It has been less than two weeks since Marco Scutaro lofted that Phil Coke fastball into shallow center field in the 10th inning at Comerica Park in Detroit to score Ryan Theriot with the World Series winning run. Less than two weeks since the Giants, a ragtag team of anonymous names like Buster and Hunter and Pablo, completed their legendary assault on the World Series title, fighting off elimination six times in one playoff to bring a second championship to the Bay Area in three years. Less than two weeks, and now it’s getting cold.
The baseball season morphs in the winter months. Contrary to popular belief, it’s still active, robustly even, when it comes to the free agent market. From November through March teams scrap, fight and claw to sign players and improve their team. This year’s market isn’t particularly star-powered, but there are still a number of big names available. Here are the top ten, where they should go, and where they really will.
- Josh Hamilton, OF
Where he should go: San Francisco Giants
Where he will go: Cincinnati Reds
Projected contract: 5YR/$115M
Hamilton’s is one of the most interesting market cases in free agent history. There is no doubt the former MVP and batting champion can still play – his .285/.354/.577 slash line, 43 homers and 128 RBI in 2012 are a testament to that – and the questions of his past addictions to drugs and alcohol even seem to be subsiding. But there is something about the package of talent and controversy that Texas doesn’t seem to want to bring back, and that may be troubling for other potential suitors. Hamilton also has a history of injury problems, and on top of that, a reputation as someone who can’t play through even minor bang-ups.
If he were anyone else, Hamtilon’s tools would demand an Alex Rodriguez-like contract. But nobody is going to give a 32-year-old outfielder with the habit of crashing into walls and ending up on the front page more than a five year deal, and given Hamilton’s production warrants a contract in the $20M+ per year range, the amount of teams vying for his services is already limited. The Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Angels all have either no room or no interest. The Giants, on the other hand, fresh off a World Series title and swimming in revenue, seem like a perfect fit. San Francisco’s highest paid position player last season was center fielder Angel Pagan. He made $4.8M. The Giants could let Pagan walk in free agency and replace him with Hamilton. Spacious AT&T Park offers less walls for Hamilton to run into, and throwing him into a lineup that already features Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Series MVP Pablo Sandoval would guarantee the Giants a legitimate shot for contending for the title not just in 2013, but in years to come.
If Hamilton wanted to return to a small market, though, there is no better place for him than Cincinnati. Remember, it was the Reds who traded Hamilton to Texas for Edison Volquez in 2007, before he completed his comeback and became a superstar for the Rangers. Cincinnati could finally give up on the horrendous Drew Stubbs in centerfield, sign Hamilton and reap some of the benefits they lost in that lopsided trade. It would seem like they have the cash too, after signing Joey Votto to a 10-year/$225M deal last offseason.
2. Zack Grienke, SP
Where he should go: Texas Rangers
Where he will go: Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected contract: 5 YR/$96M
People said Grienke’s personality wouldn’t play in a big market, but he was 6-2 in 13 starts for the Angels down the stretch last year in Los Angeles. Look for the power righty and 2009 American League Cy Young winner to land a massive payday this offseason. Despite his mildly underwhelming ERA numbers (career 3.77), he packs four plus pitches and has averaged almost a strikeout per inning in eight years in the majors. Slotting him just ahead of Yu Darvish in the Texas rotation would make the Rangers wildly dangerous, but they will have to outbid the Dodgers, whose new owners have showed a willingness to write the big check and have expressed interest already in Grienke.
3. Hiroki Kuroda, SP
Where he should go: New York Yankees
Where he will go: New York Yankees
Projected contract: 2 YR/26M
Kuroda was fantastic in pinstripes in 2012, winning 16 games and posting just a 3.32 ERA. The Yankees would be smart to reward him with a two year deal, solidifying their rotation, which crumbled with injuries last season.
4. Michael Bourn, CF
Where he should go: Milwaukee Brewers
Where he will go: Washington Nationals
Projected contract:5 YR/75M
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has been eying a long-term solution in centerfield for years, but he’s going to have to make a tough decision here. If he signs Bourn, it would bump slugger Michael Morse out of the outfield and to first base, leaving no room for free agent Adam LaRoche, who led Washinton with 33 home runs in 2012. Rizzo will have to decide whether he wants a speedy leadoff man or his lefty-swinging first baseman for years to come, because he can’t have both.
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
Where he should go: Washington Nationals
Where he will go: Miami Marlins
Projected contract: 3YR/30M
Somebody will pay LaRoche, and that’s who he’ll play for, given he’s been underrated and underpaid his entire career. After his monster 2012, LaRoche has now hit over 30 homers and driven in 100 runs twice. The Marlins and Blue Jays need a bat at first base, as do the Pirates, Indians, As and others. But keep an eye on Miami. Out of all those teams, they’ve been the ones more willing to pull out the checkbook recently.
6. Nick Swisher, RF
Where he should go: Philadelphia Phillies
Where he will go: Philadelphia Phillies
Projected contract: 3 YR/$40M
Swisher’s personality belongs in a big market, and no big market team needs someone like Swisher like the Phillies. For all their struggles last season, Philadelphia still finished at .500. They still have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon. With a few bats, the Phillies will be dangerous once again. They have the money, the need and fans that will adore Nick Swisher.
7. B.J. Upton, CF
Where he should go: Texas Rangers
Where he will go: Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers
Projected contract: 5 YR/$80M
Upton will be overpaid no matter what. Teams view his combination of power and speed as a potential asset, but it’s just smoke and mirrors. Sure, he will hit a few long balls and swipe a few bases, but those flashes of brilliance overshadow Upton’s long spouts of inadequacy, when he fails to make contact like it’s his job. Upton has struck out more than 160 times in each of the last three years, and hasn’t hit over .246 since 2008. Texas may make a play after they give up on signing Hamilton. Same goes for the Nationals if they can’t get Bourn.
8. Kyle Lohse, SP
Where he should go: St. Louis Cardinals
Where he will go: St. Louis Cardinals
Projected contract: 3YR/36M
The reliable sinkerballer has blossomed into a star late in his career, riding three plus pitches and impeccable control to 30 wins in the past two seasons. St. Louis would be smart to bring him back on a multi-year deal.
9. Mike Napoli, C
Where he should go: New York Yankees
Where he will go: Texas Rangers
Projected contract: 2 YR/22M
Napoli’s stock took a major hit in 2012, when he followed his breakout 2011 with a .227/.343/.469 slash line. He still hit 24 home runs, and will get paid if teams remember his playoff tear from two years ago and the fact that he can play both first base and behind the plate. The Yankees should let Russell Martin walk and hope Napoli returns to 2011 form. The Rangers are candidates to re-sign him as well.
10. Rafael Soriano, RP
Where he should go: Detroit Tigers
Where he will go: Detroit Tigers
Projected contract: 3 YR/$45M
Soriano rebounded in a big way last season from a dissapointing 2011, filing in for Mariano Rivera in the Yankee bullpen a very Rivera-like way. Soriano piled up 42 saves and struck out over a batter per inning, using a devestating slider as an viable out pitch. He has already opted out of a guaranteed 14-million dollar deal with New York, probably because Rivera is expected to return and Soriano prefers to close. Look for the Tigers, who have said they have no interest in bringing back closer Jose Valverde, to be in play here. They’ve showed the willingness to spend on relievers in the past, and have a need at the back end of the bullpen.
Other notable free agents: 2B Marco Scutaro, RF Torii Hunter, SP Anibal Sanchez, SP Edwin Jackson, SP Ryan Dempster