MLB Free Agency 2015: An Early Team-by-Team Preview

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2014

MLB Free Agency 2015: An Early Team-by-Team Preview

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    There is still a lot of baseball to be played between now and the offseason, but it's never too early to look ahead at what promises to be an exciting winter around the league.

    This year's free-agent class will be headlined by a trio of legitimate aces in Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields. On the offensive side of things, Hanley Ramirez, Victor Martinez, Nelson Cruz, Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera highlight what is a deeper crop of bats than a year ago.

    With that in mind, what follows is an early free agency preview for all 30 teams, with a breakdown of who's going and who could be coming.

    It features a close look at each team's top free agent, a complete list of other free agents and a quick take on what will be the team's biggest priority in free agency.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Free Agents

    • None

    With J.J. Putz released, Eric Chavez retired and both Joe Thatcher and Brandon McCarthy traded at the deadline, the Arizona Diamondbacks don't have any upcoming free agents.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Add a veteran innings eater to the starting rotation

    With just under $80 million in salary commitments for next year after opening this season with a $112 million payroll, it should be a busy offseason as the D-Backs look to turn things around in 2015.

    Provided rookie Jake Lamb can lock down the third base position, the team's biggest need is shoring up a starting rotation that has been one of the worst in baseball this season.

    There is certainly some potential in the trio of Wade Miley, Chase Anderson and Josh Collmenter. Those three, along with injured All-Star Patrick Corbin, top prospect Archie Bradley and incumbents Vidal Nuno, Randall Delgado and Trevor Cahill, give the Diamondbacks plenty of options.

    However, adding a proven veteran to the mix who can anchor the staff and provide what the team was hoping to get when it signed Bronson Arroyo has to be atop Arizona's wish list.

Atlanta Braves

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Top Free Agent

    • SP Ervin Santana (31 years old)
    GSIPW-LERAFIPWHIPBB/9K/9WAR
    24155.113-63.713.371.2812.78.21.6

    After turning down a qualifying offer from the Kansas City Royals, Santana wound up accepting the same $14.1 million salary to join the Atlanta Braves after a rash of injuries to the starting rotation.

    With Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen no sure thing on their rehab trail from a second Tommy John surgery and Aaron Harang also headed for free agency, the Braves may very well look to bring the 31-year-old back on a multiyear deal.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • SP Aaron Harang, SP Gavin Floyd, C/OF Ryan Doumit, UT Emilio Bonifacio, C Gerald Laird

    Harang has been a terrific find on a one-year, $1 million deal, and his 3.74 FIP suggests that his success this season has been anything but lucky. Still, the team may be weary of bringing the 36-year-old back on anything but a similar low-cost, one-year deal, and someone else may be willing to pay more. The rest of this group likely won't be back.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Fill out the starting rotation

    Julio Teheran and Alex Wood figure to be staples in the Braves rotation for the foreseeable future, and Mike Minor is still in the long-term plans despite a rough season, but the other two rotation spots are up in the air for 2015.

    As mentioned, Santana is certainly a candidate to be re-signed, but expect the team to push for at least one more high-end arm to fill out the staff and make another run at the NL East title.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Top Free Agent

    • LF Nelson Cruz (34 years old)
    BA/OBP/SLGOPS+H2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    .260/.329/.5161341202232846733.1

    Cruz turned down a qualifying offer from the Texas Rangers last offseason, but he had trouble finding any interested suitors in free agency due in large part to his PED suspension in 2013.

    He wound up agreeing to a one-year, $8 million deal, and he's been worth $13.9 million already this season, according to FanGraphs. He'll be in for a big raise, but with Chris Davis falling off significantly, the Baltimore Orioles may be forced to pony up.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • SS J.J. Hardy, RP Andrew Miller, OF Delmon Young, RP Evan Meek, SP Johan Santana

    He's having a down year from a power standpoint, but Hardy is still a Gold Glove-caliber fielder who is capable of hitting 20-plus home runs. If the team decides to slide Manny Machado over to his natural position, that would likely mean the end of the road for him in Baltimore.

    The team paid a steep price to land Miller at the deadline, trading top prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, and it could make an effort to re-sign him.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Re-sign Nelson Cruz or find a way to replace his production

    After taking a significant pay cut last year, Cruz may wind up going to the highest bidder this offseason, and there's a decent chance that won't be the Orioles.

    His run production in the middle of their lineup has been a big reason for their success this year, and if they are not able to bring him back, they will have to find a way to replace his production.

Boston Red Sox

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    Top Free Agent

    • RP Koji Uehara (39 years old)
    GIPW-LSVERAWHIPBB/9K/9WAR
    5657.25-226/281.400.7801.111.12.8

    The Boston Red Sox went into full-on fire sale mode at the trade deadline, but one player they opted to hold on to was All-Star closer Koji Uehara.

    They'll make every effort to bring him back on a short-term deal this offseason. He'll be due a significant raise over his current $5 million salary, and he may very well wind up accepting a qualifying offer and becoming the highest-paid closer in the game.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • RP Craig Breslow, RP Burke Badenhop, C David Ross, UT Kelly Johnson, SP Ryan Dempster

    Most of the upcoming free-agent crop was unloaded, and the guys who are left are unlikely to be back outside of Uehara.

    Breslow has been great in the past, but he's struggled to a 5.00 ERA in 47 appearances. Badenhop has a 2.50 ERA in 55 appearances and should be able to land a big league job somewhere.

    Ross is a solid backup catching option, but the Christian Vazquez/Dan Butler duo looks prepared to hold down the position for the immediate future.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Re-sign Jon Lester

    After lowballing him with a four-year offer in the $70-$80 million neighborhood in the offseason, the Red Sox were unable to come to terms on an extension for their ace.

    He was dealt to the Oakland A's for Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline, but that doesn't mean the team won't make every effort to bring him back to Boston this offseason.

    It will likely take something in the neighborhood of the six-year, $144 million deal Cole Hamels received from the Philadelphia Phillies and perhaps more, as there will be no shortage of teams in the running for his services this winter.

Chicago Cubs

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Top Free Agent

    • SP/RP Carlos Villanueva (30 years old)
    G/GSIPW-LERAFIPWHIPBB/9K/9WAR
    35/564.25-64.873.291.4232.47.8-0.3

    Villanueva has had mixed success as a swingman throughout his career, but he has clearly been better suited as a reliever this year.

    He's 1-4 with a 10.53 ERA in five starts this season, compared to 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA and two saves in 30 appearances out of the bullpen. He won't be making $5 million again next year, but he should be able to land a major league contract as a solid reliever capable of starting in a pinch.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • None

    The Chicago Cubs traded impending free agents Emilio Bonifacio and Jason Hammel at the deadline and released Nate Schierholtz, so Villanueva is their lone expiring contract heading into the offseason.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Add a front-line starter

    The emergence of Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks this season gives the Cubs a promising duo moving forward, but they're still in need of a bona fide ace to front their staff.

    Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson also figure to be back next season, but expect the Cubs to make a serious run at someone from the trio of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields. The team is still a work in progress, but adding one of them could be enough to push it into legitimate contention.

Chicago White Sox

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Top Free Agent

    • DH Adam Dunn (34 years old)
    BA/OBP/SLGOPS+H2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    .227/.350/.442121771619494210.4

    He's never going to sniff a .250 batting average again, but Dunn still provides a solid on-base presence with legitimate power from the left side of the plate.

    In the final year of a four-year, $56 million deal, he could be an intriguing buy-low candidate for someone looking to strike gold on a one-year lottery ticket. With 459 career home runs, he'll be motivated by his pursuit of that 500 mark.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • RP Matt Lindstrom, 1B Paul Konerko

    Lindstrom has been terrific at times, but he's missed almost three months with an ankle injury, and he may have to settle for a minor league deal this winter.

    Konerko, meanwhile, is headed for retirement. He'll go down as the franchise's all-time leader in total bases while ranking second to Frank Thomas in home runs and RBI.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Explore buy-low starting pitching options

    The Chicago White Sox took a chance on signing Felipe Paulino to a one-year, $1.75 million last offseason, but that didn't pay off. Despite that flop, the team should continue to explore buy-low starting pitching options to fill out the rotation.

    The crosstown Cubs have hit on Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel the past two seasons, and the White Sox should make a run at similar scrapheap options.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Top Free Agent

    • UT Ramon Santiago (34 years old)
    BA/OBP/SLGOPS+H2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    .239/.333/.304823361121610.3

    The Cincinnati Reds signed Santiago to a minor league deal after he spent the previous eight seasons with the Detroit Tigers, and he has been a useful utility man for them this season.

    Kris Negron could wind up stepping into that role next season after a strong showing in limited action so far this year, so expect the veteran to be headed elsewhere in the offseason.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • None

    Technically, the Reds don't have any other free agents, but they do have options on Ryan Ludwick ($9 million) and Jack Hannahan ($4 million) that are likely to be declined.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Add an impact bat in left field

    Left fielders have hit a combined .258/.310/.378 with nine home runs and 46 RBI on the year for the Reds, with Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey seeing the bulk of the playing time there.

    The Reds' offense as a whole has been an issue. Declining their $9 million option on Ludwick and using that money to make a run at an impact bat to replace him could help get them back on track for another postseason push in 2015.

Cleveland Indians

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Top Free Agent

    • DH Jason Giambi (43 years old)
    BA/OBP/SLGOPS+H2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    .128/.212/.27739612520-0.5

    It's been years since Giambi was an impact player on even a part-time basis, but his value to the team goes beyond his on-field production, as he brings serious veteran leadership to the clubhouse.

    The 43-year-old has shown interest in managing in the past and was a finalist for the Colorado Rockies job before that went to Walt Weiss. He's dealt with a number of injuries this season, and that could be reason enough for him to finally hang it up after 20 seasons and 440 home runs.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • SP Shaun Marcum, RP Mark Lowe

    Marcum was 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.179 WHIP from 2010 to 2012, but he was just 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 2013, and he has not thrown a pitch at the major league level this season.

    A 3.64 FIP last year suggests he threw the ball better than his record and ERA indicated, and considering he's still just 32, someone will likely take a chance on him.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Add a reliable veteran starting pitcher

    Corey Kluber has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the game this season, but no other Cleveland Indians starter has an ERA under 4.00 on the season.

    Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and T.J. House have shown flashes this year, but after Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir departed in free agency last offseason, the team needs to add another proven arm to front the staff alongside Kluber.

Colorado Rockies

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Top Free Agent

    • RF Michael Cuddyer (35 years old)
    BA/OBP/SLGOPS+H2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    .331/.376/.5461424386192030.7

    Reigning NL batting champion Michael Cuddyer has been limited to just 33 games this season, as he's been sidelined with hamstring and shoulder injuries.

    He's been productive over the 130 at-bats he has seen, so there should be plenty of interest in him this offseason despite his age. With the emergence of Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, though, it remains to be seen if the Rockies will make a run at re-signing him.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • SP Jorge De La Rosa, RP Matt Belisle, SP Franklin Morales, RP Nick Masset

    More on De La Rosa below, as he will be one of the more interesting free-agent cases as someone who the Rockies value highly but could also be hotly pursued on the free-agent market.

    Belisle has made an MLB-high 357 appearance since joining the Rockies in 2010, posting a 3.70 ERA and 1.267 WHIP over that span. Morales has been a valuable swingman, while Masset has failed to return to form after missing two years due to injury.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Re-sign Jorge De La Rosa

    De La Rosa is one of the few pitchers who has enjoyed consistent success in Coors Field over the years, going 43-14 with a 4.06 ERA in 78 games (73 starts).

    The team valued him to the point that it was reportedly seeking promising young arm Kevin Gausman when the Orioles showed interest at the deadline.

    He earned $11 million this season in the final year of his contract, and bringing him back with a slight raise on something like a three-year, $36 million deal makes sense for the pitching-starved Rockies.

Detroit Tigers

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    Top Free Agent

    • SP Max Scherzer (30 years old)
    GSIPW-LERAFIPWHIPBB/9K/9WAR
    25169.014-42.982.761.1362.410.45.7 

    After winning AL Cy Young honors last season, Scherzer turned down a six-year, $144 million extension in the offseason, and he's putting up fantastic numbers once again in a contract year.

    The addition of David Price, who has a year of team control left after being acquired at the trade deadline, could mean the end of the line for Scherzer in Detroit. Chances are the team will only be able to lock one of them up long term, so that will be one of the more interesting storylines of the winter.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • DH Victor Martinez, RF Torii Hunter, UT Don Kelly, RP Joba ChamberlainRP Phil Coke, RP Jim Johnson, RP Joel Hanrahan

    Martinez is putting up the best numbers of his career this year, and he's been huge stepping into the role of protecting Miguel Cabrera in the lineup. He'll be 36 next season, but the Tigers will no doubt make an effort to re-sign him, albeit on a short-term deal.

    Hunter could also be brought back on a one-year contract, provided he's willing to take a pay cut on what was a $14 million salary this season. If not, the team could opt to go with an outfield of Andy Dirks, Rajai Davis and J.D. Martinez.

    Chamberlain has been one of the few reliable relievers in the Tigers pen, and he could be back, along with the versatile Kelly, who has been with the team since 2009. The other three relievers are likely gone, though.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Re-sign Max Scherzer or extend David Price

    As mentioned earlier, the Tigers will likely have to choose which front-line arm they lock up long term, and regardless of who that winds up being, they will need to come to terms on that extension this offseason.

    They can't afford to let Scherzer walk without locking up Price, as he'd be entering a contract year himself, and they could then be in danger of losing them both.

Houston Astros

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Top Free Agent

    • RP Jose Veras (33 years old)
    GIPW-LSVERAWHIPBB/9K/9WAR
    3131.12-10/55.171.4685.58.9-0.4

    After he closed for the Houston Astros and then served as a key setup man for the Detroit Tigers in 2013, the Chicago Cubs signed Veras to a one-year, $4 million deal to serve as their closer this season.

    He flopped big time in that role, and after he was released he went full circle and landed back in Houston. The veteran has a 3.00 ERA in 19 appearances since returning to the Astros, and that could be enough to drum up some interest again this offseason.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • RP Jesse Crain

    An All-Star in 2013, Crain missed the stretch run with a shoulder injury. He has been rehabbing from shoulder surgery since, and while there is still a chance he returns this season, he'll likely have to prove himself on a minor league deal.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Continue to explore low-cost starting pitching options

    As they continue to wait on the development of their high-end young talent, the Astros will likely stick to bargain hunting once again this offseason, especially on the pitching side of things.

    They struck gold with their waiver claim of Collin McHugh last December, and hunting for similar low-cost options to fill out the rotation seems like the right approach as they continue to rebuild.

Kansas City Royals

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Top Free Agent

    • SP James Shields (32 years old)
    GSIPW-LERAFIPWHIPBB/9K/9WAR
    26172.111-63.293.661.2131.87.21.9

    The Kansas City Royals gave up a king's ransom to acquire Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays prior to last season, shipping a package of prospects built around Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to land the workhorse veteran.

    He was 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA and an AL-high 228.2 innings last season, and he's been a rock atop the staff once again this year. Regardless of how good he's been, the Royals will have to make the playoffs this season to justify the trade.

     

    Other Free Agents

    • RF Nori Aoki, LF Josh Willingham, RP Scott Downs, RP Jason Frasor, RP Bruce Chen, RP Luke Hochevar, DH Raul Ibanez

    The team added Willingham, Downs, Frasor and Ibanez in-season to help shore up the roster for the playoff push, but all four will likely be gone this offseason. The same goes for Aoki, who was acquired from the Brewers in the offseason but has seen his production dip in KC.

    Chen has struggled this year and will likely be cut loose, but the team could look to bring back Hochevar on an incentive-laden deal after he missed the 2014 season with Tommy John surgery.

     

    Top Free Agency Priority

    • Replace James Shields