With last week’s official filing all complete, baseball’s free agency period has begun. Last season’s biggest deals were courtesy of the Angels signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and the Rangers inking Yu Darvish. This year’s offseason should offer more of a variety of high-priced signings with Boston back in the picture, the Dodgers presumably still in spend-happy mode, the Angels dumping some salary at the last minute to be players again, while the Yankees still loom.
Here we’ll rank the top 10 best available free agents and their probable destinations. Onto the list.
1. SP Zack Greinke, 2012 team: Milwaukee Brewers/Los Angeles Angels, Age: 29, 2012 stats: 15-5 record, 3.48 ERA, 34 starts, 212.3 innings pitched, 8.5 strikeouts/nine innings, 1.196 walks+hits/inning pitched. Accolades: 1 All-Star team, 1 Cy Young Awards—Greinke is a rare number-one-starter in this league and should be able to command a five-year deal that should be in excess of $100 million.
Where he’s headed: The Angels. Los Angeles jettisoned both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana in an apparent attempt to re-sign Greinke, but will probably receive competition from the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Rangers for his services.
2. OF Josh Hamilton, 2012 team: Texas Rangers, Age: 31, 2012 stats: .285/.354/.577 (average/on-base/slugging), 43 home runs, 128 RBIs, 103 runs, 31 doubles, 7/11 steals/attempts. Accolades: 5 All-Star Teams, 2 Silver Slugger Awards, 1 MVP—Hamilton is undoubtedly the biggest hitter on the market and the only negatives to signing him is his past history with substance abuse, as well as his history of injuries. Might be able to get up to $100 million on a five-year contract.
Where he’s headed: Back to Texas. Probably the biggest free agency mystery is why Texas didn’t make a bigger effort to lock up their best hitter and most popular player before he hit the market. Do they know something negative about him that no one else does or are they gambling that the market for him isn’t what it once was. We’re guessing the latter, though the Angels and Yankees would figure to be interested in his services as well.
3. OF Michael Bourn, 2012 team: Atlanta Braves, Age: 29, 2012 stats: .274/.348/.391 (average/on-base/slugging), 9 home runs, 57 RBIs, 96 runs, 26 doubles, 42/55 steals/attempts. Accolades: 2 All-Star Teams, 2 Gold Glove Awards—Bourn is probably the best leadoff hitter on the market and plays a premium position in center field, so he should attract some big offers. He’ll probably get in the $60–$70 million range over five years.
Where he’s headed: Washington. Based on need and budget the Nationals could use some help in center field and are a team that’s equipped to win right now. The Braves will probably stay in the race as well.
4. SP Anibal Sanchez, 2012 team: Miami Marlins/Detroit Tigers, Age: 28, 2012 stats: 9-13 record, 3.86 ERA, 31 starts, 195.7 innings pitched, 7.7 strikeouts/nine innings, 1.267 walks+hits/inning pitched – Sanchez picked a great time to stay healthy, logging more than 30 starts each of the past three seasons. In addition his playoff performance for Detroit (1.77 ERA in three starts) only enhances his value. Sanchez should fetch $10–$14 million for five years.
Where he’s headed: Boston. The Red Sox originally traded him to the Marlins as part of the Josh Becket deal and now the Red Sox clearly need more pitching.
5. OF B.J. Upton, 2012 team: Tampa Bay Rays, Age: 28, 2012 stats: .246/.298/.454 (average/on-base/slugging), 28 home runs, 78 RBIs, 79 runs, 29 doubles, 31/37 steals/attempts—Even at 28 it doesn’t seem that we’ve seen the best of Upton, who broke out in 2007 with a .300 average and 24 home runs, on a consistent basis. Still he is fast, averaging 39 steals over the past five seasons and plays a very good center field. Upton could fetch $10 million a season for up to five years.
Where he’s headed: Atlanta. Should the Braves miss out on Bourn, they’ll set their sights on Upton. Tampa Bay has rarely overpaid in free agency and figure to be on the outs on this one as well.
6. SP Dan Haren, 2012 team: Los Angeles Angels, Age: 32, 2012 stats: 12-13 record, 4.33 ERA, 30 starts, 176.7 innings pitched, 7.2 strikeouts/nine innings, 1.291 walks+hits/inning pitched. Accolades: 3 All-Star teams—Prior to 2012, Haren had been one of the most consistently great pitchers in the game, logging more than 200 innings with an ERA below 4.00 five straight seasons. After a tough middle part of 2012 he ended strong with a 2.81 ERA over his last 8 starts. At 32 Haren will get at least a three year deal for around $10–$12 million a season.
Where he’s headed: The Cubs. Chicago was close to landing him just before the Angels had to decide on their club option, though Boston was said to be in the running as well.
7. SP Kyle Lohse, 2012 team: St. Louis Cardinals, Age: 34, 2012 stats: 16-3 record, 2.86 ERA, 33 starts, 211.0 innings pitched, 6.1 strikeouts/nine innings, 1.090 walks+hits/inning—Lohse is another one who has hit the market at the right time coming off his best season in 2012, while also having a decent 2011 when was 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA. Should get just under what Haren receives.
Where he’s headed: Back to St. Louis. He’s thrived with the Cardinals and as long as another team doesn’t come in with a crazy offer he’ll remain with them.
8. SP Hiroki Kuroda, 2012 team: New York Yankees, Age: 37, 2012 stats: 16-11 record, 3.32 ERA, 33 starts, 219.7 innings pitched, 6.8 strikeouts/nine innings, 1.165 walks+hits/inning pitched—Kuroda did exceptionally well in his one season with the Yankees and though he’s getting up there in age, he should be able to swing a two-year deal for around $20 million.
Where he’s headed: Back to the Bronx. The Yankees don’t always find number-two starters that pan out and Kuroda is one that did.
9. OF/IB Nick Swisher, 2012 team: New York Yankees, Age: 31, 2012 stats: .272/.364/.473 (average/on-base/slugging), 24 home runs, 93 RBIs, 75 runs, 36 doubles, 2/5 steals/attempts. Accolades: 1 All-Star Team—Swisher has power and a good eye at the plate though his defense isn’t great in the outfield and his postseasons have been ones to forget. His value is one of the toughest to judge, though it’s hard seeing anyone giving him more than $8–$10 million a season for three years.
Where he’s headed: Oakland? This may be as hard to call as Hamilton as they are both power hitters, past the age of 30, and may be best suited to being designated hitters—except Hamilton is a much better hitter.
10. RP Mariano Rivera, 2012 team: New York Yankees, Age: 42, 2012 stats: 1-1 record, 2.16 ERA, 9 games, 5/6 saves/opportunities, 8.9 strikeouts/nine innings, 0.960 walks+hits/inning. Accolades: 12 All-Star Teams—The greatest closer of all time missed most of last season and even though he’ll start 2013 as a 43-year-old it will be surprising if he’s anything less than his dominant self. It seems pretty clear that one more year is all he’s going to play.
Where he’s headed: The Yankees. Of all the speculation on this list, Rivera returning to the Bronx is the easiest to call.