Baseball's annual free-for-all chase for eligible free agents is set to begin, with an above-average crop of veteran players due to be wined and dined by prospective suitors for their talents. Every position is well-represented in the Class of 2013, with several top-level pitchers and catchers available.
1. 2B Robinson Cano
Second basemen rarely have the skills and performance package that Cano can offer. An unquestioned standout for nearly a decade for the Yankees, regularly batting .300+ with 30+ HRs and 100+RBIs in addition to providing above-average defense. It's rumored he'll be seeking a long-term contract in excess of $300M, which would make him the highest-salaried player in history. It's doubtful if any team (even the Yankees) will submit an offer that big, but he will command (and get) a contract similar to those being paid to Pujols, Fielder, Votto and A-Rod. The best bets to secure his signature should be the Yankees, Rangers, Mariners, Nationals and Mets.
2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
Boston's productive lead-off man will be in demand due to his consistency despite injury issues in recent seasons. Not a big power hitter, Ellsbury is a gap hitter who is the reigning MLB stolen bases leader. Boston would love to keep him, but he's likely to get more money from the cash-flush Mariners. At age 30, the lure of returning close to home (he's a native of Oregon) may also be a determining factor. Also expected to be serious bidders are the Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs and Yankees.
3. C Brian McCann
Atlanta's veteran catcher and leader (and Georgia native) would certainly prefer to remain with the Braves, but his market price, age (30 in February) and recent injury issues may force him to go elsewhere. Having Evan Gattis waiting in the wings also reduces his return chances. A proven clutch hitter and outstanding handler of pitchers, McCann is likely to head to the AL due to the DH, which would lengthen his career. Expect the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Blue Jays to be his most enthusiastic suitors.
4. OF Shin-Soo Choo
His 2013 performance elevated his desirability due to his OBP (.423) and ability to spray the ball to all fields. Not a classic lead-off man, Choo nonetheless does a good job in that role, but would be more comfortable batting second. The Tigers are the early leaders for his services, but don't count out the Cubs, Rangers or Mets.
5. P Masahiro Tanaka
The latest Japanese mound phenom will benefit from the successes of Yu Darvish, Koji Uehara and other recent Asian pitchers, and at the relatively young age of 25, the battle for his signature will be fierce and expensive. Expect the usual big spenders such as the Dodgers, Yankees and Angels to top his shopping list.
6. P Ervin Santana
Kansas City would love to retain the soon-to-be 31-year old, but his asking price may be too steep. A solid No. 1 or 2 starter, Santana would be an excellent addition to a contending team looking to take the next step. The Yankees, Blue Jays, Nationals, Mariners and Royals will battle it out.
7. OF Carlos Beltran
Despite turning 37 in April, Beltran will be highly sought-after due to his consistent production throughout his career. A switch-hitter, Beltran will give a team 25+ HRs, middle-of-the-order power and his late-season success is one of baseball's all-time best. He could re-sign with St. Louis, but at this stage of his career, an AL team makes more sense. The Yankees, Royals, Orioles and Rangers should be the leaders.
8. P Ubaldo Jimenez
Soon to turn 30, Jimenez could parlay an excellent 2013 in Cleveland into a lucrative, long-term deal with a team seeking a possible No. 1 starter. Jimenez doesn't have a huge amount of innings in recent seasons which also helps his appeal. The Angels, Blue Jays, Yankees, Dodgers and Giants seem to be the best fits.
9. P Matt Garza
Despite a decent season split between the Cubs and Rangers, Garza has yet to establish himself as a staff ace, but there's no question that his potential is sky-high. Minor nagging injuries are a concern, but he appeared durable last season, and would be a fairly safe risk. Look for the Nationals, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Phillies to be major suitors.
10. C Carlos Ruiz
The past two seasons haven't been kind to Ruiz due to suspension and injury, but his offensive production (when healthy) has been equal to any catcher's over the past few seasons. His age (35 in January) will probably scare some teams away, but he'd be an almost perfect fit for an AL contender due to his DH skills. Best bets for his services should be the Yankees, Rangers, Rays and Blue Jays.
These appear to be the Top Ten free agents, but there are plenty of others available, including pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, Scott Kazmir, Joe Nathan, Scott Feldman, Paul Maholm and Phil Hughes. Available catchers and infielders are headed by Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta and A.J. Pierzynski. Sought-after OFs will include Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz, Marlon Byrd and Kendrys Morales.