The hot stove season is upon us, so At Home Plate staff writers Jonathan Leshanski and Jim Mancari have shared their predictions of where the top 15 free agents (as ranked by MLBTradeRumors.com) will sign.
1) Robinson Cano, Yankees – As much as the Yankees are trying to reduce their payroll to around $189 million, they are not going to sacrifice the quality of their team. Robinson Cano will be the new face of the team for years to come, and the Yanks will eventually get a deal done. There will likely be plenty of back-and-forth negotiations, but now that the Dodgers have appeared to remove themselves from the sweepstakes, the Yankees may be bidding against themselves. Something in the neighborhood of seven-to-eight years and around $220 million should get a deal done, unless Cano thinks he’s going to get 10 years, which is crazy. But eventually, the sides will come to an agreement, and Cano will finish his career in pinstripes.
2) Jacoby Ellsbury, Rangers – The Rangers are looking for an outfielder with the impending departure of Nelson Cruz, and Ellsbury may be their man. He would form a speedy duo atop the team’s lineup with either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar. There has been a revolving door in center field for Texas the past few years, but Ellsbury would fill that void. His price tag may be a bit high, so it depends on how desperate the Rangers are to sign him. But this seems like a good fit.
3) Shin Soo-Choo, Yankees – The Yankees will be losing Curtis Granderson to free agency, so they’ll be looking for a replacement in the outfield. Shin-Soo Choo is coming off a great year with the Reds, and his name has already been connected to multiple teams. Choo would slide nicely into the Yankees’ leadoff spot in the order, with Derek Jeter hitting second and providing protection. Plus Jeter’s health is still a question mark, so having Choo as a consistent on-base guy atop the order would be huge. Choo is seeking a $100 million deal, which is exorbitant at this point. But if his price tag comes down, the Yankees will be in play.
4) Brian McCann, Yankees – Wait a minute, I thought the Yankees are trying to reduce payroll? But again, they are not going to sacrifice talent. Brian McCann would fill a gaping hole at catcher for the Bombers. He’s a bit older, so he may not command a deal longer than four years. Anything longer and the Yanks would stay away, but keep in mind he could DH later in his career. McCann would be dangerous with the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.
5) Masahiro Tanaka, Blue Jays – The 25-year-old has gotten so much attention, and a boatload of teams have already expressed interest. I can see a team like the Blue Jays making a play here. The team is only a few pieces away from being a force in the AL East, and improving the starting rotation would certainly help. It’s always a risk to bring in an unproven Japanese import, but in this case, the risk could be worth the reward, since he’s still so young.
6) Ervin Santana, Nationals – The Nationals already have three dominant starting pitchers in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. And now, adding a proven veteran starter like Ervin Santana can be just what the team needs to improve after a disappointing year. At this point in his career, Santana will likely want to go to a place where he has a chance of winning a ring. Washington could afford him that opportunity.
7) Matt Garza, Dodgers – The Dodgers have shown recently that they’re not afraid to spend money. Even with Clayton Kershaw set to earn what may become the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, the team is still looking to add a starter this offseason. What may happen is that they’ll be forced to overpay for Garza, but if the team is able to move the contracts of one of their outfielders (Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier) via trade, then a deal could work out.
8) Hiroki Kuroda, Blue Jays – If you were a 25-year-old Japanese pitcher gearing up for a completely new experience of pitching in America, wouldn’t you want a teammate that has been through something similar? That could be the case for Masahiro Tanaka in wanting to sign on the same team as veteran Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda will be 39 next season, so he might only command a one-year deal but with a higher salary. He’s still productive on the mound, but he’d be more valuable to the Blue Jays in helping Tanaka adjust to the American game.
9) A.J. Burnett, Pirates – A.J. Burnett has pitched much better in Pittsburgh than his brief stint with the Yankees. The Pirates have so many talented young arms on the verge of breaking out, so it will be important to keep a guy like Burnett in house as a veteran presence. Of course, a contract would have to be reasonable for the Pirates, but the team is heading in the right direction and it would seem Burnett would like to be a part of that.
10) Mike Napoli, Red Sox – Mike Napoli declined the Red Sox's qualifying offer, but the two sides should come together on a multi-year deal. After the whole mess last offseason, Napoli proved he was healthy and was as big a part as anyone in Boston’s World Series run. He’s great in the clubhouse and provides great protection in the batting order for David Ortiz. It’s amazing that guys would even consider signing with another team after winning a ring, but that’s just the nature of the game. But there’s likely mutual interest between the Red Sox and Napoli, so now it’s a matter of numbers.
11) Ubaldo Jimenez, Phillies – Ubaldo Jimenez is still banking on his huge year from 2010 to keep his name relevant. He actually put together a decent season last year, and in a thin market for starting pitching, he should do pretty well in free agency. The Phillies likely won’t bring back Roy Halladay, so Jimenez can be a fit in Philadelphia, teaming up with Cliff Lee atop the rotation.
12) Carlos Beltran, Phillies – Despite age, Carlos Beltran does everything well on a baseball field. He may not have the range in the outfield he once had, but he’s certainly not a liability. The Phillies could look to sign Beltran for two years. Domonic Brown had a breakout season last year, but he could be shifted to left field to put Beltran in right. With Ryan Howard’s lack of production the past few seasons, the consistent veteran bat of Beltran would add some stability to that order.
13) Curtis Granderson, Mets – The Mets have so many needs right now, but it’s impossible to fill seven positions in a single offseason. Granderson had a few freak injuries last season, so that shouldn’t affect a team from committing at least four years to him. The Mets like Juan Lagares’ defense in center field so would maybe look at Granderson in right or left -- most likely right since it takes a strong defensive outfielder to play right at Citi Field. Other teams may afford him the chance to play center, so the Mets would have to increase their offer to get something done. The Mets strike out plenty so Granderson wouldn’t help in that category, but the team is desperate for some sort of offensive production.
14) Stephen Drew, Mets – The Mets also have a need at shortstop, and given the market, Stephen Drew is the best available free-agent shortstop. That means the Mets are likely to overpay for his services. He’s a solid all-around player, no doubt, but he may not be worth the multi-year deal he’s seeking. Pretty much anyone, though, is an upgrade at shortstop for the Mets.
15) Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Cubs – The Cubs have a talented young catcher in Welington Castillo, but the team may look to trade him as part of a deal for a big-time starting pitcher (possibly David Price). In that case, Chicago would need a catcher, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia could be that guy. Salty isn’t going to be any team’s primary offensive weapon, but in a lineup featuring young budding stars like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, he could fit right in. The Red Sox are not sold on moving ahead with Ryan Lavarnway as their primary catcher, but they’ve shown interest in A.J. Pierzynski, meaning Saltalamacchia’s days in Boston could be numbered.
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