Yankees will be in the mix for many of these 13 players who turned down qualifying offers
Monday’s deadline for free agents who received one-year qualifying offers passed with little fanfare. All 13 turned down those offers of a one-year $14.1 million deal — a value determined by the average of the top 125 contracts, up from $13.3 million last year — making them free to negotiate with any team. That’s a similar result to last year, when eight of the nine turned down the offer, with the ninth, David Ortiz, quickly re-signing with the Red Sox via a two-year deal.
Thus all 13 free agents will cost the team signing them a first-round draft pick, unless that pick would be among the top 10 in the upcoming amateur draft, in which case those teams will lose a second-round pick. Such an 0-fer among the offers suggests a system in need of adjustments, but until then, teams should be more aggressive in making those qualifying offers due to the low likelihood that players will accept.
As via the previous system, the threat of a lost pick can deter some teams from getting involved, particularly when it comes to players more likely to sign short-term deals. One team apparently undeterred is the Yankees, who despite (or because of) a weak farm system have made Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran “targets 1 and 1A” according to a report from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. That’s because New York was one of two teams (the Red Sox being the other) that made qualifying offers to three players, and appear likely to lose at least one, meaning that the sandwich-round pick they’ll receive between the first and second rounds will help offset whatever draft pick they might lose.
What follows is a quick alphabetical rundown of the 13 players who received offers and are now free agents.
Carlos Beltran, RF
2013: Cardinals, .296/.339/.491, 24 HR, 2.4 WAR
2014 age: 37
Beltran added to his postseason highlight reel while reaching the World Series for the first time, but while he put up very solid regular season numbers at the plate, his dropoffs on the basepaths and in the outfield underscored his advancing age. That limits his market to American League teams that could transition him to designated hitter.
Both the Red Sox and Yankees are said to be interested, but Boston has no room at DH given the presence of Ortiz and would have to play him in leftfield because Jackie Bradley Jr. is ready to take over in center and Shane Victorino is established in right. New York is awash in ancient outfielders — Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells are all under contract — and has other significant needs that would be more worth sacrificing a first-round pick for (such as Brian McCann at catcher or Ubaldo Jimenez for the rotation). On the other hand, signing a second player from this list, like Beltran, would actually not be all that costly given that the Yankees would only lose a less valuable second-round pick and are likely to regain at least one pick if any of Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda or Curtis Granderson leaves.
Robinson Cano, 2B
2013:Yankees, .314/.383/.516, 27 HR, 7.6 WAR
2014 age: 31
He won’t get 10 years or $300 million, demands that were apparently supposed to offset the opportunity cost of not reaching free agency. Cano, who is coming off a monster season, is nonetheless likely to walk away with the winter’s largest deal, one well above $200 million. The Dodgers’ stated lack of interest reduces his market; it’s simply not clear what other teams are willing to go that high given their other constraints.
Shin-Soo Choo, RF
2013: Reds, .285/.423/.462, 21 HR, 20 SB, 4.2 WAR
2014 age: 31
Choo hits the market after setting career highs in walks (112), hit-by-pitches (26) and on-base percentage, positioning himself as a top-of-the-lineup machine. His agent, Scott Boras, is said to be seeking a contract for Choo in excess of Jayson Werth’s seven-year, $126 million deal, though another report had it at being more in the $90 million range. Either way, that suggests Choo is really looking for is something north of $18 million per year.
He’ll restore a bit of lost value by moving back to a corner outfield spot, though it’s worth noting that he was far in the red defensively in both 2012 (-12 Defensive Runs Saved in rightfield) and 2013 (-18 in center). His struggles at the plate against lefties (.243/.340/.341 career, .215/.347/.265 in 221 PA in 2013) are also no small matter. He’s been connected to the Mets and Mariners in addition to the Yankees, and a return to Cincinnati may not be out of the question.
Nelson Cruz, Rangers
2013: .266/.327/.506, 27 HR, 2.0 WAR
2014 age: 33
A 50-game PED suspension cost Cruz significantly in terms of counting stats, and he’s a liability defensively. Even so, he’s a mid-lineup option who will get a substantial multiyear deal, albeit something more in line with Victorino’s three-year, $39 million contract last year than with Werth money. That could lead Cruz to return to the outfield-poor Rangers or serve as a consolation prize for a team that misses out on Beltran or Choo, such as the Mariners.
Stephen Drew, Red Sox
2013: .253/.333/.443, 13 HR, 3.1 WAR,
2014 age: 31
Finally clear of the impact of his gruesome 2011 ankle injury, Drew returned to form with a season right in line with his 2008-10 work, and while he didn’t hit much in the postseason, his strong glovework helped bring Boston a world championship. “A bunch of teams” are said to be interested, including the Red Sox (who would presumably keep Xander Bogaerts at third base and trade Will Middlebrooks), though the loss of a draft pick could make a draft-conscious team such as the Cardinals or Pirates wary. The Mets are another possibility.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
2013: .298/.355/.426, 9 HR, 52 SB, 5.8 WAR
2014 age: 30
Ellsbury was healthy for the better part of a full season for just the second time in four years, and while he missed nearly three weeks in September due to a compression fracture in his right foot, he shook it off with a strong postseason. With Bradley coming along, he’s likely to depart Boston and could be in line for the biggest payday this side of Cano. He’s reportedly being pursued by the Mariners, with the Rangers, Mets and Nationals among the other possibilities; the latter could trade Denard Span to open a spot for him.
Curtis Granderson, Yankees
2013: .229/.317/.407, 7 HR, 1.1 WAR
2014 age: 33
Granderson is hitting the market at a lousy time, having been limited to 61 games due to a pair of hit-by-pitch-induced fractures, the first of which cost him virtually all of the exhibition season and the second of which required midseason surgery. He was also transitioned out of centerfield, where his numbers had taken a hit (-16 DRS in 2011-2012).
Thanks to all of that, he ranks well below Ellsbury, Choo and Beltran in terms of both desirability and cost. The Yankees wavered on making a qualifying offer, which suggests they’d just as soon see him walk, which seems silly given that he’s just a year removed from back-to-back seasons of at least 40 homers and that New York is suddenly light in the power department. For a team on a budget, he makes far more sense than Beltran.
Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
2013: 3.30 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 2.7 WAR in 182 2/3 IP
2014 age: 30
Jimenez recovered his mechanics and turned in his first good season since 2010, ranking fourth in the American League in strikeout rate and 10th in ERA. Still, his lost 2011 and ’12 (365 innings with a 5.03 ERA) may scare off suitors when it comes to a long-term deal, particularly given the drag of draft pick compensation. However, as Edwin Jackson showed with the Cubs last year, it only takes one team to offer something like four years and $48 million to a durable but erratic hurler who retains some upside. The Yankees may look at Jimenez even if they do sign Japan’s Masahiro Tanaka, while the Royals and Orioles are among those who could consider him as well.
Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
2013: 3.31 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 4.1 WAR in 201 1/3 IP
2014 age: 39
Kuroda was brilliant for three-quarters of the season, with a 2.33 ERA and 17 quality starts out of 24 turns through Aug. 12, but he was battered for a 6.56 ERA over his final eight outings, just two of which were quality starts. Even though he topped 195 innings for the fourth straight year, that raises significant questions about his stamina given his age. As he’s done in each of the past two winters, Kuroda is thought to be considering a return to Japan, where he’d earn less but have more of the comforts of home. At best, he’s likely to sign a one-year deal of slightly higher value than the qualifying offer, meaning that he makes far more sense for the Yankees than for another team unless they can offset the lost pick.
Brian McCann, Braves
2013: .256/.336/.461, 20 HR, 2.2 WAR
2014 age: 30
Though he played in fewer games (102) than in any season since his 2005 rookie campaign, McCann made a solid return from offseason shoulder surgery, recovering his lost power if not the entirety of his offensive game. He’s the top catcher on the market, likely to wind up with a contract in the $75-100 million range via the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers or Angels. That estimated price tag makes a return to Atlanta seem unlikely. In general, an AL destination would be smart given that he could keep his bat in the lineup for another 20-30 games per season as a DH or first base option, though he’s never played the latter position professionally.
Kendrys Morales, Mariners
2013: .277/.336/.449, 23 HR, 2.7 WAR
2014 age: 31
The switch-hitting Morales played in a career-high 156 games in 2013 and showed a much more even platoon split than in recent years, though it’s inaccurate to say that Safeco Field had a significant impact on his performance given his splits (.282/.339/.472 at home, .272/.339/.425 on the road). Given just 61 games in the field over the past two years, he’s mostly a DH option, but contenders such as the Orioles, Rangers and Rays have openings at that spot. Still, the draft pick compensation matter could loom large, raising the likelihood that he stays in Seattle via a multiyear deal.
Mike Napoli, Red Sox
2013: .259/.360/.482, 23 HR, 4.1 WAR
2014 age: 32
The degenerative hip condition that led the Red Sox to rework his original three-year, $39 million deal wasn’t an issue in 2013, as he maxed out his incentives and his most recent MRI came back without revealing additional deterioration. Despite his impressive work at first base this past season, signing with an AL club still makes the most sense for Napoli given that he is likely to transition to more DH duty and that his catching days are almost certainly over. His apparent preference is to return to Boston, but going back to Texas, where he played from 2011-12, is among his other options.
Ervin Santana, Royals
2013: 3.24 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 2.9 WAR in 211 IP
2014 age: 31
In 2013, Santana shook off a dreadful 2012 and survived his typically inflated home run rate (1.1 per nine) to post an ERA below 4.00 for the third year out of four while helping the Royals to their first season above .500 since 2003. He’s in line for a multiyear deal in the $80 million range, but his career 1.2 homers per nine has scared the Yankees off. The AL East may be a bad idea for him in general, though the Blue Jays might be the team willing to pay him the most.