Ranking All 2014 MLB Free-Agent Positions by Impact Talent Depth
Does it have depth, star power or both? Will the supply and demand of the market force some teams to move quicker at certain positions than in others?
Look no further than my free-agent positional rankings—catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield, starting pitching, relief pitching—for answers to those questions and much more.
8. Third Basemen
Nothing to see here. Move on.
Wait. Hold on a second. If you’re a team desperate for third base help, signing Juan Uribe, who posted a .769 OPS with 12 homers during the regular season and was a Gold Glove finalist, to a one-year deal isn’t a bad idea.
Kevin Youkilis and Michael Young (.730 OPS, 8 HR, 26 2B), two of the most professional hitters in the game, are also available and could be worth one-year deals with incentive-based salaries.
Counting on the 34-year-old Youkilis (pictured) to stay healthy would be a risky decision, though, after he missed much of 2013 with a back injury. And the 37-year-old Young should be about ready to settle into a reserve role at this point in his career.
Despite the lack of options, there are a number of teams looking for third base help. A bidding war could ensue for Uribe, while Youkilis and Young could each end up with starting jobs to begin the season.
This group boasts two highly productive hitters who should land big-money deals this offseason. Aside from that, there’s not much else.
According to Peter Gammons, Stephen Drew (.777 OPS, 13 HR, 29 2B, 67 RBI) will decline a one-year qualifying offer from the Red Sox in order to pursue a multi-year deal. It could end up being in the four-year, $52 million range.
For teams losing out on Drew (pictured) or those looking for a cheaper alternative, Jhonny Peralta (.815 OPS, 11 HR, 30 2B, 55 RBI) isn’t a bad option despite his 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2013. The 31-year-old isn’t as skilled defensively as Drew, but he’s adequate and versatile enough to shift over to third base or, as he proved in the playoffs with Detroit, to the outfield.
According to The Star-Ledger's Jorge Castillo, the New York Mets are interested in three-time All-Star Rafael Furcal, who missed the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Someone needs to remind them that the 36-year-old had a combined .661 OPS with 21 stolen bases from 2011-2012.
6. First Basemen
Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu is already off the board, agreeing to a six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox. The cupboard isn’t bare, though.
Mike Napoli (.842 OPS, 23 HR, 38 2B, 92 RBI) will get a much shorter-term deal with an annual salary in the $13-18 million range, while Kendrys Morales (pictured; .785 OPS, 23 HR, 34 2B, 80 RBI) could land a two-year deal in the $25-30 area if he declines his one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Mariners.
Comeback Player of the Year candidate James Loney (.778 OPS, 13 HR, 33 2B, 75 RBI) will get a nice raise after settling on a one-year, $2 million deal with the Rays last season.
Longtime Brewer Corey Hart (.830 OPS, 24 HR, 33 2B, 78 RBI, 13 SB per season from 2007-2012) is an option after missing the entire season recovering from surgeries to each of his knees.
The list of potential starters doesn’t stop there, as Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau and Michael Morse are also available.
5. Relief Pitchers
Plenty of teams are looking for late-inning help, and there are a number of options available.
The best of the bunch is 38-year-old Joe Nathan (pictured), who exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to void a $9 million club option with the Rangers for 2014. He’ll pursue a multi-year deal instead, which could pay him somewhere between $25-32 million over the next two seasons.
Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit and Fernando Rodney are veterans who didn’t get a chance to close until late in their careers. The trio took full advantage, stabilizing the role for their respective clubs, the A’s, Tigers and Rays, and are now in line for multi-year deals to continue closing in 2014 and beyond.
Former Giants closer Brian Wilson signed with the Dodgers late in the season after a lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery, although he did enough in a setup role to ensure he’ll resume his career as a closer in 2014.
Despite being banished to a mop-up role for the Cardinals in the playoffs, Edward Mujica was a key to the team’s success in 2013. After taking over the closer’s role in mid-April, the 29-year-old posted a 1.72 ERA with 35 saves in 37 chances before hitting a wall in September. He may not land another closing job, but he’ll get a multi-year deal to fill an integral role in some team’s bullpen.
A pair of veteran setup men, Jesse Crain and Joe Smith, are deserving of closing jobs after tremendous seasons. In any other offseason, that would’ve likely come to fruition. But in this deep class, it’s probably not happening. They’ll settle for multi-year deals that will make them two of the highest-paid non-closers in the game.
Ryan Madson, Chris Perez and Francisco Rodriguez are proven closers who could be had at a discounted rate. Madson hasn't pitched in two seasons due to multiple setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Perez and Rodriguez aren't as dominant as they once were, but they're still young enough to where their closing days might not be behind them.
Lefty relievers Mike Gonzalez, Boone Logan, Javier Lopez, Manny Parra and Oliver Perez form a solid group of pitchers coming off solid seasons.
4. Second Basemen
What this group lacks in overall depth, it makes up for with the best free agent available: longtime Yankee Robinson Cano (pictured).
By the end of the offseason, the 31-year-old Cano will be one of the highest-paid baseball players of all time. The only question is which team will give it to him.
Omar Infante (.795 OPS, 10 HR) is the only other player on the list who is a lock to be some team’s starting second baseman in 2014, although Alexander Guerrero is the front-runner for the Dodgers’ job after he agreed to a four-year, $28 million deal last month.
Mark Ellis, who is 36 years of age, is still capable of providing a team with a steady defender who can hit enough to warrant a starting job.
Brian Roberts, also 36, is a former All-Star with two 50-double seasons and a 50-stolen base season on his resume. He’s barely been on the field, though, due to multiple injuries over the past four seasons.
It also wouldn’t be out of the question for a team to give Kelly Johnson another shot at a starting second base job after he posted a .715 OPS with 16 homers for the Rays in 2013. But he did it in a utility role, which may be the best fit for him at this point in his career.
In recent years, the trend has been for teams to lock up their starting catchers before they hit free agency. So having one as talented as Brian McCann available is a rarity. The seven-time All-Star is expected to leave the Braves for a contract that could reach $100 million.
The strong depth of the position is also rare, as Jarrod Saltalamacchia (pictured) offers a solid and much less expensive second option, while Dioner Navarro, A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz should also land starting jobs.
Depending on the overall need at the position, John Buck and Kurt Suzuki could also find starting jobs, or they could be two of the better backups in the league.
Geovany Soto has already re-signed with the Rangers on a one-year, $3.05 million deal. He’s the starter for now, unless they can ink McCann or Saltalamacchia.
Hunter Pence's five-year, $90 million contract extension in late September set the table for a group of talented outfielders who could each end up making between $14-20 million per season after signing new deals this offseason.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury figures to be the top earner, while Shin-Soo Choo should join him in the elite club of players with $100 million contracts. Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson and Nelson Cruz won't reach that figure, only because they're expected to ink shorter-term deals.
Marlon Byrd, Raul Ibañez and Nate McLouth are solid corner outfield options for those not willing to break the bank for the aforementioned impact players, while the oft-injured Franklin Gutierrez and the inconsistent Chris Young are intriguing center field options with speed and power.
1. Starting Pitchers
While there may not be a legitimate "ace" in the group, it's flush with pitchers who would be solid No. 2 and 3 starters on very good teams.
The top three on the list—Matt Garza (pictured), Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana—will get No. 1 starter paychecks, while Tim Lincecum already re-signed with the Giants for two years and $35 million.
A strong second-tier, which includes Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Scott Feldman, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Scott Kazmir, Hiroki Kuroda, Ricky Nolasco and Jason Vargas, is what makes this group of starters one of the best in recent years.
There are also some intriguing bounce-back candidates. Scott Baker, Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson and Colby Lewis can all be had at discounted rates after missing most, or all, of the 2013 season because of injuries.
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