Free agent countdown: position players #5-1

Al Bello

A look at the very best potential free agent position players for this offseason, including what they're likely to cost and whether the Indians have any use for them.


Other entries in the free agency series:

The Indians major need this offseason in terms of a position player is probably a right fielder, either to platoon with Drew Stubbs or play every day if Stubbs is non-tendered. Lonnie Chisenhall probably gets another year to show he can be an MLB third baseman, but if you could make an argument that the team should look for someone to take over there as well. If you're willing to play Nick Swisher in right, you could also look at 1B/DB types. The other positions are fairly well spoken for, unless someone is traded. That being the case, not all of the players listed here are going to be a fit for the Indians, but it's still worth knowing who's out there.

On to the countdown!

5) Curtis Granderson - OF, age 32

PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
2013 Numbers 245 .229 .317 .407 97 1.4
2014 Projections* 603 .238 .327 .458 113 3.4

*Steamer projections, available at FanGraphs

Granderson missed much of 2013 after having his forearm broken by a pitch during Spring Training, causing him to miss the season's first six weeks, and then having a finger broken by a pitch just eight games after he returned, leading to more than two months out. Those injuries obviously deflated his season, leading to disappointing numbers after back-to-back 40 home run seasons in 2011 and 2012. Those injuries aren't recurring though, and Granderson average 153 games played from 2006-2012, so I don't think he should be viewed as a health risk (at least more than any ballplayer approaching 33).

Granderson strikes out a ton, but also walks at a high rate, along with his power. There's some question of how well that power translates outside Yankee Stadium, but he hit 37 home runs on the road between 2011 and 2012, so while the short right field porch in the Bronx suited him, he's legit. FanGraphs' crowdsourcing project predicts 4 years, $56 million for Granderson. He probably won't be a $14M player in four years, but over the life of the contract, he could be worth that kind of contract. Unless the Indians are willing to fill their 5th rotation spot on the cheap, there's no room in the budget for this kind of signing, but he would look nice in right at Progressive Field.

4) Brian McCann - C, age 29

PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
2013 Numbers 402 .256 .336 .461 122 2.7
2014 Projections 459 .257 .337 .451 118 3.5

*Steamer projections, available at FanGraphs

McCann is easily the best catcher available this offseason, and because he's still in his twenties (until February), he's in line for a big payday. Except for a hiccup in 2012, McCann has been a well-above-average hitter every season since 2008. He's a 7-time All-Star and the 176 home runs he's hit since making his MLB debut in 2005 are the most by any catcher. He already has 7 seasons with 20+ home runs, a number topped by only six catchers in history, and by only Johnny Bench before turning 30.

He'll likely get at least a 4-year deal, which not many catchers ever see. The Indians are set at catcher though, so they won't be among the teams pursuing McCann, which means the Tribe will have to find someone else to block the base path and scream obscenities at opposing hitters who've just hit a home run.

3) Shin-Soo Choo - OF, age 31

PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
2013 Numbers 712 .285 .423 .462 151 5.2
2014 Projections 608 .273 .382 .439 130 3.1

Choo became an MLB regular in 2008 with the Indians, and over the next five years, he was the team's best player. As I'm sure you remember, the Indians traded him away last December, in what amounted to a 3-team trade that broughtTrevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, Bryan Shaw, and Matt Albers to Cleveland. Choo went on to have the best offensive season of his career, finishing second in the National League in walks, runs, and on-base percentage, and fifth in wRC+. The only thing much out of line with his career norm was the walk rate (which shot to a career-best 15.7%), so his season doesn't appear to have been luck driven.

Scott Boras wants a $100 million deal for Choo, which I think is a tad more than he'll get, but is certainly a possibility. FanGraphs predicts 5 years, $80M, and I think it'll end up being a bit higher than that, as there are a lot of teams that could use another outfielder (especially after Choo played centerfield for much of 2013 and didn't embarrass himself). A reunion with the Indians would be nice, but it's not realistic.

2) Jacoby Ellsbury - OF, age 30

PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
2013 Numbers 636 .298 .355 .426 113 5.8
2014 Projections 672 .289 .345 .435 111 5.0

There's a case to be made that Ellsbury was the best player in baseball in 2011, when he combined strong defense in centerfield with 83 extra-base hits and 39 stolen bases. Early in 2012 though, Ellsbuty injured his shoulder, causing him to miss more than two months, and in the 74 games he did play, his production was way down. 2013 saw him rebound, not to the heights of 2011 (I don't know where the 32 home runs he hit that season came from, but they aren't coming back), but to a well-above-average hitter with tremendous base running (52 of 56 on stolen base attempts) and plus defense in center.

Ellsbury is the most likely player to spark a bidding war between five or six teams this winter. I expect he'll get something like 6-years, $120 million, and I could even see some team giving him a 7th year. If he stays healthy, he stands a good chance of being worth that (or more), but he's missed significant time in two of the last four years, so it could also turn into a very bad contract (as could any deal of that magnitude). He's too talented and plays too important a position for many teams to be scared off. By Spring Training, Ellsbury's grandchildren will be set for life.

1) Robinson Cano - 2B, age 31

PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
2013 Numbers 681 .314 .383 .516 142 6.0
2014 Projections 644 .302 .365 .509 136 5.6

Cano is the best second baseman in baseball and has been a model of consistency and durability, with a batting average between .300 and .320 for five straight years, a slugging percentage between .500 and .550, and an average of 160 games played dating all the way back to 2007. He hits for average, he hits for power (an average of 77 extra-base hits over the last three years), and he's a fairly solid fielder. In short, Cano is one of the ten best players in baseball.

He's going to get one of the largest contracts in history, most seem to expect more than $200M (a number only four players have ever reached). I can't really picture the Yankees letting him get away, they have too many other problem areas to allow their best player to depart. Working to their advantage is the Dodgers' recent signing of Cuban second baseman Alex Guerrero, which would seem to take New York's biggest financial competitor out of the race. For that reason, I think Cano's contract will fall a little short of $200M, but it will certainly shatter the records for a 2B, currently held by Pedroia (total money, $110M) and Kinsler (per year, $15M).

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