Best Fits for Biggest 2014 MLB Free Agents
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Do you want to know which teams will sign the top free agents this offseason? It's not quite as simple as "the ones who offer them the most money," but it's close.
It's highly unlikely that a player would leave several million dollars on the table in any situation. But it's not out of the question to take a slightly lesser deal with a team that the player feels is a better fit.
So while signing with the San Diego Padres to take the mound in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball would be a great situation for most pitchers, a top free-agent starter like Ervin Santana isn't going to sign with them for four years and $48 million when plenty of other teams are willing to give him five years and at least $75 million.
In most cases that involve a highly coveted free agent, there will be a few top bidders who will be offering enough to sign that player. It will be up to the player to choose which is the right fit.
Here is what I believe is the best fit for three of the top position players and two of the top starting pitchers on the free-agent market.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF
With an asking price that could reportedly exceed $100 million, via Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the numbers of teams bidding on Shin-Soo Choo could be limited to big-market clubs that aren't already saddled with several hefty contracts.
In addition to meeting his price tag, the ideal team for the 31-year-old Choo would not be forced to use him in center field or the leadoff spot, as the Cincinnati Reds did this season. While he was one of the best leadoff hitters in the game with a .423 on-base percentage and 20 stolen bases, he has even more value a spot or two lower in the order where he has more opportunity to drive in runs.
The best fit for Choo is in Chicago, where the Korean population is amongst the highest in the nation, and with the White Sox, who cleared significant payroll room when they traded away Jake Peavy and Alex Rios during the season. Paul Konerko's salary is also coming off the books, making Choo's salary demands much easier to meet.
With fellow outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Avisail Garcia both capable of playing a solid center field, Choo could move back to a corner outfield spot where his plus arm will have more value. And while they might not have a Gold Glove center fielder in the group, that's a pretty solid defensive outfield.
If De Aza can bounce back from posting a .323 on-base percentage last season—he did have a career-high 17 homers, so his approach may have shifted—to the player who posted a .361 on-base percentage in 185 games with the team from 2011 to 2012, the Sox would also feel much more comfortable utilizing Choo in the No. 2 or 3 spot.
Without accounting for any other potential roster moves, here's a look at what the Sox's lineup could look like with Choo.
1. Alejandro De Aza, CF
2. Alexei Ramirez, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Adam Dunn, 1B
5. Avisail Garcia, LF
6. Dayan Viciedo, DH
7. Gordon Beckham, 2B
8. Conor Gillaspie, 3B
9. Tyler Flowers, C
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF
Jacoby Ellsbury appears to be doing just fine with his current team, the Boston Red Sox, where he's already played a huge part in their successful season thus far. But if the Sox stick with the same approach of last season, limiting free-agent signings to three years to avoid payroll nightmares that can occur down the road with contracts that exceed four or five seasons, Ellsbury won't fit into their plans.
Like Choo, Ellsbury has seen his value skyrocket with a huge season, and there shouldn't be any surprise when his asking price starts in the six-year, $100 million range. The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs, two teams that would appear to be great fits, aren't expected to pursue the 30-year-old at his expected asking price.
One team that could have plenty of money to spend just happens to be the team closest to Ellsbury's home state of Oregon. After getting shut out from some of their top free-agent targets the past few offseasons, the Seattle Mariners have just $28.5 million committed to two players with guaranteed contracts in 2014—Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma—and no arbitration eligible players due for a significant raise.
When so much invested in their top two starting pitchers, it makes sense to invest in a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who can also make a difference in the close games that the Mariners expect to play in their pitcher-friendly ballpark. Expect the M's to meet Ellsbury's price, bringing him back to the Pacific Northwest.
Without accounting for any other potential roster moves, here's a look at what the Mariners lineup could look like with Ellsbury.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Dustin Ackley, LF
3. Kyle Seager, 3B
4. Justin Smoak, 1B
5. Nick Franklin, 2B
6. Michael Saunders, RF
7. Abraham Almonte, DH
8. Mike Zunino, C
9. Brad Miller, SS
Matt Garza, SP
Matt Garza has dominated at times in his career, including a six-start stint (1.24 ERA, 43.2 IP, 34 H, 10 BB, 38 K) leading up to his trade from the Cubs to Texas earlier in the season. He's also had success in a very tough division and in the playoffs—he was the ALCS MVP in 2008 while with the Tampa Bay Rays. And he'll be just 30 years old at the start of the 2014 season.
So despite the fact that he's more of a really good No. 3 starter on a playoff-caliber team, Garza is going to be paid handsomely over the next several seasons. And now that he has his choice of where he'll get to pitch, it makes sense to sign with one of the teams in the most pitcher-friendly divisions in baseball—the NL West.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, Padres and San Francisco Giants, the three teams in the division that play in pitcher-friendly ballparks, could all pursue the right-hander, but it's San Francisco that needs him the most and likely has the most payroll space to give him a five-year deal in the $80 to $90 million range.
It also helps that Garza is from Fresno, which is less than 200 miles from what would be his new ballpark.
Without accounting for any other potential roster moves, here's a look at what the Giants' rotation could look like with Garza.
1. Matt Cain, RHP
2. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
3. Matt Garza, RHP
4. Ryan Vogelsong, RHP
5. Yusmeiro Petit, RHP
Brian McCann, C
The Georgia native probably feels like he's a perfect fit with the Atlanta Braves, who drafted him in the second round back in 2002. The Braves probably feel the same way. But with the money Brian McCann's set to make as a free agent, it's clear that the 29-year-old will likely be playing elsewhere in 2014.
With the Red Sox, White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers all potential suitors, a bidding war could push McCann's next contract ahead of Yadier Molina's five-year, $75 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. For that amount, he's a much better fit in the American League where he can fill the designated hitter role when he's not behind the plate defensively.
The Rangers, who could lose A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto to free agency, appear to have the biggest hole to fill. In addition to the veteran leadership McCann would bring to the pitching staff, adding his bat to the middle of a lineup that currently lacks any left-handed power is another reason for the Rangers to pursue him aggressively.
Without accounting for any other potential roster moves, here's a look at what the Rangers' lineup could look like with McCann.
1. Ian Kinsler, DH
2. Jurickson Profar, 2B
3. Alex Rios, RF
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Brian McCann, C
6. Mitch Moreland, 1B
7. Craig Gentry, LF
8. Elvis Andrus, SS
9. Leonys Martin, CF
Ervin Santana, SP
With the way Ervin Santana pitched in 2013, he would've been successful in any ballpark. But if there's one concern about the 30-year-old, who had a 3.24 ERA with a 72 percent quality start rate for the Kansas City Royals, it is that he allowed a major league-leading 39 homers just one season ago while with the Los Angeles Angels.
Any team investing the likely five years and $90 million it would cost to land Santana on the open market better feel fairly confident that he doesn't repeat his homer-prone season of 2012. And since that's impossible to predict, then it would make sense for a team that plays in a stadium where home runs aren't easy to come by to be the best fit.
That could put teams like the Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Giants and Washington Nationals at the top of Santana's wish list. But with the Twins desperate to upgrade the worst rotation in baseball and with possibly as much as $40 million to spend this offseason, according to Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN, they would be the most likely to win the bidding contest.
Without accounting for any other potential roster moves, here's a look at what the Twins' rotation could look like with Santana.
1. Ervin Santana, RHP
2. Kevin Correia, RHP
3. Samuel Deduno, RHP
4. Andrew Albers, LHP
5. Kyle Gibson, RHP