2014 MLB Free Agents Rumors
With Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana all in seeming free agent limbo after rejecting qualifying offers, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan argues that the current free agent compensation system has proven to be too limiting. While teams will give up draft picks to sign bigger stars like Robinson Cano, the so-called second tier of free agents are finding it much harder to get work. "Last offseason, there were a number of guys affected in ways different than we expected compared to a freer market to pursue jobs. It appears that's happening again, " MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said. One club executive suggested to Passan that teams could make qualifying offers to more free agents next winter given the evidence about how it pushes prices down for some players.
Here's some more from around baseball...
- The Tigers have recently made several important moves in the post-Christmas offseason period, and 2014's big early-year move could be laying the groundwork for a Max Scherzer extension, MLB.com's Jason Beck opines. Beck thinks GM Dave Dombrowski will look to a one-year deal for 2014 to avoid going to arbitration with Scherzer, and those talks could lead to negotiations with agent Scott Boras over a longer-term extension.
- Also from Beck, he wonders if the Tigers could discuss a new contract with Miguel Cabrera (signed through 2015) or possibly add another reliever to the bullpen. Detroit has already addressed its main bullpen need by signing closer Joe Nathan, and also acquired Ian Krol and Joba Chamberlain for the relief corps.
- Jonathan Papelbon discussed his name surfacing in recent trade rumors, the differences between the Phillies' and Red Sox clubhouse atmospheres and his joy at seeing his ex-Boston teammates win the World Series last October in a frank radio interview with Rob Bradford and John McDonald on WEEI's Hot Stove Show. A partial transcript of the interview is available at WEEI.com.
- The Phillies were interested in Mark Mulder before the veteran signed with the Angels, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link).
- Forbes Magazine's Maury Brown discusses Major League Baseball's growing revenues and the effect on player salaries and acquisitions in a podcast with BostInno's Alex Reimer, who has a partial transcript of the interview here.
- MLB.com's Anthony DiComo covers a number of Mets-related topics as part of a reader mailbag, including how he doesn't see Dee Gordon or Didi Gregorius as logical trade targets for the team.
This offseason, we've seen a $240MM contract for Robinson Cano. We've seen $153MM for Jacoby Ellsbury. We've seen $130MM for Shin-Soo Choo. There seems to be no shortage of money for free agents. What we haven't seen is much of that money going to closers. There's been a pronounced change in the closer market this year compared to last.
Here are the pitchers who recorded at least ten saves in 2012 and signed as free agents the following offseason.
|Brandon League||Dodgers||3 years, $22.5MM, 2016 vesting/player option|
|Jonathan Broxton||Reds||3 years, $21MM, 2016 team option|
|Rafael Soriano||Nationals||2 years, $28MM, 2015 team/vesting option|
|Jose Valverde||Tigers||Minor-league contract|
|Brett Myers||Indians||1 year, $7MM, 2015 team option|
|Matt Capps||Indians||Minor-league contract|
The Yankees also signed Mariano Rivera, who missed most of 2012 due to injury, to a one-year, $10MM contract. This was a special circumstance, however, since Rivera was 42 and not looking to maximize his value on the open market.
Rivera aside, this wasn't a very good set of deals. League struggled in 2013, losing the Dodgers' closer job in the first year of his deal. Broxton did not pitch well, then had elbow surgery. Soriano fared better, but had peripheral numbers that suggest the possibility of a decline next season. The market seemed to have significant reservations about Valverde and Myers (who wasn't even signed as a closer anyway), and those reservations turned out to be well-founded. Capps missed much of the 2012 and 2013 seasons with arm injuries.
In any case, the League, Broxton and Soriano contracts probably weren't the best examples of how teams should approach the task of finding a closer (or a setup man, in Broxton's case). That same offseason, the Pirates re-signed Jason Grilli for two years and $7MM and installed him as their closer, shipping Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox for Mark Melancon, who settled in as Grilli's setup man, and three other players. Grilli and Melancon were the two most important parts of a terrific Pirates bullpen in 2013. Hanrahan, who made $7.04MM in his last year of arbitration, missed most of the season due to injury, and the Red Sox turned to Koji Uehara to replace him. Uehara, who had signed for $4.25MM plus a vesting option the previous offseason, was dominant.
The lesson here is clear: Get good relief pitchers, and don't overpay for closers. League cost five times as much as Uehara on the 2012-2013 offseason market. That should not have happened.
Let's look, then, at pitchers with at least ten saves in 2013 on this year's free agent market.
|LaTroy Hawkins||Rockies||1 year, $2.5MM, 2015 team option|
|Joe Nathan||Tigers||2 years, $20MM, 2016 team option|
|Edward Mujica||Red Sox||2 years, $9.5MM|
|Chris Perez||Dodgers||1 year, $2.3MM plus incentives|
|Jose Veras||Cubs||1 year, $4MM, 2015 team option|
|Joaquin Benoit||Padres||2 years, $15.5MM, 2016 team/vesting option|
These relievers don't all compare cleanly with last year's. Perez, for example, cited the Dodgers' chances of winning as a reason he signed with them, and it's possible he left some money on the table, either in the long term by not giving himself much of a chance to close, or in the short term. It's also not likely most teams approached the 41-year-old Hawkins as a good first choice for closer.
We should also mention Brian Wilson, who got no saves in 2013 but has a long history of closing -- he received $10MM for 2014, plus a 2015 player option that will be worth at least $8.5MM. Perhaps the thread connecting this offseason's market and last is the Dodgers paying heavily for relievers, with League in 2012-2013 and Wilson this year. On the other end of the spectrum, there's also former Brewers closer John Axford, who received one year and $4.5MM from the Indians.
Broadly speaking, though, the difference between these two groups is clear. The market for generic closers seems to have shrunk dramatically, to about two years and $10MM, plus a team option. And that's in a free agent market where teams have had few qualms about paying heavily for other types of players. Many closer types are receiving less than anticipated. We guessed Benoit would receive two years and $16MM, which was close, but we also projected Nathan would receive two years and $26MM, and that Mujica would get three years and $21MM.
So what are the reasons for the change in the market? One is the number of young, cost-controlled closers. The Cardinals, for example, didn't bother to bring Mujica back, because they have flamethrowing youngster Trevor Rosenthal to replace him. In an era in which pitchers throw harder and harder and allow fewer runs than they once did, the archetypal closer skill set is no longer all that rare, and many teams can turn to a relatively cheap, cost-controlled pitcher to do the closing. Pitchers like Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, Rex Brothers, Danny Farquhar, Steve Cishek and Kenley Jansen all fall into this category. The Diamondbacks, for example, traded for Addison Reed, who will become their closer; the White Sox will probably just replace Reed with Nate Jones. The emergence of the hard-throwing Jones effectively means there's one less team that might be looking for a closer on the free agent market.
Another part of the equation, though, is that teams are looking for good pitchers, rather than pitchers with closing experience. Soriano, for example, is a good reliever, but he produced 1.5 fWAR in 2011 and 2012 combined. The Nationals overpaid significantly. So did the Phillies, for example, when they signed Jonathan Papelbon to a $50MM contract prior to the 2012 season.
It doesn't look like the Papelbon contract will repeat itself anytime soon. Closers have always been more fungible than many fans think, and they're especially fungible now, when many teams seem to be producing a 96-MPH-throwing reliever at a rate of about one a year. And anyway, closers change -- of the 37 pitchers who recorded at least ten saves in 2012, only 22 did it again in 2013. If a team signs a closer to a four-year contract, particularly if the pitcher is moving further into his 30s, chances are he won't still be the closer when the contract ends. This year's free agent contracts reflect that. Teams aren't over-committing, either in dollars or in years.
In an article on spending in this year's free-agent market, Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan notes that this year's heavy spending hasn't been distributed evenly by division. Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo have headed to the AL West, and that division has spent about $467MM on free agents. The AL East has spent about $399MM. Meanwhile, the NL Central comes in last so far, at around $78MM. To see what that means, here are MLBTR's top 50 free agents, and here's where they went by division. The total spending figures are from Passan.
AL East ($399MM)
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees
4. Brian McCann, Yankees
8. Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
10. Mike Napoli, Red Sox
12. Carlos Beltran, Yankees
33. A.J. Pierzynski, Red Sox
37. James Loney, Rays
40. Edward Mujica, Red Sox
NL Central ($78MM)
21. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
49. Roy Halladay
5. Masahiro Tanaka
6. Ervin Santana
7. Matt Garza
9. A.J. Burnett
11. Ubaldo Jimenez
14. Stephen Drew
17. Nelson Cruz
23. Bronson Arroyo
25. Grant Balfour
28. Kendrys Morales
32. Fernando Rodney
36. Suk-Min Yoon
43. Paul Maholm
46. Jesse Crain
48. Jason Hammel
15 of the top 50 free agents remain unsigned, and the preceding list does not take into account trades, which are another way for teams to add talent in the offseason. The list also does not include the White Sox's $68MM signing of Jose Dariel Abreu or the Giants' re-signings of Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum, since those occurred before the offseason began. (Passan's numbers appear to include Abreu's signing, but not Pence's or Lincecum's.) Nonetheless, a few notes:
- The NL Central hasn't engaged in the free agent market much at all, even though three of its teams -- the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds -- made the playoffs last season, and all three went into this offseason as potential threats to do it again. Meanwhile, those three teams have lost Shin-Soo Choo (Reds), Carlos Beltran (Cardinals) and others to free agency, and they might end up also losing A.J. Burnett (Pirates) and Bronson Arroyo (Reds).
- The 15 top free agents who remain unsigned might not change the prevailing patterns much once they do pick their teams. In the AL West, the Mariners could still add Nelson Cruz, and the Angels reportedly have interest in Matt Garza. In the AL East, the Yankees could be key players for Masahiro Tanaka. Stephen Drew could re-sign with the Red Sox. The Orioles have been connected to Ubaldo Jimenez, Cruz, Burnett, and Fernando Rodney. Rumors have connected Grant Balfour to the Rays.
- None of the top dozen free agents have signed with NL teams. Meanwhile, the Yankees alone have come to terms with four of the top 12.
- In fact, seven of the top 12 free agents have gone to the AL East or AL West. None have gone to any other division.
- The starting pitching market remains uncertain, with Tanaka's situation keeping the market in a holding pattern.
- The Diamondbacks may be the best bet to be the first NL team to sign a top-ten free agent, since they've been connected to Tanaka, Ervin Santana and Garza. The Pirates aren't a terrible bet either, but only because they're the likely favorites to get Burnett if he decides to play in 2014.
Now that the Winter Meetings are over, here are the top ten remaining free agents from Tim Dierkes' Top 50 list, with updates on each.
3. Shin-Soo Choo. The acquisitions of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran by the Yankees, Curtis Granderson by the Mets and Corey Hart and Logan Morrison by the Mariners have helped define the market for Choo. One report recently indicated he Rangers had a seven-year offer on the table. Not everyone agreed, but in any case, the Rangers remain interested. The Astros, Diamondbacks and Reds do not appear to be in the mix. The Tigers could be another possibility, although ESPN's Jerry Crasnick recently wrote that their acquisition of Rajai Davis ruled them out.
5. Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka's status will likely become clearer once an agreement on the posting system is ratified tomorrow. If Rakuten decides to post Tanaka, the Diamondbacks could be serious suitors, as could the Cubs. Tanaka is also the Yankees' "top choice." The Dodgers might also be a possibility, but their interest doesn't appear to be as strong as expected.
6. Ervin Santana. The Tigers are reportedly interested in Santana, and the Diamondbacks have met with his agent. The Mets probably dropped out of the race when they agreed to terms with Bartolo Colon. The Yankees do not appear to be interested.
7. Matt Garza. Unlike Santana, Garza didn't receive a qualifying offer, which may improve his market, since teams won't have to worry about losing a draft pick. The Angels and Twins have been connected to Garza, although Angels GM Jerry Dipoto says his team doesn't have an offer out for Garza, and the Twins don't want to give Garza a four- or five-year deal. The Diamondbacks have repeatedly been connected to Garza, and Arizona could be a good landing spot, particularly if the D'Backs don't come up with Tanaka or Santana.
9. A.J. Burnett. The Pirates still believe Burnett is deciding between re-signing with them or retiring, although the Orioles have shown interest, and Burnett's offseason home is in Maryland. It's been almost two months since Burnett said he would take "a week or so" to decide whether to continue playing or retire.
11. Ubaldo Jimenez. The Indians want Jimenez to return, but it's unclear whether they'll make a big enough commitment to re-sign him. The Orioles might also be a possibility. Note that the last five names on this list are pitchers -- with Tanaka unable to sign, Burnett a question mark, and David Price and Jeff Samardzija looming on the trade market, the free-agent market for pitching has been slow to develop.
14. Stephen Drew. Drew and Jhonny Peralta were the only big names on the shortstop market, and Peralta has already signed with the Cardinals, so Drew is a huge fish in a tiny pond. The Yankees need a second baseman after Robinson Cano and Omar Infante signed elsewhere, and a return to the Red Sox would still make sense, with Drew at shortstop and Xander Bogaerts at third. The Mets don't seem to be serious contenders.
17. Nelson Cruz. Cruz rejected a qualifying offer and is reportedly looking for a deal that pays $16MM or more a year, which may be a lot to player with limited defensive ability and scary offensive indicators. Cruz wants the Rangers to offer a three-year deal, but so far, they're only offering two. The Mariners continue to be connected to Cruz, even after adding Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.
23. Bronson Arroyo. Four teams have reportedly offered Arroyo two-year deals, but Arroyo, like Cruz, seems to be holding out for three. The Twins are still a possibility even after their signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and their re-signing of Mike Pelfrey. The Mets and Reds are contenders as well.
25. Grant Balfour. The Indians just agreed to terms with John Axford, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports noted (via Twitter) that one likely scenario for the rest of the bullpen market had Joaquin Benoit going to the Padres and Balfour heading to the Orioles. The Boston Herald's Jen Royle, meanwhile, reports that the Orioles have offered Balfour a three-year deal, but Balfour wants three years with a vesting option (Twitter links). In any case, the Orioles look like Balfour's most serious suitors by far right now, although Royle suggests the Mariners could also come into play.
The 13 free agents who received qualifying offers a week ago have declined, according to the MLBPA's official Twitter feed. In the two years since the new collective bargaining agreement was put in place, no free agent has accepted a one-year qualifying offer, this season valued at $14.1MM. Though some of the free agents may not find that high an average annual value in their next contracts, it was widely expected that the 13 players would turn down the offers in search of longer-term deals.
The 13 players and their former teams are listed below...
- Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
- Robinson Cano, Yankees
- Shin-Soo Choo, Reds
- Nelson Cruz, Rangers
- Stephen Drew, Red Sox
- Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
- Curtis Granderson, Yankees
- Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
- Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
- Brian McCann, Braves
- Kendrys Morales, Mariners
- Mike Napoli, Red Sox
- Ervin Santana, Royals
If a qualifying offer free agent signs elsewhere, the player's former team will receive a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds of the 2014 amateur draft. A team that signs a qualifying offer free agent will forfeit its first round pick, though the teams with the 10 worst records in baseball last year (the Astros, Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Twins, Mariners, Phillies, Rockies, Blue Jays and Mets) have protected first-rounders and would only have to give up a second-round pick for signing a Q.O. free agent.
With the offseason fast approaching, many fans are already beginning to play GM and look ahead to potential targets in free agency. Much like Tim Dierkes did with trade candidates prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline, I've compiled Fangraphs leaderboards for this year's upcoming free agent class.
Fangraphs leaderboards will allow you to sort hitters by position and by statistics. Everything from basic stats like average and homers, advanced metrics like wRC+ and wOBA, or batted-ball metrics like line-drive rate and HR/FB is available. On the pitching side of things, everything from ERA to FIP to swinging-strike rate to fastball velocity can be found. You can also set each leaderboard to include data from previous seasons to increase the sample size.
For the purposes of this post, I've created four leaderboards (Note: These are not MLBTR's rankings of free agents. They are sorted by Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement but can be sorted by any stat under any tab on the leaderboard simply by clicking that stat. MLBTR's Top 50 Free Agent rankings will be published after the season):
- Free Agent Position Player Leaderboards
- Free Agent Starting Pitching Leaderboards
- Free Agent Right-Handed Reliever Leaderboards
- Free Agent Left-Handed Reliever Leaderboards
I should also note that I've included all players on this list that could end up as free agents, even those who have club options that are likely to be exercised. Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt, Jose Veras, James Shields and Casey Janssen are included for now, even if they're highly unlikely to hit free agency. The leaderboards also include injured players like Rafael Furcal and Corey Hart who will draw free agent interest despite not seeing big league action in 2013. Their stats from previous seasons will appear if you set the date range to include previous years. Click here to see MLBTR's full list of 2014 free agents as well as their option statuses.
The upcoming crop of free agent starters has been rife with injuries this season. While Matt Garza and Josh Johnson look to have returned from the DL healthy and very effective since our last look-in on injured hurlers, others haven't been so fortunate yet. Here's an update on some hurlers whose stock is suffering due to injuries...
- Roy Halladay told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki that he's feeling good and has been tossing from 60 feet for the past few days. The Phils are hopeful that Halladay, who underwent shoulder surgery in May, will pitch again this season, but that might not happen until late August, if it happens at all. The 36-year-old could end posting his lowest innings total since 2000 as a 23-year-old -- the year prior to his breakout as one of baseball's most dominant forces.
- MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez reports that Jason Vargas will undergo surgery to alleviate a blood clot in his left armpit. The procedure will shut down Vargas entirely for two weeks, and he might not be back on a Major League mound until the end of July. Vargas averages nearly 6 2/3 innings per start, so those five weeks could cost him between 40 and 50 innings of work. The injury couldn't come at a worse time, as Vargas is in the midst of his best season, and his durability is one of his greatest assets. Beyond that, the loss of one of their best starters this season could place the Halos in a deeper hole and push them toward selling at this year's deadline.
- Dan Haren hit the disabled list this weekend with a vague shoulder injury. Manager Davey Johnson told MLB.com's Bill Ladson the soreness has kept Haren from getting loose prior to his past couple of outings. Haren sounded irritated by his placement on the DL, according to Ladson, and noted any soreness he's feeling is nothing he hasn't pitched through before. Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington tweets that Haren's MRI came back clean and he received a cortisone shot yesterday. Haren's ERA is a bloated 6.15, and he is tied for the Major League lead in homers allowed.
- As of this Sunday, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted that A.J. Burnett has yet to throw off a mound since being placed on the disabled list by the Pirates. Burnett is in the midst of one of the finest seasons of his career, but has no timetable for his return. His bout with free agency this offseason figured to be an intriguing one anyhow, as he's stated publicly that he would likely only return to the Pirates or retire. A serious DL stint could make him question a return even more.
I've compiled a FanGraphs custom leaderboard of the 42 current starting pitchers who will be eligible for free agency after the season, leaving out a few with club options such as James Shields and Jon Lester. Crunching a few basic numbers:
- You won't find a better innings-eating free agent starter this year than Bronson Arroyo. He leads with 100 2/3 innings after 15 starts, even though others have made 16 starts. Arroyo still looks strong if we look at the past calendar year, though Hiroki Kuroda comes out on top with 225 1/3 innings.
- Jason Hammel, Josh Johnson, and Matt Garza are the hardest throwers of the group, all averaging 92.7 miles per hour on their fastballs. A.J. Burnett isn't far behind at 92.3, and he leads in strikeout rate and percentage.
- With a 1.1 BB/9, Bartolo Colon gets the nod for best control. Ervin Santana and Dan Haren have also been stingy with the free pass.
- If you don't mind small samples, Chien-Ming Wang and Jake Westbrook are the most extreme groundballers. If you do mind, then it's Tim Hudson. Meanwhile, Phil Hughes gets the fewest groundballs, though others such as Freddy Garcia and Haren have had more extreme issues with home runs. Westbrook hasn't allowed any home runs in his 51 innings, while Jorge De La Rosa has allowed only five in 93 innings.
- Jason Marquis is getting by with an unsustainably low batting average on balls in play (.237), with Garza and Santana also below .250.
- Among those with ten starts, Santana is the ERA leader at 2.64, followed by Kuroda and Colon. SIERA likes Santana as well (3.49), but likes Burnett even more (3.23) and gives a nod to Roberto Hernandez (3.51). Colon leads the past calendar year with a 2.68 ERA, with Kuroda checking in at 3.00 and Paul Maholm at 3.10. Colon is also rocking a 1.41 ERA over his last 51 innings, and Joe Saunders is coming on strong in his last five outings.
We're always looking ahead here at MLBTR, hence our recent publication of the 2013-14 free agent class. These players project for free agency after the 2013 season, two seasons from now. We know plenty of them will sign extensions between now and then, but it's still fun to discuss.
The Under-30 Group
Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jesus Flores, Alexi Casilla, Carlos Gomez, Ryan Sweeney, Phil Hughes, Jair Jurrjens, and John Lannan will be under 30 for the 2014 season. Jones and Cabrera play premium positions and are in line for huge contracts if they maintain their upward trajectory over the next two years.
The best position players on the 2014 list itself include Joey Votto, Mike Morse, Paul Konerko, Chase Utley, Cabrera, Martin Prado, Alex Gordon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jones, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, and Corey Hart. But once you consider players with club options likely to be exercised for 2013, you might consider adding Brian McCann, Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, David Wright, Kevin Youkilis, and Curtis Granderson. Votto looks like the best all-around hitter in the group. Center field could be deep, with Ellsbury, Jones, and Granderson.
Top starters rarely hit the free agent market. Tim Lincecum, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, and Chris Carpenter head up the list, which could also include Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and others if options are exercised. There are several potential number one starters in that mix, but two seasons have a way of changing things.
MLBTR's up-to-date list of 2014 MLB free agents is below. These are players who will become free agents after the 2013 playoffs conclude. Linked player names go to our Free Agent Profiles.
Kelly Shoppach (34)
Casey Kotchman (31)
Kendrys Morales (30)
Stephen Drew (31)
Nick Green (35)
Brandon Inge (37)
Placido Polanco (38)
Laynce Nix (33)
Juan Pierre (36)
Derrick Robinson (26)
Rick Ankiel (34)
Andres Torres (36)
Dewayne Wise (36)
Vernon Wells (35)
Kendrys Morales (30)
Vernon Wells (35)
Odrisamer Despaigne (27)
Jon Garland (34)
Jair Jurrjens (28)
Jeff Karstens (31)
Jason Marquis (35)
Jeff Niemann (31)
Clayton Richard (30)
Ervin Santana (31)
Barry Zito (36)
Hector Ambriz (30)
Octavio Dotel (40)
Frank Francisco (34)
Cristhian Martinez (32)
Brett Myers (33)
Cot's Baseball Contracts was used in the creation of this list.