November 4, 2013

COMMENTARY: ON BASEBALL: Ranking the top free agents

By David Lennon

Newsday (MCT)

Now that we’re done with the whole beard thing and duck-boat parades, it’s time for the part of the year everyone can get excited about. Well, almost everyone.

We’re talking about the free-agent shopping season, which will begin in earnest at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. That’s when the window of exclusivity slams shut on teams trying to sign their own free agents and the real party begins. But before then, there are two other important dates to keep in mind.

Monday is the last chance for clubs to submit the $14.1-million qualifying offer to their own free agents, a tactic that enables a team to receive draft-pick compensation should a free agent sign elsewhere. Subsequently, those players have until Nov. 11 to accept the offer and stay put at that salary for 2014. Otherwise, they hit the open market, just in time for the start of the GM meetings, which begin that Monday in Orlando.

Oh, and one other thing. With MLB’s new TV package, each team will receive an additional $51.67 million for the coming year, which should come in handy this winter. But one caveat: With the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million kicking in for ‘14, it’s worth keeping a running count of the tab, as the Yankees say they plan to do.

So without further ado, here’s our rundown of the top free agents, where they may end up and at what price. It’s just a cross-section of the market and not meant to be in any particular order.

1. ROBINSON CANO, 2B

We’ll skip the Jay Z lyrics and go straight to the bottom line. Without the megabuck Dodgers in this mix, Cano needs the Yankees as much as they need him. That $300-million figure allowed for some posturing on both sides, but let’s get real here.

Prediction: Yankees, eight years, $188 million

2. MASAHIRO TANAKA, RHP

Even with the Japanese posting system still being ironed out, the fee for the negotiating rights to Tanaka (24-0, 1.27 ERA) is expected to eclipse the $51 million paid for Yu Darvish two years ago. Any team that has to check the price tag can’t afford him.

Prediction: Yankees, six years, $65 million

3. JACOBY ELLSBURY, CF

Never felt like a true dyed-in-the-beard member of this year’s Red Sox, but Ellsbury put up numbers when he needed them, including 52 stolen bases, tops in the majors. Batted .344 (22-for-64) and scored 14 runs in 16 postseason games.

Prediction: Nationals, seven years, $140 million

4. SHIN-SOO CHOO, CF

With a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs, Choo is a favorite of the analytic crowd. Also showed decent pop with 21 homers, including 11 away from the Reds’ home launching pad. Even more valuable to a city with a large Korean fan base that could boost ticket sales. (Hint, hint).

Prediction: Mets, six years, $105 million

5. BRIAN McCANN, C

If not for Evan Gattis, the Braves would have tried to lock up McCann, the rare backstop with a career .820 OPS who averages 20 homers a season. Only 29, perfect timing for free agency, but teams have to be wary about long-term deals for catchers unless they can DH, too.

Prediction: Rangers, five years, $80 million

6. CARLOS BELTRAN, RF

Loved playing for Cardinals and has to figure they’d give him a good chance to finally get a World Series ring. But Beltran turns 37 next April and knows he needs to start spending some time at DH.

Prediction: Tigers, two years, $30 million

7. MATT GARZA, RHP

In a relatively lean winter for starting pitching, Garza is at the top of the heap, but he wasn’t trending all that great after a midseason trade to the Rangers. Maybe it was all the attention after 2 ½ years with the Cubs. Is Seattle low-key enough?

(Continued on page 2)

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