MLB Free Agency 2014: Teams Ready to Break the Bank
The MLB postseason has taught teams a valuable lesson about spending wisely, but that does not mean every franchise will listen.
After expunging a heap of debilitating contracts last year, the Boston Red Sox soared from cellar-dwellers to World Series champions with the support of savvy signings.
They didn't shell out nine-figure contracts for Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, but they made every dollar count by inking Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Koji Uehara to deals that quickly shifted from massive overpays to stupendous bargains.
As for the St. Louis Cardinals, they only made the toughest decision a franchise can make following their 2011 world title by saying goodbye to superstar Albert Pujols, a no-doubt Hall of Famer who will go down as one of the best players in the team and sport's history. While letting baseball's then-premier slugger walk, they used the savings to purchase Carlos Beltran for a significantly cheaper rate while drafting Michael Wacha with the compensatory pick.
But let's not forget Hamilton making $125 million, B.J. Upton landing a $75 million deal, and even Kevin Correia pocketing $10 million last offseason. Teams have money to spend, so expect more players to get paid handsomely during this free-agent period
Which general managers will be the ones to shell out the big bucks?
Through a combination of rough patches and salary coming off the books, these teams will likely be busy persuading the top free agents to take their talents to their city in 2014.
Note: Payroll and contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
The Usual Suspects
The banks broke long ago for these fearless spenders. Devoting a slide to each of these teams would dwell on the obvious, but don't anticipate these big-market clubs to display too much frugality this winter.
New York Yankees
Yes, they are trying to cut the payroll down to $189 million to avoid a costly luxury-tax penalty that rises for repeat offenders. But this is still the Yankees, and $189 million is still a lot.
While they will of course dearly miss Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, that's $22 million stripped off the ledger. They'll no longer have to pay $10 million to Kevin Youkilis, but they're secretly holding out hope that Alex Rodriguez loses his suspension appeal and lifts a gigantic $25 million burden.
Don't feel too sorry for the Yankees; they still have enough resources to retain Robinson Cano while pursuing Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Boston Red Sox
Thriftiness guided the Red Sox to a championship, but can they afford to employ the same approach with Jacoby Ellsbury seeking a raise?
Ellsbury stole a league-high 52 bases and played magnificent defense in center field, so Boston surely does not want to watch a key component of its title team skip town. Then again, the Sox could still feel the burn left by Carl Crawford.
Stephen Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Mike Napoli also have expiring contracts, and players coming off a championship run tend to receive exemplary compensation. If Ben Cherington is unwilling to pay the bloated price for these position players, he can wipe the slate clean and start over with a new batch of one- or two-year rentals currently undervalued in the marketplace.
Even with nearly $122 million locked up for 12 players, don't expect Boston to show complacency after claiming baseball's grand prize.
Six players alone account for more than $100 million, and that's not even including the arbitration-bound Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello.
Detroit is committed to many substantial contracts, but this team just might be crazy enough to add another one to the fold anyway. Signing Prince Fielder did not quite make much logistical sense with Miguel Cabrera at first and Victor Martinez needing to transition to designated hitter, but that happened anyway.
It's hard to picture the Tigers collecting enough cash to steal Cano from the Yankees, but they will need a second baseman if Omar Infante signs elsewhere.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Who knows how much the Dodgers are willing to spend? They're already saddled with several substantial contracts, but they might be daring enough to add on one or two more.
San Francisco Giants
This is a very safe prediction, mostly because it already happened.
The San Francisco Giants opened their checkbooks to keep two of their pending free agents in town before they could thoroughly test the waters.
Hunter Pence was rewarded for his 20-20 season with a five-year, $90 million extension that includes a full no-trade clause. Despite plunging drastically from his Cy Young pedestal, Tim Lincecum still netted a two-year, $35 million deal to stay in San Francisco.
Finishing 76-88 a year after sitting on top of the world is a harsh pill for San Francisco to swallow. Watching the Dodgers stack up their payroll without a care in the world will pressure Brian Sabean even more to keep up with his NL West rivals.
Although they are already committed to $110 million in payroll after retaining Pence and Lincecum, the Giants will receive some relief by shedding Barry Zito's $126 million monstrosity of a contract. Even if it feels like Lincecum is overpaid due to his 4.37 ERA in 2013, he is taking a pay cut from the $22 million owed to him in the final year of his previous arrangement.
San Francisco's once-feared rotation is now shaky at the bottom after Ryan Vogelsong unraveled. That led to MLB.com's Chris Haft listing Matt Garza, Dan Haren and Bronson Arroyo as potential interests. Along with another starter, the Giants can use more pop in the outfield, unless they'd rather sign a first baseman and move Brandon Belt to left field.
The Giants are rarely shy with spending their money. Zito's departing deal should serve as a cautionary tale as well as a relief, but don't expect them to go cold turkey altogether.
New York Mets
At the moment, David Wright and Jon Niese are the only New York Mets under contract.
This will soon change when Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Bobby Parnell, Lucas Duda and Eric Young Jr., among others, see their arbitration hearings, but the Mets no longer have lengthy albatrosses fogging their future.
According to ESPN New York's Adam Rubin, the Mets bought out Johan Santana's 2014 option for $5.5 million to avoid paying him $25 million. While they might welcome back the former ace despite his missing all of 2013 recovering from shoulder surgery, it will come at a much friendlier price.
And something tells me they have no interest in exercising a $17 million club option on Jason Bay.
The Mets now have money to play with, which could cause Sandy Alderson to ditch the Moneyball approach and chase the market's top outfielders. Then again, contending in 2014 is now highly unlikely without Matt Harvey in the picture.
Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo would fit wonderfully in New York's leadoff spot in the short term, but MLB.com's Anthony DiComo said "the perception both inside and outside the organization is that they will instead attempt to follow Boston's model from last winter, spreading out their dollars among a half-dozen or so lesser names."
DiComo added that the Mets could spend around $30 million in free agency, with shortstops Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew lurking as their top targets.
Last year, they took a calculated gamble on the injury-prone Shaun Marcum. While the risk did not pay off, perhaps they will try their luck again by taking a flier on Josh Johnson or welcoming Scott Kazmir back to the organization.
Todd Helton's retirement signals an end of an era in Colorado. While it's a bummer to see the first baseman leave the Rockies after 17 years, they can now move on and find fresher life elsewhere.
After finishing last in the NL West, the Rockies can use some ancillary pieces to surround Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The front office sounds willing to help.
MLB.com's Thomas Harding passed along that owner Dick Monfort plans to increase the 2014 team payroll to $95 million with revenue gained from TV rights. Before arbitration hearings, the Rockies are tied to $61 million without having to negotiate with any significant players.
Plenty of hitters would relish the chance to log half their games in Coors Field, so expect the Rockies to make a corner outfielder and/or first baseman very happy. Michael Cuddyer's versatility offers them some flexibility in pursuing another position player to replace Helton.
While they wait for Drew Pomeranz and Jonathan Gray to blossom in the minors, the Rockies can also use another starting pitcher to join Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood in the rotation.
The bullpen also has a hole to fill to replace Rafael Betancourt. Rex Brothers should assume the ninth-inning duties, but the bridge from the rotation to Brothers remains thin.
The Texas Rangers spent the last offseason watching other teams poach their talent away, leaving their once-dominant offense lacking its usual luster.
After watching Josh Hamilton take a nosedive in Anaheim, the Rangers dodged a bullet by not signing him to a lucrative extension. That doesn't mean they're holding their heads high after narrowly missing the postseason.
More players are hitting free agency this winter, and the Rangers can't afford to let them walk without locating other options to slow the bleeding.
Nelson Cruz, Matt Garza, A.J Pierzynski and Joe Nathan are all poised to test the open market, and The Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant reported that the team declined a $12 million option on Lance Berkman. That gives Jon Daniels some money to play with in the ensuing months.
They could open the checkbook to maintain the status quo, or they could pursue Shin Soo-Choo, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, among other power hitters, to support Adrian Beltre.
Whether it's retaining Garza or signing someone to a shorter deal, the back of their rotation can also benefit from some bolstering.
Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury aren't logical fits for Texas' current roster, but the team certainly has plenty of dollars to spend.
The Seattle Mariners have adopted a more patient approach over the past few seasons, building from within instead of chasing veteran mercenaries. Their developing nucleus and clearing of payroll, however, could spark the perfect chance for them to pounce on a big-name star.
Outside of Felix Hernandez, the Mariners are not tied down to any major contracts, and King Felix is well worth every cent. Young phenoms Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen could form a splendid rotation alongside aces Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but Seattle needs another bat or two alongside its young batters, who still have room for improvement.
The outfield needs retooling, and Nick Franklin and Brad Miller are not yet steady enough to fend off any thoughts about Cano. Don't be surprised if the Mariners attempt to expedite the rebuilding process by landing Ellsbury or Cano.
While Seattle boasts talented position players, Franklin, Miller, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino are not ready to propel the squad to contention. Insert an established veteran into the mix and the Mariners would fare much better than their .306 team on-base percentage from last season.
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