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Updating the Latest Suitors for Top 25 MLB Free Agents

Jason MartinezContributor IOctober 28, 2013

Updating the Latest Suitors for Top 25 MLB Free Agents

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    Napoli could land a three-year deal but which teams will be willing to offer him one?
    Napoli could land a three-year deal but which teams will be willing to offer him one?

    While it took five days before the first free agent signed with a new team last offseason—Maicer Izturis left the Los Angeles Angels to sign a three-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays on Nov. 8; free agents were eligible to sign with new teams as of Nov. 3 (six days after the end of World Series)—and much later before most of the bigger-name free agents began to sign, it's not out of the realm of possibility that one from this year's group signs by the beginning of next week.

    It's just not that likely.

    Unless a team is willing to forgo negotiations and meet a player's initial asking price in order to avoid the ensuing bidding war that could occur, expect most of the big names to remain unsigned until at least late November. 

    But you won't want to tune out until then. The always-entertaining baseball rumor mill has already started churning and will continue to pick up over the next few days.

    Here's an updated look at the top 25 free agents, according to my rankings over at MLBDepthCharts.com, and their potential suitors.

25. Scott Feldman, SP

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    Eduardo Encina of The Baltimore Sun reported in early October that the Baltimore Orioles were interested in re-signing Scott Feldman, who was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in early July. And while the 30-year-old Feldman is open to a return, Encina feels the O's need to act quick before he can hit the open market. 

    The sinker-baller may be a good fit in Baltimore, but the O's' need to sign another starter may not be as great as several other teams. The Orioles are heading into the offseason with Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and likely Kevin Gausman penciled into the rotation. Depth is important, though, as they found out quickly in 2013, which explains their interest in bringing Feldman back into the fold.

    It's just unlikely that they'd be willing to pay as much for depth as another team would pay to fill a gaping hole in the middle of its rotation. Among the teams with the payroll space and much more of a need than the Orioles are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners.

24. Omar Infante, 2B

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    Unless the Detroit Tigers are planning a run at Robinson Cano, it seems likely that they'll do everything in their power to keep second baseman Omar Infante from jumping ship. He's clearly the best option available on the free-agent market after Cano. 

    According to Chris Iott of MLive.com, the 31-year-old Infante is comfortable in Detroit, and it would seem unlikely that the Tigers would go with another light-hitting infielder, potential in-house replacement Hernan Perez, up the middle to go along with shortstop Jose Iglesias. 

    All signs point to Infante staying, and Iott predicts that he does re-sign. There could be a handful of teams, however, seeking a second baseman that could give the Tigers a run for their money, including the Orioles, Colorado Rockies and Blue Jays.

23. Marlon Byrd, OF

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    One of the biggest surprises of 2013, Marlon Byrd finds himself in a position for a big payday just one year after settling on a minor league deal with the New York Mets

    The 36-year-old finished the season with the Pittsburgh Pirates after they acquired him in late August, but a return to the Mets, who will be looking to add at least one outfielder this offseason, is a possibility. The right-handed hitter, who had an .848 OPS and 21 homers for the Mets at the time of the trade, has already told Mets general manager Sandy Alderson that he'd love to return, according to Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News.

    Returning to the Bucs is also an option, as general manager Neal Huntington has expressed interest in keeping his team together, according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports

    Aside from the Mets and Pirates, three other former teams—the Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers—could all have interest in bringing Byrd back to town.

22. Kendrys Morales, 1B

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    The Mariners are expected to make Kendrys Morales a qualifying offer, which would secure them a draft pick if he rejects and signs elsewhere. And while a one-year contract worth approximately $14 million sounds like a good deal for a 30-year-old who put up good, but not great, numbers and probably fits best as a designated hitter in the American League, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has reported that Morales is likely to reject the offer and become a free agent. 

    Some teams will be unwilling to surrender a draft choice for Morales, further limiting his market value, so it would be difficult to say if he's definitely made up his mind yet unless he and his agent are fairly certain he can land a multiyear deal with close to the same annual salary. 

    Aside from the Mariners, teams that could be most willing to give the switch-hitter at least two years and $28 million include the OriolesHouston Astros and Rangers.

21. A.J. Burnett, SP

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    Late in the regular season, A.J. Burnett told Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he was "50-50" on whether or not he would continue playing in 2014. He also expressed his preference to finish his career with the Pirates, where he has found a comfort zone over the past two seasons. 

    The Pirates would also like Burnett back for his age-37 season, and general manager Neal Huntington has said that they'd do everything in their power to bring him back, according to a tweet by Rob Biertempfel, also of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    While signs are pointing to either a return to the Pirates or retirement for Burnett, other teams that could have a chance of convincing him to resume his career elsewhere include the Atlanta Braves and Rangers, two likely playoff contenders that are closest to Burnett's home state of Arkansas.

20. Corey Hart, 1B/OF

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    After missing the 2013 season recovering from surgeries to both knees, Corey Hart knows his value is down, and he's already expressed interest in taking a pay cut in order to stay in Milwaukee.

    According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal, Hart believes he owes it to the Brewers and the fans after sitting on the sidelines for the entire season. Whether he's still a fit, however, remains a question.

    Although his career splits are fairly balanced (.798 OPS versus right-handed pitchers; .896 OPS versus left-handed pitching), the Brewers lineup is very right-handed-heavy and lefty hitter Juan Francisco is coming off of a decent first season (.733 OPS, 13 homers in 89 games) as the team's first baseman.  

    Hart is a much better player than Francisco, though, and has been one of the most consistent and productive hitters in the league for several years (.830 OPS, 24 homers per season from 2007-2012). But if he makes it to the open market and interest is strong, the price tag could get too high for the Brewers. 

    Even if teams don't believe he can play the outfield regularly, the 31-year-old still has plenty of value as a first baseman and designated hitter. The Boston Red Sox and Rangers appear to be strong fits in the American League, while the Rockies are a National League team that could, along with the Brewers, bring Hart in as their starting first baseman.

    If the Orioles, Mets or Phillies believe he can handle a corner outfield spot once again, Hart could also become a target for those teams.

19. Jhonny Peralta, SS/3B

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    Jhonny Peralta's late-season stint as the Tigers left fielder probably won't affect his offseason too much. He was already among the top two free agents at the shortstop and third base positions. An ability to move him to the outfield should his infield skills deteriorate, however, could give teams just a bit more confidence in offering a long-term deal. 

    The 31-year-old would like to return to the Tigers, even if it meant playing left field, according to John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press, but he would appear to have much more value as an infielder in this weak market. 

    The St. Louis Cardinals and Pirates are likely to be two teams most active in a search for a new shortstop, but interest in Peralta could be stronger from teams looking for third base help. The long list could include the Red Sox, Astros, Angels, Dodgers, Miami Marlins, Phillies and Yankees.

18. Bartolo Colon, SP

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    Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Bartolo Colon would like to return for a third season with the Oakland Athletics, and there is interest in bringing him back, also according to Slusser

    While the 40-year-old believes he can pitch for three more seasons, it's unlikely he'll land a three-year deal, especially not with Oakland. But it wouldn't be a surprise if he got two years and bids much higher than the A's are willing to give him this time around—he made $3 million in 2013 and $2 million in 2012.

    After a spectacular season in which he posted a 2.65 ERA and won 18 of his 30 starts, it will be hard to find a team that isn't at least interested in finding out what it would take to land Colon. Once the bargain-basement shoppers are eliminated, the serious suitors could include the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Dodgers, Twins and San Francisco Giants.

17. Ricky Nolasco, SP

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    After Ricky Nolasco went 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA in his first 11 starts with the Dodgers, who acquired him in early July, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that they would try to re-sign him after the season.

    But the 30-year-old struggled down the stretch, so it wouldn't be a big surprise if the Dodgers have at least cooled on that idea. If they did want Nolasco back, however, it would be hard for other teams to compete. Nolasco is from Rialto in Southern California, and the Dodgers have the payroll space and spending ability.

    If they opt for a bigger name, however, Nolasco could seek a job elsewhere. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News thinks he'd be a fit on either the Mets or Yankees, while the Twins and Giants could also make sense.

16. Bronson Arroyo, SP

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    A return to the Cincinnati Reds appears unlikely with Tony Cingrani ready to fill Bronson Arroyo's rotation spot at a much cheaper price. And the 36-year-old right-hander, who has a 4.05 ERA in 265 starts for the Reds over the past eight seasons, told Mark Sheldon of MLB.com that he's assuming he won't be back.

    There won't be a lack of interest around the league, though, for a guy who has never been on the disabled list and continues to be one of the most reliable starters in the league. Despite this, Arroyo is a better fit at the back of a rotation, so a big-market club like the Yankees might be more willing to meet his asking price of a three-year contract. 

    Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe named the Orioles, Cubs, Dodgers, Brewers, Pirates, Giants, Cardinals and Blue Jays as potential Arroyo suitors, while Mike Puma of the New York Post was told by one talent evaluator that the Mets would be a great fit and are a "no-brainer to pursue" him.

15. Curtis Granderson, OF

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    Back in early October, Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the White Sox were expected to aggressively pursue Chicago native Curtis Granderson. The Yankees, however, appear to be the front-runners for several reasons. 

    The 32-year-old, who missed most of the season due to two separate injuries, is likely to receive a qualifying offer from the Yankees, and Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe believes he'd accept the one-year deal for approximately $14 million because he could produce his biggest numbers at Yankee Stadium and would rebuild his value heading into next offseason.

    Granderson would also like to return to the Yankees, according to his agent, who told Dan Martin of the New York Post that they are his "first choice."

    Taking a one-year deal in order to rebuild his value after the injury-plagued season might not be necessary, however. Of his 84 homers in 2011-2012, 37 were hit on the road, so teams aren't likely to shy away from him because they feel he wouldn't be as productive elsewhere. 

    And while the White Sox might not be as willing to spend big after recently inking first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu to a $68 million deal, the Reds, Mets and Rangers are three other team that could be willing to pay him handsomely over the next three years.

14. Tim Hudson, SP

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    On track for a quick recovery from ankle surgery, Tim Hudson is expected to draw a lot of interest around the league. Mark Bowman of MLB.com tweeted that general manager Frank Wren has given a strong indication that he'd like the 38-year-old back in 2014.

    Since the Braves will likely wait until he's fully recovered before deciding how much to offer Hudson, however, other teams will likely have a chance to court the right-hander, who had a 2.73 ERA over his last 10 starts. 

    The sinker-baller is one of a very small group of pitchers who could be viewed as a good fit with the Rockies, and Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post thinks he'd make perfect sense for the team. Hudson has a career 7.41 ERA in six career starts in Coors Field, though, so I'm guessing that he thinks otherwise. 

    One team that could entice the Alabama native is the Rangers, while the Dodgers and Giants would have a much easier time luring the right-hander out west than the Rockies.

13. Dan Haren, SP

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    In discussing his early-season struggles with Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com, Dan Haren acknowledged that he had a difficult time being so far away from home. "Home" is California, where the 33-year-old should have strong interest from teams this winter after he bounced back to post a 3.52 ERA in the second half of the season.

    The Dodgers would likely be the front-runners if they're interested, while the San Diego Padres would have a strong chance of landing the right-hander if they were willing to come close enough to his asking price. The Giants would also have a good chance, while his former team, the Angels, isn't expected to be aggressive for top free agents this offseason.

12. Stephen Drew, SS

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    The Cardinals appear to make the most sense as Stephen Drew's next employer, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that Drew is also a player of interest to the Mets and Yankees, and the Red Sox will likely make the $14.1 million qualifying offer and have a chance to keep him around for another season.

    If Drew stays in Boston—Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported that Drew would love to return—Xander Bogaerts would likely play third base next season with Will Middlebrooks shifting over to first base. The Mets could be looking for an upgrade over Ruben Tejada, while the Yankees might need a replacement for Derek Jeter at shortstop but could play Drew at third base if Jeter were to re-sign. 

    But as Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York points out, the 30-year-old Drew should have better options than signing as "the guy who replaced Jeter" or switching positions to accommodate him. 

    One team that could also pursue Drew and is expected to have a good amount of spending money this offseason is the Twins, who received a combined .614 OPS out of their shortstops in 2013.

11. Hiroki Kuroda, SP

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    Many in the Yankees organization believe Hiroki Kuroda is leaning toward a return to Japan, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. If the 38-year-old intends to resume his career in the U.S., however, it's likely he has a short list of potential destinations with the Dodgers and Yankees the most likely landing spots.

    The right-hander last pitched in Japan in 2007 and has a 3.40 ERA, 2.1 walk rate and 6.8 strikeout rate in 1,120 major league innings since debuting with the Dodgers in 2008.

10. Mike Napoli, 1B

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    One anonymous general manager believes that, despite the degenerative hip condition that was discovered last offseason, Mike Napoli will receive a three-year deal this time around, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe

    If he does, it probably won't be with the Red Sox. Cafardo writes that the Sox prefer a short-term deal with the 31-year-old, who had an .842 OPS and 23 homers in his first season with Boston to go along with a handful of clutch hits thus far in the playoffs. 

    It's very likely he'll remain in the American League, especially if he's seeking a multiyear deal, in case the hip eventually gives him problems and he's relegated to designated hitter duty.

    Teams that could have the most interest in signing Napoli to a long-term deal include the Indians, Astros, Twins, Yankees or his former team, the Rangers.

9. Nelson Cruz, OF

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    The Rangers are expected to give outfielder Nelson Cruz a $14.1 million qualifying offer, and there's a chance the 33-year-old could accept if he and his agent feel that his value has dipped too far after his 50-game performance-enhancing-drug suspension.

    Cruz would also like to return to Texas, according to Michael Florek of The Dallas Morning News, where he's played since 2006 and has posted an .842 OPS with 27 homers per season since 2009.

    As the best source of right-handed power on the outfield market, though, Cruz will certainly draw some interest if he declines the qualifying offer and seeks a multiyear deal.

    The Phillies' top need is a right-handed power hitter to play right field in a left-handed-heavy lineup, and Cruz could be their top target. Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has also expressed a need for a power-hitting outfielder.

    The OriolesMets, Yankees, Mariners and Giants could also be in the mix to add Cruz to the middle of their lineups.

8. Brian McCann, C

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    The top free-agent catcher available, Brian McCann's timing couldn't have been any better, as several big-market teams will be competing for his services. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports names the Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox, Angels, Yankees, Rangers and Blue Jays as potential suitors.

    The Red Sox, who could lose Jarrod Saltalamacchia to free agency, and the Rangers, who have both A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto headed for free agency, could be the top contenders to land the 29-year-old McCann. 

    The Rangers have tried to acquire McCann before and have had scouts follow him closely, according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, while Boston could attempt to reunite McCann with David Ross, his former catching mate in Atlanta, to lead its rotation.

7. Ubaldo Jimenez, SP

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    The Indians are very unlikely to purse a long-term deal with Ubaldo Jimenez, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. So if there's any chance of the 29-year-old staying with the Tribe, he'll have to accept the $14.1 million qualifying offer if it's made. And there's no guarantee of that either, says Hoynes.

    In all likelihood, Jimenez will hit the free-agent market and shouldn't have any problem landing a big-money deal for at last three or four years after he posted a 3.30 ERA over 32 starts.

    As I wrote last week, the Rockies, Yankees and Pirates could be the best fits for the former All-Star. 

6. Matt Garza, SP

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    Matt Garza's 4.38 ERA in 13 starts for the Rangers after he was acquired from the Cubs was .54 points higher than his career ERA coming into the season.

    This doesn't mean you should scratch the Rangers off the list of potential destinations for the 29-year-old. But if he had more than a few choices, it's likely he'd pass on pitching half of his games at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. 

    If the Dodgers are willing to spend big money on a starting pitcher once again this offseason, they could be on Garza's list of teams he'd want to pitch for. The Giants, who are close to Garza's hometown of Selma, Calif., could also be in the mix if they're willing to stretch their payroll after already re-signing Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence.

    The Yankees would also be in the mix if they do raise their payroll significantly, a possibility that is being discussed, according to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York.  

    The Cubs aren't expected to be aggressive on the free-agent market, but their familiarity with Garza could lead them to try to reunite with the right-hander, who posted a 1.24 ERA in his last six starts with the team before being dealt to Texas.

5. Carlos Beltran, OF

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    Another healthy and productive year and, all of a sudden, Carlos Beltran is in line for a three-year deal that will pay him big money over his ages 37-39 seasons. Since a long-term deal would be less risky in the American League where he can be the designated hitter occasionally or permanently, if that became a necessity, expect him to end up there. 

    Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe thinks the Orioles are a perfect fit for the eight-time All-Star, while Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News is reporting that there is mutual interest between the Yankees and the switch-hitter. The Mariners and Rangers also make sense as possible destinations.

    Three consecutive healthy seasons should be enough for National League teams like the Phillies and Mets to be involved in the bidding, and the Cardinals could at least offer him a $14.1 million qualifying offer, although he'd decline with the money he's expected to get on the open market.

4. Shin-Soo Choo, OF

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    Several teams have interest in signing Shin-Soo Choo, who posted an .885 OPS with 21 homers and 20 stolen bases in his lone season with the Reds, and he's likely to end up with a contract in excess of $100 million when it's all said and done. 

    The 31-year-old Choo is the only free agent the Mets would surrender a draft pick for, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, although Adam Rubin of ESPN New York says they aren't expected to offer more than four years.

    If the Yankees are big spenders this offseason, expect them to pursue Choo, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, who also reports that the Astros could be in the mix. They're expected to make a significant boost to a payroll with almost no guaranteed money for 2014.

    The Mariners and Rangers, as is the case with just about every other top free-agent corner outfielder, are also potential suitors.

3. Ervin Santana, SP

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    He may not be a big name, but Ervin Santana pitched like a front-line starter in 2013 and is likely to land the biggest free-agent contract for a pitcher this offseason. The Kansas City Royals are expected to make a $14.1 million qualifying offer, according to Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star, although the 30-year-old will decline and then very quickly rise out of the Royals' price range.

    The pitching-starved Twins, who could have as much as $40 million to spend this offseason, according to Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN, are hoping to land one big name this winter and could target Santana. They'll have a tough time, though, if the Yankees and Dodgers get involved in the bidding.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF

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    Both Jonah Keri of Grantland and Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe have mentioned the Tigers as potential suitors for Jacoby Ellsbury, while Cafardo has said that the Mariners, who are the closest team to Ellsbury's home state of Oregon, were a perfect fit for the center fielder. 

    The 30-year-old will likely receive a qualifying offer, but his strong season and even more impressive postseason have his asking price likely increasing past the point of where Boston feels comfortable paying.

    There won't be too many teams willing to go past the $100 million Ellsbury is expected to receive, but it might only take two serious bidders to ensure he gets it.

1. Robinson Cano, 2B

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    As long as the Yankees are no longer interested in getting their payroll underneath the $189 threshold for the luxury tax, expect them to make Robinson Cano their top priority this winter. 

    They're not interested in meeting his 10-year contract demands, according to Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger, but it's unlikely that any team will. Once his price comes down, expect the Yankees to lock him up to one of the biggest deals in major league history. 

    If there is to be any competition, the Tigers might be the biggest threat. The Dodgers are likely out after agreeing to a $28 million deal with Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero.

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