November 6, 2012

15 MLB Free-Agent Predictions

The MLB free-agency signing period is long and unpredictable. Some guys ink deals week 1, some hold out through spring training and some come back halfway through the season. The most predictable thing about MLB free-agency is... that's it's completely unpredictable. Rumors fly from both reliable and unreliable sources and sure bets aren't always what they seem to be. Some deals even become official through the media before they are in reality, the Braves being one of the teams on the wrong side of the story for multiple occurrences. The news broke in 2008 that Furcal had agreed to resign with the club, but it eventually fell through and he returned to LA. Then again the following year when ESPN leaked Griffey Jr. had chosen Atlanta, agreeing to 1-year deal over Seattle in order to be closer to his Orlando home and family. The papers were never signed and Junior had a change of heart. In 2010, Cliff Lee was the crown jewel of a solid free-agent class; all signs pointed to it being a two horse race between the Yankees & Rangers for the ace pitchers services, both clubs going back and forth one-upping one another with massive contract offers. The Phillies literally came out of no where to sign Lee to a deal worth less money than both New York or Texas had put on the table. No one expected Philadelphia to even be in the mix- with a rotation that already included big-money elite pitchers like Halladay, Hamels & Oswalt. The move shocked the MLB world and left his potential clubs with no time for plan B. The deal was so late in the signing period and clubs had already placed their chips all-in to acquire the one player they were seeking. So the point of the story? Nobody knows where these guys will land, including themselves. There may be favorites or a clear front-runner... but nothing is guaranteed or easily predictable until the player puts ink to paper. Here are 15 of this off-seasons top free agents and my shot in the dark, off-the-wall predictions for where they will call home in 2013:

Melky Cabrera, OF
Prediction: New York Mets (1 year/$6 million)
The Melk-Man's incredible run finally soured (had to get the bad pun out of the way early in this one, sorry) in August of last season. Cabrera's unreal steak turned out to be well, unreal... and teams won't be busting down the door to sign him for anything more than about a 4-6 million/1 year deal. A return to New York (on the other team, doesn't another team play there?) seems like a good fit for both clubs. The Mets look to be backing up the truck to resign David Wright long term, and this could assist them in several areas. It wouldn't cause problems financially with DW's new deal and would provide some decent protection for him in the lineup. With no long-term commitment to signing him, the only risk the Met's would be taking is listening to him blabber aimlessly at the signing press conference. "THANK YOU DA FAN, MY FAMILY, AN OPPORTUNITY FOR HERE, IS LIKE IT HERE AN THENK YOU EVERYBODY DA FAN."

Stephen Drew, SS
Prediction: Oakland Athletics (2 years/$15 million)
Drew is a cookie cut money-ball type player and a good fit for Oakland. He had some success there at the end of last year and seems like a quality affordable piece for the A's. The shortstops personality and Oakland's young, energetic clubhouse is a solid match; and a good spot for Drew to revive his once promising career under little media pressure.

Adam LaRoche, 1B
Prediction: Washington Nationals (3 years/$56 million)
Boston is another likely destination for LaRoche; after the 9 year vet opted-out of Washington's qualifying offer last week. The quiet first baseman seems like a guy that should have cashed in by now with a large, long-term deal. He flies under the radar, brings no attention to himself and consistently produces good powers numbers. Coming off a 33 HR/100 RBI season several teams will likely come calling, but the Nat's and him will finally work it out in the end.

Kyle Lohse, SP
Prediction: Kansas City Royals (4 years/$48 million)
Royals owner David Glass recently said that "he’ll spend for pitching" but, let's face it... Kansas City isn't the sexiest destination for elite pitchers. After a career year, I still believe few teams will throw Lohse a huge deal; worried it may have been a fluke season instead of what's in the future for the 34-year old starter. Kansas City won't have many chances to reel in a type-A free agent, so they will take a shot here and sign their targeted guy.

Mike Napoli, C
Prediction: Boston Red Sox (3 years/$28 million)
Boston is looking to reload, and Napoli brings an elite backstop/veteran leader into a rebuilding Sox lineup. The inside of the organization has stated that they would like to build from within (minors) instead of relying heavily on free-agency spending sprees every year; but these days the catcher position may be the hardest of all to develop in the MLB. The blue collar attitude and winning experience of Napoli should make it easy for Boston to get out their checkbook for this one.

Angel Pagan, OF
Prediction: San Francisco Giants (3 years/$30 million)
Some believe the Giants are looking to make a splash by signing a big-name, power-hitting outfield this off-season, but it ain't broke so why fix it? San Fran won't have any urgency to upgrade what they have in Pagan, and the two seem to have a mutual interest in one another. Pagan clearly enjoys playing by the Bay, and the Giants certainly seemed to enjoy having him around. The two sides will agree to terms by striking a fair, painless deal that's one of the first announced in the signing period, and Pagan will again be on board to help the club defend their World Series Title.  

Kevin Youkilis, 3B
Youkilis & Francona: Reunited?
Prediction: Cleveland Indians (1 years/$8 million)
Youkilis would be an affordable option & addition for Cleveland, providing some much needed depth to the rebuilding ball club. His ability to be a quality option at either infield corner position has to be appealing to The Tribe. Ultimately his relationship with new manager Terry Francona will be a factor in bringing the veteran into a clubhouse searching for leadership & guidance, a new identity and the understanding of what it takes to be a winner.

Edwin Jackson, SP
Prediction: New York Yankees (2 years/$19 million)
The Nats will spend a lot of money this offseason; but it won't be on Jackson with the teams priorities going elsewhere, and who can always smell blood and is ready to pick up the pieces by throwing money at a above-average player just because they can? Well that of course is none other than the New York Yankees, commonly referred to by most as The Evil Empire. Regardless of need, the team from the Bronx just can't help feeling left out of the 'cool kids party' and will agree to terms with Jackson just because no one else will be able to rearrange the numbers in order to create payroll space as easily as they can. The team in pinstripes will lose Soriano, and will likely miss out on signing a few other players they kick the tires on- so count on them to sign a guy or two just because they have the money to throw-around. Jackson has the potential to be a quality 5th starter/plus bullpen addition to any team, but will be tested quickly with the pressure and atmosphere on the biggest stage in pro sports. Yankees win by default.

Nick Swisher, OF
Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies (3 years/$38 million)
The Fightins' are in need of outfielders, and Swisher may be worth a look for a team hoping to stabilize more consistency at multiple positions this offseason. The problem is that they don't really have any money to spend... ok, just kidding...bad joke, the Phillies ALWAYS have money to spend- so this time they'll spend it on the popular, power-hitting outfielder; landing him on a 3 year deal. A switch to the NL and the short fences at Citizens Bank Park will make 30 HR/100 RBI numbers very attainable for Swisher, protected in a seemingly healthier lineup that consistently includes both Ryan Howard & Chase Utley. A career year is not out of the question for Swish if he does indeed happen to land in the City of Brotherly Love.

Rafael Soriano, RP
Prediction: Detroit Tigers (4 years/$58 million)
Detroit made a swift "don't let the door hit you on the way out" parting with Jose Valverde; so the AL Champs will be looking for a quality closer or back end of the bullpen player and Soriano lands here. Let's just hope his ego and Super-Agent Scott Boras don't overshoot the market, or else the reliever coming off a career year may find himself sitting at home at the start of spring training.

BJ Upton, OF
Prediction: Atlanta Braves (4 years/$56 million)
With the loss of Chipper Jones and the likely possibility of Michael Bourn signing elsewhere this offseason- BJ Upton would be a quality signing for the Braves. It wouldn't be a fix-all addition to all the clubs areas of need, but would be a nice piece to add to the puzzle; providing Atlanta's lineup with both speed and much needed power. The Braves have been rumored to have interest in the outfielder before, and they will make this deal for a couple of reasons: Bourn will leave/sign with a division rival (WAS/PHI) and Atlanta will attempt to keep pace by inking him to a contract, all from a knee-jerk reaction. An added bonus is that he'll hit right handed in a Braves lineup stacked with hitters from the left. If the 2012 center fielder moves on, Upton will be the next best thing to move in and swipe off the market. Write it down, you heard it here first.

Shane Victorino, OF
Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays (2 years/$17 million)
It seems like the same old story for the Rays again here: a big/pricey free agent leaves = they sign a quality, lesser expensive free agent that produces nearly the same numbers. With BJ Upton hitting the market and likely finding a new home for 2013, the club will be in the mix for several next-tier players, this time an outfielder, that they feel brings nearly as much to the table. Victorino seems like the type of fun, high energy player that would be a perfect fit in Tampa, giving the Rays a leadoff presence they've been lacking for the past several years. Victorino's heart, hustle and scrappy style of play mirrors what Rays baseball is all about for sure. I believe the yearly AL East contender puts the 'Flyin Hawaiian' on their radar early and inks him to a modest 2-year contract soon. The 31 year-old veteran outfielder could certainly benefit from a change in scenery, and all these factors may add up to a possible breakout year for Victorino in 2013.

Michael Bourn, OF
Prediction: Washington Nationals (5 years/$84 million)
Three NL East teams are considered to be serious contenders to land Bourn; Atlanta, Philadelphia & Washington. Scott Boras's relationship with the Nat's brass will make them the front-runner to win the speedy leadoff hitter's services in 2013. Washington will likely commit more years and dollars than the Braves are willing and able to, and the appeal of joining an already stacked lineup that includes names like Morse, Harper, Werth, Desmond and Zimmerman may be too good to pass up. Washington would benefit from cementing a leadoff hitter with speed, while the Braves are in need of both power & speed. If the dollars are near equal, which they will be, then Washington will win the bidding war and lock up Bourn to a 4-6 year contract. The rich will get richer, as the new NL power looks to be setup to contend for a very, very long time.

Zack Greinke, SP
Prediction: Los Angeles Angels (7 years/$170 million)
LA traded away the heavens and the earth to acquire Greinke, trading off three top-25 organizational prospects to land the ace pitcher for effectively only a couple guaranteed months in late July. GM Jerry DiPoto will be in full-focus stealth mode to sign the former Cy Young Winner long-term, making sure that his bold move turned out to be a smart one. The Angels have already dumped the contracts of Ervin Santana and Dan Haren to facilitate this signing, and the pitcher has made known that winning is his highest priority in where he ends up. The 29 year-old will be selective in his potential destinations, partly due to his history of anxiety/depression in the past; he seems to be very comfortable with the atmosphere & his teammates in LA and they'll close the deal by blowing him away with a huge contract offer early, the largest for any pitcher in MLB History.

Josh Hamilton, OF
Prediction: Milwaukee Brewers (5 years/$128 million)
So, maybe this is a long-shot and dark horse team for most, but in my opinion a very interesting and viable landing spot for Hamilton. The Rangers don't appear willing to pony up for a long-term deal with some hesitation concerning the sluggers troubled past. The Brewers have several expiring, big money contracts coming off the books and have also recently lost out on both Grienke and Prince Fielder. Now the club may be itching to re-energize the fan base; going all-in to acquire the best available bopper on the open market. Milwaukee is probably sick and tired of being turned down. Signing an impact player of Hamilton's ability and pairing him in the middle of their lineup with MVP Ryan Braun would be a bold & intriguing move that sends a clear message about the teams commitment to win. The duo would immediately become the most feared 3-4 punch in the National League and possibly the entire MLB; rivaling even the Tigers combo of former Brewer Prince Fielder & recent Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera. Call me crazy, but I think the Brewers sneak into the picture and shock the league by landing the star outfielder & top available off-season free agent hitter of 2012.