2014 MLB Free-Agent Tracker: Rumors, Destinations for Top 20 FAs

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2013

2014 MLB Free-Agent Tracker: Rumors, Destinations for Top 20 FAs

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    Matt Garza headed into the MLB Winter Meetings with expectations of inking a long-term deal.
    Matt Garza headed into the MLB Winter Meetings with expectations of inking a long-term deal.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Anxiety-driven MLB teams threw around gobs of cash prior to the Winter Meetings to complete high-profile free-agent signings.

    That continued as players, agents, executives and insiders descended on Lake Buena Vista, Fla from Dec. 9-12. Yet outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, shortstop Stephen Drew and a handful of proven starting pitchers remain unsigned.

    Any members of our original top-50 tracker who have already reached agreements were obviously scratched from this revised edition. Also note that the scarcity of certain skills—such as power and up-the-middle defense—necessitated some reshuffling within the rankings.

    We'll be feverishly updating the following slides with the latest rumors. Moreover, if/when these players sign their names to new contracts, you'll get instant analysis.


    *Stats provided by Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise specified.

Signed Free Agents in the Top 20

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    Rajai Davis, the newest Detroit Tiger.
    Rajai Davis, the newest Detroit Tiger.Brad White/Getty Images

    Every reader is unique, and some don't necessarily want to go slide by slide to find information about a specific top free agent who's already off the market.

    That's why this page exists.

    Conveniently click the names in hyperlinks to visit slides for recently signed players:

    8. Bartolo Colon — two years, $20 million from New York Mets

    9. Omar Infante — four years, $30 million from Kansas City Royals

    10. James Loney — three years, $21 million from Tampa Bay Rays

    11. Juan Uribe — two years, $15 million from Los Angeles Dodgers

    15. Mark Ellis — one year, unknown amount from St. Louis Cardinals

    19. Rajai Davis — two years, $10 million from Detroit Tigers

    20. Corey Hart — one year, $6 million from Seattle Mariners

1. OF Shin-Soo Choo

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cincinnati Reds
    154 .285 .423 .462 21 20 5.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 1 outfielder

    Qualifying Offer: Yes


    Why Teams Want Him

    Most clubs today recognize the importance of getting on base, and since 2010, no outfielder has done it better than Shin-Soo Choo (min. 1,500 PA).

    Once he reaches first, Choo is a legitimate base-stealing threat. The 31-year-old can also single-handedly put runs on the scoreboard, as he has three career seasons of 20-plus homers.

    He's a target for teams who seek an upgrade at either outfield corner.

    Possible Suitors: Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, San Francisco GiantsSeattle Mariners, Texas Rangers


    Latest Rumors

    Choo won't top Jacoby Ellsbury's free-agent earnings, but super-agent Scott Boras is trying to secure him a contract that's nearly as lucrative. Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears it's going to require "Carl Crawford money" (seven years, $142 million), while one general manager learned that Choo would cost $140 million, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

    But with Choo's list of suitors thinning, it looks like Boras might actually have to—gasp—reach a compromise:

    The Rangers appear comfortable going to five years on Shin-Soo Choo. Scott Boras wants seven. We will see if they settle in the middle.

    — Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 12, 2013

    The Rangers' interest isn't at all surprisingly.

    General manager Jon Daniels has explained that even the acquisition of Prince Fielder didn't solve all of his club's offensive troubles (h/t T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com). If the 2014 season got underway today, Leonys Martin would be the Rangers leadoff hitter, says manager Ron Washington (h/t Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas). His .306 career on-base percentage is less than ideal for that role.

    CBS Sports insider Jon Heyman and Fox Sports' Jon Morosi agree that Choo isn't in play for Seattle anymore following the additions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.

    According to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, Cincinnati has gone weeks without speaking to Boras. GM Walt Jocketty admits that it's going to be "very difficult" for the Reds to make a competitive offer. Heyman tweets that club executives discussed Choo at the Winter Meetings and agreed that re-signing him wouldn't fit their financial model unless Brandon Phillips' contract disappears from their books. The question is whether Choo stays on the market long enough for the Reds to find a trade partner for Phillips, preferably one that's willing to absorb most or all of the $50 million still owed to him.

    Per Heyman, Arizona was legitimately "in the Choo hunt," while also acting aggressively in trade talks with the Los Angeles Angels regarding Mark Trumbo. They chose Trumbo in a three-team deal.

    The Tigers had set their sights on Choo, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, but the addition of Rajai Davis makes a match between them more improbable.

    Michael Morse is headed to San Francisco, where he's expected to start regularly in the outfield alongside Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence.

    The O's accumulated some spending money by trading Jim Johnson and letting both Nate McLouth and Scott Feldman depart via free agency. Heyman hears that they "haven't ruled out" committing it to Choo.

2. SP Masahiro Tanaka

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    2013 Stats with Rakuten Golden Eagles
    28/27 212.0 1.27 7.8 1.4 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 1 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible)


    Why Teams Want Him

    Considering the underwhelming crop of free-agent starting pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka ought to attract a host of suitors.

    The right-hander just turned 25, yet he already has seven years of professional experience. The above stats (and his undefeated regular-season record) won't be sustainable in the U.S., but with help from a lethal splitter and great command, Tanaka possesses all the tools to be a frontline starter.

    Possible Suitors: Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore OriolesChicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers


    Latest Rumors

    Executive Council to do conference call Monday to ratify new posting system with Japan

    — Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 11, 2013

    Mainichi Shimbun explains that Tanaka's team from Nippon Professional Baseball, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, can set the posting fee as high as $20 million (and they surely will). If willing to risk that amount, any major league club can get a 30-day window to negotiate with him.

    From there, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports believes we'll see something similar to true free agency, with suitors trying to distinguish themselves by extending generous contract offers to Tanaka.

    "The Cubs expect to be part of the process regarding Tanaka," according to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. La Velle E. Neal III of The Star Tribune says the same applies to the Twins. Then there are the D-Backs, who sources say consider him their No. 1 priority, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

    To motivate the Golden Eagles to post Tanaka (and forfeit his two remaining years under team control), ESPN's Buster Olney hears that the other 11 NPB teams could intervene. Motivated by their shared fear of Tanaka's pitching, sources suggest that they have considered making direct payments to the reigning Japan Series champions.

3. SP Ervin Santana

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    2013 Stats with Kansas City Royals 
    32/32 211.0 3.24 3.93 6.87 2.18 3.0

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: Yes


    Why Teams Want Him 

    Ervin Santana is being coveted for his command and pitch efficiency.

    Since 2010, he has averaged greater than 6.5 innings per outing. Santana's knack for allowing home runs isn't particularly worrisome because they seldom take place with runners on base. The right-hander finished this past summer with a 1.14 WHIP, which is the finest mark among free-agent starters.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners


    Latest Rumors

    Jon Heyman hears that Santana's agents have the lofty goal of obtaining a commitment of five years and $112 million.

    Teams in relatively small markets, like the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins, balked at that asking price and met their rotation needs with lesser free agents. Baltimore's Dan Duquette is a bigger fan of A.J. Burnett, tweets MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo.

    Even the Phillies are feeling thrifty. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Roberto Hernandez and won't necessarily add another starter this winter.

    The Mets need to build up their rotation depth, but general manager Sandy Alderson is "reluctant" to hand out any multi-year deals, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. He made an exception for Bartolo Colon, though.

    Toward the beginning of the offseason, the Angels indicated that they wouldn't pursue any player who's tied to a compensatory draft pick. They've stayed true to that stance, according to Ken Rosenthal.

    However, Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune believes that Santana "could be in play" for the desperate Mariners. Likewise, Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1050 has been "told to count the Tigers in."

    Interest in Santana will presumably skyrocket if Masahiro Tanaka isn't posted.

4. SP Matt Garza

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    2013 Stats with Chicago Cubs/Texas Rangers
    24/24 155.1 3.82 3.88 7.88 2.43 2.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 3 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible)


    Why Teams Want Him

    When healthy, Matt Garza has been amazingly consistent. Plus, he maintained a better average fastball velocity last summer than any other starter in this free-agent class. During 2009 and 2011, in particular, Garza's intimidating raw stuff translated to an elite strikeout rate. The right-hander also only turned 30 on Nov. 26.

    Possible Suitors: Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore OriolesCleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays


    Latest Rumors

    The Angels are on the prowl for a free-agent starter, but ESPN's Buster Olney wonders if they'd use some foresight and pass on Garza for a pitcher who's seeking a shorter deal. Superstar outfielder Mike Trout is going to become very wealthy through the arbitration process, and to lock him up long term, the club will need to set aside a large portion of its payroll.

    Arizona has been dubbed a co-front-runner for Garza's services, per the New York Post's Joel Sherman. Tyler Skaggs, who was supposed to headline a trade package for a controllable, top-of-the-rotation-caliber arm, moved to L.A. during the Winter Meetings. Without Skaggs, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times doesn't believe that the D-Backs have enough young talent to match up with the Chicago Cubs in a Jeff Samardzija blockbuster.

    Garza held the top spot on the Twins' list of rotation targets, according to Jon Heyman, but with Mike Pelfrey inked to a new contract, perhaps they'll back away. 

    Garza and Dioner Navarro have been a dynamic duo in 53 MLB games as a battery. They were especially effective during the first half of last summer, before Garza was dealt to the Texas Rangers (1.24 ERA, .210 BAA, 38 K in 43.2 IP). That relationship might compel Garza to follow Navarro north of the border, where the latter is expected to serve as Toronto's starting catcher.

5 SP A.J. Burnett

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    2013 Stats with Pittsburgh Pirates
    30/30 191.0 3.30 2.80 9.85 3.16 4.0 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 4 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Want Him

    A.J. Burnett's front-of-the-rotation-caliber performance merits a lengthy contract, but his personal situation may compel him to take less.

    Burnett has seriously contemplated retirement and will presumably take a one-year deal—if anything—so that he can explore all options after the 2014 season. No general manager will complain about that. The combination of swing-and-miss ability and a high ground-ball rate contributes to his excellent sabermetric value.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates


    Latest Rumors

    So much for Burnett's "Pittsburgh or retirement" plan:

    Source: #Orioles seemed to be making progress on deal w/ FA starter, then backed off a bit to wait on AJ Burnett. AJ looks like main target.

    — Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) December 15, 2013

    Burnett has fared poorly in 10 career starts at Camden Yards. It's worth noting, though, that he hasn't appeared there since 2011.

    Although erratic Edinson Volquez agreed to a $5 million deal with Pittsburgh, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was quick to clarify that the move doesn't preclude them from reuniting with Burnett.

6. SP Ubaldo Jimenez

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cleveland Indians
    32/32 182.2 3.30 3.43 9.56 3.94 3.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 5 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: Yes


    Why Teams Want Him

    Ubaldo Jimenez offers the best combination of youth, durability and major league experience among free-agent starters.

    Not yet 30 years old, the Dominican right-hander has already thrown more than 1,300 regular-season and postseason innings with no serious injuries to speak of. He finished 2013 with a career-best 2.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles AngelsNew York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays


    Latest Rumors

    Prior to the Winter Meetings, Hoynes reports that "there's been little, if any, free-agent buzz" related to Jimenez.

    According to Cleveland president Mark Shapiro, there's still "a possibility" for him to re-sign (h/t Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden, The Front Office). He cautions, however, that Jimenez's expected eight-figure annual salary would put the Indians "outside their financial framework," so Shapiro would have to get the green light from ownership before making that move.

    The odds of a reunion with Colorado grew thinner as the club completed a trade for starter Brett Anderson.

    With rotation spots still up for grabs, the Yankees have Jimenez on their radar, according to The New York Post's George A. King III.

    Buster Olney admits that it's "always fun to wonder" if the Orioles will emerge as a dark horse for Jimenez (ESPN Insider subscription required). Their highest priority, however, is finding a way to retain expensive core players, not shopping for a potential rotation leader.

7. SS Stephen Drew

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    2013 Stats with Boston Red Sox
    124 .253 .333 .443 13 3.4 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 1 shortstop

    Qualifying Offer: Yes


    Why Teams Want Him

    The advanced stats suggested that Stephen Drew's fielding has been declining, but his 2013 campaign certainly proved otherwise.With a fully healthy ankle, Drew provided agent Scott Boras with ample highlight-reel material that could be shown to potential suitors.

    He only turns 31 in March, and there aren't any more available shortstops coming off comparable offensive seasons. 

    Possible Suitors: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, New York Yankees


    Latest Rumors

    Agent Scott Boras insists that there are multi-year proposals on the table for Drew (h/t Pete Abraham, The Boston Globe). 

    Boston has kept the lines of communication open with Drew, Jon Heyman tweets. The Sox till have solid odds of retaining him, as Nick Cafardo reports that the market for his services is less extensive than expected.

    The Mets couldn't close a deal with Jhonny Peralta, their top free-agent target. With names like Brendan Ryan and Rafael Furcal also off the market, and no internal options better than Ruben Tejada (career .642 OPS), Cafardo hears that Drew is still in play for them.

    With that said, Newsday's David Lennon believes there's "very little chance" that the Mets would offer a three-year deal. They will only consider Drew later this offseason if a lack of outside interest knocks down his asking price.

    Re-signing Brendan Ryan hasn't deterred the Yankees from continuing their pursuit of Drew. 

8. SP Bartolo Colon

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Oakland Athletics
    30 190.1 2.65 3.23 5.53 1.37 3.9 

    Status: Signed by New York Mets (two years, $20 million)

    Position Rank: No. 6 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Bartolo Colon is the rare athlete who hasn't let physical deterioration affect his confidence. Even at age 40 and with an average fastball that only sits at 89.9 mph, he never hesitates to attack the strike zone.

    The pudgy right-hander benefited from a fortuitous home-run rate this past summer, but nonetheless, he possesses the peripherals of an above-average starter.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    When the Winter Meetings got underway, the Daily News' Andy Martino reported that the Mets were "not serious players" at Colon's asking price. 

    Funny how things change.

    Colon fills the rotation spot that was vacated when All-Star right-hander Matt Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this offseason. He'll pitch for a National League team for the first time since 2002, when he was a midseason acquisition of the now-defunct Montreal Expos.

    This marks the second straight winter that general manager Sandy Alderson has gambled on a relatively old former PED user. It will pay off again if Colon comes close to influencing the club like Marlon Byrd did a year ago.

    Adding this signing to those of Curtis Granderson and Chris Young elevates the Mets' free-agent spending to $87.25 million, third only behind the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners. That's one way to motivate a fanbase that has grown impatient with perennially sub-.500 teams.

    This is another missed opportunity for the Baltimore Orioles, who needed Colon—or anybody else—to buff up their starting rotation. Scott Feldman has already departed from an O's staff that was mediocre in terms on earned run average and Fielder Independent Pitching in 2013.

    Although Colon doesn't match Feldman in contract length (three years) or Tim Hudson in average annual value ($11.5 million), all things considered, it still should be viewed as a win for his representatives.

9. 2B Omar Infante

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Detroit Tigers
    118 .318 .345 .450 10 3.1 

    Status: Deal pending with Kansas City Royals (four years, $30 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 second baseman

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Omar Infante's age-31 season was among the best of his career. He continues to be a reliable source of contact-hitting after striking out only 44 times in 476 plate appearances.

    Nobody will confuse Infante with a power bat, but he has now blasted double-digit home runs in consecutive seasons. In emergency situations, teams could use him at any infield position without sacrificing much defense.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Omar Infante is close to an agreement on a four-year deal for about $30 million with the Kansas City Royals.

    — Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 13, 2013

    Infante and the Royals have agreed to terms on that four-year deal mentioned before.

    — Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 13, 2013

    The Royals had a revolving door at second base in 2013, as four different players received at least 20 starts. They'll finally get some continuity with Infante.

    And before re-establishing himself as an everyday player in 2010, he demonstrated great versatility by starting at shortstop and third base, as well as every outfield position. That means manager Ned Yost can get creative in case of injuries.

    After losing Robinson Cano in free agency, the New York Yankees were also aggressive pursuers for Infante. But ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews hears that they only offered $24 million over three years.

    Apparently, Infante preferred long-term security over maximizing average annual value.

    This will send the Yankees scrambling to find a second baseman on the trade market, such as Brandon Phillips or—big, long gulp—Dan Uggla. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score also identifies slick-fielding Darwin Barney as a target for them.

    Aside from K.C. and New York, Infante drew interest from the San Francisco Giants, per Jon Morosi. Although they already have Marco Scutaro entrenched at second base, there was room for Infante in left field, and starting in 2015, with the possibility of Pablo Sandoval leaving via free agency, at third base.

    As explained here, the Royals' next offseason move could involve trading an excess position player for starting rotation depth.

10. 1B James Loney

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Tampa Bay Rays
    158 .299 .348 .430 13 2.7 

    Status: Deal pending with Tampa Bay Rays (three years, $21 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 first baseman

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Not many position players under the age of 30 initially populated the 2014 free-agent market, and only a handful remain entering the Winter Meetings.

    James Loney's durability—140 games in six straight seasons—and above-average defense put him in position for a multi-year deal. His 2013 stats represented a huge rebound from the previous year, but they actually weren't too far off his .285/.340/.421 career batting line.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Source: Loney to #Rays, three years, $21M, pending physical.

    — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 13, 2013

    Loney entered the Winter Meetings with expectations of a three-year contract, although this total falls short of the $27-30 million his representatives had in mind. Even so, it's surprising to see the notoriously frugal Rays commit to a free agent for such a lengthy period.

    Jon Heyman reveals that $5 million of this contract comes in the form of a signing bonus.

    Loney's adequacy against left-handed pitchers last summer was out of step with his struggles in such situations from 2010-2012. It's hard to say whether his improvement is attributable to tangible adjustments, or just the by-product of a small sample size.

    The signings of Mike Napoli, Justin Morneau and Corey Hart earlier in December briefly made Loney the consensus top first baseman available in free agency.

    Jayson Stark tweeted that the Pittsburgh Pirates coveted Loney as a platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez. The Houston Astros were involved in the bidding, but were dismayed to find out that he wasn't going to take a hometown discount, per MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. Those teams must now scramble for players on the trade market, such as Ike Davis and Mitch Moreland.

    This might mark the end of Tampa Bay's involvement in the free-agent market, as the front office shifts its focus to finding a new home for David Price.

11. 3B Juan Uribe

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    Elsa/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Dodgers
    132 .278 .331 .438 12 5.1 

    Status: Deal pending with Los Angeles Dodgers (two years, $15 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 third baseman

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Juan Uribe was a vacuum at the hot corner at age 33, as evidenced by his 15 Defensive Runs Saved and 24.0 Ultimate Zone Rating. In case of emergency, he can also be utilized at any of the other infield positions. Plus, Uribe just posted the highest on-base percentage of his career. 


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Juan Uribe's deal with the Dodgers: two years, $15 million.

    — Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 15, 2013

    So it's not the three-year deal that Uribe was seeking, but at least he made the Dodgers sweeten their initial proposal, per ESPN Deportes' Enrique Rojas.

    L.A. didn't have attractive alternatives. Nobody bought into that Buster Olney report about Michael Young getting consideration for an everyday third baseman's job, and shifting Hanley Ramirez to the hot corner would've simply created another void in the lineup.

    Uribe's most frustrating quality is his inconsistency at the plate. Sandwiched between great offensive campaigns in 2010 and 2013, he generated a ghastly .199/.262/.289 batting line.

    But the Dodgers will overlook that inevitable regression because Uribe's range in the field covers up Ramirez's defensive deficiencies. Got to love his postseason heroics, too (h/t Thomas Harding, MLB.com).

    The Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins both showed serious interest in Uribe, and MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reports that the latter continues to search outside the organization for a third baseman. Even the Tampa Bay Rays had him as a fallback candidate at first base when James Loney threatened to depart.

    With Uribe back in the mix, the reigning NL West champs march toward 2014 as clear favorites to repeat.

    That doesn't mean the front office is content. Even with Uribe earning a slightly higher salary than he did under his previous contract, the Dodgers have enough resources to pursue a frontline starting pitcher, the top candidates being David Price and Masahiro Tanaka.

12. OF/DH Nelson Cruz

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    2013 Stats with Texas Rangers
    109 .266 .327 .506 27 1.5 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 outfielder, No. 1 designated hitter

    Qualifying Offer: Yes


    Why Teams Want Him

    The Biogenesis suspension is finally behind Nelson Cruz, who can supply long balls immediately to whichever team commits to him.

    He's been a consistent power source over the past five seasons. The 33-year-old ranks No. 1 among remaining free agents in slugging percentage, extra-base hits and Isolated Power during that span, and only Mark Reynolds has tallied more runs batted in.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers


    Latest Rumors

    With Choo still out there, the Nelson Cruz market appears to be: Seattle, Texas, Colorado, Baltimore.

    — Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) December 12, 2013

    Evidently, Cruz has come back to reality since Jon Heyman revealed his four-year, $75 million asking price. Buster Olney hears that Cruz wants a three-year deal from the Rangers, who aren't feeling comfortable giving him more than two years and an option.

    Although Seattle wants to continue adding firepower to the lineup this offseason, Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times calls Cruz "an odd fit." The Mariners' roster is already chock-full of designated-hitter type players.

    Along those same lines, insider Andrew Rickli tweets that they've "shifted their focus" away from Cruz.

13. RP Joaquin Benoit

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    Al Bello/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Detroit Tigers
    66/067.0 2.01 2.87 9.81 2.96 1.6 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 1 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Want Him

    Joaquin Benoit possesses elite velocity, but he has much better command than Joba Chamberlain, Fernando Rodney and the few other free agents who can bring more heat.

    Past elbow and shoulder injuries shouldn't affect Benoit's market, considering how durable he's been since 2010 (268 appearances, 12th in MLB). The only available reliever with more total strikeouts in that span is Carlos Marmol, and he obviously doesn't stack up to this 36-year-old in other facets.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals


    Latest Rumors

    Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi report that the Padres have been making an especially strong push for Benoit. They and Cleveland each have two-year offers on the table worth more than $14 million, according to Jeff Passan, and San Diego is rumored to be the front-runner, per Buster Olney.

    San Diego surrendered its setup man, Luke Gregerson, when trading for outfielder Seth Smith earlier this winter. The Indians, meanwhile, released closer Chris Perez immediately following the World Series. Team president Mark Shapiro tells Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden of The Front Office that he plans to sign somebody with closing experience, and Benoit meets that criterion.

    If the veteran right-hander is concerned with contending for a championship, then he'll definitely considering re-signing with the Tigers. Their acquisition of Joe Nathan still leaves open the possibility for Benoit to handle the eighth inning.

    The Phillies could also have space for him, as Rosenthal reports that they've been trying to trade incumbent closer Jonathan Papelbon. Benoit will surely cost less than the $13 million annually that Papelbon is owed through 2015.

14. DH/1B Kendrys Morales

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Seattle Mariners
    156 .277 .336 .449 23 1.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 designated hitter, No. 2 first baseman

    Qualifying Offer: Yes


    Why Teams Want Him

    Kendrys Morales has re-emerged as a middle-of-the-order run producer since missing close to two years with a lower-leg injury. He's a switch-hitter with near-identical stats against right-handers and southpaws.

    Few remaining free agents can rival Morales' combination of youth and power (he's three years younger than Nelson Cruz), and those who do strike out much more frequently.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers


    Latest Rumors

    Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe is the latest MLB insider to mention that Morales' market looks limited.

    Neither of his former teams, the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, make sense, he explains. The former is likely to sign Raul Ibanez as a designated hitter, while Seattle will have a tough time finding playing time for its handful of first baseman/designated hitter types.

    Baltimore could use his bat, but only if the asking price comes down.

15. 2B Mark Ellis

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Dodgers
    126 .270 .323 .351 1.8 

    Status: Deal pending with St. Louis Cardinals

    Position Rank: No. 2 second baseman

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Wanted Him

    The Los Angeles Dodgers decided that Mark Ellis wasn't worth retaining for $5.75 million. However, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him sign for an even larger sum with another team on the strength of his sure-handed defense. Ellis owns a .330 career on-base percentage and nine-year streak of starting at least 100 games.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    #Cardinals and 2B Mark Ellis' agreement is apparently pending a physical. Once that is completed, the deal will be announced. #stlcards

    — Derrick Goold (@dgoold) December 15, 2013

    The National League champs were projected to open 2014 with Kolten Wong as their starting second baseman. Considering his mediocrity in limited major league experience—.363 OPS in 32 games—Ellis will spend 2014 as a stopgap.

    The Cardinals will be Ellis' fourth team in as many seasons, and he's been a terrific defender at each of those stops. Among qualified second basemen, only Dustin Barney, Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley have posted a better UZR/150 this decade.

    By letting the club that expelled them from the 2013 playoffs sign Ellis, the Dodgers are showing a lot of faith in Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero, who's $28 million deal begins next summer.

16. RP Grant Balfour

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Oakland Athletics
    65/062.2 2.59 3.49 10.34 3.80 0.6 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Want Him

    Grant Balfour and Sergio Romo are the only MLB relievers with 50-plus relief appearances and a sub-2.60 earned run average in each of the past four seasons. On days when his slider isn't working, Balfour has enough fastball velocity to miss plenty of bats.

    Contrary to what his surname would lead you to believe, the Australian native isn't particularly erratic. 

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies


    Latest Rumors

    Baltimore closer update: Grant Balfour wants THREE years with a 4th year vesting option. Orioles aren't willing to go that far with him...

    — Jen Royle (@Jen_Royle) December 15, 2013

    The O's have participated in serious negotiations with Balfour since the Winter Meetings.

    The Boston Herald's Jen Royle tweets that he's seeking $24 million for those three guaranteed years, but the club wants him to take a Jonathan Broxton-like deal ($21 million). There are performance bonuses included in the offer, she adds, that are presumably influenced by saves or games finished.

    Cleveland released Perez earlier this offseason, so Jon Morosi's acknowledgement of their interest shouldn't come as a surprise. Mark Shapiro wants a battle-tested closer, but Buster Olney reports that he's going with John Axford. His signing doesn't necessarily eliminate the Indians from pursuing Balfour, though.

    As was the case with Joaquin Benoit, Balfour should become a Phillies target if they succeed in dumping Jonathan Papelbon. Ken Rosenthal tweets that they're actively trying.

17. SP Bronson Arroyo

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cincinnati Reds
    32/32 202.0 3.79 4.49 5.52 1.51 0.8 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 7 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Want Him

    Arguably the most musically gifted member of this free-agent class, Bronson Arroyo never misses his turn in the rotation. As a result, he's an excellent source of innings.

    Arroyo has become an excellent strike-thrower over the past three seasons (1.70 BB/9). Although he's been with the Cincinnati Reds for an eternity, the right-hander gained American League experience with the Boston Red Sox from 2003 to 2005.

    Possible Suitors:  Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays


    Latest Rumors

    According to Nick Cafardo, Arroyo is already mulling two-year offers from four different teams. However, he's hoping that somebody will step up and guarantee three years, or at least give him a 2016 vesting option.

    Jon Heyman tweeted that two of those teams were the Reds and Twins, but the latter is likely less involved at this point after agreeing to terms with right-hander Mike Pelfrey.

    The Pirates met with Arroyo's agent at the Winter Meetings, per Buster Olney.

    "I don't think we're totally comfortable with what we have in the organization," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson confirms (h/t Adam Rubin of ESPN New York). With that said, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News is skeptical about them aiming as high as Arroyo.

18. RP Jesse Crain

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    USA TODAY Sports
    2013 Stats with Chicago White Sox/Tampa Bay Rays
    38/0 36.2 0.74 1.52 11.29 2.70 1.9 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 3 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible)


    Why Teams Want Him

    Jesse Crain finished tied for ninth among all relievers in FanGraphs WAR last season, despite missing the entire second half. His strikeout ability is apparent, but Crain also represses home runs as well as any reliever in this class.

    Heading into his age-32 season, the right-hander is also considerably younger than Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays


    Latest Rumors

    Crain has been plagued by shoulder tendonitis. There's no timetable for him to resume pitching.

    Nonetheless, Jayson Stark hears that the Astros want an arm for the back end of the bullpen. They aren't in the market for Benoit or Balfour after adding $20-plus million to their 2014 payroll through the acquisitions of Dexter Fowler, Scott Feldman and Chad Qualls. Crain will cost substantially less than them, and for what it's worth, Crain attended the University of Houston.

    MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports that Houston has met with his representatives at the Winter Meetings.

    According to Chris Cotillo, several possible Crain suitors have entered talks with Fernando Rodney. With the latter's asking price coming down, there could be movement soon.

19. OF Rajai Davis

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    Darren McCollester/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Toronto Blue Jays
    108 .260 .312 .375 45 1.2 

    Status: Deal pending with Detroit Tigers (two years, $10 million)

    Position Rank: No. 3 outfielder

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Rajai Davis has stolen at least 34 bases in each of the past five seasons, and his total in that span easily trumps any other in the American League. There's no indication that his production will dip at age 33.

    The optimal role for Davis is as a platoon outfielder, considering his .779 career OPS against left-handed pitching (.857 OPS vs. LHP in 2013).


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Rajai Davis has agreed to a two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers per industry source http://t.co/cD2JtG1LJq

    — Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) December 10, 2013

    This fit makes sense.

    Shin-Soo Choo was atop Detroit's wish list, but MLive's Jason Schmehl mentioned that the team would be content finding a platoon partner for left-handed-hitting Andy Dirks. As a 27-year-old last summer, Dirks only batted .234/.306/.325 with three extra-base hits in 86 plate appearances against southpaws.

    Even while playing irregularly for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013, Davis individually stole more bases than the entire Tigers roster. Moreover, he runs very efficiently (success rate above 75 percent in seven straight seasons).

    The reported contract terms seem appropriate considering the deals completed earlier this winter with other free-agent platoon outfielders in their early 30s. Nate McLouth and David Murphy received $10.75 million and $12 million, respectively. One substantial difference, however, is that Davis doesn't get any options, according to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith.

    Aside from Detroit, Darren Wolfson hears that the Minnesota Twins were also contemplating making a two-year offer.

    As Jon Morosi points out, Choo is now far less likely to spend his future in Motown.

    The Tigers could spend the remainder of the Winter Meetings in pursuit of bullpen depth to stabilize the bridge to Joe Nathan. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick confirms this, while also proposing a Max Scherzer contract extension.

20. 1B/OF Corey Hart

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images
    2012 Stats with Milwaukee Brewers
    149 .270 .334 .507 30 2.2 

    Status: Signed by Seattle Mariners (one year, $6 million)

    Position Rank: No. 3 first baseman, No. 4 outfielder

    Qualifying Offer: No


    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Corey Hart was coming off an unproductive season, making him your prototypical buy-low candidate. A pair of knee surgeries kept him away from the majors throughout 2013, yet he's still a fit at first base or the outfield going forward.

    Hart doesn't turn 32 until March, which makes him younger than most starting-caliber position players remaining on the market.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Ken Rosenthal observes that the deal is similarly structured to the one Mike Napoli signed with the Boston Red Sox last offseason. Hart can make an additional $7 million based on performance bonuses.

    Jon Heyman notes that Mariners general manager, Jack Zduriencik, was responsible for drafting Hart to the Milwaukee Brewers way back in 2000. Whether that was a factor in his decision is unclear, but it "couldn't have hurt." Perhaps playing with new franchise player Robinson Cano appealed to him.

    Regardless, this powerful right-handed hitter ought to be a valuable addition to a lineup that couldn't handle left-handed pitching this past summer.

    Hart tells The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Todd Rosiak that post-surgery weight loss enables him to return to the outfield. But the M's could also find plate appearances for him at first base or, most likely, designated hitter.

    According to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy, Hart also had a one-year, incentive-laden offer from Milwaukee. That club is now expected to search for a first baseman via trade, or possibly pursue James Loney, tweets Buster Olney.

    The Red Sox, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays all had varying degrees of interest in Hart, as well.

    Hart gives the Mariners a surplus of powerful, strikeout-prone defensive liabilities, so unsurprisingly, Bob Nightengale reports that they've started peddling Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak. Neither individual has come close to living up to his prospect hype, but at least Smoak is coming off a career year (20 HR, .334 OBP in 521 PA).

Honorable Mentions

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    Michael Morse
    Michael MorseRob Carr/Getty Images

    Members from several lower tiers of 2014 free agents are also capable of affecting future pennant races.

    Their omissions from this top 20 can be attributed to age/health concerns or recent years of inconsistency.

    Players fitting this criteria include John Buck, Chris Capuano, Eric Chavez, Bruce Chen, J.P. Howell, Raul Ibanez, Jason Kubel, Paul Maholm, Michael Morse, Eric O'Flaherty, Mike Pelfrey, Chris Perez, Brian Roberts, Fernando Rodney, Francisco Rodriguez, Johan Santana, Joe Saunders, Kurt Suzuki, Jose Veras and Kevin Youkilis.


    Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.