Although the 2014 MLB postseason is still being battled out on the field, many teams have started looking towards next year. Once this season concludes, the gates to the free agent market will swing open and allow interested bidders to rush in like early birds at a swap meet.
Here is an early list of speculative predictions as to where the top 2015 MLB free agents might land:
Pitcher Max Scherzer- Chicago Cubs: Having won 70 games over the past four seasons with the Detroit Tigers, the right-hander is deservedly about to come into a large sum of money. However, with the $180 million extension rotation-mate Justin Verlander signed with the Tigers last year starting to look very iffy, the team may reluctant to go all in on Scherzer, who is just a year and a half younger. Additionally, this may be the team’s line in the sand when it comes to picking between re-signing him and left-hander David Price, who is slotted for free agency next offseason.
Look for the Cubs, who have declared their intentions to compete in 2015, to swoop in with their dump trucks full of money and snag a pitcher who can potentially lead their rotation for the next decade.
Pitcher Jon Lester- Chicago Cubs: Why have just one shiny new toy when you can have two? The veteran lefty’s history with Chicago president Theo Epstein should create a mutual level of comfort. Locking in a pitcher of this caliber to pair with someone like Scherzer would make it difficult for the team, even with a roster of comprised mainly of young talent, to not be immediate contenders.
Red Sox fans who have hoped for Lester’s return following a 2014 mid-season trade to the Oakland Athletics need a reality check. If he was going to stay with Boston long-term, an extension would have been hammered out earlier in the year. Having him return now would be bad business given the extra money (quite a bit given his strong 2014 season) and draft pick they would need to give up to their prodigal son.
Pitcher James Shields- Boston Red Sox: About to turn 33, and with at least 185 innings in each of the last nine seasons, the right-hander has more wear and tear than most. However, he is a first-rate gamer and the type of pitcher Boston needs to start rebuilding their rotation. The Kansas City Royals would undoubtedly love to have him back but the Red Sox and their recent fondness of inking players of this ilk to lucrative deals in the range of three or four years will impede them.
Signing Shields smacks of a classic Boston move, as he won’t cost as much in dollars or years as the top tier pitchers, yet has the ability to come close to matching them in production over the next few seasons.
Catcher Russell Martin- Los Angeles Dodgers: There is little doubt that the Pittsburgh Pirates would like to retain their All-Star receiver. Problem is they don’t have the deep pockets of a team like the Dodgers, who could really use an upgrade behind the plate. Although he will be 32 next year, Martin may receive an offer from Los Angeles he can’t refuse to return to the organization where he began his career.
Shortstop/Third Baseman Hanley Ramirez- Los Angeles Dodgers: The career .300 hitter has played shortstop for most of his 10-year major league career. Given his age (31 next season) and reputation as a below-average fielder, his future is likely at the hot corner (where 35-year-old incumbent Juan Uribe is signed only through 2015). He has played well in his two-plus seasons with the Dodgers, who have the ability to beat any other offer the right-handed batter might receive on the open market.
Outfielder Nelson Cruz- Baltimore Orioles: Despite leading the American League in home runs with 40 in 2014, the right-handed hitter batted just .249 over the second half of the season. A 2013 PED suspension, a decided lack of defensive skills and an upcoming 35th birthday have all contributed to him never receiving a lucrative multi-year contract expected for most players with his offensive production. He and the Orioles seem to have hit on a good mutual relationship this season, so the likely lack of strong competition for his services should mean his return to the Birds.
Third Baseman Pablo Sandoval- San Francisco Giants: Kung Fu Panda has hit a combined .294 and may be playing in his third World Series during a seven-year major league career. However, the switch-hitter has battled weight problems and doesn’t possess elite power. The Red Sox are another team that could probably use his services the most but their caution of late on the free agent market may mean they will pass on Sandoval and allow him to return to the team with whom he has been such a big part of their recent success.
Designated Hitter Victor Martinez- Seattle Mariners: Believe it or not, even though Martinez is a legitimate 2014 MVP candidate, he may have a relative shortage of serious suitors. As a DH, he is limited to the American League, where many teams already have established players in the role or use the lineup slot to rest aging veterans. Detroit can likely afford to let him go, as they have a number of offensively gifted and defensively challenged players in their lineup that can have their gloves benched 162 times a season. On the other side, the Mariners made great strides in 2014 and could see their momentum push them into the playoffs next year by adding a hitter with of patience and ability of the switch-hitter.
Outfielder Yasmani Tomas- San Diego Padres: The Cuban slugger has been generating significant interest since it was announced he was an eligible free agent. The success of some of his fellow countrymen, particularly likely 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, should have teams salivating over the 24 year-old prospect. The Padres have already outed themselves as an interested party, which should come as little surprise given their lackluster .226 team batting average and .342 team slugging percentage this season.. Although there is risk in signing such a relative unknown, this may be the Padres’ best chance to inject their lineup with a possible difference maker without breaking the $100 million mark.
Outfielder Melky Cabrera- New York Mets: Cabrera bounced back from a disappointing 2013 season and PED suspension in 2012 with a nice campaign this year for the Toronto Blue Jays. Although the 30-year-old switch-hitter has hit a combined .309 over the past four seasons, he might not receive the same attention as might be expected due to his poor glove work and sketchy past. Nonetheless, he will be a nice pick-up for somebody and this seems like the type of mid-level bargain the cash-strapped Mets may be able to fit into their budget. With Eric Young and his anemic bat patrolling left field for much of this year, adding someone like Cabrera would be a major upgrade.
Pitcher Ervin Santana- Seattle Mariners: Santana isn’t an ace but has averaged 12 wins and 188 innings pitched over the first 10 years of his career—all but last year spent with the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. Prone to the long ball, pitching half his games in the Mariners’ spacious Safeco Field would help mitigate that flaw on his under-appreciated resume.
Shortstop Stephen Drew- New York Yankees: Drew was awful this season, hitting just a combined .162 in 85 games with the Red Sox and Yankees. He may have played himself out of a good chunk of money but his steady glove and reputation as a solid hitter in the past will still land him a gig. The most natural fit is returning to New York, which has a black hole at second base, no shortstop with the retirement of Derek Jeter, and a soon-to-be 40-year-old third baseman who won’t have played a regular season game in a year and a half. Drew’s ability to play all of those positions makes his return a strong likelihood.
Infielder Asdrubal Cabrera- New York Yankees: See above. Once considered a rising star, the 28-year-old Cabrera has merely been an average player over the past couple of seasons. However, he has positional versatility and as recently as 2011 hit .273 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs. Although the Yankees are well-known for their free-wheeling spending, they have so many large contracts on file that this could be the offseason where frugality wins the day. He won’t come cheaply, but Cabrera could be more reasonable than other options.
Pitcher Jake Peavy- Pittsburgh Pirates: He’ll be 34 by next year’s All Star break but after going 6-4 with a 2.12 ERA in 12 starts with the Giants after coming over from the Red Sox in a mid-season trade, he showed he still has gas left in the tank and may be a better fit in the National League. Past arm issues and production that has been in decline since his 2007 National League Cy Young win will impact his offers. Enter the thrifty by necessity Pirates, who could offer him a reasonable multi-year deal, which could be all the more appealing for the veteran because of their playoff appearances the past two years.
Third Baseman Aramis Ramirez- Boston Red Sox: Even if 2014 Boston starter Will Middlebrooks has a major comeback in him, the team may have already decided to move on next year. A 17-year major league veteran, Ramirez still has a productive bat and would be available on one of those shorter contracts the team so enjoys.
The emergence of Brock Holt means Ramirez wouldn’t be required to play every day, which would hopefully maximize his impact. The team has struck gold with third basemen in their 30s in the recent past (Bill Mueller and Mike Lowell), so it wouldn’t be a shock to see that happen again. The Green Monster at Fenway Park would be an inviting target for his bat, which has launched 464 doubles and 369 homers during his career.
Outfielder Nick Markakis- Baltimore Orioles: The left-handed hitter does a little bit of everything but never developed into a star. The current longest-tenured member of the Orioles probably won’t have enough outside interest to lure him away from the team where he has spent his entire nine-year MLB career, so a return seems imminent.
Pitcher Brandon McCarthy- Boston Red Sox: It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox beginning next year with a rotation predominantly made up of rookies and youngsters but unless they sign or trade for at least two veterans to join the returning Clay Buchholz, that’s exactly what would happen. The right-handed McCarthy was stellar (7-5, 2.89 ERA) after being traded to the Yankees this July.
Although McCarthy has struggled with injuries in the past, he reached 200 innings for the first time in his career this season, keeps the ball in the park and is very analytically driven—much like Boston. Having pitched into at least the sixth inning in all but four of his 32 starts in 2014, he is a solid veteran who could help firm up the Red Sox’s rotation—at a fraction of the price of some of his fellow free agents.
Pitcher Francisco Liriano- Kansas City Royals: Still prone to bouts of wildness, the left-hander reclaimed his career during the past two seasons with Pittsburgh after flaming out with the Minnesota Twins. With the Royals appearing World Series-bound and facing a likely uphill battle to keep current ace Shields, adding another impact arm may be a necessity. An added benefit of signing Liriano would be the ability of teaming him with Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas and giving the team a heavy southpaw theme in 2015.
*These are predictions based on speculation from reviewing team needs, history etc... No direct sources were utilized in the forming of these opinions.
**Statistics obtained from BaseballReference.com
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