Predicting the Most Aggressive MLB Teams When Free Agency Officially Opens
We're just hours away from the official open of MLB free agency, as another crop of well-known veterans is set to test the market beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday. Superagent Scott Boras recently told Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe that his phone was ringing non-stop shortly after the final out of the World Series with clubs expressing interest in his clients.
The baseball hot stove is traditionally a tough one to predict and there are still some finishing touches to be made before the full-on frenzy heading into the winter meetings. Teams have until 5 p.m. on Monday to make qualifying offers (more on that later), and then those players will have a week to make up their minds. Once those select few decide whether to stay with their respective teams or not, the dynamics for the market will be set.
This year's free-agent class is highlighted by sluggers Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, along with pitchers like Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka. Without a hard salary cap, cash rules everything around MLB, and there are several teams with deep pockets poised to make some high-profile additions.
You can't put ink to the contact until after midnight, but let's take a look at some of the teams that are expected to make the most noise at the negotiating table.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Think the Dodgers have a good rotation now?
Per a report from longtime MLB reporter Peter Gammons, one unnamed general manager thinks Los Angeles has the resources to add both David Price and Masahiro Tanaka to its staff via trade and free agency this offseason. Gammons relayed the GM's eye-opening comments on GammonsDaily.com:
They have the minor league talent to get Price. If they would trade Corey Seager and Julio Urias (the 17-year old left-handed pitcher) and a couple out of Zach Lee, Joc Pederson or Chris Withrow, it would get it done. Then if they post $80M for Tanaka, they could have a rotation with four [No. 1s] and a [No. 2] with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Price, Tanaka and Hyun-Jin Ryu. But if they were to trade for Price, they’d need the draft pick to fill holes in their development system.
You'd be hard-pressed to get Kershaw, Greinke, Price, Ryu and Tanaka in your fantasy baseball rotation, let alone a real-life one, but with this new Dodgers ownership, it seems anything is possible. Since the group of investors, with frontman Magic Johnson, bought the Dodgers for a record $2 billion last year, they have essentially out-Yankeed the Yankees.
In a span of about 16 months, they absorbed more than $250 million in contracts during the 2012 megadeal with the Boston Red Sox, traded for Hanley Ramirez and the $38 million existing on his deal, signed Greinke to a six-year/$147 million deal and then committed another $60 million to signing Ryu less than a day later.
As such, the scenario proposed by Gammons' source shouldn't be considered lightly. While Price will command a large haul of prospects, Tanaka is expected to be acquired in a record bidding war once posted by the Rakuten Eagles and made eligible for MLB free agency.
Right now, there's no team better fit for a bidding war than the Dodgers. Tanaka, 25, just wrapped up a historic 24-0 season and won the Japan Series with the Eagles, with Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reporting teams are expected to bid $75-100 million simply for the right to negotiate a contract with Tanaka.
Safe to say, Magic's Dodgers have taken the torch from the George Steinbrenner-era Yankees as baseball's biggest spenders.
New York Yankees
With the Dodgers recently signing Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero, the Yankees lost their top competition in the Robinson Cano sweepstakes. The sweet-swinging second baseman is 31, but still putting up prime numbers, as he hit .314 with 27 home runs and 107 RBI in 2013.
Buster Olney of ESPN.com reported Cano is seeking a 10-year/$305 million deal, which would become baseball's biggest contract, but that the Yankees weren't prepared to make such a huge commitment. Now that the Dodgers are seemingly out of the Cano race (but you never know with that ownership), the Yankees may have gained some leverage with their star.
Re-signing Cano is clearly the Yankees' top priority, and the team is also expected to make Curtis Granderson a qualifying offer, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
If so, Granderson will have a week to decide if he wants to accept the one-year, $14.1 million deal, an amount determined by the average of the top 125 contracts in baseball. If Granderson declines the offer, he's free to negotiate with all 30 teams, and if another team signs him, the club will have to send the Yankees a coveted compensation pick. The steep draft-day price attached to Granderson would make it much more likely he stays in pinstripes.
Heyman also reported the team has also been linked to outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who is widely viewed as one of baseball's top leadoff hitters, though Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Heyman outfield wasn't a priority. The Yankees could be more active in the catcher market, though, where Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia serve as two attractive options.
Pitching-wise, the Yankees could use another starter to back up ace CC Sabathia. They figure to be major players in the bidding war for Japanese right-handed star Masahiro Tanaka, and they could pursue qualifying-offer candidates Ubaldo Jimenez (Indians) and Ervin Santana (Royals), along with Matt Garza and Bartolo Colon.
With the retirement of Mariano Rivera, perhaps the Yankees will take a long look at top available closer Joe Nathan, who declined a $9 million player option with Texas in hopes of securing a multi-year deal. After converting 43-of-46 save chances with a 1.39 ERA, Nathan drove up his asking price and could be a good fit for the Yankees if they don't want to hand the closer's role to David Robertson.
New York Mets
The Big Apple's other team might be big spenders this winter, too.
After the disappointing 74-88 campaign this past season, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told WFAN's Mike Francesa that the club enters the offseason with a spender's mindset. Metsblog.com provided some of Alderson's strong statements regarding the team's winter plans:
I think we’re gonna have enough [money] available to make significant improvements, no question about that. We’re gonna be aggressive, play the market and see what’s there...The money that we have to spend, we could spend a majority on one player, we could spread it around, there’s a variety of ways to do it.
From Alderson's comments, don't be surprised if the Mets emerge as a contender for Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, an intriguing 25-year-old righty who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Eagles this year. It's shaping up to be an unprecedented bidding war for Tanaka's services, and the Mets need a front end-caliber starter with Matt Harvey expected to be out all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
There are also cheaper starting pitcher options on the market like Bronson Arroyo, who has already been linked to the Mets. Dan Martin of the New York Post recently spoke to Arroyo's agent, Terry Bross, who said, "Bronson is an East Coast guy and would definitely consider the Mets. But we’re going to take our time with this."
The Mets are largely unsettled on offense, with Alderson going so far to say that third baseman David Wright is the only everyday player heading into 2014, per Metsblog.com's report. Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com speculated that New York could land outfielder Curtis Granderson and shortstop Stephen Drew.
The Mets' No. 10 overall pick in the 2014 draft is also protected, meaning they wouldn't have to concede the selection if they were to sign a player who declined a qualifying offer from another team. With their prime-time market, spending ability and wide range of needs, look for the Mets to be very busy this offseason.
The Phillies are at a crossroads with an aging roster that features key contributors past their prime like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. The winning ways of the group have disappeared the past two seasons, with the organization turning to Ryne Sandberg to replace Charlie Manuel as manager in August.
While Utley, Rollins and Howard may be on the downturn of their respective careers, 26-year-old Domonic Brown has emerged as the team's centerpiece player going forward. Looking at the roster, many figure the Phillies are in the market for a power-hitting outfielder. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe suggested names like Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, Michael Morse and Corey Hart as good fits alongside Brown in the Philadelphia outfield.
Cruz is particularly interesting for Philadelphia since it has long been suspected that he will decline a qualifying offer from the Rangers. Since the Phillies hold the No. 7 pick in the 2014 draft, it will be protected and they wouldn't have to give it up as compensation if they were to sign Cruz.
He's 33 now and wouldn't be a youthful addition to the clubhouse, but he batted .266 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 109 games this season before serving a 50-game ban for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal. That's the type of production which would boost a Philadelphia lineup that ranked tied for 26th in runs scored (610) in 2013.
Near the end of his team's 73-89 finish, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spoke eagerly to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News about trying to make some "crazy" moves. Martino was more alluding to the possibility of Amaro aiming for Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton via trade, but the team could be in good financial shape going forward to make a big splash in the free-agent market.
As Jeff Todd of MLBTradeRumors.com pointed out, via Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Philadelphia could be in line for a TV deal in 2015 that could rival the $7 billion the Dodgers reportedly made for their recent TV agreement. With more cash on the way, their core getting older and a 1-2 punch of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the rotation, the time is now for the Phillies to make moves.
San Francisco Giants
Now the focus shifts to retaining lefty setup man Javier Lopez, who has posted a 2.38 ERA in 209 appearances over the past three seasons. Both Lopez and the Giants have expressed mutual interest, but quality southpaws that can be trusted in late-inning situations are rare, so it will make Lopez a hot commodity.
The bullpen doesn't require as much work as the rotation, though, which is currently in need of two starters behind Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. The team predictably bought out the final year of Barry Zito's contract while doing the same with fellow starter Ryan Vogelsong.
Though the team is exploring avenues to bring back Vogelsong, according to Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com, look for it to make a strong run at a veteran pitcher like Bronson Arroyo or Ricky Nolasco to help fill out the rotation.
The Giants might have already shelled out a bunch of cash this offseason, but the franchise is still riding the popularity of its two titles in the past four years. The 246 straight sellouts at AT&T Park mark the longest such streak in MLB, and Baggarly wrote in a recent chat with readers that he suspects the ownership will spend any amount of money that it sees fit.
Does that mean they could enter the bidding fray for 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka? On the surface, it looks like a strong match. The Bay Area boasts a large Japanese-American population, AT&T is a great pitchers' park, the team is doing well financially and the Giants need another arm.
Offensively, the team needs a left fielder to go alongside Pence in right and Angel Pagan in center. Baggarly reported that the Giants were close to matching the six-year/$68 million deal offered to Cuban slugger Jose Abreu by the Chicago White Sox this offseason. Not only does it show the Giants being aggressive, but it shows their glaring need in left.
Nelson Cruz makes sense here, but the Giants would likely have to part with their No. 14 draft pick to make that happen, as Cruz is expected to reject a qualifying offer from the Texas Rangers. Baggarly reported San Francisco isn't willing to lose its first-round pick for a free agent, so perhaps a right-handed hitting outfielder like Corey Hart could come to the Bay.