As the Major League Baseball trade deadline approaches, player movement fever hits a temperature that it will not see again until December’s free agent season hits full speed. And as next week’s All-Star Game moves past and the second half of the season launches, player movement rumors will be the talk of the game nearly as much as the boxscore itself.
And while some teams have already begun the position rearrangement battle, as Saturday’s Cubs-Athletics blockbuster swap launched, the ability to make acquisitions on the trade market is not as readily simple of a move as it used to be. With the addition of the second Wild Card team, the line between ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ is blurred simply for the fact there is an additional opportunity to stay competitive for those formerly fringe clubs. So, with less available to buy, understanding what waits ahead is most important than ever.
As always, some moves are made with the future in mind. There will be players that are sent along their way over the next few weeks simply so that the team can salvage something in return for the fact that they may not be able to retain that player. More than uncertain draft pick compensation, the lure of getting a big gain back from a team that is looking to find the final addition to make it into October is a certain way to plan for the future in the present.
In addition to that element, there are simply the players that will test their might on the market, to flex their earning ability muscle. This year’s free agent class is flush with both types of talents: those that have to be shipped and those that have already served their notice of being “ready to mingle”.
With that said, here is a very early look at the high points of the upcoming free agent class as it appears this summer. Take into mind that there are a host of other players that COULD reach the market, via either club, player or mutual options not being elected. And considering this year’s free agent crop looks to have even more long-term punch than either 2013 or 2014’s group of FA’s, even more additions to the mix could make it a chance to really change the face of more than a few franchises.
1.) Max Scherzer—Starting Pitcher, Tigers (30)
It was a calculated gamble that many understood at the time when Scherzer turned down the Tigers reported six year, $144 million deal entering the season, a decision that was roundly panned by the baseball community. But despite doing so, he still sits in a good position to demand at least the same level of compensation, or better. His former deal matches what Cole Hamels inked with Philadelphia before the 2013 season, and Scherzer (who has won over 60 games the last four years and is on pace to push for another 20 win effort this summer) clearly has the credentials to just START negotiations at that level. The entire large-to-high medium market should beckon for him—and he’s in position to name his price still.
2.) Hanley Ramirez, Shortstop, Dodgers (31)
The talent is above reproach for Ramirez, and is high enough to ward off the growing red flags around him both now and down the line. A move off of shortstop is inevitable, whether he likes it or not, and has even been rumored as being non-negotiable if he stays in LA. He is battling injuries for the second straight year and his durability may be best suited by a third base move. But he is easily the most valuable everyday commodity that will see the market and is at the right age to call for a well-paying four-to-five year pact.
3.) Jon Lester—Starting Pitcher, Red Sox (31)
Stakes are getting high between Lester and the Sox. On the heels of their World Series win, he offered to take a discount to get the deal done, but nothing materialized. So now he is a half-season away from the open market and the waters seem to have changed directions. It is rumored that he is looking for up to $140 million over the lifetime of his deal and considering he is having an All-Star follow up to his dominant October 2013 effort and is a mid-prime hard throwing lefty, he should see it.
4.) Pablo Sandoval—Third Baseman, Giants (28)
The ever enigmatic Panda has resurrected both his season and his stock this year. He is on pace hit more home runs and drive in more runs than he has since 2009. This timely rebuild could come with some questions about if he keeps the effort on after getting paid, but he is a part of the San Francisco cornerstone and they would be hard pressed to let him go. But there will be plenty of suitors coming if he sees the market.
5.) James Shields—Starting Pitcher, Royals (33)
Shields is in a precarious position: if the Royals stay in the mix, he will stay in KC until the end. But if they falter over the next few weeks, he could instantly become the biggest trade chip on market for contenders looking to make the push. Either way, he should see a substantial four year deal awaiting him this winter in the range of the $19 million per year range.
6.) Nelson Cruz—Outfield/DH, Orioles (34)
This winter’s greatest value pickup by far, he has taken a PED suspension damaged stock image and turned it into $17 million worth of value for $10 million less in Baltimore. It is a huge demo season for Cruz, who will find a welcoming AL heavy market awaiting him to give another run at a long-term deal this winter. A three year, $50 million type of deal would make perfect sense.
7.) Chase Headley—Third Baseman, Padres (31)
He has been riding the stock that he built with his monster second half of 2012 for a while (he has hit .236 over the past two, injury riddled years), but there are worst ways to invest for a team in need of solving some gaping issues at third (see the AL East specifically). In addition to the premium of being a switch hitting, power potential third baseman, he is also a former Gold Glove winner as well.
8.) Melky Cabrera—Left Fielder, Blue Jays (30)
He is another former PED suspended player that has proven his value upon return. After a sluggish first year in Toronto, he has consistently stayed among the AL leaders in hits and runs scored this summer and is proving to be an instant boost to the top of any order.
9.) Ervin Santana—Starting Pitcher, Braves (30)
His audition season with the Braves has not been as regularly dominant as his 2013 in Kansas City was, but he has been effective none the less. With a year on the open market with no draft pick compensation tied to him, he should see one of the longer deals issued to a pitcher this year land his way.
10.) Victor Martinez—Designated Hitter, Tigers (35)
He is having perhaps his best year of his career at the plate, and is seeing the market at the right time to be a veteran presence that is limited to DH duty at this point. While it cuts out half of the teams that could have interest in him, as David Ortiz has proved regularly, there will be healthy offers for him regardless. Expect Detroit to make the biggest push however, as he is essential to their structure, post dealing Prince Fielder away.
11.) JJ Hardy—Shortstop, Orioles (32)
He has been one of the biggest power presences at shortstop the last few years, but has had a sudden outage this summer of a major kind (two home runs in 309 plate appearances), which is alarming, considering he has not hit for a high average at any point in his career. However, he continues to be a sterling defender and top shortstops always get paid well, so he should be no exception.
12.) David Robertson—Relief Pitcher, Yankees (30): After establishing himself as perhaps the premier setup man in the game over the past few years, Robertson transitioned as well as could be requested to the ninth inning as well. It would reason to think that the Yankees would do anything they could to keep him from seeing free agency or at the very least blow him out of the water with their first offer. On a pitching staff in flux, he is as crucial as any arm they possess.
13.) Jason Hammel—Starting Pitcher, Athletics (32)
He is having a career year so far in and is now headed to back to the American League to see if he can hold it together as a part of a pennant chase. If he should, then he should garner solid interest for a team on the rebuild, similar to the three-year, $30 million deal Scott Feldman landed in Houston, if not slightly better.
14.) Jed Lowrie—Shortstop, A’s (31)
The versatile Lowrie can contribute regularly at any position on the infield and he should emerge as the top utility option available. He is having a bad downspin this year, with an average under .230 and OPS lingering around .650, but his 31 home runs from 2012-13 and .290 average just a year ago bode well in his favor. However, with Oakland’s move of prospect Addison Russell to Chicago, he could stay put as well.
15.) Colby Rasmus—Center Fielder, Blue Jays (28)
Since being cast off to Toronto three years ago, Rasmus has begun to find some consistency in his output, but he is in the midst of a horrible 2014 with average hovering close to .220 and an on-base % not much higher. His power along will not be enough to raise his stock to commanding a great everyday pay rate, but he could see something like Chris Young’s $7.25 million deal with the Mets off potential return alone.
16.) Koji Uehara—Relief Pitcher, Red Sox (40)
Age does not seem to be a problem for the crafty, yet dominant Boston closer. However, due to it he will not require a long-term, nor ridiculous high dollar commitment. With two stellar seasons in his pocket, he will net a solid return, but likely not a back breaking deal either. A return to Boston is most likely, but the ever changing scene for closers could open tempting doors as well.
17.) Josh Beckett—Starting Pitcher, Dodgers (35)
He has reinvented himself in an impressive fashion this year and has been one of the National League’s best. Looking at it outside of the vacuum, he does have a checkered health history and is hitting his mid-30’s, but with what he has shown this year he could be a hot, quick fix commodity this winter in the same fashion that Hiroki Kuroda carved out for himself the last few
18.) Justin Masterson—Starting Pitcher, Indians (30)
His 2014 has been the polar opposite of his breakthrough 2013, which lowered his stock some, but the promise of what Masterson brings is enough to keep him among the top options available this winter. His career has been a study in talented inconsistencies, but he certainly will be one of the more interesting cases available this winter.
19.) Mike Morse—1B/OF, Giants (33)
With a healthy wrist again, Morse has been a solid power presence in the middle of the Giants’ lineup that has seen its core be unsteady due to injury thus far. He is on pace to near 25 home runs and drive in 80 runs, which could net him a seven to eight million type of deal.
20.) Russell Martin—Catcher, Pirates (32)
Martin has been the glue for the Pirates resurgence and is having an even better offensive season that he did in his first in Pittsburgh (from .229 up to .279 thus far). He should be a hot property for teams looking to upgrade with a catcher that has not reached his decline yet and can call as good of a game as can be asked for.
21.) Luke Gregorson—Relief Pitcher, A’s (31)
22. Jake Peavy—Starting Pitcher, Red Sox (34)
23. Stephen Drew—Shortstop, Red Sox (31)
24. Asdrubal Cabrera—Shortstop, Indians (29)
25. Corey Hart—First Baseman, Mariners (33)
26. Sergio Romo—Relief Pitcher, Giants (32)
27. Francisco Liriano—Starting Pitcher, Pirates (31)
28. Kendrys Morales—Designated Hitter/First Base, Twins (31)
29. Torii Hunter—Right Fielder, Tigers (39)
30. Michael Cuddyer—OF/1B, Rockies (36)
31. Hiroki Kuroda—Starting Pitcher, Yankees (40)
32. Francisco Rodriguez—Relief Pitcher, Brewers (33)
33. Kyle Kendrick—Starting Pitcher, Phillies (30)
34. Jason Motte—Relief Pitcher, Cardinals (33)
35. Adam Dunn—Designated Hitter, White Sox (35)
36. Kurt Suzuki—Catcher, Twins (31)
37. Casey McGehee—Third Baseman, Marlins (32)
38. Nate Schierholtz—Right Fielder, Cubs (31)
39. Emilio Bonifacio—2B/OF, Cubs (30)
40. Joba Chamberlain—Relief Pitcher, Tigers (29)
For potential free agents to come, they are separated by contract condition:
Player Option: Dan Haren, Dodgers (if 180 innings are reached – On pace for 187.1
Club Option only: Jonny Cueto, Reds ($10M). Alex Rios, Rangers ($13.5M). Huston Street, Padres ($7M). Yovani Gallardo, Brewers ($13M). Joakim Soria, Rangers ($7M). Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays ($10M). Billy Butler, Royals ($12.5M) . Denard Span, Nationals ($9M). Adam Lind, Blue Jays ($7.5M) . Ben Zobrist, Rays ($7.5M). Mike Aviles, Indians ($3.5M). Brett Anderson, Rockies ($12M). Darren O’Day, Orioles ($4.25M).
Mutual/Vesting: Nick Markakis, Orioles ($17.5M). Adam LaRoche, Nationals ($15M), Rafael Soriano, Nationals ($14M). Ryan Ludwick, Reds ($4.5M). Rickie Weeks, Brewers ($11.5M). Jimmy Rollins, Phillies. A.J. Burnett, Phillies.