What does Miguel Cabrera have in common with Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and now Giancarlo Stanton, who just agreed to a $325 million blockbuster deal? Obviously, they are all Latinos. But they are also among the highest paid professionals in baseball.
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So, it made perfect sense when seven Hispanic players together with a total group of 12 free agents, all declined qualifying offers from their previous teams to test their value on the open market. When your talents are in demand and wealthy owners are willing to open their wallets, it’s a low-risk, high-yield scenario.
Veteran slugger Victor Martinez, who at age 35 produced career numbers last season, didn’t waste any time. The Venezuela native was seeking a four-year contract and got his wish to remain a Detroit Tiger. The total package is worth $68 million for Martinez, merely a designated hitter at this stage of his career. With that in mind, here is my list of the top 10 Latino free agents, including what organizations might be interested in their services:
10. Edinson Volquez
After being released by two teams and sinking to rock bottom, Volquez righted the ship last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Dominican posted a 13-7 record with a sparkling 3.04 ERA, and the Bucs would be wise to retain him. But the question remains whether Volquez, 31, will be loyal to the Pittsburgh coaching staff and accept a discounted deal, especially with A.J. Burnett now aboard. I believe the hard-throwing veteran can get a two-year, $16 million pact with any team outside the NL West, with the Atlanta Braves being a nice fit.
9. Alex Rios
Probably the biggest enigma in the free agent market, Rios may have to accept a deal somewhat south of his usual annual salary, just to regain his value. The Texas Rangers passed on the outfielder’s $14 million option, and injuries have been a recent problem. Approaching age 34, Rios still brings plenty of tools to the field, but his clubhouse presence has mixed reviews. I see the Puerto Rican agreeing to a one-year pact, possibly with the San Francisco Giants. The Kansas City Royals could also have a right field need for Rios, who has always been an American League guy.
8. Francisco Liriano
I’m sure Liriano’s former team, the Pirates, would spend more money to keep him over Volquez. But the opt-injured lefty wants a lengthy arrangement that will limit his options. Not all of Liriano’s mishaps have been arm-related, however, and he’s racked up a combined ERA of 3.20 over 325 innings during his two seasons in the Steel City. The Dominican also has excellent strikeout and ground ball ratio per game, which would even insure decent success on a windy day at Wrigley Field. That would give the Chicago Cubs something to think about, especially with their growing, Spanish-speaking roster. New skipper Joe Maddon might need an interpreter. My prediction: a three-year package worth $27 million.
7. Asdrubal Cabrera
There are at least a half dozen MLB teams looking for help at shortstop, which means even a mediocre one like Asdrubal Cabrera is a hot commodity. He is also a switch-hitter known to rake the ball, although that hasn’t happened much the last couple of years. On a more positive note, Cabrera has better range than Jed Lowrie, his older free agent rival. He’s also a better second baseman and a bit more versatile. At 29, the Venezuelan is still a durable, everyday player who could fetch a three-year, $30 million deal. He could end up in Oakland if Lowrie plays elsewhere, and the New York Mets have been trying to replace Ruben Tejada for years. But as I mentioned prior to the trade deadline last season, Cabrera would be a good double play partner for Robbie Cano in Seattle.
6. Ervin Santana
Free agency wasn’t the best experience for Santana last season, largely because he overestimated his worth. But the crafty, 32-year-old pitcher had some success as an Atlanta Brave, showing continued consistency after a rough 2012 campaign. A 10-year big league veteran, Santana is a middle-rotation workhorse worthy of a three-year contract in the $40 million range, and he would be wise not to expect more. Rumors have the Dominican linked to one of his old teams, the AL Champion Royals, and that’s where I’m guessing he’ll land. Had Santana stayed in Kansas City, he might be wearing a ring. But for now, he looks like a replacement for James “Big Game” Shields.
5. Melky Cabrera
Unlike the “other” Cabrera listed above, this is not Melky’s first rodeo as a free agent, and this time around he’s looking for a career payday. The colorful Dominican is one of those rare players who can hit with power to all fields, and seldom strikes out from either side of the plate. Cabrera, 30, also steals bases and plays all three outfield positions with skill. Rather than re-signing with the Toronto Blue Jays, I see Melky in a Baltimore Orioles jersey, or perhaps a return to Kansas City. The Seattle Mariners could also be in the hunt if Nelson Cruz can’t be lured to the great Northwest. The price tag: five years at $65 million.
4. Nelson Cruz
As the seemingly disgraced poster boy of the Biogenesis mess — next to A-Rod, of course — it’s clear that Cruz was a man on a mission last season for the Baltimore Orioles. At the bargain sum of $8 million, Nellie blasted 40 big flies to lead the major leagues, and had career numbers in six offensive categories. The 34-year-old Dominican still views himself as a decent defender in the outfield, but playing 89 games as a DH for Baltimore seemed to keep his legs fresh and injury-free. Does Cruz deserve a V-Mart-type deal? I think so, based on his performance over the last six years, three in which he was an AL All-Star. The Mariners will take the winning bid here in a four-year, $70 million package, and pretend that Nellie’s PED issues never existed.
3. Yasmany Tomas
There’s been a huge amount of hype surrounding Tomas, and he’s yet to play in a single major league game. The 6′- 1″, 230 pound Cuban defect does have five seasons under his belt with the Havana Industriales, however, and scouts have been drooling while observing his workouts in the Dominican Republic. Still, the 24-year-old Tomas is coming stateside with fewer credentials than Jose Abreu, and he will easily eclipse the record $72.5 million bonus banked by Boston Red Sox center fielder Rusney Castillo.
Don’t get me wrong. Tomas has five-tool talent and is scary good. The Giants and the Yankees see him as a potential third baseman, which points to his versatility. And to witness his strength is a jaw-dropping experience. With so many teams intrigued with this kid, his signing bonus will surely soar to at least $100 million over seven years. Strangely, the Philadelphia Phillies seem to be the frontrunners to pursue Tomas, even though an investment in Cuban pitcher Miguel Angel Gonzales has yet to bear fruit. The Chicago Cubs have also been named as a “mystery” team. But to be honest, my crystal ball is a bit foggy.
2. Pablo Sandoval
Although his play has always been solid during the regular season, Sandoval is best known for clutching up in October. The Panda’s .279/.324/.415 slash line last season was just a tick above average, and the power numbers have steadily declined over the years. But in his defense, the switch-hitting third baseman has always been reliable run producer who drives the ball to all fields. Defensively, Sandoval is sure-handed and athletic, and the leadership skills have always been impressive.
The New York Yankees have been lurking behind the black curtain for Sandoval’s services, perhaps waiting to top a final offer by the rival Boston Red Sox. But I doubt if Big Papi or the Steinbrenner clan can persuade the popular Panda to leave San Francisco, provided the Giants’ money is reasonably close. Six years at $100 million should do the trick. And at age 28, Sandoval will still have the opportunity to revisit the open market before calling it quits.
1. Hanley Ramirez
It shouldn’t be a shocker that Ramirez is the biggest prize on the market because he’s a legit superstar. The $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers was chump change for Hanley. As a career .300 hitter and a three-time All-Star, he deserves respect. But let’s be realistic. Ramirez will be 31 this month, and the aches and pains have been frequent for a while now. Cal Ripkin Jr. he is not. That’s why Hanley is willing to play other positions now besides shortstop. Third base is cool and even the outfield would be considered, all for the sake of his potent bat.
I don’t think any club is a perfect fit for Hanley Ramirez, but an AL team would be the best bet. The clean-cut image the Yankees maintain doesn’t seem appropriate for the flamboyant Dominican. That’s why a reunion with the Red Sox, the team that originally signed Ramirez, seems logical. Can you imagine, Hanley, Big Papi and Yeonis Cespedes in the same uniform? Priceless!