With the turning of the new year comes the midway point of baseball’s offseason and some of the top free agents of the 2012 class remain on the market. While many of them would probably like to have found a new home by now, January has proven it can be a lucrative month for free agent signings. It will only be a matter of time before they do join a new team. All they need are suitors.
Michael Bourn (CF) – The market for Bourn, so far, has been remarkably soft. Considered by many to be the best available outfielder after Josh Hamilton, the 30-year-old hit .280 over the last four seasons with a .348 OBP and averaged 54 stolen bases each year. Despite that, though, Bourn has yet to receive any real offers. Part of that has to do with the fact that he is a Scott Boras client and he is notorious for allowing his players to wait out the initial rush of signings and getting teams still in need of help to overpay before they are out of viable options altogether.
Bourn’s issues, though, are two-fold. Firstly, any team signing him would have to give up its first-round draft pick, which many have been hesitant to do. Additionally, many of the teams that were expected to have interest in signing him have already gone with other options. Rather than re-signing him, the Atlanta Braves instead chose B.J. Upton and the Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies also addressed their outfield vacancies elsewhere.
With all those teams seemingly out on Bourn, that leaves few big players left to potentially get into a bidding war. The Texas Rangers could still use an all-star-caliber player to replace Hamilton and, likely, Mike Napoli, but they could ideally use someone with more power, though those options are running out. The Seattle Mariners have been trying hard to bring in an offensive threat and he could fit the bill there. The Chicago Cubs have been floated as a potential landing spot if the price is low enough and it’s always possible the Phillies could decide to get back into the pursuit even after trading for Ben Revere. One way or another, Boras always seems to find his clients a big contract.
Mike Napoli (C/1B)- Napoli is included here because, technically, he is still unsigned. Despite reaching an agreement on a 3-year, $39-million deal with the Red Sox weeks ago, it still hasn’t been signed because of concerns over Napoli’s hip. The team is trying to re-work the language in the deal for protection against any future injuries. The two sides are so far along in this process that it’s unlikely they’ll fail to find a compromise, even if it ends up for a shorter deal or one with an option. If it does fall through, however, the Rangers may be among the teams interested in his services.
Adam LaRoche (1B) – What could be bad news for Napoli could just be good news for LaRoche. The first baseman is coming off a season with the Washington Nationals in which he hit .271/.343/.510 and added 33 homeruns and 100 RBI. He finished sixth in the National League MVP race, setting himself up for a good payday. He’s looking for a three-year deal, but is facing a couple of issues. He’s 33-years-old and, while not over the baseball hill, he’s still at an age that presents a risk when committing big money. On top of that, the Nationals gave him a qualifying offer and any new team would have to surrender a draft pick in order to sign him. A first-round pick is a lot to give up for a player who has never made an all-star team.
LaRoche says he wants to stay in Washington, but the Nationals are only willing to offer a two-year deal. Few other teams have been willing to negotiate deeply with him, but the Red Sox have been speaking with his agent recently as their talks with Napoli have not produced a deal yet. If the Red Sox are serious in courting LaRoche, it may force the Nationals into going that third year. It’s also possible Boston is using LaRoche as leverage to get Napoli to accept a restructured deal and it may be a worthwhile attempt as he would have a hard time getting as much money elsewhere. At this point, it appears the Nationals are content to stick to their two-year offer to LaRoche until another serious contender emerges.
Rafael Soriano (RP) – Soriano is another free agent following the Scott Boras code for cashing in by waiting to sign a deal. After Mariano Rivera went down last year with a torn ACL, Soriano stepped in admirably as the Yankees’ closer. He ended the season tied for third in the American League with 42 saves and had a 2.26 ERA. The problem with his current free agent situation is that many of the big market teams either don’t need bullpen help or aren’t willing to spend lots of money on that part of their roster. The 33-year-old has had some injury problems in the past, will require the signing team to surrender a draft pick, and is looking for a multi-year deal worth at least $14-million per season. The market for him is still a bit cloudy, but the Detroit Tigers are often mentioned as a likely landing spot due to their bullpen issues and desire to return to the World Series.
Kyle Lohse (SP) – The riskiest of the top remaining free agents just might be Lohse. He is coming off the best season of his career after posting a 16-3 record with a 2.86 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 211 innings with the St. Louis Cardinals. All of those numbers are career bests and he finished seventh in the Cy Young race. The concern comes in the fact that he is now 33-years-old and hadn’t put up stats anywhere close to that in the previous 11 years of his career. With a fastball that doesn’t hit 90mph anymore, he will need to continue to rely on his command and off-speed pitches to remain successful. His BABIP of .269 over the last two years indicates a regression may be in store.
After his 2012 campaign, though, he will still likely get paid this offseason, if for no other reason than that he, too, is a Boras client, albeit one who also comes with draft pick compensation. For those reasons, in part, no front-runner has emerged for his future home. The Cardinals seem set on moving on without him. The Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers, who could use another starter, have not expressed interest as of yet. The Tigers and Dodgers, neither of whom necessarily needs another starter, are still rumored to be possibilities.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com