2014 MLB Free-Agent Tracker: Rumors and Destinations for Top 50 Free Agents

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent INovember 1, 2013

2014 MLB Free-Agent Tracker: Rumors and Destinations for Top 50 Free Agents

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    As always, MLB free agency is expected to be a hectic period, with players of various abilities and experience levels marketing themselves to all 30 teams.

    There were 147 major league veterans who immediately began searching for work, according to MLB Trade Rumors. That total rose to 168 with various declined/voided options, the MLB Players' Association has announced (h/t Adam Rubin, ESPNNewYork.com). Dozens of others with less service time became available when they were not tendered contracts prior to the Dec. 2 deadline.

    We'll narrow our focus to the top 50.

    Despite several high-profile retirements, we're certain that Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and other available superstars will fuel the rumor mill in the coming weeks and months. 

    Here is where you'll find the latest, most relevant news, complete with contract analysis as soon as deals become official.

    *Stats provided by FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference unless otherwise specified.

Signed Free Agents in the Top 50

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Perhaps you don't want to go slide by slide to find information about a specific top free agent who's already off the market.

    That's why this page exists. Conveniently click the names in hyperlinks to visit slides for recently signed players that include their contract details, Bleacher Report's reaction and a recap of the bidding process:

    1. Robinson Cano — 10 years, $240 million from Seattle Mariners

    2. Jacoby Ellsbury — seven years, $153 million from New York Yankees

    5. Brian McCann — five years, $85 million from New York Yankees

    7. Hiroki Kuroda — one year, $16 million from New York Yankees

    8. Carlos Beltran — three years, $45 million from New York Yankees

    10. Jhonny Peralta — four years, $53 million from St. Louis Cardinals

    11. Mike Napoli two years, $32 million from Boston Red Sox

    14. Jarrod Saltalamacchia — three years, $21 million from Miami Marlins

    15. Joe Nathan — two years, $20 million from Detroit Tigers

    17. Ricky Nolasco — four years, $49 million from Minnesota Twins

    19. Curtis Granderson four years, $60 million from Minnesota Twins

    21. Marlon Byrd — two years, $16 million from Philadelphia Phillies

    24. Scott Kazmir — two years, $22 million from Oakland Athletics

    25. Tim Hudson — two years, $23 million from San Francisco Giants

    27. Jason Vargas — four years, $32 million from Kansas City Royals

    29. Nate McLouth two years, $10.75 million from Washington Nationals

    31. Brian Wilson — one year, $10 million from Los Angeles Dodgers

    33. Edward Mujica — two years, $9.5 million from Boston Red Sox

    36. Scott Feldman — three years, $30 million from Houston Astros

    39. Phil Hughes — three years, $24 million from Minnesota Twins

    40. Carlos Ruiz — three years, $26 million from Philadelphia Phillies

    41. Chris Young — one year, $7.25 million from New York Mets

    42. Daren Haren — one year, $10 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers

    43. David Murphy — two years, $12 million from Cleveland Indians

    44. Josh Johnson — one year, $8 million from San Diego Padres

    47. A.J. Pierzynski — one year, $8.25 million from Boston Red Sox

    48. Kelly Johnson — one year, $3 million from New York Yankees

Qualifying Offers

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    New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman has extended qualifying offers to six free agents in the past two years.
    New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman has extended qualifying offers to six free agents in the past two years.Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    You'll be seeing/hearing this phrase everywhere during the MLB offseason, so let's make sure we are all on the same page.

    The 125 highest player contracts in terms of average annual value are averaged together to determine how much the qualifying offer is worth. Any major league free agent is eligible to receive one. This winter, the offers will be $14.1 million, up from the $13.3 million that was offered to several of last year's free agents.

    More from the Associated Press (h/t SI.com):

    If a player rejects a qualifying offer and signs a major league contract with another club before the June amateur draft, his former team would receive a draft pick as compensation at the end of the first round. The club signing that player loses its first-round pick in the following amateur draft, unless that pick is among the top 10, in which case the club signing that player loses its next-highest pick.

    The following 13 free agents received qualifying offers, and all of them declined (players' 2013 teams in parentheses):

    • OF Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati Reds) — declined
    • OF Nelson Cruz (Texas Rangers) — declined
    • SS Stephen Drew (Boston Red Sox) — declined
    • SP Ubaldo Jimenez (Cleveland Indians) — declined
    • C Brian McCann (Atlanta Braves) — declined, signed by Yankees
    • DH/1B Kendrys Morales (Seattle Mariners) — declined
    • SP Ervin Santana (Kansas City Royals) — declined

1. 2B Robinson Cano

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with New York Yankees
    160.314 .383 .516 27 6.0 

    Status: Deal pending with Seattle Mariners (10 years, $240 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 second baseman

    Why Teams Wanted Him

    Robinson Cano is among the most talented middle infielders of this generation or any other. That's evident from his All-Star appearances, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers and top-10 finishes in MVP voting. Cano's most marketable quality is his durability. The 31-year-old hasn't suffered a significant injury since his sophomore season, which allowed him to average 160 games per year from 2007-2013.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    #Mariners and Cano agree. $240 million/10 years. Physical next monday in Seattle

    — Enrique Rojas/ESPN (@Enrique_Rojas1) December 6, 2013

    The Thursday night meeting between Cano, Jay-Z and Mariners executives did go particularly smoothly:

    Source said Mariners were prepared to offer Cano 9/$225 believing he was going to accept. Jay Z made late change, demanded 10/$252. (more)

    — Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) December 6, 2013

    Source said Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln "exploded" after Jay Z changed it up and ended the meeting with Cano and his camp.

    — Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) December 6, 2013

    But ultimately, the sides found common ground.

    Cano's terms are identical to those that Albert Pujols received from the Los Angeles Angels two years ago. ESPN Stats & Info notes that Alex Rodriguez is the only player to ever get more on a free-agent deal.

    Seattle has faith that Cano is going to age gracefully, as evidenced by the fact that the contract includes a full no-trade clause, per ESPN's Jim Bowden.

    Switch-hitting Nick Franklin will either find himself in a reserve role, at another position or on the trading block. The 22-year-old batted .225/.303/.382 with 12 home runs in his rookie season while contributing ordinary defense.

    Speaking of which, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wonders if Franklin's joblessness could lead to a blockbuster trade involving Tampa Bay Rays right-hander David Price:

    Remember: Cano signing leaves Nick Franklin jobless. Rays like Franklin. If M's agree to include Taijuan Walker, Price deal could move fast.

    — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 6, 2013

    Contract length was most important to Cano, and the New York Yankees would only guarantee seven years at about $175 million (a slightly higher average annual value).

    It's a relatively minor consolation, but the Bombers now gain a 2014 draft pick because Cano rejected their initial one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer. Also, Seattle forfeits its second-round selection.

    Both the M's and Yankees still have considerable financial flexibility and other lineup voids to fill. Don't be surprised if they wind up going head-to-head for Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo, too.

    This opens the door for Omar Infante to sign with New York. Fox Sports' Jon Morosi reminds us that he has an offer from the Bombers.

2. OF Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Elsa/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Boston Red Sox
    134 .298 .355 .426 52 5.8 

    Status: Signed by New York Yankees (seven years, $153 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 outfielder

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Whenever Jacoby Ellsbury is close to fully healthy, he affects the outcome of a game like few others can. The two-time champion smoothly patrols center field, steals bases at a high volume and with excellent efficiency, and seldom swings at bad pitches. Although uncharacteristic of what we've seen from Ellsbury in other seasons, his 32 home runs in 2011 will excite teams whose lineups seek some extra pop. He's a lifetime .297 hitter (.301 in the postseason).

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Ellsbury's Yankees deal is seven years and $153 million. There is also an eighth year option that could raise the total value to $169M.

    — Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) December 4, 2013

    But this is what's most important from the Yankees' perspective:

    For luxury-tax purposes, Ellsbury's contract will count as $21.86M. The value of buyout is included in the average annual value calculation.

    — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 4, 2013

    Remember, they're aiming to structure the team without exceeding the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.

    Scott Boras, the same super agent who kept Prince Fielder on the market until early February 2012 and didn't finalize Kyle Lohse's free-agent deal until the final days of 2013 spring training, was uncharacteristically hurried to get Ellsbury off the market.

    The Yankees' high-risk/high-reward investment is reminiscent of several they made during the 2008-2009 offseason, when they were similarly revamping a roster that missed the playoffs. The Steinbrenners hope that Brian McCann and Ellsbury elevate an 85-win team into championship contention.

    ESPN Insider Keith Law isn't too critical of this agreement (subscription required). He reminds us that bizarre on-field collisions have been responsible for most of Ellsbury's missed playing time, so it's "unfair to call him injury-prone."

    The New York Mets had reservations about committing more than $100 million to any player, particularly one whose effectiveness hinges of his athleticism. Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com says that the San Francisco Giants refused to sign anybody attached to a qualifying offer.

    Even Boston's best offer to Ellsbury paled in comparison to what he ultimately received:

    Source close to negotiations said Sox offered Ellsbury a six-year deal for less than $120 million. A 5 yr/100m offer also was on table

    — Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) December 4, 2013

    From Wallace Matthews:

    Well, the speculation machine got started quickly. With Jacoby Ellsbury on board, it seemed like the Yankees could trade Brett Gardner. 

    "Absolutely not," a source told Wallace Matthews. "The whole idea is to put the two of them at the top of the lineup. The would be an electric duo."

    Gardner's speed, excellent defense and modest salary would surely entice other teams to surrender promising prospects. Instead, the Yankees seem content shifting him to left field.

    Ellsbury joins the ranks of Luis Tiant, Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon—Red Sox All-Stars who betrayed Beantown by moving to the Bronx in free agency.

    Fans advocating for the Yankees to re-sign Robinson Cano need not panic, according to Jeff Passan:

    Source: Any deal with Jacoby Ellsbury or an outfielder does not preclude Yankees from re-signing Robinson Cano. Still very much in play.

    — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 4, 2013

    A top-tier starting pitcher is still high on their wish list, too.

3. OF Shin-Soo Choo

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cincinnati Reds
    154 .285 .423 .462 21 20 5.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 outfielder

    Why Teams Want 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. He has three career seasons of 20-plus homers. His one-year trial in center field was far from smooth, so he'll likely be targeted by teams seeking an upgrade in right.

    Possible Suitors: Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, New York MetsNew York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers

    Latest Rumors

    Baseball executives tell Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal they expect Choo to get a contract that's nearly as enormous as the $153 million deal received by fellow Scott Boras client Jacoby Ellsbury.

    According to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, Cincinnati has gone weeks without speaking to Boras. General manager Walt Jocketty admits that it's going to be "very difficult" for the Reds to make a competitive offer (h/t Mark Sheldon, MLB.com). He's ready to proceed with Billy Hamilton leading off and patrolling center field.

    After whiffing on the market's top left-handed-hitting outfielder, the Tigers have set their sights on Choo, according to Mark FeinsandESPN's Buster Olney tweets that rival evaluators see him as an option for them in left field. Top prospect Nick Castellanos was viewed as an internal solution for Detroit at that position...until the club stuck him at third base and shifted Miguel Cabrera across the diamond (h/t Anthony Fenech, Detroit Free Press). Now, this looks like a match made in free-agent heaven.

    Rangers GM Jon Daniels explains that even the acquisition of Prince Fielder hasn't solved all of his club's offensive troubles (h/t T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com). According to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News, Texas has met with Choo, who can provide additional firepower.

    If the 2014 season got underway today, Leonys Martin would be the Rangers leadoff hitter, says manager Ron Washington (h/t Richard Durrett, ESPN Dallas). His .306 career on-base percentage is less than ideal for that role.

    The Yankees were pursuing Choo and Carlos Beltran simultaneously, according to The New York Times' David Waldstein. They committed to the latter with a three-year deal. Similarly, the Mets settled for Curtis Granderson as their notable outfield addition, whose asking price was more reasonable than Choo's.

4. SP Masahiro Tanaka

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    2013 Stats with Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
    28/27 212.0 1.27 7.8 1.4 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 1 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Considering the underwhelming crop of free-agent starting pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka figures to attract several suitors around Major League Baseball once the posting process gets underway. The right-hander just turned 25, yet 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: Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals

    Latest Rumors

    The Japan Times reports that Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball have agreed in principle to a revised posting system.

    That doesn't ensure that Tanaka is headed to an MLB team, however.

    From Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times:

    Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka might not be made available to major league teams this winter, the president of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles told a Japanese sports newspaper.

    Because of new rules that will be implemented, the most the Golden Eagles could receive in exchange for Tanaka’s rights is $20 million. Before Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball started to discuss setting limits on how much MLB teams could bid for Japanese players, there was speculation the Golden Eagles could receive more than the $51.7 million the Nippon Ham Fighters received for the rights to Yu Darvish two years ago.

    Hernandez is understating it—Darvish's record would've been shattered. Newsday's David Lennon comments that $20 million isn't much of an incentive for the Golden Eagles to part with Tanaka.

    But should they ultimately go through with it, Jeff Passan believes we'd see something similar to true free agency. He foresees "almost every team" tying at the same maximum dollar amount, then scrambling to distinguish themselves from each other with generous contract offers.

    The Yankees, who many considered favorites for Tanaka when the offseason began, are now a "very iffy" fit given their latest spending spree and the pitcher's broadening list of potential landing spots, according to David Waldstein.

5. C Brian McCann

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    2013 Stats with Atlanta Braves
    102 .256 .336 .461 20 2.7 

    Status: Signed by New York Yankees

    Position Rank: No. 1 catcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Brian McCann has the Robinson Cano package of great power and contact skills. He's also four months younger and plays a more indispensable defensive position. With the exception of an injury-plagued 2012, the Georgia native has routinely slugged north of .450 and earned National League All-Star recognition.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Heyman explains that there's a sixth-year vesting option that's worth an additional $15 million. McCann also receives a full no-trade clause.

    In speaking with ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett, Abbott explained that his client wanted "a place that he feels can compete and win... a place where there’s a good fit, where the coaching staff, clubhouse, and front office are a good fit...He also wants to make sure he fulfills what he wants out of free agency and that’s the deal he ultimately signs.”

    By that criteria, the Yankees appear to be a great fit.

    They've posted winning records in 21 consecutive seasons, and missed the playoffs only twice in the Wild Card era. Joe Girardi is regarded as one of the best managers in the sport, plus McCann probably respects the fact that he was a longtime MLB catcher. And of course, with seemingly half their roster entering free agency, the Yankees have enough payroll flexibility to pay the 29-year-old what he deserves.

    Improving behind the plate was a necessity for New York this offseason. Last summer's catchers—primarily Chris Stewart and Austin Romine—combined for a pathetic .213/.289/.298 batting line. McCann, by comparison, has batted .257/.342/.444 since 2010, while playing 100-plus games in each of those seasons.

    Signing him will require that the Yankees relinquish their 2014 first-round draft pick.

    The Boston Red Sox had serious interest in McCann, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. Rosenthal hears that the Colorado Rockies made a "late, strong run" for his services.

    Ultimately, the Bombers wooed McCann during a visit that he and Abbott took to the Bronx, per Andrew Marchand.

    They showed a lot of confidence in his catching ability by moving Stewart, last year's primary starter, to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

6. 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

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Ervin Santana is being coveted for his command and pitch efficiency. Since 2010, he has averaged better 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 best mark among free-agent starters.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners

    Latest Rumors

    After drawing comparisons to Zack Greinke, Jon Heyman hears that Santana's agents have a lofty goal:

    The asking price for free agent starter Ervin Santana is indeed a bit more than $100 million, as reported.

    In fact, it is a little more than a bit more. It is precisely $112 million for five years, according to people familiar with talks involving Santana.

    One team is actually deterred by Santana's similarities to Greinke. "The Yankees don’t plan on pursuing Ervin Santana," Jeff Passan reports, "whom they’re concerned would not fit well in New York, the same reservation that led to their hesitancy to bid on Zack Greinke last season."

    The Royals balked at that asking price and instead signed Jason Vargas to deepen their rotation. Likewise, the Twins inked Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to much more realistic terms ($73 million combined), and they're more likely to fill out the rotation with Bronson Arroyo or Mike Pelfrey than Santana.

    San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean is reluctant to surrender his 2014 first-round draft pick, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Hank Schulman.

    However, Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune believes that Santana "could be in play" for the desperate Mariners.

    Interest in Santana will presumably skyrocket if Masahiro Tanaka isn't posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

7. SP Hiroki Kuroda

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    2013 Stats with New York Yankees
    32/32 201.1 3.31 3.56 6.71 1.92 3.8 

    Status: Signed by New York Yankees (one year, $16 million)

    Position Rank: No. 3 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Hiroki Kuroda has defied the prototypical pitcher's career arc by performing significantly better in his late 30s than he did upon initially arriving in the majors. That fierce splitter of his continues to tempt opposing batters to chase out of the strike zone, and his walk rate has consistently hovered around two per nine innings.

    Since 2012, Kuroda has amassed 437 regular-season and postseason innings, by far the highest total among free-agent starters. His numbers come across as even more impressive when you consider that hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium has been the site of most of his outings in that span.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Kuroda 1-yr, $16M deal with #Yankees was finalized last nite with same bonus package as '13: $250G for 190/210IP plus intepreter.

    — Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 6, 2013

    So after guaranteeing Kuroda $15 million last summer, New York has awarded him a raise. It was necessary to deter him from returning to Japan, which he has considered doing for three straight offseasons. No other MLB teams were involved in serious contract talks with him, though.

    Barring a huge rebound performance from veteran lefty CC Sabathia, Kuroda heads toward 2014 as the projected ace of the Yankees.

8. OF Carlos Beltran

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    2013 Stats with St. Louis Cardinals
    145 .296 .339 .491 24 2.0 

    Status: Deal pending with New York Yankees (three years, $45 million)

    Position Rank: No. 3 outfielder, No. 1 designated hitter

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Carlos Beltran slugged north of .490 for the third straight year and made the National League All-Star team for the seventh time in nine seasons. He propelled the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series with his clutch hitting in the playoffs. Under the bright October lights, Beltran also reminded us that he has a terrific throwing arm. As if all that wasn't enough, the 36-year-old sets a great example for teammates with his community service, and his efforts were recently recognized with the Roberto Clemente Award.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Bob Dutton reports that the Royals tinkered with their offseason wish list to make Beltran a top priority.

    Unfortunately for them, when Robinson Cano bolted to the Pacific Northwest, the Yankees became just as determined to complete a deal. Beltran's $45 million will be even distributed during his three seasons, according to Jon Heyman, and a no-trade clause is included.

    The revered switch-hitter actually took less money than the Arizona Diamondbacks were offering, per The Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro, to come to the Bronx.

    He's already the fifth free-agent position player that the Yanks have signed to a major league deal this winter, joining Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan.

    The Cardinals entered the offseason with enough outfield depth to endure Beltran's departure. Adding Peter Bourjos hinted they were disinterested in re-signing him. They'll gladly settle for a compensatory draft pick.

9. 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. 4 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    When healthy, Matt Garza has been amazingly consistent. 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: Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals

    Latest Rumors

    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). Perhaps that relationship will compel Garza to follow Navarro north of the border, where he's expected to serve as Toronto's starting catcher.

    MLB.com's Jordan Bastian points out that the departure of Scott Kazmir in free agency (Ubaldo Jimenez is likely to do the same) will leave the Tribe with rotation vacancies.

    Don't sleep on Seattle, tweets Bob Dutton.

10. SS/3B Jhonny Peralta

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    2013 Stats with Detroit Tigers
    107 .303 .358 .457 11 3.6 

    Status: Signed by St. Louis Cardinals (four years, $53 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 shortstop, No. 1 third baseman

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    In his ninth season as an MLB regular, Jhonny Peralta finally posted a .300 batting average. That's substantially better than what teams can hope for from any of the other shortstops on the market. The 31-year-old kept contributing at the plate upon returning from his drug suspension, batting .311 with six extra-base hits in his final 13 games (includes playoffs).

    Although coordinated enough to handle one of baseball's most demanding defensive positions, Peralta has several years of experience as a third baseman.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    ESPN's Jerry Crasnick specifies that Peralta will serve as their shortstop. He may have taken less money to join the Cardinals, Jon Heyman tweets.

    If that's the case, they ought to be immensely appreciative. St. Louis has been sorely lacking continuity up the middle:

    Jhonny Peralta will be the Cardinals' 8th straight different Opening Day shortshop (Kozma Furcal Theriot Ryan Greene Izturis Eckstein)

    — High Heat Stats (@HighHeatStats) November 24, 2013

    The Cardinals' fascination with Peralta is understandable.

    No National League contender entered the offseason with more question marks on the left side of the infield. Although Peralta wasn't the only available veteran capable of providing a significant upgrade, the others would have deprived St. Louis of young talent. Fellow free agent Stephen Drew is tied to draft-pick compensation after declining a qualifying offer, and completing a trade for Elvis Andrus, Erick Aybar, Alexei Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki would've meant parting with promising pitching.

    Last summer, Peralta dwarfed incumbent shortstop Pete Kozma in terms of batting average (.303 to .217), extra-base hits (41 to 21) and adjusted OPS (119 to 54). And due to his sure-handedness—only six errors per year from 2011-2013—Peralta isn't much of a step down defensively.

    Peralta immediately fills the lineup void that was created when the Cards traded right-handed-hitting David Freese this past Friday.

    The average annual value of his deal basically matches what departing slugger Carlos Beltran has earned the past two seasons. That means the Cardinals still have the payroll flexibility to sign another top-50 free agent if necessary.

11. 1B Mike Napoli

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY
    2013 Stats with Boston Red Sox
    139 .259 .360 .482 23 3.9 

    Status: Deal pending with Boston Red Sox (two years, $32 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 first baseman

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Mike Napoli emerged as an excellent first baseman in his first full season at the position, contributing a 9.7 Ultimate Zone Rating and 10 defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs. There was serious doubt about his baseball future when Boston Red Sox doctors discovered a hip issue last winter. Napoli improbably set a new career high with 578 regular-season plate appearances, and continued delivering big hits into October.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    According to Ken Rosenthal, the co-runners-up for Napoli's services were the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners. At least one of them offered more guaranteed money than Boston.

    Ironically, the slugger's concerning hip condition bolstered his career earnings.

    The Boston Globe's Pete Abraham reminds us that he was set to earn $39 million from 2013-2015 before the team physician discovered it. That contract was ultimately revised into a one-year, $5 million pact with $8 million in incentives. Napoli earned the full $13 million based on plate appearances, meaning he'll bank $45 million total during those three seasons.

    Following this acquisition, general manager Ben Cherington said that the club's "heavy lifting" for the offseason was probably complete (h/t Ian Browne, MLB.com).

12. 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. 5 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Because A.J. Burnett has been contemplating retirement, he'd likely prefer a one-year commitment if he chooses to continue pitching. His front-of-the-rotation-caliber performance merits a lengthier contract, but no general manager is going to complain about that. Burnett's combination of swing-and-miss ability and ground-ball rate contributes to his excellent sabermetric value.

    Possible Suitors: Pittsburgh Pirates

    Latest Rumors

    Burnett insists that the Pirates don't have any competition for his services. The quirky right-hander told 93.7 The Fan that Pittsburgh is the only place he'd play, with retirement being the alternative.

    The dilemma is that Pittsburgh cannot afford to pay Burnett what he deserves, according to general manager Neal Huntington (h/t Tom Singer, MLB.com):

    "The unfortunate reality of the market is, if he's into that, he's gonna pitch somewhere else," Huntington said. "We've got funds we would gladly allocate to A.J. If he or others want a market-value deal, they'll sign elsewhere. It's not just Pittsburgh; there are other markets where different resources must be used as effectively as possible."

    As of Nov. 25, Singer reports that the 36-year-old still hasn't decided what to do.

13. SP Ubaldo Jimenez

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cleveland Indians
    32/32 182.2 3.30 3.43 9.56 3.94 3.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 6 starting pitcher

    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: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays

    Latest Rumors

    “We’ll do what we can to try and retain him,” according to Indians general manager Chris Antonetti (h/t Paul Hoynes, The Plain Dealer). The Tribe is even "open" to the possibility of a multi-year deal.

    Alas, Hoynes admits that "negotiations have taken place with little progress reported." Cleveland doesn't have quite as much spending money as it did last winter, so retaining Jimenez is unlikely.

    With rotation spots still up for grabs, the Yankees have Jimenez on their radar, according to George A. King III.

    As mentioned earlier, any free agent linked to draft-pick compensation is going to scare off the Giants.

    Buster Olney admits that it's "always fun to wonder" if the Orioles will emerge as a dark horse for Jimenez (ESPN Insider subscription required). Their highest priority, however, is finding a way to retain expensive core players, not shopping for a potential rotation leader.

14. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

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    2013 Stats with Boston Red Sox
    121 .273 .338 .466 14 3.6 

    Status: Deal pending with Miami Marlins (three years, $21 million)

    Position Rank: No. 2 catcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Catching more than 1,000 innings did not prevent Jarrod Saltalamacchia from posting a career-best .804 OPS. Even when adjusting for Fenway Park's friendliness, that 118 OPS+ was tops among all free-agent catchers. He also quietly led this class with a 11.5 extra-base hit percentage (albeit largely because of doubles). All-Star-caliber nickname, too.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Sources: #Marlins, Saltalamacchia agree on three-year, $21M contract, pending physical.

    — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 3, 2013

    This back-loaded deal will pay Saltalamacchia $6 million in 2014, $7 million in 2015 and $8 million in 2016. The Miami Herald's Clark Spencer reminds us of Jeffrey Loria's "no no-trade" policy, so don't be stunned if another team owner is signing his checks before he reaches the market again.

    Salty should thank Carlos Ruiz for the long-term security he's receiving, according to Jayson Stark.

    It's hard to believe that there wasn't more money available for him, though. After all, Ruiz signed for $26 million despite being substantially older and less effective in his walk year. Perhaps location came into play, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Salty is a South Florida native who make his offseason home in the city of Wellington, which is barely an hour's drive from Marlins Park.

    The Minnesota Twins went head-to-head for his services. They would've needed to offer more than the Marlins, according to Darren Wolfson, but that evidently didn't happen.

    The forward-thinking Boston Red Sox didn't want Saltalamacchia for more than two years, writes WEEI.com's Alex Speier. They think highly of catching prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, and didn't want anybody blocking them at the major league level.

    Salty is the most prominent free agent to commit to the Fish since their unpopular salary dump last winter. There's no question that he'll have the starting catcher's job entering his age-29 campaign.

    #Marlins catchers hit .194 with a .529 OPS last season, with 9 HRS in 572 ABs, so Salty is a big offensive upgrade.

    — Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 4, 2013

15. RP Joe Nathan

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    2013 Stats with Texas Rangers
    67/064.2 1.39 2.26 10.16 3.06 2.5 

    Status: Signed by Detroit Tigers (two years, approx. $20 million)

    Position Rank: No. 1 relief pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Relievers tend to age gracefully, and the 39-year-old Joe Nathan is no exception. Whenever he's been healthy over the past decade, the new active saves leader has been as automatic as any closer.

    In fact, Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors notes that his 90.0 career save percentage is the best in baseball history (min. 200 saves). Debunking any claims that he might be slowing down, Nathan surrendered only two runs over his final 21 innings of the 2013 season.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Joe Nathan terms: $9M in '14, $10M in '15, $10M option in '16 w/ $1M buyout.. $20M total guaranteed. #tigers

    — Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 4, 2013

    Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish adds that a limited no-trade clause permits him to block potential moves to five teams.

    Early in the offseason, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels called his bullpen "an area of depth," according to Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas. In hindsight, though, it would've been wise to extend a qualifying offer and secure a compensatory draft pick when Nathan signed elsewhere.

    Lynn Henning of The Detroit News suggested that a deal with Brian Wilson might be imminent when the right-hander's agent met with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. But when Wilson broke off talks (h/t Jerry Crasnick, ESPN), the club snatched the most reputable name on the market instead.

    As an extreme fly-ball pitcher, Nathan unsurprisingly has awesome lifetime numbers at expansive Comerica Park. He owns a 1.52 earned run average in 25 appearances there with only one home run allowed in 23.2 innings.

    If Ken Rosenthal's approximation is accurate, the Tigers signed Nathan for less than MLB insiders anticipated. MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes predicted that he'd receive $26 million over two years, while Jim Bowden thought that the contract would guarantee $24 million (ESPN Insider subscription required).

    The Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees also showed serious interest in Nathan.

    In November, Jon Morosi described the closer's market as a "staring contest." Sure enough, as soon as the Tigers blinked, other elite bullpen arms like Brian Wilson and Edward Mujica agreed to terms with their new teams.

    Nathan's contract will not deter Detroit from continuing its pursuit of top free-agent position players, namely Shin-Soo Choo.

16. SP Bartolo Colon

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Oakland Athletics
    30 190.1 2.65 3.23 5.53 1.37 3.9 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 7 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Bartolo Colon is the rare athlete who hasn't let physical deterioration affect his confidence. Even at age 40 and with an average fastball that only sits at 89.9 mph, he never hesitates to attack the strike zone. The pudgy right-hander benefited from a fortuitous home run rate this past summer, but nonetheless possesses the peripherals of an above-average starter.

    Possible Suitors: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays

    Latest Rumors

    The combination of Colon's age and Biogenesis involvement has many baseball executives "running in the other direction," according to Buster Olney. However, a Minnesota Twins official tells Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN that "anyone would take him at the right price." The issue for teams is that Colon's asking price is prohibitively high.

    More specifically, Jayson Stark reports that Colon is holding out for a two-year offer after watching 38-year-old Tim Hudson receive that kind of security.

    The Orange County Register's Jeff Fletcher tweets that Colon has practically fallen off the Angels' wish list.

17. SP Ricky Nolasco

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    2013 Stats with Miami Marlins/Los Angeles Dodgers
    34/33 199.1 3.70 3.34 7.45 2.08 3.0

    Status: Signed by Minnesota Twins (four years, $49 million)

    Position Rank: No. 8 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Ricky Nolasco's 2013 innings total is the fourth-highest among free-agent starters. Although he has played exclusively for National League teams, he excelled in interleague play last summer (33.0 IP, 2.18 ERA, 0.94 WHIP in 5 GS). Because Nolasco changed teams midseason, he was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer, so the loss of a future draft pick wasn't a deterrent for suitors.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    OFFICIAL: The #MNTwins have signed RHP Ricky Nolasco to a 4-year deal with a 5th year club option! #WelcomeRicky pic.twitter.com/yE9dA3UEY4

    — Minnesota Twins (@Twins) December 3, 2013

    Tim Dierkes was first to tweet that the Twins were on the verge of a "major free agent signing." At that point, there wasn't much doubt that it would be a starting pitcher.

    Over the past three years, only two Twins pitchers have topped 180 innings in a single season (Carl Pavano in 2011 and Kevin Correia in 2013). The club sorely needed an innings-eater and Nolasco fits that description.

    The Twins obliterated a franchise record with this acquisition. Josh Willingham's three-year, $21 million contract was previously the largest guarantee they had ever given to a free agent.

    Jeff Passan adds that the 2018 club option is worth $13 million. It becomes a player option with at least 175 innings pitched in 2017, per Chris Cotillo.

    Although Nolasco improves Minnesota's rotation—and so will Phil Hughes once his three-year agreement becomes officialthere's more work ahead for general manager Terry Ryan. And he recognizes that:

    #MNTwins GM Terry Ryan: "We are not done in this free agent issue."

    — Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) December 3, 2013

    Twins starters ranked dead last in the majors last summer in both ERA and FIP.

18. 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. 2 shortstop

    Why Teams Want Him 

    The advanced stats suggested that Stephen Drew's fielding was in decline, but his 2013 campaign certainly proved otherwise. With a fully healthy ankle, Drew provided agent Scott Boras with ample material for a convincing highlight reel to show potential suitors. He only turns 31 in March, and besides Jhonny Peralta, there aren't any available shortstops coming off comparable offensive seasons. 

    Possible Suitors: Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals

    Latest Rumors

    The Cardinals weren't patient enough to go back and forth with a Scott Boras client. They instead made a $53 million commitment to Peralta.

    Per MLB.com's Ian Browne, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington acknowledges that there has been "on-and-off dialogue" with Drew's camp, but "nothing too recent."

    The Mets whiffed on Peralta, their top free-agent target. With names like Brendan Ryan and Rafael Furcal also off the market, and no internal options better than Ruben Tejada (career .642 OPS), the front office ought to contemplate Drew more seriously.

    Re-signing Ryan won't deter the Yankees from continuing their pursuit of Drew, according to Jon Heyman.

    Have they made an offer to him? Fox Sports' Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal say yes, while Buster Olney refutes that.

19. OF Curtis Granderson

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with New York Yankees
    61 .229 .317 .407 1.4 

    Status: Deal pending with New York Mets (four years, $60 million)

    Position Rank: No. 4 outfielder

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Albeit with some help from Yankee Stadium's dimensions, Curtis Granderson launched 84 home runs from 2011 to 2012. That kind of power is unrivaled by other outfielders in the 2014 free-agent class. Granderson missed about 100 games last year because errant pitches injured his forearm and knuckle. Neither injury will affect Granderson long term, but the lack of overall production limits his asking price. The Illinois native is also known for providing a positive clubhouse presence.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Confirmed: Mets sign Curtis Granderson 4 years/$60 million.

    — Andy Martino (@MartinoNYDN) December 6, 2013

    Mets fans had been growing impatient with yet another quiet offseason...until this. Granderson's $60 million guarantee is easily the largest that this franchise has bestowed upon any free agent so far this decade (Jason Bay signed Dec. 29, 2009).

    Newsday's Marc Carig explains that, aside from Granderson's obvious power potential, the Mets coveted his corner defense and playing experience in the Big Apple.

    The 32-year-old has spent the vast majority of his MLB career—1,062 of 1,101 starts—in center field. But Juan Lagares' presence likely bumps him to left. As a result, the Mets should push harder to either trade Lucas Duda, or shift him to first base and shop Ike Davis.

    The crosstown New York Yankees will receive a compensatory draft pick in 2014 because they made Granderson a qualifying offer. In turn, the Mets lose their second-rounder (their first-rounder, No. 10 overall, is protected).

20. 3B Juan Uribe

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Dodgers
    132 .278 .331 .438 12 5.1 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 third baseman

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Juan Uribe was a vacuum at the hot corner at age 33, as evidenced by his 15 Defensive Runs Saved and 24.0 Ultimate Zone Rating. In case of emergency, he could be utilized at any of the other infield positions. Uribe also just posted the highest on-base percentage of his career. 

    Possible Suitors: Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, New York Yankees

    Latest Rumors

    Uribe seeks a three-year deal, tweets Jon Heyman, which would carry him through his age-36 season.

    The Dodgers want Uribe back, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports explains. They have already lost the veteran presences of Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker in free agency, plus the third-base market is "leaner than a fungo bat."

    MLB.com's Joe Frisaro writes that the Marlins might scour the free-agent market for a new third baseman after Placido Polanco struggled for them at the plate. More specifically, the team will prioritize potential power threats who can be had on short-term contracts.

21. OF Marlon Byrd

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    2013 Stats with New York Mets/Pittsburgh Pirates
    147 .291 .336 .511 24 4.1 

    Status: Signed by Philadelphia Phillies (two years, $16 million)

    Position Rank: No. 5 outfielder

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Marlon Byrd rebounded from a torturous 2012 to set new career highs in OPS and Wins Above Replacement. Byrd shocked the baseball world by maintaining his hot hitting throughout the summer, which included posting a .318/.357/.486 batting line following a late-August trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The stocky veteran seemed very comfortable in right field after spending most of his professional life in center.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    What a reversal of fortune for someone who settled for a minor league contract just nine months ago.

    Not only will this deal guarantee that Byrd receives checks through 2015; he'll be utilized in a everyday role.

    The Phillies used more than a dozen outfielders last summer, and the situation in right field was particularly chaotic. Barring serious regression, Byrd represents an upgrade over their internal options, both offensively and defensively. He'll play alongside Domonic Brown and Ben Revere.

    General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has known Byrd for his entire professional career. Amaro was Philly's assistant GM when the club took him in the 10th round of the 1999 draft. Byrd also spent parts of four major league seasons with the organization from 2002-2005.

    Even with Byrd earning $8 million next season, the Phillies ought to have enough resources and motivation to complete another significant signing.

22. 2B Omar Infante

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Detroit Tigers
    118 .318 .345 .450 10 3.1 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 second baseman

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Omar Infante's age-31 season was among the best of his career. He continues to be a great source of contact-hitting after striking out only 44 times in 476 plate appearances. Nobody will confuse Infante with a power bat, but he has now blasted double-digit home runs in consecutive seasons. In emergency situations, teams could use him at any infield position without sacrificing much defense.

    Possible Suitors: Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays

    Latest Rumors

    ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand had tweeted that Infante was the Yankees' "Plan B" in case Robinson Cano skipped down. A baseball official explains to Anthony McCarron and Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News that he's the best fit for their void at second base.

    Although the Evil Empire has submitted an offer to Infante, per Fox Sports' Jon Morosi, it's been laying around for most of the offseason. He actually has offers from multiple teams, at least one of which may be more lucrative than New York's, Morosi adds.

    It's clear that the Braves won't spend enough to woo Infante back for a second tenure. Although they plan to shop Dan Uggla this winter and unload some portion of his contract, Buster Olney writes that large commitments to arbitration-eligible players will force them to fill the position internally (Insider subscription required).

23. 1B James Loney

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Tampa Bay Rays
    158 .299 .348 .430 13 2.7 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 first baseman

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Not many 29-year-old position players populate the 2014 free-agent market. James Loney's durability—140 games in six straight seasons—and above-average defense position him for a multi-year deal. His 2013 stats actually weren't too far off his .285/.340/.421 career batting line. 

    Possible Suitors: Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays

    Latest Rumors

    Source: James Loney started offseason seeking a four-year, $40M deal. Belief is he's now seeking something in the three-year, $27-30M range.

    — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 4, 2013

    Loney was being considered by the Rockies, Troy Renck of The Denver Post reports, who valued his NL West experience. But primary target Justin Morneau has since taken a two-year deal with them.

    Rays president Matt Silverman shared his thoughts on Loney (h/t Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times):

    "He's someone that we're interested in, and he knows that,'' Silverman said this morning on WDAE-620 AM radio. "The good thing for us is he liked it here. We liked him, he fit in well. And we're a known quantity. When he's thinking about other things out there, he won't know what the other clubhouses are like, he won't know what it's like living in that city. And so that gives us a little bit of an advantage. Our wallet isn't as big as other teams', so that's one disadvantage for us." 

    Meanwhile, Jayson Stark tweets that Loney is Pittsburgh's top free-agent option at first base. The club will otherwise fill that need via trade.

24. SP Scott Kazmir

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cleveland Indians
    29/29 158.0 4.04 3.51 9.23 2.68 2.5 

    Status: Signed by Oakland Athletics (two years, $22 million)

    Position Rank: No. 9 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    A half-decade removed from his last effective campaign, Scott Kazmir showed the velocity and swing-and-miss ability that once made him one of baseball's top prospects. The talented lefty became more unhittable as the season progressed. He ranked No. 1 among all qualified MLB starters in September with a 13.82 K/9 and 0.98 FIP. Kazmir is a full year younger than Paul Maholm and Jason Vargas, the lone left-handed pitchers who shouldered comparable workloads in 2013.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    From the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser:

    Wondering why the A’s are giving $22 million over two years to a starting pitcher who was released by the Angels in 2011 and who pitched for the independent league Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012?

    It’s the most money Oakland ever has spent on a free-agent starter, and general manager Billy Beane said on a conference call today that there are several reasons: 1) Kazmir’s fastball averaged 92.5 mph last year, back where it was when he was one of the better left-handers in the game in 2005. 2) He had some dominant outings last season with Cleveland, including one against the A’s when he struck out 10 and walked none in six innings. 3) He finished the season strong. And 4) He’s 29 years old.

    Nonetheless, the terms seem generous considering how Kazmir has been plagued by injury and inconsistency. MLB.com's Jordan Bastian explains that the dramatic peaks and valleys of his career deterred the Cleveland Indians from extending any sort of two-year offer.

    It's unclear which other teams compelled Oakland to bid so much.

    Ken Rosenthal confirms that the A's made an identical offer to Tim Hudson, their ideal rotation target, earlier this offseason. Apparently, the front office values Kazmir's upside as much as Hudson's steady track record.

    Rosenthal and Olney suspect that this acquisition encourages Oakland to shop fellow left-hander Brett Anderson, who's set to earn $8 million in 2014.

    Kazmir now steps into the graybeard role out west. The next-oldest rotation candidate on Oakland's roster is Tommy Milone, and even he's a full three years younger.

    The Indians' excellent outfield defense helped Kazmir post respectable numbers last summer despite his fly-ball tendencies. Likewise, Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick should shave a few tenths of a run off his ERA this coming season. 

25. SP Tim Hudson

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    2013 Stats with Atlanta Braves 
    21/21 131.1 3.97 3.46 6.51 2.47 1.7

    Status: Signed by San Francisco Giants (two years, $23 million)

    Position Rank: No. 10 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Tim Hudson owns the second-best career ground ball rate of anybody to pitch in the past 25 seasons (min. 2,000 IP). Even in this era of smaller ballparks, he can be trusted to limit the opposition's home runs. Hudson demonstrates very good command, having issued fewer than three walks per nine innings in each of the past seven seasons. The veteran right-hander is also perceived as an excellent clubhouse influence.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Injured 38-year-olds seldom receive major league contracts, much less two-year deals with an average annual value of $11.5 million.

    The Atlanta Braves were understandably interested in signing Hudson after he spent much of the previous decade in their starting rotation, per MLB.com's Mark Bowman, but the competition for his services was overwhelming. The Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics and Giants all vied for his affection, unconcerned about his once-fractured ankle.

    Anonymous executives who spoke with Jeff Passan were awfully close with their two-year, $24 million prediction.

    In his introductory press conference, Hudson specified that San Francisco's recent competitiveness and affiliation with the National League factored into his decision to sign (h/t Chris Haft, MLB.com). Meanwhile, general manager Brian Sabean admitted that he was on a "really short primary list" of starters that the franchise sought to add via free agency.

    The Giants added Hudson to follow Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum in the rotation. With Ryan Vogelsong officially re-signed, their starting five is potentially set.

26. RP Joaquin Benoit

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    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
    2013 Stats with Detroit Tigers
    66/067.0 2.01 2.87 9.81 2.96 1.6 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 2 relief pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Joaquin Benoit possesses elite velocity, yet much better command than Joba Chamberlain, 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.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals

    Latest Rumors

    Benoit was one of several free-agent relievers that the Angels were eyeing for the later innings, tweets Jeff Fletcher of The Orange County Register. But the $15.75 million addition of Joe Smith takes them out of the hunt for this right-hander.

    The Tigers had been "dangling" Doug Fister and Rick Porcello, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, in the hopes of obtaining a late-inning arm. The Fister trade landed Ian Krol, but he has merely 32 games of major league experience (3.95 ERA in 27.1 IP). Even the Joe Nathan deal still leaves space for Benoit to handle the eighth inning.

    So the door remains slightly ajar for him to re-sign.

    Then again, another big-market team could lure him away by offering the glamour of a closer's job: 

    Sources: #Phillies trying to trade Papelbon.

    — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 6, 2013

    Rosenthal suggests that the Phillies could sign a closer in the event that Jonathan Papelbon leaves town. Benoit will surely cost less than the $13 million annually that Papelbon is owed through 2015.

    MLB.com's Bill Ladson specifies that Washington is mostly interested in left-handed relief. But late-inning arms Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano weren't particularly trustworthy last summer.

27. SP Jason Vargas

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    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Angels
    24/24 150.0 4.02 4.09 6.54 2.76 1.5 

    Status: Signed by Kansas City Royals (four years, $32 million)

    Position Rank: No. 11 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Jason Vargas averaged 203.2 innings per season from 2010 to 2012 and could've reached a similar total last summer if not for a bizarre blood clot in his armpit. He's equally effective against left- and right-handed opposition. The Southern California native boasts great command and hasn't issued more than four walks in any outing since July 2011.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    The Los Angeles Angels—Vargas' 2013 teamwere favorites to sign him since the offseason began. But Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times found out that they only wanted him on a three-year deal. Although they never presented a formal offer, Darren Wolfson insists that the Twins were also interested.

    Instead, Vargas got four years from the Kansas City Royals to cover his age 31-34 seasons.

    This is the second straight offseason that Kansas City has made a surprisingly lengthy commitment to a mid-rotation starter. On Nov. 20, 2012, the club inked Jeremy Guthrie for three years and $25 million coming off a wildly inconsistent campaign.

    Like Guthrie, Vargas has earned the reputation of an innings-eater. He averaged 203.2 IP from 2010-2012, and would've approached that total last summer if not for a freak blood clot in his armpit. 

    Joel Sherman tweets that Vargas essentially fills the shoes of free-agent lefty Bruce Chen.

    Prior to 2013, he had never averaged better than 6.0 K/9 in a full season, which leaves him dependent on the fielders behind him. The Royals seem to a good fit, however, after leading the majors with 93 Defensive Runs Saved.

    The addition of Vargas presumably takes the Royals out of the running for Ervin Santana. With that said, the contract is slightly back-loaded—only $7 million of $32 million owed in 2014, per ESPN's Jerry Crasnick—leaving them with a bit of payroll flexibility.

28. OF Nelson Cruz

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    2013 Stats with Texas Rangers
    109 .266 .327 .506 27 1.5 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 6 outfielder

    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. He has contributed more Isolated Power than Robinson Cano, Kendrys Morales and even Curtis Granderson during that period.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Oakland AthleticsPhiladelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers

    Latest Rumors

    Jhonny Peralta's affiliation with Biogenesis barely affected his free-agent stock. Nelson Cruz expects that the same will be true for him, Jon Heyman reports, and has been asking for a four-year, $75 million contract.

    Upgrade the Orioles from logical fit to true suitors. They've unloaded Jim Johnson's $10.8 million projected salary, and following Nate McLouth's departure, there's playing time available for Cruz in the outfield and at designated hitter, Fox Sports' Jon Morosi explains.

    On the flip side, Oakland was the team absorbing Johnson. Heyman linked the A's to Cruz, but that was before their latest expensive acquisitions. Plopping yet another eight-figure salary atop of Johnson's and Scott Kazmir's wouldn't fall in line with Billy Beane's track record as general manager.

    Returning to Texas is still a real possibility, but Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News writes that the team has several other free agents "on a slightly higher pedestal" than Cruz. The Rangers prefer to bolster the heart of their lineup with a left-handed hitter.

    The Mariners only risk forfeiting a future third-round draft pick by taking Cruz. He is a target of theirs, according to Buster Olney, especially now that alternate outfielders like Jacoby Ellsbury and Dexter Fowler have changed addresses.

29. OF Nate McLouth

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Baltimore Orioles
    146 .258 .329 .399 12 30 2.5 

    Status: Deal pending with Washington Nationals (two years, $10.75 million)

    Position Rank: No. 7 outfielder

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Nate McLouth launched double-digit home runs for the first time since 2009. Even at age 32, he's an adequate defender in left field. After Jacoby Ellsbury and Rajai Davis, McLouth is the most reliable base stealer in this free-agent class.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    The third time was the charm for McLouth.

    He had entered free agency after the 2011 and 2012 seasons as well, but now he's finally gained multi-year security. There's even a club option (amount unconfirmed) that would keep him employed through 2016.

    This is an odd fit, though.

    The current Nats starting outfield of Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth was quietly one of the best units in the league when healthy last summer. Moreover, McLouth has been horrible at pinch-hitting, and he doesn't provide defensive versatility, characteristics that highly paid bench players in the National League generally share.

    Washington wooed McLouth away from the Baltimore Orioles, their Beltway Series rivals.

30. RP Grant Balfour

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    Rob Carr/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. 3 relief pitcher

    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. 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, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays

    Latest Rumors

    Balfour was being discussed by teams who have lost their 2013 closers to free agency, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

    David Robertson is a closer candidate for New York, but general manager Brian Cashman isn't yet "anointing him the guy" (h/t Bryan Hoch, MLB.com). Balfour and others with ninth-inning experience can expect calls from Cashman as a result. 

    As was the case with Joaquin Benoit, Balfour should become a Phillies target if they succeed in dumping Jonathan Papelbon. Ken Rosenthal tweets that they're actively trying.

    The A's had internal solutions in case Balfour departed, wrote MLB.com's Jane Lee. As it turns out, general manager Billy Beane went outside the organization for Jim Johnson.

    By backing Ernesto Frieri as his 2014 closer (h/t Mel Antonen, SiriusXM), Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has acknowledged that Balfour isn't on his wish list.

31. RP Brian Wilson

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    Harry How/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Dodgers
    18/0 13.2 0.66 2.02 8.56 2.63 0.4 

    Status: Signed by Los Angeles Dodgers (one year, $10 million)

    Position Rank: No. 4 relief pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Including the postseason, Brian Wilson surrendered only one run in 19.2 innings pitched in 2013. He averaged more than 40 saves per season from 2008 to 2011 with the San Francisco Giants. Dispelling any assumptions that Wilson is a product of spacious home ballparks, he owns a better career earned run average in his road appearances. Although MLB front offices won't admit it, they're undoubtedly excited about exploiting the eccentric right-hander for his marketing potential.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Wilson receives a similar contract to the one that the Dodgers finalized with Dan Haren to fill out their starting rotation. Instead of a $10 million vesting option, however, he can return to L.A. in 2015 on a player option that could range from $8.5-10 million based on performance.

    After non-tendering Ronald Belisario, the Dodgers needed to ensure that the bridge to Kenley Jansen stayed sturdy. With Joe Nathan, Jim Johnson and Edward Mujica all disappearing from the market, Wilson was arguably the best option.

    Wilson made it known that he was seeking a closer's job this offseason, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. "Wilson’s agent, Dan Lozano of MVP Sports Group, informed the Dodgers he would be open to setting up for Jansen again," Hernandez writes, "provided they paid him like a closer."

    There's obviously risk involved for the Dodgers in agreeing to this deal. They had to base their evaluation of Wilson's ability on only two dozen post-Tommy John surgery appearances (including playoffs).

    But since when has their Stan Kasten-led ownership group been averse to risk?

    The Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies were also in the running for Wilson's services. Thankfully, several reputable relievers are still available for them in free agency, and according to Bob Dutton, the Kansas City Royals are willing to move their top relievers.

32. DH/1B Kendrys Morales

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Seattle Mariners
    156 .277 .336 .449 23 1.2 

    Status: Available

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

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Kendrys Morales has re-emerged 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 you do strike out much more frequently.

    Possible Suitors: Colorado RockiesMiami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers

    Latest Rumors

    From Jayson Stark's winter meetings preview:

    In a market almost devoid of power, you would think Morales would be a popular figure. But he, too, has that lose-a-draft-pick stigma attached. And NL teams view him, for the most part, as a guy who needs to stay in the AL because of health and defense worries. So almost no one saw him signing any time soon.

    "He's in trouble," said one AL exec. And one NL executive made it clear how much he agreed -- by picking March 20 as Morales' signing date, unless the Mariners strike out on the other bats they're chasing and bring him back. "I think he has all the makings," the exec said, "of this year's Kyle Lohse."

    Overall, industry insiders like Nick Cafardo have heard so little about Morales' future.

    Colorado's signing of Justin Morneau and the pending agreement between the Marlins and Garrett Jones make Morales a long shot to find a home in the National League.

33. RP Edward Mujica

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with St. Louis Cardinals
    65/064.2 2.78 3.71 6.40 0.70 0.0 

    Status: Signed by Boston Red Sox (two years, $9.5 million)

    Position Rank: No. 5 relief pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Edward Mujica has closing experience, postseason experience and an All-Star selection, all before his 30th birthday. He became a full-time major league reliever in 2009 and ranks second in the sport with 352.2 innings pitched out of the bullpen in the past five years.

    To quote Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors, "The only 'free agent' reliever who really comes close to matching Mujica in control is Mariano Rivera, and he won't be signing anywhere this winter." 

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Sources: Red Sox, reliever Edward Mujica agree on two-year, $9.5M deal. News at Yahoo Sports: http://t.co/BPHB8BbgKo

    — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 5, 2013

    The first multi-year deal handed out by the reigning World Series champs this offseason looks like a bargain.

    Consider that fellow right-handed reliever Joe Smith received a three-year, $15.75 million deal from the Angels. Similarities abound between he and Mujica in terms of birth date and production over the past four seasons, which suggested that they were in line for comparable contracts.

    But Mujica's late-summer slump evidently suppressed his market value.

    Mujica takes over the setup role that had been vacated when the Red Sox non-tendered Andrew Bailey following shoulder surgery. Boston also denies the rival Baltimore Orioles of someone who they were actively pursuing:

    Edward Mujica has agreed to 2-yr, $9.5-million deal with #RedSox, @JeffPassan is reporting. #Orioles were interested in ex-Cardinals closer.

    — Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) December 5, 2013

    The Cleveland Indians are looking for late-inning assistance after losing Smith to the Los Angeles Angels. MLB.com's Jordan Bastian tweets that they made a competitive offer for Mujica. 

    With this acquisition, there's a chance that the 2014 Red Sox pitching staff is already complete.

    Expect the front office to focus on position players during the winter meetings. Questions persist about who will (attempt to) replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, and whether free agents Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli should be retained.

34. 2B Mark Ellis

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    Elsa/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Dodgers
    126 .270 .323 .351 1.8 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 3 second baseman

    Why Teams Want Him 

    The Los Angeles Dodgers decided that Mark Ellis wasn't worth retaining for $5.75 million. However, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him sign for an even larger sum on the strength of his sure-handed defense. Ellis owns a .330 career on-base percentage and nine-year streak of starting at least 100 games.

    Possible Suitors: Atlanta BravesBaltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Dodgers, Miami Marlins, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

    Latest Rumors

    Sources: Teams on free-agent 2B Mark Ellis include #Royals, #Rays and #Dodgers - even after Dodgers declined his $5.75M option. However…

    — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 4, 2013

    #Rays are an unlikely fit for Ellis, at least at moment. Difficult to see how he could end up in Tampa Bay.

    — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 4, 2013

    L.A.'s renewed interest could stem from Alexander Guerrero's hamstring injury (h/t Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times).

    The O's seemingly addressed their opening at second base by acquiring Jemile Weeks in the Jim Johnson trade. The Yankees would only ramp up their pursuit of Ellis if Omar Infante disappeared from the market.

    The Marlins have discussed Ellis, per Peter Gammons, as they consider various infield upgrades coming off an 100-loss season. Kansas City isn't quite at that point yet, but Bob Dutton tweets that a club executive believes that the 36-year-old has "something left" to contribute. 

35. RP Jesse Crain

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    USA TODAY Sports
    2013 Stats with Chicago White Sox/Tampa Bay Rays
    38/0 36.2 0.74 1.52 11.29 2.70 1.9 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 6 relief pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Jesse Crain finished tied for ninth among all relievers in FanGraphs WAR last season despite missing the entire second half with a nagging shoulder strain. 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 Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour.

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays

    Latest Rumors

    Here's Troy Renck, tweeting in regard to Colorado's bullpen:

    Jesse Crain remains option for pen depending on his health. He could sign later in winter w someone after showing shoulder is good

    — Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) December 7, 2013

36. SP Scott Feldman

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    2013 Stats with Chicago Cubs/Baltimore Orioles
    30/30 181.2 3.86 4.03 6.54 2.77 2.1

    Status: Signed by Houston Astros (three years, $30 million)

    Position Rank: No. 12 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Besides A.J. Burnett, no other free-agent starter generated more innocuous grounders than Scott Feldman. The 30-year-old switched from the National League to the American League midway through the season, but wasn't affected by the increased difficulty.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    That's precisely the asking price that Jerry Crasnick tweeted the day before this agreement, but of all places, Houston?!

    The rebuilding Astros didn't sign any free agents to multi-year contracts last winter. No player on their 2013 roster had a salary above $3 million, and even the three highest earners—Bud Norris, Jose Veras and Carlos Pena—found themselves traded or released midway through the season.

    Feldman undoubtedly improves the rotation. He could even challenge for the "ace" label.

    It's just odd to see an organization that's so irrelevant—51-101 last season with a minus-238 run differential, finished on 15-game losing streak—open up its wallet for a mid-level talent. Feldman might contribute an additional four or five victories to Houston from now through 2016, but what difference does it make if it doesn't elevate them from the cellar?

    Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun reports that Feldman was atop the Baltimore Orioles' "re-sign list" after bolstering the rotation down the stretch. They must've taken exception to committing three years to someone whose career has been marred by inconsistency.

37. OF Rajai Davis

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Toronto Blue Jays
    108 .260 .312 .375 45 1.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 8 outfielder

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Rajai Davis has stolen at least 34 bases in each of the past five seasons, and his total in that span easily trumps Jacoby Ellsbury's. There's no indication that his production will dip at age 33. The optimal role for Davis is as a platoon outfielder, considering his .779 career OPS against left-handed pitching (.857 OPS vs. LHP in 2013).

    Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athleitics, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays

    Latest Rumors

    From Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com:

    "I'm definitely looking forward to it," Davis said of being a free agent. "I think it's another opportunity, a great opportunity, a better opportunity. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what's available."

    A desire for more playing time will likely lead him south of the border, Shi Davidi believes. Davis could get at least $3 million per year on the open market, in Davidi's estimation, and the Blue Jays aren't inclined to pay that as they prioritize catching and starting pitching.

    According to Susan Slusser, Oakland had been considering Davis for a fourth outfielder's gig. General manager Billy Beane completed an intra-division trade for Craig Gentry instead.

38. SP Bronson Arroyo

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Cincinnati Reds
    32/32 202.0 3.79 4.49 5.52 1.51 0.8 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 13 starting pitcher

    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: Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

    Latest Rumors

    Nick Cafardo tweets that seven teams have made contact with Arroyo, but none of them are ready to determine the dollars and years of a contract offer.

    Jon Morosi insists that Minnesota still has the desire to add another veteran starter this offseason. With Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes under contract, however, it's unclear whether or not the club can afford somebody of Arroyo's caliber.

    Arroyo is currently "very low" on the Angels' list of free-agent targets, tweets Jeff Fletcher.

    The Mets are "heavily involved," reports Chris Cotillo, and general manager Sandy Alderson is looking forward to a face-to-face meeting.

39. SP Phil Hughes

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    2013 Stats with New York Yankees
    30/29 145.2 5.19 4.50 7.48 2.59 1.3 

    Status: Signed by Minnesota Twins (three years, $24 million)

    Position Rank: No. 14 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Phil Hughes still demonstrates above-average strikeout ability. Hughes pitched himself onto the American League All-Star team in 2010, and his stuff is just as crisp as it was back then. Injuries may have been a blessing in disguise for the former top prospect. The 27-year-old right-hander entered free agency with fewer than 800 MLB regular-season innings pitched, which is less than half the mileage that's on Bronson Arroyo's arm.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    The contract length is surprising for somebody coming off such a mediocre statistical season, but the pairing of Hughes and the Twins was widely anticipated.

    Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the organization had turned its attention toward Hughes after inking fellow free-agent right-hander Ricky Nolasco to a four-year deal. Moreover, Hughes' representatives recognized that his pitching style would suit Target Field, according to Darren Wolfson.

    Among 145 individuals who threw at least 100 innings last summer, Hughes had the third-lowest ground ball rate. The Twins' home ballpark has chilly conditions and a more expansive outfield than Yankee Stadium, so inducing fly balls isn't such a bad tendency.

    The list of suitors for Hughes grew thinner when the San Francisco Giants re-signed Ryan Vogelsong to fill out their rotation, and the New York Mets decided that they didn't want him on a multi-year deal, per George A. King III. But Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald writes that the Miami Marlins were interested in the former first-round draft pick as a buy-low candidate, and even the Houston Astros made a bid, according to Ken Rosenthal.

    Hughes will earn $8 million during each year of the contract, and he'll get annual opportunities to bank even more based on workload:

    I'm told Hughes' innings thresholds are at 180, 195 and 210 IP for his incentive clause. 250K, 250K and 500K, respectively.

    — Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) December 5, 2013

    That's a smart wrinkle considering that since 2010, he has only averaged 147 frames per season.

    The Twins haven't yet decided who'll be the primary catcher for this revamped rotation.

40. C Carlos Ruiz

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    2013 Stats with Philadelphia Phillies
    92 .268 .320 .368 1.4 

    Status: Signed by Philadelphia Phillies (three years, $26 million)

    Position Rank: No. 3 catcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Carlos Ruiz is consistently great behind the plate, having averaged five Defensive Runs Saved per season since becoming a Phillies regular. His impact with the bat also shouldn't be overlooked. He slashed .325/.394/.540 in 2012 en route to an All-Star selection. Teams were hopeful that Ruiz could recapture that offensive magic heading into his age-35 campaign.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is apparently content letting his core players grow ancient together. Ruiz joins Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee and Chase Utley, who likewise have substantial contracts that will last into their late 30s.

    Ruiz will earn $8.5 million in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The following season is a $4.5 million club option with a $500,000 buyout. There's also an annual $500,000 bonus for starting 125 games behind the plate. A limited no-trade clause allows him to block moves to four teams.

    "Chooch" may have re-signed early in the offseason, but there was plenty of drama prior to the hand shaking.

    MLB.com's Todd Zolecki gathered these interesting comments from Amaro shortly after free agency began:

    Amaro said in September that re-signing catcher Carlos Ruiz is a top priority, but he couched that possibility this week.

    "Well, we're fortunate now that [the free-agent market has] kind of opened up," Amaro said. "There are several candidates that could be our catcher next year. We'll see what happens. I mean, we're in the open season."

    The Colorado Rockies seriously competed for Ruiz, according to Troy Renck, with plans to convert Wilin Rosario into a first baseman. Renck tweets that their max offer was for two years and about $15 million. Stark adds that the Boston Red Sox were battling for Ruiz "right to the end." That's when Amaro sweetened his proposal with a third guaranteed year.

    Philly's $26 million commitment looks especially generous when you consider Russell Martin—who resembled Ruiz in terms of offensive value, catching ability and MLB experience as a free agent last winter—received only two years and $17 million. And that was prior to his age-30 season.

    Ruiz new deal covers ages 35, 36 and 37. Since 2000, only Brad Ausmus, Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Varitek have caught at least 100 games in three straight seasons at those ages.

    With a total of $42 million spent on Marlon Byrd and Ruiz, the Phillies will likely turn their attention to the pitching market. However, Amaro tells Zolecki that these newcomers do not preclude them from adding more offense if the right opportunity arises.

41. OF Chris Young

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    2013 Stats with Oakland Athletics
    107 .200 .280 .379 12 10 0.5 

    Status: Signed by New York Mets (one year, $7.25 million)

    Position Rank: No. 9 outfielder

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    It wasn't so long ago that Chris Young looked like one of baseball's most dynamic players. He has three career seasons of at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases—2011 being the latest example. Young owns an .837 career OPS against left-handed pitching. He's two years younger and better defensively than fellow free-agent platoon candidate David Murphy (who inked a $12 million deal).

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Young admittedly dreams of playing for his hometown Astros (h/t Brian McTaggart, MLB.com), but that will have to wait at least another year.

    The Mets made him the second-highest-paid player on the roster, trailing only captain David Wright.

    They were likely drawn to his power-hitting coming off a frustrating season in which Marlon Byrd was their only player with 20-plus bombs.

    Young's 2013 numbers were underwhelming, but adjusting to a part-time role may have had a lot to do with that. His .179 Isolated Power was actually similar to his .196 career mark.

    "Anytime I've had significant amount of at-bats my production has been there," the toolsy outfielder reminds us. "I'm extremely passionate about this game" (h/t Mets official Twitter account).

    In his introductory press conference, Young admitted that his role wasn't clearly defined by general manager Sandy Alderson:

    Chris Young says his conversation with the Mets has been about some center and some right field. #mets

    — Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) November 26, 2013

    But he's capable of handling center-field duty, and Jerry Crasnick points out that there won't be many of those players available in 2015 free agency:

    Chris Young can set himself up for a nice payday if he has a half decent bounce-back year with #mets in 2014.

    — Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 22, 2013

    Colby Rasmus, Emilio Bonifacio and Denard Span (2015 club option) are the other CF options on market next winter. #thincrop

    — Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 22, 2013

    Even with the addition of his right-handed pop, Rosenthal tweets that the club is pursuing more of it in the form of Nelson Cruz.

    Wright was heavily involved in Young's recruitment (h/t Anthony DiComo, MLB.com). He has the unenviable task of trying to convince more impact players to sign with a club that has suffered five consecutive losing seasons.

42. SP Dan Haren

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    Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Washington Nationals
    31/30 169.2 4.67 4.09 8.01 1.64 1.5

    Status: Signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers (one year, $10 million)

    Position Rank: No. 15 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Since 2011, Dan Haren boasts a stellar 1.57 BB/9. Compared to Bartolo Colon and Bronson Arroyo—the only other free-agent starters to finish close to that—he's much better at generating swings-and-misses. Haren struggled early in 2013 but pitched to a 3.29 earned run average in 15 starts following a stint on the disabled list. The veteran right-hander could revert to a durable innings-eater if signed by a club with a generously sized ballpark. 

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Haren, a California native, entered the offseason with the admission that he'd prefer to pitch on the West Coast, via Dan Kolko of MASNSports.com.

    Despite limiting his options like that, Haren fell only $3 million short of matching the guarantee that he received from the Washington Nationals a year ago. And he can recoup that entire amount in performance bonuses.

    A 2015 option—also worth $10 million plus incentives—vests for the 33-year-old if he logs at least 180 innings. Haren failed to reach that benchmark in 2012 and 2013, but surpassed it with ease in each of his previous seven campaigns.

    The Dodgers would've loved to convince Hiroki Kuroda to fill the No. 4 spot in their rotation, but Haren has comparable potential—when healthy—and signing him didn't force them to relinquish a future draft pick.

    As expected, general manager Ned Colletti says that this acquisition does not necessarily complete the team's offseason shopping (h/t Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times):

    #Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said he is open to adding another starting pitcher.

    — Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) November 26, 2013

    Superstars like Masahiro Tanaka and David Price could still be targets to complete L.A.'s staff. Thankfully, this signing reduces the urgency for the team to land somebody of that caliber.

43. OF David Murphy

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    2013 Stats with Texas Rangers
    142 .220 .282 .374 13 0.4 

    Status: Signed by Cleveland Indians (two years, $12 million)

    Position Rank: No. 10 outfielder

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Just one year earlier, David Murphy posted a vastly superior .304/.380/.479 batting line in 521 plate appearances. ESPN.com's Mark Simon suggests that tough luck on balls in play may have distorted Murphy's numbers. His respectable contact skills and track record of success against right-handed pitching merited a multi-year deal.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com anticipated that Murphy wouldn't return to the Texas Rangers, as the team entered the offseason prioritizing power hitting.

    The Indians, on the other hand, already had nine players under contract who mashed double-digit home runs last year. Being surrounded by so many legitimate threats should ensure that he doesn't worry about changing his approach like he did last summer (h/t Jordan Bastian, MLB.com):

    "I saw that we lost Josh [Hamilton], that we lost Michael Young, that we lost Mike Napoli," he said, "and I put a little bit more pressure on myself to step into a bigger role and play a bigger part in the offense. I kind of tried to re-create my own identity instead of being the same guy I'd always been in the past."

    Murphy will get $5.5 million this coming season and $6 million in 2015. There's also a $7 million club option for the following season ($500,000 buyout).

    Ken Rosenthal notes that Murphy began his career in the Boston Red Sox organization and spent 2006-2007 under then-manager Terry Francona. Now, the pair has been reunited.

    This deal resembles the $10.5 million contract extension that David DeJesus signed with the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this offseason, and understandably so.

    Both outfielders have consistently posted dramatic platoon splits. DeJesus is the superior defender, but he's two years older than Murphy and negotiated the deal while he was already under contract with the Rays (rather than in free agency). Those factors account for the difference in total value.

    Drew Stubbs, who was already the subject of trade discussions, according to Buster Olney, isn't likely to coexist with Murphy on the Indians roster. MLB.com's Jordan Bastian agrees that there isn't necessarily enough room in right field for both of them.

44. SP Josh Johnson

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    2013 Stats with Toronto Blue Jays
    16/16 81.1 6.20 4.62 9.18 3.32 0.5 

    Status: Signed by San Diego Padres (one year, $8 million)

    Position Rank: No. 16 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Josh Johnson's 3.32 career FIP ranks atop this offseason's crop of available starters. Johnson was the National League's ERA leader in 2010, and he still resembled a desirable rotation option in 2012 (108 ERA+, 7.76 K/9 in 191.1 IP). He was a legitimate, top-of-the-rotation pitcher for the first 90 percent of his MLB lifetime. The disastrous past 10 percent shouldn't fully negate that.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    Agent Matt Sosnick explained to Parker Hageman of the Star Tribune that Johnson sought a one-year contract that would allow him to "rebuild his value" before exploring free agency again.

    Signing with the Padres will absolutely allow him to do that.

    Their home venue, Petco Park, dramatically favors pitchers. It ranked 29th out of 30 MLB ballparks in home runs allowed during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Bringing in the outfield fences prior to 2013 didn't make much of a difference.

    Most MLB teams contacted Johnson at some point, but according to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, the four finalists were all from the National League. More specifically, the Pittsburgh Pirates finished second in the bidding.

    When Johnson is healthy, he's worth much more than $8 million. San Diego will pay an additional $1.25 million if he makes at least 26 starts. The Padres also have protection in case Johnson breaks down early. Fewer than seven starts triggers a $4 million club option for 2015.

    Mere days before this signing, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes reiterated how confident he felt in his internal rotation options (h/t Barry M. Bloom, MLB.com). Executives say the darnedest things.

45. 1B/OF Corey Hart

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    2012 Stats with Milwaukee Brewers
    149 .270 .334 .507 30 2.2 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 4 first baseman, No. 11 outfielder

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Corey Hart will have to settle for a discounted contract this winter following an unproductive season (no qualifying offer). A pair of knee surgeries kept him away from the majors throughout 2013. Considering those injuries, he's a better fit at first base than the outfield going forward. Hart doesn't turn 32 until March, which makes him younger than other power hitters on the market like Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson and Mike Napoli.

    Possible Suitors: Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays

    Latest Rumors

    The Brew Crew originally drafted Hart in 2000, and Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes that he's interested in sticking around:

    "Nobody wants to play for free but I basically sat there and watched all season. I owe it to them and the fans to come back at a cheaper price. That’s kind of what we’re hoping for but at the same time I don’t know what’s going to happen. If it’s up to me, I’d stay here."

    With that said, Hart isn't totally adverse to moving. He tells the Journal Sentinel's Todd Rosiak that post-surgery weight loss could enable him to return to the outfield.

    In speaking with MLB Network Radio's Jim Bowden, Hart reveals that his agent has held conversations with Boston, Colorado and Tampa Bay in addition to the Brewers. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times agrees that Hart is a Rays target, but explains that they'd prefer a left-handed bat to balance their lineup.

    Philly's interest hinged on Hart's ability to roam in right, writes CSNPhilly.com's Corey Seidman, but the Marlon Byrd signing seemingly eliminates Hart from consideration. Similarly, the Mets have already added Chris Young, who's expected to see regular playing time in the outfield.

46. SP Paul Maholm

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Atlanta Braves
    26/26 153.0 4.41 4.24 6.18 2.76 0.7 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 17 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Paul Maholm annually logged 160-plus innings from 2006 to 2012 and got off to a good start this past April. He has always beat up left-handed batters, often compelling opposing managers to remove them from their lineups. Father Time is on his side, as the Mississippi-born southpaw doesn't turn 32 until June.

    Possible Suitors: Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals

    Latest Rumors

    Determined as the Twins to fill out their rotation, Darren Wolfson reports that Maholm is one of the few free-agent starters who isn't on their radar.

47. C A.J. Pierzynski

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    2013 Stats with Texas Rangers
    134 .272 .297 .425 17 1.6 

    Status: Signed by Boston Red Sox (one year, $8.25 million)

    Position Rank: No. 4 catcher

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    A.J. Pierzynski provides remarkable durability. His power numbers fluctuate from year to year, but even with birthday No. 37 on the horizon, he's a safe bet to start 100 games behind the plate after doing so for 12 straight seasons. Pierzynski gets a bad rap as one of the sport's most hated players. The veteran backstop is actually very tolerable...when he's on your team, reports Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated.

    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    The Red Sox would've preferred Brian McCann or Carlos Ruiz to take over as catcher, but at least with this signing, they avoid a long-term commitment. McCann and Ruiz received five and three guaranteed years from the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively.

    Pierzynski's alternatives to Beantown were gradually disappearing.

    The Texas Rangers brought back Geovany Soto at a slight pay raise and acquired Prince Fielder, whose presence lessened the urgency to add a left-handed bat. Then the Toronto Blue Jays plucked Dioner Navarro off the market with a two-year deal.

    Pete Abraham envisions a catcher platoon between Pierzynski and David Ross, which would give the lion's share of playing time to the former. Those are two of the three oldest backstops currently inked to major league deals, tweets Joel Sherman, behind only Jose Molina.

    Although Pierzynski is usually a lock for 500-plus plate appearances, reaching that threshold seems like a long shot in 2014. David Ortiz's presence blocks him from getting any starts at the designated hitter's spot.

    Pierzynski doesn't quite replace Jarrod Saltalamacchia from a power perspective, but his contact skills are markedly better. Also, his platoon splits are less extreme. That must've been a major selling point to the Red Sox, who despite leading the league in runs scored last summer, sagged against right-handed pitching.

48. 2B Kelly Johnson

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    J. Meric/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Tampa Bay Rays
    118 .235 .305 .410 16 1.2 

    Status: Signed by New York Yankees (one year, $3 million)

    Position Rank: No. 4 second baseman

    Why Teams Wanted Him 

    Kelly Johnson averaged nearly 20 home runs per season from 2010 to 2013 while contributing slick defense. Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon used him all around the infield and even in left, but he's most experienced and competent at second base. Johnson has proven that he can serve as an everyday player with five seasons of at least 140 games.


    Contract Reaction and Consequences

    This amounts to a pay raise for Johnson. Tampa Bay guaranteed him only $2.45 million last summer.

    His strikeout rate has been particularly gruesome over the past three years. Thankfully, New York's other free-agent acquisitions, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, don't suffer from the same deficiency. They'll bump Johnson to the bottom half of the lineup.

    The Yankees were reportedly considering Omar Infante for the same kind of "Swiss Army knife" role, but now envision him as a plain second baseman.

    Alex Rodriguez's status will largely impact Johnson's playing time. If he's suspended for some or all of the 2014 season, then Johnson could get comfortable at the hot corner.

    Overall, his skill set is superior to that of Jayson Nix, who served as a utility guy for the Yankees from 2012-2013 (.239/307/.340, 1.0 fWAR in 505 PA). They elected not to tender him a contract this offseason, thus making him a free agent.

49. SP Chris Capuano

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images
    2013 Stats with Los Angeles Dodgers
    24/20 105.2 4.26 3.55 6.90 2.04 1.0 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 18 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Tommy John surgery nearly derailed Chris Capuano's career, but since returning to the majors in 2010, he owns an attractive 3.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His walk rate has improved in every season since. Due to injuries and occasional use out of the bullpen, Capuano has much less mileage on his arm than your typical 35-year-old starter.

    Possible Suitors: Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics

    Latest Rumors

    Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles doubts that Capuano would draw interest from L.A., especially after the Dodgers left him off the NLCS roster.

    Perhaps the veteran southpaw could wind up in the American League for the first time in his career. The Twins have already reached out to his agent, Mike Berardino reports.

50. SP Johan Santana

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images
    2012 Stats with New York Mets
    21/21 117.0 4.85 4.09 8.54 3.00 1.4 

    Status: Available

    Position Rank: No. 19 starting pitcher

    Why Teams Want Him 

    Now that the New York Mets have declined Johan Santana's club option for 2014, the rest of the league is free to roll the dice on a two-time Cy Young Award winner. Even during his latest—and least impressive—season, the accomplished southpaw struck out nearly a batter per inning and completed the franchise's first no-hitter. There's optimism that Santana can fix his once-lethal changeup and handle heavy workloads like he used to before the shoulder woes.

    Possible Suitors: Kansas City Royals, Mets, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants

    Latest Rumors

    Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that Santana continues to progress in his rehab from shoulder capsule surgery. According to agent Chris Leible, he's completely pain-free and throwing from up to 90 feet.

    For the Twins to consider bringing him in for a second tour of duty, Santana would have to accept "a very low one-year base salary with a bunch of incentives," writes Darren Wolfson. They reportedly weren't thrilled with his medical records.

Honorable Mentions

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    It's hard to believe that only two years ago, Roy Halladay was battling with Justin Verlander for the "best pitcher in the world" distinction. He's fallen quite far since, totaling only 218.1 innings from 2012-2013 with a hideous 5.15 earned run average. Halladay, who turns 37 in May, entered the offseason on a particularly weak note, bearing zero resemblance to his once-dominant self.

    The declines of Paul Konerko and Kevin Youkilis have been slightly more gradual. In 2010, they posted a .977 OPS and .975 OPS, respectively, both falling just short of carrying their teams to a postseason berth. Due to chronic injuries, however, they have deteriorated into below-average hitters and have always been painfully slow baserunners. Their intangibles alone do not merit substantial contracts.

    Then there's another subgroup of free agents who nearly gained inclusion in the top 50 on the strength of sexy stats.

    For example, Oliver Perez (12.57 K/9), Fernando Rodney (11.07 K/9) and Francisco Rodriguez (10.41 K/9) were strikeout machines in 2013. That doesn't mean they ought to be trusted in high-leverage situations. Perez and Rodney are just too inconsistent with their command, whereas K-Rod has become vulnerable to home runs during the past two seasons. Similarly, we shouldn't get overly excited about Raul Ibanez and his elevated power output (29 HR in 496 PA at age 41). He's a severe liability outside of the batter's box.

    Other players who received serious consideration: Clint Barmes, Bruce Chen, John Buck, Scott Downs, Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Javy Lopez, Shaun Marcum, Dioner Navarro, Mike Pelfrey, Chris Perez, Nick Punto, Joe Saunders and Suk-Min Yoon.