Free Agent Stock Watch Rumors


Free Agent Stock Watch: Russell Martin

Russell Martin has improved his value with a strong offensive second half, but the prospective free agent might have already turned down the largest contract offer he'll see this year. Martin, who homered again last night, is hitting well with weeks to go before his second career appearance on the free agent market.

Russell Martin - Yankees (PW)

The Yankees made Martin a three-year extension offer in the $20MM range this spring, around the time Miguel Montero (five years, $60MM) and Yadier Molina (five years, $75MM) signed multiyear deals. Martin declined, deciding to let the market for catchers establish itself. His numbers have since dropped off compared to his first season in pinstripes. Going into this afternoon's game in Minnesota, the 29-year-old has 19 home runs with a .206/.309/.389 batting line in 458 plate appearances. 

Martin's batting average declined for the fifth consecutive season in 2012, and it’s be unreasonable to count on major improvements from a player whose batting average on balls in play has been below .300 every month of his two-year tenure with the Yankees. Yet he continues to draw walks and hit for some power. Plus, his second half numbers -- a .236/.318/.435 slash line with 11 home runs -- provide some reason for optimism.

The right-handed hitter has a career line of .272/.386/.448 against left-handed pitching and while he’s not a part-time player at this stage in his career, Martin could be paired with a left-handed hitting backup to great effect. John Jaso or Jason Castro also figure to get regular playing time in 2013, but this kind of player -- someone who hits right-handers much better than left-handers -- would complement Martin’s offensive skills. 

Still, offensive numbers only reveal so much about a catcher’s value. Martin been durable, catching 120-plus games for the second consecutive season. He has prevented 24% of stolen base attempts so far in 2012, which is approximately league average. According to a pre-season scouting report in The Fielding Bible: Volume III, Martin has re-established himself as an above average defensive catcher. All told, advanced metrics suggest Martin continues adding value (1.3 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference and 2.0 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs), though no longer at the All-Star level he played at in the early part of his career.

In the view of some prominent baseball executives Martin made a mistake when he turned down the Yankees’ extension offer. Three general managers recently suggested to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that Martin will have to settle for a one-year contract this coming offseason. A deal in the $7.5MM range seems appropriate, though a multiyear agreement remains possible, the GMs said.

The last time Martin hit free agency he signed a one-year, $4MM contract with the Yankees. He had just missed a considerable portion of the 2010 season with a hip injury and been non-tendered by the Dodgers. Coming off of a healthy season, the Matt Colleran client figures to obtain a larger guarantee this time, even if he decides to accept a one-year, 'pillow' contract. He could also get multiyear offers given his youth and second half numbers. However, it seems unlikely Martin will see another $20MM offer following a below average offensive season.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.



Free Agent Stock Watch: Jason Grilli

Established closers such as Jose ValverdeBrandon League and Jonathan Broxton will draw interest when they hit free agency this offseason. But those relievers aren't pitching as well as Jason Grilli, the Pirates right-hander who is enjoying a career year in Pittsburgh as he approaches his 36th birthday. Grilli’s breakout season figures to pay off a few months from now when he signs his next contract.

Jason Grilli - Pirates (PW)

Grilli has put together a dominant season in Pittsburgh largely because of his ability to generate strikeouts. He’s fourth among MLB pitchers with 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings (minimum 50 innings pitched) for a total of 84 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings. He’s also fourth on the Pirates in strikeouts, ahead of Kevin Correia and Jeff Karstens, who both spent most of the year in Pittsburgh’s rotation.

Grilli’s fastball averages 93.7mph, a career high. Opponents swing and miss at 14.3% of his offerings, also a career high. While he’s not quite in Craig Kimbrel/Aroldis Chapman territory when it comes to generating swinging strikes, he's ahead of swing and miss relievers such as Jonny Venters and Fernando Rodney

Both left-handers and right-handers have struggled against Grilli, the Giants’ first round pick in 1997. He strikes out 43.1% of the left-handed hitters he faces, fourth among all relievers and tops among those headed for free agency. Right-handers have slightly more success; they strike out 31.6% of the time.

Overall, Grilli’s numbers are phenomenal: a 2.96 ERA with 13.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 31.9% ground ball rate in 54 2/3 innings. Though 2012 has been Grilli's best season, he has had success at the MLB level before. He pitched effectively for Pittsburgh last year and his strikeout rate has risen in each of the last six seasons (excluding 2010, when Grilli didn't pitch).

He settled for a minor league deal leading up to the 2011 season, after missing all of 2010 with a leg injury. This offseason, he’ll be one of the top free agent relievers available. He’ll be guaranteed millions and a big league roster spot. It’s a question of how much money and how many years.

His agent, former MLB star Gary Sheffield, should push for a multiyear contract despite his client’s age (in case you’re wondering, the slugger turned agent was hitless in two career at bats against Grilli). Sheffield will note recent multiyear contracts signed by non-closing relievers such as Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Grant Balfour. Parallels also exist between Grilli and Joaquin Benoit, who missed the entire 2009 season then pitched his way to a three-year, $16.5MM contract with a dominant age-32 season.

It must be noted that the market for relief pitchers seems increasingly hostile. Multiyear contracts for free agent relievers dropped from 17 in 2010-11 to six last offseason. General managers will surely ask themselves if Grilli, who will be 36 by Opening Day 2013, can replicate his 2012 numbers. 

In my view the floor for Grilli is a one-year deal with a base salary in the $3-5MM range. For someone whose career prospects seemed to be fading two years ago that’d be a notable contract, but there’s a good chance he can do even better. I expect a two-year deal in the $10MM range for Grilli, who won’t be tied to draft pick compensation thanks to the sport’s new collective bargaining agreement. He’s pitching at an elite level and that’ll be reflected in his next contract.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.



Free Agent Stock Watch: Jeremy Guthrie

Before Jeremy Guthrie was traded to the Royals, he was in the midst of a career-worst season and appeared to be headed for a minor league contract in free agency. Since the Royals acquired Guthrie for Jonathan Sanchez on July 20th, the right-hander has pitched effectively, returning to his career norms. The turnaround should assure him of a guaranteed contract as a free agent this offseason and a multiyear deal remains possible.

Jeremy Guthrie - Royals (PW)

Coors Field was not a particularly welcoming home to Guthrie this year. Opponents posted a Bonds-esque .368/.415/.720 batting line against him in Denver’s thin air. Overall, Guthrie posted a 6.35 ERA with 4.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 90 2/3 innings for the Rockies. He allowed 12 hits and two home runs per nine innings. Not surprisingly, he lost his rotation spot and, eventually, his place on the team.

Credit Royals general manager Dayton Moore for looking past those numbers. Since Guthrie has joined the Royals he has a 3.13 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 72 innings over the course of 11 starts. He’s generating more swings and misses with Kansas City (7.7% swinging strike rate) and averaging 93mph with his fastball.

Guthrie should appeal to the Royals when he hits free agency this offseason, as Kansas City could use more starting pitching. Moore has said that the club will "probably" wait until after the season to explore contract talks with Guthrie

Guthrie’s representatives at CAA Sports figure to look for a multiyear contract in free agency and it sounds as though some longtime Royals observers aren’t opposed to the possibility. Rany Jazayerli has suggested a two year, $15MM contract could work for both sides. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star has suggested a two year, $18MM contract with a club option. 

A multiyear deal is certainly possible for the 33-year-old Guthrie. But in some ways he reminds me of Joe Saunders, who was selected ten spots before Guthrie in the first round of the 2002 draft. Both are innings eaters who limit walks, don’t induce many strikeouts and allow lots of hits. The combination generally leads to substantial salaries through arbitration, but it doesn’t do as well in free agency. Saunders, for example, signed a one-year, $6MM contract with Arizona last offseason. I expect Guthrie to sign a contract in that range following his up and down 2012 campaign.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.



Free Agent Stock Watch: Daisuke Matsuzaka

Six years ago this month, Daisuke Matsuzaka was the best pitcher in the world not employed by an MLB team. He dominated Nippon Professional Baseball with the Seibu Lions, winning the league strikeout title four times from 2000-2006. The Lions posted him after 2006, and the Red Sox won his negotiating rights (for $51M+) and then signed him to a six-year contract (worth $52MM).

Uspw_6314944Things are much different now, as Dice-K is a few weeks away from becoming a free agent for the first time time in his career. He helped Boston win a World Series in 2007 and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting in 2008 (18-3, 2.90 ERA), but things have gone downhill since. Matsuzaka pitched to a 5.76 ERA while missing considerable time with a groin injury in 2009. He stayed reasonably healthy in 2010 but pitched to a 4.69 ERA. After allowing 24 runs in his first 37 1/3 innings of 2011, Dice-K underwent Tommy John surgery.

Matsuzaka, 32, has posted a 7.14 ERA with 8.3 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 40 1/3 innings this season since coming off the DL. All of the hype from 2006-2007 is gone, and that six-year contract expires after the season. It's been four years since Dice-K's last sub-4.50 ERA, five years since his last sub-4.0 BB/9, and five years since his last 200-inning season. He has said he would like to pitch until he's 40, though he'll head into this offseason as a reclamation project.

The starting pitching free agent market offers a number of reclamation types, including Colby Lewis, Erik Bedard, and Carl Pavano, all of whom are older than Matsuzaka. A move to a pitcher's park should help his numbers, as would a potential shift to the NL. There wasn't any interest in the right-hander when the Red Sox put him on waivers last month, but that's not surprising given his salary ($10MM). Agent Scott Boras has a way of finding better than expected contracts for his clients, but it's tough to see him getting Dice-K anything more than a one-year, low-base salary deal (with incentives) this winter.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.



Free Agent Stock Watch: Ryan Madson

Is it possible for a free agent to have much stock after he missed the entire season due to injury? It is when you've been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball for the last half-decade and are still just 32 years old.

Uspw_5547164The Reds invested a one-year, $8.5MM contract in Ryan Madson last winter only to watch him blow out his elbow and require Tommy John surgery near the end of Spring Training. They came into today with an 11-game lead in the NL Central thanks in part to Aroldis Chapman, who has emerged as one of the two or three most dominant closers in baseball in Madson's stead. The team survived the injury just fine.

Madson, however, faces an uncertain offseason. He pitched to a 2.89 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 329 2/3 innings from 2007-2011, including a 32-save campaign in his walk year last season. Agent Scott Boras spent the offseason trying to secure a multiyear pact - at one point it appeared that Madson would be returning to the Phillies before they signed Jonathan Papelbon - before taking the one-year deal from the Reds in late-January.

There isn't much precedent for relievers entering free agency coming off Tommy John surgery, but Manny Corpas did it a year ago. He ultimately took a minor league contract with the Rangers before hooking on with the Cubs this past winter. Given his pedigree, Madson should still be able to land a guaranteed contract this offseason, though it might be of the low-base salary plus incentives variety.

It's worth noting that there is an $11MM mutual option ($2.5MM buyout) in Madson's contract with the Reds. It seems likely that he would exercise his half of the option, but the Reds are unlikely to do the same given Chapman's emergence plus Sean Marshall's presence as the backup plan. Acquiring a pitcher of Madson's caliber on a low-base salary deal is very intriguing and something I'm sure multiple clubs will offer him after the season.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.



Free Agent Stock Watch: Marco Scutaro

Few trade deadline acquisitions have had as much impact as Marco Scutaro, who has hit .341/.361/.447 in 44 games for the Giants after being acquired from the Rockies for prospect Charlie Culberson. He's continued to show off his trademark versatility by filling in at third base while Pablo Sandoval was hurt before taking over second full-time.

Uspw_6511012Scutaro, 36, owns a .293/.336/.388 overall batting line this season between Colorado and San Francisco. He hit .299/.358/.423 in 445 plate appearances for the Red Sox a year ago, before they exercised his $6MM option and traded him to the Rockies. Other than that versatility, Scutaro's calling card is his ability to make contact and get on-base. He's struck out in just 7.8% of his plate appearances this year, the second lowest mark in baseball. His career 8.7% walk rate is rock solid as well.

Earlier this week Scutaro made it clear that he would like to return to the Giants next season, so much so that he would be open to re-signing during the exclusive negotiating period after the World Series. The upcoming free agent class is light on quality middle infielders though, so his services will definitely be in high demand especially when you factor in his strong second half performance for a contender.

Scutaro originally signed a two-year $12.5MM contract with the Red Sox prior to the 2010 season (plus the option), and I don't think it's completely out of the question that he signs a similar multiyear deal this winter despite being three years older. The middle infield market offers few viable alternatives, and his versatility means he won't be locked into one position. The Giants are shedding Freddy Sanchez's $6MM salary after the season, money that could be easily reinvested in the team's current second baseman.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.



Free Agent Stock Watch: Carlos Villanueva

When Carlos Villanueva throws his first pitch to Red Sox tomorrow afternoon, he'll set a career high in games started. For some pitchers it'd be a bit of trivia. For Villanueva, it's a more significant threshold that could help him establish his value to prospective suitors as he nears free agency.

The right-hander has spent the second half of the season in Toronto’s starting rotation and his success in that role could be enough to convince MLB executives that he can excel as a starter in years to come. Yet some observers remain unconvinced. Speaking to the media this week Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos credited Villanueva for a successful season but emphasized the importance of remaining objective and establishing realistic expectations.

Carlos Villanueva - Blue Jays (PW, 2)

“When you’re looking at a starter you’re looking at 32 or 34 starts, 200 innings, durability, things like that, that’s part of the equation,” Anthopoulos told reporters, including Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. “There’s no question when he’s taken the ball he’s done a great job. But his [durability] is obviously part of the equation. That’s not to take anything away from him. But that’s the unknown with Carlos, he’s never had 200 innings, he’s never had 32 or 34 starts. I think we all would say you love what you see, what he’s done for us and he’s a great teammate and all those things. But again we’ve only had bits and pieces of him starting.”

Villanueva, who’s weeks away from hitting free agency for the first time, started 27 games over the course of his five seasons with the Brewers. He started 13 more last year after Anthopoulos acquired him from Milwaukee for a player to be named (the trade, overlooked at the time of its completion, has worked out tremendously for the Blue Jays). He's been a valuable reliever and spot starter to this point in his career. But he believes he can start at the MLB level despite Anthopoulos’ comments.

"Its a little disappointing. Everyone is entitled to their opinion," he told Sportsnet’s Tony Ambrogio (Twitter links). "I definitely don't love the advertising of that being put out there."

Let's set the rhetoric aside and look at the numbers. As Anthopoulos acknowledged, Villanueva is in the midst of an excellent season. He has a 3.48 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 38.9% ground ball rate in 111 1/3 innings as a starter and reliever. He generates swings and misses on 9.9% of his offerings -- a marked improvement from 2011 -- despite a fastball that averages just 89 mph.

Villanueva's strikeout rate and ground ball rate have dropped since he joined the rotation. But he has also pitched to a 3.58 ERA out of the rotation and cut his walk rate in half. In fact, he walked more batters in 33 1/3 relief innings (21) than he has in 78 innings since joining the rotation (20). And Villanueva has been healthy for the entire 2012 campaign after missing time with a strained forearm last year.

For Villanueva to obtain a multiyear contract, he'll probably have to convince teams he's a starter. Multiyear contracts for free agent relievers dropped from 17 in 2010-11 to six last offseason and most of last winter’s multiyear deals went to big-name closers such as Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan.

Many teams -- the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Royals, Twins, Brewers, Padres and Rockies to name a few -- figure to be looking for starting pitching this coming offseason. Teams that can’t afford Zack Greinke and miss out on Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda and Kyle Lohse could target Villanueva. After all, he’s younger than most free agents at 28 years old and enjoying success in the American League East.

Assuming Villanueva’s representatives at SFX market him as a starter, they could look to match recent deals obtained by Chris Capuano (two years, $10MM) and Aaron Harang (two years, $12MM). Those pitchers aren’t great comps for Villanueva -- few players are -- but a contract in that range seems possible. SFX could argue that Villanueva's upside and youth make up for the perceived lack of dependability. 

If no multiyear offers surface, Villanueva would be looking for a one-year guarantee in the right environment. A one-year deal would presumably be worth less than the $11MM Edwin Jackson obtained following the 2011 season. Jackson, after all, had youth and durability on his side when the Nationals signed him last winter. However, pitchers such as Joe Saunders ($6MM), Roy Oswalt ($5MM), Paul Maholm ($4.75MM) and Erik Bedard ($4.5MM) signed one-year deals worth $5MM or so. That would represent a raise for Villanueva, who’s earning $2.28MM this year, without exposing the signing team to much risk.

Villanueva figures to draw lots of interest from teams interested in signing him for one year. I also expect some teams will have interest in multiyear deals given Villanueva’s recent success as a member of the Blue Jays’ rotation. One thing is certain: his last few starts will be scouted heavily as teams attempt to determine whether Villanueva is headed for sustainable success as an MLB starter or simply having a career year.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.



Free Agent Stock Watch: Jeff Keppinger

Jeff Keppinger can play multiple positions and he’s a difference maker on offense -- at least against left-handed pitching. The combination will attract the interest of many teams when he hits free agency this coming offseason.

Jeff Keppinger - Rays (PW)

When the Rays signed Keppinger to a one-year, $1.525MM deal in January, they expected him to be a tough out, especially against left-handed pitching. The 32-year-old has thrived with Tampa Bay posting a .329/.376/.445 batting line in 320 plate appearances. He also has nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (21) thanks in part to a 93.2% contact rate that ranks third among MLB players with at least 300 trips to the plate. 

Keppinger has been particularly effective against lefties, as his .411/.437/.558 batting line against them shows (103 plate appearances). This performance isn’t unexpected, either. Keppinger, a right-handed hitter, has a career line of .336/.380/.491 against left-handers. 

Teams will also take note of Keppinger’s versatility when he hits free agency this offseason. He has appeared in 15 or more games at first base, second base and third base in 2012, playing mostly at the hot corner. He has previous experience at shortstop, though none since 2010. The mixture of versatility and offense has been worth two wins above replacement in 2012, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

The ability to hit left-handed pitching doesn’t always translate into substantial free agent contracts, as noted lefty mashers Jonny Gomes (one-year, $1MM), Andruw Jones (one-year, $2MM) and Scott Hairston (one-year, $1.1MM) discovered last offseason. Similarly, veteran utility players usually sign for less than $5MM. Ramon Santiago, Nick Punto, Greg Dobbs, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald obtained two-year deals worth $1.5-2MM per season last winter.

But few players offer the versatility to play multiple infield positions and the ability to produce against lefties. The combination could drive Keppinger’s asking price to the two-year, $10MM range. Aaron Hill, Clint Barmes and Mark Ellis signed contracts in that range a year ago, and those deals could represent a target for Keppinger’s representatives at CSE. Teams may hesitate to pay starter money for a so-called utility player and if that’s the case, the deals signed by Jerry Hairston Jr. (two years, $6MM) and Jamey Carroll (two years, $6.75MM) could provide an alternate template for Keppinger. 

He definitely appears to be in line for a considerable raise and he has a good shot at a multiyear deal. It’s a notable shift in value for a player who was non-tendered by the Giants just nine months ago.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.



Free Agent Stock Watch: David Ortiz

David Ortiz has played in just one game since July 16 due to a right Achilles strain, and while he hopes to be back in September, this prolonged injury isn't a good sign for a 36-year-old on the way to free agency.  The injury adds another twist to that should be a very interesting free agent case for Ortiz, especially in the wake of the recent overhaul of the Red Sox roster.

Before the injury, Ortiz was enjoying one of his best seasons.  The veteran slugger has hit 23 homers and posted a .318/.415/.611 line in 2012, providing solid production all season long and avoiding the slow starts that plagued him over the last three years.  Even though he turns 37 in November, it appears as though Ortiz still has plenty left in the tank and, if healthy, projects as one of the biggest bats on the free agent market.  Ortiz's suitors will be limited to AL teams given his inability to play the field, but as he recently pointed out to WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, his full-time DH status and his recenUspw_6403502t health issues will be less important to teams than his potent bat.

In this game when you are capable to do what I do, that’s a plus. I don’t care what anybody says. It’s a plus," Ortiz said.  "It’s hard to hit a damn baseball. Harder than what anybody can imagine. If you put two, three David Ortiz in your lineup you’re going to have some results. I guarantee that....[Offense is] what everybody is looking for right now.  They don’t care if you’re a catcher, first base, DH, whatever. If you can produce, trust me, you’re going to play.”

Ortiz has a point.  Teams have been reluctant in recent years to spend on the DH spot, thus limiting a number of veteran designated hitters to modestly-priced one-year deals.  Several of those veterans are back on the free agent market in 2013, and of that group, Ortiz has by far had the most recent success and is able to consistently produce against both right-handed and left-handed pitching.  His current Achilles strain aside, Ortiz is quite durable for an older player, with just one other DL stint since 2002.

After having to settle for accepting Boston's offer of arbitration last offseason and agreeing to a one-year, $14.575MM contract, I would guess that Ortiz will certainly be able to find a multiyear contract this winter.  Agent Fernando Cuza should be able to find, at minimum, a two-year, $30MM deal for his client.  The Red Sox will make Ortiz a qualifying offer, but given how such offers are one-year deals worth around $13.35MM, Ortiz will surely turn it down in hopes of finding a better deal elsewhere. 

The Sox would get a supplemental first round draft pick if Ortiz did reject that qualifying offer and signed with a new team, but it's likely that Boston would make a significant push to bring back its long-time star.  With Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford all gone to the Dodgers, the Red Sox suddenly have loads of future payroll space to work with in the offseason. 

Two years and $30-$35MM is a very fair price for a hitter who can still generate a 1.026 OPS and locking up a franchise icon like "Big Papi" would also be a good PR move for ownership in the wake of a tumultuous season.  For his part, Ortiz has been vocal about going through the "humiliating" arbitration process and his displeasure with the constant controversy surrounding the Sox, but said earlier this week that he wanted to return to Boston in 2013.

If not Boston, where else could Ortiz land next season?  The Royals, White Sox and Tigers already have their DH spots filled, the Yankees are known to keep their DH spot flexible so they can rest their older players and Ortiz will want to play for a likely contender, ruling out the Astros, Mariners and Twins.  This leaves...

  • Angels.  This one is doubtful, as while it's possible the Halos could trade or non-tender Kendrys Morales, they're unlikely to do so in favor of a DH who is seven years older.
  • Blue Jays.  Edwin Encarnacion could become a full-time first baseman.
  • Indians.  The Tribe are known to be looking for hitting help this winter and will have an open DH spot with Travis Hafner's contract expiring.  That said, Ortiz might not consider Cleveland to be close to contention in 2013.
  • Orioles.  Jim Thome is in the mix but is a free agent himself and could also choose to retire.  The O's could decline their $11MM option on Mark Reynolds for 2013, move Chris Davis to first base and sign Ortiz as their designated hitter.
  • Rangers.   With Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli headed for free agency, Texas could well make a play for Ortiz depending on how the rest of their offseason shakes out.
  • Rays and Athletics.  I group these teams together as signing Ortiz would be a larger salary outlay than either is usually comfortable making.  For just a two-year deal, however, Andrew Friedman or Billy Beane could think Ortiz is worth it for a pennant run.  The Rays are the likelier of the two to pursue Ortiz given that the Rays are more established contenders, whereas the A's have been a surprise this year.

Photo courtesy of Bob DeChiara/US Presswire



Free Agent Stock Watch: Nick Swisher

After eight-plus seasons in the Major Leagues Nick Swisher is just a few months away from hitting free agency for the first time. While some players obtain major paydays on the strength of a single breakout season, Swisher will appeal to teams because of the consistent production he has provided since emerging as an MLB regular in 2005. 

Nick Swisher - Yankees (PW)

Swisher has never appeared on an MVP ballot or won a major award. He has never hit .300 or driven in 100 runs. And he has never generated five wins above replacement in a year.

What’s more, Swisher was a below-average defensive right fielder in 2011, according to a pre-season scouting report in The Fielding Bible: Volume III. He entered the 2012 season with average arm strength and accuracy, but below-average range, according to the publication. He turns 32 a few weeks into the offseason, so it'd be unreasonable to expect considerable defensive improvements at this stage.

Yet Dan Lozano of Icon Sports Group can make a strong case that Swisher is one of the game’s top outfielders. Since he played his first full season in 2005, Swisher and fellow 2013 free agent Josh Hamilton are tied for 10th in wins above replacement among MLB outfielders, according to FanGraphs. Just ten players have averaged at least 25 homers and 140 games played per season during that same eight-year period. Swisher’s one of them, along with noted power hitters Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Paul Konerko, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Carlos Lee, Mark Teixeira and Adam Dunn. It’s nothing more than trivia for now, but this sort of minutiae corroborates the point that Lozano will no doubt be making as he converses with team executives: Swisher is a durable player with an above-average bat.

To what extent will those attributes pay off? Swisher will surely decline when the Yankees extend him a qualifying offer following the season (qualifying offers are for one year and $13MM-plus). He can expect multiyear proposals as a free agent, so he’ll reject the Yankees’ offer, even though it’ll mean the team that eventually signs him will have to surrender a draft pick.

It appeared for a while that outfield depth would be a strength of the upcoming free agent class. But Melky Cabrera has been suspended for the remainder of the season and Carlos Quentin and Andre Ethier signed extensions. This means Swisher, Hamilton, Cody Ross and center fielders Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino will be among the best outfielders available. In theory, these outfielders should benefit from reduced competition.

Jayson Werth obtained a seven-year, $126MM contract after hitting .296/.388/.532 with 27 home runs and 82 walks in his age-31 season. Lozano and Swisher are expected to aim big and compare Swisher, now in his age-31 season, to Werth in the hopes of matching his $126MM deal. It would only take one unexpectedly aggressive MLB owner for Swisher to obtain $100MM so it makes sense to be aggressive, but a nine-figure contract seems unlikely.

Jason Bay, who signed for four years and $66MM following his age-30 season, and Michael Cuddyer, who signed for three-years and $31.5MM following his age-32 season, could also be points of reference in offseason discussions. As of now, it’d be a surprise if Swisher doesn’t eclipse the contract Cuddyer signed last winter.

We’re just three quarters of the way through the 2012 campaign, so there’s lots of time for Swisher’s free agent stock to rise and fall before the playoffs even start. With so many games remaining, it’s too early to predict the market for Swisher with much certainty. He won’t be the premier attraction of the offseason -- that honor goes to Hamilton --  but it’s a safe bet that he’ll obtain a raise from his current $10.25MM salary on a contract of no less than three years. He could end up signing of the offseason’s largest free agent deals.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.









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