Is your favorite baseball team in need of a stud free-agent hitter? Then I have bad news for you because there's not much left out there. Here's a look at the top hitters remaining and how they might affect MLB futures odds next season.
The top four free-agent position players have been signed. Detroit re-signed designated hitter Victor Martinez. Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval and Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez both landed in Boston in a stunning package deal that greatly shortened Boston's AL pennant and World Series odds at sportsbooks. Pirates catcher Russell Martin was expected to sign with the Cubs, but Toronto swooped in at the last minute. Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas, who could be the next Jose Abreu, just signed with Arizona. Here is the best of what's left in free agency, in no particular order.
Nelson Cruz, Outfielder/Designated Hitter
If you find any "expert" list of the top position players left, Cruz won't be that high even though he hit .270 with a major-league leading 40 home runs as well as 108 RBIs (third in American League) last season for Baltimore. Why is that? Cruz is a terrible defensive player so that all but rules out a National League team signing him. He needs to be at DH. Also, Cruz will be 35 in July and has a history of PED use. He has been suspended once already. Finally, Cruz hasn't exactly been durable. Last season he played more than 130 games for just the second time since 2009. And those dingers and RBIs were both by far career highs. Baltimore does want him back, but at a shorter contract and at less money than Cruz wants. It would seem his options are down to the Orioles, Blue Jays or Mariners.
MLB pick: Cruz heads to Seattle, and the M 's get a futures boost on MLB odds.
Nick Markakis, Outfielder
Here's another Oriole from last year. Baltimore didn't make him a qualifying offer, meaning no compensation is tied to Markakis. He looked like a blossoming superstar from 2007-09 but has regressed since then. Markakis has been durable, however, and hit .276 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs last season in 155 games. He's only 31 and a very good defensive player. The Orioles also have talked about bringing him back, but Markakis has been linked with at least a half-dozen teams. It somewhat depends on which team signs Melky Cabrera or Torii Hunter or a few other free-agent outfielders.
MLB pick: He returns to Baltimore.
Chase Headley, Third Baseman
With Sandoval and Ramirez gone, Headley is clearly the top option available at the hot corner. This guy was a monster in 2012 with San Diego in hitting .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBIs. That clearly was a fluke. In 2013 those numbers dropped to .250/13/50. Last season he started the year with San Diego and batted just .229 with seven homers and 32 RBIs in 77 games. Headley was a bit better after a trade to the Yankees, batting .262 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 191 at-bats. This looks to be a two-team race for Headley between the Bombers, who don't believe Alex Rodriguez can play third base (if he's even around), or San Francisco. The Giants obviously need to replace Sandoval.
MLB pick: Headley returns to the Bronx, which alone certainly won't close the gap at sportsbooks between the Yankees and Red Sox.
Melky Cabrera, Outfielder
Cabrera might have been the NL batting champion in 2012 with the Giants, but he was suspended 50 games for PED use. Thus the Toronto Blue Jays got him on a pretty team-friendly two-year deal in 2013. Injuries are a problem for this guy. He was limited to 88 games in '13 and then 139 last year. He did hit a very nice .301 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs for Toronto, which gave him a qualifying offer. Cabrera rejected it, but that means draft-pick compensation is tied to him. Cabrera is a switch hitter, a huge plus, and is only 30. Toronto still wants to bring him back but likely will have top competition from the White Sox and Orioles.
MLB pick: Cabrera goes to Chicago, which could be an AL Central contender on MLB odds next year after already adding DH Adam LaRoche.