MLB Free Agency

Re-Ranking the Top 10 MLB Offseason Targets Entering December

Karl BuscheckContributor IIINovember 30, 2013

Re-Ranking the Top 10 MLB Offseason Targets Entering December

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    Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    With the MLB winter meetings rapidly approaching, there's sure to be a flurry of activity on the free-agent market.

    That means it's time to re-rank the top 10 MLB offseason targets as the calendar turns to December. With big names like Brian McCann and Jhonny Peralta already off the board, there's some reshuffling to be done. 

    In determining where all the stars land on the list, it's not just a matter of predicting future production, but also considering where a given player fits into the larger free-agent landscape. Quite simply, certain positions are flush with talent, while others are incredibly thin.

    With these considerations in mind, here's a re-ranking of the top 10 MLB offseason targets heading into December.

     

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com.

Honorable Mentions

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Honorable Mentions:

    With such a wide selection of options to choose from, I'd be remiss not to mention a few of the players who just missed the cut. A big shout-out to Ubaldo Jimenez, Joe Nathan, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Matt Garza, but now it's time to move onto the top 10 offseason targets entering December. 

10. Curtis Granderson

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    2013 Stats: .229/.317/.407, 13 doubles, 7 home runs, 97 OPS+, 1.4 WAR

    The numbers were not good for Curtis Granderson in 2013.

    Due to injuries, Granderson only played in 61 games last season. In the larger context, however, the stats are far more favorable to the powerful outfielder. In the past three seasons, Granderson has clubbed 91 home runs including a career-best 43 in 2012.

    Before arriving in the Bronx, though, Granderson's highest ever home run total for a single season was 30 for the Detroit Tigers in 2009. The three-time All-Star will provide excellent leadership skills and solid defense to whichever club he ends up with in 2014.

    Questions about just how much power to expect once he leaves Yankee Stadium and the short right field porch, though, leave him stationed in the No. 10 spot on the list.

9. Ervin Santana

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    2013 Stats: 9-10, 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 3.93 FIP, 3.0 WAR

    As B/R Lead Writer Gabe Zaldivar remarks in the video above, Ervin Santana "picked a great year to be a free agent."

    The free-agent class is light in terms of top of the rotation starters, which leaves Santana in an ideal position to cash-in. The tall right-hander has cleared 200 innings in three of the past four seasons, and is looking to secure a $112 million deal, as per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. 

    The most compelling argument against handing Santana such an exorbitant sum is that when the right-hander is off, he is really off. In 2012, Santana served up an MLB-worst 39 home runs on the way to a 9-13 record with a 5.16 ERA.

    The shortage of aces on the market will play in Santana's favor, but there are serious questions as to just which version of the pitcher teams would be investing in. 

8. Nelson Cruz

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2013 Stats:.266/.327/.506, 18 doubles, 27 home runs, 123 OPS+, 1.5 WAR

    With a lack of power bats on the 2014 MLB free-agent market, Nelson Cruz is bound to be a beneficiary.

    The slugger has hit at least 22 home runs in five straight campaigns. Last season, Cruz connected on 27 home runs and earned an All-Star nod before his 50-game ban for PED use derailed his campaign. Cruz is 33 years old and, in parts of nine big league seasons, he's only played in 124 games or more on just three occasions. 

    That inability to stay on the field will be troubling to prospective suitors and, coupled with his PED ban, means he's unlikely to score the four-year, $75 million deal he's looking for. Still, for a team looking for an impact bat, Cruz represents one of the most intriguing options. 

     

7. Stephen Drew

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    2013 Stats: .253/.333/.443, 29 doubles, 13 home runs,111OPS+, 3.4 WAR

    With Peralta off the market, Stephen Drew's stock rises sharply.

    Drew is now the only legitimate starting caliber shortstop available in free agency. Last year, Drew posted a .777 OPS, which was the third best in the AL behind Peralta and Jed Lowrie. However, there are also drawbacks with the infielder.

    In 2013, Drew appeared in 124 games for the Boston Red Sox, which was his highest total since playing in 151 games in 2010. Aside from those durability concerns, there is one major issue that will scare off a number of potential suitors. Since Drew rejected the Red Sox qualifying offer, the next team that signs him will lose a draft pick. 

     

6. Mike Napoli

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2013 Stats: .259/.360/.482, 38 doubles, 23 home runs, 129 OPS+, 3.9 WAR

    Teams will be wary of the degenerative condition in Mike Napoli's hips that cost him a three-year, $39 million last offseason, but his impressive 2013 season has lessened those concerns. Last year, Napoli connected on 23 home runs, which means he's now hit at least 20 in five straight campaigns. He also hit a career-best 38 doubles and now owns a .502 career slugging percentage.

    With power numbers like those and a general lack of pop on the market, Napoli will be one of the most heavily pursued hitters of the entire offseason.

     

5. Carlos Beltran

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2013 Stats: .296/.339/.491, 30 doubles, 24 home runs, 128 OPS+, 2.0 WAR

    There's a lot to like about Carlos Beltran.

    The switch-hitter has swatted 56 home runs over the past two seasons and is the owner of a lifetime OPS of 1.128 in the playoffs after yet another stellar postseason run. Just about every team in baseball would benefit from plugging the veteran slugger into a corner outfield spot, but there are definite concerns about his glove moving forward.

    As Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York notes, Beltran is in the market for a three-year deal. If any team is bold enough to hand Beltran a three-year contract, it would certainly need to be an AL club so Beltran could split time as a designated hitter and outfielder. 

    Beltran's demands for three years will definitely knock some clubs out of the bidding. However, there's bound to be at least one team ready to take on that risk in order to land the eight-time All-Star.

4. Shin-Soo Choo

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    2013 Stats: .285/.423/.462, 34 doubles, 21 home runs, 143 OPS+, 5.2 WAR

    With a rare combination of power, speed and on base skills, Shin-Soo Choo is one of the premier leadoff hitters in MLB.

    In 2013, Choo tallied at least 20 steals and 20 home runs for the third time in his career. The outfielder also posted a .423 OBP, which was good for fourth best in all of baseball. Admittedly, Choo's MLB-leading 26 hit by pitches inflated that figure. 

    The only real downside to Choo's game is his lack of productivity against left-handers. In 2013, Choo put up a .612 OPS against lefties, a significant drop off from his 1.011 OPS against right-handers. Fortunately for Choo, there are far more righties in the league than lefties. However, the 31-year-old's dramatic platoon splits keep him from rising any higher on the list.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    2013 Stats: .298/.355/.426, 31 doubles, 9 home runs, 114 OPS+, 5.8 WAR

    Along with Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the elite leadoff hitters in all of baseball, let alone on the free-agent market. What separates the two, however, is that while Choo is capable of playing center field, Ellsbury patrols the position at a Gold Glove level. 

    Ellsbury also possess an impressive track record on the base paths. Last season, the 30-year-old swiped 52 bags while getting thrown out just four times. Plenty of clubs would benefit from having Ellsbury atop their respective lineups, but the problem is that the center fielder has struggled to stay on the field. 

    His agent Scott Boras told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, "He's a durable player. The only [significant] injuries he's had are collision injuries."

    Collision injuries or not, Ellsbury has consistently missed large chunks of the season in recent years. In 2010 he only appeared in 18 contests, and in 2012 he only made it into 74 games. 

    There's no denying that Ellsbury is a dynamic player, but suitors will have to seriously weigh how many years and dollars to shell out to a player who simply hasn't been able to stay healthy. 

2. Masahiro Tanaka

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    2013 Stats: 24-0, 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 7.8 K/9

    Masahiro Tanaka is the top pitching target on the market, which is remarkably impressive considering he's never thrown a big league pitch. 

    Last season, the right-hander was dominant for the Rakuten Golden Eagles as he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA. However, there have been concerns about the 25-year-old's extensive workload in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball.

    The ace actually closed out Game 7 of the Japan Series for the Golden Eagles at the beginning of November. The relief outing came just one day after Tanaka had reeled off 160 pitches in complete-game loss in Game 6. That lofty pitch count prompted one scout to tell David Waldstein of the New York Times that he was "worried about his arm."

    Clearly, Tanaka will have to undergo a meticulous medical exam before any MLB club will sign him to a deal. For now, though, Tanaka isn't actually available. NPB and MLB have yet to come to an agreement on a revised posting system, as the Japan News reports.

    However, there's still plenty of time for the two sides to reach a deal, and for Tanaka to become the latest international phenom to hit the big leagues.

1. Robinson Cano

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    2013 Stats: .314/.383/.516, 41 doubles, 27 home runs, 145 OPS+, 6.0 WAR

    There's no doubt that Robinson Cano is the top free-agent target this offseason. 

    The veteran second baseman is a five-time All-Star, a five-time Silver Slugger and the owner of two Gold Gloves. Cano has hit at least 41 doubles and 25 home runs in five straight seasons. Over the past seven campaigns, the durable Cano has missed just 14 games.

    In return for his impressive consistency and high level of production, Cano is in the market for a record payday of around $300 million. That's steep, and there's a slim chance that any club will come anywhere close to matching that asking price. Still, whatever deal he ends up agreeing to, Cano isn't just the top offseason target, he's one of the top player's in the entire game.

     

     

     

    If you want to talk baseball find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.

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