2014 MLB Free Agents: Position by Position Rankings

Jason MartinezContributor ISeptember 29, 2013

2014 MLB Free Agents: Position by Position Rankings

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    Choo could top $100 million in free agency.
    Choo could top $100 million in free agency.David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

    The free-agent market will officially be opening for business at the conclusion of the World Series, and there is no shortage of impact players who will be available.

    While no pitcher will come close to Zack Greinke's six-year, $147 million deal he signed last winter, more teams will be in the mix for the top free-agent pitchers because they aren't expected to command a nine-figure contract.

    And while only Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano will eclipse Josh Hamilton's five-year, $125 million deal, there are at least a dozen free-agent position players who'll command big contracts and fill key roles on whichever team signs them. 

    Here are the top five free agents at each position. The player's age as of Opening Day 2014 is listed in parentheses. 

Catchers

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    1. Brian McCann (30): Losing steam with his current 7-for-49 slump, but he'll have a chance to bounce back in the playoffs. Regardless, McCann (pictured) should command a four- or five-year deal worth at least $13 million regardless after his seventh All-Star selection in the last eight seasons.

    2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (28): Doesn't have the track record or the reputation that McCann has as a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat, but he has a .763 OPS with an average of 18 homers and 60 runs batted in over the past three seasons. He's also two years younger than McCann. 

    3. Dioner Navarro (30): Five years after an All-Star season with the Rays, Navarro is having his best big league season (.856 OPS, 13 HR in 88 games) without the benefit of regular playing time. Chances are that he'll sign with a team that will give him a starting job. 

    4. Carlos Ruiz (35): A strong second half (.745 OPS, 5 HR, 31 RBI) has Ruiz back in the mix for a starting job in 2014. He just won't get the paycheck that he would've gotten with a repeat offensive performance from his breakout 2012 (.934 OPS, 16 HR). 

    5. A.J. Pierzynski (37): In line for another one-year deal in the $5-8 million range after a solid 2013 season, Pierzynski's still productive at the plate (.724 OPS, 17 HR) and capable of catching 100-plus games per season. He'll likely need to be teamed with a solid backup, though, who can take on approximately 40 percent of the catching duties.  

    Honorable Mentions: John Buck (33), Jose Molina (38), Geovany Soto (31), Kurt Suzuki (30)—$8.5M club option

First Basemen

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    1. Mike Napoli (32): Strikes out a ton (185 K in 494 ABs), but one of the most productive first basemen in the game this season (.838 OPS, 23 HR, 91 RBI). Napoli (pictured) is likely to land a two-year contract a year after settling on a one-year, incentive-laden deal due to concerns from a chronic hip issue.

    2. Jose Dariel Abreu (27): Officially declared a free agent today, according to MLB.com 's Jesse Sanchez, the right-handed hitting slugger, who some believe is one of the best hitters to come out of Cuba, will benefit from the success of Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig despite the uncertainty surrounding the talent level of international free agents. 

    3. Kendrys Morales (30): Better suited for the American League where he could get most of his at-bats in the designated hitter role, Morales is likely doing just enough offensively this season (.788 OPS, 23 HR, 80 RBI) to land him a multi-year deal. 

    4. James Loney (29): Lack of power keeps Loney's price down, but a .300 hitter with 10-15 homers and solid defense gives him a shot at a three-year deal in the $24-30 million range. 

    5. Corey Hart (32): His value is down after missing the season recovering from separate surgeries to his right and left knee, but his impressive resume (.830 OPS, 24 HR, 78 RBI, 33 2B, 13 SB per season between 2007-2012) still makes him a candidate to receive a long-term deal. 

    Honorable Mentions: Paul Konerko (38), Michael Morse (32), Justin Morneau (32), Mark Reynolds (30)

Second Basemen

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    1. Robinson Cano (31): Buster Olney of ESPN is reporting that Cano (pictured) is seeking a 10-year deal worth $305 million. That asking price is likely to come down significantly, although it wouldn't be a surprise if he gets eight years and $200 million after averaging 28 homers, 45 doubles and 102 runs batted in over the past five seasons.

    2. Omar Infante (32): If Marco Scutaro can get three years and $20 million at age 37, Infante could be in line for four years and $32 million after, arguably, his best big league season. In 117 games, he has a .798 OPS with 10 homers and 51 runs batted in.

    3. Brian Roberts (36): The oft-injured Roberts will likely be limited to a one-year, incentive-laden deal, but a very productive end of the season (.752 OPS, 6 HR in last 41 games) should make him an intriguing pickup for teams seeking a leadoff hitter. 

    4. Mark Ellis (36): The Dodgers are unlikely to pick up his $5.75 million club option for 2014 after a poor offensive season (.672 OPS), but he's still a terrific value if a team can sign him to a one-year deal in the $2-4 million range. He still offers solid defense and hit over .300 in two different months this year.

    5. Kelly Johnson (32): A current 6-for-51 slump is putting a damper on an otherwise strong season (.715 OPS, 16 HR) that should at least get him some interest from teams seeking second base help. It's more likely he'll end up in a super-utility role capable of playing the corner outfield spots, first base, second base and third base.

    UPDATE 9/29/13 9:10 PM ET - International free agent Alexander Guerrero, a Cuban defector who was cleared to sign with major league teams earlier this month, should've been included on the original list between Infante and Roberts. 

    The 26-year-old Guerrero, who his agent Scott Boras says is major league ready with Dan Uggla-like power, was reportedly closing in on a five-year, $32 million deal with the Dodgers once he was eligible to sign but the deal apparently fell through. It's expected that several teams will be in the mix to sign him.  

     

     

Third Basemen

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    1. Jhonny Peralta (31): With a weak crop of free-agent third basemen, Peralta (pictured) should have plenty of suitors from teams looking to move him back to the hot corner—he started 198 games there in 2009-2010. Despite a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal and the resulting questions surrounding his solid season (.821 OPS, 11 HR in 105 games), Peralta's stock remains high.

    2. Juan Uribe (34): He can't completely erase his awful 2011-2012 seasons with the Dodgers (.552 OPS, 6 HR in 143 games), but Uribe is putting himself in position to land another starting job after a solid bounce-back year (.770 OPS, 12 HR).  

    3. Michael Young (37): Probably a better fit as a part-time role player at this point in his career, but Young could end up in a starting role once again with several teams getting so little production out of the first base, third base or designated hitter spots. Young has a .732 OPS with 8 homers and 25 doubles in 145 games this season.   

    4. Kevin Youkilis (35): When healthy, he can still be a highly productive hitter, as evidenced by a solid stint with the White Sox (.771 OPS, 15 HR in 80 games) after they acquired him in mid-2012. But his injury-prone tag only becomes a bigger red flag after missing most of this season with a back injury. 

    5. Mark Reynolds (30): A move to first base in 2012 coincided with Reynolds' turnaround from a slow start . A move to third base did the opposite after a hot start. The fact that he's on this list at all tells you how little talent is available at the hot corner.

     

Shortstops

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    1. Stephen Drew (31): After playing the 2012 free-agent market to perfection, signing a one-year deal with the Sox and rebuilding his value with a strong season (.777 OPS, 13 HR in 124 games), Drew (pictured) has put himself in position to cash in this offseason with several teams looking for shortstop upgrades and very few options.  

    2. Jhonny Peralta (31): If Peralta wants to continue playing shortstop, there will certainly be some offers on the table. Any teams offering long-term deals, however, could have plans of shifting him over to third base—or even left field, where he played on Friday night for the Tigers—in the second or third year of the contract.

    3. Rafael Furcal (36): A decline in performance prior to him missing all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery isn't going to hurt Furcal's chances of finding a job in this weak market too much. He may have to take an incentive-laden deal with a low salary, but it's very likely that he's leading off and playing shortstop for some big league team on Opening Day.  

    4. Brendan Ryan (32): It's unclear if any team will value Ryan's defense enough to hand him a starting job, even for a very inexpensive one-year deal. But the fact that it's a possibility after he's posted a .588 OPS over the past three seasons tells you just how good he is on the field. 

    5. Clint Barmes (35): Starting days may be behind him for good after back-to-back poor offensive seasons (.582 OPS in 252 games) with the Bucs. And while he's solid defensively, he doesn't have Ryan's run-saving ability as a defender to validate him playing regularly despite the lack of production at the plate. 

Center Fielders

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    1. Jacoby Ellsbury (30): Prior to a foot injury that knocked him out of action for nearly three weeks in September, Ellsbury (pictured) had re-established himself as one of the top leadoff hitters in the game with a .779 OPS and 52 stolen bases in 131 games. He'll certainly be paid like it this winter.

    2. Shin-Soo Choo (31): Choo's value is higher as an above-average defender in right field rather than just an adequate one in center field. Regardless of where he plays, Choo hits enough for any position or any spot in the batting order. 

    3. Curtis Granderson (33): While Granderson can play all three outfield spots adequately, it's his home-run power (115 HR in 512 games with the Yankees) that teams will be paying for this winter. Where he fits in the outfield picture depends on a team's needs, but center field is certainly a strong possibility with so few other options available. 

    4. Chris Young (30): The A's are certain to decline Young's $11 million club option for 2014 after his worst big league season (.659 OPS), and teams in need of center field help will be trying to sign the former All-Star to a bargain basement deal in hopes that he can return to form. 

    5. Franklin Gutierrez (31): The last time Gutierrez stayed healthy for an entire season, he won a Gold Glove while hitting 12 homers and stealing 25 bases. The previous season, he had a .764 OPS and 18 homers. He has 10 homers in the 41 games he's managed to play this year. The long list of injuries throughout his career make him a huge risk, though, which is why the Mariners will decline his $7.5 million club option for 2014. 

Corner Outfielders

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    1. Shin-Soo Choo (31): With Hunter Pence agreeing on a five-year, $90 million contract extension with the Giants, as first reported by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicleagent Scott Boras' suggestion that Choo (pictured) will get more than $100 million aren't that far-fetched. Both players are having terrific seasons, but Choo's .424 on-base percentage and ability to leadoff and play center field could give him the edge. 

    2. Carlos Beltran (36): Beltran wants to play three or four more years, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and it's very likely that's what he'll be aiming for that in his next contract after a third consecutive season with at least 142 games played. The switch-hitter is also still highly productive, posting an .861 OPS with an average of 26 homers and 88 runs batted in per season during that span. 

    3. Nelson Cruz (33): On pace for career highs in homers and runs batted in, Cruz's regular season ended in August with a 50-game suspension for P.E.D. use, and his free-agent value took a hit in the process. But with several teams expected to seek a right-handed power bat and with his previous track record of success (.844 OPS, 27 HR and 83 RBI per season from 2009-2012), he's still capable of landing a sizable contract. 

    4. Nate McLouth (32): The fact that McLouth doesn't provide enough power for a corner outfielder (12 HR in 144 games) but isn't good enough defensively to handle center field on a regular basis hurts his value some. But his ability to lead off and steal bases (30 SB in 37 attempts) in a market that doesn't offer many players with that skill set ensures he'll have his share of suitors this winter.

    5. Marlon Byrd (36): Falling completely off the radar after posting a .488 OPS in 47 games last season, being released by Boston and then hit with a 50-game suspension for a positive P.E.D. test, Byrd's comeback is nothing short of remarkable. He's having one of his best big league seasons (.847 OPS, 24 HR, 35 2B, 88 RBI), headed for his first playoff appearance ever and will get a nice paycheck in free agency this winter that might even exceed his career-high $6.5 million salary in 2012.

Starting Pitchers

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    1. Ervin Santana (31): Once Matt Garza began to struggle shortly after being traded to Texas, it became apparent that Santana (pictured) had risen to the top of the list of starting pitchers on this winter's free-agent market. And he's likely done enough (3.24 ERA, 211 IP, 190 H, 51 BB, 161 K) to hold off Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Lincecum, who have rebuilt their values with second-half surges. 

    2. Ubaldo Jimenez (30): His sudden return to top-of-the-rotation form (2.47 ERA in last 22 starts) after years of struggles puts him in line for a nice payday in free agency. How much his 5.03 ERA between 2011-2012 will hurt him is unclear, but it certainly makes him a risk and will affect how much teams are willing to give him. 

    3. Matt Garza (30): The season has balanced out for Garza, who really isn't as good as he was during the six starts leading up to his trade from the Cubs to the Rangers (1.24 ERA, 43.2 IP, 34 H, 10 BB, 38 K) and not as bad as he's been with Texas—he's allowed at least four earned runs in seven of 13 starts. He is a proven No. 2 or 3 starter with past success in the AL East and in the playoffs, two very important selling points for his agent this winter.

    4. Tim Lincecum (29): The Giants worked quickly to re-sign outfielder Hunter Pence, and they're reportedly trying to do the same with Lincecum, according to Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. This will come as a huge surprise if you stopped paying attention after the first two months of the season. Lincecum's struggles continued (5.12 ERA), and a move to the bullpen appeared to be in the works. Since, he has a 4.00 ERA in 21 starts with 45 walks and 125 strikeouts in 132.2 innings. 

    5. Hiroki Kuroda (39): As is normally the case with Kuroda, he's uncertain about his future and hasn't made up his mind on whether he'll pitch in Japan or the U.S. next season, according to Anthony Rieber of New York Newsday. Even if he chooses to stay, he'll likely limit his options to a few teams. Regardless, his value won't take much of a hit. Kuroda will likely ask for somewhere between $15-18 million, and one of his preferred teams will be happy to give it to him. 

    Honorable Mentions: Bronson Arroyo (37), A.J. Burnett (37), Bartolo Colon (40), Scott Feldman (31), Dan Haren (33), Tim Hudson (38), Ricky Nolasco (31), Jason Vargas (31)

Closers

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    1. Joe Nathan (39): By finishing at least 55 games on the season, Nathan (pictured) has earned the right to void his $9 million club option for 2014. Chances are he will do just that after another dominant season (1.41 ERA, 63.2 IP, 36 H, 22 BB, 73 K, 43 saves), which could either put him in line for a one-year deal for somewhere between $12-15 million or a multi-year deal in the $10-12 million per season range. 

    2. Joaquin Benoit (36): Benoit's price as a top set-up man has only gone up now that he can add "proven closer" to his resume. In his first extended shot at closing out games, Benoit has 24 saves in 26 chances while posting a 2.01 ERA with a 6.1 H/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 10 K/9. Not only will he likely get a chance to continue closing, he's pitched well enough to get paid like one. 

    3. Brian Wilson (32): While he's not quite back to his pre-Tommy John surgery velocity on his fastball (94.2 MPH average in 2011; 92.6 MPH average in 2013, according to FanGraphs), Wilson has been terrific in a setup role since joining the Dodgers last month (13.1 IP, ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 12 K, 3 holds) and should be back to closing out games in 2014. Wilson saved 163 regular-season games in 186 chances for the Giants between 2008-2011.

    4. Grant Balfour (36): A bit of a late bloomer, Balfour has a 2.75 ERA, 6.2 H/9, 3.5 BB/9 and 9.7 K/9 since his age 30 season in 2008. He also has 62 saves in 67 chances over the past two seasons, his first with a regular closer's gig, which is why his next payday will exceed his current three-year, $12.25 million deal that expires after the World Series. 

    5. Fernando Rodney (37): After a dominant season in 2012 (0.60 ERA, 74.2 IP, 43 H, 15 BB, 76 K, 48 saves in 50 chances), his best ever by far, Rodney came out of the gates in 2013 looking like the mediocre pitcher he had been for most of his career. But since blowing his fifth game of the season on May 25 and seeing his ERA rise above 6.00, the Rays closer has a 2.35 ERA with 29 saves in 30 chances. 

    Honorable Mentions: Kevin Gregg (35), Ryan Madson (33), Edward Mujica (29)