Ranking the Top 5 MLB Free Agents Available at Each Position

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2013

Ranking the Top 5 MLB Free Agents Available at Each Position

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    The MLB offseason is now underway, as the Boston Red Sox won the World Series on Wednesday night. Teams can now get started with roster makeovers for the 2014 season. 

    This year's free-agent class is headed by second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury. While it lacks an ace-caliber starting pitcher like Zack Greinke last season, there are a number of solid arms capable of being difference-makers in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana, among others.

    Earlier this week, I put together my ranking of the top 100 free agents available this offseason. Now we'll take a position-by-position look at the five best options available at each position. The "100 Rank" number on the following tables reflects where that player ranked in my top 100.

     

    Note: The "*" next to some players' names in the article denotes players who have a team option for 2014, but will likely have those options declined and become free agents.

Catcher

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    Brian McCann
    Brian McCann

    Top 5 Free-Agent Catchers

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
          4Brian McCann (29)102 G, .256/.336/.461, 13 2B, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 43 R
         14Jarrod Saltalamacchia (28)121 G, .273/.338/.466, 40 2B, 14 HR, 65 RBI, 68 R
         39A.J. Pierzynski (36)134 G, .272/.297/.425, 24 2B, 17 HR, 70 RBI, 48 R
         49Carlos Ruiz (34)92 G, .268/.320/.368, 16 2B, 5 HR, 37 RBI, 30 R
         56 Dioner Navarro (29)89 G, .300/.365/.492, 7 2B, 13 HR, 34 RBI, 31 R

     

    Position Overview

    With Evan Gattis capable of bridging the gap to top prospect Christian Bethancourt, it seems unlikely the Braves will be willing to pay Brian McCann what he's likely to fetch on the open market. Star-caliber catchers rarely hit the open market, so expect a number of teams to make a play for the seven-time All-Star.

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally found his way into everyday at-bats in Boston, and his 55 home runs since the start of 2011 rank as the fifth-highest total among catchers. He's a plus defender and still in the prime of his career, so don't be surprised if the Red Sox pay whatever it takes to retain him.

    Veterans A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz both enjoyed career years in 2012 and suffered through the inevitable falloff this past season. Pierzynski still has plus run-production skills, albeit with terrible plate discipline, while Ruiz is a solid defender and is a prime candidate to be re-signed by a Phillies team that has little in the way of replacement options.

    Dioner Navarro was signed by the Cubs last offseason to backup Welington Castillo and wound up being the team's best bat off the bench and a legitimate offensive weapon with 13 home runs in just 240 at-bats. That may be enough for him to get a look as a starter this time around.

First Base

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    Mike Napoli
    Mike Napoli

    Top 5 Free-Agent First Basemen

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
          11Mike Napoli (32)139 G, .259/.360/.482, 38 2B, 23 HR, 92 RBI, 79 R
          16 Kendrys Morales (30)156 G, .277/.336/.449, 34 2B, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 64 R
          28James Loney (29)158 G, .299/.348/.430, 33 2B, 13 HR, 75 RBI, 54 R
          35Justin Morneau (32)152 G, .259/.323/.411, 36 2B, 17 HR, 77 RBI, 62 R
          37Corey Hart (31)Injured, did not play

     

    Position Overview

    Mike Napoli's days as a catcher are likely over, but he proved this season that he can produce enough offensively to warrant everyday at-bats at first base. He also turned out to be a plus defender, leading all first basemen in UZR at 9.7. He could eclipse the three-year, $39 million deal he missed out on when he failed a physical last offseason.

    Kendrys Morales may never again approach the MVP-caliber numbers he put up in 2009, when he hit .306/.355/.569 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI and finished fifth in AL voting, but he has bounced back from injury to be a solid run producer the past two years. The Mariners will likely make a push to re-sign him.

    James Loney benefited greatly from a change of scenery, thriving in his first full season away from the Dodgers, and he'll no doubt get a salary boost over the $2 million he made in 2013. Fellow veteran Justin Morneau may also play his first full season with his new team, as he was dealt to the Pirates at the deadline and showed with a second healthy season that he still has something left in the tank.

    The wild card of this group is Corey Hart, as he likely would have been among the most sought-after free agents on the market had he not missed the entire 2013 season dealing with knee issues. He posted a line of .279/.343/.514 from 2010-2012, averaging 29 home runs and 83 RBI per season.

Second Base

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    Robinson Cano
    Robinson Cano

    Top 5 Free-Agent Second Basemen

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
          1Robinson Cano (31)160 G, .314/.383/.516, 41 2B, 27 HR, 107 RBI, 81 R
         32Omar Infante (31)118 G, .318/.345/.450, 24 2B, 10 HR, 51 RBI, 54 R
         58Kelly Johnson (31)118 G, .235/.305/.410, 12 2B, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 41 R
         67Mark Ellis* (36)126 G, .270/.323/.351, 13 2B, 6 HR, 48 RBI, 46 R
         88Brian Roberts (36)77 G, .249/.312/.392, 12 2B, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 33 R

     

    Position Overview

    The biggest name of this year's free-agent class without a doubt is Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. He's the premier offensive player at his position and one of the true superstars of the league at this point in his career, so he won't come cheap.

    Early reports had him seeking a $300 million deal, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports, and it will be interesting to see just how much he winds up signing for.

    Omar Infante joined the Tigers as part of the Anibal Sanchez trade at the deadline in 2012, and he has shored up what was a revolving door at second base. He's a solid all-around player, and with a thin crop of talent behind him at the position, something like the three-year, $20 million deal Marco Scutaro got may not be out of reach.

    Kelly Johnson actually spent more time in left field for the Rays this past season than at second base, and his future may be in a similar super utility role. He has plus power for the position, but he's hit just .226/.307/.395 over the past three seasons.

    The Dodgers will likely decline their $5.75 million option on Mark Ellis after signing Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to play second base, but the 36-year-old may yet be able to find a starting job.

    The same can't be said for Brian Roberts, as it's hard to imagine anyone trusting him with an everyday spot after he's played just 192 games over the past four seasons.

Third Base

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    Juan Uribe
    Juan Uribe

    Top 5 Free-Agent Third Basemen

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
          33Juan Uribe (34)132 G, .278/.331/.438, 22 2B, 12 HR, 50 RBI, 47 R
          46Michael Young (37)147 G, .279/.335/.395, 26 2B, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 52 R
          71Mark Reynolds (30)135 G, .220/.306/.393, 14 2B, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 55 R
          90Kevin Youkilis (34)28 G, .219/.305/.343, 7 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 12 R
         100 Placido Polanco (38)118 G, .260/.315/.302, 13 2B, 1 HR, 23 RBI, 33 R

     

    Position Overview

    There could be some activity on the trade market at third base, with Chase Headley and David Freese looking like two guys who could be shopped, but the free-agent crop is incredibly thin. Teams could look at Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta as an option at third base, but we'll list him as a shortstop for the time being.

    Juan Uribe enjoyed a nice bounce-back season after hitting just .199 over 432 at-bats the previous two seasons, and he continues to bring solid defense to the hot corner. The Dodgers could look to bring him back on a short-term deal.

    Mark Reynolds got off to a hot start for the Indians, hitting .301/.368/.651 with eight home runs and 22 RBI in April, but he fell off big-time after that and was released by Cleveland. He signed with the Yankees afterward. He brings good pop, but he's better suited at first base or DH defensively.

    Kevin Youkilis will look to prove he still has something left to offer after missing most of the season while on a one-year, $12 million deal with the Bronx Bombers. 

    The days of getting everyday at-bats are likely over for Placido Polanco, as the 38-year-old did little in his one season with the Marlins to warrant extended playing time moving forward.

Shortstop

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    Jhonny Peralta
    Jhonny Peralta

    Top 5 Free-Agent Shortstops

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
         21Jhonny Peralta (31)107 G, .303/.358/.457, 30 2B, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 50 R
         30Stephen Drew (30)124 G, .253/.333/.443, 29 2B, 13 HR, 67 RBI, 57 R
         65Rafael Furcal (36)Injured, did not play
         96Clint Barmes (34)108 G, .211/.249/.309, 15 2B, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 22 R
         98Brendan Ryan (31)104 G, .197/.255/.273, 12 2B, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 30 R

     

    Position Overview

    Last offseason saw Stephen Drew net a one-year, $9.5 million deal from the Red Sox in free agency at the best available option in a thin market. It will be much the same this season, as Drew could find a multiyear deal this time around.

    The top option, though, appears to be Jhonny Peralta, as his 50-game PED suspension likely won't scare too many teams away given how well he performed in the postseason after returning and the lack of other options.

    Rafael Furcal missed all of the 2013 season following Tommy John surgery in spring training, but he was an All-Star in 2012 when he hit .275/.337/.364 with 36 RBI and 54 runs in the first half. He tailed off from there, but may still be able to play his way into everyday at-bats on a low-cost deal.

    Clint Barmes and Brendan Ryan are strictly defensive options at this point, and while they rank as two of the best defensive players in the league at their position, they don't hit enough to be anything more than bench options.

Center Fielder

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    Shin-Soo Choo
    Shin-Soo Choo

    Top 5 Free-Agent Center Fielders

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
          2Shin-Soo Choo (31)154 G, .285/.423/.462, 34 2B, 21 HR, 54 RBI, 107 R
          3Jacoby Ellsbury (30)134 G, .298/.355/.426, 31 2B, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 92 R
         19Curtis Granderson (32)61 G, .229/.317/.407, 13 2B, 7 HR, 15 RBI, 31 R
         55Chris Young* (30)107 G, .200/.280/.379, 18 2B, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 46 R
         57David DeJesus* (33)122 G, .251/.327/.402, 29 2B, 8 HR, 38 RBI, 52 R

     

    Position Overview

    After Robinson Cano, the top two options on this year's free-agent market are a pair of center fielders in Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury, and depending on how things play out, both guys could wind up receiving $100 million deals.

    Choo ranked second in the NL with a .423 OBP this year, and while he's better suited to be a right fielder from a defensive standpoint, his mix of power, speed and on-base skills will play in any lineup.

    Meanwhile, Ellsbury may never again reach his 2011 power numbers (.928 OPS, 32 HR), but he proved he can still be a dominant table-setter this season, leading the AL with 52 steals and boosting his average 27 points from last season.

    Curtis Granderson was limited to just 61 games while dealing with a broken left forearm and right hand, and he likely cost himself some years and money as a result. Still, with 84 home runs and 225 RBI in 2011 and 2012 combined, his power potential will earn him a good amount of money.

    Chris Young ($11 million) and David DeJesus ($6.5 million) are both likely to have their options declined. Young was a 30/30 threat during his time in Arizona and is a prime candidate for a bounce back, while DeJesus gave the Rays a spark down the stretch. He provides solid on-base skills.

Corner Outfielder

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    Carlos Beltran
    Carlos Beltran

    Top 5 Free-Agent Corner Outfielders

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
          7Carlos Beltran (36)145 G, .296/.339/.491, 30 2B, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 79 R
         13Nelson Cruz (33)109 G, .266/.327/.506, 18 2B, 27 HR, 76 RBI, 49 R
         22Marlon Byrd (36)147 G, .291/.336/.511, 35 2B, 24 HR, 88 RBI, 75 R
         41Nate McLouth (32)146 G, .258/.329/.399, 31 2B, 12 HR, 36 RBI, 76 R
         48Michael Morse (31)88 G, .215/.270/.381, 13 2B, 13 HR, 27 RBI, 34 R

     

    Position Overview

    The two-year, $26 million deal the Cardinals gave Carlos Beltran prior to the 2012 season has proven to be a great move, as he hit .282/.343/.493 with 56 home runs and 181 RBI over the length of the deal. He's turned in another terrific postseason and should have at least a few more plus seasons in him.

    Nelson Cruz likely cost himself a good deal of money with his 50-game PED suspension, but he remains one of the top power hitters on the market and should be able to find someone willing to pay to add his bat, even with the questions surrounding his post-suspension production.

    Marlon Byrd was a nonfactor last offseason and had to settle for a minor league deal from the Mets, but he proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the season and has positioned himself for a multiyear deal.

    Nate McLouth fell off after hitting .275/.347/.399 with 24 steals in the first half, but he should still be able to get a decent raise over the $2 million he made in 2013.

    Slugger Michael Morse did little to give the Mariners offense a boost and did virtually nothing after being dealt to the Orioles, but he could be one of the better buy-low options on the market.

Right-Handed Starting Pitchers

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    Ubaldo Jimenez
    Ubaldo Jimenez

    Top 5 Free-Agent Right-Handed Starting Pitchers

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
          5 Ubaldo Jimenez (29)32 GS, 13-9, 3.30 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 194 K, 182.2 IP
          6Ervin Santana (30)32 GS, 9-10, 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 161 K, 211 IP
          8Matt Garza (29)24 GS, 10-6, 3.82 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 136 K, 155.1 IP
         10Bartolo Colon (40)30 GS, 18-6, 2.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 117 K, 190.1 IP
         12 Hiroki Kuroda (38)32 GS, 11-13, 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 150 K, 201.1 IP

     

    Position Overview

    After a disappointing first season-and-a-half with the Indians that included a 17-loss campaign in 2012, Ubaldo Jimenez returned to the ranks of the game's top pitchers this season. He was 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA in the second half, setting himself up for a big contract.

    The Royals acquired Ervin Santana from the Angels in a cost-cutting move after the team exercised his $13 million option, and he returned to the form that had seen him win 16-plus games three times in his career.

    Matt Garza was on fire prior to being dealt to the Rangers—5-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his final six starts with the Cubs—but he was just 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 13 starts with Texas. It was not the big finish he was hoping for heading into free agency, but the 29-year-old could still net $80 million-plus.

    Bartolo Colon and Hiroki Kuroda found the fountain of youth once more in 2013, ranking among the top starters in the American League. While they likely won't see more than a one-year deal at this point in their careers, they will still get big money. 

Left-Handed Starting Pitcher

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    Jason Vargas
    Jason Vargas

    Top 5 Free-Agent Left-Handed Starting Pitchers

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
         27Jason Vargas (30)24 GS, 9-8, 4.02 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 109 K, 150 IP
         31Scott Kazmir (29)29 GS, 10-9, 4.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 162 K, 158 IP
         36Paul Maholm (31)26 GS, 10-11, 4.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 105 K, 153 IP
         61Bruce Chen (36)34 G, 15 GS, 9-4, 3.27 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 78 K, 121 IP
         81Johan Santana (34)Injured, did not play.

     

    Position Overview

    The market for left-handed starters is thin once again this season, as Jason Vargas and Scott Kazmir look like the only two southpaws in a position to be anything more than a No. 5 starter or organizational depth.

    Vargas has been a workhorse throughout his career, and while he missed time with a blood clot in 2013, there's no reason to think he can't throw 200 innings once again in 2014.

    One of the biggest surprises of the past year was the re-emergence of Kazmir as a viable big league starter. He spent 2012 in the independent Atlantic League but bounced back to win 10 games and strike out more than a batter an inning, and he's still just 29 years old.

    Paul Maholm hurt his stock by going 1-3 with a 5.73 ERA in seven second-half starts, but he is capable of being a solid No. 5 guy. Bruce Chen reinvented himself in Kansas City and served as a valuable swingman last year. Finally, there's Johan Santana, who missed all of 2011 and 2013 with shoulder issues and ranks as perhaps the biggest wild card of the free-agent class.

Right-Handed Middle Reliever

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    Brian Wilson
    Brian Wilson

    Top 5 Free-Agent Right-Handed Relievers

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
         37Brian Wilson (31)18 G, 2-1, 0 SV, 0.66 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8.6 K/9
         43Joe Smith (29)70 G, 6-2, 3 SV, 2.29 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.7 K/9
         59Jesse Crain (32)38 G, 2-3, 0 SV, 0.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 11.3 K/9
         66LaTroy Hawkins (40)72 G, 3-2, 13 SV, 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.0 K/9
         69Kevin Gregg (35)62 G, 2-6, 33 SV, 3.48 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 8.1 K/9

     

    Position Overview

    Brian Wilson waited until July 30 to sign with a team this year, making his season debut for the Dodgers on Aug. 22. He pitched great down the stretch, then threw six scoreless innings in the postseason. He could be the top setup arm on the market.

    Over the past three seasons, Joe Smith has been a rock at the back of the Indians bullpen, making 213 appearances and posting a 2.42 ERA. The Indians will try hard to hold onto him, but he could be headed for a big payday.

    Jesse Crain made the All-Star team this year with a great season out of the White Sox bullpen, but he didn't pitch after June 29 while dealing with a shoulder strain. That'll hurt his value and likely limit him to a one-year deal, but he could be a potential steal.

    Veterans LaTroy Hawkins and Kevin Gregg both spent time in the closer's role for bad teams this year in the Mets and Cubs, respectively. They likely won't find anyone willing to sign them to that role again, but they should generate plenty of interest as eighth-inning guys.

Left-Handed Middle Reliever

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    Javier Lopez
    Javier Lopez

    Top 5 Free-Agent Left-Handed Relievers

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
         29Javier Lopez (36)69 G, 4-2, 1 SV, 1.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 8.5 K/9
         42Scott Downs (37)68 G, 4-4, 0 SV, 2.49 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 7.7 K/9
         44Boone Logan (29)61 G, 5-2, 0 SV, 3.23 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11.5 K/9
         51Eric O'Flaherty (28)19 G, 3-0, 0 SV, 2.50 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 5.5 K/9
         54Oliver Perez (32)61 G, 3-3, 2 SV, 3.74 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 12.6 K/9

     

    Position Overview

    The Giants have already re-signed Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, and they may very well make a strong push to bring back their other key free agent in Javier Lopez. The 36-year-old had the best season of his career in 2013 and has been one of the premier lefty setup men since his time with the Red Sox.

    Scott Downs ranks third among left-handed relievers in appearances since 2007, pitching in 447 games and posting a 2.33 ERA as one of the game's top setup men. He got a three-year, $15 million deal from the Angels the last time he hit the open market and could get a similar annual salary this time around.

    In his four seasons with the Yankees, Boone Logan appeared in 256 games, posting a 3.38 ERA and 10.3 K/9, joining David Robertson to form a solid one-two punch in the setup role. They'll no doubt try to bring him back.

    Eric O'Flaherty had a 1.31 ERA in 142 games between 2011 and 2012, but he was limited to just 19 appearances this season before landing on the DL and needing Tommy John surgery. He may not be ready to start the season, but he's worth taking a chance on. Veteran Oliver Perez struggled to a 6.28 ERA over the final two months of the season, but he should still be able to get a major league deal.

Closer

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    Joe Nathan
    Joe Nathan

    Top 5 Free-Agent Closers

    100 RankPlayer (Age)2013 Stats
          9Joe Nathan* (38)67 G, 6-2, 43 SV, 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 10.2 K/9
         15Joaquin Benoit (36)66 G, 4-1, 24 SV, 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.8 K/9
         20Grant Balfour (35)65 G, 1-3, 38 SV, 2.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.3 K/9
         24Fernando Rodney (36)68 G, 5-4, 37 SV, 3.38 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 11.1 K/9
         40Edward Mujica (29)65 G, 2-1, 37 SV, 2.78 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 6.4 K/9

     

    Position Overview

    With Mariano Rivera retired, Joe Nathan is now the active saves leader with 341 over his 13-year career, and he turned in one of the best seasons of his career in 2013. He can decline his $9 million option for next year, and he should have no problem earning more on the open market.

    Joaquin Benoit opened the season as perhaps the top setup man in the game, but he was thrust into the closer's role when the Tigers bullpen by committee didn't quite work out. He nailed down 20 of 22 saves with a 2.08 ERA after taking over as closer and should eclipse the three-year, $16.5 million deal he got last time he hit free agency. 

    Grant Balfour rattled off 44 straight saves dating back to 2012, and while he stumbled a bit down the stretch, he remains a viable closer option for a contender. The same goes for Fernando Rodney, who failed to duplicate his dominant 2012 but still has the stuff to be a solid ninth-inning option.

    Edward Mujica was fantastic most of the season for the Cardinals, but he was just 2-of-4 on save chances with an 11.05 ERA in September and lost his job heading into the postseason. It remains to be seen if anyone will trust him to close in 2014, but he's likely headed for a new team.