The Guy: Max Scherzer
Overview: Arguably the best player available via free agency this year, the 30 year old bet on himself last year and that appears to have paid off. He turned down a 6-year contract worth $144 million following his Cy Young 2013 campaign, but he should earn more than that on the open market this off-season. He is a Boras client, so this one might take a very long time to work itself out.
Potential Suitors: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers
Shaun’s Thoughts: New York Yankees. The Yankees are in desperate need of a lot of talent, and no more position is of greater need than starting pitcher. Scherzer would immediately step in as the ace of the staff now that CC Sabathia has taken a big step back and it appears Michael Pineda can’t be productive unless he has some extra help from foreign substances not so hidden on his neck. There is no signing I am more confident in than Scherzer to the Yankees.
Dark Horse: Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks have completely overhauled their front office, and while they have guys coming back from injury, they need to make moves to keep up with the bottomless pockets of the Los Angeles Dodgers and defending World Series champs San Francisco Giants. Signing Scherzer would give them an ace to match up against Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner.
Torsten’s Thoughts: I agree with Shaun, the Yankees are the only team that makes sense for what Scherzer is likely to cost. He’s the only true ace level pitcher available, and while I think the Yankees need to do quite a bit of roster modification to get back to consistent success, scooping up the best available players doesn’t hurt.
Dark Horse: Giants. I can’t see him going back to the D’Backs, who shipped him off for cheap when they were convinced his arm wouldn’t hold up under his high impact delivery. I can, however, see the Giants locking down a second ace to partner with Bumgarner. They quietly had a payroll around $160 million last season, so you know they don’t mind spending. A core group of Pence, Panda, Posey, Bumgarner and Scherzer sounds like a nice way to be competitive for the next half decade or so.
The Guy: James Shields
Overview: The third member of the “Big 3” of pitchers in free agency this season will face questions over his lack of production in the post season. There may be some concern over how long his body will hold up given the incredible number of innings he has pitched over the past few seasons, but there is little question he is one of the three best arms available this off-season.
Potential Suitors: Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers
Shaun’s Thoughts: Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox must sign one of the top three starters in free agency this year, and I belief they will end up having to settle for number three. Their first run will likely be to bring back Jon Lester, but in the end it will the former Tampa Bay Rays starter, James (I still call him Jaime) Sheilds.
Dark Horse: Kansas City Royals. The Royals may not have a ton of money, but their run to the World Series could allow them to spend some extra cash this off-season, and bringing back Shields would be a great help to them. They have some very good young arms, but their potential future ace, Kyle Zimmer, can’t stay healthy, and Sean Manaea isn’t ready for the big leagues, so there isn’t a real impact arm like Yordano Ventura that the Royals can count on coming up in 2015.
Torsten’s Thoughts: Kansas City. Generally, I never question Shaun when he says a guy is going to the Red Sox. I think their front office is pretty astute, however, and will be unwilling to invest the money Shields would command in an arm with that many miles on it. Shields’ poor post-season performance may have knocked just enough off of his price tag, though, for him to stay in Kansas City. The immediate future is bright there.
Dark Horse: Dodgers. I don’t think the market is going to be super robust for Shields. He’ll get some offers, but if he stays on the market for a bit, look for the Dodgers to throw an offer out, and if he’s willing to sacrifice 10-15 million on the back end for a perennial post-season shot, he may end up in a different shade of blue.
The Guy: Yasmani Tomas
Overview: Tomas is just the latest in the influx of Cuban talent defecting to America, and he hopes to break records when it comes to the size of his contract. He has worked out with some teams at third base, but in reality he is a corner outfielder. He is incredibly talented, and is just 24, giving him as much upside as any player on the open market this year.
Potential Suitors: Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners
Shaun’s Thoughts: Philadelphia Phillies. The only thing that may prevent the Phillies from signing him is the fact he is not on the downside of his career. This Phillies have made a habit of signing older players to long, over-priced contracts lately, but with the shakeup in the front office, maybe they will finally get a little younger. Tomas would be a great fit given Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown look like they aren’t true long term fits in that outfield. Tomas would be a great addition.
Dark Horse: Los Angeles Dodgers. Los Angeles may as well be re-named Little Havana given the number of Cubans the Dodgers have signed, so why not add another. Juan Uribe will regress back to replacement level sooner than later, and Hanley is likely to sign elsewhere. If the Dodgers think Tomas can play third and truly believe Corey Seager is the future at short (I think he ends up at third) then Tomas could certainly end up in Los Angeles.
Torsten’s Thoughts: Mariners. There are a few teams who are pushing hard for the Cuban slugger, including the Phillies so Shaun may be right on there. Personally I find Seattle to be a more attractive city, and a team with the pitching to compete immediately. Tomas could help finally fill the Mariners’ perpetual power void.
Dark Horse: Cardinals. He makes sense on a lot of levels here. The Cards are known to take the prudent approach so a 9 figure salary commitment might eliminate them, but still. I was also tempted to say the Red Sox here, but that would be if they trade Yoenes Cespedes, and as of this moment, that hasn’t happened.
The Guy: Victor Martinez
Overview: Martinez might have been the best pure hitter in all of baseball in 2014 despite being 35 years old. He set career highs in home runs, batting average, and OPS, and was an even bigger threat than the multi-time MVP Miguel Cabrera. Tigers fans were wondering who would step in following the departure of Prince Fielder last season, they may be asking who will step in with the departure of Victor Martinez this year.
Potential Suitors: Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, New York Mets
Shaun’s Thoughts: Chicago White Sox. Not only would signing Victor away from a division rival be a huge perk for the White Sox, getting a power bat in the DH slot that could out-produce Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn with just a single roster spot is a necessity. Victor maybe one of the oldest impact players on the market, but that has never stopped the White Sox before.
Dark Horse: Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates need help at first base, and while Victor is primarily a DH, he can still play the position well enough. Adding a bat like Victor along with a few ancillary pieces could make the Pirates real contenders in the NL Central again.
Torsten’s Thoughts: Tigers. I personally think he was their most important offensive player in 2014, and that includes Miguel Cabrera. They will probably lose their best starting pitcher, but to lose their best hitter too? That would be a criminal mistake for a team who is a couple (or five) bullpen upgrades away from again being a World Series favorite.
Dark Horse: Royals. Yep. His age will drop his price tag a little and they will probably want a little more out of the DH spot than Billy Butler has given them. V Mart can also play a little first, and catch in a real pinch, so you don’t automatically lose him in National League parks. It’s unlikely this happens, but it’s on the radar.
The Guy: Nelson Cruz
Overview: Cruz has long been a formidable power bat, but he put up numbers greater than he ever had before in 2014. He launched an impressive 40 home runs this season on just 166 hits, so roughly one of every four hits left the ballpark. Playing both DH and outfield allowed him to stay fresh and healthy enough to play in 159 games, and should be in for a big paycheck this offserason.
Potential Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners
Shaun’s Thoughts: Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles made some moves showing they are in win now mode last season, but losing Cruz would be a massive obstacle to overcome. So their number one priority this off-season needs to be re-signing him. The fact they extended him the qualifying offer also gives them a leg up in negotiations, but if they intend on getting him signed, they need to be willing to give him some years on the deal.
Dark Horse: St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards could really use a power bat that can play a corner spot in the outfield, and while Cruz is best fit to get days off from the field and see time as DH, if he goes to an NL team, a team like the Cardinals would be a great fit.
Torsten’s Thoughts: Orioles. Pretty much everything Shaun said. There are a lot of things that go into where a guy ends up. Cruz had a spectacularly successful “fresh start” in the relative anonymity of playing in Baltimore. He does carry the baggage of being a part of the Biogenesis scandal, and the reputation of being susceptible to nagging injuries, so don’t expect the market to be what it normally would for a player of his offensive acumen. On that note, how the @#$% does a guy who led Major League Baseball in home runs miss out on a Silver Slugger award?
Dark Horse: Phillies. Shaun already touched on their front office philosophies of recent times. Cruz is in his mid-30s, ill-equipped physically to play the outfield full-time, but hey, he just led MLB in home runs. Would you really be that surprised if the Phillies suddenly offered him a six year deal for $115 million? Be honest.
The Guy: John Lester, SP
Overview: The premier starting pitcher on the market, Lester is a bona fide ace with a track record of success on the game’s biggest stage. He was traded by the Red Sox before the deadline last season for Oakland slugger Yoenes Cespedes. He pitched well down the stretch, but Oakland still limped across the finish line before ultimately losing to Kansas City in the Wild Card play-in game.
Potential Suitors: Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees,
Torsten’s Thoughts: Red Sox. I do like conspiracy theories, but this isn’t one of those. I think Lester has always wanted to be in Boston for the duration of his career. It just makes sense to me that he would want to go back to the team he built his career with, and won championships with. From a team perspective, the Sox have the money bring him back, and with as popular as Lester is with the fans, it would be a public relations failure if they didn’t at least give it a very public effort. If the team does ultimately balk at Lester’s asking price, the next logical stop could be Chicago and Theo Epstein.
Dark Horse: Angels. Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time the Halos have come out of nowhere to snap up the biggest free agent on the market. And if there’s something that’s holding the team back from being as good as it could, it’s a rotation that isn’t as deep as some other contending teams.
Shaun’s Thoughts: Chicago Cubs. I said it right after Lester was traded by the Red Sox, he is headed to Chicago to reunite with Theo Epstein. The Cubs need at least one front end starter along with a mid-rotation arm. Their top priority has to be Lester, and I doubt they get out-bid on him.
Dark Horse: Texas Rangers. The Rangers are my dark horse to be big players this off-season. They need a lot of help at several positions, and a second elite arm to pair with Yu Darvish would be a great move for them.
The Guy: Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Overview: The big fella seems to save his best performances for the biggest stages. His weight is a perpetual concern, rightfully so, and may be a deterrent for teams looking to throw an obscene amount of money at one of the top available hitters on the market. Switch hitters with pop don’t grow on trees though, and for a fat dude he defends third base competently. Another thing working against him is the surprising amount of talented young third basemen out there right now. Donaldson, Arenado, Rendon and Carpenter’s teams won’t be looking to upgrade. Dependable vets Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and Juan Uribe are still holding down their respective forts. Chase Headley is out there too for what’s likely to be a considerably smaller commitment than Panda. And depending on who you ask, Hanley Ramirez may move to the hot corner too this off-season.
Potential Suitors: Giants and Red Sox
Torsten’s Thoughts: Giants. I can’t see any way that Panda leaves the bay. He’s immensely popular in San Francisco and has won multiple championships. I would be shocked if he went anywhere else. That said, the thought of Panda flicking doubles off the Green Monster from the left side of the plate all year is probably giving the Red Sox’ management team wet dreams. Expect them to make a serious offer for the big guy to join Xander Bogaerts on the left side of their infield.
Dark Horse: Padres. Look at that pitching staff. This team is ready to contend. They just need to figure out a way to score some runs. Goodness knows they have some payroll flexibility and the laid back San Diego lifestyle could hold some appeal to the Panda.
Shaun’s Thoughts: Boston Red Sox. Will Middlebrooks is simply not cutting it at third, and Xander Bogaerts looks like he will stick at short, so the Red Sox need help at third. One potential filler is Garin Cecchini, but there are still plenty of questions as to whether or not he can stick at the position. A strong bat in the middle of the order is the second biggest need for the Red Sox, behind top end starter, and the Panda would be a great fit. The only snag I could see preventing this from happening is the Red Sox reluctance to give out long term contracts, especially to a player who has weight issues in the past.
Dark Horse: Seattle Mariners. The positional need isn’t there, but the need for a right handed power bat certainly is. The Mariners have not been shy about giving big contracts after singing Robinson Cano last season, this could be the type of move needed to compete in what should be a very stron AL West next season.
The Guy: Russell Martin, C
Overview: If there was ever a great year to be a free agent catcher, this is it. Especially if you’re a guy who just revived his career with his best season over half a decade. Martin will likely command at least 4 years and 60 million on the open market, drastically reducing his suitors. The question is, who is he? Is the guy who fancied himself a power hitter and tried to hit every pitch he saw into the stratosphere? Or is he the guy who shortened his swing and got on base at a career-high clip of over 40% and drastically reduced his strike out rate last season? Either way, he’s a competent defender and catcher is shallow this year, so his agent shouldn’t stray too far from his telephone.
Potential Suitors: Pirates, Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers
Torsten’s Thoughts: Pirates. The interwebs are blowing up with Martin to the Cubbies rumors, and they will pursue him aggressively. I think the Pirates, however, will essentially write him a blank check. Oh, you want 70 million instead of 60? 5 years instead of four? The bottom line is this, the Pirates are a team on the rise with young pitching studs like Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. They’ll want a veteran catcher to shepherd those guys to stardom. The Cubbies, while on the rise too, gave Edwin Jackson and his 6.33 ERA 27 starts last season. Dodgers new VP of Everything, Andrew Friedman will want to make a splash too, but will probably make do with the adequate AJ Ellis and wait for guys like Matt Wieters and Sal Perez to become to expensive for their current small market homes.
Dark Horse: Braves. If I had Evan Gattis and wanted to preserve his mammoth power for as long as possible, I’d be looking for ways to move him out from behind the plate. Just sayin. The appeal of catching guys like Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel can’t be discounted either.
Shaun’s Thoughts: Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite Torsten’s man crush on A.J. Ellis, catcher is a massive need for the Dodgers. It would also be a great full-circle story for Martin to finish up his career with the team that he broke through with. Torsten mentions the appeal of catching Teheran and Kimbrel in Atlanta, but last I checked the Dodgers have a decent pitcher or two.
Dark Horse: Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have been purely awful in the draft of the past handful of years, so what is the big deal in giving up a first round pick they would likely screw up anyway? They don’t have the money to land Martin, but he would be a great fit there, and he has had some success himself in the AL East.
The Guy: Hanley Ramirez, SS (3B?) (LF??) (DH?????)
Overview: When he’s healthy and motivated, Hanley Ramirez is the best offensive player in baseball. He’s nearly impossible to fool, his ungodly bat speed means you can’t throw it past him, power to all fields, and runs well enough to stretch singles into doubles and steal 20+ bases. Problem is, he’s rarely healthy and motivated at the same time, and he might be the worst defensive shortstop in baseball. But oh heavens. That bat…
Potential Suitors: Dodgers, Yankees
Torsten’s Thoughts: Yankees. Sure, they gave him a qualifying offer but the Dodgers are looking to reduce their payroll and the Yankees…well, they’re the Yankees and they have a spot for him. Ok, here’s the deal. In 2013, Ramirez found new life with the Dodgers. The brain trust of Don Mattingly and Ned Colletti led him to believe he had a long-term future with the Dodgers. They’d get an extension done with him, with the understanding that when his range further deteriorated, he’d move to third full time. And Hanley was ok with that, provided they didn’t bounce him back and forth. Not only that, he defended shortstop far more adequately than anticipated. Now, the problem with the braintrust of Mattingly and Colletti is, they’re circular firing squad. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more inept manager than Mattingly in any sport anywhere, and Colletti is little more than a puppet. So when things didn’t get done, Ramirez became disenchanted. Think he wants to stay? I doubt it.
Dark Horse: Mets. If Hanley is willing to accept a move to first base, they can shift Lucas Duda to right field full-time and suddenly, that’s a decent offense. And it’s New York, so there’s money there, and plus, I hear they have big apples.
Shaun’s Thoughts: New York Yankees. The Yankees need someone to step in for the retired Derek Jeter, and Hanley is a big enough name to fit the bill. If the Yankees are able to find someone else to play short, they could also move Hanley to third and block the headache that is A-Rod. The Yankees have never been shy about giving out big contracts, and while you may here more about a cap on their payroll again, don’t believe a word they say.
Dark Horse: San Francisco Giants. They are likely to lose a third baseman with Sandoval on the market, and Hanley has already come out and said he would be willing to change positions if he needs to. The Giants would like to bring the Panda back, but with his weight concerns, they might go with a more sure thing in Hanley instead.
The Guy: David Robertson
Overview: Quietly, Robertson has been one of the American League’s best relief pitchers for the last six or seven years. And when he was tasked with the duty to take over for the greatest closer that ever lived, he didn’t wilt under the pressure. In fact, he thrived. So let’s summarize. His numbers are consistently good so his success is not a fluke. Successfully inherited closer role from Mariano Rivera and didn’t crack under the pressure. Throws 100 with an elite strike out rate. What’s not to like?
Potential Suitors: Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers, Nationals
Torsten’s Thoughts: Yankees. They made him a qualifying offer. 15.3 million is obscene for a reliever, but the Yanks are prepared to pay him that. The Dodgers and Tigers, two World Series contending teams undone by catastrophically bad bullpens, would probably slaughter children to get him in their pens too, but once you’ve experienced success in New York, there’s little like it. It’s likely Robertson has dreams about Yankees fans revering him fifteen years from now the way they do Mariano.
Dark Horse: Orioles. Yeah, they already have a great pen. But Zach Britton wasn’t confidence-inspiring in the post-season, and they are built to be long-term postseason participants. Just think, they closed out their season without Chris Davis and Manny Machado, and barely had Matt Wieters for any of it. Yeah, they’re here to stay while the Yankees face an uphill climb to get back.
Shaun’s Thoughts: Detroit Tigers. The Tigers are so desperate to get a quality bullpen, they just may jump on the Robertson despite the qualifying offer attached to him. Now, maybe they have learned from their recent past that simply signing or trading for the biggest names won’t do the trick when it comes to building a strong bullpen, but like I said, they are desperate.
Dark Horse: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels were bounced from the playoffs by a team that dominated with elite late inning arms, and they have struggled in the pen for a while. Robertson could either fit in at closer or as a set-up guy.
Torsten’s Steal of Free Agency: Mike Morse signs a one-year 8 million dollar deal in St. Louis. If that team is missing anything, it’s power. I feel dirty for even writing this, but it has to be said. The devastating death of Oscar Taveras left a hole in MLB’s hearts, but it also left a hole in the Cardinals’ line-up. It sucks to put it in these terms, but the kid was a stud, and his projected production from right field will have to be replaced somehow.
Shaun’s Steal of Free Agency: Justin Masterson signs a three year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. A three year deal would leave Masterson still 32-years old when he hits the market again, and the Pirates feel very good about their ability to resurrect pitching careers, just look at Francisco Liriano.