MLB Free Agents Who Should Take Big One-Year Deals, Try Again Next Winter
If at first you don't succeed, dust yourself off and try again.
No, we're not talking about music from Aaliyah, but her lyrics can be used as a free-agent strategy for some of the best players left on the board this winter.
With pitchers and catchers due to report to spring training in less than 50 days, the Major League Baseball hot stove should be cooling down. Yet, many free agents are available and hoping to land a big contract before the start of the season.
For some, they most certainly will. Using this free-agent tracker from Yahoo! Sports, seven of the 20 best players are still out on the open market. For pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, lucrative deals will happen soon.
For others, it may behoove them to accept a one-year deal, rebuild their value in 2014 and head back into the open market next winter.
Here's a look at those players.
*Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted.
Fernando Rodney, RP
For Fernando Rodney, timing is everything.
If the 36-year-old reliever hit free agency last winter off the heels of the best relief pitching season in baseball history (74.2 IP, 0.60 ERA), multi-year offers would have come cascading through his door.
Instead, Rodney had a solid, if not spectacular 2013 (66.2 IP, 3.38 ERA) for Tampa Bay. As teams shy away from offering him a deal worthy of his breakout performance of 2012, Rodney should consider taking a one-year deal—possibly as a set-up man on a quality team—before jumping back into free agency next winter.
That situation, if chosen correctly, could parlay Rodney into the top of the relief pitcher market for 2015.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the free-agent closers for 2015 include Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson and Sergio Romo. A healthy and productive Rodney could profile as the best of that group, especially if his numbers are anywhere close to the level of 2012.
Nelson Cruz, OF
At first glance, Nelson Cruz wasn't on this list.
After all, he's a 32-year-old outfielder without any value on defense or speed on the bases. Unlike Jayson Werth, who garnered a seven-year, $126 million contract after his age-31 season, Cruz isn't viewed as an all-around talent who will age well.
Months removed from a 27-home run campaign, it felt like now or never for the free-agent outfielder.
Yet, as the offseason progresses, it's hard to believe that Cruz will be fairly compensated for the slugger he's become. In the aftermath of the Biogenesis scandal, Cruz served a 50-game suspension, cutting short what would have likely been a 40-plus home run campaign.
During the 2013 season, only 14 players hit 30-plus home runs. Of those, only two—Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera—slugged over 40.
If Cruz accepts a one-year deal for 2014, slugs 40-plus home runs and avoids any whisper of more performance-enhancing drug allegations, he'll hit the market next winter labeled as a rare commodity in the game today: a consistent slugger.
Since 2009, Cruz's 135 home runs rank 17th in all of baseball. Tacking 40-plus home runs on to that ledger would likely vault the right-handed slugger into the top 10 in all of baseball for a six-year period.
Concerns, defense, speed and age aside, that's enough to change the fate of Cruz's free-agent plight.
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH
Unfortunately for Kendrys Morales and his agent, Scott Boras, the 30-year-old switch-hitter has two things working against his quest for a lucrative, long-term deal: Seattle's one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer, and positional bias.
When Morales, advised by Boras, turned down $14.1 million for 2014, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the market hadn't truly taken shape. Now, with draft-pick compensation tied to any Morales free-agent agreement, his market has been suppressed.
Furthermore, after playing only 59 of 290 games at first base over the last two years, Morales is viewed as a designated hitter around baseball. Removing the entire National League from his potential landing spots has been detrimental.
However, when Morales does play the field, he's serviceable. If he can convince a team, regardless of league, to sign him for one year and allow him to play more first base, a true free-agent star could emerge next winter.
That quest would be aided by another sound offensive season by Morales, much like the last two solid campaigns for the slugger.
Since the start of the 2012 season, 18 players who qualify as a first baseman or designated hitter have posted an OPS+ of at least 120. Of those 18, Morales' 106 extra-base hits rank 11th over that span, ahead of more heralded hitters like Mike Napoli, Allen Craig and Billy Butler.
If Morales vaults himself higher on that list and plays an adequate first base, he'll be the best option among first baseman on the open market next winter, per MLB Trade Rumors.
Jason Hammel, SP
Jason Hammel reached free agency one year too late.
If the 31-year-old starting pitcher had hit the open market last winter, he would have been able to sell himself as one of only six starting pitchers in Major League Baseball to post a groundball percentage of at least 50 percent and K/9 rate of better than 8.0.
Those numbers, matched only by A.J. Burnett, David Price, James Shields, Adam Wainwright and Edinson Volquez, helped Hammel to a career year (3.43 ERA, 3.29 FIP) for the 2012 Baltimore Orioles.
Last year, things didn't go as smoothly for the free-agent righty. In 23 starts, Hammel posted a 4.97 ERA, watched his K/9 rate stumble to a paltry 6.2 and allowed 10.0 H/9.
When Hammel is stacked up against fellow free-agent starters like Masahiro Tanaka, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana, his chances of landing a long-term deal are remote.
If the former Orioles ace can find a one-year deal, re-establish the kind of dominance that accompanied his starts in 2012 and re-enter the free-agent market next year, he'll standout among a second-tier of pitchers that could include Gavin Floyd, Kyle Kendrick and Brandon McCarthy, per MLB Trade Rumors.
Your turn to play GM: Which free agent would you sign for one year?
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