The race is over, and there’s an oft-mentioned team at the finish line. The New York Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a 7-year, $155 million deal on Wednesday morning, one of the richest deals a pitcher has ever received. Assuming that Tanaka is anywhere near as potent as he was in Japan, this should be a great signing for the Yankees, who need starting pitching like a starving man needs a sandwich. He’s just 25 years old, which means the Yankees have essentially locked him up for the prime of his career. I wouldn't necessarily expect him to win 20 games right away, as the adjustment from Japan to the MLB is a big one, but with a devastating splitter (a pitch that is almost endangered in the major leagues), he should definitely see success as a #3 or #4 starter right out of the gate.
Now that Tanaka, who had been Target Number One for many teams with money to spend, is off the board, the race is on for the remaining big-name free agents. In this space, I’ll break down the top three free-agent position players: who needs them, who wants them, and what’s realistic.
Top Remaining MLB Free Agents - Position Players
1. Nelson Cruz
Power is always at a premium in the MLB, and Nelson Cruz has it. The reason he’s still without a team in late January seems to be his asking price. The consensus is that Cruz is looking for a 4-year deal in the neighborhood of $75 million, and so far no one is willing to pay that price for a defensive liability whose production is in question after serving his 50-game PED suspension. His signing will also require draft pick compensation, warding off potential buyers even more.
So who needs him? The Orioles have been in contact with Cruz’s agent, though there has been little progress so far. While they have one of the league’s more potent offenses, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a 3-4-5 of Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz. Whoa-- I just got chills.
The Rockies have shown some interest in Cruz, but again they haven't made any real progress. The Rockies could certainly use some more pop, and Cruz would add some protection for Tulo and CarGo. However, as a defensive liability and no DH spot, it’d be hard for most NL teams to pull the trigger on Cruz.
The Mariners have already added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to back up Robinson Cano, but Morrison isn’t exactly intimidating. They’re swiftly approaching their payroll limit, but if Cruz’s asking price comes down, I could see them taking a stab at him. Stranger things have happened.
The Royals could be a sleeper on Cruz, especially if they end up trading away Billy Butler. They made a run at Carlos Beltran, and could certainly use more power in their lineup. After signing Omar Infante, there isn’t a whole lot of money left in Kansas City, but again if the asking price comes down, who knows?
2. Stephen Drew
Shortstop is not a particularly deep position, and Stephen Drew is definitely talented. He’s a phenomenal defender, and is coming off of one of the best offensive seasons of his career. He’s a Boras client, so naturally old Scott is looking for an outrageously lucrative offer for a player whom he claims can be the “ultimate utility man.” If he is to become the next Michael Young, there are plenty of teams who could use him.
The Mets immediately come to mind, but they seem unwilling to offer Drew a long-term deal. Boras has been pointing to Elvis Andrus’s long extension as an example of what he’s seeking for Drew. The Red Sox would of course like to resign Drew, but again not for any more than a year or two. If it does come down to several one-year offers, it’s more than likely Drew will remain in Boston.
However, there are plenty of teams that have the money to spend and could be willing to spend it on Drew. The Twins could certainly use a stable middle infielder, and have the money for a multi-year deal, within reason. The Blue Jays and Astros also could be in the conversation, and it’s not unlike Boras to make a deal in the dark and surprise everyone. Keep an eye on the sleepers here.
Morales is similar to Cruz in that he has draft pick compensation attached to him, and his lack of first base play over the last three years is also a concern for potential suitors. However, he’s a switch-hitter with pop from both sides, and when he has played first base, he’s actually been an above-average fielder. This is a guy who can definitely hit .275 with 80 RBI and 30 jacks, and there are plenty of teams who could use some of that.
The Royals seem like the most likely suitor for Morales for the same reasons they’d be interested in Cruz—they have very little power in their lineup, and should they trade Billy Butler, they’ll need a replacement in the middle of the lineup. The Royals seem unwilling to resign Ervin Santana for the money he wants, and so they could very well end up trading Butler for starting pitching. Morales could DH and slide right into the hole left by Butler.
The Mariners could certainly resign Morales in the DH role as well. Considering it’s this late in the offseason and Morales will start getting desperate for a team, the Mariners might be able to get him for a 1-year deal for a steal. The Orioles might be in a similar situation, but after signing Delmon Young it seems less likely (Henry Urrutia will also take some at-bats in that spot).
Stay tuned for Part II, where I examine the top three remaining pitchers.
Agree? Disagree? I wanna know. Tweet me @Roto_Dubs.