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MLB Free Agency: Grading And Predicting The Biggest Deals

Andrew Schultz |
December 5, 2013 | 4:01 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Brian McCann is a big score for Yankees. (Twitter/@Yankees)
Brian McCann is a big score for Yankees. (Twitter/@Yankees)
As we reach the one-month mark for MLB free agency, numerous teams have already signed players they hope will help them take the next step, whether that be making a deeper playoff run or making it to the postseason in the first place. However, some of the biggest names in the free agent class are still looking for a home.

We'll take a look at five of the biggest acquisitions of free agency so far, analyzing the transactions, benefits, and hindrances, as well as take a look at possible landing spots of five of the biggest free agents still on the market.

5 Biggest Signees

C Brian McCann to the Yankees for 5 years, $85 million

2013 Regular season with Braves: .256 AVG, 43 R, 13 2B, 0 3B, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 0 SB, .796 OPS

2013 Postseason: 0-for-13, 0 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .188 OPS

While re-signing second baseman Robinson Cano has been the Yankees' priority this offseason, their other big need was at catcher. Yankees catchers, which included Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy, Austin Romine and Chris Stewart, combined for 8 home runs (worst in MLB), 43 RBIs (worst), and a .587 OPS (26th) last year. It was a position the Yankees needed to upgrade as soon as possible if they hoped to make a playoff run in 2014, especially with all the players possibly leaving the team via free agency.

McCann, who was given the largest average annual value to a free agent catcher in MLB history, instantly provides a boost to the Yankees' offense. McCann's 2013 weren't shabby, and those numbers could improve with McCann playing half his games with the short right-field in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees also have the option to slot McCann in at first base or designated hitter to keep him in the lineup without risking his health over the 162-game season.

This is a great pick-up for the Yankees, as it fixes one of their biggest issues from a 2013 season fans just want to forget. They have a much stronger offensive presence behind the plate, as well as one who can hold his own calling the game. The only issue is McCann's age relative to the position he plays. McCann is 29, and will turn 30 before the start of spring training. Catchers typically pass their prime sooner than players at other positions, and McCann, who's averaging 122 games per season, could run into issues with fatigue towards the later years of his contract. The Yankees could slow this process by moving him into more of a full-time 1B or DH near the end of the deal, but that would fill up a position they could use for other players with more power, such as Curtis Granderson (free agent), Mark Teixeira or Alfonso Soriano.

Grade: A-

Ellsbury has joined McCann in the Bronx. Will they be teaming up with Cano next season? (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Ellsbury has joined McCann in the Bronx. Will they be teaming up with Cano next season? (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
OF Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees for 7 years, $153 million

2013 Regular Season with Red Sox: .298 AVG, 92 R, 31 2B, 8 3B, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 52 SB, .781 OPS

2013 Postseason: .344 AVG, 14 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 6 SB, .846 OPS

In another instance of a player going from one side of a rivalry to another (see: Johnny Damon, Brian Wilson, Babe Ruth), Ellsbury recently signed a deal to play 7 years for the Yankees after 7 seasons with Boston. It marks another big move for the Yankees, who have gone back to their old spending ways in an offseason many expected them to remain relatively quiet.

Ellsbury gives New York a dangerous leadoff hitter, with his 52 steals leading the majors in 2013. He recently had a 32-homer/39-steal season in 2011, when he was the AL MVP runner-up. However, Ellsbury is not known as a reliable source of power, as 2011 was the only season of his career where he's exceeded the 10-homer mark, but his power numbers could increase due to the short right field in Yankee Stadium. What he will definitely provide is a threat on the basepaths, as well as speed out in center field, where he will likely play for New York. He has played fewer than 80 games in two of the last four seasons (2010, 2012) due to injury but, when healthy, is one of the fastest players in baseball.

The deal shows the Yankees aren't going to sit back and let other teams enjoy the free-agent haul. Signing McCann and Ellsbury gives them two huge acquisitions that should provide immediate benefits and push the Yankees back into playoff contention in 2014. The two signings could take them out of the market for Cano, especially with the contract demands on Cano's side, but they now have more than enough talent to go for a run at a postseason berth.

Grade: A

SS Jhonny Peralta to Cardinals for four years, $52 million

2013 Regular Season stats with Tigers: .303 AVG, 50 R, 30 2B, 0 3B, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 3 SB, .815 OPS

2013 Postseason: .333 AVG, 2 R, 4 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB, .898 OPS

The Cardinals, who were two wins away from their second World Series in three years, knew exactly what they needed to do in the offseason to try and push them to that title. Their main issue was their offensive production at shortstop, a position mostly held down last season by Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso. These two didn't exactly pose much of a threat at the plate, combining for a .226 average, 6 homers and 78 RBIs in 738 combined at-bats. Looking to add more pop to what should already be a very potent lineup in 2014, St. Louis went out and signed Peralta, who hit .303 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs in 409 at-bats.

Peralta's contract has come under fire since its annoucement, especially from relief pitchers Brad Ziegler and David Aardsma, who feel Peralta shouldn't get the kind of money he's received after his 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. As a strong contributor on offense and average defender at short, Peralta on his own is worth an average annual value of $13 million. However, the lack of other big-name shortstops on the market helps keep his value high, despite possible repercussions from Biogenesis and his age (he'll turn 32 in May).

Peralta and Stephen Drew were the only two big names at short in this year's free agent crop, and both provide above-average power at the position. Peralta hits better for average, while Drew provides a little more reliability on defense, although Peralta is capable of consistently turning routine plays. By signing Peralta, they've given themselves a projected infield of Peralta, first baseman Matt Adams, second baseman Kolten Wong and third baseman Matt Carpenter, to go along with Yadier Molina behind the plate. Despite some possible hitches towards the end of the deal, the Cardinals have set themselves up well to contend for a World Series title in 2014.

Grade: B+

SP Dan Haren to Dodgers for 1 year, $10 million

2013 Regular Season with Nationals: 10-14, 169.2 IP, 179 H, 88 ER, 31 BB, 151 K, 4.67 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Starting pitching is not something the Dodgers are lacking. They sport a rotation led by two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who gave the team a huge boost in his rookie year.

Haren's 2013 numbers make $10 million seem like a lot of money for a pitcher on the decline. The "no-budget" Dodgers are placing a $10 million bet that Haren will pitch more like he did after the All-Star Break than before, when most of his struggles took place. Haren recorded a 4-10 record with a 5.61 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 4.76 K/BB before the All-Star Break, but went 6-4 with a 3.52 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and a 5.00 K/BB.

If Haren can capture his second-half form, he can be a strong contributor to the back end of the Dodger rotation. With pitchers like Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett returning from injuries, the Dodgers will need to rely on Haren to ensure the rotation can handle the loss of Ricky Nolasco, who was recently signed by the Twins, and make sure there isn't a huge drop-off in quality after Ryu. If Haren can continue his standards of 165+ innings, 10+ wins, and 140+ strikeouts, which he's done every year since 2005, the Dodgers will come out on top in the deal.

Grade: B

2B Alexander Guerrero to Dodgers for 4 years, $28 million

2012 Regular Season with Las Tunas (Cuba): .290 AVG, 51 R, 12 2B, 1 3B, 21 HR, 51 RBI, 2 SB, .978 OPS

2012 Postseason: .240 AVG, 3 R, 3 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB, .776 OPS

Speaking of the Dodgers, they have so far chosen not to empty their seemingly endless pockets to sign top free agent Robinson Cano, choosing instead to fill their hole at second base by signing Cuban prospect Alexander Guerrero.

Guerrero hit .286 in the regular season and postseason with 22 home runs and 56 RBIs in 269 at-bats for Cuban team Las Tunas in 2013. The Dodgers are looking for Guerrero to provide more of an offensive force than the combined efforts of Mark Ellis and Skip Schumacher did last season. They’re also trying to replicate the same success as last offseason, when they signed outfielder Yasiel Puig from Cuba. All Puig did was revitalize the Dodgers’ fanbase and season, finish with a .319 average, 19 homers, 42 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases in 104 games, and finish second behind Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Guerrero will likely spend at least a little bit of time in the minors, but could come up to the major league level sometime during the 2014 season. He’s a strong defensive presence with great offensive abilities for the position, giving him a chance to be a cheaper, less-effective replacement for Robinson Cano, whom the Dodgers have no desire in acquiring. He fills a need for a team, and provides them with another way to invigorate a fan base currently high on “Puigmania.”

Grade: B+

5 Players Waiting to be Picked Up

Cano is the biggest name in this year's free agent class. (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Cano is the biggest name in this year's free agent class. (Flickr/Creative Commons)
2B Robinson Cano

2013 Regular Season with Yankees: .314 AVG, 81 R, 41 2B, 0 3B, 27 HR, 107 RBI, 7 SB, .899 OPS

Without a doubt, the biggest name of this year’s class is Robinson Cano, who emerged as the Yankees’ most consistent offensive powerhouse and arguably the best second baseman in the game right now. Cano led the Yankees in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, and OPS, helping guide them through an injury-plagued season where they missed the postseason for the second time in the last 19 years.

Cano was looking to be the first $300 million player in MLB history, which limited his suitors drastically. With the Yankees looking to keep payroll below $189 million for the 2014 season, that essentially left the Dodgers as the only team willing to commit $300 million to a single player, and even they had already offered that number to ace Clayton Kershaw. Cano dropped his demands closer to $200 million for 8 years, hoping to snag a contract similar to Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez or Angels 1B Albert Pujols. However, the Dodgers have signed Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero for four years and $28 million, making it unlikely they’d make too much of an effort to sign Cano.

With a $200 million option on the table, the favorite to land Cano would have to be the Mariners, who have recently emerged as a candidate to sign the second baseman. Seattle is in need of an offensive threat, and they’re likely to shell out the $200+ million Cano is looking for. The Mets are in a similar situation to the Mariners, and could make an effort to steal Cano from their in-state rivals. The Yankees, while initially seen as the favorites, have seemingly fallen out of the race after refusing to sign Cano to the contract he’s looking for, as well as already committing a combined $238 million to McCann and Ellsbury.

Likely Destinations: Mariners, Mets, Yankees

OF Carlos Beltran

2013 Regular Season with Cardinals: .296 AVG, 79 R, 30 2B, 3 3B, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 2 SB.830 OPS

2013 Postseason: .268 AVG, 6 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB, .852 OPS

Even at the age of 36, Beltran has shown he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, especially during a postseason where he led all players with 15 RBIs. He’s remained relatively healthy, playing at least 140 games in each of the past three seasons.

Beltran’s age and decreasing productivity in the outfield (he provided a defensive WAR of -1.5 in 2013 and has a combined DWAR of -2.9 since the 2010 season) makes him better suited for the American League, where he can fill in as a DH. The Yankees, Rangers, Orioles, Royals, and Angels are all hopeful AL contenders that could use his playoff production and power to push them to the postseason.

Despite these issues that come with Beltran, I still feel he ends up signing a two-year deal with the Cardinals for about $20 million (he made $25 million in the previous two years). St. Louis knows they have the talent to content for a World Series title next season, and keeping a proven postseason slugger could help them in case any of their younger stars slumps.

If the Cardinals are content to stick with Peralta as their big free-agent move, the Royals and Yankees are the next best candidates for Beltran’s services. Beltran can slot into the DH spot for an American League, which could help him stay healthy throughout the year. He would also provide added pop to a Yankees lineup that signed McCann, another dangerous power hitter, or a Royals team that is a couple moves away from making a run at a wild-card spot.

Likely Destinations: Cardinals, Yankees, Royals

SP Ervin Santana

2013 Regular Season with Royals: 9-10, 211.0 IP, 190 H, 76 ER, 51 BB, 161 K, 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

Santana is coming off a bounce-back 2013 with the Royals, and now stands as one of the high points in this year’s free-agent pitching class. Santana went from a disappointing 2012 where he was worth 1.5 wins below replacement, to being worth 2.9 wins above replacement in 2013, a 4.4-point swing. While his record looks rather ordinary, his peripheral stats are much improved, and they show a pitcher who could be a valuable asset to the rotation of a playoff-hopeful team.

The main issue comes with the qualifying offer the Royals gave to Santana, meaning any team that signs Santana will have to forfeit their first-round draft pick to Kansas City. While Santana would improve the pitching staff of most major league ballclubs, few teams will be willing to forfeit a future prospect for a right-hander that has issues with the long-ball (26 home runs allowed in 2013, a career-high 39 in 2012).

Due to the cost of a draft pick along with the $13 million+ a year Santana will likely be seeking, the Royals seem likeliest to re-sign the 30-year-old right-hander. Kansas City has shown that they’re serious about making it to the playoffs, and a rotation led by Santana and James Shields has the potential to lead them there if all other pieces fall into place. The Yankees can never be counted out, especially since they’ve already forfeited their first-rounder to Atlanta for McCann, but Santana’s issues with the long-ball could limit his effectiveness in the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. The Angels are a dark-horse candidate, as they’re in desperate need of pitching behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and might be willing to bring Santana back to Anaheim.

Likely Destinations: Royals, Yankees, Angels

Will Choo leave the state of Ohio? (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Will Choo leave the state of Ohio? (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
OF Shin-Soo Choo

2013 Regular Season with Reds: .285 AVG, 107 R, 34 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 54 RBI, 20 SB, .885 OPS

2013 Postseason: .333 AVG, 2 R, 0 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, 1.833 OPS

Similar to Santana, Choo played 2013 under a 1-year contract with a new team, and helped lead the Reds to the NL Wild-Card game against the Pirates. He put up big numbers in Cincinnati, including 21 homers, 20 steals, and a .423 on-base percentage (4th in the majors), and will likely earn a big contract from a team this offseason.

Choo will inevitably be compared to new Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury and while he lacks the fielding ability and game-changing speed Ellsbury will provide the Yankees, Choo brings more power and is better at getting on base to generate scoring opportunities. He has also received a qualifying offer, meaning the team that signs him will have to forfeit a draft pick, limiting his potential suitors.

The team I feel is most likely to sign Choo is the Red Sox, who could use Choo’s strengths to help fill the void left by Ellsbury’s departure even though Choo is better suited in left field than center. The Reds could potentially resign him, especially if they want to make it past the wild-card game. The Mariners are thirsting for a strong offensive presence in their lineup, so they could be willing to pay a little extra for Choo, while the Rangers could use Choo to replace fellow free-agent Nelson Cruz in the outfield.

Likely Destinations: Red Sox, Reds, Mariners, Rangers

SP Masahiro Tanaka

2013 Regular Season with Tohoku Rakuten (Japan): 24-0, 212.0 IP, 168 H, 30 ER, 32 BB, 183 K, 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

Tanaka is widely considered the best available pitcher on the market (assuming his team lets him hit the market), and for good reason. He has accumulated a 99-35 record and a 2.30 ERA in 7 seasons overseas with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, including an undefeated 2013 season.

The main issue Tanaka will run into is the high costs for a team to sign him. Including the posting fee for international athletes, the price for Tanaka could exceed $150 million, a ridiculous amount for a pitcher who hasn’t played a game at the major league level and is not seen as a future ace. Because of this, the only teams likely in the market for him are high-payroll teams that could use starting pitching.

The Dodgers could make a run, since money never seems to be an issue for them, but the starting rotation is probably the last aspect of the team they need to address this offseason (besides maybe the outfield). The Yankees are a slightly likelier option, as they need more pitchers to fill in behind CC Sabathia, while the Red Sox could add him into the rotation to increase their chances of repeating. The Nationals and Mariners are also possible candidates, as they have surprisingly high payrolls and would be willing to splurge to get a top-tier pitcher to back up their franchise aces.

Likely Destinations: Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, Mariners

Reach Staff Writer Andrew Schultz here or follow him on Twitter.



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