Baseball free agent signings will be highlight of winter meetings and be fun to watch over the next few weeks
After Thanksgiving you have Black Friday and then Cyber Monday. But the end of the Thanksgiving weekend also traditionally marks the start of real interest in baseball’s free agents.
Baseball’s Winter Meetings, the time when general managers gather in one location, sometimes generate blockbuster trades and free agent signings, more often some minor trades and signings, but always huge amounts of rumors about possible deals.
Will there be any major signings?
Some GMs, though, like to get a few of their free agent signings out of the way before they head to the winter meetings so they know where they stand as far as making additional trades. So this week should see some news on the free agent market. Whether it will be major news or not remains to be seen.
One issue keeping any signings from being major news is that there are precious few major free agents. Even those who are the major names have some drawbacks, such as age or recent weak performances.
Some teams always front runners for free agents
There are always some teams that are front runners in the free agent signings – the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Braves, Angels, Texas and in some years, the Mets and Cubs. Last year the Marlins surprised everyone by bringing bucketsful of money to the meetings to acquire players, apparently to use as trade bait later on.
There are a couple of teams I think could benefit greatly from loosening up a bit of money to make an impact in 2013. In the weak AL Central, a few key signings could make Cleveland or Minnesota instant contenders. Milwaukee and the Cubs could do the same in the NL Central, and Arizona could move up in the NL West with some key moves. In the next two weeks we’ll find out if those teams want to spend some coin or sit back and whine “poor me” as they watch other teams scoop up the best players.
Here are a few of the major free agents on the market as of this writing, who I think will be the contenders for their services, which combination of team and player makes the most sense and who I think they’ll ultimately sign with.
Josh Hamilton the top name
Josh Hamilton – He’s the best position player on the market, but has the misfortune of growing old. He’ll turn 32 soon after the season starts, usually the point where players start their declining years. One thing that will hurt him is his desire for a seven-year contract. Given his history of substance abuse and injuries, that could be quite a risk.
I think the front runners to sign him will be Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore and possibly the Yankees, Cubs, Detroit and Oakland. A lot of people assume the Yankees will be at the forefront simply because they’re one of the few teams that can afford his long-term contract demands. But they are trying to pare their payroll and his personality may not be a good fit there. Although Colorado won’t have the money, he could put up some awesome numbers at Coors Field. He’d also be a great fit for Tampa Bay, although they are the Jack Benny of the baseball world and won’t be interested unless he agrees to play for a handful of Wal-Mart gift cards.
The best fit for Hamilton probably would be Baltimore, where he can work in at several outfield positions and DH. Atlanta and Philadelphia also could use him at a corner outfield spot. I think ultimately, though, he’ll sign with Boston. The Red Sox have the money available after unloading most of their starters, they need a big-name player to draw fans and Fenway could play well to Hamilton’s strengths.
Others in the top tier
Zack Greinke – After his outstanding season in 2009, Greinke has struggled, the past two years with injuries. He’s still considered to have star potential, but his attitude toward baseball at times is indifferent and he’s not a fan of playing in big cities. I think the front runners for him will be St. Louis, the Cubs, Baltimore, Texas, the White Sox and Boston, with lesser interest from Toronto, Cleveland, Minnesota and the Yankees. The best fit will be some place fan-friendly like St. Louis or on the northside of Chicago. I think he will end up with St. Louis or Texas.
B.J. Upton – He seemed like a future superstar at age 22 but has declined since then. Last year he had his best home run numbers with 28, and he’s only 28 years old, so he may be entering his prime now. Philadelphia has been hot for him already. Others vying for his services will be Boston, the Yankees, San Francisco and Atlanta, with possible interest from the Cubs. An intriguing possibility would be for him to go to Arizona to see if the camaraderie and natural competition of brothers could spark both him and Justin to better performances. I think he would be a good fit for Philadelphia, San Francisco, the Cubs and Atlanta. My guess is he’ll sign with the Phillies.
Michael Bourn – I think the market for Bourn is a little smaller than most people believe. His on base percentage isn’t that great and he strikes out a lot. But he does have plenty of speed when he does get on base (216 stolen bases in the last four years). I think he’ll stay in the National League. If the Phillies don’t sign Upton I think they’ll make a big play for Bourn. Other suitors will be Arizona, San Francisco, the Cubs and Atlanta, the team he’s leaving. I would not be surprised if he returns to the Braves, but I think he would be a good bet for the Giants.
Kevin Youkilis – He could be one of the most sought-after free agents. He can play first or third, he’s a good on-base and RBI man and a team can probably sign him fairly cheaply for two years. Two teams that may go after him hard are his last two teams, the Red Sox and White Sox. I think he’ll also draw a lot of interest from Philadelphia, the Dodgers, Cubs, Atlanta, the Angels and Oakland. I really don’t think he’ll re-sign with either of the Sox. Philadelphia would be a good fit and he fits in well with the moneyball concept in Oakland, plus would provide some veteran leadership. I think, though, that he’ll go to either Atlanta to take over for Chipper Jones while they develop someone else, or the Angels.
Adam LaRoche – He had a fantastic year with Washington but he is already 33, so it’ll be interesting to see what interest he generates. I think some teams may wait to see where Youkilis goes before committing to him. Teams that will show interest in him will be Oakland, Milwaukee, Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis and maybe the Yankees, San Francisco and Tampa Bay. He would be a great signing for the Rays but, again, they are reluctant to part with money. He would be a nice lift for Cleveland’s lineup, too. My guess is that he’ll sign with Milwaukee or St. Louis.
More good players
Mike Napoli – He’s 31 and his days as a full-time catcher are probably through. His value will be primarily as a first baseman or DH. He’s already garnered interest from Boston and Texas. Others who might be interested are Oakland, Seattle, the Yankees and White Sox, all places where he could split time between catcher, first base and DH. I think he’ll sign with Boston.
Rafael Soriano – He opted out of his contract with the Yankees. He demonstrated at the end of the season that he could be an effective closer most of the time. The White Sox, Detroit, Dodgers, Cubs, Toronto and Angels will all vie for him. I think the Tigers will get him.
Kyle Lohse – He's coming off two good years with St. Louis but he’s 34. He could fit into a number of rotations, but I expect the Yankees, White Sox, Philadelphia, Detroit and possibly Toronto and the Angels to take the most interest. I think he’ll wind up on the Yankees.
Possible good deals
Russell Martin – He’s struggled at the plate and even at times behind the plate. He’ll be 30 when the season opens. The Yankees might re-sign him. The White Sox, Angels, Tampa Bay or the Mets could also be suitors. I think the White Sox will sign him.
A.J. Pierzynski – He’ll be 36 and how much time he can put in behind the plate is a question. I think he’ll stay in the AL where he can DH too. Tampa Bay, Texas, Oakland and Seattle are all possibilities.
Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan – It’ll be interesting to see how much the World Series will help them. Scutaro is 37, Pagan will turn 32 in the middle of the season. Both had so-so careers before 2012. My guess is Scutaro will re-sign with San Francisco and Pagan will go to Boston or the Cubs.
Nick Swisher – The Yankees let him walk. He would be a good fit with Atlanta, the White Sox, Tampa Bay, Boston, Colorado or the Mets.
Shane Victorino – San Francisco could use him in center. The Cubs and Mets could also make a play for him.
And the rest...
Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Dan Haran, Ryan Dempster, Brandon McCarthy, Colby Lewis, Francisco Liriano, Edwin Jackson – There are a number of pitchers who are basically the same: Starters who fit into the middle or tail-end of a rotation. Almost any team will benefit from them. The Yankees, Boston, White Sox, Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia will be the major players for them, with Cleveland, Milwaukee and the Cubs picking up the leftovers.
LaTroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth, Kelly Shoppach, Orlando Hudson, Miguel Cairo, Scott Hairston, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik – These guys always end up somewhere. This is where the lesser teams usually jump in. It’s a good bet Cleveland, Minnesota, the Mets, the Cubs, Colorado and maybe even the Astros or Marlins will end up with one or two of these.
Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Raul Ibanez, Grady Sizemore, Placido Polanco, Lance Berkman, Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Lowe, Roy Oswalt, Daisuke Matsuzaka – These are all aging players or injury prone, or both. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of offers they’ll get, if any. Not all of these guys will be playing in 2013
There are a number of other free agents, some who might bring a surprising amount of attention or they might be mostly ignored. My ideas and guesses could be completely wrong. I certainly wasn’t picking the Marlins to be major players last year, or for the Angels to go after Albert Pujols. But that uncertainty and the surprises are part of the fun about the off-season maneuvers.