How This MLB Offseason Will Impact the 2014-2015 Free-Agent Class

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How This MLB Offseason Will Impact the 2014-2015 Free-Agent Class
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In baseball, what happens one winter often impacts the next.

That's especially true when it comes to free agency, as players who will be hitting the open market a year from now are, no doubt, paying close attention to what their available counterparts are getting in terms of years and dollars this offseason.

Certainly, impressions and expectations will change because there are still a handful of big names available in free agency, mainly on the pitching front as everyone awaits the much-anticipated posting of Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.

But there also have been enough signings to this point in mid-December to help gauge what next year's free-agent class could be seeking in relation to this year's batch.

That in mind, here's a look at how the dollar signs could roll for many of the big-name free agents, based on what's happened so far.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Will anyone match or exceed Jacoby Ellsbury's $153 million deal with the Yankees next winter?

 

Will They Be Options?

Before we get to the potential contract comparisons and projections, here's a list of some of the bigger-name players who have options—both team and player—for the 2015 season, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

In most of these cases, their status for next offseason (i.e., whether they reach free agency or not) will depend how they perform in 2014. While many of these team options will be picked up, so long as the players don't suffer through serious struggles or injury, there's always the chance that the player could become available unexpectedly next winter. And there are more than a few whose options will be declined by the team, making the players free agents.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
With a $7 million club option for 2015, it's unlikely Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma sniffs free agency.
Big-Name Players with Options for 2015 Season
PLAYER POSITION TEAM OPTION BUYOUT
Hisashi Iwakuma RHP Mariners $7 M club option $1 M buyout
Johnny Cueto RHP Reds $10 M club option $0.8 M buyout
Yovani Gallardo RHP Brewers $13 M club option $0.6 M buyout
Billy Butler 1B/DH Royals $12.5 M club option $1 M buyout
Ben Zobrist 2B/OF Rays $7.5 M club option $0.5 M buyout
Alex Rios OF Rangers $13.5 M club option $1 M buyout
Nick Markakis OF Orioles $17.5 M mutual option $2 M buyout if club declines
Rafael Soriano RHP Nationals $14 M vesting/club option
Huston Street RHP Padres $7 M club option
Brian Wilson RHP Dodgers $8.5 M player option
Joakim Soria RHP Rangers $7 M club option $0.5 M buyout
Dan Haren RHP Dodgers $10 M player option (if 180 IP)
Brett Anderson LHP Rockies $12 M club option $1.5 M buyout
Adam LaRoche 1B Nationals $15 M mutual option $2 M buyout
Aramis Ramirez 3B Brewers Mutual option $4 M buyout
Yunel Escobar SS Rays $5 M club option
Wei-Yin Chen LHP Orioles $4.75 M club option $0.372 M buyout
Denard Span OF Nationals $9 M club option $0.5 M buyout
Jimmy Rollins SS Phillies $11 M vesting option
Adam Lind 1B/DH Blue Jays $7.5 M club option $1 M buyout
Ryan Ludwick OF Reds $9 M mutual option $4.5 M buyout
Chad Billingsley RHP Dodgers $14 M club option $3 M buyout

MLB Trade Rumors and Cots Contracts

David Banks/Getty Images
Unlike fellow righty Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo is a candidate to be bought out of the $13 million he's due in 2015.

 

Costs and Comparables

As for the players who are in line to reach free agency after 2014, well, there are a lot of names at the moment. That, of course, is liable and likely to change as players sign extensions to keep them with their current clubs.

For instance, that's expected to happen with Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, considering he's the best pitcher on the planet and his team is one of maybe two or three who actually could afford him. We'll omit Kershaw from the list below, then, since he's obviously in a different stratosphere from the other arms, if not all the other impending free agents altogether.

But here's a rundown of many of next winter's free-agents-to-be and what they might expect to get on the open market, if they get there, based on the contracts that have been inked in the past month or two.

 

Hanley Ramirez—SS

After trending downward for a few seasons, Ramirez once again looked like a superstar 2013, when he was on the field. He'll turn 30 before December's up and is probably best utilized at third base, but Ramirez will sell himself—and be bought—as a shortstop, which is an extremely hard-to-fill position.

As Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million) and Jacoby Ellsbury (seven for $153 million) showed, premium bats at up-the-middle positions tend to get paid in free agency, so Ramirez could be looking at $20 million in average annual value (AAV) over seven to 10 years.

There have been hints about an extension, but to get Ramirez to sign between now and next November, the Dodgers are going to have to pony up.

Al Bello/Getty Images
Max Scherzer will be one of top starters available, if he makes it to market next winter.

 

Max Scherzer, Homer Bailey, James Shields, Justin MastersonJohnny Cueto—RHPs and Jon Lester—LHP

With the top-of-the-market arms like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza (not to mention, Tanaka) still unsigned, this year's pitching market has yet to be set. Trying to price-check these six No. 1 or No. 2 starters, then, isn't easy.

Suffice it to say, though, that whatever the biggest deal signed by a pitcher this winter winds up being, anyone from the group above is likely to beat it. Next year's starting pitching market could be a huge upgrade over this year's.

Of course, the 2014-2015 class won't be quite that full, as a few of these top-of-the-rotationers will sign long-term extensions. In fact, Lester and the Boston Red Sox may be working toward one soon enough, as Tim Britton of the Providence Journal noted.

 

Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley—3Bs

The Panda's next contract will come down to two things: health and weight. If the 27-year-old can show he has both under control in 2014, he's likely to hit very well. If that happens, don't be shocked if he's seeking a nine-figure payday over six or seven years. The weight concerns will give teams pause, but his age and production (when healthy) will be hard to ignore. Sandoval may be the player with the most to lose or gain next offseason, depending on how he looks and performs in 2014.

Similarly, Headley is going to determine his own price. A strong 2014, and he could reasonably try asking for the $85-$90 million over five years that Brian McCann and Hunter Pence got. A middle-of-the-road effort, though, and he may be looking at Curtis Granderson's $60 million over four as the max. It's hard to see Headley dropping much below that level, even if he has a mediocre season, given that teams will still be holding out hope for a repeat of his 2012.

 

Yovani Gallardo and Jake Peavy—RHPs

These two occupy the second-tier starters club for now. Given that he's still only 27, Gallardo could jump back up to the top tier with a big rebound after a down year in 2013. In that scenario, he could possibly surpass the money handed out to one or more of Jimenez, Santana or Garza—especially if a few of the better arms sign extensions.

Peavy, on the other hand, is unlikely to do better than Ricky Nolasco just did in getting the Minnesota Twins to cough up $49 million over four years. There's too much age (32) and injury history on Peavy's resume at this stage of his career.

 

J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera—SSs

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
J.J. Hardy could top the $52 million that Jhonny Peralta got from the Cardinals.

All three players have their flaws, but as long as none falls on his face in 2014, they'll all be able to ask for something in the range of the four-year, $52 million that fellow shortstop Jhonny Peralta picked up from the St. Louis Cardinals.

Even though he's a few years older, Hardy (31) should get more than Cabrera (28) does, given his above-average defense and power—two areas that have been trending down for Cabrera. Lowrie, 29, might suffer a bit from the fact that he's capable of playing multiple positions, as teams could view him as more of a utility type than a starter, but still one who'll get a multi-year deal worth $10 million-plus per.

Keep an eye on what the still-available Stephen Drew gets, too, as that likely will impact at least one of these three.

 

Colby Rasmus—OF

While Sandoval may have the most to gain—or lose—between this winter and next, Rasmus could be No. 2 on that list. He's been an incredibly streaky player with problematic flaws and lapses over his five-year career. And yet, because he's still only 27 years old, the appeal will be that he's a center fielder whose best has yet to come.

A big 2014 could push Rasmus into the Pence range, but a less-good showing might find him hoping—and not getting—Granderson money and years.

 

Nick Markakis and Alex Rios—OFs

These two are lumped together as corner outfielders in their early-to-mid-30s who have been productive, if inconsistent, throughout their careers. The best either player is likely to land is Granderson's $60 million over four years, but keep tabs on what Nelson Cruz gets, too.

 

Michael Cuddyer—1B/OF and Victor Martinez—1B/DH

This one will depend on whether the 34-year-old Cuddyer can come close to repeating his fantastic, NL batting crown-winning 2013 next year. If he does, then Beltran's three-year, $45 million pact with the Yankees might be the target range for what could be his last contract.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Michael Cuddyer hit an NL-high .331 in 2013.

Martinez is in this mix, too, as another player in his mid-30s known almost exclusively for his bat. Even though he's a designated hitter, he might be able to cut it at first base, which could help him grab one last two- or three-year deal worth about $12-15 million per.

 

Brett Gardner and Norichika AokiOFs

Teams are appreciating defense more and more these days, but they haven't yet begun to properly value it—much less overpay for it—on the free-agent market. As such, it would be in Gardner's best interest to get back into the 30s or 40s in stolen bases, while doing his best to stay healthy.

If the Yankees bat the 30-year-old at the bottom of the order rather than at the top alongside Ellsbury, though, Gardner's counting stats will suffer, as will his price tag. Combine that with the fact that he'll be playing left field instead of center, and he may have trouble topping $10 million AAV. He should, though, get three or four years.

Meanwhile, something like Omar Infante's $30 million for four years sounds about right for the 31-year-old Aoki, considering he's a versatile outfielder who does a lot of the little things well.

 

Russell Martin—C

Martin is getting up there, but he'll still be 32 years old as the 2015 season gets underway, so he should be in line for his last shot at a fairly big multi-year deal, especially since he'll be the best available backstop.

Problem is, Martin, who is a strong defensive catcher, won't be perceived anywhere near as good as McCann, mainly from an offensive standpoint. So the question is: Will Martin be able to land more than what Carlos Ruiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia did in getting $26 million and $21 million, respectively, for three years? Probably so, but maybe not much more.

 

David Ortiz—DH

Recent rumors, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe, have it that there's been some discussion on the extension front to carry the longtime Red Sox star through the 2015 season. Wouldn't it be interesting, though, if that falls through and Ortiz hits the market at 39 years old next winter?

It would be tricky to give him multiple years, but given his history, continued production and playoff performances, Ortiz might be able to leverage teams against each other until that happens, sort of like Bartolo Colon did in getting his $20 million for two seasons from the New York Mets.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Would Boston really let Big Papi reach free agency after 2014?

 

Corey Hart, Mike Morse, Adam LaRoche and Adam Lind—1B/OF/DHs

Because of his lost 2013, any prediction here would be way too soon, but Hart is likely to fall into one of two camps: If he regains his health and power stroke, Mike Napoli's two-year, $32 million might be a goal; but if he doesn't bounce back, Hart will have trouble beating out the deals that guys like Nate McLouth ($10.8 million over two years) and David Murphy ($12 million over two years) inked.

Also potentially in this price range? Morse and a pair of Adams in LaRoche and Lind, all of whom will probably come up shy of Napoli's $16 million per but should be able to do better the $16 million per over two years that Marlon Byrd got from the Phillies, if they hit the market.

 

Coco Crisp and Torii Hunter—OFs

These veteran outfielders are well up there in age (34 and 38, respectively), but each could land himself one last multi-year agreement with a solid, healthy season. If they struggle or get hurt, though, nobody will break the bank, and they could be forced to look for about $7-$8 million for a single season, like Chris Young got from the Mets.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Will Brett Anderson finally put together a healthy season to keep his wallet healthy, too?

Jorge De La Rosa and Brett Anderson—LHPs

Josh Johnson and Ryan Dempster—RHPs

These four are strictly in the 2014-performance-determines-the-price-tag bin. The 36-year-old Dempster's best bet is probably a one-year pact at around $8-10 million AAV (think Dan Haren-esque).

On the other hand, De La Rosa, Anderson and Johnson each have some upside, but they've all had injuries and inconsistencies that could max them out at something like $30 million for three years—otherwise known as Scott Feldman money.

 

Sergio Romo, Rafael Soriano, Casey Janssen, Huston Street, Jim Johnson, Koji Uehara, Jason Grilli, David Robertson, Brian Wilson and Joakim Soria—RHPs

Consider this "The Joe Nathan Class." Each one of these arms is either a current, former or would-be closer, meaning the upshot is probably the same $10 million AAV that Nathan got from the Tigers. Instead of only two years, though, a couple of these names could land three- or (gasp) four-year deals.

Robertson, in particular, has a lot at stake, since he'll need to prove he belongs in the closer class of relievers, instead of with the group below.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
David Robertson has a lot on the line in 2014, including his salary for 2015—and beyond.

Luke Gregerson, Darren O'Day, Brad Ziegler—RHPs

Sean Burnett, Craig Breslow—LHPs

These five are solidly in the seventh- and eighth-inning classification among relievers, which ain't necessarily a bad thing for one's wallet these days. After all, left-handed setup men Boone Logan and Javier Lopez just finagled three years at $16.5 and $13 million, respectively, from the Rockies and Giants.

 

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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