Every year, MLBTradeRumors does a free agent prediction contest, where you predict where the top 50 free agents will sign this off season. I have participated in this contest in the past, and this year, I figured I would chronicle my picks! Here are where I think the top 50 MLB Free Agents will sign this off season:
1. Max Scherzer – Tigers. Obviously, Scherzer is familiar with the Tigers organization, and has enjoyed success there. If Scherzer would’ve accepted one of the extensions Detroit had offered in season, he would’ve lost money. I think going to free agency is just a formality, and a way to make the Tigers ante up and pay Scherzer. I totally expect the Tigers to retain him, and keep together Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price together for at least one full season.
2. Jon Lester – Cubs. This has been the most often rumored signing, even before the off season. Lester, a former
Boston Red Sox pitcher, has obvious ties to Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, and the Cubs have an obvious need, and the money to spend. I’d say this is as close to a done deal as possible. Although, Lester could spurn the Cubs and return to Boston to try and bring the Red Sox back to relevancy, but I think Chicago could simply offer more than Boston could at this point.
3. James Shields – Red Sox. If the Red Sox miss out on Lester and Scherzer, as I’d expect, they’ll need to add one front line starter. Shields fits the role, as he has been an innings-eater for years. Also, Shields has only pitched in the American League, and has familiarity with the AL East after pitching with the Tampa Bay Rays for a number for years. Shields should cost considerably less than Scherzer and Lester, which makes him an attractive addition for Boston,
4. Hanley Ramirez – Yankees. The Yankees need to make a splash this off season, and with the retirement of SS Derek Jeter and 3B/DH Alex Rodriguez being a more uncertain option than ever, New York must add a piece to the left side of their infield. Enter Hanley Ramirez, who is one of the top hitters in the game when he is healthy. Ramirez would be a great addition to the Yankees’ aging lineup, and should be able to take advantage of the hitters’ park in the Bronx.
5. Pablo Sandoval – Giants. There’s just simply no way the Giants can let their icon, Kung Fu Panda, leave via free agency. Despite inconsistencies in the past five seasons, Sandoval has proven to be one of the game’s most clutch performers, and has been apart of each of the team’s three World Series rings in the past five years. I’d say that re-signing Sandoval would have to be the top priority of the San Francisco Giants.
6. Victor Martinez – Tigers. I think the Tigers will stick with the trend of keeping their players, and pay Martinez for the extraordinary performance he displayed this past season. Also, I think Martinez is happy that he is now healthy, and enjoyed the success and situation he has had in Detroit. Why mess with something that’s already working, right? It will be interesting to see if a team blows Martinez out of the water with an offer he can’t refuse, but I’d imagine locking him up is tied with re-signing Scherzer at the top of the Tigers’ off season to-do list.
7. Melky Cabrera – Rangers. After another solid season, Cabrera is looking to cash in on a long term deal, and the Rangers have a need in the outfield. Texas will be looking to rebound, and adding Cabrera to a line up already featuring OF Shin Soo Choo and 1B Prince Fielder will give the Rangers a great left-handed attack against the strong right-handed pitching in the AL West.
8. Russell Martin – Pirates. Had the Pirates not given Martin a qualifying offer, I would’ve guessed that he would leave to another team offering more money. Now, I think teams will shy away from relinquishing their first round pick to sign Martin. I would expect this situation to go deep into the off season before being resolved, but I ultimately expect Martin to remain in Pittsburgh.
9. Nelson Cruz – Mariners. Cruz represents the biggest power bat on the free agent market, and the Mariners have an obvious need for a power bat. Plus, Cruz can DH and play the outfield, which were areas the Mariners were weak in last season. A 3-4 combination of 2B Robinson Cano and Cruz would make the Mariners look extremely formidable in the AL West.
10. Yasmany Tomas – Phillies. The Phillies will have some money to spend, but will want to spend it wisely on a young player that has potential to carry a team. Look no further than Cuban OF Yasmany Tomas, who is said to have a power bat similar to fellow Cuban slugger and White Sox 1B Jose Abreu. Tomas is only 23, which is perfect for the Phillies’ situation, as it would allow him a couple years of experience at the Major League level before being expected to compete.
11. Ervin Santana – Braves. Santana was a victim of the qualifying offer last season, and received the offer again, but this year from the Braves. However, I expect this offer is just a formality before the club figures out a deal for a pitcher who has proven to be durable, and was one of the Braves’ best pitchers this past season.
12. Kenta Maeda – Boston Red Sox. You never know which team is going to make a splash in the Japanese market, but in the past, big market teams have seemed to attract the most big name Japanese talent. This year, the market is headed by Maeda, who has been a dominant starter in Japan for a few seasons. With the Red Sox having a need for starting pitching, and having acquired P Daisuke Matsuzaka from Japan in the past, I think Boston is the best positioned to make this deal happen.
13. David Robertson – Yankees. Robertson has performed so admirably since P Mariano Rivera retired that I think the Yankees’ simply can’t let him walk. Also, they gave him a qualifying offer, and I think that will scare many teams away. Therefore, I’d expect Robertson to return to the Yankees for one more season as their closer, before scoring big next off season.
14. Brandon McCarthy – Yankees. After struggling mightily with the Diamondbacks early in 2014, McCarthy had a rebirth with the Yankees, pitching well during the second half of the season. With the Yankees needing options for what was an oft-injured rotation last season, bringing McCarthy back with a slight raise is the best option for the team,
15. Francisco Liriano – Pirates. Liriano is another victim of the qualifying offer, and I think he is another player who will have his market thinned. Ultimately, I’d expect Liriano to take the deal, in the hopes of signing an extension with the Pirates, or scoring big on a contract next off season.
16. Chase Headley – Red Sox. The Red Sox have had a black hole at third base ever since 3B Kevin Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox. Headley is one of the most solid third baseman on the market, and also offers the versatility to play corner outfield spots, first base, and DH. Versatile players are the style of player Boston likes, and I’d expect them to be willing to add Headley.
17. Andrew Miller – Tigers. The Tigers watched their division rival, the Kansas City Royals, ride their strong bullpen all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. If they add Miller, they would have a strong 7-9 innings, with Miller and Ps Joakim Soria and Joe Nathan. While Detroit will mostly focus on keeping their own players, bringing in Miller would be a good way to cap off the off season.
18. Justin Masterson – Angels. This past season, the Angels suffered many injuries in their starting rotation, losing Ps Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver for different portions of the season. While the team doesn’t have enough free payroll to commit a big contract to a pitcher, adding a player like Masterson, who is looking to rebuild his value after an injury-plagued season, would be a nice fit for Los Angeles.
19. Aramis Ramirez – Brewers. Simply put, Ramirez exercised his part of a mutual option in his contract. He’s returning to the Brewers. 1 for 1. Yay!
20. Colby Rasmus – Mets. Rasmus is looking for a change of scenery, after wearing out his welcome in both Toronto and St. Louis. The Mets have an obvious need in the outfield, and Rasmus could be of interest as a moderate to low cost option that could end up having tremendous value. Adding Rasmus would be a great addition to the Mets’ line up.
21. Jed Lowrie – Reds. The Cincinnati Reds suffered a number of injuries last season, and often had to shuffle their infield. Adding Lowrie, a versatile player who is capable of manning shortstop, second and third base, would be a nice addition for the Reds. It gives the team a solid utility player that can be relied upon in case injuries strike the team again.
22. Jason Hammel – Astros. Houston will be looking to take a step forward this season, and adding a veteran pitcher to the top of the rotation would be a big first step to that. Hammel has shown in the past that he is durable and consistent, and he shouldn’t demand an outrageous contract for the rebuilding Astros.
23. Asdrubal Cabrera – Mets. Cabrera is viewed as more of a starting player than Lowrie is in my opinion, and the New York Mets have had weak play at the shortstop position since trading SS Jose Reyes. Adding Cabrera would bring great defense and above average offense to a position that has plagued New York in the past few seasons,
24. Nick Markakis – Orioles. Both sides want this deal to get done, as Baltimore is the only home that Markakis has ever known. It’s just about agreeing on the terms of a salary, and with Markakis’s reputation as a team-player, I’d expect him to take whatever allows the Orioles to make other moves this off season.
25. Adam LaRoche – Pirates. LaRoche is talking about retiring soon, so why not return to a place he had a few successful seasons earlier in his career? Also, Pittsburgh is a contending team with a need at first base, which makes them a logical fit for LaRoche, who shouldn’t demand an outrageous contract. This addition would give Pittsburgh the most stability they’ve had at the position in years.
26. Jake Peavy – Cubs. I would think that Peavy’s first preference would be to stay with the San Francisco Giants, but after his performance late in the season, I think he’s simply put himself out of the Giants’ price range. On the other hand, the Cubs have money to spend and openings in the rotation, and are in the running to sign Peavy’s longtime friend, P Jon Lester. All these factors have me believing Peavy will end up in Chicago.
27. Hiroki Kuroda – Yankees. At this point, it’s Yankees or retirement for Kuroda. I’d fully expect New York to meet
Kuroda’s salary demands, as he was their most consistent starter in each of the past two seasons. Look for Kuroda to return on another one year contract.
28. Mike Morse – Orioles. After losing out on OF Nelson Cruz, like I predict they will, the Orioles will look to add another player on a low salary, looking to rebound. Morse is right-handed, like Cruz, and can play the outfield, first base, and DH. The versatility Morse provides is something that attracts manager Buck Showalter, and makes him a likely candidate to be an Oriole next season,
29. Michael Cuddyer – Rockies. The Rockies gave Cuddyer a qualifying offer, which surprised me. I couldn’t imagine that any team would want to pay Cuddyer more than that, so I’d fully expect him to return for another year with the Rockies.
30. Alex Rios – Reds. Cincinnati fell apart down the stretch, and adding consistent offense in the outfield has to be a priority for the Reds this off season. While they don’t have a lot of money to spend, adding Rios would give the team a solid-right handed bat at a reasonable price.
31. Edinson Volquez – Braves. After falling apart down the stretch, the Braves will look to add rotation depth going into this coming season. Volquez fits the Braves’ model, as he is coming off a season where he isn’t expected to land a big deal, but is still a solid pitcher that has big upside. Adding Volquez would give the Braves another veteran to help man their rotation.
32. Luke Gregerson – Red Sox. If GM Ben Cherington’s words hold true, the Red Sox fully expect to contend in 2015. By adding Gregerson, the Red Sox would build a bullpen with a strong setup man, in a similar fashion that the Royals had this season. It will be one of a few pieces the Red Sox will look to add this off season.
33. Torii Hunter – Tigers. I’d think that at this point, it’s either play for the Tigers or retire for Hunter. After coming so close to a World Series in the past few seasons and showing limited decline, I’d think both sides would be interested in reuniting for a couple more seasons.
34. A.J. Burnett – Retirement. While Burnett can still pitch, and his strikeout numbers show it, he simply isn’t in good enough shape to have control with his pitches anymore. After essentially wasting a season with the Phillies, I would think that Burnett would have to rebuild his value this season. At this point in his career, I think Burnett would rather retire and spend time with his family than go through the trials and tribulations of another Major League season.
35. Sergio Romo – Blue Jays. After striking out with their last closer, P Sergio Santos, Toronto will hope to get it right with P Sergio Romo. After what could be considered a down year in 2014, Romo shouldn’t demand a huge contract, but has shown the ability to be able to perform on a big stage, which should be attractive to the Jays.
36. Francisco Rodriguez – Brewers. Rodriguez has made himself a home in the back of the Brewers bullpen, and I expect that they will reward him with a three or four year deal this off season. I think other teams will be interested in other options before Rodriguez, making his re-signing with Milwaukee logical.
37. Rafael Soriano – Mariners. Soriano pitched with Seattle earlier in his career, and now that they are a contending club, he could potentially return as a closer. The Mariners have more money to spend than in the past, and adding a true closer in the bullpen would be a great addition to a team on the verge of the playoffs.
38. Ryan Vogelsong – Giants. Vogelsong is another player that has made himself a home, and I would expect that the Giants will hold onto the durable right-hander who will come at a reasonable price. After winning a World Series, the Giants will have to face payroll increase, so securing low-cost players that are valuable, like Vogelsong, will be key.
39. Aaron Harang – Braves. After re-establishing his value with the Braves last season, Harang could be looking to cash in this off season. While he could have quite a few suitors, I think the Braves would want to retain him to have some rotation depth, and after some success, I think Harang would be interested in re-signing as well. It will be interesting to see what kind of contract Harang will demand as the free agent pitching market plays out,
40. Nori Aoki – Giants. After losing to them in the World Series, I predict that Aoki will join the Giants this off season. The Royals won’t have the money to keep all of their free agents, and the Giants will be looking to add to an outfield that will need some depth going into next season. Aoki is the type of player that the Giants can plug into the top of their order, which is something they lacked during much of the season.
41. Billy Butler – Blue Jays. While Butler has publicly stated that he wants to return to the Kansas City Royals, I
believe he is simply out of their price range. On the other hand, Toronto is a team looking to take that final step forward, and adding a big bat to their 1B/DH mix would help keep their offense consistent. Plus, Butler wouldn’t demand a huge salary, and would be a reasonable fit for the Blue Jays.
42. Stephen Drew – Athletics. After falling victim to the qualifying offer last season, Drew had a dreadful 2014 season, and will be looking for an opportunity to rebuild his value. The Oakland Athletics are a team that needs a stopgap player at shortstop until prospect SS Daniel Robertson is ready to play at the Major League level. It seems like they are a perfect fit for each other.
43. Emilio Bonifacio – Braves. Bonifacio had a bit of a comeback year with the Cubs and Braves this past season, and rebuilt value going into this off season. While other Atlanta outfielders were inconsistent last season, Bonifcacio was able to be a spark for the team, and I’d expect them to want to retain him on a multi-year deal.
44. Casey Janssen – Dodgers. The Dodgers have a proven closer in P Kenley Jansen, but they have a lot of trouble getting him the ball. Janssen is a proven setup pitcher, and would be an affordable addition to this competing team.
45. Pat Neshek – Orioles. After dominating opponents in a comeback year with the Cardinals, Neshek will be looking to cash in on a deal this off season. The right-hander should have a lot of suitors, but after losing some pitchers in the off season, I’d expect the Orioles to make a play and try and make Neshek a part of their bullpen.
46. Brandon Morrow – Phillies. Morrow is a player that has been injury-plagued through his entire career, but has been impressive when healthy. He will be looking to rebuild his value, and I’d fully expect him to be looking for a one year deal with a team. The Phillies, who are admittedly a few years away from contention, are looking for pitching depth, and could hope to add Morrow in the hopes that he becomes a valuable player or trade chip down the road.
47. Jason Grilli – Mets. The Mets are going to be looking to compete this season, so adding a veteran reliever like Grilli, who has experience closing, would behoove New York. P Bobby Parnell has been injury-plagued in the past, so having depth in the bullpen should be a priority for the Mets.
48. Brett Anderson – Yankees. Anderson was rumored to be going to the Yankees at the Trade Deadline, but now that he is free of his prior contract constraints, the Yankees can add him on a cheap, incentive laden deal that gives Anderson the ability to rebuild his value. On the other hand, the Yankees will hope that the once promising left-hander becomes lightning-in-a-bottle, and a steal of a signing.
49. Josh Johnson – Padres. Johnson missed all of this past season, which was supposed to be his first as a Padre. He is rumored to have said that he feels that he has “unfinished business” in San Diego, which would lead me to believe that’s his first choice to play for next season. Plus, the team has supported Johnson throughout his rehab process, and would be the best place for Johnson to land.
50. Jung-ho Kang – Angels. Kang is looking to become the first position player to jump from the Korean League to the MLB. It is rumored that the Angels are looking to move either 3B David Freese or 2B Howie Kendrick to free up some payroll, so adding Kang, who I wouldn’t expect to be overly expensive, could be an interesting option for the team. He is said to have the ability to play shortstop and second and third base, which could make him an intriguing option for the Angels.
Here’s to hoping that my predictions are correct! Hopefully, my opinion and insight will help you enjoy and understand the upcoming MLB Free Agent period.