It would be an understatement to say that this off-season has been hectic.
This has been one of the most chaotic off-seasons that I’ve ever seen with players changing uniforms at a breakneck pace. That having been said, the calendar has flipped over to 2015 and spring training is rapidly approaching.
It’s time for teams to put the finishing touches on their rosters before they ship off to Florida or Arizona in mid-February.
With that in mind, I’m ranking the top 20 free agents that are still on the market. I’ve ranked them based on my own personal opinions, included a quick rundown on each player, and my guess about their landing spot and base salary for 2015.
Put it in your eyeballs and let me hear what you think in the comments at the end.
Now, without any further ado, let’s start things off with the top free agent on the market:
1. Max Scherzer – SP – 30
Rundown: Mad Max is the clear number one free agent on the market. He is still hoping to be a $200 million man when he finally puts pen to paper this winter; whether or not anyone will give him that kind of coin has to be determined. He put together two great seasons in a row and figures to cash in big time, even if he doesn’t hit that lofty goal.
Graves’ Guess: Detroit Tigers – 7yrs/$175M
2. James Shields – SP – 33
Rundown: Shields entered the off-season as the third best pitcher on the market behind Jon Lester and Scherzer. Now that Lester has inked his big money deal with Chicago, it’s likely that Shields will hold out until Scherzer has signed as well to increase his value to pitching-starved suitors. Given his age and the mileage on his right arm, it’s wildely believed that he’ll take fewer years at a higher annual rate. If that’s true, many teams could get in on the bidding as they prefer that option over a long-term pact with the 33-year-old workhorse.
Graves’ Guess: Boston Red Sox – 4yrs/$75M
3. Norichika Aoki – OF – 33
Rundown: Aoki is underrated and figures to be a solid, under-the-radar signing for whichever team finally nabs him. He doesn’t offer any power, but he’ll give a team a solid OBP guy, double-digit steals speed, and solid defense in right field. A club could do a lot worse.
Graves’ Guess: Baltimore Orioles – 3yrs/$21M
4. Colby Rasmus – OF – 28
Rundown: Once a highly-touted prospect, Rasmus just finished up a run with his second club and has never really lived up to the hype that accompanied his ascension to the big leagues in St. Louis. He still offers solid power, good defense, and is young enough to still piece it all together. He can play a serviceable center field, but would be better served in one of the corners.
Graves’ Guess: Detroit Tigers – 1yr/$8.5M
5. Francisco Rodriguez – RP – 33
Rundown: K-Rod is coming off a very solid year in Milwaukee. After spending the bulk of the past three years in middle relief, Rodriguez reclaimed the closer role with the Brewers and went on to save 44 games with a 3.04 ERA, .985 WHIP, and a 73/18 K/BB ratio in 68 innings pitched.
Graves’ Guess: Toronto Blue Jays –2yrs/$15M
6. Rafael Soriano – RP – 35
Rundown: Soriano has had an incredible run throughout the many stops of his career. Unfortunately, the wheels came off late last season and he became a liability. As an aging closer in an era that doesn’t want to pay a premium for saves, he’ll need to take a one-year deal to rebuild his value.
Graves’ Guess: Miami Marlins – 1yr/$5M
7. Casey Janssen – RP – 33
Rundown: Janssen has been one of baseball’s best relievers for the past half-decade or so, but he went south in a hurry in the second half last season and fell out of the Blue Jays’ long-term plans. Now some team will need to decide if his late season swoon was an aberration or a sign of a legitimate decline.
Graves’ Guess: Detroit Tigers – 1yr/$6M
8. Brandon Beachy – SP – 28
Rundown: Beachy was one of baseball’s brightest young stars coming into 2014. Unfortunately, he got bit by the Tommy John bug that appeared to inflict dang near every young starter in the game last year and missed the entire season. The Braves non-tendered him in December and he’s readily available for any club willing to bet on a return to health and his previous form.
Graves’ Guess: San Francisco Giants – 2yrs/$15M
9. Stephen Drew – SS/2B – 32
Rundown: Drew was hot garbage last year. The year prior, he was pretty solid in Boston, but chose to pass on a qualifying offer. That saw his market evaporate and he had to wait until nearly midseason to re-sign with the Red Sox. He’s a solid middle infielder when everything is clicking, but he’s never going to get the long-term, big dollar deal he and his agent were angling for a year ago.
Graves’ Guess: Toronto Blue Jays – 3yrs/$24M
10. Rickie Weeks – 2B – 32
Rundown: Weeks was one of the game’s premiere second baseman from 2005-2011, but he’s taken a step back in recent years. When healthy, Weeks was the unicorn of middle infielders; a power-hitting, strong on-base second baseman. But, as we all know, staying healthy has never been easy for Weeks. He’s not a great (or maybe even good) defender at second base anymore and should consider a move to left field, but it’s safe to assume someone with a hole up the middle will take a flier on a one-year, prove-yourself-type of contract loaded with incentives based around health and production.
Graves’ Guess: New York Yankees – 1yr/$6.5M
11. Everth Cabrera – SS – 28
Rundown: Cabrera was an All-Star in 2013 and led the NL in stolen bases in 2012. He was named in the Biogenesis scandal and then watched his play drop off a cliff after returning to the field. He’s had a slew of legal issues in the past year as well, enough that the Padres were willing to non-tender him in December. He offers great speed and has shown glimpses of being a solid regular. His defense isn’t particularly strong at shortstop, but he could transition to second base or a utility role to increase his value. As a one-year stopgap at the right price, he makes sense for a number of clubs.
Graves’ Guess: New York Mets – 1yr/$2.5M
12. Geovany Soto – C – 32
Rundown: Soto is far-removed from his glory days in the late-aughts, but he’s still a serviceable backup catcher and if you’ve got a pulse and can still call a decent game, there will always be a job for you in baseball. Throughout his career he’s shown moderate pop and a decent eye for getting on-base. A one-year deal from a team looking for depth makes sense.
Graves’ Guess: Arizona Diamondbacks – 1yr/$3M
13. Ryan Vogelsong – SP – 37
Rundown: Vogelsong resurrected his career in San Francisco, but the 37-year-old doesn’t appear to have a place with the Giants if he wants to remain a starter. He’s had a couple of rough years in a row after getting things back on track in 2011-2012. He seems like a fine buy-low candidate for a club hoping lightning strikes twice with career resurgences.
Graves’ Guess: Pittsburgh Pirates – 1yr/$5.5M
14. Juan Francisco – 1B/3B – 27
Rundown: Francisco has never managed to hold down a full-time gig, due to a combination of poor defense and a lack of patience at the plate, but he does offer mammoth power. He’s a platoon candidate if ever there was one and figures to be a trendy pre-spring training option for a number of clubs tinkering with their final rosters.
Graves’ Guess: Baltimore Orioles – 1yr/$2.5M
15. Chad Billingsley – SP – 30
Rundown:This one might seem like a stretch, but I’m still very much on the Billingsley Bandwagon (did he ever have a bandwagon?). He’s still just 30-years-old and if he’s finally healthy – no guarantee – he could return to form and be a solid middle-to-end of the rotation starter for the club that’s willing to take a flier on him. He’s never been an ace, but when he’s healthy, he’ll bring a lot of value to a club’s rotation.
Graves’ Guess: Minnesota Twins – 2yrs/$15M
16. Alexi Ogando – SP/RP – 31
Rundown: Prior to a disastrous, injury-riddled 2014 season, Ogando flew under-the-radar as one of the better pitchers in baseball for the better part of the past five years. He’s bounced between the rotation and bullpen, but was effective in both roles. His stuff is more impressive when he’s coming out of the ‘pen, but his versatility is a huge boon to any club that signs him. If he’s healthy, he’s a steal.
Graves’ Guess: Pittsburgh Pirates – 2yrs/$7.5M
17. Emilio Bonifacio – UTL – 29
Rundown: Bonifacio has got speed for days and a decent glove. That’s about it. He’s never hit much, but can be very good in short stretches. He’s always looked over-matched when given too many at-bats. He plays all over the diamond and only looks out of his element at shortstop. He’s a solid utility player and offers some serious speed for teams that are full of plodders.
Graves’ Guess: Los Angeles Angels – 1yr/$2.5M
18. Gordon Beckham – 2B/3B – 28
Rundown: You can’t mention Beckham without mentioning his standout rookie season in 2009. Unfortunately, he’s never been able to build on that success in the big leagues. Perhaps rushing him to the majors with less than 60 games in the minors was a mistake. He’s gotten progressively worse over the years and his defense as second base appears to be declining as well. He’s still a former first-round draft pick and that’s enough to give a guy another shot, but barring an unlikely career resurgence he’s reached the “organizational depth” portion of his career.
Graves’ Guess: New York Yankees – Minor League Contract
19. Andy Dirks – OF – 29
Rundown: Dirks is your prototypical fourth outfielder or platoon kind of guy. He’s shown some promise in the big leagues, but nothing that really stands out. He’s got a good enough eye to get on-base at a solid clip and can hit for a little bit of power. He plays serviceable defense in the corners, but is likely nothing more than a “break glass in case of emergency” option in center field. Expect him to be the new Reed Johnson (aka: that guy who signs with a new team every winter and gets 30 or so starts and into 100 or so games, but then is always available the next winter).
Graves’ Guess: Oakland Athletics – Minor League Contract
20. Kelly Johnson – UTL – 33
Rundown: Johnson’s stock has fallen quite a bit over the past five years. He was once among the top offensive second basemen in the game and now he’s a utility fielder who has bounced around the league like crazy in recent years. He can play first, second, third, and either corner outfield slot, but his defense ranges from average to wildly below average at all of them. His power has all but eroded and he’s struggled to get on base at anything better than a .300 clip. He’s a familiar name and he was pretty good for a stretch so he’ll find a job, but he might be nearing the end of the line.
Graves’ Guess: Oakland Athletics – Minor League Contract
These five just missed the cut for my top 20, but deserve a little recognition nonetheless.
Yoan Moncada – UTL – 19
Rundown: Moncada missed the cut, because he’s technically still not a free agent. He is a highly-regarded talent out of Cuba who has been cleared for free agency by MLB, but is still waiting for the US government to do their part. He’s a switch-hitter with explosive tools. He is described as a legitimate five-tool player who can handle almost any position on the diamond. Once he’s cleared to sign, expect nearly every team to get in on the bidding.
Graves’ Guess: San Francisco Giants – 7yrs/$75M
Hector Olivera – 2B – 29
Rundown: Much like Moncada, Hector Olivera is also patiently waiting to become a free agent. He defected from Cuba back in September, but hasn’t been cleared by the U.S. government yet, so he’s ineligible to sign. He has a solid bat that most figure will play well in the big leagues, but he also has a number of health concerns and, at 29-years-old, is older than most Cubans who have come to the big leagues, but he figures to have suitors aplenty when he’s cleared to sign.
Graves’ Guess New York Yankees – 4yrs/$20M
Jose Veras – RP – 34
Rundown: Veras started 2014 as the Cubs’ closer, but lost the role early on due to – well – being very, very bad at pitching. He ended up back in Houston where he seemed to return to the solid form he’d shown over the previous four seasons. Veras is stretched as a closer, but as a middle reliever/setup man, he’s a solid addition to a club looking to bolster a bullpen.
Graves’ Guess: Pittsburgh Pirates – 1yr/$2M
Jonny Gomes – OF – 34
Rundown: Gomes wasn’t much of a defender in his prime and at 34-years-old, he’s more of a liability in the field than anything else. He could probably learn some first base to increase his versatility going forward. He can still get on-base at a decent clip and has solid power when used correctly. He also benefits from being labeled a “good clubhouse guy” throughout his career.
Graves’ Guess: Chicago Cubs – 1yr/$5M
Jesse Crain – RP – 33
Rundown: Crain has long-been one of baseball’s better relievers. He was on arguably the best run of his career during his three-year stint with the White Sox before he was derailed by an injury in 2013. He signed with the Houston Astros in 2014, but never threw a pitch for the club. If he’s healthy, some team will definitely take a flier, but he’ll likely be on the one-year, get-right plan until he proves he can return to his previous form and stay healthy.
Graves’ Guess: San Diego Padres – 1yr/$2.5M
. . .
So there you have it, the 20 best free agents still on the market and five honorable mentions that just missed the cut.
Did I miss anyone? Did I include someone who doesn’t belong in the top 20? Are my destinations or dollar figures way off? Who do you want your team to target?
Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.
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