For most players, the opportunity that comes with being a free agent brings power, money and freedom. But for a small batch this offseason, free agency won't be quite so, well, freeing.
Every player hits the open market under different circumstances, and for some, those circumstances can conspire against them to undercut a certain amount of the leverage they would have otherwise possessed by having up to 30 different teams willing to consider them.
But when a free agent's options start becoming limited for one reason or another—be it age, injury history, off-the-field issues or something else—the whole process can go from an ideal scenario to a nightmare one.
Here, then, are some big-name players who could find that free agency might not go quite as well as they'd planned or hoped.
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
First, let's acknowledge that Masahiro Tanaka doesn't technically fall under the free-agent umbrella. The 25-year-old is currently property of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball. It is expected that Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA this year, will be posted by his club, allowing all 30 major league teams to submit bids for the exclusive rights to negotiate with the right-hander.
There have been rumors via Joel Sherman of the New York Post, though, about possible changes to the posting process this winter, which could complicate matters if and when Tanaka and the Golden Eagles decide to go through with it. Depending on how any alterations shake out, the MLB team that wins the bidding likely will be putting up a record amount to do so, which would mean more than the $51.7 million the Texas Rangers paid after the 2011 season just for the chance to negotiate with Yu Darvish.
That would then mean Tanaka himself wouldn't get as much money as he would as a normal free agent, just like Darvish, who ultimately signed a six-year, $60 million deal. Granted, a contract worth $50-75 million is hardly a bad thing for Tanaka, who also would get to jump from NPB to MLB, but it's probably only a little more than half of what he would be worth in a pure free market.
The other reason Tanaka is at a disadvantage? Even if there are a few player-friendly changes to the posting process, he won't really get to choose which team to sign with—rather his fate will be decided by the team.
Curtis Granderson, OF
Curtis Granderson was one of the 13 players who received a qualifying offer from their 2013 team this week. On the plus side for the 32-year-old, that means he could accept that offer from the New York Yankees and stay with the team in 2014 while earning a salary of $14.1 million.
The downside? It would only be a one-year deal for Granderson, who obviously is hoping for a shot at a multiyear deal at this stage of his career. The other problem? If Granderson rejects the offer, any team that signs him this offseason would be forfeiting either a first- or second-round draft pick, which means the club will be factoring that into—and out of—the cost to obtain him.
Because he's also coming off an injury-plagued season, has a well-known flaw in his rising strikeout rate and is no longer seen as an up-the-middle defender, all of a sudden, Granderson isn't nearly as attractive as he seemed to be this time last year. Twelve months ago, he was fresh off a second straight 40-homer, 100-RBI campaign as the Yankees center fielder.
Such circumstances would have put Granderson in line for close to $100 million. Now? He'll be lucky to get half that.
Bartolo Colon, RHP
With pitching as in demand as it always is in free agency, a hurler who went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA in the American League normally would result in teams falling over each other to try to sign him.
Despite such a successful season, that won't be happening for Bartolo Colon. Between his ever-advancing age (41 next May), extensive injury history and 2012's 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, he may struggle to get more than one guaranteed year, even after a fantastic 2013.
Hey, at least Colon avoided the qualifying offer from the Oakland Athletics, which could have sunk his free-agent value had he rejected it.
Nelson Cruz, OF/DH
Nelson Cruz's situation is a bad blend of Granderson's and Colon's.
Like the former, the 33-year-old has to overcome the qualifying offer; and like the latter, Cruz is facing the fallout from a 50-game ban for PEDs, which played out during the last two months of this past season in the wake of the Biogenesis investigation.
Beyond that, there's at least some concern that Cruz's production would suffer away from the ballpark in Arlington, where he's a career .294/.356/.555 hitter with nearly 60 percent of his 157 homers.
Jhonny Peralta, SS/3B/OF
Aside from the fact that he wasn't presented with a qualifying offer, Jhonny Peralta is in a similar situation to Cruz in that he also was suspended for 50 games by baseball for being linked to Biogenesis.
The shame of it for Peralta is that he was in the middle of what was shaping up to be a career year before he got busted. Considering he's still only 31 years old and can manage at a premium yet shallow position like shortstop if needed, he likely would have put himself in position to earn a four- or five-year pact for more than $50 million.
This scenario is reminiscent of what happened in 2012 to Melky Cabrera, whose suspension for PEDs amidst an incredible season wound up costing him tens of millions, as he signed for only $16 million over two years last winter.
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