USA Today has broken down baseball’s free agent class. A week ago, I posted their analysis of the bullpen market, fully intending to post the rest of the series day-by-day throughout the week. Instead, there were enough little things happening through the week that the series stayed on the back burner. Might post the rest of them today for a pretty thorough one-day look at the free agent market.
Right now, here’s USA Today’s look at the available outfielders (a breakdown that was obviously written before Marlon Byrd signed Tuesday). It’s become pretty clear that the Yankees are in the market for an outfielder. They’re understandably dissatisfied with their current right field combination of Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, and it’s entirely possible they’ll go after one of the big names on the market, with Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo being most often linked to the Yankees in free agent speculation.
If you want one of the two finest free agent outfielders, you’ll need to put high-powered agent Scott Boras on speed dial.
Center fielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo are free agents, each represented by Boras, and neither is likely to return to his former home.
Ellsbury, a dynamic center fielder who can beat you with his speed or bat, is the best outfielder on the market. When healthy, he’s a game-changer. He led baseball with 172 hits from the leadoff position. He also stole 52 bases in 56 attempts, the best stolen-base percentage by anyone with at least 50 stolen bases since baseball kept track of the statistic in 1951. He has cracked the 50-stolen base barrier three times since 2008. Ellsbury has shown power in the past, hitting 32 homers in 2011, but no more than nine in any other season.
The risk in giving Ellsbury in excess of $100 million is that he has missed 264 games, and played in 384 games, since the end of the 2009 season, with fractured ribs, shoulder and foot injuries.
Choo represents the new-age outfielder. He doesn’t hit for great power, producing 21 homers and 54 RBI in the Cincinnati Reds’ bandbox, but gets on base and scores runs. He led leadoff hitters with a .423 on-base percentage and scored 107 runs. He also proved this past season he can play center field. The Reds, who tendered him a $14.1 million qualifying offer, say they will make a competitive offer to stay put. Choo should receive in excess of $90 million over five years, the amount that right fielder Hunter Pence received from the San Francisco Giants in September before hitting the free-agent market.
The days of those $100 million contracts are long gone for Carlos Beltran, but even though he’ll turn 37 in April, he’s still a valuable piece for contenders.
The Cardinals would like him back. But at their terms. They may give him a two-year contract for about $28 million, but are resisting going a third year. Beltran, a true professional and clubhouse leader, could find greater riches in the American League where he can play the outfield four days a week and be used as a DH the other days. Certainly, he’s still got it, hitting .282 with 56 homers, 181 RBI and an .836 OPS during his two years with the Cardinals.
Nelson Cruz is easily the greatest power hitter available on the free-agent market. He hit 27 homers in just 477 plate appearances, and has 80 homers since 2011.
He’s also the biggest risk.
Cruz was ensnared in the Biogenesis investigation and suspended 50 games. The suspension was served last season, much to the Rangers’ angst, protecting his free-agent value. The Rangers tendered him a $14.1 million qualifying offer, but they are hesitant to give him a multi-year deal simply because of the unknown. Melky Cabrera’s flop last season, coming off his 50-game suspension, has scared teams interested in position players with PED pasts. It also doesn’t help that Cruz’s defense has gotten worse every year.
Curtis Granderson certainly was in the elite class a year ago, but injuries and a deterioration of his defensive skills slide him here. Granderson was one of 13 players who received a $14.1 million qualifying offer. Still, Granderson, who turns 33 in March, is the best left-handed power hitter on the market. He was the only player in 2011 and 2012 to hit at least 40 homers with 100 RBI and 100 runs scored, and his 84 homers were 10 more than any player.
Granderson should have no problem finding teams willing to give him a three- or four-year deal in hopes that he returns to greatness.
Marlon Byrd was a pariah a year ago, and couldn’t find a team willing to even give him an invitation to their spring-training camp. Now, after hitting 24 homers with 88 RBI, while batting .291, he’ll find plenty of suitors. He not only proved he can still play at 36, but was a valuable leader with the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. Certainly, he’ll get a nice raise over his $700,000 salary from a year ago, and likely a two-year contract.
Raul Ibanez, 41, hit 29 homers playing his home games in spacious Safeco Park in Seattle. It was his highest home run total since 2009. Certainly, his production is worth another one-year contract.
Corey Hart may be shopped as a first baseman, but can still play right field, even coming off two knee surgeries. When you average 24 homers with an .830 OPS in six years with the Milwaukee Brewers, defensive deficiencies can be overlooked.
Michael Morse hit 31 homers in 2011 for the Washington Nationals, but he has hit just 31 homers in the two years since his banner season, and he batted .215 last season for the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles.
Nate McLouth’s revival took a minor step back when he hit .258 with 12 homers and 36 RBI for the Orioles. He did steal 30 bases.
David Murphy hit just .220 with 13 homers and 45 RBI last season for the Rangers, bad timing to have the worst year of his career.
Jason Kubel hit 30 homers with 30 doubles and 90 RBI in 2012 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but lost his power and hitting stroke last season. He hit just .162 against lefties, and may be relegated to a platoon player.
Chris Young’s five-year, $28 million contract — a regrettable move by the Diamondbacks — has expired. He is a .235 career hitter who hit .200 with 12 homers last season as an extra outfielder with the A’s. He could be the type of pick-up his hometown Houston Astros may seek.
Remember when Delmon Young was going to be a superstar? Now, he’s a detriment defensively and rarely hits for power. He may be better candidate to be a DH.
If you want speed, Rajai Davis is your guy. He stole 45 bases for the Toronto Blue Jays. The trouble is he doesn’t get on base enough (.312 OBP) to fully utilize his speed.
This is a deep class of free agents, but there’s risk with almost everyone. Several players had a chance to set up huge paydays with decent walk years; outside of Choo and Ellsbury, they failed.
Keep an eye on the four-year, $56 million figure, the contract handed out last winter to Nick Swisher of the Cleveland Indians. There will be plenty of agents arguing their client is worth more than Swisher, particularly with the national TV market escalating from $25 million to $52 million for each team next season.
Money will be no problem; finding the right outfielder to gamble on may be.
Associated Press photos