The number of high-impact free agents available is starting to dwindle. For teams around Major League Baseball, that means it's time to either get aggressive or start exploring potential trades to fill the necessary holes before next season.
Since the free-agent market was already lacking in the star power department before the offseason activity began, it's no surprise that there isn't much top talent left at this stage.
However, there are still some players capable of stepping right in to provide a major boost to a lineup or rotation.
With that in mind, let's examine the top free agents still looking for a landing spot. Although teams would likely have to pay top dollar to get a deal done, overpaying is sometimes necessary in order to build a playoff- or championship-caliber roster.
Choo doesn't attract much national attention despite consistently good production. While that's probably because he's spent his entire career in smaller markets (Seattle, Cleveland and Cincinnati), there's no doubt front offices around the league took note of his numbers.
Last season, the center fielder posted a .423 on-base percentage, which ranked fourth in baseball among qualifiers, to go along with 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
His versatility at the plate means he can find success just about anywhere in the lineup.
As the top hitter left on the market, he's surely attracting plenty of interest. One team heavily involved in the process is apparently the Texas Rangers, but Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reports that they only want to give the 31-year-old veteran a five-year deal while his agent seeks seven.
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
Seven years would certainly add to the risk factor given his age, but he would be worth the investment in the short term.
Ever since moving into a regular role with the Texas Rangers in 2009, Cruz has been a consistent source of pop in the middle of the lineup. He's hit at least 22 home runs in each of the past five seasons, including 27 in just 109 games last season.
Most teams could use another power bat in the lineup, including the Rangers.
Despite watching Cruz hit the open market, Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas reports that Texas is still looking at the possibility of bringing him back into the fold.
#Rangers Jon Daniels said he's had a few conversations with Adam Katz, Cruz's agent, and will continue to talk.— Richard Durrett (@espn_durrett) December 11, 2013
Daniels also didn't agree with the notion that Nelson owes the organization for missing time last season, per ESPN:
He had a decision to make. I think one of the byproducts of that decision was that it impacted the club. There’s no two ways around that. But we all understood the position he was in. I can’t speak for everybody, but I don’t view it that way. I don’t think he owes us.
I think he likes being here. He may factor that in. It’s been an overall positive relationship over the years. I don’t think one side owes the other.
The Rangers are probably facing some serious competition for him—especially with so few reliable power hitters left on the market—but Cruz should be a cheaper alternative to Choo. At 33, he should still have several years of very good production left.
As for starting pitchers, there are three names to consider, but Garza stands out.
That's because Ervin Santana is only one season removed from a year when he posted a 5.16 ERA and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports notes that questions continue to swirl around Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka.
Which player will provide the most value?
Garza, on the other hand, hasn't posted an ERA above 4.00 over a full season since he got his first cup of coffee in the majors in 2006. When you combine his high strikeout rate, improved command and the fact that he's just 30, there's plenty of reason to be bullish.
That's why, in terms of overall value—including what a team would have to invest and the likely returns—Garza gets the nod over Santana and Tanaka.
He probably wouldn't qualify as a true ace so much as a very solid No. 2 or 3 starter for any team seeking rotation upgrades.