2014 MLB Free Agency: Ranking the 15 Best Values of the Hitter Market

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

2014 MLB Free Agency: Ranking the 15 Best Values of the Hitter Market

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The 2013 MLB season is down to its final series, so let's take a look at which hitters will be the best value in the offseason.

    Being the best value doesn't necessarily mean that these are the best players on the market. There are obviously players who aren't going to make this list because of their contract demands.

    Players like Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann are among the best players available. However, each of them is likely to get a huge contract. 

    Guys who were suspended in the Biogenesis scandal this year, like the Detroit Tigers' Jhonny Peralta and Texas Rangers' Nelson Cruz, aren't included on this list. It's unclear what the market for them will be and how they will produce.

    Look at the players available this offseason. There aren't a ton of them who are worth big money.

    The players on this list are veterans who have proven themselves throughout the years. They are ranked based on their recent numbers as well as their career numbers. Value also means that they can earn their money in key situations. Players with postseason success will be given a boost in the rankings.

    Let's see who the best values are among the free-agent hitters.

     

    *All stats are courtesy of MLB.com, and all salary information is courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com.

Honorable Mentions

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    Coco Crisp, CF ($7.5 million club option, $1 million buyout)

    2013 regular season stats: .261/.335/.444, 22 HR, 22 2B, 3 3B, 66 RBI, 21 SB

    2013 postseason stats: .389/.455/.611, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 SB

    If Coco Crisp was a real free agent, he'd be pretty high on this list. However, the Oakland Athletics have a club option on the outfielder. They'd be crazy not to pick it up at that price, and Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com reported that the club will exercise the option.

    Crisp's 22 home runs led all leadoff men, and he can still swipe bases. His option will make him one of the best values of those looking for a contract, either with an option or through free agency.

     

    Robinson Cano, 2B

    2013 regular season stats: .314/.383/.516, 27 HR, 41 2B, 107 RBI, 7 SB

    Calm down. Is Robinson Cano the best free agent available? Yes, and it's not even close. However, his contract demands aren't going to be easy to justify. ESPN's Buster Olney reported that Cano wants $305 million over 10 years. The second baseman is worth a huge deal, but $30 million per year is tough to say it would be a good value.

    Cano was the only New York Yankees projected starting infielder not to get hurt this season. He provided stability to the middle of the lineup, and he continues to put up great numbers. 

    We have seen big contracts come back to bite teams, so the Yankees may not give him the money.

    Cano would be an upgrade at second for every team, but his demands keep him from making this list.

     

    Shin-Soo Choo, OF

    2013 regular season stats: .285/.423/.462, 21 HR, 34 2B, 2 3B, 54 RBI, 20 SB, 112 BB, 26 HBP

    Shin-Soo Choo impressed many in Cincinnati. He finished second to Crisp for most homers by a leadoff man. He led the league by getting plunked 26 times, and he was one of only three MLB players with at least 100 walks. He got on base 300 times this season and finished second in the National League to teammate Joey Votto in OBP.

    However, there are areas that Choo struggles in. He wasn't terrible in his first year in center, but he certainly has room to improve. His biggest weakness is hitting against southpaws. The 31-year-old hit .317 with 21 homers against right-handers, but he hit only .215 against left-handers. He did not hit a home run against a southpaw until his final at-bat in the Wild Card Game.

    Choo may get a deal worth $100 million, but those struggles make it tough to justify such a big contract.

No. 15: Delmon Young, DH

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    Age: 28

    2013 stats: .250/.222/.250, 3 HR, 1 2B, 1 3B, 17 RBI

    2013 postseason stats: 5 G, .273/.308/.545, 1 HR, 3 RBI

    Career stats: .282/.316/.423, 100 HR, 201 2B, 10 3B, 520 RBI

    Career postseason stats: 33 G, .265/.320/.538, 9 HR, 3 2B, 1 3B, 18 RBI

    2013 salary: $750,000 

    Delmon Young has been criticized throughout his career, but he can still swing the bat.

    He split time with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays this year. He isn't a great fielder, so he would be a good fit with an American League team that is looking for help at designated hitter. 

    Just look at his numbers. There is a lot of talent in Young, and he is still young enough to find the right fit. As long as he stays out of trouble off the field, his bat is good enough to play every day.

    Young's .260 average was the lowest of his career. That's not a great sign, but that's not bad to have as a worst average. He hit at least .288 in every season from 2006 to 2010, and he has some pop in his bat.

    His production in the postseason makes him an attractive asset. He was named the 2012 ALCS Most Valuable Player when he was with the Detroit Tigers, and he hit the game-winning home run in the 2013 Wild Card Game.

    Young didn't make much this year, and if some team could get him with another cheap contract, he'd be a great signing.

No. 14: Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B

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    Age: 34

    2013 stats: .219/.305/.343, 2 HR, 7 2B, 8 RBI

    Career stats: .281/.382/.478, 150 HR, 254 2B, 18 3B, 618 RBI

    Career postseason stats: 29 G, .306/.376/.568, 6 HR, 9 2B, 1 3B, 17 RBI

    2013 salary: $12 million

    The New York Yankees gave Kevin Youkilis a big contract because they were desperate. He played in only 28 games due to a back injury, and his production over the last two seasons won't help his case.

    Youkilis should be a fairly cheap option for a team looking for help at first, third or DH. Although he has hit only .232 over the last two seasons, he has been a very good hitter throughout his career.

    The veteran was hitting .279 with two home runs through 16 games before his back injury caused him to miss time. Once he came back for a bit, he wasn't the same hitter.

    He hasn't played in more than 122 games in a season since 2009, so there are questions about his durability.

    Youkilis has usually been able to hit for average and add at least 15 home runs. His success in the postseason adds to his value, so expect him to catch on somewhere. 

    Some team, maybe the Yankees, will give Youkilis another chance. With his injury history and lack of production in recent years, the veteran may have to accept a small deal.

No. 13: Dioner Navarro, C

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    Age: 29

    2013 stats: .300/.365/.492, 13 HR, 7 2B, 34 RBI 

    Career stats: .251/.313/.371, 54 HR, 100 2B, 4 3B, 243 RBI

    Career postseason stats: 18 G, .290/.343/.355, 0 HR, 4 2B, 5 RBI   

    2013 salary: $1.75 million

    Dioner Navarro isn't likely to play in more than 100 games or so, but he could be a very valuable asset to a team looking for help at catcher. Over the past two seasons, he has resurrected his career.

    The veteran hit .290 in limited time, which earned him a spot on the team's playoff roster, with the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, and he hit .300 with the Chicago Cubs in 2013. 

    Navarro played in 89 games on a rebuilding team, and he showed that he still had some pop in his bat.

    The catcher hit three home runs in a game this year, and he hit above .300 in a month four times this season.

    From 2008 to 2011, it looked like Navarro's career was winding down. Two strong seasons have put him back on the map and could land him another part-time gig.

    Navarro isn't going to get a big contract, but his ability to get hits will help him land on a roster. He hit .302 as a starter and .286 off the bench.

    A lot of teams use multiple catchers, so look for Navarro to get some attention this offseason.

No. 12: Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B/DH

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    Age: 30

    2013 stats: .220/.306/.393, 21 HR, 14 2B, 67 RBI 

    Career stats: .233/.329/.464, 202 HR, 162 2B, 11 3B 

    Career postseason stats: 13 G, .146/.241/.271, 2 HR, 3 RBI

    2013 salary: $6 million

    Mark Reynolds fits the stereotype of a power hitter: home runs and strikeouts.

    The 30-year-old has never finished with fewer than 17 home runs, and he has at least 20 homers in every year after his rookie season.

    It looked like Reynolds was finally putting it all together this year. Through May 12, he was hitting .291 with 11 homers in Cleveland. However, he hit .218 in May, .187 in June and .098 in July. His struggles cost him a spot on the Indians roster. 

    Once he joined the Yankees, Reynolds' average began to climb.

    With his swing, teams will have to live with the strikeouts. He has struck out at least 150 times in each of the past six seasons, including three straight years with at least 200. He owns the MLB record for strikeouts in a single season with 223. He has struck out in 37 percent of his at-bats in his career.

    Reynolds isn't a great defensive player, so a team that needs a first baseman or DH would be the best fit.

    He has unbelievable power, but the strikeouts will keep him from getting a big contract. Finding a guy who can launch the ball like Reynolds can be costly. A team that needs a right-handed bat could be getting a good deal with Reynolds.

No. 11: Paul Konerko, 1B

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    Age: 37

    2013 stats: .244/.313/.355, 12 HR, 16 2B, 54 RBI 

    Career stats: .281/.356/.491, 434 HR, 403 2B, 8 3B, 1,390 RBI 

    Career postseason stats: 19 G, .243/.300/.554, 7 HR, 2 2B, 17 RBI

    2013 salary: $13.5 million 

    Sadly, Paul Konerko's career is winding down. He isn't going to be able to get another big contract, so some team could be getting a good deal if he is able to find his swing again.

    The 37-year-old has seen his average and power numbers drop in each of the last three seasons. It could be a sign that he is almost out of gas, but he is still one of the top hitters on the market.

    Konerko has been with the Chicago White Sox since 1999. Now he will have a chance to go somewhere to try to win a second ring.

    Hitting left-handed pitching is not easy. However, Konerko hit .313 against southpaws last year. He hit only .226 against right-handers, which could mean that he sees some time off against righties.

    A change of scenery may benefit Konerko. He hit only .210 at home compared to .278 on the road in 2013.

    Konerko has had a good enough career that he can make adjustments and finish his career strong.

No. 10: Rafael Furcal, SS

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    Age: 36 (on 10/24)

    Career stats: .281/.346/.403, 113 HR, 311 2B, 68 3B, 585 RBI, 314 SB

    Career postseason stats: 59 G, .227/.306/.336, 4 HR, 5 2B, 5 3B, 16 RBI, 13 SB

    2013 salary: $7 million

    Rafael Furcal underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year and missed the entire season. Shortstop was one of St. Louis' only weaknesses, so the Cardinals could be players for the veteran.

    He hit .264 with a .325 on-base percentage in 2012, which is neither great nor bad. With the lack of talent on the market at shortstop, Furcal looks like the best bet at the position.

    Furcal has played in more than 121 games only once since 2008, so there is concern as to whether or not he will be able to play a full season.

    The veteran rebounded from a poor season two years ago with a solid one last year, and he has been around long enough to pick up where he left off.

    Furcal has played in the postseason nine times, but he hasn't been able to do much once there. 

    His decline in production and recent injury history should make him a cheap addition for a team, and he should have no problem outplaying his contract.

No. 9: Juan Uribe, 3B

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    Age: 34

    2013 stats: .278/.331/.438, 12 HR, 22 2B, 2 3B, 50 RBI

    2013 postseason stats: 10 G, .231/.231/.410, 2 HR, 1 2B, 7 RBI

    Career stats: .253/.299/.420, 169 HR, 274 2B, 43 3B, 694 RBI

    Career postseason stats: 40 G, .214/.255/.364, 5 HR, 6 2B, 23 RBI

    2013 salary: $7 million

    Juan Uribe hadn't been very productive at the plate in recent years, but he had a fantastic season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. 

    While he may not be the biggest name on the market, he will certainly be one of the top players at his position.

    If you want consistency at the plate, Uribe is about as close as it gets. Check out his numbers in different situations:

    SituationAVGHR
    None on.2776
    Runners on.2806
    Runners in scoring position.2782
    RISP w/ 2 outs.3242
    Leading off inning.3121

    In the top three situations, there weren't many differences in his average. When the stat gets more specific, his average got even better.

    Uribe has won two World Series titles, so he knows what it takes to win. That kind of experience can't be overlooked. He was only two wins away from getting back to the World Series again this year, but the St. Louis Cardinals came out on top.

No. 8: Justin Morneau, 1B

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    Age: 32

    2013 stats: .259/.323/.411, 17 HR, 36 2B, 77 RBI

    2013 postseason stats: 6 G, .292/.320/.33, 0 HR, 1 2B, 0 RBI

    Career stats: .277/.347/.482, 221 HR, 293 2B, 16 3 B, 863 RBI

    Career postseason stats: 12 G, .306/.306/.510, 2 HR, 4 2B, 4 RBI

    2013 salary: $14 million

    Justin Morneau didn't produce toward the end of the regular season, which will cost him some money. Once he went over to the Pittsburgh Pirates late in the season, he hit .260 without a home run and only three RBI in 25 games.

    The first basemen will draw a lot of interest this offseason. Pittsburgh isn't the easiest place to hit for power, so if he goes somewhere that is friendlier to hitters, he could rebound nicely.

    Morneau is still good for around 20 home runs with 75 RBI. If he goes to a team that has pieces around him on offense, his average and power numbers should be able to rise.

    Minnesota didn't have much around Morneau. He was behind Andrew McCutchen, so pitchers didn't have to give him much to hit.

    The left-handed hitter struggles against southpaws, but his ability to hit right-handers will make him a good fit in a lot of lineups.

    He isn't going to win another MVP award, but there is still a lot to like in his bat.

No. 7: Raul Ibanez, DH

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    Age: 41

    2013 stats: .242/.306/.487, 29 HR, 20 2B, 2 3B, 65 RBI  

    Career stats: .276/.306/.487, 300 HR, 416 2B, 48 3B, 1,181 RBI

    Career postseason stats: 44 G, .245/.305/.439, 6 HR, 9 2B, 22 RBI

    2013 salary: $2.75 million

    For that salary, Raul Ibanez was an absolute steal. 

    He has hit at least 20 homers in seven of the last nine seasons, and his 29 homers this season were his most since 2009.

    Ibanez may be a slightly better option than Mark Reynolds. Neither player is much of a defensive star, but they both have a lot of pop in their bat. However, Ibanez doesn't strike out very much.

    His 128 strikeouts in 2013 were the most of his career, which came out to be just over one per game. He puts the ball in play, and his outs aren't wasted at-bats.

    At his age and with his struggles in the field, Ibanez is likely going to stay in the AL. He could've helped some team at the deadline, but the Seattle Mariners held on to him.

    Ibanez will be forever remembered for his clutch hitting for the Yankees in the 2012 playoffs.

    For any team that needs a left-handed bat with power, Ibanez will come cheap and be a good value.

No. 6: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C

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    Age: 28

    2013 stats: .273/.338/.466, 14 HR, 40 2B, 65 RBI 

    2013 postseason stats: 8 G, .231/.259/.269, 0 HR, 1 2B, 5 RBI

    Career stats: .246/.310/.428, 78 HR, 121 2B, 5 3B, 275 RBI

    Career postseason stats: 8 G, .231/.259/.269, 0 HR, 1 2B, 5 RBI

    2013 salary: $4.5 million

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia never hit above .235 from 2009 to 2012, but he had a great season in 2013.

    The catcher hit for a good average and added some power. He had 40 doubles combined from 2011 to 2012, but he had 40 in this year alone.

    Though Saltalamacchia only hit 14 homers this year after hitting 25 in 2012, he has gotten better in each season since coming to Fenway Park.

    He has a chance to help his cause with a strong World Series. No matter what he does against the St. Louis Cardinals, he should reward whichever team signs him.

No. 5: A.J. Pierzynski, C

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    Age: 36

    2013 stats: .272/.297/.425, 17 HR, 24 2B, 1 3B, 70 RBI  

    Career stats: .283/.322/.428, 162 HR, 356 2B, 22 3B, 800 RBI 

    Career postseason stats: 30 G, .300/.372/.520, 5 HR, 5 2B, 1 3B, 17 RBI

    2013 salary: $7.5 million

    A.J. Pierzynski has been criticized a lot throughout his career, but he is a very good hitter.

    The numbers speak for themselves. He hasn't hit below .270 since 2007, and he can hit some home runs.

    His production in the postseason makes him a valuable member to any lineup. Some hitters don't produce on the big stage, but Pierzynski actually turns up his game in October.

    He gets the nod over Saltalamacchia because of his consistency and strong postseason numbers.

    Pierzynski's contract this season was a fair value. For a catcher who is still productive, that's not a bad deal. If a team can sign him to somewhere around that mark again, it would be a great value. 

No. 4: Michael Young, INF

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    Age: 37

    2013 stats: .279/.335/.395, 8 HR, 26 2B, 5 3B, 46 RBI

    2013 postseason stats: 9 G, .100/.100/.100, 0 HR, 0 RBI

    Career stats: .300/.346/.441, 185 HR, 441 2B, 60 3B, 1,030 RBI, 90 SB

    Career postseason stats: 43 G, .238/.261/.364, 3 HR, 10 2B, 19 RBI

    2013 salary: $16 million 

    Well, there's no way that Michael Young is getting anything close to $16 million again. In his first year out of Texas, he put up his usual numbers.

    He hit .280 with runners on base and .277 with runners in scoring position with two outs.

    Young has done whatever a team has asked of him. When Elvis Andrus was coming up in Texas, Young switched positions. He went from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in the middle of the 2013 season, and he saw his playing time decline.

    He appeared in 21 games in the final month with the Dodgers, but he had multiple at-bats in only 11 of those games. The veteran went there to win, and he accepted his reduced role like a professional.

    The veteran plays the game the right way, and he gives it his all when he steps out onto the field.

    Young can play anywhere in the infield, and he still hits for a high average. He should be able to get a decent contract and will be one of the best values on the market.

No. 3: James Loney, 1B

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    Age: 29

    2013 stats: .299/.348/.430, 13 HR, 33 2B, 75 RBI

    2013 postseason stats: 5 G, .375/.474/.500, 0 HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI

    Career stats: .285/.340/.421, 86 HR, 208 2B, 20 3B, 534 RBI 

    Career postseason stats: 22 G, .354/.427/.532, 3 HR, 5 2B, 16 RBI 

    2013 salary: $2 million 

    Arguably the best value from last year's free-agent class was James Loney. He signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason, and he easily outplayed his contract.

    Loney had one of the best seasons of his career. He hit for average and added a few home runs.

    Once he got into a rhythm in the middle of April, Loney did not dip below .300 until the middle of September. He was about as consistent as possible.

    He hit .299 against both right-handers and southpaws, which is something most left-handed hitters are unable to do. He hit .313 with runners on and .310 with runners in scoring position, so the Rays could count on him to keep rallies going.

    Although he had one of his best seasons ever in his first year in Tampa Bay, he may want to go elsewhere next season. He hit only .245 at Tropicana Field compared to .351, with a few more at-bats, away from home. 

    Look at his postseason numbers. He comes through on the big stage. His experience makes him even more valuable, and teams will be lining up for him.

    Loney put it all together last year, and he will be one of the top free agents on the market. He won't break the bank, so teams will get good value for their investment.

No. 2: Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH

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    Age: 30

    2013 stats: .277/.336/.449, 23 HR, 34 2B, 80 RBI

    Career stats: .280/.333/.480, 102 HR, 130 2B, 4 3B, 345 RBI  

    Career postseason stats: 16 G, .191/.235/.340, 2 HR, 1 2B, 7 RBI

    2013 salary: $5.25 million

    When he is in the lineup every day, there aren't many players better than Kendrys Morales. He has hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBI in a season already. Teams know what to expect out of him now.

    Morales is going to hit at least 20 home runs and 75 RBI with a minimum of a .275 average. That's the type of player he has been the last two years, and those are very good numbers.

    This will be the first time that Morales will be able to cash in. He's going to get a nice contract, but it shouldn't be something too crazy. He will probably get at least $10 million per year, but teams probably won't go much higher than $13 million or so.

    That range is acceptable for the type of numbers that he puts up. He hits for average and can change a game with a big swing.

    Morales hasn't done much in the postseason yet, which is why he doesn't take the top spot in this rankings. He's a very good player, but there are limitations to parts of his game.

No. 1: Carlos Beltran, OF

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    Age: 36

    2013 stats: .296/.339/.491, 24 HR, 30 2B, 3 3B, 84 RBI

    2013 postseason stats: 11 G, .256/.383/.538, 2 HR, 3 2B, 1 3B, 12 RBI

    Career stats: .283/.359/.496, 358 HR, 30 HR, 3 3B, 1,327 RBI, 308 SB

    Career postseason stats: 45 G, .337/.449/.724, 16 HR, 13 2B, 1 3B, 37 RBI, 11 SB

    2013 salary: $13 million

    It will be interesting to see what kind of a deal Carlos Beltran is able to land, but he will be worth it. Just ask Cardinals fans if he's worth it based on how he played this season.

    The veteran outfielder hit .286 with two doubles and a triple with six RBI against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the six games of the 2013 NLCS. He also threw out a runner in extra-innings of Game 1 that may have changed the outcome of the series.

    Beltran was once one of the top players in the game. Even at his age, he is still among the best. The 36-year-old had a .296 average with 57 extra-base hits and 84 RBI. Those numbers don't even tell the whole story.

    He hit .374 with runners in scoring position. In those same situations in this postseason, he is hitting an incredible .750 with 10 RBI.

    When he was ahead in the count this year, he hit .343. He is hitting .389 when he is ahead in the count in the playoffs. Pitchers can't afford to fall behind, or he will make them pay.

    Even though the Cardinals were much better at home than they were on the road, Beltran hit pretty much the same regardless of where the game was. He hit .297 at Busch Stadium and .295 away from home. 

    If he can finish off another incredible postseason with a bang, Beltran will be in line for another big contract. If it weren't for rookie pitcher Michael Wacha's mind-blowing NLCS performances, Beltran may have walked away as MVP.

    Beltran will be the best value among hitters on the market this offseason.