There's no doubt that there are some supremely talented hitters available on the MLB free-agent market this winter.
As general managers scour the market for that impact bat, which will likely cost an exorbitant sum, they will have to dig deep inside the numbers. There are plenty of red flags to consider. Has a player been linked to PEDs in the past? What are his platoon splits? And finally, what kind of a health record does he have?
With these factors in mind, here's the ranking of the top 15 impact bats on the 2014 MLB free-agent market. This list begins with No. 15 and counts down to the most dangerous bat of all:
15. Mike Morse
2013 Stats: .215/.270/.381, 13 doubles, 13 home runs, 27 RBI, .651 OPS, 84 OPS+, .167 ISO
The numbers were not good for Mike Morse in 2013, but his past success leaves room for optimism.
There simply aren't that many players on the market with Morse's 30-home run potential. That raw power also comes with ridiculously high strikeout numbers, as he was punched out 25.8 percent of the time in 2013. Plus, Morse has a poor health record, as he has played in 100 games or more just twice in his career.
14. Raul Ibanez
2013 Stats: .242/.306/.487, 20 doubles, 29 home runs, 65 RBI, .793 OPS, 123 OPS+, .244 ISO
In 2013, Raul Ibanez hit 29 home runs, which tied Ted Williams for the most ever by a player aged 41 or older in a single season, as Greg Johns of MLB.com noted. However, 24 of those long balls came before the All-Star break.
Just which version of Ibanez a team would be signing is unclear. With pop like that, though, Ibanez is a low-risk, high-reward investment worth making.
13. Stephen Drew
2013 Stats: .253/.333/.443, 29 doubles, 8 triples, 13 home runs, .777 OPS, 111 OPS+, .190 ISO
Most of Stephen Drew's value is tied to his glove, but his bat isn't bad either. Drew's .777 OPS ranked fourth best among all shortstops in baseball in 2013.
The price will be steep, but whichever team lands Drew will have a premier player at one of the most challenging spots to fill on the diamond.
12. Jhonny Peralta
2013 Stats: .303/.358/.457, 30 doubles, 11 home runs, 55 RBI, .815 OPS, 119 OPS+, .154 ISO
Jhonny Peralta made a major impact on the Detroit Tigers lineup when he was on the field last season. The problem was that Peralta had to sit out a large portion of the second half while he served a 50-game suspension for PED usage.
GM Dave Dombrowski told James Schmehl of Mlive.com that it's “highly unlikely” Peralta will be back in 2014. However, a shortstop who has clubbed at least 30 doubles in four of the last five seasons will get plenty of offers.
11. Marlon Byrd
2013 Stats: .291/.336/.511, 35 doubles, 5 triples, 24 home runs, 88 RBI, .847 OPS, 138 OPS+, .220 ISO
Based solely on his 2013 stats, Marlon Byrd is one of the most productive hitters on the market and should be in line for a major payday. Based on his spotty track record—like his .488 OPS in 2012—he's much more likely to receive a one-year deal.
10. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
2013 Stats: .273/.338/.466, 40 doubles, 14 home runs, 65 RBI, .804 OPS, 118 OPS+, .193 ISO
While the Red Sox are busy pursuing Brian McCann, Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe pointed out that their catcher from 2013 was actually pretty solid:
There is, however, one giant hole in Saltalamacchia's game: He can't hit left-handers. In 2013, the catcher hit .294 off righties but just .218 against lefties. For that reason, Saltalamacchia remains stationed in the No. 10 spot on the list.
9. Kendrys Morales
2013 Stats: .277/.336/.449, 34 doubles, 23 home runs, 80 RBI, .785 OPS, 123 OPS+, .171 ISO
The numbers for Kendrys Morales are not overwhelming, but then again, neither is the market for first basemen this winter.
There are legitimate questions about Morales' defensive prowess—he's played just 59 games in the field over the past two seasons. However, even if he's limited to being a designated hitter, Morales still offers a steady stream of power. With 25-home run potential and a .280 career average, Morales represents an intriguing option on the free-agent market.
8. Carlos Beltran
2013 Stats: .296/.339/.491, 30 doubles, 24 home runs, 84 RBI, .830 OPS, 128 OPS+, .195 ISO
While there are concerns about Carlos Beltran's glove moving forward, there are no such issues regarding his bat.
The veteran appears a perfect match for an AL club where he would split time between right field and the DH role. Based on his recent numbers, the eight-time All-Star is a safe bet to total 30 doubles and 20 home runs while posting a .500 slugging percentage in 2014.
7. Curtis Granderson
2013 Stats: .229/.317/.407, 13 doubles, 2 triples, 7 home runs, 15 RBI, .723 OPS, 97 OPS+, .178 ISO
Curtis Granderson is the undisputed sleeper of the winter market.
The outfielder's injury-ravaged 2013 season was dreadful. His track record, however, is impeccable. In 2012, Granderson clubbed 43 home runs for the New York Yankees, and the year before he tagged 41 long balls.
The three time All-Star also possess a rare combination of power and speed, as you can see below:
In 2011, Granderson tallied 26 doubles, 10 triples and 41 home runs for a total of 77 extra-base hits. Jacoby Ellsbury can't do that. Shin-Soo Choo can't do that. Nobody else on the free-agent market can do that. Now, the only question is, can Granderson stay healthy enough to do that?
6. Jacoby Ellsbury
2013 Stats: .298/.355/.426, 31 doubles, 8 triples, 9 home runs, .781 OPS, 114 OPS+, .128 ISO
Jacoby Ellsbury's game is about far more than his bat. He plays a Gold Glove-caliber center field, and last season he swiped 52 bags. Those skills, paired with his impressive offensive stats, mean he's going to get paid big-time.
Ellsbury's agent, Scott Boras, thinks that the center fielder is worth more than the seven-year, $142 million deal that Carl Crawford scored, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Is Ellsbury really worth that much? Check out his stats compared to a mystery center fielder (Ellsbury's stats are listed first):
- .298/.355/.426, .781 OPS, 31 doubles, 8 triples, 9 home runs
- .261/.335/.444, .779 OPS, 22 doubles, 3 triples, 22 home runs
Ellsbury holds the obvious edge in average and on-base percentage, but the mystery center fielder has him beat on slugging percentage and home runs. So, who is the mystery player, and how much is he worth?
He's Coco Crisp of the Oakland A's, whose club option the team has already picked up for $7.5 million.
There's no denying the dynamic presence that Ellsbury will bring to whomever signs him. Close to a $150 million for a player with a career .741 OPS, though, is an enormous reach.
5. Shin-Soo Choo
2013 Stats: .285/.423/.462, 34 doubles, 21 home runs, 54 RBI, .885 OPS, 143 OPS+, .178 ISO
Shin-Soo Choo's contract year went exactly as planned.
Choo hits for power and average and reaches base at a remarkable clip. His .423 on-base percentage in 2013, though, was bolstered by an MLB-leading 26 hit-by-pitches.
The 31-year-old's only issue is that he struggles mightily against left-handed pitching. In 2013, Choo posted a 1.012 OPS against righties as a opposed to a .612 OPS against lefties. The outfielder also collected all 21 of his home runs of right-handers.
It's numbers like those that led ESPN's Keith Law (insider access required) to suggest that Choo is a “strong candidate for a platoon.” That's a harsh assessment for a player trying to snag a $100 million deal.
The overall numbers will earn Choo plenty of offers, but his inability to hit lefties keeps him from climbing any higher on the list.
4. Nelson Cruz
2013 Stats: .266/.327/.506, 18 doubles, 27 home runs, 76 RBI, .833 OPS, 123 OPS+, .240 ISO
Nelson Cruz swatted 27 long balls in 2013 even though he only made it into 109 games. Sure, the right fielder didn't play in more games due to his 50-game ban for using PEDs, but Cruz possesses a proven record of success.
The right-handed hitter has been a lock for at least 20 home runs for five straight seasons, and there simply aren't that many players who can change a game with a single swing like Cruz can.
Heading down the stretch, the Texas Rangers went in the tank for a variety of reasons. The impact of the loss of Cruz in that equation cannot be understated. His checkered past makes him a minor gamble, but wherever he lands, Cruz will offer an explosive bat.
3. Brian McCann
2013 Stats: .256/.336/.461, 13 doubles, 20 home runs, 57 RBI, .796 OPS, 115 OPS+, .205 ISO
Brian McCann has a stellar track record, which actually might count against him.
The left-handed hitter has topped 20 home runs in seven of the last eight seasons and owns a career .493 slugging percentage. The problem is that the catcher will be 30 years old by Opening Day, and there are some serious concerns regarding what kind of production to expect moving forward.
As Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer explains in the video above, McCann posted a .910 OPS in the first half of the season before putting up a .680 in the second half. One way to stop that slide would be to have McCann begin spending time at first base, or in the DH spot if he ends up in the AL.
While McCann's production is superb for a catcher, those numbers are not so noteworthy for a first baseman or DH. However, less time behind the plate would allow McCann to spend more time in the lineup.
2. Mike Napoli
2013 Stats: .259/.360/.482, 38 doubles, 23 home runs, 92 RBI, .842 OPS, 129 OPS+, .223 ISO
Mike Napoli provides an extremely powerful bat. In 2013, the first baseman crushed 23 home runs, which means he's hit at least 20 in six straight seasons. None of those shots were more explosive than his 460-foot bomb that gave the Boston Red Sox the lead in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Tigers.
Napoli also racked up a career-high 38 doubles last season with the Red Sox. There's no doubt that total was inflated by the dimensions of the Green Monster, but Napoli's power will play in any ballpark. The slugger won't land the most lucrative deal, but his bat will have a big impact on the market.
2013 Stats: .314/.383/.516, 41 doubles, 27 home runs, 107 RBI, .899 OPS, 145 OPS+, .202 ISO
Robinson Cano has been an offensive beast ever since he entered the league.
The five-time Silver Slugger has never once had a down year, and he's also incredibly durable. According to ESPN's David Schoenfield, he's missed just 14 games over the past seven seasons.
In a big league campaign, the five-time All-Star has never hit fewer than 34 doubles. In each of the last five seasons, Cano has swatted at least 25 home runs. The second baseman is in the market for a 10-year, $305 million deal, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.
Even with his impressive numbers and knack for staying healthy, it's hard to see Cano securing such an outlandish deal.
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