Power Ranking the 11 Best MLB Free-Agent Signings so Far

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIDecember 12, 2012

Power Ranking the 11 Best MLB Free-Agent Signings so Far

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    It is hard to believe that we are just eight short weeks away from the start of spring training.

    Even with Josh Hamliton signing Thursday with the Los Angeles Angels, half of ESPN’s Top 50 on their MLB free-agent tracker list have inked contracts for next season.

    With Zack Greinke counting his millions in Los Angeles, the rest of the market should fall into place soon for starting pitchers.

    Despite all the words hammered out about Greinke and B.J. Upton’s big deals, there are quite a few deals that have made good value signings that have either helped a team or secured a key piece of the puzzle from leaving.

    All free-agent signings are gambles. What we think is a bad deal now could be seen as an absolute gem by the time that contract has run its course. And what could be seen now as a no-brainer could just really stink in a few years.

    So, going through the tea leaves, here are the best 10 free-agent signings of the hot-stove season so far.

    Statistics via Baseball-Reference

11. Mariano Rivera-New York Yankees

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    Contract: One year/$10 million (via CBS Sports)

    Seriously, there was never a real chance that he was ever going any place other than the New York Yankees.

    But in locking down one of the top closers in the game today, the Yankees look to have scored a sweetheart deal in signing a guy that will notch between 35 and 45 saves next season.

    Fans will also get the pleasure—if this indeed is Rivera’s last season, at age 43—in seeing the greatest closer in baseball history go out on his own terms.

    New York shelled out $15 million for another year of Hiroki Kuroda—a decent deal on its own—and could have easily paid that for Rivera if he pushed.

10. Jonathan Broxton-Cincinnati Reds

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    Contract: Three years/$21 million (via Fox Sports)

    Coming to the Cincinnati Reds in a deadline deal for two minor leaguers, Broxton backed up Aroldis Chapman in the closer role.

    His signing in Cincinnati now enables Chapman to fill a role in the starting rotation as Broxton as a chance to re-emerge as one of the premier closers of the game.

    A two-time All-Star with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Broxton hopes to turn back into the pitcher who saved 36 games in 2009 and carried a WHIP of 0.961.

    Even if he matches his 1.030 WHIP recorded with Reds last year, the decision to restore him to closer will be a good one for Dusty Baker.

9. Zack Greinke-Los Angeles Angels

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    Contract: Six years/$147 million (via Los Angeles Times) with an opt-out clause after three years.

    Yes, it really does come out to an average of $24.5 million per year, and yes, there is an opt-out halfway through the deal.

    But he will pitch the majority of his games in the very pitching-friendly National League West. He also gets to throw half his games at Dodger Stadium, one of the biggest outfields in baseball.

    Greinke will never have a better opportunity to show what he can do than where he is now.

    It may seem foolish to hand a pitcher with No. 2 credentials that kind of money, but he could not have found a better fit for his game than Chavez Ravine.

    Even with the overpay this deal feels like now, we could look back at this deal in a few years—like the Yankees and CC Sabathia—and think the Dodgers actually paid fair market value.

8. Mike Napoli-Boston Red Sox*

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    Contract: Three years/$39 million (via ESPN Boston)

    After trading away Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and failing to re-sign James Loney, the Boston Red Sox had a big hole to fill at first base. They are hoping that Mike Napoli is the guy to fill it.

    The market for first basemen is pretty weak overall, and—unless they wanted to send some prospects to Minnesota for the likes of Justin Morneau—there really was not a good value alternative to Napoli.

    As the Red Sox decide where exactly catching prospect Ryan Lavarnway fits in, Napoli can also catch a few games as needed and spell designated hitter David Ortiz when the big guy needs a rest.

    He is not going to hit for average, but he still has enough pop in the bat that pitchers really cannot afford to take him too lightly.

    *This is assuming he actually passes his physical, something Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says has not happened yet.

7. Kevin Youkilis-New York Yankees

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    Contract: One year/$12 million (via Los Angeles Times

    The New York Yankees have a gaping hole at third base with Alex Rodriguez’s hip injury, and Kevin Youkilis is the perfect man to fill it.

    After falling out of favor in Boston with then-manager Bobby Valentine, Youkilis was sent off to the Chicago White Sox for two players no longer in the Red Sox system.

    Considering how lethargic the Yankees looked at times last year, Youkilis’ hard-nosed style will rub off on his teammates similar to the way Paul O’Neill sparked those World Series teams a decade ago.

    He may not hit .300 like he did in Boston, but his defense is more than adequate, and he can play first base and DH as needed.

    If you are looking for the perfect role player to get you over the top, Kevin Youkilis is your guy.

6. Angel Pagan-San Francisco Giants

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    Contract: Four years/$40 million (via ESPN)

    Pagan’s arrival via an offseason trade from the New York Mets revitalized his career.

    In his first year in San Francisco, Pagan’s batting average climbed from .262 to .288, and he tripled a league-leading 15 times.

    He also was a very key part of the Giants' World Series championship, as he set the table extremely well as their leadoff hitter.

    Pagan scored a career-high 95 runs last year, and he plays above-average defense in center.

    Making just under $5 million last year, he was certainly due for a hefty raise. San Francisco really did not hesitate in obliging; he could have taken Torii Hunter money on the open market.

5. Joakim Soria-Texas Rangers

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    Contract: Two years/$8 million (via MLB.com)

    Coming off Tommy John surgery, the Texas Rangers hope they have locked down their setup man and have a pitcher who can close if something happens to Joe Nathan.

    This is a signing that screams low-risk/high-reward.

    Soria is only 28 years old. If he can successfully rehab after his second surgery, then his versatility in roles coming out of the pen becomes invaluable.

    If he struggles, he is barely making more than the average MLB salary. Texas really cannot lose here either way.

4. Russell Martin-Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Contract: Two years/$17 million (via Washington Post)

    He wanted to play in Pittsburgh.

    A team that has shown progress in contending the last couple years, Martin is the kind of player who can bring some needed experience and stability to a team trying to find its way.

    Make no mistake, the Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the reasons a second wild-card spot was created. Teams like theirs would not be taking on extra payroll in the past if they thought they stood no chance of making the postseason.

    Martin does not hit all that well now—hitting just .211 last year with the Yankees—but if he can handle the pitching staff and hit 20-plus home runs, then that contract will be well worth it.

3. Torii Hunter-Detroit Tigers

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    Contract: Two years/$26 million (via Huffington Post)

    Hunter may not possess the base-stealing ability he once did with the Minnesota Twins, but the Detroit Tigers are banking on his clubhouse presence, stellar defense and .300 batting average to get them a World Series.

    At 37, his window for winning a championship is growing short, but so is Detroit’s.

    He still plays 140 games a season and produces an OPS+ well above the league average (a career-high of 132 last year).

    The Tigers' platoon of Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks brought mixed results at best, while right fielder Brennan Boesch has fallen out of favor and is on the trading block.

    With the return of Delmon Young not likely, Hunter could also spell Victor Martinez at DH if they choose to use Martinez to catch an occasional game or if Hunter needs a break.

2. Dan Haren-Washington Nationals

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    Contract: One year/$13 million (via SI.com)

    As the Washington Nationals are learning from the abrupt end to their season at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, the signing of Dan Haren on a one-year deal is a great start.

    2012 was not a great year for Haren. The Angels finished third in the AL West, and Haren's 12-13 record and an 4.33 ERA certainly didn't help.

    Washington is so close to putting it all together and winning a championship. The Nationals will get Stephen Strasburg without an innings limit, and Haren will replace Edwin Jackson in the rotation.

    Haren finished seventh in the AL Cy Young voting in 2011. If he can return to the form that saw him go 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA, then the Nationals will have picked up quite the bargain.

1. Josh Hamilton-Los Angeles Angels

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    Contract: Five years/$125 million (via Los Angeles Times)

    Just five days after the Dodgers swoop in to get Zack Greinke, the Angels grab the biggest blue-chip on the board.

    Hamilton is far and away the best bat on the market this year and the Angels not only got him, but paid fair market value as well.

    With reports of teams offering close to $30 million a year for the slugger, he ended up taking less money than Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols took overall and turns the Angels into an instant World Series contender.

    In his four seasons in which Hamilton has played more than 100 games, he has never had an OPS+ of under 130. That means his offensive production is 30 percent better than league average.

    Topping 40 home runs last year, Hamilton will now bat clean up for a lineup that features Mike Trout leading off and Pujols batting third.

    The Angels will either sign another starter or trade a prospect to replace Greinke's place in the rotation and should be well on their way to meaningful October baseball.


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