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May 21, 2024

MLB's top available free agents for 2013

By MIKE KANEN | October 25, 2012

As the eyes of baseball fans across the country fix their attention on San Francisco for the World Series this week between the Detroit Tigers and the host Giants, 28 other front offices have already begun to mull their offseason plans.

After all, just six days after the 2012 World Champion is crowned, eligible players can elect for free agency; and just six days after that, players must accept or decline any arbitration offers with their current clubs. Thus, with a World Series sweep, there could be money flowing as soon as November 3rd!

Though this year’s free agent class pales in comparison to last year’s — one that saw Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and a plethora of other perennial all-stars change hats — there are still past MVPs and Cy Young winners to choose from.

So let’s break down what to expect this winter.

Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers:

Hamilton is the preeminent player available this winter. He has been an all-star each of the last five years; he finished second in the Majors with 43 home runs this season (a career-high), and he has won an MVP award in 2010 when he led the American League in average, slugging, and OPS (on-base-plus-slugging-percentage).

Yet Hamilton does not figure to get close to the $200 million mark that was surpassed twice last offseason because of a couple of issues.

First, Hamilton has a well-known history with drugs; he was forced to leave the game with a crack addiction before coming back and becoming one of the game’s best stars. He’s also an injury-prone soon-to-be 32-year-old who is a better fit in leftfield than center at this point in his career.

And lastly, he badly faltered down the stretch this season, most glaringly in Texas’ final two games, during which Rangers team president Nolan Ryan attributed his struggles to his withdrawal from tobacco.

All things considered, Hamilton will find a nice, rewarding home, but it won’t be in a major market because of relapse concerns, and it probably won’t be in Texas. Instead, Hamilton heads to San Francisco to create a dangerous tandem with Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval.

Zack Greinke, RHP, Angels:

Greinke is a wild card like Hamilton. He’s a terrific pitcher—he won the Cy Young award in 2009 with a 2.16 ERA, and he has compiled 170+ innings in each of the last five seasons. He’s attractive not just for his pedigree, but also for his age; he’s just 29.

Like Hamilton though, Greinke will probably avoid major markets because he suffers from a social anxiety disorder that nearly forced him to quit baseball in 2006. His services will be in high-demand for teams that need an ace and may be under-the-radar, however.

Los Angeles could shell out some big money again this offseason to keep Greinke, but their bank account has to be running dry. Thus, he winds up in here in Baltimore.

Michael Bourn, OF, Braves:

One of the fastest centerfielders in the game today, Bourn is a three-time stolen base champ (he finished fourth this year with 42) and is a former all-star and gold-glover.

He may be one of the safest investments this offseason because of his steady performance: aside from swiping bags, Bourn has posted on-base percentages (OBP) ranging from .341-to.363 since 2009 and offers dynamic defense in center. He also posted his best Wins-Above-Replacement this year at 6.0, satisfying his sabermetric qualification.

The Braves would love to keep Bourn at the top of their order, but early rumblings suggest he’s headed to another NL East foe who will outbid them: Philadelphia.

BJ Upton, OF, Rays:

One thing is for sure about Upton: he’s not heading back to Tampa. And though he will have several suitors bidding his talents come the Winter Meetings, he is as high risk, high reward as any player on the market.

At times, Upton looks like he is among the elite; he’s capable of hitting balls out of any yard and making some of baseball’s best web gems. This past season, he narrowly missed joining the 30-homer, 30-stolen base club with 28 and 31, respectively.

But Upton’s lack of contact is alarming. He hasn’t eclipsed a .250 batting average since 2008 when he was only 23, and he set a career-high in strikeouts (169) and career-low OBP (.298) in 2012.

Based on their previous interest, my pick is Washington signs him to play alongside Mr. Harper.

Other free agents: Kyle Lohse, Melky Cabrera, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster, Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum, Anibal Sanchez, Francisco Liriano, Mike Napoli, Marco Scutaro, Kelly Johnson, Delmon Young, Torii Hunter, Ichiro Suzuki, Nick Swisher.

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