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MLB Free Agent Predictions 2014: Finding the Perfect Match for Biggest Names

Jason MartinezContributor INovember 5, 2013

MLB Free Agent Predictions 2014: Finding the Perfect Match for Biggest Names

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    What's the best match for Ellsbury and his likely asking price?
    What's the best match for Ellsbury and his likely asking price?Elsa/Getty Images

    When it comes to the top MLB free agents on the market, the high asking prices will limit the number of teams with a realistic chance of signing them. But it doesn't mean that they won't have a good number of options to choose from.

    The ultimate choice will often come down to the team offering the most money, although it's not out of the question for a player to leave a few million dollars on the table to sign with a team that they feel more comfortable with for other reasons.

    How much money a player is offered, however, certainly factors in heavily when finding the perfect match. So if team A meets the criteria in four of five categories that a particular player is looking for in a team and that fifth category is money, then we can conclude that the team is probably not a good match for the player.

    In fact, even if no other team in the league can meet all five, or maybe not even three or four of the categories, that team that cannot come close to the asking price is still not going to be in the running. It weighs much heavier than the other factors involved.

    With that said, here are the five categories, in order of importance, that will likely factor into a top free agent's search for a team this offseason.

    1. Money
    2. Chance to win (players who have already won a World Series title or players 30 of age or younger could be more willing to sign with a rebuilding team with a bright future, such as Houston, as opposed to a team built to win now)
    3. Familiarity with players, coaching staff, front office execs
    4. Location (some players prefer to sign long-term deals with teams who play in or near their hometown)
    5. Role on team (not as much of an issue with the top free agents but some may prefer to be the staff "ace" or the No. 3 hitter while that role might already be occupied on an interested team)

    Using these five categories and my free-agent rankings at MLBDepthCharts, let's examine which teams could be the perfect match for the top 10 free agents on the board.

10. Mike Napoli, 1B

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Between his beard, his solid overall production during the regular season, and his clutch hitting in the playoffs, Mike Napoli has found a place in the hearts of Boston fans forever. It would be a shame if he bolted after just one season.

    The perfect match for Napoli is the Boston Red Sox.

     

    Money

    There will be a team willing to offer the 32-year-old a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $39-45 million, and it probably won't be the Sox. But if they offered him a two-year deal with a higher annual salary—let's say two years and $34 million—then it could be enough. 

    The Sox have also extended a qualifying offer to the right-handed hitting slugger, meaning any team that signs him would have to forfeit a top draft pick in 2014. 

     

    Chance to Win

    Not only is the roster already very good, they have the farm system, depth and financial resources to be World Series contenders on an annual basis. Napoli already knows this. 

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    One year isn't always enough for a player to feel at home. But when any team makes an incredible run all the way to a World Series title, the relationships built along the way are extremely strong. General manager Ben Cherington did a terrific job of bringing in veterans who would have a positive influence in the clubhouse and it was evident that this group enjoyed playing together.

    The bond over the playoff beards helped, but the championship was the deciding factor in making sure everyone involved will always be tied together. 

     

    Location

    Napoli is from Florida, although the Marlins and Rays are not expected to spend much in free agency. From what Napoli has said, he loves it in Boston and would love to return on a long-term deal. He also gets to spend a month-and-a-half in his home state during spring training. 

     

    Role

    The Sox don't have a first baseman-in-waiting, and they could have a need at designated hitter if David Ortiz retires or leaves as a free agent after the 2014 season. Napoli appears to be a perfect fit for their needs.

9. Nelson Cruz, OF

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Nelson Cruz's 50-game PED suspension could hurt his value a bit, but there is a need for right-handed power around the league and he's at the top of the list. 

    The perfect match for Cruz is the Philadelphia Phillies.

     

    Money

    Teams that have a mid-to-small market budget have less room for error and probably won't be willing to bid high on a player whose impressive numbers over the past few years may or may not have been aided by performance-enhancing drugs.

    Thus, expect a team with a big payroll that's probably more on the desperate side after a disappointing season to end up with Cruz.

    While it probably won't cost a ridiculous amount, the 33-year-old Cruz will probably get three years and $45 million. Considering a right-handed hitting corner outfielder with power is the Phillies' biggest need this offseason, that amount shouldn't be an overspend on their part. 

     

    Chance to Win

    If the Red Sox can turn things around after a last-place finish in 2013, so can a fellow big market team like the Phillies. They still have some big-name players on their roster and the financial resources to fill several holes this offseason.

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    Cliff Lee and Mike Adams are former teammates of Cruz. 

     

    Location

    N/A

     

    Role

    If Cruz desires to play continue playing right field and hitting in the middle of an order for the next few years, there's nothing stopping that from happening in Philadelphia. He'd be the perfect balance to a left-handed heavy lineup that includes Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown.

8. Brian McCann, C

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    Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

    Brian McCann's timing couldn't have been any better.

    The 29-year-old bounced back from an injury-plagued 2012 season to regain his status as one of the best all-around catchers in the game right before he became a free agent in an offseason when several big market teams are seeking a starting catcher.

    The perfect match for McCann is the Texas Rangers.

     

    Money

    The Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Rangers are among the catcher-seeking teams who could likely meet McCann's asking price. He won't have a problem getting at least five years and $70 million, and possibly much more.

     

    Chance to Win

    In nine seasons with the Braves, McCann went to the playoffs four times but never made it past the National League Division Series. He'll want to join a team that has a chance to get him much further.

    The Rangers would be a logical choice, since they've averaged 91 regular-season wins per season since 2009 and are only three seasons removed from consecutive World Series losses. 

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    N/A

     

    Location

    After spending his entire major league career in his home state of Georgia, McCann is expected to depart for a team that can pay him what he's worth. Since he won't be heading to either of the two teams playing in the closest state, Florida, it doesn't get much closer to home than Texas, which is approximately 1,000 miles away.

     

    Role

    Barring any health issues, McCann should be good for at least 120 games per season for the next five years.

    But since his bat is much more valuable in the lineup for the games he's not starting, the opportunity to occasionally play designated hitter in the American League should have him leaning towards a league change.

7. Ubaldo Jimenez, SP

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    The list of teams in pursuit of Ubaldo Jimenez could include several with deep pockets, including the Dodgers, Yankees, Phillies, Giants and Blue Jays. But unless one of them is willing to sign the 29-year-old to a risky deal that exceeds five years and $75 million, there could also be plenty of mid-market teams in the mix.

    The perfect match for Jimenez is the Colorado Rockies.

     

    Money

    Jimenez's year-and-a-half of struggles leading up to his turnaround early in the 2013 season will likely be enough to lower his price tag. The mid-market Rockies could possibly afford him. They might even be willing to stretch their budget for the rare opportunity to bring back a pitcher with a history of success at Coors Field. 

     

    Chance to Win

    Despite back-to-back last-place finishes in the NL West, the Rockies have a solid core of talent, including stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and the makings of a strong rotation with Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin leading the way. 

    Jimenez pitched in the World Series as a rookie with Colorado and probably trusts that the current leadership is capable of building another winner, especially if they spend the money to add him to the mix.

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    The same ownership group remains in place, and manager Walt Weiss and general manager Dan O'Dowd were both in the organization in some capacity during Jimenez's original stint with the club.

    Dexter Fowler, Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, the core of the team's offense, have all played with Jimenez, as have Chacin and De La Rosa. Working with fellow Dominican Wilin Rosario, the team's starting catcher, could also be a strong selling point for the right-hander.

     

    Location

    Jimenez is likely more familiar with Denver than any other city in America after spending parts of six seasons there. When he played for the Rockies, he had family living with him. I can't confirm whether that's still the case, but his next contract will ensure he can bring every single one of his family members with him wherever he ends up if he wants.

     

    Role

    If it's an ace he wants to be, I'm sure De La Rosa wouldn't mind taking a back seat to Jimenez. There is no guarantee that would be the case with any of the other aforementioned potential suitors.

    The duo of Jimenez and De La Rosa combined for a 29-15 record in 2013 with an ERA under 3.50, so they wouldn't make a bad 1-2 punch, either.

6. Matt Garza, SP

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    Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    Since leaving the Tampa Bay Rays in a trade following the 2010 season, Matt Garza hasn't pitched in the postseason. The 29-year-old is probably itching to get back to the postseason after winning the ALCS MVP in 2008 and falling short in the World Series against Philadelphia. He'll go to a team that gives him the best shot to return.

    The perfect match for Garza is the Los Angeles Dodgers.

     

    Money

    The Dodgers already have a lot of salary committed to a lot of players. But they also have a lot of money coming off the books and an ownership group that is willing to spend money to bring impact players to town.

    It won't cost nearly as much as it did to bring Zack Greinke to town last season, but Garza won't be cheap. The Dodgers could likely land him for five years and $90 million.

     

    Chance to Win

    The Dodgers came within two wins of a World Series appearance in 2013, and the entire core of the team is set to return. A healthy Matt Kemp could make a huge difference on his own, while a rotation led by Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu could be one of the best in baseball if they can add one more reliable starter. 

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    Garza played with Carl Crawford in Tampa Bay from 2008 to 2010. 

     

    Location

    It takes less than four hours to drive from Los Angeles to Garza's hometown of Fresno, California and less than an hour through the air. 

     

    Role

    He wouldn't be anything more than a No. 3 or 4 starter with the Dodgers. But for No. 1 starter money and a very good shot at winning a World Series title during the span of his contract, I doubt he'll have too much of a problem with that.

5. Carlos Beltran, OF

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the greatest postseason hitters in baseball history, Carlos Beltran is approaching what will likely be the last contract of his career and he's yet to win a World Series title. He'll likely to sign with the American League team that has the best chance and is willing to give him a three-year deal. 

    The perfect match for Beltran is the Boston Red Sox.

     

    Money

    The 36-year-old has boosted his value with his ability to avoid injury and stay productive the past three seasons. He'll very likely land a three-year deal, which is risky for a player his age, but the Sox could prefer that to signing a younger player for at least five years. 

     

    Chance to Win

    See Napoli. World Series champs. Core of talent returning. Payroll flexibility. Terrific farm system. Boston could be Beltran's top choice. 

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    Aside from playing six games against them in the 2013 World Series, Beltran doesn't have a lot of ties to Boston. Vice president Allard Baird was with the Royals in multiple capacities during Beltran's stint in Kansas City, including as the general manager.

    Baird traded Beltran to Houston in June 2004, although there shouldn't be any hard feelings considering that the Royals were non-contenders and Beltran was set to become a free agent after the season.

     

    Location

    N/A

     

    Role

    Even on a star-studded Red Sox team, Beltran would likely hit third in the order and play right field regularly at Fenway Park with Shane Victorino moving to center field or left field. He'll also have a good chance to fill the designated hitter role more often in Year 3 of the contract unless David Ortiz is still productive and under contract for what would be his age-40 season.

4. Shin-Soo Choo, OF

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    After establishing that he is one of the premier hitters in the game, Shin-Soo Choo is headed for a big payday that could surpass the $100 million mark. Only a few teams could meet this request, although that shouldn't hurt his chances. 

    The perfect match for Choo is the New York Mets.

     

    Money

    The Mets have been waiting for this offseason to come with two albatross-like contracts finally coming off of the books. Now that they no longer have to pay Jason Bay and Johan Santana big salaries, they are expected to be active in free agency. 

    While they'd prefer to follow the Red Sox's successful model of signing several mid-level free agents, the Mets are in need of another impact hitter and shouldn't pass on the opportunity to bring in Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury despite the high cost.

    They'd surrender their second-round pick if there were to sign Choo, who was extended a qualifying offer by the Reds.

     

    Chance to Win

    Losing Matt Harvey for the season sure doesn't help. But if general manager Sandy Alderson can paint a future picture of success for Choo that includes a dominant rotation led by Harvey in 2015 and the financial wherewithal to bring in a few other hitting stars to go along with third baseman David Wright, Choo could be sold on New York. 

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    No current Mets have played with Choo, although he's probably familiar with hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who served as  the Indians' field coordinator from 2006 to 2010. Choo played with the Indians from 2006 to 2012. 

     

    Location

    New York is filled with a mixture of cultures, and Korea is no exception. In 2010, the overall number of Korean Americans (over 218,000) in the New York City metropolitan area was the second-largest of any city outside of Korea.

     

    Role

    Choo proved in 2013 that he was versatile enough to play center field and hit in the leadoff spot. Ideally, he's hitting second or third and playing right field. Both spots are wide open for Choo in New York. 

3. Ervin Santana, SP

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Several teams around the league are looking for front-line pitching. Fortunately for Ervin Santana, he pitched like one in 2013 and is set to be paid like a No. 1 starter.

    The perfect match for Santana is the New York Yankees.

     

    Money

    Despite the potential loss of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson to free agency and Alex Rodriguez to a year-long suspension, the Yankees' biggest need is in the rotation. Aside from re-signing Cano, any big-money contract would likely go to a front-line starter to lead a rotation that appears to be in big trouble after CC Sabathia's poor season.

     

    Chance to Win

    On paper, the Yankees' chances for 2014 are bleak. They'll have to convince any free agents that they're going to spend money as they always have, starting this offseason, to ensure the team will remain competitive on yearly basis. 

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    Santana knows Mark Teixeira and Vernon Wells from their stints with the Angels, but it's the chance to work with and mentor fellow Dominicans Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, two likely rotation-mates, that could make him feel most at home. Bench coach Tony Peña, also from the Dominican Republic, is also someone Santana could lean on as he transitions to the big city.

     

    Location

    N/A  

     

    Role

    Sabathia didn't pitch like a No. 1 starer in 2013, and Santana did. If naming Santana the team's "ace" from the get-go would help the process of bringing him to New York, I don't think they'd have a problem with potentially irking Sabathia. It might even serve as extra motivation for him to turn things around in 2014.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF

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    Winslow Townson/Getty Images

    One of the premier leadoff hitters and center fielders in baseball, Jacoby Ellsbury is very likely to get a contract in excess of $100 million this offseason.

    Of the teams that could likely afford that amount, the perfect match for Ellsbury is the Seattle Mariners.

     

    Money

    The M's have been connected with several of the top free agents over the past few years but have consistently fallen short in their bidding. It's likely that they're willing to add significant dollars to their payroll, especially for the right player. For one who could be the face of their lineup like Ellsbury, it could finally be the time to break the bank and outbid the competitors. 

     

    Chance to Win

    The lineup is a work in progress, although bringing in Ellsbury would be a starting point. They'd have to sell him on their starting rotation, led by ace Felix Hernandez and top prospect Taijuan Walker, and the potential to bring in more offensive talent.  

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    N/A

     

    Location

    Ellsbury is from Oregon and starred at Oregon State University. He would be probably love to return to the Pacific Northwest as the leadoff hitter and center fielder for the Seattle Mariners for the next several years. And he'd be making around $18 million per season to do it.

     

    Role

    The Mariners had a combined .296 on-base percentage from their leadoff hitters, although there aren't many teams in the league that wouldn't slot Ellsbury at the top of their lineup regardless of their 2013 production.

1. Robinson Cano, 2B

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Robinson Cano is the best player on the free-agent market. He's probably going to ask for a contract in the neighborhood of $300 million.

    Sure, a handful of teams could afford it, including the Yankees. But if a team doesn't have a gaping hole at the second base spot, it's not likely they'll bid anywhere close to that asking price.

    The perfect match for Cano is the New York Yankees, who will have a gaping hole at second base if Cano departs.

     

    Money

    Money is normally no object with the Yankees, who bring in plenty of revenue and could easily afford to bring back Cano. But with the declines of Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia, they might want to avoid signing star players to contracts that last well past the player's prime. 

    It's almost certain, however, that the 31-year-old Cano will be making around $30 million per season into his late 30s, so they might just have to bite the bullet to keep him during his prime years and allow him to finish his potential Hall of Fame career in pinstripes. 

     

    Chance to Win

    The Yankees have gone to the playoffs in seven of nine seasons, including a World Series title in 2009. Despite the team's bleak outlook heading into the offseason, Cano probably isn't too concerned about the future of this organization.

     

    Familiarity with Organization

    N/A

     

    Location

    N/A

     

    Role

    Cano would start at second base and hit in the heart of the order for any team in baseball. A return to the Yankees is more about being connected in history with some of the all-time Yankee greats, including Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig, just to name a few. If he signs elsewhere, that potential legacy ends. 

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