Updated Stock Watch for Upcoming MLB Free Agents, Week 24
The free-agent market won't be officially open for business for about another month-and-a-half (at the conclusion of the World Series), but most free agents-to-be are down to their last 12 to 15 games to either boost, maintain or lose value.
While a majority of the group will be in the "maintain value" category, a handful of others are either playing good enough to bump that price tag up or bad enough to knock it down.
Here are eight players, four from each side, who have shifted the needle on their free-agent stock during the past week or two.
Mark Ellis, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
In a weak second base market, Mark Ellis had a strong chance to lock down another multiyear deal because of his reputation as a steady defender who could provide just enough offense to have value as a starter at the position. And the 36-year-old was having his typical season, rolling along with a .281 batting average and an OPS just above .700 on August 22.
That would probably be enough to land him another two-year deal in the $6 to $8 million range. But his value is dipping after an 11-for-54 slump has his OPS down to a mediocre .671 on the season.
Now, instead of being some team's choice to solidify its second base spot for the next two seasons, Ellis could have a hard time finding a starting job in the offseason and securing anything more than a one-year deal for no more than $2 million. He'll need to turn things around quickly to avoid this scenario.
Matt Garza, SP, Texas Rangers
Matt Garza may have been the best pitcher in baseball over a span of six starts as the Chicago Cubs were shopping him around and looking for the best trade offer. And while that trend continued over his first few starts with the Texas Rangers after they acquired him in mid-July, things haven't gone as smoothly as of late.
Over his past six starts, the 29-year-old has a 5.30 ERA with at least four earned runs allowed in all but two starts. He allowed only three earned runs in his last start on Wednesday, but he was knocked out of the game after four innings after reaching 89 pitches with four walks and five hits allowed.
While Texas is 6-4 over Garza's 10 starts with the team, the return hasn't been as great as expected when it gave up four pretty good prospects for the right-hander. Garza could also take a hit on the free-agent market, where the potential $100 million deal he was on pace for back in early August has likely declined into the $70 to $80 million range.
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Cleveland Indians
Not only has Ubaldo Jimenez's impressive run over the past two months ensured that the Indians will want to exercise his $8 million club option for 2014, it also makes it a near lock that he'll exercise a clause in his contract to void it and become a free agent.
The 29-year-old's current contract, which he signed while with the Colorado Rockies in January 2009, states that he can void the 2014 club option if he is traded, which he was when the Cleveland Indians acquired him in July 2011. Because of his inconsistent performance since that 2011 season, there hasn't been any reason to think he'd end up as a free agent in line for a big deal this upcoming offseason.
Jimenez has had a solid year, however, and has been at this best over his past 11 starts with a 2.19 ERA in 65.2 innings with 26 walks and 69 strikeouts. Like Tim Lincecum, who has done a tremendous job of rebuilding some value after a rough season-and-a-half, Jimenez won't receive the huge megadeal he was in line for a few seasons ago. But his age and recent performance make it likely he'll get at least three years and $42 million this winter.
Jason Kubel, OF, Cleveland Indians
With a change of scenery, Jason Kubel had a chance to turn his season around and either convince the Indians, who acquired him from Arizona last month, to pick up his $7.5 million club option or rebuild some value before becoming a free agent this winter.
He's done neither, thus far, with only two singles and a double in 18 at-bats. Not only does that keep him in a bench role for the Tribe, it further hurts his value heading into the offseason when he'll be lucky to get a one-year deal for more than $3 to $4 million.
Mike Napoli, 1B, Boston Red Sox
A recent hot streak has likely secured Mike Napoli's place at the top of the first base market, ahead of James Loney and Kendrys Morales. In his past 16 games, Napoli has 20 hits in 55 at-bats with six homers, six runs batted in, 11 walks and 18 runs batted in.
Whether a team will feel safe enough with the 31-year-old's chronic hip condition to give him a multiyear deal is unclear. What is clear that his 2014 salary could come close to tripling the $5 million he was guaranteed in 2013. Expect him to land a one- or two-year deal in the range of $12 to $14 million per season.
Ricky Nolasco, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
After acquiring Ricky Nolasco in early July, it appeared that the Los Angeles Dodgers had gotten exactly what they had hoped for. The 30-year-old wasn't dominant, but he gave the team a solid back-of-the-rotation option.
Through six starts, he had a 3.00 ERA while averaging just over five innings per start. But the former Marlin has stepped it up a few notches as of late, averaging nearly seven innings per start and posting a 1.32 ERA with only 25 hits and six walks allowed in 41 innings pitched. The right-hander has 35 strikeouts over that span.
That three-year, $24 million deal I would've projected a few months back has likely risen into the four years and $48 million range.
Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies
Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz's career season in 2012 (.935 OPS, 16 HR, 68 RBI) was all but forgotten after he was hit with a 25-game suspension for amphetamine use in the offseason and then wasn't close to the same hitter he had been once he returned.
On August 18, the 34-year-old had a .608 OPS with two homers in 61 games. His starting days appeared to be very close to ending, and it seemed very likely he'd be looking for a backup job this offseason. But in 20 games since, Ruiz has heated up with 28 hits in 72 at-bats, including eight doubles and three homers, to boost his OPS to .735 and once again look the part of a starting catcher in 2014.
Juan Uribe, 3B, Los Angles Dodgers
A few teams will be looking for third base help this winter, but the free-agent market doesn't offer much help. The player having the best statistical season, though, is 34-year-old Juan Uribe, who is finishing up the last of a three-year, $21 million deal with the Dodgers that hadn't paid many dividends until this season.
After a three-homer game earlier in the week, Uribe has his OPS up to .749 with 10 homers on the season. While it's still doubtful he'd land anything more than a one-year deal in free agency, a team with limited options could hope for similar production in 2014 at a bargain rate of about $3 to $4 million.