MLB Free Agency 2014: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for the Top Free Agents

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIINovember 16, 2013

MLB Free Agency 2014: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for the Top Free Agents

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    MLB free agency is a couple of weeks old, but we're still waiting for the big fish to be reeled in by new suitors.

    The offseason action so far has featured a few low-profile signings, but the dominoes have yet to fall when it comes to the top players available. For now, the hot stove is heating up heading into the winter meetings on Dec. 9-12 as teams communicate and get a feel for the market.

    Let's take a look at 15 of the top targets available, with a focus on their best-case and worst-case scenarios.

Robinson Cano, 2B

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    Best-case scenario: New York Yankees

    Sweet-swinging Robinson Cano has spent the first nine seasons of his career in pinstripes and has a chance to become one of the next all-time Yankee greats by signing a long-term contract. New York has been widely viewed as the favorite to retain Cano, who reportedly wants a 10-year, $305 million deal.

    While that might be an unreasonable request, New York still has the capability to make him a Yankee for life. Owner Hal Steinbrenner told ESPNNewYork.com's Wallace Matthews that the team intends to reopen negotiations with Cano in the next week or two.

    Per Wallace, general manager Brian Cashman conceded, "I think he loves the money but I think we're going to have a substantial offer, but somebody might come in and have a much more substantial offer."

    If the Yankees can lure another high-profile batter to the lineup and a veteran arm, there's no reason they can't compete with the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Texas Rangers

    The Rangers have been mentioned as one of the front-runners to lure the slugging second baseman away from the Bronx, but they already have a surplus of quality middle infielders and have a couple more waiting in the minor leagues.

    Adding Cano to the mix with Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar would create a bigger logjam, but that's not to say there aren't ways to make it work. Kinsler could be moved to first base full-time, and the team could trade Profar, but the Rangers would likely be strapped by Cano's monster deal.

    With needs at catcher, in the outfield, at first base and in the middle of the rotation, Texas would be better served dividing that money between a few free-agent signings rather than just signing Cano.

Shin-Soo Choo, Outfielder

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    Best-case scenario: Boston Red Sox

    With last year's leadoff man, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, up for free agency, the Red Sox should consider replacing him with Choo. The 31-year-old is represented by Scott Boras, so he'll surely command a big deal, but he proved to be a game-changer at the top of the Cincinnati Reds lineup in 2013, batting ahead of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce.

    Choo posted the NL's second-best OBP (.423) while batting .285 with 21 home runs, 54 RBI and 20 stolen bases. He could also be moved to a corner outfield spot to limit his poor defensive capabilities, as he recorded minus-18 defensive runs saved last year in center, as noted by David Schoenfield of ESPN.com.

    Putting Choo atop a lineup that features Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Shane Victorino would make Boston dangerous for the next few seasons.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Seattle Mariners

    Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently reported that the Mariners are interested in signing either Choo or Ellsbury this offseason to help an offense that ranked 12th in the AL in runs scored in 2013. But what made Choo's on-base percentage so valuable last year was the teammates behind him that could drive him home.

    In Seattle, he would have very little help in terms of a power bat unless the team went out and signed another slugger. The Mariners' top two home run hitters from 2013, Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, are now free agents.

    Choo spent the first six-plus years of his professional career in the Seattle organization, but his signing wouldn't make the M's a contender. The one-two punch of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at the top of the rotation is one of baseball's best, but the lineup needs more help right now.

Masahiro Tanaka, RHP

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    Best-case scenario: Los Angeles Dodgers

    If MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball can figure out a posting system agreement and Tanaka can join the free-agent fray, the deep-pocketed Dodgers seem like a natural fit.

    Under the ownership group led by Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten, the Dodgers haven't shied away from making big moves. Tanaka's price tag with his posting fee and MLB contract figures to exceed $125 million, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, making big-market teams like the Dodgers the top contenders to acquire his services.

    Adding him to a rotation that already features two Cy Young winners in Clayton Kershaw (2011, 2013) and Zack Greinke (2009), along solid southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu, would make the Dodgers a favorite to win it all. Tanaka also wouldn't have to carry the load as an ace and could deal with some hiccups without the pressure to be his team's go-to guy.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Japan

    It's looking more and more likely that the Tanaka sweepstakes might be put on hold until at least next year. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently spoke to a team owner who said he had "serious reservations" that MLB and NPB would be able to reach an agreement this offseason.

    The 25-year-old righty went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013. According to Barry Bloom of MLB.com, he would need two more years of service to reach the nine necessary to become a free agent in Japan.

    After his dominant display in Japan this year, the timing is right for Tanaka to test his game against MLB hitters, and it would be a shame if he had to wait.

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF

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    Best-case scenario: Chicago Cubs

    Once the Cubs traded away David DeJesus last season, they had a big hole at the leadoff spot. Ellsbury would also be a major upgrade defensively and offensively over Ryan Sweeney, who is essentially a singles hitter.

    Super-agent Scott Boras recently told Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com he's hoping to negotiate Ellsbury a contract bigger than the seven-year, $142 million pact the Red Sox and Carl Crawford agreed to in 2010. That's a big risk to take for Ellsbury, who recently turned 30, but he could be a catalyst for a Cubs team with a big-market budget.

    Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News recently reported that general manager Theo Epstein and the Cubs are "stealthily waiting in the wings" for Ellsbury, so keep an eye on these two reaching an agreement.

     

    Worst-case scenario: New York Mets

    Ellsbury certainly brings a lot to the table as an all-around player, but there are also red flags that suggest he's not worthy of a big commitment like the one Boras desires. The biggest questions deal with his power and durability, as he's hit just 13 homers in a combined 208 games the past two years after hitting 32 during his banner year in 2011.

    The Mets can't afford another crippling move. They already experienced one in 2010 with an ill-advised $66 million deal for an underperforming Jason Bay and don't need a repeat.

Brian McCann, C

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    Best-case scenario: Texas Rangers

    Brian McCann is a rare breed in today's game as an everyday catcher with legit power. He's hit at least 18 home runs in each of the past eight years and is a lifetime .277/.350/.473 hitter.

    According to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com and Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Texas has been McCann's most aggressive suitor. The Rangers have been attracted to power bats in recent years, and McCann fits the bill.

    Starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski is a free agent, and McCann would be a nice upgrade who turns 30 in February. He could also move to designated hitter when needed and would be a solid addition to potentially robust Texas lineup.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Philadelphia Phillies

    The Phillies' top catcher from a year ago, Carlos Ruiz, is also a free agent and could be working elsewhere by Opening Day next year. But with an aging, expensive core that features Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia's window for contention is closing.

    Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has reportedly been aggressive to start this offseason, so don't rule the Phillies out of the McCann chase. But for the veteran catcher, this doesn't seem like an ideal long-term destination for success.

Ervin Santana, RHP

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    Best-case scenario: Los Angeles Dodgers

    Ervin Santana is among the leading crop of right-handed starters on the market this winter, and he's expecting big money for it. The nine-year vet is seeking a deal worth more than $100 million over five years, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, but he likely won't find that good of an offer.

    That would be a steep price to pay for an inconsistent—albeit durable—starter. But if there's any team equipped to handle a big commitment, it's the Dodgers. Santana could settle in behind the Dodgers' current trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu and give the team a solid innings-eater in the middle of the rotation.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Seattle Mariners

    Rosenthal recently tweeted that the Mariners are in the market for a starting pitcher, but they shouldn't gamble on Santana. The righty has only been able to post back-to-back sub-4.00 ERAs once during his career, and his price tag makes him undesirable for the Mariners, who don't have a seemingly endless supply of money like the Dodgers do.

    If Seattle was to sign Santana, he would make a great No. 3 behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. But his big contract would likely hinder the team's efforts to sign a slugger, which is a more pressing matter at this point.

Matt Garza, RHP

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    Best-case scenario: New York Yankees

    According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Yankees are more keen on Matt Garza than they are on Ervin Santana. Garza figures to be the other highly regarded starting pitcher on the market this offseason. New York has a track record of bringing in big-name arms like Roger Clemens and CC Sabathia, and in this down year for offseason shopping, Garza is among the best available.

    Throughout his eight-year career, he has a 67-67 record and a 3.84 ERA. He's turns 30 later this month, but he would be a nice addition to a rotation that needs some stability right now.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Minnesota Twins

    Garza spent the first three years of his professional career in the Twins organization, but a return to Minnesota might not be the best move for him. The Twins are in rebuilding mode following last year's 66-96 finish and the midseason trade of former MVP Justin Morneau.

    Garza would instantly become the ace of a staff that didn't have a 10-game winner last year and ranked 29th in team ERA (4.55) and 30th in batting average against (.280). The Twins and Garza have already had dialogue, per 1500ESPN.com, but he shouldn't expect to contend any time soon in Minnesota.

Mike Napoli, 1B

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    Best-case scenario: Boston Red Sox

    Why break up the band now?

    Mike Napoli was a major force in the batter's box and in the clubhouse during Boston's recent World Series run, and he should stay put. With his big beard in tow, he clubbed 23 homers, drove in 92 runs and had a .259/.360/.482 slash line.

    What makes Napoli more attractive is his successful transition to first base.

    According to a recent report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the team hasn't offered Napoli a multi-year deal but is interested in keeping him around. The Red Sox should act quickly to bring back the slugger before the Rangers lure him back to Texas.

     

    Worst-case scenario: San Francisco Giants

    Napoli turned 32 on Halloween and would be better served staying in the American League, where he can have the option to play designated hitter down the road.

    The Giants need a right-handed power bat to combat their struggles against southpaws after going 24-31 against lefties in 2013. But AT&T Park is a notoriously tough hitter's park and could neutralize Napoli's greatest asset: his power.

    The Giants would also likely have to move Brandon Belt to left field, and he's a defensive liability out there at this point, so it doesn't make sense to pursue Napoli.

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP

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    Best-case scenario: New York Yankees

    Ubaldo Jimenez is another high-profile pitcher reportedly on New York's long list of interests this offseason. He turns 30 in January but has been dominant at times.

    The Yankees need some rotation help behind CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. Jimenez finished 2013 on a high note by going 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 ratio after the All-Star break for the Cleveland Indians. He hasn't matched his banner year of 2010 (19-8, 2.88 ERA), but he's showing proof that he can succeed as a pitcher without a blazing fastball.

     

    Worst-case scenario: New York Mets

    If he signs a big free-agent deal like expected, Jimenez would step into the media spotlight and perhaps be counted on to be the Mets' ace from day one. Trying to replace Matt Harvey would be tough for a pitcher like Jimenez, who has been largely inconsistent the past three years, with a combined 32-39 record, 4.45 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in that span.

    The Mets need pitching, and there's a chance Jimenez could help solidify the rotation, but it's a risky proposition.

Carlos Beltran, Outfielder

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    Best-case scenario: New York Yankees

    Carlos Beltran is still smooth as ever as he prepares for his 17th MLB season in 2014. There's a possibility the Yankees could bring back Curtis Granderson next year, but for now he's a free agent, and the team is considering Beltran, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News.

    Martino also speculated that Beltran could be seeking a deal worth about $40 million over three years, something palatable for the Yankees.

    Beltran could stay in right field and take a lot of at-bats at designated hitter since he turns 37 in April. He would also fit right in with the veteran-laden, professional clubhouse in the Bronx.

     

    Worst-case scenario: St. Louis Cardinals

    Beltran had a good two-year run in St. Louis, but both sides have acknowledged that their relationship is effectively over after Beltran turned down a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer.

    It makes sense for Beltran to seek a long-term deal at this point of his career, as he's coming off a productive 2013 (.296/.339/.491, 24 HR and 84 RBI). It could likely be the last MLB contract he signs, so look for him to move to the American League.

    The Cardinals have Allen Craig available and prospect Oscar Taveras waiting for duty, and they would be better served addressing other positions like shortstop.

Nelson Cruz, Outfielder

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    Best-case scenario: Texas Rangers

    Cruz declined his qualifying offer from the Rangers earlier this offseason, but the team and Cruz's agent, Adam Katz, have expressed mutual interest in the possibility of Cruz staying.

    Now it appears that the Seattle Mariners have emerged as a major player to acquire Cruz, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. While the Mariners need a lot of help in the lineup, Texas' offense already has the potential to be one of the game's best and could get better with the possible addition of Brian McCann, who is also a free agent this winter.

    Cruz has been a major part of the Rangers lineup since 2009, posting a .272/.331/.511 slash line with yearly averages of 27 HR and 81 RBI in those five seasons. With another potential suitor, the Philadelphia Phillies, signing Marlon Byrd, Cruz's best option would be to return to Texas where he's comfortable.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Oakland A's

    Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the low-budget A's have emerged as a dark horse to sign Cruz, which is surprising.

    General manager Billy Beane recently told Barry Bloom of MLB.com that the team would likely increase the payroll in 2014, but Cruz's asking price is probably too high for Oakland. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, he initially sought five years and $75 million before reducing the figure.

    Oakland's outfield is already set with Yoenis Cespedes in left, Coco Crisp in center and Josh Reddick in right. Paying anything over $12 million annually for a designated hitter/fourth outfielder doesn't make much sense for the thrifty A's.

Joe Nathan, RHP

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    Best-case scenario: Detroit Tigers

    When Joe Nathan declined his one-year, $9 million option for 2014, he became arguably the best closer on the market this winter.

    He's about to turn 39, but Nathan is coming off a stellar 2013 campaign in which he converted 43 of 46 saves with a 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 rate. With last year's closer, Joaquin Benoit, testing free agency this winter, Detroit could make an upgrade with Nathan.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Cleveland Indians

    The Indians are also in the market for a closer after releasing Chris Perez. Cleveland might have had some late-season magic during its 2013 run to the AL Wild Card, but the team doesn't have a rotation that looks capable of sustained success.

    The Tigers offer something the Indians likely can't match: a good chance to win the World Series in the next couple of years. Nathan should look elsewhere if he wants to end his career on a high note.

Curtis Granderson, Outfielder

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    Best-case scenario: New York Mets

    The Mets are reportedly in the market for a power-hitting outfielder, and Curtis Granderson fits the bill. According to Marc Carig of Newsday, Granderson could be on New York's radar this winter.

    He played in just 61 games last year after being hit by two different pitches that each broke his hand. He was coming off back-to-back 40-homer seasons for the Yankees, proving he can perform in the Big Apple spotlight.

    If healthy, Granderson could provide a solid middle-of-the-order complement to David Wright that the team could try to build around.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Boston Red Sox

    With Ellsbury testing free agency, the Red Sox need a new center fielder.

    While it might make sense for Boston to pursue a well-rounded player like Shin-Soo Choo this winter, a one-dimensional player like Granderson might not be worth the heavy price tag. Granderson has batted just .231 the past two seasons combined and will turn 33 shortly before Opening Day.

    His power is undeniable, but the Red Sox have plenty of firepower already.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C

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    Best-case scenario: Boston Red Sox

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia has become a fan favorite in Beantown in his three-plus seasons behind the plate. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports recently reported that the Red Sox offered Salty a two-year contract but stated that the two sides are still exploring their options.

    Perhaps Saltalamacchia would be wise to take the short-term deal with the reigning World Series champs instead of trying to secure a longer deal with another club. He'll be 30 in two offseasons and could try to increase his market value while playing for a contender.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Miami Marlins

    The budget-conscious Marlins are reportedly seeking an upgrade at catcher, but Miami doesn't appear to be an attractive destination for any free agent with the turmoil surrounding the front office and stadium situation.

    Saltalamacchia has been a solid hitter the past three seasons, but his estimated annual asking price of more than $10 million wouldn't be prudent for the Marlins, who look poised for more failure following their 100-loss season last year.

Stephen Drew, SS

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    Best-case scenario: St. Louis Cardinals

    It's no secret that the Cardinals would like an upgrade over Pete Kozma at shortstop, with the team being linked to names like Troy Tulowitzki so far this offseason. Stephen Drew would be able to assume everyday duties after posting a .253/.333/.443 slash line along with 13 homers and 67 RBI for the Boston Red Sox in 2013.

    Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reported that Drew won't be sticking around in Boston, and with Scott Boras as his agent, he figures to be in for a nice payday. With Carlos Beltran's $13 million contract from 2013 off the books, it makes sense for the Cardinals to pursue Drew.

     

    Worst-case scenario: Los Angeles Dodgers

    The only way this works is if Hanley Ramirez moves from shortstop to third base, a spot left vacant by Juan Uribe this winter. The last time Ramirez moved to third base—for Jose Reyes in Miami in 2012—he reportedly wasn't too happy about it.

    The Dodgers don't need a high-priced headache in the locker room, and while Drew would add to an already stacked lineup, there are better landing spots for him out there.