2014-15 MLB Free Agency Predictions and Breakdown

07
Nov

The World Series has wrapped up and my favorite time of the year has finally begun: MLB Free Agency. Christmas and Thanksgiving are pretty cool too, but my heart is with the millions of dollars thrown to pitchers and power hitters in early November. Can you blame me? While we sit at home and read endless articles about how the top free agents will wind up on our favorite team, owners, team presidents, GM’s, scouts, agents, and players are exchanging thousands of texts and phone calls regarding the biggest question of them all: where is (enter superstar here) going to end up? This is better than Keeping up with the Kardashians. It is better than The Voice. It is better than Modern Family. But it is only slightly better than Breaking Bad. I kid. Let’s get to it. Who are this year’s free agent superstars going to suit up for next season?

1.) RHP Max Scherzer

Scherzer has been the creme of the crop of this year’s free agent class for over a year now. Last year around this time, he was receiving his first Cy Young Award, after finishing 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, 214.1 IP, 240 Ks, and a 0.97 WHIP. He was lights out. After a “rough” May and June this past season, where Scherzer posted a 4.49 ERA in 11 starts, he finally settled down and went on to have successful campaign. He did go 6-2 during that stretch, but your win-loss record is overrated. It’s just like plus/minus in hockey. They are very vague numbers that don’t tell you a whole lot about the player. Anyways, the right-hander finished 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, 220.1 IP, 252 Ks, and a 1.18 WHIP. Over the past two seasons, he has a 12.7 WAR, 3rd in pitchers behind Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale. His postseason numbers? Also pretty strong. In 12 games (started 10), Scherzer is 4-3 with a 3.73 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, and 80 strikeouts in 62.2 innings pitched.

I’m going to say this now. Almost every big free agent gets way overpaid. I think we all know this. I really don’t know why teams do this, but they always will. When these players hit free agency, more often than not they are in the middle of their prime or starting to fade out if it. Why pay a guy all of this money when he might put up reasonable numbers the first half of his contract and be a complete dud the latter half? With that being said, this year is no different. Max Scherzer will get his money. He is 30 years old now and will turn 31 halfway through next season. He is going to command a massive deal, almost a guaranteed seven years. Teams love giving ridiculous contracts. Earlier this season, Scherzer turned down a six-year, $144 million deal. With him hitting the open market, you have to tack on an extra year.

Unfortunately for Scherzer, I think the market for the uber-elite starting pitcher is very small. Reports are the Yankees will not pursue Scherzer, Shields, or Lester. I know, hard to believe. I think the Cubs will be more focused on brining in Lester and Peavy. The Red Sox really haven’t been linked to him and like to avoid these big time deals. I don’t think the Dodgers or Angels are going to open up their checkbook again, even though they are very, very large. With that being said, there isn’t too much left. We have the Rangers, Orioles, Tigers and…I think that is about it.

There are rumblings David Price isn’t meshing too well in Detroit. He is also a free agent next season. I’ll give you a two-for-one punch here. The Tigers sign Max Scherzer AND trade David Price at the Winter Meetings. Mark it down.

Destination: Detroit Tigers

Price Tag: Seven-year, $170 million

2.) LHP Jon Lester

Ever since Lester got a slap in the face from the Red Sox last winter, a four-year $70 million offer, we all knew he was going to hit free agency. Fast forward one year later and here we are. There are a lot of rumblings out there that Lester would still be open to returning to Boston. The Sox, of course, would love to have him back at the right price. Lester had the best season of career in 2014, posting a 16-11 record between Boston and Oakland with a 2.46 ERA in 219.2 IP. Toss in 220 Ks and a 1.10 WHIP. He’s poised for a big payday. In his nine-year career, he is a stellar 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA. Get rid of his ugly 2012 campaign where he went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA, he has been one of the best pitchers in the American League.

Even after getting knocked around by the Royals in the Wild Card game (7.1 IP, 6 ER), he still owns a career 2.57 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in postseason play. That’s very impressive. A lot of teams will be drawn to those numbers.

I think a reunion to the Red Sox is unlikely. While it makes sense on the surface, the fact is the Red Sox aren’t going to give him the money he wants. It just won’t happen. In comes the Chicago Cubs, who will throw the kitchen sink at him. The Cubs could go get Max Scherzer, sure. Shoot, some are predicting both Scherzer and Lester end in on the North Side. I have a lot of respect for Theo Epstein and I don’t think he would do a ridiculous move like that. Epstein and Lester go way back and I think he wants him in Chicago.

Destination: Chicago Cubs

Price Tag: 6-year, $150 million 

3.) RHP James Shields

Big Game James. Can we please get rid of that nickname? He got the nickname in minors just because he was a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and James Worthy.1 It’s never had to do with Shields pitching in “big games” or anything along those lines. Yes, it’s catchy. But we need to stop.

Shields has been the definition of reliable. During his eight full seasons in the Majors, he has never pitched fewer than 203 innings and has always had at least 31 starts. Back in 2011, he pitched 249.1 innings and had 11 complete games! That’s unheard of! With a career ERA of 3.72 and a nonexistent injury history, Shields will certainly earn his payday.

Unfortunately for the right-hander, he has his ugly postseason numbers hanging above his head. In 11 games and 59.1 innings, he owns a 5.46 ERA. He has allowed 76 hits during that time, leading to an ugly 11.5 hits per 9. There really isn’t anything positive to say about his postseason efforts.

That being said, a less than solid postseason record has never seemed to affect a player’s payday in the past. Most teams are worried about getting to the postseason and will worry about a player’s career numbers in the playoffs at a later date. Shields has been a very good pitcher in the American League for a long time now and is known for being a leader of the pitching staff. With his familiarity of the American League East, I think the Red Sox come in and scoop him up. He will cost less, years and money, because of his age (32), and that will appeal to the Sox. He can also help anchor a staff that is in dire need of an ace.

One quick side note. If the Cubs miss out on Lester or really want to make a splash in free agency, Shields will be their target. Joe Maddon and James Shields have a very good relationship and I would not be surprised if they were to work together again.

Destination: Boston Red Sox

Price Tag: 5-year, 100 million 

4.) 3B Pablo Sandoval

At only 28 years old, Pablo Sandoval is a very appealing player on the open market. While his hitting numbers have come down a bit since he came into the league in 2008, his defense has come a long way. Once a liability at 3rd, Sandoval has become a borderline Gold Glover at the hot corner.

This past season, the Kung Fu Panda hit .279 with 16 HR, 73 RBI, 26 doubles, three triples, and had a .324 OBP. Really nothing jumps out at you here. Most would say mediocre. He basically had the same line in 2013. Back in 2009, he hit .330 with 25 HR and 90 RBI. Many expected him to build off of that incredible season, but he never did.

Some say if Sandoval leaves the pitching-friendly AT&T Park, maybe his numbers will come around. Not to fast. In his career, he is a .313 hitter at home and a .277 hitter on the road. They say it’s hard to hit home runs at AT&T Park. Sandoval has 52 career home runs at home and 54 home runs on the road, in 100 more at-bats. Other than his batting average, his numbers are almost the same across the board on the home and on the road.

One thing we can’t forget to mention are his postseason numbers. I think we are all well aware of his dominance in October. He has three World Series rings. He also has a World Series MVP. In the 2012 World Series, he hit three home runs in Game One, two off of the arguably best pitcher in the game at the time, Justin Verlander. As for numbers, Sandoval is a career .344 hitter in the postseason. He has the 9th best batting average of all-time in the World Series at .426. In their most recent World Series run, Sandoval had the most hits in a single postseason ever with 26. When it comes to October, there might not be anyone else better in the game than the Kung Fu Panda.

I think this race comes down to two teams, the Giants and the Red Sox. The Red Sox will offer more money. How much more? I couldn’t tell you that. But I do think the Giants will give him a very fair offer that he will have to certainly consider. In the end, I think he stays home and continues his postseason success in the Bay Area.

Destination: San Francisco Giants

Price Tag: 6-year, $110 million

5.) SS Hanley Ramirez

I will be totally honest with you here; I am not a big fan of Hanley Ramirez. For many reasons. First, his defense. According to advanced defensive statistics, he’s at the bottom of the league. Last season, he had a -10.3 UZR, a -8.0 RngR (a stat that measures range and runs allowed), and a -5.5 defensive efficiency. All three statistics were in the bottom three in the league at shortstop. He is a major liability in the field. On top of that, Ramirez has been banged up over the past couple of seasons. He has missed 110 games over the past two seasons and even when he has played, he has been burdened by nagging injuries.

Even with the negatives, Hanley is still a lethal hitter. Over the past three seasons, he is batting .299 in over 1,000 plate appearances. His power numbers have certainly dipped since early in his career, but he did have 35 doubles and 17 HR last season, a respectable .448 slugging percentage. On top of that, he had 14 stolen bases. Once again, he will never have 51 stolen bases like he did back in 2007, but he can still steal his fair share of bases.

His numbers are certainly on the decline and at the age of 31 next season, they won’t get that much more spectacular. Nonetheless, a team will give him the big bucks. Who you might ask? The Yankees are certainly in the mix, as they need to fill Jeter’s spot. But I’m not sure they are willing to give out another awful contract to a player on the decline. Could the Yankees do it? Certainly. I’m going to roll the dice here and say the Seattle Mariners come in for the kill here. The M’s are in desperate need of a right-handed bat and plugging in Hanley around Cano and Seager would give them the offense they are looking for. He will also be able to DH, which will help his longevity. I am curious to see how surrendering a 1st round draft pick for Hanley will affect his price.

Destination: Seattle Mariners

Price Tag: 6-year, $105 million

6.) 1B/DH Victor Martinez

If it weren’t for Mike Trout, this man would have been in a serious discussion for your American League MVP. With a .335 batting average, 32 HR, 103 RBI, and a league-leading .409 OBP, Victor Martinez continues to get better with age. Sure, it helps hitting by Miguel Cabrera, but Martinez has been a great hitter his whole career so we know this isn’t a fluke.

Soon to turn 36 years old and considered a liability in the field, Martinez will most certainly wind up in the American League. It was only two years ago that Martinez had major reconstructive knee surgery. But once he came back in 2013, he has been one of the best hitters in baseball. In two seasons, he has hit .317 with 46 HR, 186 RBI, 69 doubles, and 124 walks. Did I mention he only struck out 104 times during that span? 124 walks and 104 strikeouts. A remarkable feat.

Last season, he was a much better hitter on the road. He hit .346 with 17 HR and 58 RBI on the road compared to .324 with 15 HR and 45 RBI at home. A strange statistic to point out is he walked and struck out 25 times each at home. On the road, he walked 45 times with only 17 strikeouts. Crazy split. While these numbers don’t tell the whole story, some teams other than Detroit may be licking their chops for a fearsome hitter like Martinez.

Just like Sandoval, I think this boils down to two teams; the Tigers and the White Sox. The White Sox are salivating over the idea of having a 3-4 punch of Abreu and Martinez. Who wouldn’t? But the Tigers want to keep the Cabrera-Martinez pairing as well. It’s going to come down to money and years. Jon Heyman reported that Martinez will be seeking a four-year deal. The White Sox have a lot to throw around while the Tigers, especially if they bring back Scherzer, don’t. I think the South Siders want to make a splash and this is their guy.

Destination: Chicago White Sox

Price Tag: 4-year, $55 million

7.) OF Melky Cabrera

As the top outfielder in the 2015 MLB free agency class, Cabrera will be interesting to watch. It’s been reported that he and the Blue Jays are far apart on negotiations. The Jays have given him a qualifying offer, so any team that does want to sign him will have to part with a 1st round draft pick, just like many of the other top free agents. This usually isn’t an issue for teams, but Melky Cabrera is in an interesting situation.

Over the past four seasons, Cabrera has been a very good hitter. A switch hitter I might add. His .309 average and .351 OBP are very impressive and his 119 doubles and 20 triples are also a nice sight to see. Along with that, he scores a ton of runs, can steal a base here and there, and will hit 10+ home runs. Not too shabby. But at 30 years old, injuries that held him out of a lot of the 2013 campaign, and his Biogenesis suspension back in 2012, there are a fair share of questions marks that come along with him. He is also a below-average corner outfielder, so that doesn’t help his case either.

I really think the addition of the 1st round pick is going to hurt Cabrera’s chances in the open market. While he is a very good switch-hitter that any team would love to have at the top of their lineup, he isn’t a difference maker. If the White Sox miss out on Victor Martinez, I can see them making a serious play for Cabrera. Other than that, I think the Blue Jays will find a way to bring him back. It’s been reported that he loves playing indoors on the turf and he has a very good relationship with Jose Bautista. No reason for him to leave.

Destination: Toronto Blue Jays

Price Tag: 5-year, $90 million

8.) C Russell Martin

Is he a member of the Chicago Cubs yet or what? All I see on TV and the internet is that this guy is going to end up on the North Side. Do I blame the Cubs? No. Do I blame Russell Martin? Absolutely not. The Cubs have money to spend and they want to add a catcher that can support their rotation and give them a presence in their lineup.

Martin had a brilliant start to his MLB career. In his first three seasons with the Dodgers, he hit .285 with a .373 OBP. He averaged 142 games, 14 HR, 74 RBI, 28 doubles, and 16 stolen bases. He was one of the better catchers in baseball and was poised to one of the best in the coming seasons. Unfortunately for Martin, that’s not how it worked out. Over the next five seasons, Martin hit .234 while averaging 125 games, 13 HR, 50 RBI, 18 doubles, and eight stolen bases. All much lower than his first couple of seasons. Even with a .234 average, he did support a very healthy .332 OBP. He has always been able to get on base. Last season, Martin finally got back to his old ways, hitting .290 with 11 HR, 67 RBI, and a tremendous .402 OBP.

Martin is not as bad as those seasons he put up from 2009 to 2013, but he isn’t as good as he was last year. What is always good is his on-base percentage, his clubhouse presence, and his ability to run and control a pitching staff. The Cubs have a ton of young talent coming up and Martin would be a perfect fit to help lead the clubhouse. Mentor Kyle Schwarber as well? Sure they are going to overpay for him, but I think he would be worth the investment for this young team.

Destination: Chicago Cubs

Price Tag: 5-year, $70 million 

9.) OF/DH Nelson Cruz

Many questioned whether Cruz would be able to put up solid numbers after his suspension in 2013. He turned down a $14 million qualifying offer from the Rangers last season and he found out the hard way that wasn’t the best choice. With a draft pick tied to his signing and his PED suspension, many teams stayed away. Eventually, the Baltimore Orioles signed Cruz to a team friendly 1-year, $8 million deal. Let’s just say, it really worked out for Baltimore.

Cruz didn’t miss a step coming into 2014. He put up a much better year than he did in 2013, posting a .271 batting average with a league leading 40 home runs. He helped carry the middle of the order in Baltimore with 32 doubles, 108 RBI, and a .525 slugging percentage. More importantly for the Orioles, it filled a huge void due to Chris Davis’ awful season. They needed some pop in their lineup and Cruz did that job.

Luckily for Cruz, he won’t regret turning down that $14 million deal now. He had a great season at the plate and a lot of teams are looking for a power bat. What is a total bummer for him is the qualifying offer. Once again, he will have it tied to his name. It will certainly hurt his stock in free agency. Will another team want to forfeit a draft pick along with a four-year deal? It it tough to tell. I do think Cruz will realize he will have a hard time finding another home and that his best option will be to return to Baltimore. He has stated he loves it there and would like to return, so it is a win-win for everyone.

Destination: Baltimore Orioles

Price Tag: Three-year, $50 million

10.) RHP Brandon McCarthy

McCarthy picked the right time to have his best season as a pro. While is 4.05 ERA on the season doesn’t tell us that, his 7-5 record with a 2.89 with the Yankees sure did. The right-hander has a career 4.08 ERA, has more losses than wins, doesn’t strike out a lot of people, and has had a history of shoulder issues. I know, I’m sorry Brandon. I had to point out all of your flaws. My apologies.

The bright side is, forget about all of that! This man, after he was traded to the Yankees, was very, very good. Like I mentioned before, he had a pretty 2.89 ERA. In his 90 innings pitched, he had 82 strikeouts. He sported a very strong 1.15 WHIP. When with Arizona, they told McCarthy to stay away from using his cutter. Once he was traded to New York, they strongly supported him throwing the cutter once again. As you can see, it seemed to work out for him. 2014 was also his first season with more than 200 IP. Just another positive for the Twitter-friendly Brandon McCarthy.

A lot of teams will be inquiring for his services. The Yankees, Red Sox, Royals, Phillies, and many others will definitely be giving him a phone call. My gut tells me that he will stay in New York though. Like I mentioned earlier, the Yankees have said they will not pursue Scherzer, Lester, or Shields. If that’s the case, they have to bring McCarthy back. They will give him the money and years he wants, and he will remain in the pinstripes.

Destination: New York Yankees

Price Tag: Four-year, $60 million


  1. Behind the Nickname “Big Game James” 

About the author: Jack Conness

Graduate of UW-Milwaukee. Baseball nerd. Follow him on Twitter! @JackConness