MLB free agents can sign with teams starting November 4, so there is little time for front offices to waste. Whether a slugging corner outfielder, a hard-hitting shortstop, or a front-line ace are what a club needs in 2015 and beyond, each can be had for the right price this offseason. Many of these faces come straight from teams that went deep in the 2014 postseason. Here are the seven MLB players who will be attracting the most attention, ranked in order of projected market value.
7. Victor Martinez, DH
In terms of walk years, it is hard to top the performance Victor Martinez had in 2014. The Tigers designated hitter posted a .335 batting average and had career highs in home runs (32), on-base percentage (.409 OBP), and slugging percentage (.565 SLG). Martinez led the American League in OBP and on-base plus slugging (OPS) while striking out just 42 times in 151 games. Countless teams will covet the services of V-Mart, but his market appears limited to AL teams where he can DH in 2015 and beyond. Given the fact he’ll be 36 next seasons and is coming off his best year ever, teams will have to be careful about the length of any deal they offer.
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
He may have the body of a panda at age 28, but there is no question Pablo Sandoval has the heart and skills of a champion. Sandoval was especially durable for San Francisco in 2014, playing the highest total of games in his career (157) while hitting .279 with 16 HR. Now toss out the regular season. Any team that considers itself playoff-bound ought to have a special interest in the Giants third baseman. In 10 postseason series over three years, Sandoval hit .344 with a .935 OPS. Isolate his World Series play and the numbers are even better. In three Series, the Panda hit .426 with a 1.162 OPS. He even added a Ruthian three-home-run game to the mix.
5. James Shields, RHP
The knock on Shields is he’s no longer “Big Game” James, but he proved he was very much the man for Kansas City in 2014. There was no one more durable than Shields, who led the AL with 34 starts on the year — his second consecutive year leading the AL in starts — and posted a sparkling 3.21 ERA. In other words, Shields is far from declining at 33 and will attract a ton of interest from teams in both leagues. Kansas City ought to do its due diligence before letting him walk, especially with the young pitching staff performing so well behind him.
4. Hanley Ramirez, SS
The only question about Hanley Ramirez is whether he will stay healthy. When in the lineup, his contribution at the plate and on the field is hard to beat. He will hit 31 in the offseason, so teams should be concerned about more injuries in the future, but a big payday is likely coming from a deep-pocketed club (maybe his current one). In 2013, Ramirez finished eighth in MVP voting despite playing only 86 games. Shortstops who hit like he does are rare, and he’s also clutch. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Ramirez hit .348 in 76 plate appearances in 2014. He closed the year hitting .283 with an .817 OPS.
3. Nelson Cruz, DH/OF
Power is in extremely short supply these days, and Nelson Cruz probably made himself a small fortune by hitting 40 HR and 32 2B with 108 RBIs in 2014. After fulfilling his one-year contract worth $8 million, Cruz will seek a deal for several years at a much higher rate going into the 2015 season at 34. Though teams may be concerned about a regression in the 2015 season and beyond — Cruz hit over 30 HR just once before, in 2009 — some front office will make the gamble to get his lethal bat in the lineup. They will also get a proven postseason performer who won ALCS MVP in 2009 and has 16 HR in 42 playoff games.
2. Jon Lester, LHP
With a record of 116-67 and 3.58 ERA, Jon Lester doesn’t have to make a case for his elite status. He did a great deal of that damage pitching in Fenway Park, a place known as a left-hander’s worst nightmare. Lester’s 2.46 ERA in 2014 was by far a career best, so he can make a case he’s getting stronger going into the 2015 season at 31. There is no other dominant lefty on the market, and he’s been one of the game’s most durable pitchers with over 30 starts per year since 2008. Then there are the World Series stats (3-0, 0.43 ERA). If Billy Beane thought a Lester rental was worth Yoenis Cespedes, there is no telling what he’ll fetch on the free agent market.
1. Max Scherzer, RHP
Though nearly the same age as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer has significantly less wear on his arm and is coming off two seasons when he was a combined 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA in 434.2 innings. Just one season removed from his 2013 Cy Young campaign, Max Scherzer is the epitome of power and durability in what his representatives could argue is his prime. Teams will have to drop nine figures over at least six years to get Scherzer on the payroll, but the contract will be his before the 2015 season begins. It is only a matter of where.