Re-Ranking the Top MLB Free Agents Still Available at Every Position
For some position groups on the MLB free-agent market, it's down to slim pickings following the torrid pace of the offseason action so far. For other spots on the diamond, there are still several marquee players available after the ho-hum winter meetings wrapped up earlier this week.
At this point of the offseason, many teams have started to focus on filling their benches with low-cost veterans. With stars like Robinson Cano, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury off the open market, new names have emerged as the top players at their respective positions.
There are only about two months left before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, so let's take an updated look at the top three players from each position.
1. John Buck
At this point, there are only backup catchers on the market, with a few valuable players like John Buck leading the way.
The 33-year-old has shown power throughout his career, but his numbers at the plate are on the decline. Over the past three seasons, he has posted a .215/.301/.360 slash line with an average of 14 homers and 53 RBI. His ability to hit the long ball is enticing, but his low average and on-base percentage don't warrant him a long-term contract.
According to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, the Minnesota Twins have spoken to Buck, who got a good word from former teammate Ricky Nolasco. With Joe Mauer moving to first base full-time, the team's plan is to have young Josmil Pinto handle the primary catching role. Berardino noted that Buck would be a possible insurance plan for Pinto, who was struggling in the Venezuelan leagues before being removed due to shoulder issues.
2. Kurt Suzuki
Kurt Suzuki's offense has fallen off dramatically since his prime years with the Oakland A's in 2009-11. Still, he's renowned for his ability to handle quality pitching staffs, as he has been key in the development of young pitching in Oakland and during his stint with the Washington Nationals.
3. Kelly Shoppach
The catchers market is awfully thin from here on out, and Kelly Shoppach is among the aging veterans (like Yorvit Torrealba and Humberto Quintero) still looking for work. The 33-year-old possessed a power bat in the past but is now known more for his defense.
1. Kendrys Morales
Kendrys Morales may be waiting a while for a free-agent deal after turning down a qualifying offer from the Seattle Mariners. Now, any team that signs him will have to forfeit a first- or second-round draft pick, a high price that has hurt his market value.
The slugging first baseman hasn't been the same since his freak leg injury in 2010, but he's still averaged 22 homers and 76 RBI the past two seasons while batting .275/.329/.457.
It speaks volumes that the Mariners would offer him more than $14 million for one season, though his chances of receiving a multi-year deal with roughly average annual value seem slim. MLB.com's Peter Gammons cited one general manager who said Morales might even have to wait until after June's draft in order to find what he wants.
2. Mark Reynolds
You know what you're getting with Mark Reynolds: home run power and a lot of strikeouts. Reynolds, 30, has averaged 22 homers and 68 RBI the past two seasons, meaning teams will consider him despite his 313 strikeouts and .221/.321/.411 slash line in that span.
3. Lyle Overbay
The 13-year vet struggled mightily in 2011-12, but bounced back for the Yankees this past season, batting .240/.295/.393 with 14 homers and 59 RBI. Overbay has a track record of a success, and his resurgence makes him worthy of consideration for a short-term deal.
1. Mark Ellis
Update: Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1:48 p.m. ET
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, Ellis has agreed to a one-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
It's presumed that Ellis will help provide insurance and help complement highly-regarded prospect Kolten Wong at second base. Wong will be given an opportunity to start full-time now that the Cardinals have moved Matt Carpenter to third base following the trade that sent David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels.
The slick-fielding Mark Ellis put together a solid campaign at the plate in 2013, batting. 270/.323/.351 with six home runs and 48 RBI in 433 at-bats. But it wasn't enough to convince the Los Angeles Dodgers to pick up his $5.75 million club option for 2014.
Ellis is 36 now, but has suitors interested in his glove work, steady veteran clubhouse presence and potential for more contributions on offense. The Dodgers should consider re-signing him as insurance for Cuban free agent Alexander Guerrero, who inked a four-year, $28 million deal earlier this offseason.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ellis' agent recently met with the St. Louis Cardinals, among other teams. The Yankees seem like a logical option as well after the departure of Robinson Cano.
2. Brian Roberts
Brian Roberts looks like a different player now at the end of a four-year, $40 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles than he was at the beginning of it. Roberts was one of baseball's best at his position to start the deal, but now, at 36 and with recent injury history, he has some flags.
3. Placido Polanco
The versatile infielder has never been a force with the bat, but his defensive skills have allowed him to carve out a 16-year career, and he should be able to continue as a valuable utility man late in his career.
1. Stephen Drew
It's been a couple of weeks since Jhonny Peralta signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Cardinals, but Stephen Drew is still on the market.
Peralta and Drew were viewed as the top two options at shortstop, and with Scott Boras as his agent, Drew is in no rush to secure the biggest deal possible. Unlike Peralta, who has suffered very few injuries throughout his career, Drew has missed 197 games the past three seasons combined.
Boras recently told reporters that Drew has multiple offers, per Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. But Britton also reports that it could be tough for Drew to even secure a multi-year deal. There's a strong possibility he could stay with the Red Sox, according to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, but the New York Mets could also use an upgrade at shortstop over 2013 starter Omar Quintanilla.
2. Cesar Izturis
Behind Drew, the shortstop market is incredibly thin, with Cesar Izturis leading a crop of defensive specialists. Izturis, 33, has played for nine different clubs throughout his career because teams value his defense at shortstop, second base and even a little bit of third base.
3. Omar Quintanilla
Quintanilla played in 95 games as the main shortstop for the Mets in 2013, but he is a free agent after batting just .222/.306/.283 with two homers and 28 RBI last season.
1. Juan Uribe
Update: Saturday, Dec. 14 @ 5:30 p.m. ET
According to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Uribe is returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a two-year contract.
Uribe gives the Dodgers added depth in the left side of the infield and will likely see plenty of playing time in 2014 based on his success last season.
--End of update--
There's been very little movement on the free-agent market for third basemen so far this winter, with Juan Uribe still standing as the top player in the position group.
The 34-year-old had a well-timed bounce-back season in the final year of his contract with the Dodgers in 2013, batting .278/.331/.438 with 12 homers and 50 RBI. But he was dreadful when bogged down by injuries in 2011-12, so he won't be able to command a big multi-year deal this offseason.
Still, he has suitors and is line for a nice short-term payday. Buster Olney of ESPN recently reported that the Dodgers think Uribe is going to leave town, with Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeting the Tampa Bay Rays are interested in using Uribe primarily as a first baseman and Joe Frisario of MLB.com noting that the Miami Marlins could be in play for the infielder.
2. Kevin Youkilis
Surgery to repair a herniated disc in June ended Kevin Youkilis' 2013 season prematurely in pinstripes. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman reportedly reached out to Youkilis to express interest in bringing him back to the Bronx, but the 34-year-old wants to play near his family in California, according to Jack Curry of the YES Network.
3. Michael Young
Olney reported on Saturday that the Dodgers are seriously considering using Michael Young as the team's everyday third baseman with Uribe testing free agency. In 147 contests between the Philadelphia Phillies and Dodgers, Young batted .279/.335/.395 with eight homers and 46 RBI in 2013.
1. Shin-Soo Choo
Shin-Soo Choo was a hot name on the hot stove during the winter meetings, but he is still available as a free agent.
Choo evolved into one of the game's elite leadoff hitters with the Cincinnati Reds by batting .285/.423/.462 with 21 homers, 54 RBI and 112 walks. After agent Scott Boras secured a seven-year, $153 million contract for Jacoby Ellsbury this offseason, he'll try to find a similar deal for Choo.
It appears that Choo's top two suitors are in Texas, with the Rangers and Houston Astros emerging as front-runners to sign the 31-year-old. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports said the Rangers and Choo are a couple of years off in terms of desired length of the deal, while the Astros have popped up as serious players in the Choo market, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
2. Nelson Cruz
Cruz possesses a rare power bat on this year's free-agent market but comes with draft-pick compensation that could hurt him at the negotiating table. According to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, his top four suitors are the Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and Colorado Rockies.
3. Raul Ibanez
Even at the age of 41, Raul Ibanez still has interest from MLB teams like the Los Angeles Angels, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. While he finished 2013 with 29 homers, 65 RBI and a .242/.306/.487 slash line, Ibanez struggled mightily after the All-Star break, hitting just .203/.295/.345 with five home runs and nine RBI.
1. Matt Garza
Since he was traded midseason, Matt Garza won't cost his new team a high draft pick, which makes him the most attractive available starter pending the status of Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.
For his career, the 30-year-old Garza is 67-67 with a 3.84 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 7.6 K/9 ratio. In 24 starts between the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers this past season, he went 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA 1.24 WHIP and 7.9 K/9 ratio, meaning he's more consistent than other top options out there.
Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reported there is mutual interest between the Angels and Garza, while Jim Bowden of ESPN noted that the team has payroll flexibility to spend on the rotation. Don't be surprised if Garza stays in the AL West and is pitching in Anaheim next year.
2. Ervin Santana
Santana is tied down by draft-pick compensation after rejecting a qualifying offer from the Kansas City Royals this year. Buster Olney of ESPN suggests Santana's best bet will be to return to Kansas City, which still has money to spend, per Jonah Keri of Grantland.com.
3. Ubaldo Jimenez
There have been few rumors surrounding Ubaldo Jimenez thus far, per Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but Jon Heyman of CBS Sports recently passed along a comment from Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, who sounded open to the idea of the right-hander returning to Cleveland.
1. Grant Balfour
The foul-mouthed Australian has been a reliable ninth-inning option for the Oakland Athletics the past two seasons, converting 62 of his 67 save chances while posting a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 ratio. He also converted 44 straight saves during one stretch to set a franchise record.
The right-hander has been heavily linked to the Baltimore Orioles in recent days, with Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reporting that the Orioles have extended a two-year offer to Balfour, who is also considering two other teams.
Even though he is about to turn 36, Balfour is pitching at the top form of his career right now.
2. Joaquin Benoit
Joaquin Benoit made a successful transition from setup man to closer last year for Detroit, but the Tigers went in another direction by signing Joe Nathan. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that Benoit has two-year offers worth at least $14 million from the Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres.
3. John Axford
Update: Monday, Dec. 16 at 8:38 a.m.
Late Sunday night, the Cleveland Indians may have found their replacement for departing free-agent closer Chris Perez.
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, John Axford has agreed to a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal had reported on Sunday evening that the Tribe was locked in on Axford, and MLB.com's Jordan Bastien tweeted that the contract was only for one year because Axford still has two years of arbitration remaining.
Axford represents a bit of a reclamation project for the Indians. He was arguably the majors' best closer in 2011 and saved 81 games for the Brewers over two seasons. He languished in the back of the bullpen for Milwaukee in 2013 before his trade to the Cardinals.
--End of update--
The right-hander was in a bit of a funk with the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2012 season and at the start of the 2013 season, but he recaptured his form after a midseason trade to the Cardinals, posting a 1.74 ERA in 13 appearances down the stretch.