Top MLB Free Agents, Trade Targets Still Available at Every Position
Sifting through the remaining options on the 2014 MLB free-agent market, there is one observation that becomes immediately apparent.
While there are only a few everyday-caliber position players left to be signed, the market for pitchers, in particular for starters, is still loaded with talent. The same is true on the trade block where David Price leads the list of stars who remain up for grabs.
The relief market also boasts an impressive collection of arms, but there are other positions that are downright barren. Here's a breakdown of the top MLB free-agents and trade targets still available at every position.
First Basemen/Designated Hitters
Kendrys Morales is the top remaining option on the market for first basemen and designated hitters. The 30-year-old hit .277/.336/.449 with 23 home runs in 2013, but so far he has generated little buzz, as the team that signs him will have to give up a draft pick. There are also concerns over Morales' defensive prowess as he played in just 31 games in the field in 2013.
After Morales, the rest of the free agents are bench bats and platoon options. Mark Reynolds brings plenty of power at the cost of massive strikeout totals. Jeff Baker provides major production against lefties (1.073 OPS) but is far less effective against right-handers (.536 OPS).
The next tier of players includes veterans like Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner, who will all likely have to settle for minor league deals.
On the trade front, the New York Mets are looking to unload Ike Davis. The club has held "extensive talks" with the Milwaukee Brewers, but a swap isn't imminent, according to Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News.
Mitch Moreland of the Texas Rangers could also be on the trade block. As Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets, both Davis and Moreland are on the Pittsburgh Pirates' radar.
There aren't any starting-caliber second basemen left on the market.
However, players like Alexi Casilla, Ramon Santiago, Elliot Johnson, Jayson Nix and Chris Getz should all get the chance to land jobs as utility infielders during spring training.
Howie Kendrick, Rickie Weeks and Brandon Phillips have been among the second basemen to hit the trade block this offseason. It appears, though, that each of the three will be staying with his respective club in 2014.
The chances that the Los Angeles Angels will deal Kendrick decreased sharply once the team sent Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Weeks meanwhile hit just .209 last season and is owed $11 million for 2014. Phillips provides the most production of the trio but is also slated to earn $50 million over the next four seasons.
Stephen Drew is the undisputed top option on the free-agent market for shortstops. Still, there has been a noticeable lack of buzz surrounding Drew, who, like Morales, will cost his new team a draft pick. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe weighed in on Drew's situation: "Agent Scott Boras insisted at the Winter Meetings that there was a lively market for Drew. But the market has not made itself known several weeks since that statement."
The longer the 2013 World Series champion remains out on the market, the more likely it becomes that he returns to the Boston Red Sox on a a short-term deal. Aside from Drew, there isn't much to choose from on the free-agent front. Cesar Izturis, who hit .209 last season for the Cincinnati Reds, is the next most compelling option.
The Philadelphia Phillies are "very willing" to deal shortstop Jimmy Rollins, according to Buster Olney of ESPN. Even with the lack of shortstops available on the market, that will be no easy task. As Olney observes, Rollins has a no-trade clause and is still owed a substantial amount of money. The three-time All-Star makes $11 million in 2014 and has a vesting option for the same amount in 2015. Rollins' output dropped significantly last year, as he posted a .667 OPS and hit just six home runs.
With Kevin Youkilis off to Japan, Michael Young is the best unsigned third baseman. The 14-year veteran hit .279 last year while splitting time with the Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers. Young would be an ideal fit in the National League, where he could be utilized as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement. Placido Polanco is the next most useful player in a marketplace severely lacking for depth.
The San Diego Padres have at least considered the possibility of moving Chase Headley. The third baseman, who becomes a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, clubbed 31 home runs back in 2012 while also earning a Gold Glove.
Last year, though, Headley hit just .250 with 13 home runs. Now the Padres have to decide if they should sign him to an extension or possibly deal the third baseman either this offseason or before next July's trade deadline.
Nelson Cruz is by far the most productive outfielder left on the market, and the two-time All-Star will also command by far the most lucrative deal. The Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners are both in on the slugger, but it remains to be seen just how much money it will take to secure his signature.
According to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Cruz reportedly rejected a five-year, $75 million offer from the Mariners. Cruz's ability to dictate his own price is largely due to the utter lack of viable options.
The next tier of unsigned outfielders includes Andres Torres, Grady Sizemore, Juan Pierre, Rick Ankiel, Jeff Francoeur and Jason Bay. From that underwhelming group, Pierre, who stole 23 bases in 2013, makes for the most compelling pick.
Brett Gardner will almost certainly be with the New York Yankees on Opening Day 2014. As Bryan Hoch of MLB.com explains, the Yankees "do not intend to trade him unless they can score an upper-echelon starting pitcher in return."
Fellow Yankee outfielder Ichiro Suzuki could also find himself in danger of getting traded. However, it won't be easy for New York to find a taker for Suzuki. The 13-year veteran is set to make $6.5 million next season, and posted a career-worst .639 OPS in 2013.
Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have also been included in a wide array of trade rumors this offseason. However, the chance of either highly-paid outfielder leaving the Dodgers this offseason appears remote.
The free-agent market for catchers is looking incredibly thin.
John Buck is likely the only unsigned backstop who will land a big-league deal. Last year, the 33-year-old swatted 15 home runs, but only two of those long balls came after the month of June. Players like Kelly Shoppach, Yorvit Torrealba and Henry Blanco could also garner minor league deals with the potential to earn bench spots in spring training.
Already this offseason there's been a flurry of activity on the trade market for catchers. The Rays landed Ryan Hanigan in a three-team swap, the Braves acquired Ryan Doumit from the Minnesota Twins, the Pirates added Chris Stewart from the Yankees and the Oakland A's picked up Chris Gimenez from Tampa Bay.
Any other deals involving catchers this offseason are likely to fit into the same category of low-profile moves.
Masahiro Tanaka leads an impressive class of free-agent starters that have yet to find new employers for the 2014 season.
The Japanese right-hander went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season in Japan. However, there have been concerns over the 25-year-old's elevated pitch counts. During the Japan Series, Tanaka threw 160 pitches in a complete game loss. Still, one MLB team executive told Olney that "he believes Tanaka will receive a deal in the $150 million range."
The next group of starters includes Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza. Of those three, Garza represents arguably the most intriguing option, as he's the only one who isn't attached to draft-pick compensation.
Veteran workhorses like Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett could also be strong additions. Plus, neither starter will command as many dollars or years as Santana, Jimenez and Garza.
Mark Mulder could also be worth an incentive-laden deal. The left-hander hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008, but Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that Mulder recently worked out for five MLB teams.
David Price has been available all offseason, but so far there has been next to zero activity surrounding the left-handed ace. The Rays are in no rush to offload the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, who still remains under club control for two more seasons.
Jeff Samardzija has been heavily linked to an exit from the Chicago Cubs this offseason. However, the right-hander told Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago that his "first preference" is to stay with the Cubs.
Phillies' left-handers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are also both on the trade block. As Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets, the Phillies "won't eat any money" in a potential deal. That means both aces are likely to stay put as Lee makes $50 million in 2014 and 2015 combined and has a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016. Hamels meanwhile earns $112.5 million over the next five seasons with a $20 million club option for 2019.
Grant Balfour headlines a talented group of relievers still available on the free-agent market. Last season, the right-hander ripped off 38 saves while representing Oakland in the All-Star Game. Balfour agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, but the team backed out of the deal due to concerns over the health of his shoulder.
Fernando Rodney, who locked down 85 saves for the Rays over the past two seasons also remains unsigned. Francisco Rodriguez, who split time last season with the Brewers and the Orioles, also has closing experience on his resume. Rodriguez posted an impressive 10.4 K/9 ratio in 2013.
In terms of setup men, Jesse Crain and Eric O'Flaherty stand out. The left-handed O'Flaherty is coming off Tommy John surgery, but back in 2012 he tallied a 1.73 ERA in 64 games for the Braves. Crain missed extensive time in 2013 with a shoulder strain. When healthy, though, Crain was one of the most effective right-handed setup men in baseball last season.
The Phillies would love to get out from under Jonathan Papelbon's massive contract. The club owes him $26 million over the next two seasons and is also on the hook for a $13 million vesting option for 2016. Unless the Phillies would be willing to take on a substantial portion of that money, Papelbon will be essentially immoveable—especially with quality alternatives remaining via free agency.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.
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