2014 Free Agent Power Rankings Rumors
The playoffs are underway, and it's time for our last 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings in advance of our Top 50 Free Agents list in late October. Our previous installment was published August 6th. Though Hunter Pence was only able to snag an honorable mention at that point, he still signed a five-year, $90MM deal in late September. Our tenth-ranked player, Chase Utley, signed a two-year, $27MM extension with three vesting options. You can check out our full list of free agents here.
1. Robinson Cano. On September 26th, ESPN's Buster Olney reported Cano was seeking a ten-year contract worth approximately $305MM, which would be the largest in baseball history. Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested $310MM. Olney wrote, "Some friends of Cano have a sense that Cano will take the biggest offer that he receives this winter, regardless of whether it comes from the Yankees or some other team." According to Sherman, the Yankees topped out in spring negotiations at seven years and less than $170MM. GM Brian Cashman recently told reporters the Yankees have made or will make a significant offer, but that Cano will be given the chance to entertain offers from other teams. If it's true that the Dodgers will sit out the bidding, it's too early to determine which clubs will give the Yankees a run for their money and offer more than $200MM.
With another brilliant campaign, Cano never slipped from the top spot on this list. In April, it was revealed Cano had left the Boras Corporation for Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA and rapper Jay Z. It appears Van Wagenen will take lead on Cano's negotiations, but Jay Z has been certified as an agent.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury. Boras still has Ellsbury, who he seemed to compare to an aircraft carrier in a conversation with Jon Heyman of CBS Sports in early September. Boras went to great lengths explaining why Ellsbury is better than Carl Crawford, suggesting he would seek more than the seven-year, $142MM deal Crawford signed after the 2010 season. Of course, the numbers floated in September are usually much higher than the final price. Ellsbury missed three weeks in September due to a foot injury, but appears fine for the playoffs.
3. Shin-Soo Choo. Choo, another Boras client, ranked fourth in all of baseball with a .423 on-base percentage. Heyman discussed at length whether $100MM is possible, with Boras of course implying it's a low estimate. Reaching that benchmark will depend on Boras getting a sixth year for his client; keep in mind Michael Bourn had to settle for four last winter.
5. Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka leaps onto the list as a contender for the best available starting pitcher. Not technically a free agent, Tanaka will have to be posted by his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He'll play next year at age 25, coming off a 1.24 ERA in 181 innings for Rakuten.
6. Ervin Santana. Santana will be vying for a fifth year, and some team may find it justified given past comparables like C.J. Wilson. He will, however, cost a draft pick to sign after posting a 3.24 ERA in 211 innings.
7. Matt Garza. Garza posted a 4.89 ERA in his final 11 starts. His peripheral stats were not bad aside from home runs and hits allowed, but the rough finish takes some of the shine off his free agency. He did make all his starts since his May 21st season debut, and was working around 95 miles per hour in his last one. Plus, unlike Santana, Garza is ineligible for a qualifying offer and won't cost a draft pick. A five-year contract now seems optimistic for Garza, however.
8. Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda's free agent profile can be found here, in which MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted a one-year, $16MM deal. If he doesn't retire, he'll pitch next year at 38, and age hasn't slowed him down yet.
9. A.J. Burnett. Burnett is still considering retiring after the season, even though he's at the top of his game and kicked off the NLDS for the Pirates against the Cardinals yesterday (albeit poorly). The Pirates have strong interest in retaining him, and Burnett doesn't seem to want to play anywhere else.
Carlos Beltran, Josh Johnson, Nelson Cruz, and Tim Lincecum have previously occupied spots in the top ten, while Ubaldo Jimenez, Ricky Nolasco, Bartolo Colon, Bronson Arroyo, Scott Kazmir, Marlon Byrd, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Omar Infante, Kendrys Morales, and Stephen Drew have also positioned themselves well for free agency. Cuban free agent Jose Abreu merits consideration among our top 20 free agents.
The MLB season is about 69% over, and it's time for another round of 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings. Our previous installment was published July 11th. You can check out our full list of free agents here.
1. Robinson Cano. Cano's spot atop this list remains secure. Surely his agents will attempt to dismiss Dustin Pedroia's recent eight-year, $110MM extension as a team-friendly pact that was not signed on the open market.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury. "Jacoby Ellsbury is a very durable player," spun agent Scott Boras at last month's All-Star Game, adding, "He just has to make sure that people don’t run into him." The 29-year-old missed significant portions of the 2010 and 2012 seasons, which won't easily be shrugged off by potential suitors even if they believe Boras has a point. Boras went on to praise Ellsbury, saying, "The reality of it is you’re going to pay him for the melding of his power, but what you’re really paying him for is the ability to score runs and the ability to get on base and the ability to provide up-the-middle defense."
3. Brian McCann. McCann jumps up a spot on this list, as his .528 slugging percentage (seventh in the NL) establishes him as the top power bat on the free agent market who won't require $100MM+. Plus, he won't turn 30 until February and can handle catching duties.
4. Matt Garza. Garza, 29, moves up a spot on the list. He's posted a 3.09 ERA in 14 starts this year, and has averaged over seven innings per start since the Cubs let him loose in late May following a long layoff for injuries. But the main reason he gains a spot is the July 22nd trade to the Rangers, establishing him as the best available free agent who is not eligible for a qualifying offer. There's real value in that.
5. Shin-Soo Choo. Choo drops a few spots in the list, though he hasn't done anything wrong. In fact, his .416 on-base percentage dwarfs that of the next free agent, with Cano checking in at .371.
6. Hiroki Kuroda. With a 2.38 ERA, Kuroda ranks second in the American League behind Felix Hernandez. The 38-year-old is unlikely to maintain a .255 batting average on balls in play moving forward, but his excellence cannot be denied.
7. Ervin Santana. Santana has positioned himself for the second-largest free agent contract given to a starting pitcher. Unlike Garza, however, Santana is likely to require draft pick compensation if he reaches the open market. The 30-year-old sports a 2.97 ERA in 151 1/3 innings, which is partially backed up by the best strikeout and walk rates since his stellar '08 campaign. One major change since then: Santana has a career-best 47.4% groundball rate.
8. Carlos Beltran. The 36-year-old Beltran has a 5.1% walk rate this year, which would be his lowest for any full season. Nonetheless, he's still a middle of the order bat in a market light on them. The Cardinals could complicate his situation by making a qualifying offer.
9. A.J. Burnett. Burnett might be the NL's version of Kuroda, as he ranks eighth in the league in ERA at 2.73 and turns 37 in January. Burnett should also have a limited market, as he said in March, "If I was to keep playing, I wouldn't want it to be anywhere else but Pittsburgh."
Notes on a few other free agents who have occupied spots on the top ten:
- Hunter Pence has ranked as high as fifth on this list. While he's a useful bat, he doesn't get on base much and has slugged a modest .438 since 2012. This year's 3.6 wins above replacement owes much to his fielding and baserunning, which I'm not sure can be counted on for value moving forward. Throw in a qualifying offer, and you can see why I'm a bit down on Pence as a free agent.
- Mike Napoli should be able to secure the first multiyear deal of his career given a decent, healthy campaign as a first baseman for Boston. He has a shot at his sixth consecutive 20 home run season, but I thought he'd have more than 14 bombs at this point. .253/.341/.449 looks average coming from a first baseman.
- Josh Johnson looked pretty good in seven starts after coming off the DL in June, enough to get him ranked ninth on the last set of rankings. The wheels have fallen off since then, however, as he's allowed 25 earned runs in 16 innings spanning four starts. Johnson is pitching for his rotation spot tonight, and as his ERA climbs toward 7.00, a qualifying offer appears increasingly unlikely even though the Jays are all about draft pick compensation.
- Nelson Cruz accepted a 50-game suspension yesterday for violation of the Joint Drug Agreement, explaining in a statement that he made "an error in judgment" before Spring Training in 2012. The Rangers lost a player who ranked fourth in the AL with 27 home runs, but Cruz's teammates are supportive and would welcome him back if they make the playoffs. Cruz may have pulled off a best case scenario: he'll sign his next contract with a clean slate, and his reputation isn't taking much of a hit for abandoning his teammates. He's left ACES for Wasserman Media Group and hopes to finish his career with the Rangers, though someone with the club seems to have anonymously told Bob Nightengale it would be difficult to re-sign him. In November, the Rangers will have to decide whether to make Cruz a qualifying offer.
- Tim Lincecum has had his ups and downs since our last set of rankings, tossing a 148-pitch no-hitter on July 13th, posting his worst start of the year in his next outing nine days later, and then bouncing back with a pair of strong starts. The sum total seems to be a pitcher not all that different from 2011, and perhaps capable of a 3.50 ERA when the dust settles despite his current 4.43 mark. Projecting his next contract remains difficult - does he go for the biggest possible score, or a short-term deal to boost his value?
The MLB season is around 56% over, and it's time for a fresh set of 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings prior to the July 31st trade deadline. Our previous installment was published June 4th. You can check out our full list of 2014 free agents here.
1. Robinson Cano. "Scott Boras, you over baby. Robinson Cano, you coming with me," raps Jay-Z about his lone baseball client on "Crown." Roc Nation Sports may only have one baseball client at present, but he happens to be the offseason's top free agent by a mile. Cano, 31 in October, sits at .299/.380/.537 with 21 home runs and 62 RBI through Wednesday.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury, who is with Boras, is hitting .379/.439/.515 in 192 plate appearances since May 21st and has reclaimed the #2 spot. He's shown no ill effects from a recent minor wrist issue. If he stays relatively healthy, he may finish with 100 runs scored and his second career 60-steal season.
3. Shin-Soo Choo. Also a Boras client, Choo is second in the National League with a .418 OBP. It wasn't enough to get him his first All-Star nod, but he's in good shape for a sizeable four-year deal.
4. Brian McCann. McCann now has almost 200 plate appearances since returning from offseason shoulder surgery, and he's hitting a strong .294/.371/.518. I imagine he'll be seeking at least four years as well.
5. Matt Garza. Our first change since the last rankings, as Garza moves up a spot. He's now provided the Cubs with ten starts and 64 1/3 strong innings this year, and has the rest of the season to further solidify his health. A trade this month appears a near-certainty, meaning Garza will not be linked to draft pick compensation in the offseason. I consider Anibal Sanchez money (five years, $80MM) to be his ceiling.
6. Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda recently experienced tightness in his hip flexor, but he only missed one start. He's third in the AL with a 2.77 ERA, and even at 39 next year he'll get big dollars on a short-term deal.
7. Carlos Beltran. Beltran doesn't have youth on his side either, but he seems past the injury issues of 2009-10. With a .309/.347/.534 line, 19 home runs, and 52 RBI, he'll start in the All-Star game.
8. Ervin Santana. A new entrant to this list, Santana is eighth in the AL with 123 innings and is making the Royals look smart for acquiring him (despite a rough outing today). I'm not convinced he's a different pitcher than what he was in Los Angeles, but he should be a popular mid-rotation free agent arm.
9. Josh Johnson. Since coming off the DL June 4th, Johnson has a 3.54 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, and 1.11 HR/9 in seven starts. He should have at least a dozen more starts to continue bringing his stock back up after missing over a month with a triceps injury. The Blue Jays, currently eight games out in the wild card, can help his stock by trading him and removing the qualifying offer issue.
10. Nelson Cruz. Cruz is tied for fifth in the AL with 22 home runs, and has a shot at his first 40 home run season. Biogenesis is a looming issue, with a potential 50-game suspension likely to be served at the start of his next contract (if he is indeed suspended). I imagine his suitors would prefer to let that situation play out before determining what kind of contract to offer the 33-year-old slugger.
A.J. Burnett, Hunter Pence, and Mike Napoli were bumped out of the top ten this time around, while Chase Utley and Tim Lincecum just missed returning to it. The top five appears to be solidifying, while the rest may shift around quite a bit in the coming months.
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.
About 23% of the 2013 MLB regular season is complete. It's been almost a month since our last power rankings, and the list has changed quite a bit.
1. Robinson Cano. The spokeswoman for Cano's foundation, Sonia Cruz, was connected to Biogenesis late last month. While MLB will investigate the connection, Cano's long-term value seems unaffected at present. There's nothing new to report on the idea of the Yankees extending Cano midseason.
2. Shin-Soo Choo. Choo ascends to second on the list, as his .451 OBP leads all of baseball. He has a decent chance of topping his career high of 22 home runs, set in 2010, and the Reds' leadoff hitter could also score 120 runs. A qualifying offer is looking very likely for Choo after the season.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury was amazing in 2011, and good in 2008-09. He's healthy now, and he won't turn 30 until September. He even leads the American League with 12 steals. Still, I had to drop him a spot on the list, because he's still not hitting much. WAR rewards him for his baserunning and for playing center field, but if he finishes anywhere near .257/.311/.365 offensively, a megacontract is not in the offing even with Scott Boras making the pitch.
4. Chase Utley. Utley has played in every game this year, and may be able to reach 150 for the first time since 2009. He may also return to his 30 home run, 100 RBI days, and his timing is excellent.
5. Hunter Pence. Pence holds steady on the list, despite his worst walk rate since '07. OBP-centric teams won't be drawn to him, but the 30-year-old should finish with solid numbers and earn a respectable contract.
6. Brian McCann. McCann made his season debut on May 6th, returning from shoulder surgery, and he jumps two spots on this list. His first six games have gone well, and if he remains healthy and hits at his pre-2012 level for the remainder of the season, he'll be a hot commodity in free agency.
7. Tim Lincecum. Lincecum also jumps up two spots, despite erratic work this year. He's healthy and striking guys out. The skills demonstrated in his first eight starts, walks and all, suggest a 3.72 ERA moving forward. If he ends up with a 3.80 ERA on the season and 200+ strikeouts, Lincecum will be a solid 29-year-old free agent starter. Given Lincecum's superstar past, however, it's difficult to predict what kind of contract is appropriate.
8. Matt Garza. Garza's fourth minor league rehab outing will take place Thursday, as he recovers from a lat strain. In theory, he could make his season debut May 21st in Pittsburgh. If that happens, he could make 13 starts prior to the July 31st trade deadline before the Cubs have to decide whether to make a deal. If they do, the removal of a potential qualifying offer would boost his free agent value.
9. Mark Reynolds. Reynolds is a new addition to the list, with his blazing .279/.368/.598 start. He's tied for the AL lead with 11 home runs. He's looked more like the Reynolds of old in May, but the second 40 home run season of his career remains possible. Age is on his side as well, as he turns 30 in August.
10. A.J. Burnett. I was initially going to give the #10 spot to Josh Johnson, who at one point was ranked as high as #3. But even though he'll turn 37 in January, I can't ignore the fact that Burnett has a 3.34 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and 0.73 HR/9 in 258 1/3 innings for the Pirates since the beginning of the 2012 season. He still averages a healthy 92.3 miles per hour on his fastball, and he's basically everything we hope Johnson can be, except seven years older.
Johnson lost his spot on the list, as he's currently on the DL because of soreness in his right triceps muscle. The injury will keep him out of commission for over a month. Roy Halladay has been removed as well, as he'll undergo surgery tomorrow to remove a bone spur and clean up fraying in the labrum and rotator cuff. Neither pitcher should be written off, but they've lost their top ten spots to healthy players. Among those vying to break into the top ten at some point this year: Nelson Cruz, Nate McLouth, Mike Napoli, Curtis Granderson, the resurgent James Loney, Paul Maholm, Ervin Santana, and Hiroki Kuroda.
Roughly nine percent of the regular season is in the books, and it's time for a new installment in our 2014 Free Agents Power Rankings series. Since our last update, top potential free agent starter Adam Wainwright was locked up by the Cardinals through 2018.
The full list of players who will be eligible for free agency can be found here.
1. Robinson Cano. Interesting news earlier this month, as Cano fired agent Scott Boras in favor of CAA and Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports. Seasoned baseball agent Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA will take lead on contract negotiations, though the agent told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports Jay-Z will be "intimately involved." There's a general feeling that Cano's agency switch makes an extension more likely, but we haven't heard of any progress on that front lately. In an MLBTR poll a week ago of over 13,000 readers, 78% felt Cano would be extended by the Yankees.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is not off to a blazing start -- he's got six extra-base hits in 67 plate appearances, but he's drawing fewer walks than ever. I'm willing to overlook that for now and focus on the fact that the 29-year-old appears fully healthy.
3. Shin-Soo Choo. The 30-year-old doesn't appear suited for center field, but he's off to a great start offensively. With good health, he could hit 15+ home runs and score 100 with his usual solid OBP, which should play quite well in free agency.
4. Josh Johnson. JJ looked good in his last start against the White Sox, a nice bounceback from a career-worst 1 1/3 inning stint against Detroit. In an MLBTR poll Monday of over 15,000 readers, Johnson was voted the best free agent starter of the upcoming class. However, he won that vote with about 19.6% of the total, and plenty of readers favored Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Matt Garza, or Paul Maholm.
5. Hunter Pence. He's shown some pop in the early going, but Pence's walk rate is down and his strikeout rate is up. Pence's ranking here is tenuous.
6. Chase Utley. A new entrant to this list, Utley is finally healthy and is hitting for big power. His .566 slugging percentage ranks fourth among qualified second basemen. A healthy campaign should lead to a multiyear deal, though at age 35 in December it may be difficult to find a third guaranteed year.
7. Matt Garza. That Garza ranks as the second best free agent starter speaks to the huge question marks in this free agent class, since he hasn't pitched in the Majors since July 21st of last year due to injuries. Garza is slated for a minor league rehab appearance tomorrow, weather permitting, and Cubs manager Dale Sveum told reporters including Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune that the righty will make four rehab starts before the team decides whether to activate him.
8. Brian McCann. As he rehabbed from shoulder surgery, McCann encountered some tenderness in his right wrist. It's said to be a minor issue, and he should begin catching in extended spring training soon.
9. Tim Lincecum. There's been nothing positive about Lincecum's first three starts, as he leads MLB in walks allowed and has surrendered three home runs in 16 innings. It's much too early to declare him finished as a useful starting pitcher, but he is in danger of dropping out of the top ten free agents.
10. Roy Halladay. It hasn't been much better for Doc, who looked quite bad in his first two starts of the season. He did shut down the Giancarlo Stanton-less Marlins on Sunday, a team currently hitting .209/.272/.271. Tomorrow's start against the Cardinals will be a better test.
Four starting pitchers are nipping at the heels of Lincecum and Halladay: Paul Maholm, A.J. Burnett, Tim Hudson, and Hiroki Kuroda. Curtis Granderson does not yet have a timetable to resume swinging a bat after fracturing his right forearm, but perhaps he will return in May and make a run at the list.
With the regular season less than a week away, it's time for another entry in our 2014 Free Agents Power Rankings series. One contender for our top ten was eliminated earlier this month, as 27-year-old Scott Boras client Carlos Gomez surprisingly inked a three-year, $24MM extension with Milwaukee.
The full list of players who will be eligible for free agency after this season can be found here.
1. Robinson Cano. Cano remains atop the list, despite the Yankees making what GM Brian Cashman termed "a significant offer" when talking to reporters in late February. Cashman's mention of the team's offer seemed to be something of a public relations move. It would be a big surprise if Cano does not make it to the open market.
2. Adam Wainwright. Talking to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak acknowledged that "time's ticking" on a potential Wainwright extension. The Cards and Wainwright's agent Steve Hammond made progress last week, but the 31-year-old righty is set to take the hill a week from today in Arizona. Negotiations may cease at that point.
3. Josh Johnson. By all accounts, Johnson has looked sharp this spring. So far, he's met his spring goal of allowing no walks. He's maintaining his spot for now.
4. Jacoby Ellsbury. The Red Sox and Ellsbury are being careful to preserve the center fielder's health. The speedster hasn't attempted any steals this spring, and he was removed early from yesterday's game with an ankle injury. The injury seems to be day-to-day, but Ellsbury will need to play in 140+ games this year to shake some of his injury-prone reputation.
5. Shin-Soo Choo. With Choo moving up a spot, Boras now represents three of my top five 2014 free agents. Choo missed six games this spring with back spasms, but he seems fine now. Choo is not without his flaws, but he gets on base and could score a lot of runs atop the Reds' lineup this year. His willingness to play center field has to be viewed as a plus.
6. Roy Halladay. If my fantasy baseball drafts are any indication, folks are down on Doc this year. As MLB.com's Todd Zolecki put it, Halladay "has had a rough month, struggling in starts because of dead arm, lethargy and illness, respectively." The righty has worked at 87-89 miles per hour recently, but his most effective seasons have been in the 91-92 range. The bell rings for Halladay April 3rd in Atlanta, at which point we can start evaluating him more seriously.
7. Hunter Pence. Pence jumps an impressive three spots, more by virtue of the struggles of those around him on this list than by his strong spring. Earlier this month Pence told Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio and ESPN that he'd prefer to sign an extension with the Giants rather than test free agency. I imagine the Giants will need to see a few months of production first.
8. Brian McCann. It was revealed recently that McCann will not be cleared to begin his minor league rehab assignment before April 16th, after his October shoulder surgery. GM Frank Wren said McCann wasn't behind or ahead of schedule. Previously, though, there had been talk of a mid-April return to the Braves. If McCann misses all of April, that hurts his stock a bit. For insight into the injury and McCann's relationship with the Braves, check out Ken Rosenthal's FOX Sports article from earlier this month.
9. Tim Lincecum. Lincecum at least appears healthy, but his spring hasn't been encouraging. If he repeats his lackluster 2012 season, Lincecum will be off this list. Wrote ESPN's Keith Law earlier this month, "His stuff was about where it was late last year, but I think the concerns about him having difficulty pitching off that fastball in a starting role are legitimate."
10. Matt Garza. Garza will start the season on the DL due to a strained lat muscle, after being shut down last year in July due to elbow issues. With a possible mid-May season debut, Garza will need to come on strong and stay healthy thereafter to maintain a spot in our top ten.
A few players on the fringes of the list, such as Curtis Granderson and Corey Hart, will also begin the season on the DL. That could leave an opening for others like Nelson Cruz, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Jason Hammel, and Chase Utley to muscle their way into the picture.
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.