Price check on the muscle

WILL CROTHERS

After a memorable post-season in Major League Baseball, it’s back to the drawing board with 29 teams looking to get better and the San Francisco Giants looking to stay better.  For as much as fans argue about players being over or underpaid (usually the former), this is the prime time of year because they finally get to see what bids are out there for players’ services. There are solid crops of arms, legs, bats and gloves out there, and the cheque books are ready for the ink.

There certainly are some big names in the free agent crop, and with them many chances for boom or bust contracts. For some players, a marked pay raise after years in a rookie contract is in the prospects. For others, it’s extending three to five years of job security. Inevitably for some, it will be a finite string of last shots to play in the show.

On the pitching side, the trio of Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields represent the top signing options. All three could be aces in their respective new pitching staffs. If you check out online free agent trackers, you’ll notice almost all players are 28-years or older. The problem is that pitching longevity is such a risk nowadays. In this crop, what will give you three-four years of solid pitching will also mean overpaying for their performance at the end of a long-term contract. Teams don’t want to be saddled with an expensive long-term contract, but they might be forced to do so in order to benefit from the immediate production impact in their starting rotation. Scherzer previously turned down a six-year $144 million deal offered by the Tigers last spring and currently has a one year qualifying offer for $15.3 million. Shields, despite a tremendous year and an AL pennant with the Kansas City Royals, may bolt for the big markets. The 32-year-old may be thinking of maxing out on what might be his last multi-year deal. Lester will get a chance to return to the Red Sox after being traded as a rental to the Oakland A’s mid-season. The second tier of pitchers include Ervin Santana, Justin Masterson and Brandon McCarthy. Teams looking to beef up the bullpen will vie for the services of Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Sergio Romo, Rafael Soriano and Francisco Rodriguez.

Top position free agents include Hanley Ramirez (SS), Panda Pablo Sandoval (3B), and switch-hitters Victor Martinez (DH) and Melky Cabrera (LF). After a MLB-best 40 home runs last season, Nelson Cruz will also be in high demand. Similarly, Canadian catcher Russell Martin is on the market and will benefit from what is currently a weak position across the league. The Blue Jays are hoping to re-sign Cabrera to shore up their outfield, made more crucial with the departure of Colby Rasmus (for better or worse) in centre field. The Jays have also passed on making qualifying offers or declining to pick up options on closer Casey Janssen, Brandon Morrow, Sergio Santos and Dustin McGowan. As such,there will be plenty of spots in the 40-man roster up for grabs next season.

Wild cards will be the signing of Kenta Maeda, a 27-year-old right-hander out of Japan, and power hitting Cuban defector Yasmani Tomas.

The biggest signing by a new team so far this year was not even for a player, with former AL Manager of Year Joe Maddon moving from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Chicago Cubs. With the Cubs’ makeup resembling that of Tampa a few years ago, Maddon just may be the guy to make the Cubs good.

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