MLB free agency: Position player guide, part 2

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

A buyer's guide to the best players on the market, part 2

Carlos Beltran, Outfield

Carlos Beltran just completed his 16th season in the majors, and while the 36-year-old slugger won't be looking at the same money (or years) as Choo or Ellsbury, teams will find Beltran attractive for the same reason they have in the past: He's a slugger. Beltran has a career 122 OPS+ and has averaged 28 home runs per 162 games. In the past two seasons with the Cardinals, Beltran has hit 56 home runs and has a 128 OPS+, so he has yet to concede much to age, at least at the plate. While he's no longer the 29-year-old who hit 41 home runs with the Mets, Beltran has managed to stay healthy for the past two seasons and have a huge impact offensively.

Beltran has a reputation for being-injury prone, but he's now at the age where that's built into the expectations when signing an older player. Beltran would be an ideal candidate for an American League team that needs outfield help and a designated hitter, since he's not as sharp defensively (DRS has Beltran at -6 this season) as he used to be.

Brian McCann, Catcher

Brian McCann has spent the past nine seasons behind the plate for the Braves, and now that he's a free agent he'll be handsomely rewarded for being the best player in a very scarce catchers' market. McCann has pieced together a solid career over his tenure, but if rumors of his seeking a seven-year deal north of $100 million are accurate, it's a lot of money for a player that will be 30 next season and has already caught over a thousand games.

McCann gained a reputation as the sheriff of baseball this season as he attempted to enforce every unspoken rule in the hypothetical book, but he's also a big left-handed bat who does a great job managing pitching staffs and with pitch-framing. McCann is a career .277/.350/.473 hitter who does better against righties (.285/.362/.495 versus .259/.320/.424 against southpaws, including .234/.271/.379 the last two seasons); since 2008 he's been good for 20-plus home runs per season with virtually identical home and away splits. Though it's hardest to judge the effect of his catching skills, Baseball Prospectus's Max Marchi estimated that at the start of the 2013 season, McCann's framing had skills saved the Braves almost 125 runs over the course of five seasons. Like Beltran, McCann would be a good fit for the American League so that his bat can be in the lineup on days when he's not catching.

Since World War II, just 23 catchers have caught more than 800 games, or about five seasons-worth, after their age-30 seasons. Several of them had trouble contributing at a high level:

Player

G

From

To

Age

BA

OBP

SLG

WAR

Carlton Fisk

1643

1979

1993

31-45

.261

.329

.441

33.7

Bob Boone

1475

1979

1990

31-42

.247

.308

.330

17.1

Brad Ausmus

1208

2000

2010

31-41

.244

.319

.326

4.5

Jorge Posada

1105

2003

2011

31-39

.277

.377

.480

25.8

Elston Howard

1072

1960

1968

31-39

.272

.324

.422

21.7

Tony Pena

1071

1988

1997

31-40

.242

.296

.328

3.4

Ivan Rodriguez

1064

2003

2011

31-39

.285

.322

.428

17.9

Rick Dempsey

1055

1981

1992

31-42

.226

.321

.353

13.6

Walker Cooper

1036

1946

1957

31-42

.279

.330

.473

19.9

Ernie Whitt

1010

1983

1991

31-39

.251

.331

.422

17.3

Jason Varitek

993

2003

2011

31-39

.252

.344

.440

17.6

Mike Piazza

931

2000

2007

31-38

.285

.360

.512

17.7

Smoky Burgess

928

1958

1967

31-40

.291

.353

.435

17.0

Yogi Berra

920

1956

1965

31-40

.271

.340

.466

22.1

Gary Carter

888

1985

1992

31-38

.246

.318

.401

14.3

Benito Santiago

868

1996

2005

31-40

.265

.312

.422

9.4

Sherm Lollar

868

1956

1963

31-38

.269

.354

.407

17.0

Lance Parrish

842

1987

1995

31-39

.236

.307

.396

9.6

Jim Sundberg

834

1982

1989

31-38

.232

.308

.347

10.9

Jason Kendall

833

2005

2010

31-36

.260

.333

.318

10.8

John Roseboro

824

1964

1970

31-37

.257

.329

.347

12.0

Terry Steinbach

813

1993

1999

31-37

.270

.327

.438

14.8

Gregg Zaun

803

2002

2010

31-39

.251

.344

.391

11.0

Given McCann's rumored price-tag, teams will undoubtedly expect to receive more out of his next five-plus years than (say) Benito Santiago's .265/.312/.422, but when you project the declining years of a hitter who has averaged .262/.343/.453 over the last five seasons, that's probably not an unreasonable expectation. Given that the average major league catcher hit just .245/.310/.388 this year, teams would probably be happy to receive even that much whether it comes at a high price or not.

Nelson Cruz (Thearon W. Henderson)

Nelson Cruz, Outfield

The Rangers extended the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz, though it seems that he'll be looking for a much bigger deal on the open market. Cruz could be a hard sell for teams this offseason, however. He's now 33, his defense in the outfield has diminished, and he's fresh off of a 50-game Biogenesis suspension. Teams seem to have an awfully short memory when it comes to the PEDs suspensions, but it's fresh enough that it could cost him some money.

Since becoming a regular in 2009, Cruz has hit .272/.331/.842 and averaged 27 home runs. While his bat, especially when it comes to power hitting, is sharp, there are concerns about his long-term ability in the outfield. Cruz has been worth on average just 1.2 WAR in the past three seasons, and a lot of that is due to his defensive shortcomings. He also has had a fairly severe home-road split in that time, hitting .296/.359/.573 at home versus .248/.303/.449 on the road. A defensive liability with a .932 OPS is one thing; one with a .752 OPS is quite another (and isn't even much of a DH). Add in the threat of a lost draft pick and Cruz might have a hard time finding a market this winter.

Mike Napoli, First Base

Last offseason, Napoli and the Red Sox reached a three-year, $39 million deal. However, after a physical revealed a degenerative issue in both hips, the parties renegotiated an incentive-laden one-year, $5 million deal. The hips didn't slow Napoli down, and he earned the full $8 million in incentives, bringing his total payday to $13 million for the season. Now that he's entering free agency again, it would be surprising if the Red Sox didn't try to work out a deal to keep him on the roster for next season, but now that his injury issues are well-documented, it certainly hinders his negotiating power.

Napoli is one of the best right-handed power bats in the game; his career ISO is .243, and in the past three seasons, Napoli hit .268/.371/.523 and has averaged 26 home runs each season. Though Napoli was originally a catcher, he's adjusted exceptionally well defensively to first place, and according to DRS, his glove saved the Red Sox 10 runs this season. While Napoli has kept his walk rate consistent, his 32.4 strikeout percentage this season may augur diminished productivity at the plate in future years: Napoli had roughly the same strikeout rate in 2012 that he did this year. In the former season he hit .227, whereas this year he hit .259. The difference, which also may be the difference between Napoli being a good run-producer for his position rather than a placeholder, was batting average on balls in play. Last year, Napoli hit .273 on balls in play. This year it was .367. Given that high strikeout rate, Napoli is putting tremendous pressure on himself to hit safely whenever he puts the bat on the ball, and there's no guarantee that he'll do that.

During the postseason, it's been well documented that Napoli abhors clothing, particularly shirts, so teams that are considering Napoli should also take a close look into the public nudity laws that govern the jurisdiction he will be playing in.


Curtis Granderson (Greg Fiume)

The Other Guys

One thing that really sticks out about this free-agent class are the awfully weak corner pieces. Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli, and Justin Morneau are the best options at first, and then there's a big drop-off. James Loney, who had one of the best seasons of his career (though one tempered by his trademark peaks and valleys), may be good for a team looking for a one-year option and Lyle Overbay showed some signs of life with the Yankees this year, at least early on.

Several teams could use an upgrade at third base, but considering that the average age of third baseman free agents is 35, teams may have to settle for players like Eric Chavez and Placido Polanco, who are 36 and 38 respectively. Chavez has at least hit the last two seasons, whereas Polanco, who has hit .279/.328/.358 over the last five seasons, shows every sign of being done. The thin market at third could mean another decent paycheck for Kevin Youkilis, who earned $36.5 million over the past three seasons despite playing just 150 games total (even if physical problems might have permanently ruined him), or Mark Reynolds, who was designated for assignment by the Indians and picked up by the Yankees in August.

There are a lot of outfielders available this season. In addition to those mentioned above, Curtis Granderson, who has averaged 29 home runs per season in four years with the Yankees, will garner a lot of interest, though that may be cooled somewhat by his receiving a qualifying offer. For teams that miss out on the top free agents or don't want to break the bank, there were plenty of second-tier options this season, including Jason Kubel, Chris Young, Rajai Davis, and Mike Morse. And for teams that like their outfielders aged longer than some of the best bourbons, Raul Ibanez is available (and even hit 29 home runs last season).

While Jarrod Saltalamacchia won't command the same caliber of deal that McCann will, he's the next-best option for a team that needs depth at catcher, particularly since he was not extended a qualifying offer by the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia enters free agency after one of the best seasons of his career; he hit .273/.338/.466, though he showed a decline in power hitting just 14 home runs. There are holes in his game, especially when it comes to hitting against lefties, but the lack of bats at the position and the lack of a draft-pick penalty means that he may beat McCann off the market.

If you want to keep up on the whereabouts and contract status of this year's free agent class, make sure to check out SBNation's Free Agent Tracker.

More from SB Nation MLB:

A buyer's guide to free agent position players

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Leyland’s legacy: Changing the baseball culture in Detroit

How to fix the: Twins | Marlins | Astros | Cubs

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