Once Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury signed, the top hitters on the MLB free agent market had found their 2014 parking places. However, the hot stove remains full of efficient players, sluggers, and flamethrowers that would bolster any rotation. Here are the best eight players on the MLB free agent market.
1. Nelson Cruz
Cruz has the negative associations of a PED suspension in his past, but the slugger still has the power to deliver instant offense for any team. While his biggest value is as designated hitter for an American League squad, Cruz has a powerful throwing arm that makes him an asset in right field for National League teams as well. He blasted 27 home runs in a suspension-shortened 2013 season in which he appeared in only 109 games for the Texas Rangers.
2. A.J. Burnett
Burnett’s status as lightning rod of the Yankees gave way to that of reliable starter on the Pittsburgh Pirates, one led the pitching staff on its winning 2013 campaign. Though he doesn’t make sense for the biggest MLB markets, Burnett would be a nice addition on many staffs. He posted a 3.30 earned-run average for the Pirates in 2013, striking out 209 batters in 191 innings pitched.
3. Shin-Soo Choo
Korean-born Choo had a dynamite 2013 campaign in Cincinnati Reds, posting an on-base percentage of .423 while cranking 21 home runs and batting .285 in 154 games. Armed with the notorious Scott Boras as his agent, Choo is guaranteed a huge payday with any number of teams looking for efficiency and quality defense in a left-handed bat.
4. Matt Garza
Garza has proven he can brave the perils of divisions like the A.L. East while maintaining a career-earned run average of 3.84. Adept at getting batters to whiff and keeping walk totals down, Garza’s main weakness is the home run ball. Clubs with the deepest fences will get the most benefit out of the 31-year-old veteran, who played for both the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers in 2013.
5. Stephen Drew
Despite Stephen Drew’s career batting average of .264, the lefty shortstop will command a premium on the free agent market because of his dependable glove and .316 average in the 2013 World Series for the Boston Red Sox. Drew would slot into the New York Yankees’ plans nicely as a lefty at Yankee Stadium while Derek Jeter recovers from injury, but the Bronx Bombers may have already gone past their budget with Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann.
6. Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana had an exceptional 2013 campaign for the Kansas City Royals, posting an earned-run average of 3.24, and allowing just 190 hits in 211 innings pitched. He also struck out three times as many as he walked, making him an effective option in a rather anemic pitcher’s market among free agents. Expect Santana to command the highest contract outside of any international wild cards appearing on the scene.
7. Kendys Morales
Famous for breaking his leg on a home run celebration in Anaheim, Cuba-born Kendrys Morales was once a feared power hitter who could do damage from both sides of the plate. Morales’s comeback year for the Seattle Mariners in 2013 included 23 home runs and 80 runs batted in. After turning down a $14 million from the Mariners, Morales will test the free agent waters with agent Scott Boras in tow.
8. Masahiro Tanaka
The Great Tinaka is likely to spark a frenzy in the vein of Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka if he posts from the Japanese leagues. The new maximum posting fee of $20 million makes him instantly attractive for MLB clubs on any budget, so expect his annual salary to break new records among Japanese pitchers.
Tinaka just completed a blistering 2013 campaign in which he went 24-0 with an impossible 1.27 earned-run average for Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles. Since the Eagles took home Japan’s championship, the “winner” label already fits nicely on Tinaka.
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