5 MLB Offseason Values Still Available in Shrinking Player Pool
While the last-minute holiday hordes descend on department stores across America, MLB teams still have time to finish their offseason shopping lists.
But the options are dwindling—fast.
As Christmas approaches, with New Year's nipping at its heels, the number of players left on the shelf keeps shrinking.
That means clubs with glaring holes will have to sharpen their focus, and the few unsigned impact names will have to take realistic stock of their options.
Let's examine five available free agents—we'll leave out trade targets for the purposes of this discussion—who will add significant value wherever and whenever they sign…even if it's after the holiday rush.
If the free-agent market is thin and the free-agent position-player market is thinner, then the free-agent infielder market is thinnest of all.
Most of the marquee names—Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Headley—have fallen off the board, which makes Asdrubal Cabrera downright intriguing.
The 29-year-old Venezuelan owns a career .268/.330/.409 slash line in eight big league seasons with the Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals.
He hit just .241 last year, but he made back-to-back All-Star teams in 2011 and 2012.
And his versatility—he's logged significant innings at shortstop and second base and also made a cameo at third—means he could plug a hole on any number of infield-challenged clubs.
Corner outfielders are typically expected to provide some pop, which is an instant knock against Nori Aoki.
In three MLB seasons, the 32-year-old Japanese import has never hit more than 10 home runs, and last year with the Kansas City Royals, he managed just a single long ball.
On the other hand, Aoki posted a .285/.349/.360 slash line with 17 stolen bases, and FanGraphs rated him second-best defensively among MLB right fielders.
Kansas City recently inked outfielder Alex Rios to a one-year, $11 million deal, which makes an Aoki reunion unlikely.
In a contracting outfield market, though, he's sure to get plenty of interest—power or no.
Ask all 30 MLB teams if they need bullpen help, and watch 30 general managers nod their heads vigorously in unison.
Even clubs that like their relief corps could use reinforcements, and for some the late innings are a full-blown liability.
Enter Rafael Soriano, who posted a 3.19 ERA with 32 saves last season for the National League East champion Washington Nationals.
The Nationals stripped the 35-year-old right-hander of closer duties in early September, with manager Matt Williams saying he wanted to give Soriano "a little bit of a softer landing" as he worked through some struggles, per Adam Kilgore and James Wagner of The Washington Post. Therefore, he's not likely to get anything in line with the two-year, $28 million pact he signed with Washington prior to the 2013 season.
But Soriano and his 207 career saves look pretty darn enticing, especially with top names like Andrew Miller (four years, $36 million from the New York Yankees), David Robertson (four years, $46 million from the Chicago White Sox) and Sergio Romo (two years, $15 million from the San Francisco Giants) off the board.
In a rich free-agent pitching class, James Shields is the forgotten man.
It's not for lack of regular-season results: Shields posted a 3.21 ERA to go along with 180 strikeouts and a 1.181 WHIP with the Royals, and he started an MLB-leading 34 games and tossed 227 innings, the eighth straight time he's eclipsed the 200-inning mark.
But then the postseason arrived, and once again "Big Game" James failed to live up to his nickname.
In five playoff starts, Shields yielded 17 runs. He took two crucial losses in the World Series, which KC lost in a heartbreaking seven games.
Still, October shortcomings aside, the 33-year-old right-hander has been durable and mostly exemplary during a nine-year career with the Royals and Tampa Bay Rays.
And he's hoping to get paid accordingly: Shields could garner a five-year deal for $90 million to $100 million, per ESPN.com's David Schoenfield, who cites the Giants as one possible landing spot.
Schoenfield's take? "I wouldn't give it to him."
His reasoning—a five-year deal would take Shields through his age-37 season, a time when many pitchers hit a steep decline—makes sense.
Then again, that appears to be the going rate for a pitcher of Shields' caliber—even if he has been the forgotten man.
Speaking of the rich free-agent pitching class, Max Scherzer—maybe the biggest arm from the get-go—is still available.
After Jon Lester inked a six-year, $155 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, it seemed inevitable that Scherzer, the 2013 American League Cy Young winner, would land an even more lucrative deal.
And he will, most likely.
The 30-year-old right-hander and two-time All-Star is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who, the New York Post's Ken Davidoff notes, "often acts deliberately and methodically in finding deals for his top-shelf clients."
Here's what Boras told Davidoff:
Sometimes, owning a major league team is like hunting. You go out in the wild, and all of a sudden, the opportunity for the kill is there.
I go to reach for my weapon, and I realize, "Uh-oh. How many bullets did I bring?" The answer is if I've got one shot on this, I'll stay where I'm at. If I want to have a real opportunity to win, I'd better put the extra bullets in the gun. Or, you can buy the ultimate weapon.
Uh, OK. If Boras' negotiation tactics are half as convoluted as his metaphors, it's no wonder Scherzer remains unsigned.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.