With Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis finding new homes in Seattle and Atlanta respectively, two of the top tier free agents in this years’ class are off the board. It’s been a very busy offseason already and we haven’t even gotten to the Winter Meetings. Also, with Ramirez and Sandoval going to Boston, that is four of the best free agents and some incredible talent going away pretty quick.
There are still a lot of teams that have some needs so this will not be the end of the free agent rush. In addition, there could be some trades that really make things interesting. Obviously the three best pitchers, Lester, Shields, and Scherzer, have yet to been signed, but with the Winter Meetings lurking, things could really start to heat up on baseball’s hot stove.
Here are my top 4 remaining position players left on the market and where I see them winding up.
After a solid season north of the border with the Blue Jays, Cabrera is now searching for a new deal. It is rumored that he wants to stay on the east coast and two teams that are interested in Cabrera are the Royals and Reds. These two teams have the money that will attract Cabrera and they both have needs. It would be a homecoming in Kansas City for Cabrera if he were to return there. The Blue Jays may still have a chance at landing him as the incumbent team, but I see him going somewhere new. He is in between the first and second tier of outfielders so he will be an upgrade for many teams if wherever he ends up.
In the end, I see him signing with the Royals. They have the money and they will greatly benefit from a player like Cabrera after a World Series run last year.
The New York Yankees made a deadline deal last July to land Headley to try to make a push for the Postseason. They didn’t make it, but Headley played some solid ball in his time in New York. He played some first base along with his natural position at third base. Headley is a solid veteran that will be a good player for a team at third base. The Yankees at first were in pursuit of Headley, but reports say that he may not be on their radar much longer. There isn’t much of a market for Headley at the moment, but as other players find new teams, someone will be lucky to land Headley.
After spending some time in Texas, the Rangers seem to be moving away from the right handed out fielder. He has never made the playoffs in his career, which may factor into his decision. He had a fairly successful season for the Rangers and if a team misses out on Aoki or Cabrera, Rios would be a very good fit. There are a plethora of teams that are still looking for outfield help and Rios is a viable option for a many teams. Some teams that could be interested in his services could be the Reds, Royals, Mariners, and Orioles. There could be a few other teams depending on how the market shakes out.
In the end, I see Rios signing with the Orioles. They lost out on resigning Markakis and Rios would be willing to probably take a 1-year deal in the $8 million range.
Nori Aoki is an interesting player in the fact that he isn’t much of a power hitter compared to the other free agent corner outfielders. Aoki can lay down a bunt, beat out an infield single, and slap it the other way. He brings a much different dimension to a team than say Melky Cabrera. The lefty hitter draws comparisons to fellow countryman Ichiro because they play a very similar type of baseball. After spending last season with the Royals, they are unlikely to sign him. As a second tier outfielder in this years’ free agent class, it seems to be the same teams vying for Aoki’s services that are also in the running for Melky Cabrera.
Aoki is doubtful to return to Kansas City, which is why I could see him ending up in Cincinnati to start the 2015 season.
This seems like it will fall like dominoes. Since Markakis and Cruz are gone, once Cabrera signs, I think it will open the floodgates for players like Mike Morse, Nori, Aoki, and Alex Rios in the outfield market.
In pitching news, there are about 4 or 5 teams interested in landing Jon Lester and it seems as if he will be the first big pitcher off of the board. The Giants, Red Sox, Angels, and Cubs along with a late push from the Dodgers seem like the teams that will end up landing the lefty.
Look for this process to be sort of a chain reaction. Once someone signs, look for someone else to sign somewhere and look for that to continue. Because so many of the top free agents are solid outfielders, that should be the case.
The Winter Meetings and the rest of free agency will be fun to watch as the Hot Stove is really heating up.
Seattle sports fan and MLB writer for International Sports Hub