In a little while — 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, to be precise — the shopping will begin. All 30 major league teams can indulge in a free agent frenzy with 136 players of all prices available — some discounted, some very expensive.
Some teams strike early, others wait for the prices to come down. Either way, free agency isn’t what it used to be. Teams who didn’t finish among the 10 worst records must give up a first-round draft pick for a free agent who has been issued a qualifying offer of $15.3 million.
If it’s pitching you want, there’s a good amount available. If it’s position players, there isn’t the best selection, but rather a few high-priced items for well-to-do teams.
The Red Sox need two starting pitchers, a third baseman (preferably lefthanded-hitting), and a reliever. The targets are expected to be starters James Shields, Jon Lester, and Justin Masterson, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, and reliever Andrew Miller. Teams could also be in on a deal for Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija, or David Price.
The pitching market should be competitive and involve up to 20 teams. Tigers righthander Max Scherzer is considered the top prize. He turned down a six-year, $144 million offer from Detroit last spring, feeling he could do better in free agency. The Tigers may get back into the bidding, but if they don’t, Scherzer is expected to haul in upward of $175 million.
Right behind him will be Lester, who could be pursued by deep-pocketed teams such as the Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers, and possibly Tigers (if they lose Scherzer). And maybe the Red Sox will try to bring him back.
Shields is the third big pitcher out there. At 32, he’s also the oldest, and he could command a five-year deal for north of $100 million. The Red Sox, Cubs, and Yankees have shown the most interest, but has the price been discounted because of his ho-hum (6.12 ERA) postseason?
But if you can’t afford the big-ticket items, there are plenty of good value pitchers out there. Among them: Brandon McCarthy, Ervin Santana, Masterson, Jake Peavy, soon-to-be-posted Japanese righthander Kenta Maeda, Jason Hammel, Francisco Liriano, and Japanese righthander Chihiro Kaneko, all of whom could garner two- or three-year deals in the $10 million-$15 million range. Kaneko’s price tag could be higher. The best are McCarthy and Santana.
Then there are the bargain-basement types, such as A.J. Burnett, Brett Anderson, Edinson Volquez, Brandon Morrow, Aaron Harang, Wandy Rodriguez, Ryan Vogelsong, Kyle Kendrick, Gavin Floyd, Chad Billingsley, and Roberto Hernandez, who will get one- or two-year deals.
In the elite reliever category, Yankees closer David Robertson would qualify, as would Miller. Robertson could garner a three-year deal at $36 million, while Miller, because he’s so sought after, could get into the four-year range at $32 million. Miller should receive interest from at least a dozen teams, as he did at the deadline before the Red Sox traded him to Baltimore. The Yankees want to re-sign Robertson (39 saves), who should also receive interest from the Tigers, even though they’ve publicly backed Joe Nathan and picked up a $7 million option on Joakim Soria.
Francisco Rodriguez saved 44 games for the Brewers and will re-sign with Milwaukee, or at least stay in the National League.
Other relievers who will get play include former Cardinals setup man Pat Neshek; former Nationals closer Rafael Soriano; former Cardinals closer Jason Motte; former Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen; former Pirates closer Jason Grilli; former Giants closer and setup man Sergio Romo; former A’s setup man Luke Gregerson; injured former Royals setup man Luke Hochevar; and former Red Sox Craig Breslow and Burke Badenhop.
One highly sought-after position player should be Pirates catcher Russell Martin. Pittsburgh is trying to scrape a few nickels together to retain him, but Martin, who hit .290 with an .832 OPS and managed the staff well, will get a lot of action. The Rangers should come at him hard, and they have the funds to obtain him.
Nelson Cruz is the biggest impact hitter out there. He would love to stay in Baltimore, but he’ll get wooed by the Rangers, Yankees, Mets, Mariners, Phillies, and others. Victor Martinez is confined to DH, first base, and spot starts at catcher. The switch-hitter, who will turn 36 in December, would love to remain a Tiger, and with 103 RBIs and only 42 strikeouts, he will appeal to an American League team such as the Yankees, Orioles, Angels, and Mariners, and possibly the Blue Jays and White Sox.
It’s hard to think of Hanley Ramirez staying at shortstop, so he has to be projected as a third baseman. The Dodgers don’t appear to be interested in re-signing him. His reputation for getting hurt a lot works against him, but there are teams who need a righthanded-hitting third baseman. But the most highly-rated third baseman will be Sandoval, a postseason stud who could be a target for the Red Sox, Yankees, Marlins, and Giants. He could garner in the five-year, $100 million range.
There are slim pickings at shortstop. Asdrubal Cabrera might be the best of them. Jed Lowrie is a shortstop in title but may be better suited for second base. Stephen Drew had a horrible offensive season, but his defense remains the best of the free agent lot. Someone might bid high for Korean power-hitting shortstop Jung-Ho Kang.
Other hitters who will receive interest include Adam LaRoche, Michael Cuddyer, Alex Rios, Torii Hunter, Michael Morse, Delmon Young, Billy Butler, Colby Rasmus, Nori Aoki, Kendrys Morales, and Cuban star Yasmani Tomas.
Free agent moves could be augmented by big-name trades. Teams such as the Red Sox, Rangers, Twins, Astros, Cardinals and Cubs have a lot of prospects they could include in deals.
And the Red Sox, Braves, and Dodgers have outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp who could be available in the right packages.
The Brewers, who would have been a nice fit for LaRoche, decided to deal pitching for Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind, striking first in the postseason transaction column.
Will there be a quick free agent signing? We’ll find out in a little while.