Talented group to hit free-agent market this offseason
Hot Stove will be burning bright as some of game's biggest stars seek new deals
It's never too early to think about next year's rosters.
Even contending Major League Baseball teams are going to have decisions to make once their regular seasons or postseasons end, and there's no doubt that general managers are already looking at the free-agent boards and contract sheets and crunching the numbers to determine what kind of playing field they'll be presented with when the winter rolls around.
With that in mind, here are nine potential 2014 free agents, an estimated top of the class to theoretically set next year's market and get the Hot Stove season fired up.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: Jay-Z's client figures to be the most sought-after free agent on the board. Cano is a perennial All-Star in the midst of a typically prolific offensive season, but he's also going to be 31 years old on Oct. 22, so it remains to be seen how the Yankees will want to operate here. Regardless, Cano figures to fetch at least five years and well over $100 million on the market.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox: Ellsbury was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2011 and the victim of a lost season because of injury last year. He has bounced back big-time in what was until a recent foot injury a healthy, rejuvenated walk year, proving to be the on-base, speedy, high-average threat everyone expected him to be. If he's priced too high to stay in Boston, Ellsbury might have a suitor in the Mariners, since Ellsbury, who just turned 30, grew up in nearby Oregon and played college ball at Oregon State.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Reds: The Reds got him for Drew Stubbs prior to this season knowing they'd have only one guaranteed year out of him. They figured it was worth the risk, that the five-tool package Choo offers could get them into the World Series. And it still might. But Choo, 31 and represented by Scott Boras, will surely be looking for a big multiyear deal after putting up another excellent all-around season.
Curtis Granderson, OF, Yankees: It has been a tough year for Granderson, who has never quite got to show his talents on the field because of freak injuries. His resume, when healthy, speaks for itself, however. Granderson hit more than 40 homers and drove in more than 100 runs in 2011 and '12, and he can still play some outfield defense at the age of 32. He seems like a shoo-in to get at least a three-year deal.
Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals: He'll be 37 in April, but he still has some thunder in his bat. However, with slightly diminished offensive numbers this year, one has to wonder if he will get more than a two-year deal.
Mike Napoli, 1B/DH, Red Sox: Napoli was on the cusp of signing a big multiyear deal with the Red Sox before a degenerative hip condition was discovered and knocked him down to a one-year pact. After a solid season that will end with a career-high RBI total and might end with a World Series title, we'll see if Boston or some other team reconsiders a longer term on a new contract.
Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants: The man they call "The Freak" is the biggest enigma of the big-name free agents. Teams have to wonder who they'll get. Will it be the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner or the guy who was relegated to bullpen duty while his Giants won their second World Series ring? Will it be the guy who pitched a no-hitter this year despite a diminished fastball, or will he continue to fall on the velocity scale and become ineffective? Tough call, but it will sure be intriguing to see where he lands -- and for how many years and dollars.
Brian McCann, C, Braves: McCann rebounded from injury to reassert himself as one of the premier offensive catchers in the game. The seven-time All-Star is still young -- he doesn't turn 30 until April. That could add up to a nice payday, and it might be in Atlanta. It would be strange to see him in any other uniform, frankly.
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Indians: Talk about rejuvenation. It looked like this guy might just fade away into mediocrity, but in his past 20 starts, Jimenez has pitched to a 2.52 ERA. In fact, Jimenez's ERA is 1.83 over his past 10 starts and 1.57 across his past five. For the season, Jimenez has posted a career-best rate of 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Others to watch: Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies; Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C; Red Sox; A.J. Pierzynski, C, Rangers; James Loney, 1B, Rays; Justin Morneau, 1B, Pirates; Michael Morse, 1B, Orioles; Mark Reynolds, 1B, Yankees; Kendrys Morales, 1B, Mariners; Stephen Drew, SS, Red Sox; Jhonny Peralta, SS, Tigers; Michael Young, 3B, Dodgers; Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers; Marlon Byrd, OF, Pirates; Nate McLouth, OF, Orioles; David Murphy, OF, Rangers; Hunter Pence, OF, Giants; Bronson Arroyo, RHP, Reds; A.J. Burnett, RHP, Pirates; Bartolo Colon, RHP, A's; Scott Feldman, RHP, Orioles; Matt Garza, RHP, Rangers; Jason Hammel, RHP, Orioles; Dan Haren, RHP, Nationals; Tim Hudson, RHP, Braves; Phil Hughes, RHP, Yankees; Josh Johnson, RHP, Blue Jays; Scott Kazmir, LHP, Indians; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Yankees; Paul Maholm, LHP, Braves; Ricky Nolasco, RHP, Dodgers; Ervin Santana, RHP, Royals; Jason Vargas, LHP, Angels; Edinson Volquez, RHP, Dodgers; Grant Balfour, RHP, A's; Joaquin Benoit, RHP, Tigers; Kevin Gregg, RHP, Cubs; Fernando Rodney, RHP, Rays.