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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Checking On the 2015 MLB Free Agents

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The 2014 MLB season is a little bit past its first third, with plenty of excitement having already transpired. While there is still untold action and drama left to unfold, it’s never too early to discuss the future, especially when it comes to impending free agents.

Here’s a look at what some of the best 2015 free agents are doing leading up to what they hope will be a bountiful offseason leading to rich contracts that will keep them and their families buying brand name only for generations to come.

Outfielder Nelson Cruz- .308 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs for the Baltimore Orioles: The right-handed slugger lost out on his first big contract last offseason after serving a 50-game suspension in light of the Biogenesis investigation. Settling on a one-year deal with the Orioles, he seems determined to show his baseball skills remain intact, leading the American League in homers and RBIs. He should see plenty of multi-year offers, but his abysmal defense and age that is creeping into the mid-30s will keep teams from extending anything too foolhardy.

Starting Pitcher Jorge De La Rosa- 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA for the Colorado Rockies: One of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, the southpaw rebounded from injuries in 2011-2012 to regain his steady form. His career record of 38-13 with a 4.09 ERA in the notorious pitcher graveyard known as Coors Field is a testament to his abilities. If the Rockies don’t bring him back, any number of teams would be pleased to bring him aboard to lock down the middle of their rotation.

Shortstop Stephen Drew- .000 with 0 home runs and 0 RBIs for the Boston Red Sox: After failing to land a long-term deal to his liking last offseason, Drew resigned with Boston only recently on a pro-rated basis. His steady glove will be a plus, but his age (32 next season) and having not hit better than .253 since 2010 will hold him back from getting a monster deal. Regardless, some team with a hole at shortstop (hello New York Yankees?) will go after this veteran now that he will no longer be tied to qualifying offer compensation.

Starting Pitcher Jon Lester- 6-6 with a 3.15 ERA for the Boston Red Sox: Seemingly the most natural fit to return to his current club because of all he has been through with them, that is far from being a lock right now. After a down 2012, the lefty returned to elite status last season, and is pitching even better in 2014. He is on pace for a career high of 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings, and at the age of 30 is in the prime of his career. A reported extension offered earlier this year by Boston seemed surprisingly light in both years and dollars, and was rejected. Nevertheless, it will be somewhat of a shock if he is pitching in a different uniform next year.

Designated Hitter Victor Martinez- .332 with 14 home runs and 36 RBIs for the Detroit Tigers: The definition of a professional hitter, the veteran is the heir apparent to David Ortiz for the title of best DH in baseball. Able to play first base (or even catch) in a pinch, Martinez is best-suited for a team looking to exploit his potent bat. The switch-hitter will be 36 next season but is showing no signs of slowing down, currently standing second in the league in batting average and posting a .976 OPS that is on pace to shatter his previous career high. He will be a fantastic addition for any team lucky enough to get him to sign his name on the dotted line.

Starting Pitcher Justin Masterson- 3-4 with a 4.72 ERA for the Cleveland Indians: One of the nicest guys in the game, it appeared the tall righty was turning into an ace with his work over the past few years. However, he has taken a bit of a step back in 2014, especially with his control, as he leads the league in walks and is on pace for a career-high 4.5 free passes per nine innings. Death on right-handed hitters (career .590 OPS permitted), he is a welcome sight to lefties, who have tuned him up for a .786 OPS. Although he may find it difficult to get paid like an ace, he will have no shortage of suitors who will covet what he does bring to the table and the 200 innings he has averaged over the past four seasons.

Shortstop Hanley Ramirez- .258 with 9 home runs and 35 RBIs for the Los Angeles Dodgers: Never known for stellar defense, Ramirez’s potent bat will earn him his money this offseason. With a career .300 batting average, the 30-year-old right-handed hitter can still swing the stick and has power, but has lost some of the speed that saw him swipe 32 bases as recently as 2010. A near-lock to be signed as a third baseman, he is still a strong candidate for a deal that reaches nine figures.

Third Baseman Pablo Sandoval- .247 with 8 home runs and 26 RBIs for the San Francisco Giants: It’s feast or famine (figuratively, not usually literally) with the big slugging corner infielder who has famously struggled with fluctuating weight. After a horrendous start to this season that saw him hitting .177 with two home runs through April, the 27-year-old switch-hitter has batted .299 with six homers since. Interested teams will have to reconcile the possibility maintaining his conditioning with his .294 career batting average and being a key member of two World Series winning teams in his first seven seasons.

Starting Pitcher Max Scherzer- 6-2 with a 3.20 ERA for the Detroit Tigers: The 29-year-old flame-throwing righty bet on himself when he turned down a reportedly huge contract extension from the Tigers this spring. Last year’s Cy Young Award winner has made at least 30 starts in each of the past five seasons and seems to have surpassed his more celebrated rotation-mate Justin Verlander. If Scherzer can’t elicit the largest contract next offseason on his production alone, he may be able to mesmerize one on the strength of his two-toned peepers.

Starting Pitcher James Shields- 6-3 with a 3.68 ERA for the Kansas City Royals: Appearing well on his way to eclipsing the 200-inning mark for the eighth consecutive season, the right-handed Shields is a durable workhorse. Still an extremely effective pitcher, teams may want to exercise caution when vetting his contract demands. He will be 33 next season and there have to be questions about how much longer he can remain so durable. Additionally, his hits allowed per nine innings have been on the rise in each of the past three years, while his strikeouts per nine have declined during that same time. He should be a valuable addition to any rotation, but betting the farm on him heading a rotation for a long stretch may be a dangerous proposition.

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