Here at MLBTR, we're always looking ahead. As the 2012-13 offseason winds down, we've already got an eye on players scheduled to reach free agency after the 2013 campaign. The full list can be found here; enjoy our first entry in the new 2014 Free Agents Power Rankings series below.
1. Robinson Cano. Cano is the clear number one choice, a corner type bat at a middle infield position. 2014 will be his age 31 season, and agent Scott Boras is surely licking his chops with an eight-year megacontract in the $200MM range within his sights. Should the Yankees allow Cano to reach the open market, I expect the Dodgers to be players.
2. Adam Wainwright. Wainwright stands as the best pitcher scheduled to become available after the 2013 season. Wainwright's Tommy John surgery is firmly in the rearview mirror, having taken place two full years ago. If he returns to a Cy Young level in 2013, he's looking at Greinke money or better. The Cardinals, however, aim to keep Wainwright off the market by locking him up prior to Opening Day.
3. Josh Johnson. Here's where the rankings get debatable. 2013 is crucial for Johnson, who had a pretty good 2012 after missing much of the previous season with a shoulder injury. Traded to the Blue Jays in November, Johnson can be among the game's best power pitchers when he's right. He can also move down this list quickly with a serious DL stint.
4. Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury's detractors will point to significant time missed due to rib and shoulder injuries in 2010 and '12. On the other hand, 2014 is his age 30 season and he finished second in the 2011 MVP vote with a massive nine-win season. With a healthy '13, Boras might be able to talk his way around Ellsbury's previous injuries.
5. Roy Halladay. One of the game's best pitchers from 2006-11, Doc slipped in 2012 due to a shoulder injury. Halladay will be 37 for most of the 2014 season, but he doesn't operate on the same plane as other pitchers. Assuming he doesn't rack up 259 regular season innings this year, Halladay's 2014 option will not vest and he'll be a free agent. His potential impact this year remains large.
6. Shin-Soo Choo. Choo was sent from the Indians to the Reds as part of a three-team December trade. An arbitration hearing looms prior to his contract year season. He may be out of his element, playing in the National League and manning center field regularly for the first time in his big league career. One knock he'll try to overcome is his struggles against lefties — he's hit just .239/.329/.318 against them over the last three years. Still, he could put up strong offensive numbers overall atop the Reds' lineup.
7. Brian McCann. McCann underwent shoulder surgery in mid-October, but the Braves had enough confidence to exercise his $12MM option the following month. If he returns to form, he'll be an elite offensive catcher playing at age 30 in 2014. He has a chance to move up this list once he returns from the injury.
8. Tim Lincecum. There was a time not long ago that Lincecum was a candidate to become baseball's first $200MM pitcher, with a pair of Cy Youngs under his belt. However, 2012 was a career-worst season for Lincecum, who averaged below 91 miles per hour on his fastball, walked 4.4 per nine innings, and allowed nearly a hit per inning. Since he'll pitch at age 30 in 2014 and has never been hurt, he gets the benefit of the doubt for now and a top ten spot.
9. Matt Garza. Garza had also been cruising toward a big payday until 2012, when an elbow injury derailed his season. He's another guy who will play at age 30 in '14 and is entering a pivotal contract year. A midseason trade could benefit Garza greatly, erasing the issue of a qualifying offer.
10. Hunter Pence. Pence hit 24 home runs and drove in 104 runs in 2012, but it was still an off-year as he struggled mightily upon being traded to the Giants. If he posts an offensive line around his career average, he'll be in good shape entering free agency aside from a potential qualifying offer concern.
These rankings will change significantly throughout the season, with so many players entering critical contract years. Some players with a chance to muscle their way into my top ten include Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gomez, Corey Hart, and Phil Hughes. I'm not ranking Ben Zobrist, Chris B. Young, Jon Lester, or James Shields here in anticipation of their club options being exercised after the season.