On the Ball: Baseball’s Top Free Agents
Tuesday was the first official day of Major League Baseball’s free agency period, with 136 players eligible to negotiate with all 30 teams. For some, like free-spending Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., this is the time to go out and drive up the free agent prices while ending up with a roster of aging, overpaid players. Others prefer the patient route and will wait until the markets play out a bit. Either way, these are the top players to be had:
10. SP Ervin Santana; Age: 31, 2014 stats: 14–10 record, 3.95 ERA, 196.0 IP—After starting more than 30 games and posting an ERA below 4.00 each of the past two seasons, Santana can serve as a good No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
Where he’ll go: Atlanta. He’s a rare candidate to accept the $15.3 million qualifying offer.
9. SP Francisco Liriano; Age: 31, 2014 stats: 7–10 record, 3.38 ERA, 162.7 IP—Liriano revived his career with the Pirates and when healthy he’s a solid No. 2, but injuries have plagued his career.
Where he’ll go: Either Oakland, Chicago Cubs, or back to the Pirates—he’ll have plenty of teams talking to him.
8. SP Brandon McCarthy; Age: 31, 2014 stats: 10–15 record, 4.05 ERA, 200.0 IP—McCarthy did very well after the mid-season trade to New York (7–5 with a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts). Another No. 2 starter, 2014 was the first time in his 10-year career that he made more than 25 starts.
Where he’ll go: Yankees. He was great in his half-season audition there (not everyone excels in the Bronx) and they can certainly afford him.
7. DH Victor Martinez; Age: 35, 2014 stats: .335 average, 32 home runs, 103 RBIs—Martinez has been an excellent hitter his entire career, but never more than last season when he set career-highs in average and home runs, while posting an incredible 70:42 walk to strikeout ratio.
Where he’ll go: Tigers or Royals. He’s limited to DH and the Tigers and Royals both have a need.
6. C Russell Martin; Age: 31, 2014 stats: 290 average, 11 home runs, 67 RBIs—Martin is an intense player who makes others better. Case in point, the Yankees haven’t made the playoffs since he left two years ago, while the Pirates have in both his seasons in Pittsburgh.
Where he’ll go: LA Dodgers. The Dodgers have a need, have the money, and are familiar with Martin who came up with them.
5. SS Hanley Ramirez; Age: 30, 2014 stats: .283 average, 13 home runs, 71 RBIs—A career .300 hitter, Ramirez can certainly hit, though at this stage it might be wise to move him to third base. A bit of a wild card, as long as he’s properly motivated under a low-risk deal, he can be a real asset.
Where he’ll go: Toronto, Boston, or the LA Dodgers. This one could go a numbers of ways as no one is really sure what Ramirez’s value is after an up-and-down career.
4. 3B Pablo Sandoval; Age: 28, 2014 stats: .279 average, 16 home runs, 73 RBIs—Sandoval hits well while playing a premium position and is a popular player, but his weight (listed at 245 pounds) might scare off a few suitors.
Where he’ll go: San Francisco. The Giants can’t afford to let him go, despite his weight, as he’s been such an important part of their three titles.
3. SP James Shields; Age: 32, 2014 stats: 14–8 record, 3.21 ERA, 227.0 IP—Shields, like Russell Martin, is a great leader as well as a durable starter. Had he not put up a 6.12 ERA in five postseason starts this fall, he’d be seen as a No. 1 starter.
Where he’ll go: Boston or the Chicago Cubs. The Royals will bid on him but they can’t match what the large-market clubs can offer.
2. SP Jon Lester; Age: 30, 2014 stats: 16–11 record, 2.46 ERA, 219.7 IP—Lester is a No. 1 starter and he’s a lefty, so he should be in high demand despite the surplus of pitching available.
Where he’ll go: Boston, NY Yankees, or the Chicago Cubs. Lester could reunite with his former teammates in Boston, the organization with the deepest pockets (the Yankees), or the club with the brightest future—the Cubs.
1. SP Max Scherzer; Age: 30, 2014 stats: 18–5 record, 3.15 ERA, 220.3 IP—The former Cy Young winner Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras and will probably wait to sign until someone meets Boras’s notoriously high asking price—likely January or even February.
Where he’ll go: Detroit or the NY Yankees. The Tigers tried to sign him before he hit the market, while the Yankees are going to try to get one of these top starters available.