The MLB season is about 69% over, and it's time for another round of 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings. Our previous installment was published July 11th. You can check out our full list of free agents here.
1. Robinson Cano. Cano's spot atop this list remains secure. Surely his agents will attempt to dismiss Dustin Pedroia's recent eight-year, $110MM extension as a team-friendly pact that was not signed on the open market.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury. "Jacoby Ellsbury is a very durable player," spun agent Scott Boras at last month's All-Star Game, adding, "He just has to make sure that people don’t run into him." The 29-year-old missed significant portions of the 2010 and 2012 seasons, which won't easily be shrugged off by potential suitors even if they believe Boras has a point. Boras went on to praise Ellsbury, saying, "The reality of it is you’re going to pay him for the melding of his power, but what you’re really paying him for is the ability to score runs and the ability to get on base and the ability to provide up-the-middle defense."
3. Brian McCann. McCann jumps up a spot on this list, as his .528 slugging percentage (seventh in the NL) establishes him as the top power bat on the free agent market who won't require $100MM+. Plus, he won't turn 30 until February and can handle catching duties.
4. Matt Garza. Garza, 29, moves up a spot on the list. He's posted a 3.09 ERA in 14 starts this year, and has averaged over seven innings per start since the Cubs let him loose in late May following a long layoff for injuries. But the main reason he gains a spot is the July 22nd trade to the Rangers, establishing him as the best available free agent who is not eligible for a qualifying offer. There's real value in that.
5. Shin-Soo Choo. Choo drops a few spots in the list, though he hasn't done anything wrong. In fact, his .416 on-base percentage dwarfs that of the next free agent, with Cano checking in at .371.
6. Hiroki Kuroda. With a 2.38 ERA, Kuroda ranks second in the American League behind Felix Hernandez. The 38-year-old is unlikely to maintain a .255 batting average on balls in play moving forward, but his excellence cannot be denied.
7. Ervin Santana. Santana has positioned himself for the second-largest free agent contract given to a starting pitcher. Unlike Garza, however, Santana is likely to require draft pick compensation if he reaches the open market. The 30-year-old sports a 2.97 ERA in 151 1/3 innings, which is partially backed up by the best strikeout and walk rates since his stellar '08 campaign. One major change since then: Santana has a career-best 47.4% groundball rate.
8. Carlos Beltran. The 36-year-old Beltran has a 5.1% walk rate this year, which would be his lowest for any full season. Nonetheless, he's still a middle of the order bat in a market light on them. The Cardinals could complicate his situation by making a qualifying offer.
9. A.J. Burnett. Burnett might be the NL's version of Kuroda, as he ranks eighth in the league in ERA at 2.73 and turns 37 in January. Burnett should also have a limited market, as he said in March, "If I was to keep playing, I wouldn't want it to be anywhere else but Pittsburgh."
Notes on a few other free agents who have occupied spots on the top ten:
- Hunter Pence has ranked as high as fifth on this list. While he's a useful bat, he doesn't get on base much and has slugged a modest .438 since 2012. This year's 3.6 wins above replacement owes much to his fielding and baserunning, which I'm not sure can be counted on for value moving forward. Throw in a qualifying offer, and you can see why I'm a bit down on Pence as a free agent.
- Mike Napoli should be able to secure the first multiyear deal of his career given a decent, healthy campaign as a first baseman for Boston. He has a shot at his sixth consecutive 20 home run season, but I thought he'd have more than 14 bombs at this point. .253/.341/.449 looks average coming from a first baseman.
- Josh Johnson looked pretty good in seven starts after coming off the DL in June, enough to get him ranked ninth on the last set of rankings. The wheels have fallen off since then, however, as he's allowed 25 earned runs in 16 innings spanning four starts. Johnson is pitching for his rotation spot tonight, and as his ERA climbs toward 7.00, a qualifying offer appears increasingly unlikely even though the Jays are all about draft pick compensation.
- Nelson Cruz accepted a 50-game suspension yesterday for violation of the Joint Drug Agreement, explaining in a statement that he made "an error in judgment" before Spring Training in 2012. The Rangers lost a player who ranked fourth in the AL with 27 home runs, but Cruz's teammates are supportive and would welcome him back if they make the playoffs. Cruz may have pulled off a best case scenario: he'll sign his next contract with a clean slate, and his reputation isn't taking much of a hit for abandoning his teammates. He's left ACES for Wasserman Media Group and hopes to finish his career with the Rangers, though someone with the club seems to have anonymously told Bob Nightengale it would be difficult to re-sign him. In November, the Rangers will have to decide whether to make Cruz a qualifying offer.
- Tim Lincecum has had his ups and downs since our last set of rankings, tossing a 148-pitch no-hitter on July 13th, posting his worst start of the year in his next outing nine days later, and then bouncing back with a pair of strong starts. The sum total seems to be a pitcher not all that different from 2011, and perhaps capable of a 3.50 ERA when the dust settles despite his current 4.43 mark. Projecting his next contract remains difficult – does he go for the biggest possible score, or a short-term deal to boost his value?