Now that the trade deadline has past, it’s time to take a look at what is available this upcoming offseason. Free agency provides general managers with the opportunity to change the fortune of their franchise in a single quick move. Here is a look at the top free agents for this upcoming year with a prediction on where they will be playing next season.
Max Scherzer Detroit Tigers: 13-4 with a 3.24 ERA:
The 29-year-old flame-throwing righty bet on himself when he turned down a reportedly huge contract extension from the Tigers this spring. Last year’s Cy Young Award winner has made at least 30 starts in each of the past five seasons and seems to have surpassed his more celebrated rotation-mate Justin Verlander. However, now that Dave Dombrowski went out and acquired David Price, it appears unlikely that he will resign with the Tigers after this season.
Prediction: New York Yankees – 5 years $165 million
Jon Lester Boston Red Sox/Oakland Athletics: 11-7 with a 2.59 ERA.
Lester had a down 2012, but the lefty returned to elite status last season, and is pitching even better in 2014. He is on pace for a career high of 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings, and at the age of 30 is in the prime of his career. A reported extension offered earlier this year by Boston seemed surprisingly light in both years and dollars, and was rejected. After being traded to Oakland July 31, the chances that he signs back with the Red Sox have slimmed. The Red Sox have made it clear that they do not want to give Lester the money that he should get in an open market.
Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers – 6 years $110 million
Justin Masterson Cleveland Indians/St. Louis Cardinals: 5-6 with a 5.63 ERA.
One of the nicest guys in the game, it appeared the tall righty was turning into an ace with his work over the past few years. However, he has taken a bit of a step back in 2014, especially with his control, as he leads the league in walks and is on pace for a career-high 4.5 walks per nine innings. Death on right-handed hitters (career .590 OPS permitted), he is a welcome sight to lefties, who have tuned him up for a .786 OPS. Although he may find it difficult to get paid like an ace, he will have no shortage of suitors who will covet what he does bring to the table and the 200 innings he has averaged over the past four seasons.
Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals – 3 years $45 million
James Shields Kansas City Royals: 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA.
Appearing well on his way to eclipsing the 200-inning mark for the eighth consecutive season, the right-handed Shields is a durable workhorse. Still an extremely effective pitcher, teams may want to exercise caution when vetting his contract demands. He will be 33 next season and there have to be questions about how much longer he can remain so durable. Additionally, his hits allowed per nine innings have been on the rise in each of the past three years, while his strikeouts per nine have declined during that same time. He should be a valuable addition to any rotation, but betting the farm on him heading a rotation for a long stretch may be a dangerous proposition.
Prediction: Atlanta Braves – 3 years $50 million.
Jorge De La Rosa Colorado Rockies: 11-7 with a 4.27 ERA
One of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, the southpaw rebounded from injuries in 2011-2012 to regain his steady form. His career record of 38-13 with a 4.09 ERA in the notorious pitcher graveyard known as Coors Field is a testament to his abilities. If the Rockies don’t bring him back, any number of teams would be pleased to bring him aboard to lock down the middle of their rotation.
Prediction: Baltimore Orioles – 3 years $35 million.
Nelson Cruz Baltimore Orioles: .260 BA with 29 home runs and 77 RBIs.
The right-handed slugger lost out on his first big contract last offseason after serving a 50-game suspension in light of the Biogenesis investigation. Settling on a one-year deal with the Orioles, he seems determined to show his baseball skills remain intact. He should see plenty of multi-year offers, but his abysmal defense and age that is creeping into the mid-30s will keep teams from extending anything too foolhardy.
Prediction: Detroit Tigers – 3 years $40 million.
Victor Martinez Detroit Tigers: .324 BA with 23 home runs and 66 RBIs.
The definition of a professional hitter, the veteran is the heir apparent to David Ortiz for the title of best DH in baseball. Able to play first base (or even catch) in a pinch, Martinez is best-suited for a team looking to exploit his potent bat. The switch-hitter will be 36 next season but is showing no signs of slowing down, currently in the MVP race for this season. He will be a fantastic addition for any team lucky enough to get him to sign his name on the dotted line.
Prediction: Detroit Tigers – 3 years $40 million.
Hanley Ramirez Los Angeles Dodgers: .272 BA with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs.
Never known for stellar defense, Ramirez’s potent bat will earn him his money this offseason. With a career .300 batting average, the 30-year-old right-handed hitter can still swing the stick and has power, but has lost some of the speed that saw him swipe 32 bases as recently as 2010. A near-lock to be signed as a third baseman, he is still a strong candidate for a deal that reaches nine figures.
Prediction: New York Yankees – 5 years $110 million.
Pablo Sandoval San Francisco Giants: .247 BA with 8 home runs and 26 RBIs
It’s feast or famine with the big slugging corner infielder who has famously struggled with fluctuating weight. After a horrendous start to this season that saw him hitting .177 with two home runs through April, the 27-year-old switch-hitter has turned it around. Interested teams will have to reconcile the possibility maintaining his conditioning with his .294 career batting average and being a key member of two World Series winning teams in his first seven seasons.
Prediction: San Francisco Giants – 4 years $50 million.
Chase Headley San Diego Padres/New York Yankees: .232 BA with 8 home runs and 37 RBIs.
Since his breakout season in 2010, Headley has not been the same. Headley was predicted to be the headliner of this years free agent class, but has failed to live up to the hype that led to him to finish second in MVP voting in 2010. The 30-year-old third baseman has been hitting well since his trade to New York and will get a few offers this offseason. Headley’s upside and potential to be a MVP type player is what will make GM’s want to take the risk on him this winter.
Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers – 3 years $33 million.
Stephen Drew Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees: .177 BA with 4 home runs and 16 RBIs.
After failing to land a long-term deal to his liking last offseason, Drew resigned with Boston only recently on a pro-rated basis. His steady glove will be a plus, but his age (32 next season) and having not hit better than .253 since 2010 will hold him back from getting a monster deal. Regardless, some team with a hole at shortstop will go after this veteran now that he will no longer be tied to qualifying offer compensation.
Prediction: New York Mets – 2 years $20 million
Other Notable Free Agents
Ervin Santana: Now that there is no compensation attached to the 31-year-old righty, there will be a lot of interest in Santana, especially on a multi-year deal. Santana has pitched very well this year; with a sub 4.00 ERA and 129 strikeouts along with 10 wins to date.
J.J. Hardy: Hardy has been known for his fielding and has began to transform his hitting over the past few years in Baltimore. Any team that needs help at shortstop would be thankful to land Hardy come this offseason.
Melky Cabrera: Throughout his stint in Toronto, Cabrera has shown MLB scouts that he can play. Melky is hitting .311 so far this year and to go along with stellar fielding, what team would not want that in their lineup?
Mike Morse: Morse has been very good in San Francisco this year which has made his stock rise. Morse has 15 home runs this year and has been a very consistent fielder, playing LF and 1B, making him a valuable asset to many teams throughout the league.