Prime free agents still available after busy Winter Meetings
Scherzer, Shields and Melky top impressive group of players remaining on market
The free-agent market developed quickly this year. Even before the Winter Meetings adjourned Thursday in San Diego, headlines were made when big names like Jon Lester, Pablo Sandoval, Andrew Miller, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Russell Martin, Nick Markakis, David Robertson, Billy Butler and Adam LaRoche signed even bigger contracts to change teams.
Still, like holiday shoppers who haven't crossed all the items off their lists, Major League executives can still find plenty of attractive items left on the shelves. In fact, a pretty decent team could be constructed from free agents who are still on the market. It might look something like this:
Max Scherzer. The right-hander is clearly the biggest prize still out there. In the last two years for the Tigers, he was a combined 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA. In 434 2/3 innings pitched, he allowed just 348 hits while striking out 492. Agent Scott Boras said earlier in the week that there is no way of knowing how long Scherzer will be available.
"You can't tell. These negotiations are largely owner decisions. They're owner driven," Boras said. "I think every general manager in baseball wants Max Scherzer on their team, there's no doubt about that. It's not something that you have to trade for. It's just something that you the owner has to decide what the economics are to go forward.
Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs. That sets a high bar for teams with legitimate interest in Scherzer, but there have been so many surprises already this winter that it's hard to definitively rule any club out. Since Scherzer turned down a qualifying offer from the Tigers, the team that signs him has to give up Draft pick compensation.
James Shields. The Rangers, Red Sox and Giants have been linked to the right-hander, who went 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA last season to help the Royals make the postseason for the first time since 1985. He's pitched at least 200 innings in eight straight seasons. He turned down a qualifying offer from Kansas City.
Edinson Volquez. For some reason, the right-hander doesn't rank high in most free-agent ratings, even though he went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA for the Pirates last season. That may be why there hasn't been much chatter about Volquez so far. He's believed to be seeking a two-year, $20 million deal, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him return to Pittsburgh. The Bucs reportedly have the payroll space even after signing free-agent pitchers A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano.
Hiroki Kuroda. The veteran righty didn't generate much lobby buzz at the Meetings, in part because of the possibility that he may decide to retire. But Kuroda is coming off a decent season (11-9, 3.71 ERA, 35 walks in 146 innings). And since he would be pitching at age 40 next season, he makes sense for a team that wants to stay away from long-term commitments.
Jake Peavy. Given that Peavy was 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA for the Giants after starting the 2014 season 1-9 with a 4.72 mark with the Red Sox, look for Peavy to stay in the National League. He brings energy to the clubhouse and could provide a cost-effective No. 3 or No. 4 starter for a team looking to fill that role.
Others available include Brandon Morrow, Brett Anderson and Kyle Kendrick.
Francisco Rodriguez. The well-traveled right-hander will pitch at 33 next season, and he's coming off a year in which he saved 44 games for the Brewers while allowing just 49 hits in 68 innings and posting a WHIP of 0.99. He's been rumored to be talking to the Yankees, White Sox and Astros.
Others available include Sergio Romo, Rafael Soriano, Casey Janssen and Jason Grilli.
Michael Morse. The best first baseman on the market, LaRoche, signed with the White Sox. The second-best free-agent first baseman, Paul Konerko, retired. And that's about it. So for the purposes of this exercise, Morse is probably next in line, although he's been primarily an outfielder throughout his career. Morse has had trouble staying healthy but was a solid contributor in 131 games for the World Series champion Giants last year.
Jed Lowrie. Multiple teams are said to be interested in the versatile infielder. The Astros might have the inside track since Lowrie makes his offseason home in Houston, but MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reported that he's seeking a three-year deal that would put the team over its projected $70 million payroll after signing Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson.
Others available include Rickie Weeks.
Asdrubal Cabrera. He's coming off a down year, but Cabrera hit 25 homers with 92 RBIs as recently as 2011, and he just turned 29. There aren't a lot of middle infielders out there, which could make Cabrera attractive to the Yankees, Blue Jays or Royals. There have also been rumblings that the Giants might be interested in him as a replacement for Sandoval at third.
Others available include Stephen Drew.
Chase Headley. There are more teams looking for hot-corner help than available third basemen, and Sandoval's five-year, $95 million deal with the Red Sox could also help drive Headley's price up. That may knock the Yankees out of the picture, even though he did play better for the Bombers after he was acquired from the Padres. The Giants and Astros are also reported to have interest.
Geovany Soto. There aren't many receivers on the market this year, and Soto tops the list even though he played only 24 games for Texas and Oakland while spending most of the season on the DL with torn cartilage in his right knee and a strained right groin. In fact, he hasn't played in more than 100 games since 2011. His most recent productive year was 2010, when he hit 17 homers with an .890 OPS for the Cubs.
Others available include Nick Hundley.
Colby Rasmus. The 28-year-old outfielder presents a similar profile to Asdrubal Cabrera, in that he's looking to rebound after a tough 2014 season. But he has three 20-plus home run seasons on his resume, so a team could bet on his upside. The Royals have been mentioned as a team that might have interest.
Nori Aoki. He doesn't have the power associated with a prototypical right fielder, but he makes contact and is well-suited to hitting second in the lineup.
Others available include Emilio Bonifacio, Alex Rios and Jonny Gomes.