The hot stove season is upon us, so At Home Plate staff writer Jonathan Leshanski shares his predictions of where the top 15 free agents (according to MLBtraderumors.com) will sign.
1. Robinson Cano (Yankees) -- It’s a total crapshoot as to where Cano will end up. He’s the best second baseman in the game, and he knows it. So does Jay Z's new sports agency. That said he’s 31 and initial reports says that he wants crazy money and a 10-year deal. Someone might give him it and accept that there will be five good years followed by what they’ll hope will be a slow decline. That’s a huge risk. One I don’t see the Mets, or Jays making. My guess is that he stays in the Bronx, and gets $200-plus million for 8-10 years.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury (Tigers) -- A dream leadoff hitter who is an outstanding defensive center fielder and possesses great speed. There are plenty of teams that'd love to have him, but age and the fact that much of his value is tied to 30 year old legs may limit his broad appeal. The Sox would love to keep him and probably are the front runners to do so, though odds are it will take $150 million and 6-7 years to do so. My guess as to his destination? Detroit. Tiger ownership has a good relationship with Scott Boras and Ellsbury could be just the piece the big cats need to return to the World Series.
3. Shin-Soo Choo (Pirates) -- Choo is coming off a career year and is being watched by a lot of teams. He’s another top leadoff hitter, but one with enough power that he could hit towards the middle of the lineup too. That should broaden his appeal, especially since his speed will begin to fade at some point during the 5-7 year contract he will command. And while I think the Yankees and Rangers are major players here, I’d wouldn’t be surprised to see him end up with a small market team like KC. That said, where I’ll pick him to end up is Pittsburgh, where he could be a long-term key man, in the early years at the top of the lineup, and as he ages towards the center. Contract amount 6 years, $17 million per.
4. Brian McCann (Red Sox) -- The best real catcher available on the market, McCann, a career Brave, has to decide if he’s like to sign a hometown-friendly deal or cash out and move on. There are plenty of teams that'd like to get him. That said he’s coming off injury, and is young enough that if you signed him to a five-year deal he might still finish it as your catcher. With the Red Sox likely to lose Mike Napoli, I’ll pick that as the most likely destination at 4 years and $65 million. If someone is willing to offer him a five-year contract that all changes.
5. Masahiro Tanaka (Mariners) -- While he’s not getting the same hype or credit as Yu Darvish, Tanaka projects to be the next Japanese impact starter. Scouts project him as a No. 2 or 3 type of arm, relying heavily on ground ball generation to get outs. With just about every team in the game looking for pitching and the fact that he’ll be cheaper than a more well known name (and his posting fee is free from the luxury tax) I think that he’ll end up someplace a little less expected. This is the pitcher who will fill a need for a rebuilding or small market team. Best fits would be Seattle or the Mets, both of whom could expect a rise in attendance as soon as they sign a Japanese player. Dark horse player in the mix I could see being Cleveland.
6. Ervin Santana (Dodgers) -- Santana had a great year at the right time and he’s going to attract plenty of attention. Not an ace but a good second-tier pitcher, there is no doubt that Kansas City would like to retain him. However based on past history the Royals may just not be willing to pay that kind of money. That makes him an interesting play for teams like the Yankees or the Phillies. However since the deepest pockets will win, and the Yankees are still in Alex Rodriguez-induced limbo, I could see the Dodgers making an offer and stealing him away for $15 million per for five years.
7. Matt Garza (Cubs) -- He is in the same boat, BUT after being shelled by American League teams following his mid-season trade, he’s probably scared off the Yankees and Rangers. He’ll get 4-5 years, for similar money to Santana, and he’ll probably end up back in the National League. In the mix I see the Indians, Royals, Nationals, Mariners. Phillies and the Cubs. The Cubs didn’t want to trade him and tried hard to work out a deal with him in mid-season. If the price isn’t more than $15 million a year I can see him returning to Chicago.
8. Hiroki Kuroda (Yankees) -- Kuroda has been the best Yankees starter the last two seasons. And while age is concern, I don’t see the Yankees not at least matching any offer that comes in. For that reason I don’t see him leaving the Bronx provided that Kuroda doesn’t decide to return to Japan or retire.
9. A.J. Burnett (Pirates) -- Like Kuroda I don’t see Burnett going anywhere. He’s either going to hang up his gloves or take $10 million to $12 million for another season in Pittsburgh. If the Cardinals didn’t get too deep into his head in the playoffs I see him in a Pirates uniform next season.
10. Mike Napoli (Mets) -- Napoli at this point in his career is a catcher in name only. He’s really a first baseman or a DH. Napoli is an injury risk with serious hip necrosis issues. Still he’s probably one of the best hitters available on the free agent market and he won’t cost $20 million a year. That said, $15 million isn’t out of the question, but he’s going to want three years. If the Mets are going to make a big play on the free agent market this is one guy I see them targeting. Equally as bleak a choice might be Minnesota. That said, St. Louis could be in the mix since they could afford to lose a first-round pick (as the team is loaded with young talent already). More importantly he fills two key needs for the Cards: He hit’s lefties well and he offers good power. Because of that, I see him either as a Met or a Cardinal.
11. Ubaldo Jimenez (Nationals) -- After several down years Jimenez finally seemed to regain his form in the second half of the season. Because of that and his past success someone will gamble on him in the $50 million dollar range. Who will that someone be? Total guesses here. The Blue Jays, Phillies, Nationals, Mariners, Angels, Yankees and a host of lesser teams will be in the mix. He’ll fit in well somewhere -- I’ll bet it’s a National League team -- and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Philly or Washington when all is said and done.
12. Carlos Beltran (Yankees) -- Mets fans have very mixed feelings about Beltran, far more than Beltran has about New York. And with the Mets looking for a guy who can hit for average and has some power to boot, the Mets have to be very interested in seeing if maybe Beltran would consider coming back. The Mets won’t have to give up a first round pick in compensation so he makes sense. However he’s wanted to play for the Yankees, and there are plenty of teams better than the Mets that are likely to be interested. Because of that the Yankees have to be the favorites to land him. After all they like older name veterans, and Beltran has wanted to play there. They won’t offer him more than two years or more than maybe $16 million per. If someone is willing to offer three years all bets are off. But I think Yankees.
13. Curtis Granderson (Mets) -- Forty home run power, Adam Dunn type type average. Granderson is looking for another long-term deal. He’s 33 so anyone signing him to a long term deal has to know what they are getting. That plus having to give up a first round pick will shrink his market considerably. He’s a great face for any organization, and reportedly one of the best teammates in the game. If he chooses not to re-sign with the Yankees he’s going to end up with one of the Chicago teams (as he’s from the area) or the Mets. I think the Mets are the more likely contender.
14. Stephen Drew (Cardinals) -- I’m going to cheat a bit on this one because Drew is the best shortstop available as a free agent and the Cardinals need to upgrade at first base, third base or shortstop, and if the Cardinals are going to make a splash, they’ll grab either Drew or Napoli (I don’t see them getting both as they’d have to give up two high round draft picks as both Drew and Napoli received qualifying offers). So I’ll say the Cardinals are the front runners, that said, the Pirates and the Mets would certainly be willing to pony up $10 million to $12 million a season for four-year deal for the 33 year old.
15. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Phillies) -- Salty won’t be back as a Red Sox, but he’s still a pretty good catcher. In terms of offense he’s a low average guy with 15-20 home run power. Still there are plenty of teams that would be thrilled with that kind of production from behind the plate. I see him landing in Philly for three years at $10 million per since it appears that Carlos Ruiz is going to walk away.
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