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
7. Zack Cozart, SS
8. Ryan Hanigan/Devin Mesoraco, C
St. Louis Cardinals: SS Stephen Drew
As loaded as the Cardinals' farm system is, they don't have a good option at shortstop for 2014. With one clear impact player at the position on the free-agent market, expect them to aggressively pursue Stephen Drew.
The 30-year-old has done an excellent job rebuilding his value on a one-year deal with the Red Sox, posting a .759 OPS with 11 homers and 54 runs batted in through 105 games. He missed most of 2012 recovering from an ankle injury and then struggled upon returning.
As long as the Sox are happy moving ahead with Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, and the Yankees are preoccupied with trying to bring back Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, along with a third baseman, starting pitcher and relief help, the Cards should be the frontrunner for Drew's services.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Hart:
1. Matt Carpenter, 2B
2. Oscar Taveras, RF
3. Matt Holliday, LF
4. Allen Craig, 1B
5. Yadier Molina, C
6. Stephen Drew, SS
7. David Freese, 3B
8. Jon Jay, CF
Oakland Athletics: 1B/C Mike Napoli
After being diagnosed with a degenerative hip condition that caused the Red Sox to take a three-year, $39 million deal off the table last winter, Mike Napoli (pictured) could once again head into the offseason with questions regarding his health.
While his 2013 production (.788 OPS, 17 HR in 121 games) and lack of any issues with his hip should earn him a salary in the $10-12 million range, he may be limited to a one or two-year deal, which should allow the A's to be a strong bidder for the 31-year-old.
Napoli has a career .892 OPS versus left-handed pitchers, making him a strong fit in a left-handed heavy A's lineup.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with Napoli:
1. Coco Crisp, CF
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
3. Jed Lowrie, SS
4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
5. Brandon Moss, 1B
6. Mike Napoli, DH
7. Josh Reddick, RF
8. Alberto Callaspo, 2B
9. Derek Norris, C
Texas Rangers: C Brian McCann
Brian McCann (pictured), who has bounced back from an injury-plagued 2012 season with an .833 OPS and 19 homers, won't have a shortage of suitors this winter, and it will be hard to see the Georgia native pass up the opportunity to remain with the Braves on a long-term deal.
But that's only if the Braves are amongst the top bidders for his services.
Along with the Red Sox, the Rangers could give the Braves a run for their money and ultimately decide to go all out for the 29-year-old, who has been voted to the All-Star team in seven of his eight full big-league seasons. A move to the American League, where he'll be able to stay in the lineup as the designated hitter on rest days, would benefit the left-handed hitting slugger.
Catchers who can hit, hit for power, play good defense and manage a pitching staff can be worth up to $15 million per season. The Rangers can lure him to Texas on a five-year, $75 million deal.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected lineup with McCann:
1. Leonys Martin, LF
2. Jurickson Profar, 2B
3. Ian Kinsler, DH
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Brian McCann, C
6. Alex Rios, RF
7. Mitch Moreland, 1B
8. Craig Gentry, CF
9. Elvis Andrus, SS
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Dan Haren
The Bucs could lose free agent A.J. Burnett to free agency this offseason—or possibly even to retirement—and while they've proven to have a good amount of pitching depth this season, it wouldn't hurt to load up with one more veteran arm for 2014.
Dan Haren has done enough over the past two months (3.47 ERA) to land a multi-year deal this winter, although his struggles over the past two seasons could limit him to a two-year deal in the $16-20 million range. With Burnett ($8 million salary in 2013) off the books, along with Wandy Rodriguez ($13 million salary in 2013), the Bucs could likely afford the 32-year-old Haren and still have some room to add another bat to the lineup.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Haren:
1. Francisco Liriano, LHP
2. Gerrit Cole, RHP
3. Jeff Locke, LHP
4. Dan Haren, RHP
5. Charlie Morton, RHP
Detroit Tigers: RHP Edward Mujica
With rookie Bruce Rondon showing progress during his first big-league season, he could be a strong candidate for the closing job in 2014. But that type of uncertainty, as the team discovered early this season, is not ideal for a team with championship aspirations.
Bringing in a versatile veteran who could close if Rondon isn't ready—or set up if he is ready—such as Edward Mujica (pictured) of the Cardinals, should be at the top of the priority list for the Tigers.
Of course, bringing back current closer Joaquin Benoit would serve a similar purpose, but he could go elsewhere for a more defined role and a bigger contract. The 31-year-old Mujica has done a terrific job (1.85 ERA, 35 saves in 37 chances) filling in as St. Louis' closer after they lost Jason Motte for the season, and his value has increased significantly.
The fact that Mujica was viewed as nothing more than a middle reliever prior to 2013, however, could keep the price down on his next contract, giving the Tigers a chance to bring him to Detroit on the same three-year, $16.5 million deal that Benoit received before the 2011 season.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected bullpen with Mujica:
CL: Edward Mujica, RHP
SU: Drew Smyly, LHP
SU: Bruce Rondon, RHP
MID: Al Alburquerque, RHP
MID: Phil Coke, LHP
MID: Evan Reed, RHP
LR: Luke Putkonen, RHP
Boston Red Sox: RHP Joaquin Benoit
While re-signing center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is a likely priority, the Sox have Jackie Bradley, Jr. ready to step into his spot next season, so Ellsbury might not be their first line of business. Making sure their bullpen isn't vulnerable in 2014 could be.
The Sox have plenty of good young arms that could possibly thrive as a second right-handed setup man along with Junichi Tazawa. But these are the Red Sox, who are expected to be a World Series contender and have one of the biggest payrolls in baseball. If there is a proven veteran option available, like Joaquin Benoit (pictured), it's likely they'll try to bring him into the fold.
The 36-year-old Benoit has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the past four seasons, setting him up for a big payday in the range of two years and $15 million. It's pricey for a setup man, but the Sox have the payroll space to make it happen.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected bullpen with Benoit:
CL: Koji Uehara, RHP
SU: Joaquin Benoit, RHP
SU: Junichi Tazawa, RHP
MID: Craig Breslow, LHP
MID: Andrew Miller, LHP
MID: Brandon Workman, RHP
LR: Franklin Morales, LHP
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Matt Garza
During the Dodgers' current 53-13 run, so much has been made of the team's offense with Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez leading the way. But the health of the starting rotation, along with the addition of reliable veteran Ricky Nolasco, has been just as much of a key for their success.
With Nolasco eligible for free agency, the team will look to add a fourth veteran to the group of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. While they're not expected to add a significant amount of salary to their payroll this winter, this is an ownership with deep pockets, and it would be difficult to see them passing on a top starting pitcher like Matt Garza (pictured).
Josh Beckett's expiring contract after the 2014 season—he makes $15.75 million next year—along with several smaller contracts coming off the books after this season, could factor into the team's ability to bring Garza into the mix. The 29-year-old, who has a 3.55 ERA in 19 starts this season, could command a five-year deal in the $90 million range.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Garza:
1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP
2. Zack Greinke, RHP
3. Matt Garza, RHP
4. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP
5. Josh Beckett, RHP
Atlanta Braves: RHP A.J. Burnett
Losing veteran Tim Hudson to a fractured ankle could come back to haunt the young and inexperienced Braves pitching staff in the playoffs. If it does, "veteran starting pitcher" could jump to the front of the team's offseason priority list.
That veteran could be A.J. Burnett (pictured), who has thrived in a similar role with Pittsburgh the last two seasons. If he opts to continue his big-league career, the 36-year-old from Little Rock, Arkansas might feel right at home leading the Braves' young group of pitchers. A one-year, $12 million deal could be enough to bring Burnett to Atlanta.
Without factoring in any other roster moves, here's a look at the team's projected rotation with Burnett:
1. A.J. Burnett, RHP
2. Mike Minor, LHP
3. Julio Teheran, RHP
4. Brandon Beachy, RHP
5. Alex Wood, LHP