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Poll: Was Manfred The Right Choice?

Major League Baseball owners yesterday elected MLB COO Rob Manfred as the successor to Bud Selig and next commissioner of baseball. While Manfred’s vote technically passed unanimously, there was a pronounced split for much of the day. Reportedly, 22 of the 30 teams were in favor of Manfred for much of the day, but it took quite some time for a 23rd team — said by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports to be the Nationals — to give Manfred the final vote he required. At that point, the remaining seven teams altered their vote as “an olive branch for posterity” (to use the words of the L.A. Times’ Bill Shaikin), knowing that their preferred candidate had no chance to win anyhow.

That preferred candidate was Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, although Werner wasn’t the only other finalist to give a presentation to owners yesterday. Joining Werner and Manfred was MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, though he appeared to be the first of the three to withdraw from consideration.

All three had their merits. Manfred has resided over labor negotiations and can boast 19 years of peace between MLB and the MLBPA, and he also has worked tirelessly to implement the current drug testing system in addition to spearheading last year’s Biogenesis investigation. Werner, whose background was in television before jumping to the baseball world, was believed by his supporters to possess the necessary knowledge to bolster MLB’s television ratings and revitalize interest in baseball among the youth of the United States and Canada. Brosnan’s business acumen was his strongest selling point, though he looked to be a distant third place behind his competitors not long after the announcement of the three finalists. (Of course, all three had their flaws as well, and MLBTR readers can get a brief rundown of each candidate in this piece from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.)

Prior to the announcement of the three finalists, other candidates for the position had included Giants president Larry Baer, Disney chief executive Bob Iger, Braves chairman Terry McGuirk, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman and former Yale University president Richard C. Levin.

Manfred has long been rumored to be the preferred successor of retiring commissioner Bud Selig, and in the end, the seemingly likeliest option wound up getting the nod. Manfred will become just the 10th commissioner of the league and presumably will hold this post for a considerable amount of time. Should baseball fans be happy about the outcome of the election? Let’s find out how the MLBTR universe feels…

Poll: Phillies’ August Trade Activity

Players will change hands in August, but the path to a deal is trickier. Last year, the names moved included established big leaguers like Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, David DeJesus, Kurt Suzuki, Michael Morse, and John Axford.

The Phillies have fielded a good bit of criticism from those (myself included) who feel that the team has lacked a strategy for divesting themselves of some aging veterans and beginning to move the club forward. But, it is equally clear that the team should have ample opportunity to put together deals over the coming month. Though the players available to be brought back in return could potentially be somewhat limited by the August trade rules, that is less of a barrier for the younger talent that Philly will likely pursue. And perhaps the team will find itself with a bit more leverage relative to the rest of the market since it still holds all its chips (and since injuries or other developments can always intervene to increase need).

Philadelphia has reportedly already sought waivers on essentially all of the veterans that it could consider dealing. It seems likely that most will clear waivers completely, and even those that might not (e.g., Cole Hamels) could be claimed by teams that would be interested in realistically discussing a trade. Even after his injury took Cliff Lee out of the running, the club has plenty of pieces that would be great adds for contenders — if they can navigate the tricky vesting clauses, buyouts, and no-trade provisions that lie within many players’ contracts.

I thought it would be interesting to gauge the sentiment of MLBTR readers as to how active embattled Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. will be in the weeks to come. Will he surprise everyone and aggressively move several players? Or continue to hold onto his veterans unless he is overwhelmed by an offer?

Your options for filling out the poll (honor system applies!):

1) Select “No Player Will Be Traded”

              — OR –

2) Select One Or More Player(s) Who You Think Are Likely To Be Traded

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Poll: Best Trade Deadline Buy

This just had to happen. Yesterday’s deals not only changed the context for earlier summer trades, but reshaped rosters around the game. For purposes of this poll, let’s focus on the teams that were looking to upgrade their current MLB roster.

Here are the moves that contenders made yesterday, by team:

So, which of these teams made the wisest addition(s) yesterday, given team need and the price they paid?

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Poll: Which All-Stars Will Be Traded?

In what’s becoming a bit of a tradition on these slow Saturday nights, let’s take a break from the inaction to consider which All-Stars might find themselves in a new home between now and the end of August. I see no reason to restrict our attention to only the non-waiver trade deadline. We’ve already seen one All-Star – former Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija – traded.

For this exercise, I’ve included most players from the basement teams. I’ve left out a few like Yu Darvish, Starlin Castro, and Anthony Rizzo since they seem to be part of their club’s long term plans. We’re left with a nine player list. Please select all candidates you believe will be dealt or pick the “none” option if you think everyone will stay put.

David Price – TAM: The Rays top starter has been the elephant in the room since the previous trade deadline. Now may be the best time for the Rays to deal Price – his value will diminish as he approaches free agency. The 28-year-old is club controlled through 2015.  Given the price paid by the Athletics for Samardzija, the Rays will want a top prospect like Addison Russell included in any deal.

Tampa Bay is still trying to claw their way back into the AL East (10.5 games out of first) and Wild Card race. They also figure to contend next season, so they could opt to hang onto their star. For his part, Price is trying to firewall his teammates from the rumors.

Kurt Suzuki – MIN: With few catchers on the trade block, Suzuki should receive plenty of attention. The 30-year-old backstop has never drawn rave reviews on his defense. He’s a bit undersized for a catcher, and it’s been hypothesized that his short stature affects his ability to frame pitches. Per StatCorner’s Catcher Report Suzuki has ranked last defensively (many catchers have been worse on a per innings basis).

It’s Suzuki’s bat that has brought him to the Midsummer Classic. Suzuki performed decently at the plate over his first three major league seasons before sliding into obscurity over four seasons. He signed a one-year, $2.75MM deal with the Twins for the 2014. The Cardinals and Orioles are liable to be most interested since both teams have lost their star backstop but don’t need a replacement beyond the 2014 season.

Adrian Beltre – TEX: Rangers manager Ron Washington told Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports that Beltre was absolutely not available. Considering the star third baseman is 35 years old, the Rangers may want to rethink that position. It comes down to a basic question, will Texas rebuild or retool for a 2015 run? If competing in 2015 is seen as a long shot, then the club should maximize their return on Beltre. He’s signed through 2015 with a voidable option for 2016 based on plate appearances.

Alexei Ramirez – CWS: Ramirez has provided adequate offense and defense at the hardest position on the diamond since coming over to the White Sox from Cuba. The 32-year-old is signed through 2015 with a $10MM club option ($1MM buyout) for 2016. Several contenders could use middle infield help, including the Yankees, Blue Jays, Tigers, Athletics, Mariners, Reds, and Giants.

Koji Uehara – BOS: The latest rumor has the Red Sox hoping to retain Uehara through 2015. He’s only signed through the end of this season, so that would require a one year extension – potentially via a qualifying offer. If the club instead decides to cash in on the Japanese veteran, they’ll need to wade into a well-supplied reliever market. It could be hard to get enough of a return to make a trade worthwhile. However, Uehara would be the top closer available, which could push a team like the Tigers to focus their attention.

Chase Utley – PHI: The fringe hall of famer has temporarily put concerns about his knee to rest. His power is definitely in decline, but he remains a useful hitter with a 122 wRC+. Ever since 2005, he’s quietly been one of the best defensive second baseman per Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). The 35-year-old  has full no-trade protection, and he’s hinted he would use it to remain with the Phillies. As such, our speculation could be moot.

Troy Tulowitzki – COL: Tulo could find himself a frequent guest of the MLBTR pages over the next couple weeks. The 29-year-old MVP candidate is signed through 2020. He’s guaranteed roughly $124MM including a $4MM buyout on the 2021 season ($15MM club option). According to Jon Heyman, he gave his “subtle blessing” for a trade. In public comments, he’s also played up his desire to play on a winning team without coming right out to say he would welcome a trade. For his part, Rockies owner Dick Monfort would like to keep Tulowitzki.

Miguel Montero – ARI: The Diamondbacks are expected to deal a lot of pieces over the trade season, but Montero probably won’t be one of them. Montero, who turned 31 three days ago, has bounced back from a disappointing 2013 season. He’s signed through 2017 for roughly $44MM.

Montero has turned in a solid offensive season as the club’s regular cleanup hitter, although he remains impotent against left-handed pitching. The same defensive metrics that rank Suzuki worst in baseball consider Montero to be the best, which could make him a potential long term solution for a team like the Blue Jays.

Daniel Murphy – NYM: The Mets have reportedly held no fresh negotiations involving Murphy. The 29-year-old second baseman is club controlled through 2015. While he hits for a high batting average, he doesn’t reach base enough to be an ideal top of the order batter, nor does he feature the power of a prototypical RBI man. His offensive profile, coupled with tepid reviews of his defense could account for the lack of related trade rumors. He’s posted 2.7 fWAR this season, so he’s valuable even if it comes in an atypical package.

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Poll: Which Starter Will Be Dealt First?

With the calendar approaching July, trade deadline rumors will soon begin to convert into actual deals. Last season, the first bullet – at least the first to include a starting pitcher – was fired on July 2nd, when the Cubs dealt Scott Feldman to the Orioles. With two notable assets, the Cubs are once again in position to strike first blood. However, they aren’t the only club with a pitcher on the market.

Plenty of teams would like to a starter. Earlier today, Yankees GM Brian Cashman mentioned a desire to acquire a pitcher in the next few weeks, according to Brendan Kuty of Virtually every contender could benefit from an additional starter. While needs vary by team, the market has the full gamut of options available.

David Price, Rays, 3.63 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 10.45 K/9, 1.02 BB/9: By ERA, Price is having one of the worst seasons of his career. Based on his peripherals, he’s having a career year. Most teams employ a fully realized analytics department, so don’t be surprised if they are comfortable buying Price’s elite command and control profile. The 28-year-old is club controlled through 2015, so he’ll be especially appealing to teams that see themselves as contenders next season. Alternatively, he could make an interesting asset to re-trade, like Cliff Lee circa 2009.

Jon Lester, Red Sox, 3.14 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 9.25 K/9, 2.29 BB/9: Lester, 30, is in the midst of his finest season. He’s a free agent at the end of the 2014, and as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hypothesized, he’ll probably refuse to open negotiations until after the season. The Sox may decide it’s time to cash in on Lester and open a spot in the rotation for Rubby De La Rosa. Lester should be most appealing to teams that want to go all in this season.

Cliff Lee, Phillies, 3.18 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 8.07 K/9, 1.19 BB/9: The dark horse in this particular competition, Lee is currently on the disabled list with an elbow injury. He’s on pace to return sometime around the All Star break. Any club would be happy to acquire the ace – his contract is another matter. He’s owed the balance of $25MM this season, another $25MM next season, and he has a $27.5MM club option for 2016 that vests with 200 innings thrown in 2015. Given his recent injury and cost, the Phillies can’t hope to receive much in return. Unless they’re facing a budget crunch, they might be better off trading him at a later date. He may be available in August.

Bartolo Colon, Mets, 3.67 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 6.88 ERA, 1.25 FIP: Those who wander the dark corners of the internet may have seen rumors of Colon’s availability. The premise is simple: the Mets are in a position to sell and Colon is a 41-year-old veteran who isn’t helping the team win today. The reason he probably won’t be dealt is because he’s viewed as a helpful mentor to the club’s young staff. The Mets entertain hopes of contending in 2015, and Colon’s veteran presence could be the difference. He’s a weird target for a club hoping to reach the playoffs in 2014. He doesn’t feature the kind of skill set teams like to see in their playoff starters, i.e. dominating stuff. His best talent is not walking anybody.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs, 2.53 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 8.48 K/9, 2.71 BB/9: Samardzija, 29, is the poor man’s Price, if by “poor man” you mean the guy with the premium Mercedes rather than the elite Aston Martin. Like Price, he’s club controlled through 2015, which makes him a perfect target for teams with a multi-season playoff window. And like several other pitchers on this list, he’s having a career season.

Jason Hammel, Cubs, 2.98 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 8.50 K/9, 1.84 BB/9: Last season, the Cubs signed Feldman and later parlayed him into a useful reliever (Pedro Strop). Hammel has been even better than Feldman was last season, but a shaky track record and expiring contract will probably keep his price down. Feldman wasn’t the most interesting starter on the trade market last season, yet he was still the first to go. Will Hammel follow suit? Theo Epstein’s Cubs have a precedent of acting early.

Brandon McCarthy, Diamondbacks, 5.11 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 7.53 K/9, 1.56 BB/9: McCarthy, 30, certainly has the worst ERA of the bunch, yet his peripherals are highly desirable. He’s allowed twice as many home runs as expected, which is why his xFIP (FIP adjusted for a normal home run rate) is 2.92. You can count on several clubs being aware of the excellent peripherals. Somebody will take a shot. The Diamondbacks are dead in the NL West and reportedly need to shed payroll. McCarthy earns $9MM this season.

Ian Kennedy,  Padres, 4.01 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 9.67 K/9, 2.35 BB/9: Speaking of NL West clubs trying to shed payroll, the Padres are reportedly looking to cut costs. Kennedy is one of several veteran Friars on the block. He’s entering his final season of arbitration eligibility, which makes him the true poor man’s Price/Samardzija. The 29-year-old Scott Boras client is probably best suited for clubs with a large home park due to a slight tendency towards fly balls.

Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies, 4.78 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 6.70 K/9, 3.93 BB/9: The 33-year-old pitcher is unlike the others on the list. With the alternatives, there’s at least some kind of possibility for near-elite performance. De La Rosa’s best quality is an ability to eat innings. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and he’s earning $11MM. Teams should find him the cheapest pitcher of those featured…with reason.

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Poll: Best Short-Term Free Agent Signings

A number of players have made big contributions so far this season despite only signing a one-year deal or a minor-league deal this past offseason. Here’s a list of every player who fits that description and who’s produced more than 1 fWAR heading into today’s action. That cutoff excludes a few players clearly having productive seasons (such as Ervin Santana, Joba Chamberlain, Francisco Rodriguez and Emilio Bonifacio), and it excludes the possibility that the newly-signed Stephen Drew will make a big impact in Boston. But it’s as good a cutoff point as any, restricting us to players currently on pace to post seasons of around 3 WAR. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

In April, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd asked you to rank one-year deals in the $4MM-$8MM range. We now have more data on players signed to those deals, plus more information about no-risk minor-league signees we might have overlooked in April, so now is a good time to revisit last year’s free-agent class to see which low-risk deals are netting the most value.

Nelson Cruz, Orioles, $8MM plus roster bonuses. The Orioles also gave up the No. 55 overall pick in next week’s draft. Cruz has hit .315/.383/.675 in 230 plate appearances so far this season. He left today’s game with a hand injury, but he’s hit brilliantly for Baltimore so far, piling up an incredible 20 home runs.

Juan Francisco, Blue Jays, minor-league contract. The Jays signed Francisco after the Brewers dropped him in late March, and he’s hit a remarkable .275/.365/.596, with nine home runs in his first 126 plate appearances.

Jason Hammel, Cubs, $6MM. Hammel has pitched 71 1/3 terrific innings so far thanks to excellent control — he’s only allowing 1.9 BB/9. Hammel’s 2.78 ERA likely isn’t sustainable, but it doesn’t need to be for him to provide the Cubs with great value for $6MM.

Aaron Harang, Braves, minor-league deal, $1MM. Harang’s resurgence with Atlanta has been nothing short of amazing — last year it looked like his days as a productive big-leaguer might be over, but this year he has a 3.29 ERA with peripherals to match (9.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9). The Braves also got two more solid pitchers in Santana and Gavin Floyd on one-year deals last offseason.

Michael Morse, Giants, $6MM. Morse’s poor defense limits his value, but it’s almost impossible not to be an asset when one hits .295/.351/.574. Morse is a big reason the Giants currently have the best record in baseball. His slugging percentage so far is 92 points above his career total.

A.J. Pierzynski, Red Sox, $8.25MM. Pierzynski has produced 1.1 WAR this season while hitting .288/.318/.417 in 174 plate appearances, accumulating much of that value in a recent 10-game hitting streak. He has not, however, won good reviews for his handling of the Red Sox’ pitching staff.

Yangervis Solarte, Yankees, minor-league contract. Solarte has been a highlight of an unsettled Yankees infield, playing decent defense at both third and second while hitting .299/.369/.466. That’s not bad for a 26-year-old who had never played in the big leagues before this season. The Yankees also can control his rights for several more years beyond this one if they choose.

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Poll: Where Will Kendrys Morales Sign?

MLBTR’s pages are increasingly loaded with draft news, which means that June 5 is fast approaching. Of course, that also means that we are just days away from Kendrys Morales becoming the first ever player to wait out the draft and thereby relieve himself of the compensation that attached upon declining a qualifying offer. (Technically, teams can sign him without sacrificing a pick after the completion of the draft’s first day.)

So, with Morales set to become a true free agent — one who can sign with any team on equal terms, without any strings attached — where is he most likely to go? I’ll list the seven teams that seem, in my view, to be the most compelling possibilities, along with the ever-popular wild card option. (Choiced presented in no particular order; poll choices randomized; feel free to register complaints with my selections in the comments.)

  • Yankees — We’ll start with the team most recently linked to Morales. The presence of Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira complicates this match-up, although Teixeira did suffer a potentially troubling set-back today. On the other hand, so did Michael Pineda, which emphasizes further that the rotation is likely a greater need (if not also the infield mix). Owner Hal Steinbrenner has indicated that the club could still unleash its vaunted spending capacity over the summer, but it remains an open question whether the cash would be better spent in other areas.
  • Orioles — Baltimore was long viewed as a potential Morales suitor, at least before signing Nelson Cruz. As good as Cruz has been at the plate, he’s been terrible in the field, making it questionable whether the club would be interested in moving him to the outfield on a regular basis (he’s been splitting time about evenly thus far). The elbow questions surrounding catcher Matt Wieters also presents a barrier, as he may need to spend some or all of his time in the DH role. Indeed, executive vice president Dan Duquette has strongly downplayed the likelihood of a Morales signing for those very reasons.
  • Rangers — The fit here is obvious: Morales represents a big left-handed bat who could pick up some of the slack for the injured Prince Fielder. But the club, which entered the year with a record $133.5MM payroll, has been treading water for much of the season after being crushed by injuries to Fielder, Jurickson Profar, and seemingly half of the pitching staff. Indeed, much of the latest discussion has centered upon whether, and if so how, Texas might turn into a trade-deadline seller, with GM Jon Daniels saying recently that the organization is not ready to give up but declining to rule out the possibility of making “adjustments” to the organization’s approach if the team falls further back.
  • Angels — Could a return to Morales’s original employer be in the offing? The Halos rejected the overtures of agent Scott Boras back in December, with GM Jerry Dipoto noting that the team was uninterested in sacrificing a first-round pick and ultimately signing the grizzled Raul Ibanez. But the draft pick is no longer an issue, Ibanez has been poor, and the Angels are finally in position to make a real run at the post-season. Then again, prospect C.J. Cron has mashed in his first taste of the bigs and the team has something of a glut of talented outfielders in the fold (including the rehabbing Josh Hamilton) who could presumably absorb some plate appearances at DH.
  • Athletics — Oakland always feels like a wild card. There may not be a need here, strictly speaking, but the A’s could see a chance to add value by plugging Morales in the DH slot. The hitter-only slot in the lineup has been given most often to Alberto Callaspo, who has been below average with the bat, with players like John Jaso and Yoenis Cespedes also getting significant time away from the field. But will the team have room to add that kind of payroll after entering the season well above its usual spending levels (or, if not, would it be able/inclined to create space via trade)? And would GM Billy Beane want to add a full-time DH to a roster that has thrived on matchups and flexibility?
  • Mariners — A return to Seattle seemed the logical choice from the get-go, as the club plainly values Morales. That likelihood dissipated with the acquisitions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, but injury issues for that pair — along with an underwhelming start for Justin Smoak — has led to renewed suggestions of a reunion. On the other hand, payroll issues could still pose a barrier for a club that is looking up at three AL West competitors in the standings, just as it is in this post. And if this was a fit from the M’s perspective, why did the club seemingly decline to pursue a pre-draft deal (as the Red Sox did with Stephen Drew)?
  • Brewers — The only National League club on my list, Milwaukee entered the year with big questions at first base. While Mark Reynolds has been adequate, Lyle Overbay (the left-handed side of that platoon) has struggled. Meanwhile, the front-running Brewers could (and probably should) be looking to upgrade their roster in any way possible to fend off a tough Cardinals squad. This fit would be close to perfect, were it not for the fact that Morales is considered a liability at first.
  • Other — Why limit ourselves? There are other teams that could potentially benefit from Morales, at least in a vacuum, though in each case there may be lesser motivation and greater barriers than in the situations of those teams named above. It would be rather surprising, but perhaps not outside the realm of possibility, for teams such as the Indians, Twins, Pirates, or Padres to enter the mix. Of course, none of the clubs just listed sat closer than seven games out of first (or 3.5 out of the Wild Card) entering today’s action. In some respects, their involvement — or that of unnamed others, if injuries were to intervene — could potentially to depend upon whether Morales looks to sign quickly or instead prefers to let things develop over the summer.

Poll: Who Should The Astros Take With The First Pick?

We’re less than two weeks away from the June amateur draft, and there still isn’t consensus about who the Astros will take with the first overall pick. That’s not surprising, since there isn’t a clear No. 1 overall talent. “There’s not a [Gerrit] Cole, in our minds. There’s not a [Stephen] Strasburg, in our minds,” as Pirates GM Neal Huntington put it yesterday. John Manuel of Baseball America recently quoted an executive saying, “It just seems like there isn’t a $6 million player in this draft,” which means the Astros’ task will be a tricky one.

It’s always better to have an earlier pick than a later one, of course. But compared to, say, 2010, when the Nationals took Bryce Harper first overall, 2014 seems to be a worse year to have the top pick, and a better year to have a lower pick.

Many recent mock drafts have suggested the Astros will take either California high school lefty Brady Aiken or NC State lefty Carlos Rodon first overall, but the Astros also invited Texas high school righty Tyler Kolek to a pre-draft workout.

Aiken has added velocity and now throws in the mid-90s. He also has an outstanding curveball and could have excellent control, and he has an easy delivery. Kolek can throw 100 MPH and potentially has a good slider, although his command lags behind Aiken’s. In the cases of both Aiken and Kolek, stock disclaimers about high school pitchers apply.

Rodon entered the college season as the clear favorite to be the No. 1 pick, but he has not been as dominant as expected this season for NC State. Manuel quotes an executive even wondering whether Rodon will be a starter in the long term. There is, perhaps, a comparison to be made to Cole, who also failed to dominate in the season before he was drafted No. 1 overall, but Manuel points out that Cole’s stuff was outstanding that year, whereas Rodon’s hasn’t been consistent. Rodon does, however, still have an outstanding slider.

Earlier today, Peter Gammons quoted an executive guessing that the Astros could also consider California high school C/OF Alex Jackson. “Many of the Astros’ people believe that picking a pitcher at the top is a gamble because of the historical predictability of pitchers,” the executive said. Gammons notes that the Astros did pick Mark Appel with the top spot last year. But if there’s ever a year to question gambling on pitchers, this might be it — not only is there not a consensus No. 1, but it’s also been a rough year for big-league pitchers and for former top draftees in the minors, like Appel and Jameson Taillon. Jackson is the consensus top hitting prospect in the draft.

In a draft where little is certain, LSU righty Aaron Nola could represent another possibility. Unlike some of the other top pitching prospects, he doesn’t look like a prototypical ace — he’s just a little bit undersized, and his stuff isn’t as outstanding. But he’s performed very well this year and he should get to the majors relatively quickly, and he might be a good candidate to take first overall if the Astros decide to save a bit of money against their bonus pool to spend on later picks. That’s what they did in 2012, when Appel and Byron Buxton were the consensus top picks, and the Astros instead took Carlos Correa, then used the savings to sign Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz later in the draft.

With all that in mind, who do you think the Astros should take with the first overall pick?

Poll: Top 2015 Free Agent Third Baseman

MLBTR’s first edition of the 2015 free agent power rankings featured one prime position player at the top (Hanley Ramirez) and a group of pitchers to round out the top five. (Charlie Wilmoth already asked our readers to rank those arms.) Things get somewhat murkier at that point, with a host of players who have fairly significant question marks making up the rest of the list and the group of players worth keeping an eye on.

What is clear, however, is that the third base market contains two top targets: Chase Headley of the Padres and Pablo Sandoval of the Giants. (While Ramirez could hypothetically sign to play the hot corner, it’s fair to assume that he would be out of the league of these two regardless.) The pair of switch-hitters are each off to slow starts and have a history of inconsistent production, but have registered 6+ WAR seasons at their best. Sandoval will hit the market at a youthful 28, while Headley is hardly old for a free agent (he just turned 30). Their career production has been rather similar on the whole.

MLBTR’s Steve Adams prefers Headley to Sandoval, arguing that he has a higher floor. But it is hard to ignore Sandoval’s age advantage, and clubs will be intrigued at the possibility of unleashing his bat (especially from the left side) in a more hitter-friendly home park.

So, let’s see what the consensus is among MLBTR readers: Who is the better 2015 free agent target?

Poll: Top 2015 Free Agent Starting Pitchers

Sunday morning, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo quoted a GM suggesting that Jon Lester might be emerging as the best starting pitcher in the 2015 free agent class. “Lester is the most appealing,” the GM said. “He’s lefthanded, a bulldog, big-game experience, and just 30. Will he get six or seven years? I’d say he will.”

Lester may well get six or seven years, but the assertion that he’s the most appealing starting pitcher available next winter is interesting, given the other top potential free agents, who include Justin Masterson, Ervin Santana, Max Scherzer and James Shields. There are other interesting free-agent options, like Jake Peavy and Francisco Liriano, but we’ll limit ourselves to these five. We’ll also ignore players like Johnny Cueto whose teams possess options for their services for 2015.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee that all these pitchers will actually become free agents. Lester and Masterson, for example, could still sign extensions with their current teams. But let’s rank those top five pitchers with the assumption that they’ll all hit the market.

Lester has increased his strikeouts and decreased his walks so far this season. He currently leads MLB in pitcher fWAR and has a long track record of success in both the regular season and postseason. He reportedly declined a four-year, $70MM extension offer from the Red Sox in April.

Masterson has seen his fastball dip in velocity this season, which may be one reason the Indians reportedly balked at a three-year extension proposal in the $53MM range, but he’s continued to get results this season. He’s also the youngest pitcher of the five, having just turned 29 in March.

Santana had to settle for a one-year deal last offseason, but he has since been a key part of the Braves’ excellent season, posting a 1.99 ERA with 9.5 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 so far.

Scherzer has continued his the dominance that led him to the 2013 AL Cy Young award, striking out a career-high 11.2 batters per nine innings while posting a 2.04 ERA. In March, he rejected a six-year, $144MM extension offer from the Tigers.

Shields has been one of the AL’s most consistent and durable starters in the past several seasons — he has pitched over 200 innings every season since 2007. He’ll be heading into his age-33 season in 2015, however, which could limit his earnings potential somewhat.

If you were a GM looking for a top-notch starter, how would you rank these five pitchers? Rank them in terms of their desirability as free agents, regardless of how much they are likely to cost.

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