2014 MLB Free-Agent Tracker: Rumors, Destinations for Top 30 Remaining FAs

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2013

2014 MLB Free-Agent Tracker: Rumors, Destinations for Top 30 Remaining FAs

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    The 2014 MLB free-agent class wasn't particularly deep to begin with, but because so many of its top members remain unsigned, there's bound to be a lot of excitement leading up to the new year.

    Shin-Soo Choo, Masahiro Tanaka, Ervin Santana and other influential players still seek new teams, and we'll bring you every step of their selection processes.

    That means sorting through all of the latest rumors from industry insiders. Plus, taking each roster's strengths, weaknesses and trade candidates into consideration can help us identify potential dark-horse suitors.

    Once a member of this top 30 chooses his destination, check back here for immediate analysis of the contract and its far-reaching consequences.


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

    **Position players only listed as designated hitters if considered major defensive liabilities.

Signed Free Agents in the Top 30

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    Joaquin Benoit
    Joaquin BenoitJamie Squire/Getty Images

    We've created this shortcut for those of you who don't want to go slide by slide searching for which top free agents have come off the market.

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

    1. Shin-Soo Choo — seven years, $130 million from Texas Rangers

    9. Joaquin Benoit — two years, $15.5 million from San Diego Padres

    13. Jesse Crain — one year, unknown money from Houston Astros

    21. Raul Ibanez — one year, $2.75 million from Los Angeles Angels

    22. Eric Chavez — one year, $3.5 million from Arizona Diamondbacks

    23. J.P. Howell — two years, $11.25 million from Los Angeles Dodgers

    24. Brian Roberts one year, $2 million from New York Yankees

    25. Kurt Suzuki — one year, $2.75 million from Minnesota Twins

    26. Scott Downs — one year, $4 million from Chicago White Sox

    28. Chris Perez — one year, $2.3 million from Los Angeles Dodgers

1. OF Shin-Soo Choo

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    2013 Stats with Cincinnati Reds
    154 .285 .423 .462 21 20 5.2 

    Status: Signed by Texas Rangers (seven years, $130 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 outfielder

    Qualifying Offer: Yes


    Why Teams Wanted 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. 


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    To clarify once more on Choo: $14 mm for '14-'15; $20 mm for '16-'18 and $21 million for '19-'20.

    — Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) December 27, 2013

    Super-agent Scott Boras previously turned down a seven-year, $140 million offer from the New York Yankees, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, believing that he could get even more for Choo.

    Mission accomplished. As Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News points out, the lack of state income tax in Texas makes this $130 million guarantee slightly more substantial than what the Yankees had on the table.

    Acquiring Prince Fielder earlier in the offseason added firepower to the Rangers offense, but moving Ian Kinsler in that same transaction left a void at the No. 1 spot. If last season's production is any indication, Choo represents an upgrade.

    In terms of total value, this is the largest signing for this franchise since Alex Rodriguez 13 years ago. And as was the case with A-Rod, there's the possibility of Texas cutting ties with Choo prematurely. Passan reports that he has only a limited no-trade clause.

    With that said, it doesn't necessarily mark the end of the Rangers' offseason spending. As Grant tweeted, Choo's deal is heavily back-loaded.

    One free agent who clearly won't be getting any checks from them is Nelson Cruz. With the club's outfield now filled and Cruz expecting a deal that's worth eight figures annually, he'll have to find work elsewhere after eight seasons in Arlington.

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 front-line starter.

    Possible Suitors: Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays


    Latest Rumors

    It's early on Tanaka watch. But constant theme from interested teams is: Watch out for #Mariners. Execs think they have one big move left

    — Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 2, 2014

    Tanaka must decide on his new team by 5 p.m. ET on January 24th, tweets the New York Post's Joel Sherman. It appears that he'll use the entire 30-day negotiating period to make up his mind (h/t Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times).

    Jeff Passan believes we'll see something similar to true free agency, with suitors trying to distinguish themselves by extending generous contract offers. One baseball executive is confident that Tanaka will command more than $100 million, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports, while others directly involved tell USA Today's Bob Nightengale that he'll top $17 million in average annual value.

    "The Cubs expect to be part of the process regarding Tanaka," reports MLB.com's Carrie Muskat, but David Kaplan of CSN Chicago insists that it'll be difficult to get him excited about the Midwest. Then there are the D-Backs, who sources say have dubbed him their No. 1 priority, per Ken Rosenthal, and the Yankees, who have "put all their pitching eggs in the Tanaka basket," according to Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York.

    ESPN's Jim Bowden adds that the Angels, Dodgers and Rangers are "teams to watch" during the bidding. However, Texas' co-chairman Bob Simpson cautions us that "Tanaka would be a tough thing. We aggressively went after Yu [Darvish]...but at the moment, we're more interested in just rounding out our team than marquee players" (h/t T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com).

    Meanwhile, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson tells ESPN New York's Adam Rubin that it's "very unlikely" he'll pursue Tanaka after committing to Bartolo Colon. Per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, the Orioles are deterred by the $20 million posting fee.

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: Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays


    Latest Rumors

    #Royals are at payroll limit, so chances of bringing back Ervin Santana on 1-year deal are remote even if his price dropped.

    — Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 19, 2013

    Santana's agents opened this offseason with the lofty goal of obtaining a commitment of five years and $112 million, according to Jon Heyman.

    Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune believes that Santana "could be in play" for the desperate Mariners. Fox Sports' Jon Morosi concurs:

    Mariners showing continued interest in free agent Ervin Santana, sources say. @FOXSports1

    — Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 18, 2013

    Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1050 has been "told to count the Tigers in." However, the Diamondbacks won't even consider Santana due to his link to a compensatory draft pick, tweets Buster Olney.

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 (eligible)


    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 only turned 30 on Nov. 26. 

    Possible Suitors: Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays


    Latest Rumors

    Word from MLB contact: #MNTwins again kicking tires on Garza. Willing to pay high $. But same concern as before: don't want to do big years.

    — Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) January 2, 2014

    The Angels are on the prowl for a free-agent starter, but 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.

    Scooping up Mark Mulder on a minor league deal is not going to impact L.A.'s pursuit of a bigger name.

    Arizona has been dubbed a co-front-runner for Garza's services, per the New York Post's Joel Sherman. Without Tyler Skaggs as a trade chip, 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 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 the 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 the Pirates from reuniting with Burnett.

    The Bucs have been "held hostage" by Burnett's indecisiveness, MLB.com's Tom Singer explains. It's believed that GM Neil Huntington won't press the right-hander for a decision until mid-January.

6. SP Ubaldo Jimenez

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    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: Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays


    Latest Rumors

    Cleveland president Mark Shapiro acknowledges that there's still "a possibility" for Jimenez to re-sign, according to Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden of 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.

    "A few GMs I spoke with recently feel the Yankees may wind up with Jimenez," reports Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, "even if they land Masahiro Tanaka." One of those executives explained that "he has the type of personality that would fit New York."

    As was the case with Ervin Santana, Buster Olney hears that the D-Backs are keeping away because they covet their 2014 first-round draft pick.

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, New York Mets, New York Yankees


    Latest Rumors

    Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirms that his club isn't signing Drew, tweets Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com. They plan on starting Derek Jeter at shortstop and using Brendan Ryan as a backup/defensive replacement.

    Although the Red Sox traded for major league infielder Jonathan Herrera, manager John Farrell insists that they'll still consider Drew (h/t Alex Speier, WEEI.com).

    With the free-agent market devoid of other decent shortstops, and no internal options better than Ruben Tejada (career .642 OPS), Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe hears that Drew is in play for the Mets. Sensing their desire to improve, Scott Boras is trying to create a dialogue, tweets Jerry Crasnick.

8. 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, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers


    Latest Rumors

    The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson reports that Cruz wouldn't settle for the Rangers' offer of two years plus a 2016 option, so they're probably moving on without him (h/t Richard Durrett, ESPN Dallas):

    "I’m not going to 100 percent close any doors, but I think realistically his best opportunity may be elsewhere and I’m expecting him to sign elsewhere," general manager Jon Daniels said shortly after the news conference with Choo ended. "But we genuinely care about the guy and appreciate what he’s done here and wanted to communicate that with him." 

    The Orioles' acquisition of outfielder David Lough should make us seriously doubt their interest in Cruz. Dan Duquette, their executive vice president of baseball operations, believes that Lough has "a chance to be an everyday ballplayer" (h/t Roch Kubatko, MASNsports.com).

    In general, teams have shied away from Cruz, Nick Cafardo writes. Because his value is so heavily predicated on power, they doubt that he can continue producing at a high level without performance-enhancing drugs.

9. RP Joaquin Benoit

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    2013 Stats with Detroit Tigers
    66/067.0 2.01 2.87 9.81 2.96 1.6 

    Status: Signed by San Diego Padres (two years, $15.5 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 


    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Joaquin Benoit possesses elite velocity, but he has much better command than 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.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Benoit's deal with San Diego is comparable to the one that was completed between Grant Balfour and the Baltimore Orioles. That cost isn't much of an issue for the Padres, whose only other major league signing this offseason has been Josh Johnson. 

    The team made it a priority to add bullpen depth after surrendering setup man Luke Gregerson via trade earlier this winter. Another addition could be on the way, tweets Jon Heyman, specifically a left-hander. He adds that the Padres' offseason moves suggest that they're trying to contend in 2014, and will therefore begin the season with free-agent-to-be Chase Headley stationed at third base.

    Arguments could be made to back either Benoit or Huston Street for the closer's role. The latter has much more ninth-inning experience, but his 2013 season wasn't as dominant (included DL stint).

    MLB.com's Corey Brock tweets that the opportunity to close didn't factor into Benoit's job search.

    Although the Detroit Tigers didn't make a firm offer to retain Benoit, they can be expected to shop for somebody to solidify the bridge to Joe Nathan.

10. DH/1B Kendrys Morales

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    2013 Stats with Seattle Mariners
    156 .277 .336 .449 23 1.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 designated hitter, No. 1 first baseman

    Qualifying Offer: Yes


    Why Teams Want Him

    Kendrys Morales has reemerged 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, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers


    Latest Rumors

    Kendrys Morales is being pursued by NL teams as well as AL teams, according to agent Scott Boras. @FOXSports1

    — Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 18, 2013

    Jerry Crasnick reports that Boras wants to get the New York Mets involved in the Morales bidding, even though they already have two internal solutions at first base.

    Neither of Morales' former teams, the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, make sense. The former has signed Raul Ibanez as a designated hitter, while Seattle will have a tough time finding playing time for its surplus of first baseman/designated hitter types.

    The Orioles could use his bat, but only if the asking price comes down. Moreover, Jon Morosi tweets that Morales' link to a compensatory draft pick is a "substantial barrier" for them.

11. RP Grant Balfour

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    Leon Halip/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, according to Baseball-Reference.com (subscription required). 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, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays


    Latest Rumors

    The O's halted their pursuit of Balfour when his physical allegedly revealed a medical red flag, causing the club to void its $15 million agreement.

    If only this situation were that simple. Balfour's agent, Seth Levinson, states that his client is "completely healthy" (h/t Jerry Crasnick, ESPN), and that the Orioles must have abruptly changed their minds. 

    ESPN's Jim Bowden tweets that the Rays have interest. Balfour spent the 2007-2010 seasons with them, posting a 3.33 earned run average and gaining his first late-inning opportunity. If signed, he'd presumably battle Heath Bell and Joel Peralta for the closer's title in spring training.

    Actually, a handful of teams see Baltimore's hesitancy as their gain, according to Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio.

    That includes the Yankees, Kevin Kernan of the New York Post reports. As much as New York believes in David Robertson (2.76 career earned run average through six seasons), the club values Balfour's experience in the ninth. The San Francisco Chronicle's Hank Schulman confirms that Balfour conversations have taken place in the Giants front office, but judging by his Twitter tone, he's skeptical of a deal being completed.

12. SP Bronson Arroyo

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    Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
    2013 Stats with Cincinnati Reds
    32/32 202.0 3.79 4.49 5.52 1.51 0.8 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 6 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: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays


    Latest Rumors

    Arroyo, who expected to sign a new deal early in the offseason, indicates to Jerry Crasnick that he's getting a bit restless (h/t Zach Links, MLB Trade Rumors):

    "There's no point in me really thinking about where my perfect place is, because I don't know who's interested," Arroyo told Crasnick. "It's like going to a party and the whole premise is to find a wife. There are ten girls there, and three of them are smoking hot, but they don't even look in your direction twice, so there's no point in going after them. Then maybe somebody else comes along who didn't seem so attractive at first, and you like what she's saying and you think, 'Hey, maybe this is the one.' That's the way I see it. I can't pick and choose teams."

    Contrary to reports, he has not received a one-year offer to rejoin the Reds, nor is he nearing a multi-year deal with the Twins. But Minnesota has kept talks alive with him, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN.

    David O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets that the Braves never showed interest in Arroyo. They have recently added rotation depth with the signing of Gavin Floyd.

    According to Eduardo A Encina of The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore eyes veterans with a track record of stability. If A.J. Burnett retires or rejoins the Pirates, the O's are expected to go hard after Arroyo.

13. RP Jesse Crain

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Chicago White Sox/Tampa Bay Rays
    38/0 36.2 0.74 1.52 11.29 2.70 1.9 

    Status: Signed by Houston Astros

    Position Rank: No. 3 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible)


    Why Teams Wanted 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 considerably younger than Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Astros have signed free agent RHP Jesse Crain. Former U of Houston Cougar posted 0.74 ERA in 2013.

    — Houston Astros (@astros) December 31, 2013

    Crain was reportedly being wooed by several of baseball's least competitive teams. The Astros (51-111 in 2013) edged out two other cellar-dwellers, the Miami Marlins (62-100) and Chicago Cubs (66-96).

    As was mentioned in the above tweet, Crain spent his collegiate career in Houston. We've yet to find out whether that influenced his decision.

    Regardless, a one-year deal was to be expected.