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. Avoiding major injury during 2014 would put Crain in line for the long-term guarantee that he envisioned before suffering a right shoulder strain.

    Speaking of which, Houston general manager Jed Luhnow expects him to be available for "a vast majority" of this coming season (h/t Brian McTaggart, MLB.com). Crain could begin throwing in mid-January.

    The dominant veteran joins fellow free-agent signees Chad Qualls and Matt Albers in the Astros' revamped bullpen.

14. SP Paul Maholm

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Atlanta Braves
    26/26153.0 4.41 4.24 6.18 2.76 0.7 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 7 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Want Him

    Paul Maholm frequently brings his A-game. There were nine starts over the past two seasons in which he didn't allow an earned run; Bartolo Colon was the only member of this free-agent class with more.

    The 31-year-old masterfully controls an opponent's running game, as demonstrated by the fact that 36.9 percent of would-be base-stealers have been apprehended.

    Possible Suitors: Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees

    Latest Rumors

    The Twins were "keeping tabs" on Maholm during the winter meetings, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

    The New York Post's Mike Puma tweets that the Mets chatted with Maholm's agentand Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York speculates that the free-agent left-hander could make sense for the Yankees.

    The Beanball's Ben Berkon notes that Maholm's past four seasons of stats resemble those of Jason Vargas, Scott Feldman and other free-agent starters to receive multi-year deals worth north of $20 million. Signing Maholm for significantly less than that—which seems inevitable—could make him one of the winter's best values.

15. RP Fernando Rodney

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Tampa Bay Rays
    68/066.2 3.38 2.84 11.07 4.86 1.3 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 4 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Want Him

    During his tenure with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2012-2013, Fernando Rodney amassed 158 strikeouts. That's tied with John Axford for the highest total among free-agent relievers.

    Rodney also distinguish himself with his closing experience. No other available pitcher has spent three full major league seasons with a ninth-inning gig (2009, 2012, 2013).

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners

    Latest Rumors

    "Right now," Eduardo A. Encina reports, "it looks like the Orioles are shelving their search for a closerat least temporarily—in order to focus on other needs."

    According to The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly, three other clubs are also showing "significant interest" in Rodney. Although the Yankees clearly have openings in their bullpen, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News hears that they aren't too interested in a "big-money closer" like Rodney.

    MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo emphasizes that, contrary to previous reports, the 36-year-old isn't pushing for a deal worth $10 million in average annual value.

16. SP Joe Saunders

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    2013 Stats with Seattle Mariners
    32/32183.0 5.26 4.72 5.26 3.00 0.6 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 8 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Want Him

    Long-term contracts given to Ricky Nolasco and Jason Vargas this winter show how much the league values durable starting pitchers. Joe Saunders is the lone left-hander still available in free agency who made 30-plus starts in 2013; plus, he has averaged more than 31 per season dating back to 2008.

    The Virginia native annihilates opponents when working with the platoon advantage. He held left-handed-swinging opponents to a .214/.251/.314 batting line last summer. 

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Miami Marlins, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays

    Latest Rumors

    Saunders rose through the Los Angeles Angels farm system at the same time as Jeff Mathis, who now catches with the Fish. Mathis was his primary battery mate in 2008, the best campaign of his career.

    Coming off a disappointing season, he may prefer a one-year deal—even with a non-competitive team—that allows him to work with a familiar game-caller (and test free agency again as soon as possible).

17. C John Buck

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with New York Mets/Pittsburgh Pirates
    110 .222 .288 .365 15 1.4 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 1 catcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible)

    Why Teams Want Him

    John Buck is an excellent source of durability behind the plate, with more than 100 starts at catcher in eight of the past nine seasons. He also provides above-average power at the position.

    With near-identical offensive results against left-handers and right-handers, there's no need to platoon him.

    Possible Suitors: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals

    Latest Rumors

    The Cubs and Mariners were considering Kurt Suzuki before he signed with Minnesota, so they'll presumably view Buck the same way if the price is right.

    CSNWashington.com's Chase Hughes thinks he's somebody that the Nats may target. Internal candidates for their backup catcher's job include Chris Snyder, Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon, none of whom have much momentum heading into 2014.

18. SP Chris Capuano

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Dodgers
    24/20105.2 4.26 3.55 6.90 2.04 1.0 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 9 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Want Him

    Chris Capuano avoided the disabled list in both 2011 and 2012, and he issued barely one walk per start this past season.

    He has gone 27 straight appearances (23 starts) without surrendering a home run to a left-handed batter.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins

    Latest Rumors

    Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the Twins showed some interest in Capuano earlier in the offseason. Despite the aforementioned rotation additions, they're still lacking left-handedness.

19. SP/RP Bruce Chen

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Kansas City Royals
    34/15121.0 3.27 4.125.802.681.4 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 10 starting pitcher, No. 5 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Want Him

    Bruce Chen has posted an ERA+ that's better than the league average in three of the past four seasons.

    Chen's diverse repertoire of pitches allows him to overcome a laughable lack of velocity. The 36-year-old will age gracefully so long as he gets ahead in the count. 

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants

    Latest Rumors

    Chen was among a handful of rotation candidates that the Mets considered at the winter meetings, tweets Jon Heyman. He pitched for the franchise from 2001-2002.

    Chen employer for the past five seasons, the Royals could welcome him back as a swingman.

20. 1B/3B/DH Mark Reynolds

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    Elsa/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cleveland Indians/New York Yankees
    135 .220 .306 .393 21 0.4 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 first baseman, No. 1 third baseman, No. 3 designated hitter

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible)

    Why Teams Want Him

    Mark Reynolds has racked up at least 35 extra-base hits in each of his MLB seasons, which attests to both his durability and his extraordinary raw power.

    The risk of a rapid decline is low considering that Reynolds only turned 30 this past August.

    Possible Suitors: Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays

    Latest Rumors

    Source: Yankees and Mark Reynolds' agent have talked, but "nothing close" at the moment. Several teams interested in Reynolds.

    — Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) December 17, 2013

    Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was evidently intrigued by Reynolds' .755 OPS from 36 games in the Bronx late last summer.

    Brian McTaggart writes that Houston would like another batter who's capable of handling first base. Reynolds has spent more than 2,000 major league innings at the position.

    The Rays are well staffed at the infield corners, so their interest in Reynolds, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, is presumably as a designated hitter. He could also spell James Loney against tough lefties.

21. DH/OF Raul Ibanez

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Seattle Mariners
    124 .242 .306 .487 29 0.0 

    Status: Signed by Los Angeles Angels (one year, $2.75 million)

    Position Rank: No. 4 designated hitter, No. 3 outfielder

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Wanted Him

    In 2013, MLB's quintessential "keep gettin' dem checks" guy became one of the oldest players ever with 50 extra-base hits in a season, per Baseball-Reference.com (subscription required). He's a safe bet to produce against right-handed pitching.

    Much of Raul Ibanez's value to a team comes from his activities off the field. He uses 18 major league seasons of experience to mentors younger players, but he also makes a tremendous impact on the surrounding community.

    Ibanez was the Seattle Mariners' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award and winner of the 49th annual Hutch Award, per Greg Johns of MLB.com.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    #Angels Raul Ibanez has passed his physical. His one year deal is official. $2.75M base. Up to $5 w/incentives.

    — Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) December 27, 2013

    The Angels will be his fourth team in as many seasons, following stints with the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Mariners.

    Ken Rosenthal notes that Ibanez has thrived at Angel Stadium in the past. However, he also reported that the Angels were expected to hold off on a signing like this until they determined how much they would allocate toward free-agent pitching. Jeff Fletcher of The Orange County Register reassures us that this signing doesn't impede the Halos from going after Matt Garza or Masahiro Tanaka.

    General manager Jerry Dipoto was drawn to Ibanez's intangibles (h/t Jesse Spector, Sporting News). He must've also seen his willingness to play the outfield as a plus.

    A return to the Bronx always seemed improbable. The Yankees have a jam-packed outfield and preference to rotate players at the DH spot.

    Ibanez will attempt to replace some of the middle-of-the-order power that was lost in L.A.'s Mark Trumbo trade.

22. 3B/1B Eric Chavez

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Arizona Diamondbacks
    80 .281 .332 .478 0.7 

    Status: Signed by Arizona Diamondbacks (one year, $3.5 million)

    Position Rank: No. 2 third baseman, No. 3 first baseman

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Wanted Him

    The power has returned to Eric Chavez's bat over the past two seasons, as he's racked up 25 home runs in just 567 total plate appearances. In particular, Chavez continues to excel against right-handed pitching.

    The former Gold Glover has increased his versatility in recent years with a handful of starts at first base. 

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    eric chavez gets $3.5M plus $1M with roster bonuses on 1-year deal. #dbacks

    — Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 19, 2013

    Source: Chavez’s incentives with #DBacks: $250K each for 60, 90, 120 and 150 games played. Base of $3.5M first reported by @JonHeymanCBS.

    — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 19, 2013

    Agent Scott Leventhal told Jon Heyman that Chavvy's mind was wide open during the free-agent process. He generated interest from the Miami Marlins, New York Yankees and Washington Nationals, among others.

    Ultimately, Heyman tweets that comfort was the deciding factor for Chavez, who had spent the previous year in Arizona. It also helps that this $3.5 million guarantee represents the largest he's received since those Oakland A's days.

    For the entire second half of his career, Chavez has been bothered by injuries. He perennially participated in fewer than half his team's games from 2008-2011, and made only 52 starts last summer.

    But the D-Backs won't demand much from him, anyway. The acquisition of Mark Trumbo filled up their outfield, allowing Martin Prado to entrench himself at third base. And of course, Paul Goldschmidt has the everyday job on the other side of the diamond.

23. RP J.P. Howell

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Dodgers
    67/062.0 2.18 2.89 7.84 3.34 0.7 

    Status: Signed by Los Angeles Dodgers (two years, $11.25 million)

    Position Rank: No. 6 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible) 

    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Since returning from shoulder surgery in 2011, J.P. Howell has allowed fewer than 23 percent of inherited baserunners to score. That's better than prominent southpaws like Scott Downs and Boone Logan have done over that same period.

    He's a nightmare for left-handed opponents, but Howell also held righties to a .222/.312/.296 batting line last summer. Still only 30 years old, the confidence he has in off-speed pitches should allow him to age gracefully.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    JP Howell #Dodgers pact: $3M sign. $4M in '14, '15. Club opt '16 $6.25M or $250G buyout. If exercised, player may void/ forfeit buyout.

    — Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 20, 2013

    Howell's '16 option becomes plyr option at $6.25M if (1) 65g in '15 or 120g in '14-15 AND (2) Not on DL at end '15 season. #Dodgers

    — Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 20, 2013

    Howell won't match the three-year, $16.5 million guarantee that Boone Logan received from the NL West rival Colorado Rockies. He has the opportunity to out-earn him, however, by replicating his recent stretch of durability and effectiveness (122 appearances from 2012-2013).

    Everything about the Dodgers is expensive, but their bullpen bill is especially steep.

    Aside from Howell, setup man Brian Wilson has $10 million headed into his bank account this coming summer, and MLB Trade Rumors' Matt Swartz projects a $4.8 million arbitration settlement for closer Kenley Jansen. And let's not forget about Brandon League. There's another two years and $15 million to go on his head-scratching contract.

24. 2B Brian Roberts

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Baltimore Orioles
    77 .249 .312 .392 0.9

    Status: Deal pending with New York Yankees (one year, $2 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 second baseman

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Wanted Him

    What was initially a thin class of free-agent middle infielders is now devoid of any who are capable of playing on a daily basis. Brian Roberts is as close as any team can get to filling its second base vacancies without participating in a trade.

    In starting 24 of the final 28 Baltimore Orioles games while slashing .250/.306/.450 with five home runs, Roberts went into the offseason with some momentum.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Also Brian Roberts deal w the #Yankees could reach up to $4.6M if all incentives -- based on PAs -- are reached in 2014. Its $2M guaranteed

    — Dan Connolly (@danconnollysun) December 20, 2013

    Coming off four straight injury-plagued years with the Baltimore Orioles (averaged only 202 plate appearances per season), Roberts unsurprisingly had to settle for a pay cut. At least the aforementioned late-season flourish secured him a major league deal.

    The 36-year-old expects to see the lion's share of starts at second base in 2014, with Kelly Johnson serving in more of a utility role.

    The Yankees were previously in talks with the Cincinnati Reds regarding Brandon Phillips, but this clearly eliminates that possibility. Although Phillips has much more upside than Roberts at this point, the $50 million remaining on his contract is a big turn-off.

    Ken Rosenthal notes that Roberts' arrival doesn't deter New York from exploring another infielder acquisition. Given his experience at both corners, Mark Reynolds makes a lot of sense.

25. C Kurt Suzuki

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Washington Nationals/Oakland Athletics
    94 .232 .290 .337 -0.2 

    Status: Signed by Minnesota Twins (one year, $2.75 million)

    Position Rank: No. 2 catcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible) 

    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Kurt Suzuki puts a ton of balls in play (only 11.9 K% for his career). Because he runs fairly well—by catcher standards, anyway—he has seldom grounded into double plays during the past two seasons.

    He will only be 30 years old for the entire 2014 season. 


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    The Twins' salary dump of Ryan Doumit on Dec. 18 hinted that they would pick up a catcher in free agency. It's proven to be a clever sequence of moves by them, as Suzuki will earn less than Doumit would have ($3.5 million) while providing much better defense behind the plate.

    Specifically, Suzuki excels at blocking pitches in the dirt. In 2013, only Yadier Molina was worth more runs above average in those situations (min. 500 innings).

    What's left to determine is how he will split playing time with Josmil Pinto. As a rookie last season, Pinto batted .342/.398/.566 in 21 games.

26. RP Scott Downs

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Angels/Atlanta Braves
    68/043.1 2.49 3.09 7.68 3.95 0.6 

    Status: Signed by Chicago White Sox (one year, $4 million)

    Position Rank: No. 7 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible) 

    Why Teams Wanted Him

    In seven seasons pitching exclusively out of the bullpen (2007-2013), Scott Downs has posted the following in terms of ERA+: 207, 238, 144, 159, 282, 122, 155. So he's consistently great (albeit in limited innings).

    Downs perennially dominates left-handed opponents and suppresses home runs against everybody. He has experience pitching in 29 of the 30 active MLB ballparks.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Scott Downs deal 3. 75 in 14 .option 4.25 in 15 with 250 k buyout

    — Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) December 19, 2013

    That 2015 option is controlled by the club, according to the official White Sox Twitter account.

    The bullpen was Chicago's greatest strength in 2013, but the front office has since traded Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Addison Reed. Downs' track record of dominance against lefties qualifies him to replace the former.

    A sloppy finish to the summer—3.86 ERA, 1.93 WHIP with the Atlanta Braves—clearly affected Downs' free-agent value. Other prominent southpaw relievers, like Javier Lopez, J.P. Howell and Boone Logan, received eight-figure guarantees earlier this offseason.

27. RP/SP Chad Gaudin

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with San Francisco Giants
    30/1297.0 3.06 3.34 8.16 3.711.1 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 8 relief pitcher, No. 10 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Want Him

    Statistically, Chad Gaudin's 2013 was eerily similar to Bruce Chen's, particularly in terms of workload, earned run average and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    Being barely 30 years old, he's a safer bet to produce throughout a multi-year deal than other swingmen.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, New York Yankees

    Latest Rumors

    The Baltimore #Orioles are looking for a starter, and have expressed interest in former #Giants starter Chad Gaudin.

    — Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 10, 2013

    The Astros are another club that's been linked to Gaudin, reports Brian McTaggart.

    The San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea doesn't foresee him staying in the Bay Area.

28. RP Chris Perez

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cleveland Indians
    54/054.0 4.33 5.08 9.00 3.50-0.9 

    Status: Signed by Los Angeles Dodgers (one year, $2.3 million)

    Position Rank: No. 9 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Even this past season, which was the worst of his MLB career, Chris Perez was letting his fielders catch their breath by striking out a batter per inning. His velocity should rebound as the right-hander distances himself from 2013's shoulder issues.

    From 2010-2012, Perez posted an 89.1 percent conversion rate in his save opportunities. That's virtually identical to what Craig Kimbrel did during that same period (Perez recorded nine more saves in 10 more chances).

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Perez attended the minter meetings in person, according to Buster Olney, to explain to teams why they should trust someone who shipped marijuana to himself under his dog's name.

    Evidently, the Dodgers were satisfied with his explanation. Perez has since entered the league's drug treatment program and undergone regular tests (h/t Ken Gurnick, MLB.com).

    Jeff Fletcher of The Orange County Register implies that the incentives in this deal are attainable through appearances and games finished. Both ought to be difficult to come by in the Dodgers' crowded bullpen.

    With Perez in the fold, the reigning NL West champs now employ three relievers with ample closing experience. Along with Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen, he ranks among MLB's top 30 in terms of total saves since the 2010 season.

    Of course, Perez is coming off a weaker campaign than those two. From the onset of 2014, the 28-year-old shouldn't expect to see much action beyond the seventh inning.

    The New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles were among Perez's other possible landing spots. Both eyed him for more significant roles than the one he'll occupy in L.A.

29. SP Johan Santana

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images
    2012 Stats with New York Mets
    21/21117.0 4.85 4.09 8.54 3.00 1.4 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 11 starting pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No 

    Why Teams Want Him

    When last seen on a major league mound, Johan Santana was still demonstrating plenty of swing-and-miss ability. He also showed the stamina to throw two complete games in 2012, including a no-hitter. 

    As a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, he has invaluable knowledge to impart to the younger members of a pitching staff.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays

    Latest Rumors

    Johan Santana update: told he has offers. Nothing imminent. That can change fast though. #MNTwins have NOT made an offer. Remain interested.

    — Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) December 30, 2013

    At this point, the Twins appear more focused on durable rotation candidates, like Masahiro Tanaka and Bronson Arroyo. Santana has pitched just 117 total innings since 2011.

    Santana is "getting closer" to taking one of the several minor league deals he's been presented with, according to Nick Cafardo. MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo confirms this.

30. RP Francisco Rodriguez

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
    2013 Stats with Milwaukee Brewers/Baltimore Orioles
    48/046.2 2.70 3.65 10.41 2.70 0.3 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 10 relief pitcher

    Qualifying Offer: No (ineligible) 

    Why Teams Want Him

    Francisco Rodriguez has by far the most closing experience of any remaining free agent (three-time American League saves leader). He's been doing less high-leverage work over the past four seasons, but he issued fewer than four walks per nine innings in each of those campaigns.

    Since 2006, K-Rod has only landed on the disabled list once, and he suffered that injury during a non-baseball-related incident, per Paul White of USA Today.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies

    Latest Rumors

    CSN Baltimore's Richard Dubroff writes that Rodriguez never fit in with the Orioles. Nonetheless, Dan Connolly hears that they've "recently reached out to Rodriguez’s camp to see if he’d at least be willing to consider a return."

Honorable Mentions

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    Jason Hammel
    Jason HammelAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The list of useful, available players rolls on with these veterans, whose free-agent stocks have been damaged by injury and/or inconsistency: Andrew Bailey, Wilson Betemit, Alexi Casilla, Eric O'Flaherty, Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Hammel, Aaron Harang, Lyle Overbay, Oliver Perez, Jose Veras, Suk-Min Yoon 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.