The Cubs and Mets have already downplayed potential interest in Ellsbury.
Just like it's hard to predict what happens on a Major League Baseball field, it's not an easy task to predict which players will end up on what team in the offseason. No matter how simple it may seem after we put two and two together, there are always more surprises than non-surprises when it comes to free agency.
Certain free agents are mentioned in the rumor mill on a regular basis in conjunction with certain teams that would appear to have the most interest. And quite often, a team that hasn't been as involved—at least from what we've heard from the media—lands that player and surprises the baseball world.
The "mystery team" has become a common term when it comes to hot stove talks. It can be used as leverage by a player's agent whether this mystery team has interest in a particular player or not. But some teams are just better at keeping their cards close to their vest, as the Los Angeles Angels were when they unexpectedly signed top free agents Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton during the past two offseasons.
Here are five bold predictions for free agents and the unlikely teams that will sign them.
It just makes too much sense for Stephen Drew to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, who might have only one major need to fill this offseason and that's at shortstop. It makes so much sense that there's no way it will actually happen. That's just how baseball works.
Aside from Jhonny Peralta, who could also be pursued by several teams as a third baseman, Drew is possibly the only free-agent shortstop worthy of a starting job, and it's likely that he'll be at the top of the Cardinals' priority list.
There won't be a shortage of suitors, however, after the 30-year-old posted a .777 OPS with 13 homers and 67 runs batted in during the regular season. Along with the Boston Red Sox, who will be trying to re-sign him, the Minnesota Twins, New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates could also be looking for an upgrade at shortstop. We also can't rule out the New York Yankees, especially if Derek Jeter retires.
But the surprise team that lands Drew will be the Cincinnati Reds, who will be looking to shake up their roster after a disappointing finish to the season. In an attempt to add more offense and become less right-handed heavy, they'll sign the left-handed hitting Drew to a four-year, $48 million deal and trade Zack Cozart, who has a .676 OPS in his two seasons as the team's starting shortstop.
A terrific 2013 season for Jacoby Ellsbury should result in a contract that exceeds what the top free-agent center fielder of last winter, B.J. Upton, signed for. If Upton can sign for five years and $75.25 million, then the 30-year-old Ellsbury will likely ask for a deal in the six-year and $100 million range.
While that asking price will certainly limit his market to just a handful of teams willing to pay that amount, including the Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Mets and Texas Rangers, there's always a chance that the owner of a team hoping to make a splash will open up his wallet for the right player.
That team will be the Seattle Mariners, who fell short in their pursuit of Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton last winter and aren't likely to let Ellsbury, who is from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon) and starred at Oregon State University, get away.
After spreading their money around on the 2013 roster, they'll go all out to meet Ellsbury's high asking price, and he'll be leading off and starting in center field behind Felix Hernandez on Opening Day 2014.
With his value rebuilt to top-of-the-rotation status, Ubaldo Jimenez is expected to void the $8 million club option in his contract and seek one of the biggest free-agent deals of the offseason.
Teams desperately seeking a front-line starter on the free-agent market will have their choice between the 29-year-old Jimenez, Matt Garza, Tim Lincecum and Ervin Santana. Japanese start Masahiro Tanaka is likely to be posted, and David Price could be on the trade block.
The San Francisco Giants and Rangers would appear to be in good shape financially and should be able to land one each. As for the others, it will likely come down to which teams are willing to stretch their budgets the most.
For Jimenez, who had a 3.30 ERA with 194 strikeouts in 182.2 innings pitched this season, the team that steps up will be the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies will bring back their former ace on a five-year, $75 million deal, knowing full well that the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field didn't affect him when he posted a 3.43 ERA in 100 starts between 2008-2010. More importantly, Jimenez knows he's had success pitching there and won't have an issue with returning, as would be the case with most pitchers.
The Giants, as they did with Hunter Pence, are going to try to re-sign Lincecum before the start of the free-agent period. No team wants to overpay the 29-year-old, however, after how badly he pitched in 2012 and the first couple of months of 2013. The Giants will certainly be cautious, which is why Lincecum will be patient and find out how much he can make on the open market.
Once he becomes a free agent, Lincecum will find that there are several good opportunities for him after he finished the season strong with a 4.00 ERA, 45 walks and 125 strikeouts in his last 132.2 innings pitched.
The Houston Astros, believe it or not, could be one of the teams in the mix for the right-hander. They could have a payroll in the $50-60 million range, according to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, and only a few million dollars committed to players for 2014. Adding a veteran with two Cy Young Awards on his resume would be a good way to start spending some of that money.
Selling Lincecum, or any free agent for that matter, could be a challenge with the team still not expected to be competitive in 2014. But if a player believes in what general manager Jeff Luhnow is doing in Houston, it might not be that hard to convince him.
And in Lincecum's case, he already has two World Series rings and is likely to be more patient than others who are looking for the best opportunity to win their first championship. He'll get four years and $64 million to lead Houston's young staff.
Santana pitched like a No. 1 starter in 2013, and now he'll get paid like one. It just won't be with a team that you'd expect to land, arguably, the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market.
With as much as $40 million to spend this offseason, according to Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN, the Minnesota Twins should have a very good chance to upgrade one of the worst rotations, if not the worst, in baseball. Landing the 30-year-old Santana, who had a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts for the Kansas City Royals this season, would be a great start.
Aside from the chance to be the staff ace and the five-year, $90 million contract they'll give him, the Twins will also be able to sell Santana on their pitcher-friendly ballpark. Considering that he gave up a league leading 39 homers in 2012, the right-hander would be happy to pitch in a venue that was 27th in home run park factor, according to ESPN.