Predicting Final Landings Spots for Top 10 Available MLB Offseason Targets

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIJanuary 5, 2015

Predicting Final Landings Spots for Top 10 Available MLB Offseason Targets

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    There's no other way to put it: The MLB offseason market for bats is looking bleak. 

    While the offensive options are extremely limited, there are still some prominent pitchers up for grabs on the free-agent and trade fronts. Max Scherzer headlines the class of remaining free-agent arms, and aces like Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto have been the subject of trade buzz. 

    What follows are the predictions for where the top 10 available MLB offseason targets will be playing when Opening Day 2015 rolls around. The ranking criterion is simple. The players who are expected to contribute the most to their new employers next season land the top spots on the list. 

    While it's been a quiet winter for the Washington Nationals, there's still plenty of time for the club to make a big move or two before next season gets underway. 

10. Stephen Drew, 2B/SS

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    The Target

    Stephen Drew cracks the list thanks to his ability to play both middle infield spots. 

    According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the veteran infielder is in the market for a one-year deal in the $9 million to $10 million range. That's a big ask for a player rebounding from a 2014 season in which he checked in with a .162 average.

    As one team executive explained to Sherman, that lack of production has caused a ton of skepticism among potentially interested clubs: "There was never a time in which he looked like a major league hitter. The ball didn’t come off his bat well, there was zero consistency. Nothing.”

    Sherman points to the Oakland Athletics as one team that could use Drew at second base. That position was a black hole for Oakland in 2014. Signing Drew to a deal in the range of $5 million (plus $2 million in incentives) would also provide the team with insurance at shortstop.

    The Predicted Landing Spot: Oakland Athletics

9. Rafael Soriano, RP

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Target

    For Rafael Soriano, the second half of 2014 was downright ugly. 

    In 27 games following the All-Star break, the right-handed reliever piled up a 6.48 ERA. However, Soriano was far more reliable in the first half of the season. In his first 37 outings, the 35-year-old recorded a 0.97 ERA. 

    That showing was much more consistent with his big league track record. With a 2.85 ERA across 13 seasons, Soriano has been a highly reliable late-inning option. The Detroit Tigers, whose bullpen ranked No. 27 in ERA a season ago, could certainly use that kind of reliability. Inking Soriano to a one-year, $6 million deal could prove to be a shrewd move for the American League Central club. 

    The Predicted Landing Spot: Detroit Tigers

8. Colby Rasmus, CF

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    The Target

    After clubbing 18 home runs for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014, Colby Rasmus offers as much power as any player remaining on the trade or free-agent fronts. 

    The Baltimore Orioles definitely need to add some pop after watching both Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis depart via free agency this winter. According to Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun, the O's are one of the teams that have checked in on the 28-year-old. 

    Rasmus provided plenty of power in 2014, but he also posted a .225 average and punched out 124 times in just 104 games. As a result, the left-handed hitter would be an excellent buy-low candidate on a one-year, $8 million deal. 

    The Predicted Landing Spot: Baltimore Orioles

7. Nori Aoki, LF

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Target

    It's been an awfully quiet offseason for the San Francisco Giants.

    With Opening Day approaching, the National League West club still needs to bolster the rotation and figure out who will be playing left field in 2015. Bringing in Nori Aoki would help the Giants in the latter department. 

    According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, San Francisco is one of the teams that has kicked the tires on the outfielder. Aoki has stolen at least 17 bases in each of his three seasons in the big leagues and is one of the best contact hitters in baseball. Last year, Aoki punched out just 8.9 percent of the time, which was the fifth-lowest rate in MLB, per FanGraphs.

    Cafardo reports that Aoki is looking for a three-year deal, but adds that a two-year agreement is more likely. The Giants should aim to sign Aoki to a two-year, $16 million contract. 

    The Predicted Landing Spot: San Francisco Giants

6. Francisco Rodriguez, RP

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The Target

    It's been a busy winter for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the AL East club has yet to find a closer.

    According to Jon Heyman of CBS, the team will explore the trade market but will also consider Francisco Rodriguez as a ninth-inning option. Last year, the right-hander racked up 44 saves while pitching on a one-year, $3.25 million deal for the Milwaukee Brewers. After that showing, the veteran has set himself up to earn a contract in the neighborhood of two years and $18 million. 

    The Predicted Landing Spot: Toronto Blue Jays

5. Ben Zobrist, UTL

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The Target

    It's difficult to imagine why any team in baseball wouldn't want an extremely versatile switch-hitter like Ben Zobrist. According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, the Chicago Cubs are one of the clubs "seriously" interested in working out a trade for Zobrist. 

    The 33-year-old would be an ideal fit at Wrigley Field, where he could play primarily at second base while seeing time in a utility role as well. A move to the Cubs would also reunite the Zobrist with Joe Maddon, his former manager with the Tampa Bay Rays. 

    The Predicted Landing Spot: Chicago Cubs

4. James Shields, SP

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    The Target

    In 2014, the Texas Rangers' rotation was hit by a flood of injuries, as the staff compiled the third-worst ERA in baseball. 

    What the Rangers need is a consistent starter, and James Shields is about as consistent as it gets. The right-hander has pitched at least 200 innings in eight consecutive seasons. According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, the Rangers are one of the seven big league clubs that have been linked to Shields. 

    While Shields is the second-best starter left on the free-agent market, there are still at least a couple of aces up for grabs on the trade block. As a result, it's not out of the question to think that the Rangers could sign him to a four-year deal in the range of $72 million.

    The Predicted Landing Spot: Texas Rangers

3. Jordan Zimmermann, SP

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Target

    The Washington Nationals have a big decision to make when it comes to Jordan Zimmermann.

    The right-handed starter has enjoyed tons of success with the NL East club, but he's also set to become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season. Zimmermann's contract situation has led to the possibility that the two-time All-Star could be traded this offseason, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

    As Rosenthal reports, the Boston Red Sox are one of the teams that has talked to the Nats about a swap. Boston needs an ace, and the team has the minor league chips to pull off a deal. The Red Sox's farm system ranks No. 5 in baseball, per Bleacher Report. Players like Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart and Henry Owens headline Boston's list of top prospects.

    By dealing away Zimmermann, Washington could set itself up to make a big splash on the free-agent front.

    The Predicted Landing Spot: Boston Red Sox

2. Johnny Cueto, SP

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The Target

    Johnny Cueto is about to become extremely expensive.

    The 2014 NL All-Star is slated to hit free agency after the end of next season and is looking to rake in a monster contract. Cueto's agent, Bryce Dixon, explained the starter's salary demands, via Jon Heyman of CBS Sports: "[Jon] Lester is a better comp … [Max] Scherzer's the closest comp."

    Lester cashed in a six-year, $155 million deal, while Scherzer is aiming to top that mark, per Heyman. One club that could likely reach those demands is the New York Yankees. However, working out a deal between the Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds would be highly challenging. Per Bleacher Report, New York has the No. 21 farm system in baseball. 

    The Predicted Landing Spot: New York Yankees

1. Max Scherzer, SP

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Target

    This move would only make sense if the Washington Nationals first traded away Jordan Zimmermann.

    Considering that the starter is about to enter the free-agent market at the end of next season, that wouldn't be the worst idea. As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports speculates, the Nats could ship out Zimmermann and then turn around and sign Max Scherzer. 

    According to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner is looking to rake in a $200 million payday. Based on the lack of buzz surrounding Scherzer this offseason, it's not unreasonable to think he might have to settle for a lower figure.

    The Nats could try to land the two-time All-Star on a six-year, $180 million deal. That's well below the $200 million threshold, but it still works out to $30 million per season. 

    The Predicted Landing Spot: Washington Nationals

    Note: All stats and videos courtesy of MLB.com. 

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.