A frantic November and December has left Norichika Aoki, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Colby Rasmus as arguably the best available free agent position players. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranked the top 50 free agents earlier in the offseason, with Aoki coming in 40th, Cabrera 23rd, and Rasmus 20th. While the trio aren’t perfect substitutes since they fill different roles, that makes the question all the more interesting. Who is best?
Aoki is the elder statesman of the group – he’ll soon turn 33. However, his skill set is easily leveraged, and he’s a good fit as a leadoff hitter. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth provided a free agent profile in November, highlighting Aoki’s strong batting average, on base percentage, and above average defense. Of course, his game comes with flaws including a complete lack of power. Most clubs shy away from corner outfielders who don’t hit for power, and Aoki only managed one home run for the Royals in 2014. It’s worth noting that he did hit 10 and eight home runs in two seasons with the Brewers. Miller Park is home run friendly whereas Kauffman Stadium suppresses home runs. Perhaps Aoki just needs an offensive environment similar to Milwaukee to fully flourish. Wilmoth pegged Aoki for a two-year, $16MM deal, while Aoki is said to be looking for a three-year contract.
Cabrera is different than the others featured here since he’s a middle infielder. Seemingly connected with every club in need of infield help, the shortstop has been discussed mainly as a second or third baseman. Defensive metrics have rated him as consistently below average over the last six seasons, which is why clubs are hesitant to consider the 29-year-old as a shortstop. Since breaking out offensively in 2011, Cabrera has been roughly league average with the bat. Teams could look at him as a possible second hitter, although he doesn’t reach base often enough to make an ideal fit. MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted a three-year, $27MM contract for Cabrera thanks to his perceived versatility, dearth of other utility infielders, and relative youth.
Speaking of youth, Rasmus is entering 2015 as a 28-year-old. His combination of youth and power should make him attractive to clubs in need of an outfielder, although there are a couple red flags. In 2014, the Blue Jays moved Rasmus to the bench down the stretch as they evaluated options for 2015. He strikes out frequently, including a 33% strikeout rate last season. The result is a low average and on base percentage. A .224 ISO over the past two campaigns allowed him to post above average offense. The Blue Jays used Rasmus exclusively as a center fielder where defensive metrics ranged from 15 runs above average in 2013 to 15 runs below average in 2014. A move to a corner outfield position could help level out the defense. The Orioles appear to be the most closely tied to Rasmus presently. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd foresees a one-year, $12MM deal while noting the challenge of predicting Rasmus’ market.
The three offer value in different ways. Aoki is a high floor, low ceiling, leadoff hitter, but he’s also the oldest of the bunch. Cabrera is under 30, features a steady bat, and plays the infield. Rasmus is the youngest, was once a top prospect, and still shows flashes of the talent that led to the prospect hype. Two other free agents remain on Dierkes top 50 list – Stephen Drew (42nd) and Emilio Bonifacio (43rd). So here’s the question: