About 35% of the MLB regular season is in the books, and it's time to update the 2014 free agent power rankings. Our previous installment was published on May 14th. You can check out our full list of 2014 free agents here.
1. Robinson Cano. Cano is having a fine campaign, though his offensive production is down from last year. The Yankees continue to discuss a contract extension with agent Brodie Van Wagenen, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said last month.
2. Shin-Soo Choo. Choo no longer has the best OBP in baseball, but his fourth-ranked .438 mark still impresses and he remains the free agent WAR leader. In a May 27th poll of over 12,000 MLBTR readers, 34% predicted Choo will get the second-biggest contract of the 2013-14 offseason, compared to 29% who chose Ellsbury. Either way, Scott Boras wins. Reds GM Walt Jocketty commented a bit on retaining Choo last month, and the player spoke briefly on the topic as well.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury. We're finally seeing signs of life from Ellsbury, who has a .400 OBP in 75 plate appearances since our last set of rankings was published. His 8.6% walk rate would be a career best, and if Ellsbury can continue to stay healthy and get his batting average up toward .300, he'll restore value and maybe even ignite the $100MM talk again. It's possible Ellsbury reclaims the #2 spot from Choo before the season ends.
4. Brian McCann. McCann has played about a month's worth of baseball since returning from offseason shoulder surgery, and the early returns are good. He recorded his 1,000th career hit last night. McCann won't turn 30 until February, and should score a large contract to fill some kind of catcher/DH role.
5. Hunter Pence. Pence is putting together a nice bounceback campaign so far, with a tidy .500 slugging percentage. He's not much for drawing walks, but Pence is a solid contributor with great durability.
6. Matt Garza. Garza's fourth big league start of the season comes tomorrow in Los Angeles. He's posted two solid outings in three tries, hardly enough for a full evaluation. But he's working around 94 miles per hour and certainly appears healthy. He should make ten more starts before the trade deadline, at which point we'll see whether the Cubs erase the qualifying offer issue by moving him.
7. Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda will be 39 next season, but I can't keep leaving him off this list for that reason alone. Though his 2.59 ERA ranks seventh in the American League, Kuroda's skills don't support the idea that this is the best season of his career. He may intentionally limit his market in the offseason, but until he shows otherwise, Kuroda is a durable sub-4.00 ERA guy who can succeed in any environment.
8. A.J. Burnett. Burnett scuffled yesterday, but his ERA still sits at a well-deserved 3.22. He remains a bit loose with the free pass, but represents a rare high strikeout/high groundball rate pitcher. Like Kuroda, Burnett is getting up there in years and is likely to be picky about where he signs as a free agent.
9. Carlos Beltran. Beltran will be 37 next year, but he continues to be a middle of the order presence. After playing in 151 games last year, he's played in 52 of 57 for the Cardinals this year. Another two-year deal with a strong average annual value makes sense, perhaps in the American League this time.
10. Mike Napoli. Napoli makes his first appearance on the list. He's batting a healthy .274/.350/.502 on the season. Playing first base regularly, Napoli's hip has not been a concern, and he's on pace to top 600 plate appearances for the first time in his career (he's only topped 500 once, actually). The stat doesn't mean much outside of fantasy baseball, but 110+ RBIs would still look great on Napoli's resume as he heads into free agency looking for the first multiyear deal of his career.
Shortly after the last power rankings were published, Chase Utley hit the DL for an oblique injury. It could end up knocking him out for a month, and while that type of injury generally isn't considered serious, it may reinforce the fact that the 34-year-old hasn't played 120 games in a season since 2009. At #4 last time, I probably had him too high.
Tim Lincecum loses his top ten spot for the time being. He's been a tiny bit better than last year, by virtue of a few more strikeouts and groundballs, but May went badly with a 6.37 ERA. As a starter, Lincecum is garnering a reputation for being inconsistent. Talking to Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com on Sunday about working in relief, Lincecum said, "I’m sure if my career takes that turn, I’m definitely open to changes, especially if it’s beneficial to the team I’m playing for." The idea of signing Lincecum as a lockdown closer is becoming more intriguing than adding him to a rotation.
The second chapter of Josh Johnson's season begins tonight in San Francisco, as the Jays face Lincecum of all people. Johnson, 29, missed over a month with a triceps injury, but he can partially redeem himself by making his next 20 starts or so. Others vying for the top ten include Kendrys Morales, Nelson Cruz, Nate McLouth, James Loney, Ervin Santana, Paul Maholm, and Curtis Granderson, Corey Hart, and Roy Halladay when healthy.