They're both going to be studs.
Sano reminds me of a Reynolds who doesn't strike out. Best thing they could have done for him was move him to 3rd.
Buxton is being move aggressively, which I always like. Probably be in AA next year.
Top 50 MLB free agents.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Major league teams have more money than ever to spend on players, so I'm expecting the recent trend of salary inflation to continue this offseason even without many superstars available as free agents. That's a good thing for many players on my list of the top 50 free agents available, because this year's free-agent class has a lot of impact in the top 10 or so names, but after that, the crop becomes pretty sparse.
This isn't surprising, given how many players sign long-term extensions to stay with their current teams. Hunter Pence, who would have been in the top 10, re-signed with San Francisco right at the end of the season, taking another impact guy off the market before he even reached it. So beyond the top of the list, you see a lot of fringe regulars and back-end starters. There's also the occasional upside play on a guy who has been injured or is coming off a year below his career norms.
With these rankings, I try to give a rough idea of the offer I'd be comfortable making to each player, assuming I were the general manager of a contending team (or would-be contending team) and operating at or above the median payroll level.
Estimating the actual dollar value of a player to any specific team is nearly impossible, because we don't know what the marginal revenue product of a win is for each club -- and that number can change for a team from season to season, or even within a season, if it's much better or worse than expected. (For example, the marginal revenue product of one win, meaning the additional revenues generated by one more victory, for the Pirates likely went up as their 2013 season went on and it became clearer that they were a playoff team with a shot at the division title.)
My numbers are not predictions, and they often will fall short of actual market values, due to the "winner's curse" phenomenon, where the winner of an auction for a good of uncertain value is the bidder whose internal estimates of that value are the highest (and thus perhaps too optimistic), and because teams with large payrolls can and often do pay more for a win in the free-agent market.
I've also noted which players have received a $14.1 million qualifying offer. If a player receives one and signs elsewhere, the signing team will lose a draft pick, and having a qualifying offer "attached" can really hurt the value of non-elite free agents.
Now, on to the rankings.
AGE: 31DOB: 10/22/82HT: 6-0WT: 210POS: 2B
AVG .314OBP .383OPS .899HR 27WAR 7.6
A seven-win second baseman at age 31 who's showing little to no deterioration in his skills would be among the best free agents in any offseason, but this year's crop is weak enough to push Cano to the top.
Swing and approach changes spurred by Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long several years ago took Cano to superstar level, helping him become more patient and recognize off-speed stuff earlier so he can make better choices at the plate. Cano has very quick hands and generates plenty of power from his hips, producing hard contact that results in high BABIPs as well as an average of 28 homers the past five seasons (only slightly boosted by Yankee Stadium's cozy right-field dimensions).
If there's a flaw in his game, it's an occasional vulnerability to left-handed pitchers, especially those who can spin a curveball or sweep a slider down and away from him, a pitch he's shown a tendency to chase, but not enough to cause a major platoon split so far. He's a slightly above-average defender who probably could be more than that but occasionally appears to take a play off here or there, although it's worth crediting him for how far he's come on defense since he was a prospect who looked like he may not stay at second.
If you want an impact player and have $22 million to $25 million a year to spend, this is your guy, a 2-hole hitter for the next three or four years who should still be productive into his mid-30s.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 30DOB: 9/11/1983HT: 6-1WT: 195POS: CF
AVG .298OBP .3355OPS .781SB 52WAR 5.8
If, for the moment, we ignore Ellsbury's injury-marred 2012 season, we're looking at a 30-year-old centerfielder who plays outstanding defense, is a plus runner who adds value with his baserunning, and has generated over 14 WAR overall across his past two healthy seasons. Even before we discuss the inflationary nature of the free-agent market, that's a $20 million player, and one who typically would get six years and perhaps seven.
The hitch with Ellsbury is that he's had injuries wipe out most of two of his past four seasons, limiting him to 18 games in 2010 and 74 in 2012, both years where he played poorly when he wasn't on the disabled list. He broke several ribs after colliding with Adrian Beltre in 2010, dislocated his shoulder in another collision in 2012, and even played with a stress fracture in his foot in September and October of this season. Whether that makes him injury-prone, or merely another one of those unlucky Andersons, is the main question for suitors to answer internally.
His 2013 skill set alone makes him the second-best free agent available, and the hope that he can recapture some of the power he showed in 2011, when he started to drop the bat head more often to drive pitchers on the inner half, likely will lead teams to bid him up over that $20 million mark.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 25DOB: 11/1/1988HT: 6-2WT: 205POS: RHP
W-L 24-0*ERA 1.27IP 212SO 183BB 32
*All stats from 2013 Nippon Professional Baseball season
Way too much is being made of Tanaka's won-loss record this year for Rakuten -- as if we still haven't learned how utterly useless a measure that is of individual pitcher performance, 24 years after Storm Davis went 19-7 with a 4.36 ERA -- but he is the best free-agent starter available.
Comparisons to Yu Darvish are unfortunate, and wrong, but if we must keep to former NPB players, Hiroki Kuroda is a better fit: A potential No. 2 starter with outstanding control and at least one above-average to plus off-speed weapon to miss bats.
Tanaka used to pitch away from contact, but in the past two years, he has become more aggressive within the zone with his fastball, and his splitter is a solid 60 on the 20-80 scale. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and his slider will flash above-average to plus, while he mixes in a below-average curveball and a cutter, the same "kitchen-sink" approach pitchers often use in NPB but have to simplify when they come to MLB.
Tanaka's delivery doesn't include as much hip rotation as many pitchers developed in Japan; he hides the ball behind him but doesn't generate much torque, and he's got a big hook in the back of his delivery. He also missed a month with an undisclosed injury in spring 2012, which has to be a concern given his high workloads dating to high school.
The optimistic view of Tanaka sees incredible control and at least one pitch, possibly two, to miss MLB hitters' bats, making him worth the $15 million-plus it'll take in annual salary to sign him. There are absolutely reasons for skepticism here, but the same holds true for every free-agent starter on this list.
STATS IN NPB
AGE: 29DOB: 1/22/1984HT: 6-5WT: 210POS: RHP
W-L 13-9ERA 3.30SO 194BB 80WAR 2.7
From his first start with Cleveland in 2011 through the 2013 All-Star break, Ubaldo Jimenez was kind of terrible: He posted a 5.10 ERA in 340 2/3 innings, walking 175, allowing 45 homers, and striking out 299.
Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway started to work aggressively with Jimenez this past spring, getting him to speed up his delivery and keep himself more online toward the plate when he strides. There were flashes of the new Ubaldo in the first half of 2013, and in the second half, he was dominant, punching out 100 against 27 walks in 84 innings. In fact, Jimenez allowed more than three runs in only five starts after April.
He'll pitch at 30 years old in 2014 and looks like a new guy out there, establishing the fastball earlier in counts, throwing it for more strikes and getting more swings and misses on it. That allows him to set up his plus slider, short and hard at 85-87 mph, as well as a low- to mid-80s splitter with good bottom that helps him against left-handed hitters.
The lack of track record is terrifying, but a 30-year-old with this kind of stuff and his newfound control has to get four years, if not more, in this kind of market, likely for $14 million to $15 million a year.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 31DOB: 7/13/82HT: 5-11WT: 205POS: OF
AVG .285OBP .423OPS .885HR 21WAR 4.2
Choo is among the best free-agent position players on the market, one whose WAR stats probably understate his value, as he was asked to play out of position (in center field) in 2013.
When he returns to right field for a new club next year, his defensive value will improve, pushing his value up toward 6 WAR. He's among the majors' most patient hitters, an ideal leadoff guy with 15-20 homer power in a neutral park and an unusual talent for getting himself to first base via the HBP.
He has a major Achilles' heel, however, as his at-bats against lefties have been a lengthy exercise in futility, with lines of .215/.347/.265 in 2013; .199/.318/.286 in 2012; and .243/.340/.341 for his career. Those numbers the past two years, accumulated across 463 plate appearances, make him a strong candidate for a platoon, something few teams would consider with a player who is going to make the kind of money Choo should earn as a free agent.
Five years is probably too much given his age (32) and injury history, although it wouldn't surprise me if he got that, and he's worth close to $20 million a year to a high-revenue contender.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 30DOB: 12/12/1982HT: 6-2WT: 185POS: RHP
W-L 9-10ERA 3.24SO 161BB 51WAR 2.9
Santana's season with the Royals was a big part of why they managed to stay in the postseason race until the final two weeks of September, as he gave the Royals both quality and quantity while showing that he could pitch outside of the pitcher-friendly ballpark in Anaheim.
Santana's velocity was unchanged, but he used his sinker more often and got more movement on it, while he also threw more strikes across the board. The drop in his home run rate after leaving a tough home-run park has to help his case, as does the increased use of the sinker that explains how he kept the ball in the park more effectively.
He may always be a little homer-prone, but he's now in a range you can live with. He's one of the best free-agent starters available, and should get four years and top-of-the-market money as a result.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 30DOB: 12/13/1982HT: 6-2WT: 223POS: RHP
W-L 13-11ERA 3.70SO 165BB 46WAR 1.8
Nolasco looked like a new man in his first dozen starts after being a mid-season trade to the Dodgers, where he posted a 2.07 ERA, struck out 62, and walked 17 in 74 innings. His last three regular-season starts were fiascoes, as the Giants jumped all over his fastball in one outing, and in his next two, he seemed to shy away from establishing that pitch and was beaten on his curveball and split-change.
Given the additional scouting resources teams throw at potential free agents in September, the reports general managers get on Nolasco may not reflect how good he was until mid-September, especially the period where he was working to mimic Zack Greinke's approach, adding and subtracting with the fastball and putting guys away with the slider.
He's not Greinke, but he's durable enough to be Greinke-lite, worth 2.5 to 3 wins a year with a high probability of delivering 200 innings, which will get him three years and possibly four, all at mid-rotation money.
AGE: 29DOB: 2/20/84HT: 6-3WT: 230POS: C
AVG .256OBP .336OPS .797HR 20WAR 2.2
McCann is a strong offensive catcher, one of the best in baseball, who frames pitches well and has a track record of consistent production.
McCann has a patient approach and solid recognition of off-speed stuff, and has good hip rotation for power, hitting 20 to 24 homers in each of the past six seasons. Behind the plate, he's a terrible throwing catcher, but among the better framing catchers in the majors, delivering a lot of extra value to his teams that current defensive metrics don't adequately capture. (Also, the fact that a good framing catcher can make a tangible difference is a sign that we need automated calling of balls and strikes, stat.)
I'd hate to go five years on any free-agent catcher, given the wear and tear on such a player's knees and lower back, but McCann might command that, as well as more than $15 million a year, and is an ideal candidate for a club in desperate need of a policeman to make sure no opposing players break any unwritten rules.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 30DOB: 3/16/83HT: 6-0WT: 190POS: SS
AVG .253OBP .332OPS .776HR 13WAR 3.1
Drew just completed his first full healthy(ish) season since 2010, when a catastrophic ankle injury cost him a calendar year and led to his ouster from Arizona. He looked as good in the field as he had before he got hurt.
In a market with few shortstop options, that should make Drew a hot commodity. At the plate, he's a dead fastball hitter with a line-drive oriented swing, with just enough loft for 12-15 homers in a neutral park, but he struggles against any kind of off-speed stuff and is close to an automatic out against lefties.
The resurgence of his range in the field, thanks to the recovery of his ankle, is what makes him valuable -- replacement level is so low at shortstop that the offense he provides against right-handed pitchers makes him a 3-4 WAR player when healthy, worth three years and $12 million to $14 million a year to discount for his durability.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 36DOB: 1/3/1977HT: 6-4WT: 230POS: RHP
W-L 10-11ERA 3.30SO 209BB 67WAR 1.7
Burnett had just three full, healthy seasons as a starter before he reached free agency at age 31, but in the five years under the contract he initially signed with the Yankees after 2008, he reached 30 starts and 186 innings in every season, with three of those years coming in at 3.0 WAR (per FanGraphs) or greater.
He ranked second among qualifying major league starters in ground-ball rate in 2013, thanks to the tremendous life on his fastball, and his curveball, a spike, was the most valuable in the majors, according to FanGraphs' pitch values. Hitters were just .147/.182/.198 when the pitch ended a plate appearance, and with two strikes, nearly a quarter of hitters swung and missed at the curveball for strike three. Even if his velocity slides with age -- he'll be pitching at 37 in 2014 -- his improved command of the spike curveball, a real rarity on that pitch, means he should continue missing bats at a high rate for a few years to come.
Three guaranteed years might be pushing it at his age, but his recent track record says he's worth that and more than $15 million per year.
AGE: 29DOB: 11/26/1983HT: 6-4WT: 215POS: RHP
W-L 10-6ERA 3.82SO 136BB 42WAR 1.5
Garza followed the Ryan Dempster model one year later, pitching well for the Cubs, going to Texas in a trade, and pitching worse after the deal, hurting his stock a little as he heads into free agency.
He is a four-pitch pitcher who has reduced his worst offering, his changeup, to show-me status, while ramping up the use of his tailing two-seam fastball -- a positive move but one that hasn't helped him keep the ball on the ground or in the park.
The hard contact he's surrendering detracts from the value he brings through above-average control and the ability to miss bats with his slider, making him a mid-rotation, 3-WAR starter with a moderately high beta.
Assuming the 2012 elbow issue or 2013 lat strain don't cause him to flunk a physical, he's a three-year deal candidate in the $12 million to $14 million a year range.
AGE: 32DOB: 10/31/1981HT: 6-0WT: 220POS: 1B
AVG .259OBP .360OPS .842HR 23WAR 4.1
Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with Boston last winter, only to have it voided after the Red Sox discovered he had a degenerative hip condition, resulting in a one-year deal that guaranteed him just $5 million.
He stayed healthy all year, however, and ended up earning his $13 million by spending 165 days on the active roster. He should garner more interest this offseason, but I'd expect offers to still carry playing time incentives to protect any club against an extended DL stint due to the hip. On the field, he's a three true outcomes hitter -- walks, strikeouts, and 20-30 homers -- who showed this year that he can play a solid first base, with better range and hands than he'd shown as a part-time first baseman in Texas.
Even $13 million is cheap for a four-win player on a good team, and I'd be willing to offer him incentives to take him past that number, up to $16 million to $18 million per year, with the right protections on a two-year deal.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 32DOB: 3/16/1981HT: 6-1WT: 195POS: OF
AVG .229OBP .317OPS .724HR 7WAR 1.1
In 2011, Granderson was worth 6.7 WAR (per FanGraphs), among the most valuable position players in the league, thanks to his turnaround against left-handed pitchers that made him a complete player who drew walks and hit for substantial power.
His 2012 season was a step back, as his defense declined and he swung and missed more often just to maintain the same level of power output, while 2013 was a washout because of two fractures that limited him to 61 games. This could make him an appealing buy-low candidate, as he hits free agency off a miserable platform year, but a team might pay him hoping for 2011 and accepting 2012, when he was a 3-4 WAR player on offense who cost the Yankees with his glove in center.
Sign him for three years and $40 million to $45 million, run him out to left field every day, and hope that he stays healthy.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 28DOB: 5/2/85HT: 6-4WT: 235POS: C
AVG .273OBP .338OPS .804HR 14WAR 2.9
Saltalamacchia's development into an above-average catcher was a long process requiring patience two previous teams didn't have, but he blossomed with Boston, finishing seventh among MLB catchers in wOBA (min: 300 PA) this past season.
Some of that value came from a career-high .372 BABIP, which is totally unsustainable, but he's always been a solid line-drive hitter, and he tightened up his plate discipline just enough that you could comfortably posit him as a 2-WAR catcher going forward.
Although he is a switch-hitter, he could use a right-handed hitting platoon partner, as more than 600 MLB plate appearances against lefties have demonstrated that this is not his forte: .206/.267/.332, with about a .090 drop in his BABIP compared to what he does against right-handers. He's a below-average defensive catcher both at throwing and framing, but is passable enough to stay there and let his bat play, at least when he's hitting from the left side.
The market for catching is so weak that it's hard to imagine him getting fewer than three years.
AGE: 40DOB: 5/24/1973HT: 5-11WT: 265POS: RHP
W-L 18-6ERA 2.65SO 117BB 29WAR 5.1
Fat jokes and PED jokes aside, the guy is 40 years old, throws one pitch (a fastball, 85 percent of the time, leading all MLB starters last year), and did about two-thirds of his work in 2013 in strong pitchers' parks. Even if he were svelte and had a clean history, he'd be facing a lot of skepticism and probably one-year-plus-option offers.
That all makes him more interesting to me as a variation of the buy-low candidate -- he's coming off a great year that a lot of teams will want to disbelieve, so he may find it hard to receive full value after a season that was worth four to five wins above replacement. He's like a house with an ugly kitchen where all the appliances work. It's a question of what you can live with, and what you're willing to pay.
AGE: 31DOB: 5/28/1982HT: 6-2WT: 215POS: SS/3B
AVG .303OBP .358OPS .815HR 11WAR 3.3
Peralta's a competent hitter for an infielder who created a ton of value for Detroit in the past three-plus years by standing around shortstop and playing adequate defense at a position where replacement value is currently somewhere in the crawl space under my house. (Seriously, you don't want to go in there.)
He smokes left-handed pitching and is decent enough against right-handers that he doesn't require a platoon-mate, struggling only against righties' sliders and plus-plus fastballs -- weaknesses for most right-handed hitters. He should have a lot of interest from clubs that need help at third base, where he'd probably be an asset on defense as well, but someone has to call and see if he'll play shortstop again, because the two major defensive metrics (UZR and DRS) both have him above-average there in each of the past three seasons.
It doesn't look pretty, but it doesn't have to. A fringe shortstop who posts a .340 OBP with 15-20 homers is practically an All-Star these days.
AGE: 36DOB: 4/24/1977HT: 6-1WT: 210POS: OF
AVG .296OBP .339OPS .830HR 24WAR 2.4
Beltran hits the market in better position than he did two years ago, coming off two strong, healthy years for St. Louis where his offense wasn't far below where it was in his peak years.
His injury-plagued 2009 and 2010 seasons are less of an immediate concern at this point, although any 37-year-old position player carries a significant injury risk, and there's good reason to look at him as a left field or DH option to limit how much work his knees have to put in.
There were some red flags in his 2013 performance -- his defense was markedly worse, his platoon split widened with a .282 OBP against lefties (in a small sample), and his walk rate was the worst of his career -- all of which could point to an imminent decline. He also still makes a lot of hard contact with plus power, something few batters on this market can offer.
He'll probably get two years, because he's a possible Hall of Famer coming off two good years, although I'd rather go one year and $12-plus million than run the risk of the second year.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 30DOB: 2/7/1983HT: 6-7WT: 230POS: RHP
W-L 12-12ERA 3.86SO 132BB 56WAR 1.6
Feldman's stats took a small hit after moving back to the American League after a midseason trade from the Cubs, but he held his value well enough pitching in a tough division in the second half to keep himself in line for a long-term deal.
His 2012 ERA (5.09) didn't reflect how well he'd pitched overall if you went by his peripherals (strikeout, walk, and home run rates), and in 2013, everything came together and then some, as his .258 BABIP allowed was the lowest of his career. What's real about Feldman's 2013 improvement, however, is a sharper curveball, with better angle and depth, and more ground balls from his sinker than he's ever produced before. His walk rates have always been low and he strikes out just enough batters to post an ERA in the area of 4.00.
He's a good fourth starter who'll be paid like a third starter, probably a three-year deal in the $25 million to $30 million range total.
AGE: 38DOB: 2/10/1975HT: 6-1WT: 205POS: RHP
W-L 11-13ERA 3.31SO 150BB 43WAR 4.1
DJ EZ-Hirok looked like he'd be a top-10 free agent until a late-season fade that added almost a run to his ERA across his final seven starts, as his fastball became more line-drive and homer-prone and he found himself unable to get to his out pitch, the splitter.
Before that point, Kuroda was his usual self, keeping the ball down, rarely walking anybody, and missing enough bats with the splitter to be an above-average and very durable starter. The eye test matched the stats for his end-of-year demise, as his fastball had no life and he was getting too much of the middle of the zone, shocking for a guy who'd generally worked the edges well for his career.
He'll be pitching at age 39 in 2014, and I think there's at least a 30 percent chance that he's already going over the cliff, so I wouldn't go more than a year and about $7 million to $8 million guaranteed, hoping there's another 3-WAR season in there but recognizing that if he's not that, there's a good chance he's down near replacement level.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 29DOB: 1/24/84HT: 6-0WT: 185POS: LHP
W-L 8-7ERA 4.04SO 162BB 47WAR 1.1
Kazmir was out of organized baseball in 2012 and hadn't been above replacement level in the majors since 2008, but the time off and some mechanical tweaks have helped him recover his lost velocity. After working in the offseason with private pitching coach Ron Wolforth, he's sinking the ball more, and more effectively, than when he tried to remake himself in that vein in 2011.
Kazmir is getting better leverage off his back leg and rotating his upper body more completely; it's a delivery that looks more violent but brought back some of his lost velocity and allowed him to throw his slider for strikes. He has qualified just twice for the ERA title, the last time in 2007, so he shouldn't be paid like a mid-rotation starter even though his peripherals say he was one, but two years and $5 million to $6 million per year wouldn't be as insane as it sounds.
AGE: 38DOB: 7/14/75HT: 6-1WT: 175POS: RHP
W-L 8-7ERA 3.97SO 95BB 36WAR 1.0
If Hudson were younger, he'd likely be in line for a three- or four-year deal this offseason, even coming off a major ankle injury. He hasn't posted an ERA over 4.00 since 2006, and his primary skill, generating ground balls, is one that pitchers can hold even as their fastballs start to slip with age.
But Hudson will be 39 in July, so he's one of the best short-term starting pitcher options on the market, with outstanding control of that 88-90 mph sinker and an above-average slider as a way to miss some right-handers' bats. I wouldn't bank on more than about 180 innings from Hudson in 2014, but they'll likely be good ones, with a mid-3s ERA if he's got the right infield behind him.
AGE: 33DOB: 9/17/80HT: 6-5WT: 215POS: RHP
W-L 10-14ERA 4.67SO 151BB 31WAR -0.1
Haren's one year in Washington started horribly, leading to a mid-year DL stint that he said was more for "mental reasons" than due to any injury, after which he posted numbers not too far off from his previous standard: 87 2/3 innings, 84 strikeouts, 18 walks, 9 homers, and a 3.29 ERA. While he's not going to do that over a full season, he has the command and control to learn to succeed with an 88 mph fastball, and the out pitch in the splitter that can help him continue to miss bats and potentially keep the ball in the park.
Locating the fastball down in the zone was key for him in the second half, and if he can do that to set up the splitter, he'll be a fourth or even third starter as long as he's healthy.
AGE: 33DOB: 7/1/80HT: 6-2WT: 230POS: OF
AVG .266OBP .327OPS .822HR 27WAR 2
Cruz's 2013 season ended when he accepted a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal, but prior to that, he'd had a very Nelson Cruz season -- lots of power, a low OBP, dubious defense -- but without his usual platoon or home/road split.
At 33, he probably hasn't acquired any new skills, but I could see teams looking at his road performance in 2013 (.267/.319/.519), or his uncharacteristic performance against right-handed starters (.262/.316/.521 after two years of a .244/.293/.443 line), and figuring he's a middle-of-the-order solution.
I think he's a complementary piece, good for 25-30 homers but with declining OBPs (toward and eventually below .300) as he ages, not someone I'd give more than two years. Texas gave him a qualifying offer, and he's the kind of player whose value could be significantly affected by that.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 34DOB: 3/22/1979HT: 6-0WT: 235POS: UTILITY
AVG .278OBP .331OPS .769HR 12WAR 4.1
The Uribear got himself in better shape -- I wouldn't say "good" shape, but better -- for 2013, improving his defense at third and running better than he had in years, producing the most valuable season of his career to date.
He can hit a good fastball and, as we all know now, a hanging breaking ball, but quality sliders and curveballs give him fits and he's never going to be a high-OBP or high-contact hitter. He'll play at 35 in 2014, so he's too risky for a multiyear deal, but his defense and power make him a solid bet for a year and $8 million, maybe a tick more if you think his clubhouse presence brings some extra value, too.
AGE: 30DOB: 6/20/1983HT: 6-1WT: 225POS: DH/1B
AVG .277OBP .336OPS .785HR 23WAR 2.7
Morales improved slightly on his numbers from his return to action in 2012, a year that might have reflected the long layoff after a catastrophic foot injury cost him the 2011 season. The 2009 version of Morales isn't coming back, but he can be a productive solution at first or DH for a second-division club.
A switch-hitter, he's a better hitter from the left side, with more rotation and loft in his swing, and has a tendency to get long to the ball when hitting right-handed. He's a DH who can handle first base on a part-time basis, but most teams would like more defense out of that spot than he can provide.
The right environment could get him to 30 homers, but I'd expect more like 20-25 with a mediocre OBP and wouldn't go past two years and $12 million or so. Seattle gave him a qualifying offer, which could crush his value.
• Received qualifying offer
AGE: 30DOB: 2/2/1983HT: 6-0WT: 215POS: LHP
W-L 9-8ERA 4.02SO 109BB 46WAR 1.8
Vargas has had a quiet four-year run as a capable fifth starter, throwing 761 innings with a 3.97 ERA in two good pitchers' parks, good for about 7-8 WAR in that span.
He hasn't fully committed to junk-balling, still using his fastball 56 percent of the time, but works very heavily with his changeup (only four qualifying starters used it more) and curveball. The changeup has made him slightly more effective against right-handed batters, as it appears to be heading for the lower middle part of the zone but tails off and gets hitters to mistime and swing over the top of it.
Finesse lefties like this have a good history of holding value into their 30s even with below-average fastballs, and assuming Vargas' issue with a blood clot near his armpit has no lasting effects, he'd be worth two years and $10 million to $12 million.
AGE: 29DOB: 1/31/1984HT: 6-7WT: 210POS: RHP
W-L 2-8ERA 6.20SO 83BB 30WAR -1.6
Johnson was among the majors' best pitchers when healthy over his tenure in Miami, but he's been healthy less frequently in recent years and in 2013 was just awful when he wasn't on Toronto's disabled list. It's possible that the bone spurs that were removed from his elbow in early October were the cause of his loss of command -- his velocity was normal, but his fastball had little life and he was around the middle of the plate far too often, resulting in a career-high home run rate driven by that poor location.
He's the highest-upside pitcher among starting pitchers on this market, with enormous risk due to his injury history, but well worth a one-year deal with a generous option.
AGE: 31DOB: 1/22/79HT: 5-10WT: 205POS: C
AVG .268OBP .320OPS .688HR 5WAR 1.7
Ruiz might have made a lot more money had he been a free agent last offseason, but a positive test for amphetamines and an awful 2013 will diminish interest in him, especially as he's now a 35-year-old catcher who might not be able to handle full-time duty. His brief power surge in 2012 was probably a mirage, and he struggled to hit better velocity this past season.
He'd be a solid platoon catcher with a left-handed-hitting partner, although he'll likely get a one- or two-year deal for more than part-time money.
AGE: 36DOB: 8/30/77HT: 6-0WT: 215POS: OF
AVG .291OBP .336OPS .843HR 24WAR 5
Byrd's bounceback year came after a 2012 season that saw him perform like a player at the end of his career until he was suspended for using a steroid-masking agent. In 2013, he posted the highest strikeout rate of his career while also posting the second-best BABIP of his career, all at age 35.
He plays an adequate corner outfield with above-average power, but I expect him to lose a good 30-40 points off his batting average and wouldn't go beyond a year and $6 million to $7 million guaranteed, if that.
AGE: 31DOB: 12/26/81HT: 5-11WT: 195POS: 2B
AVG .318OBP .345OPS .795HR 10WAR 2.4
Infante plays solid-average defense at second and rarely strikes out, a combination of skills that has been enough to make him a 2-WAR or better player in each of the past three years, even though he does nothing particularly well. He's a versatile infielder who can handle short and is solid at third, so as he ages he's better cast in a super-utility role than as an everyday second baseman without power.
His .318 average in 2013, the second-best mark of his career, was a fluke, so expect him to drop back into the .270-.290 range with a low-.300s OBP, the kind of player worth a year and $4 million to $5 million because he can fill a couple of spots, but not much more than that.
AGE: 27DOB: 7/24/1986HT: 6-5WT: 240POS: RHP
W-L 4-14ERA 5.19SO 121BB 42WAR -0.7
Hughes never had any sustained success as a starter for the Yankees due to an absence of life on his four-seam fastball, making him an extreme fly ball/line-drive pitcher. He also lacks a viable third pitch, preferably one that would add lateral movement to his pitch mix.
He switched this year from a hard mid-70s curveball that broke almost straight down to a short, soft slider around 79-82 mph that is hard to command because of the way the pitch dies over the plate. He needs work to be more than a fifth starter, even though he has the durability. He certainly could benefit from a move to a large ballpark.
Otherwise, I like him as a short reliever who can air it out and potentially get tighter rotation on whatever breaking ball he takes going forward. Either way, he's a candidate for a one-year deal where he can reestablish his value for next winter.
AGE: 31DOB: 6/25/1982HT: 6-2WT: 220POS: LHP
W-L 10-11ERA 4.41SO 105BB 47WAR -0.1
Maholm was a dependable fourth or fifth starter for years, but he may have come too close to the ledge in 2013 as he had the worst fastball velocity of his career and couldn't keep the ball in the park despite a high ground-ball rate. His higher BABIP was probably also a function of that lost velocity, meaning Maholm is going to have to pitch backward and de-emphasize the fastball to be effective.
He's a left-hander with a good changeup, two common traits in pitchers who've made that transition, but right now I wouldn't go beyond a year, as he's a fifth starter with some downside risk.
AGE: 29DOB: 5/7/1984HT: 6-3WT: 220POS: 1B
AVG .299OBP .348OPS .778HR 13WAR 2.7
Loney is a time-out-of-joint player, a high-contact, low-power first baseman with a good glove in an era where we want our first basemen to mash, even if it means a bunch of strikeouts. The Rays just let Loney be Loney and got the best full season of his career as a result, but the market for this kind of player remains slim, as few teams value this skill set at a traditional power position.
He might slip to .280/.335/.420 or so, but that's still a 2-WAR player and worth a year and $4 million to $5 million.
AGE: 30DOB: 9/5/83HT: 6-2WT: 190POS: OF
AVG .200OBP .280OPS .659HR 12WAR 0.0
I loved Chris Young as a buy-low candidate for Oakland (who acquired him in a trade with Arizona) last winter, but 2013 turned out to be a new low-water mark for him as he played the backup to Coco Crisp and only had 130 at-bats after the All-Star break. Young did shorten his swing in the second half, but the results weren't great, and he might be better off accepting more strikeouts if it restores his old power.
He's still a good buy-low candidate in my eyes, as he has some pop and patience, and can still play an average (if not better) center field. If I could get him for a year and $2 million guaranteed, I'd take that flier.
AGE: 32DOB: 10/18/1981HT: 6-4WT: 210POS: OF
AVG .220OBP .282OPS .656HR 13WAR 0.2
Murphy was never more than a platoon outfielder, since he couldn't hit left-handed pitching at all, but he stopped hitting right-handed pitching in 2013 and ended up a perfect example of that mythical beast: the replacement-level player.
He was eaten alive by off-speed stuff and struggled to elevate anything, only producing anything of value on defense, where he was well above-average in left field. He might not get a guaranteed deal, but I think he can at least return to the .275/.335/.440 level he showed from 2008 to 2011, which, with his glove, makes him worth $2 million to $3 million a year.
AGE: 30DOB: 2/21/83HT: 6-2WT: 195POS: OF
AVG .248OBP .273OPS .776HR 10WAR 0.4
It wasn't that long ago that any discussion of the game's top defensive players had to start with Gutierrez, who was the game's best defensive center fielder in 2009 and among the best in 2010 and 2011. He's been hurt so often since then, however, that he's only accumulated 658 plate appearances in the past three seasons, and his defensive metrics have reflected his injuries and slight playing time.
On a one-year deal as a backup for a team with an uncertain center-field position, however, he'd be a good value play who has .250/.300/.450 potential at the plate if healthy.
AGE: 27DOB: 7/24/86HT: 6-0WT: 190POS: RHP
W-L 3-6ERA 4.00IP 82 2/3SO 76BB 28
*All stats from 2013 Kia Tigers Professional Baseball season
Yoon wasn't the same after the 2013 World Baseball Classic, returning to KBO late in the spring and eventually landing in the bullpen when he couldn't regain his stuff as a starter. Prior to 2013, Yoon would work in the 90-92 mph range in the rotation with a full assortment of off-speed pitches, including an above-average or better changeup.
In 2013, he dropped to 87-90 mph and had to rely even more on his secondary stuff, only getting his velocity back in relief work. His fastball is true and up in the zone, so it's more likely he ends up in relief here than in a rotation, but I'd at least give him a chance to show he can miss enough bats with the changeup and slider to end up a fourth or fifth fourth starter.
STATS IN KBO
AGE: 31DOB: 2/22/1982HT: 6-1WT: 200POS: UTILITY
AVG .235OBP .305OPS .715HR 16WAR 1.3
Johnson is a three-true-outcomes player who doesn't hit enough homers to mitigate the lack of contact and low batting averages he produces. He's able to turn on a fastball, but pitchers who can locate their off-speed stuff eat him alive, especially if they can do so within the strike zone.
He played mostly in left field for the Rays in 2013, but has spent of his career at second base, where he's a slightly below-average defender. He runs deep counts, draws enough walks to keep his OBP over .300, and might sneak back to 20 homers in a full season, making him worth a year and $3 million to $4 million, but nothing further.
AGE: 38DOB: 11/22/74HT: 6-4WT: 230POS: RHP
SV 43ERA 1.39SO 73BB 22WAR 3.2
That ERA is misleading, but Nathan did have two very solid years in relief for the Rangers, producing more than 4 wins above replacement for the $14 million he was paid, and sparing us all endless "the Rangers need a proven closer" stories in that span.
There were some slight red flags in 2013, as his velocity was a little lower and he became more reliant on the slider than ever before, and hitters squared him up a little more often.
Nathan likely has two or three years left as a solid late-game relief option, good for just 60-70 innings a year in one-inning stints, overvalued by saves but still worth up to 2 WAR.
AGE: 32DOB: 7/5/1981HT: 6-1WT: 215POS: RHP
SV 0ERA 0.74SO 46BB 11WAR 2.4
Another pitcher in the "good when healthy" category, Crain was otherwordly for 36 innings to start 2013, but went down with a shoulder strain in early July and never returned, even after a late-July trade to Tampa Bay for a couple of non-prospects.
Crain's velocity was good when he pitched and he'd brought back the tight curveball he'd used more often in Minnesota, but his history of shoulder ailments, including major surgery in 2007 and at least two subsequent DL stints, will likely preclude him from getting more than a one-year, incentive-laden deal. He might be worth $1 million or so if he's healthy for 50 innings in 2014.
AGE: 36DOB: 3/18/77HT: 5-11WT: 220POS: RHP
SV 37ERA 3.38SO 82BB 36WAR 0.5
Rodney was right on target in 2012, but he was wide of the mark too often in 2013, as his walk rate was more in line with his performance before his 2011 meltdown year in Anaheim. He works in the mid-90s with a legitimate out pitch in the changeup, but below-average fastball command and the lack of a breaking ball make him vulnerable to rallies of his own making.
He's a solid late-inning relief option but nowhere close to a 0.60 ERA guy or to what those 85 saves the past few years might seem to tell you.
AGE: 36DOB: 7/26/1977HT: 6-3WT: 220POS: RHP
SV 24ERA 2.01SO 73BB 22WAR 2.8
The grand slam he surrendered to David Ortiz in Game 2 of the ALCS shouldn't change our evaluation of Benoit, as he just turned in his fourth straight season of effective short relief work since Tampa Bay signed him off the scrap heap before 2010.
The Tigers used him judiciously in 2013, bringing him back without any days of rest only 15 times all season, which may be part of why he was throwing harder than ever. He's still a fastball-changeup guy with an average slider he doesn't need very often, and as long as he keeps throwing strikes, as he has the past four years, he can be a 1-WAR reliever who works in leveraged situations.
AGE: 31DOB: 9/2/1982HT: 6-6WT: 225POS: RHP
W-L 7-8ERA 4.97SO 96BB 48WAR 0.0
Hammel was so homer-prone in 2013 that he gave up more bombs in 139 innings than he did in any of the three full seasons he pitched for the Rockies.
His big 2012 season came thanks to heavy use of a two-seamer he'd introduced the previous fall, a low-90s fastball with plus sink that generated a 53 percent ground ball rate. Elbow trouble in 2013 killed his velocity and that two-seam action, reducing his effectiveness at missing bats and keeping the ball on the ground.
His velocity ticked back up in a final-day relief outing and he could have value as a swingman if he can't maintain his stuff in a fifth-starter role.
AGE: 31DOB: 9/2/1982HT: 6-6WT: 225POS: RHP
W-L 7-8ERA 4.97SO 96BB 48WAR 0.0
Joba might never have amounted to anything even if the Yankees had done everything right, but it is hard to think of a recent example of a pitcher who's been mishandled to this extent by any club that didn't simultaneously employ Dusty Baker. (Mark Prior waves with his non-throwing hand.)
Chamberlain still has a plus fastball and he'll flash a plus slider that can generate some ugly swings -- when he's not leaving it up over the plate, which he does too often. I think he's a one-year, change-of-scenery candidate for a setup role, a guy who has a good history of at least missing bats and is one grade of command away from being a 1.5-WAR reliever for someone other than the Yanks.
AGE: 36DOB: 2/24/1977HT: 6-4WT: 195POS: RHP
W-L 14-12ERA 3.79SO 124BB 34WAR 2.5
There's some value in durability, which Arroyo has, with 32 or more starts in nine straight seasons, including all eight since he moved to hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. He's had to ramp up the use of his slider as his velocity has slipped into the upper 80s, averaging about 87 mph the past three years, and his problems with the long ball are only likely to increase as he gets older.
He fills up the strike zone and takes the ball every fifth day, which is somewhat faint praise but still makes him a $2 million to $3 million fifth-starter candidate on a one-year deal.
AGE: 31DOB: 3/16/1982HT: 6-2WT: 203POS: RHP
SV 0ERA 0.66SO 13BB 2WAR 0.6
If you want to give the people their beard and circus, this is your guy. Wilson actually looked very good in his late-season return to action with the Dodgers, throwing as hard as ever (after his second Tommy John surgery), and, in a limited sample, throwing strikes.
He's a solid setup candidate who has that closer aura in case a team wants a backup option for the ninth inning, worth a year (maybe with an option), and $2 million to $3 million.
AGE: 29DOB: 2/9/84HT: 5-9WT: 205POS: C
AVG .300OBP .365OPS .857HR 13WAR 2.0
Navarro's surprising half-season in Chicago produced 2 WAR, a combination of his unusually high (by his own career norms) BABIP, a career high in homers, a solid walk rate, and above-average throwing.
He's a mediocre pitch-framer and hasn't performed like this since 2008, but would be worth up to $2 million on a one-year deal to be a fringe starter or a heavy-usage backup, given how little there is of value behind the plate right now.
AGE: 31DOB: 3/24/82HT: 6-6WT: 235POS: 1B/OF
AVG .270*OBP .334OPS .841HR 30WAR 1.8
*Stats listed above are from 2012 season.
Hart missed all of 2013 after undergoing surgery on both knees, making his availability for full-time duty in 2014 something of a question mark, but making him one of the better high-risk/high-reward plays on the market.
He averaged .279/.343/.514 in his last three seasons in Milwaukee, an offense-first guy who struggles on defense but is very comfortable as the boy in the batter's box, except against right-handed pitchers' sliders, which have always given him fits. There's the risk he won't be able to handle a full season's workload, and the risk that after knee problems he'll lose some or much of his power because he can't fully utilize his lower half, but there's also the possibility that he slugs .475 or better even if it's in somewhat limited duty.
A team like Tampa Bay, with a hole at first and a history of going after guys like this, could see great value on a one-year, $3 million to $4 million deal.
AGE: 35DOB: 12/30/1977HT: 6-2WT: 200POS: RHP
SV 38ERA 2.59SO 72BB 27WAR 1.4
Balfour's been the beneficiary of a huge ballpark and good defense his past few years in Oakland, but he has that Proven Closer™ tag and is likely to be treated as such in the market when he's more of a solid middle reliever or setup type.
He has always had a big four-seamer that he could command in and around the zone, but in the past four years, he's gradually shifted from a fastball-only guy to a fastball-slider guy. He'll use the slider as a swing-and-miss pitch by going low and away to right-handed batters, while his hard curveball is his out pitch against lefties; he threw 66 curveballs to left-handed batters in 2013, but didn't allow any of those men to reach on that pitch, generating 13 swings and misses.
Because of the straight fastball, he's a heavy fly ball/line drive guy and likely will look worse in another park or in front of an inferior defense, but he can still provide a half- to a full win of value in a 65-inning relief role.
AGE: 33DOB: 6/6/1980HT: 6-4WT: 225POS: RHP
W-L 5-13ERA 5.19SO 101BB 53WAR -0.3
Pelfrey was basically replacement level in 2013, his first full year back after Tommy John surgery, which was by far the worst of his career.
Prior to the injury he'd been durable, if never close to what he was expected to be when he was the ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft out of Wichita State. He still works with an above-average fastball and has some sink, although his ground ball rate in Minnesota was a bit higher than his previous career norms.
The hope is that he can recapture that ground ball rate, while retaining his good control, which should get him a year and $2-3 million, although without a viable breaking ball he'll never be more than a fourth starter.