Checking in on the top free agents for 2014

How are Robinson Cano and other pending free agents positioning themselves for this this offseason?
How are Robinson Cano and other pending free agents positioning themselves for this this offseason? (USATSI)

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Is it too soon to start thinking about the offseason? No, say fans of teams with little hope of contention in 2013 or those chronically preoccupied with the future!

So in the interest of wish-casting and or forgetting about what may be the miserable here and now, let's take a quick look at how the most notable pending free agents are faring and, by extension, positioning themselves on the market yet to take shape.

Before we begin, please note that we're excluding any players with any kind of contract option for 2014 -- i.e., the guys to follow will be free agents this offseason barring an in-season contract extension.

Now, in no particular order save for alphabetical, let's drop in on the 10 guys who figure to be grabbing all the headlines this winter ...

Carlos Beltran OF, Cardinals
By the 2014 season, Beltran will probably be best deployed as a DH, but he can still rake at a high level. Since joining the Cardinals prior to last season, he's authored a batting line of .278/.344/.500 with 45 homers in 207 games. As well, Beltran's been highly durable over that span. He'd be an ideal fit for an AL team who needs a productive DH (and a true pro) who can still wield the glove on occasion. Beltran will turn 37 next April.

Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees
Cano has a long track record of putting up excellent power numbers by up-the-middle standards, and the 2013 season is no exception thus far. The SLG is north of .500, and he's on pace for 39 homers. What will appeal to teams outside the Bronx is that Cano, for both 2013 and his entire career, owns a higher OPS on the road. So he's hardly a product of the short right-field porch in Yankee. To boot, Cano has also developed into a plus defender at second base.

Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Reds
Choo's walk year is going quite swimmingly, to say the least. At present, he owns a 148 OPS+, and he's second in the NL in times on base. While Choo is far from an optimal defensive center fielder, he's proved he can regularly man the position for a contender. As well, he's proved capable of manning the new position without disrupting his performance at the plate. Choo's been a quality player since 2008, and teams will take notice this offseason.

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Red Sox
In terms of positioning himself on the market, Ellsbury isn't quite doing what he needs to do. Last season, his numbers were down, and he was limited to just 74 games, largely because of a shoulder injury. This season, Ellsbury's hitting a middling .279/.347/.388 and has battled minor injuries. His 2011 season, when he led the majors in total bases, seems a long time ago. With that said, Ellsbury still profiles as a top-tier defensive center fielder, and that always has value. He's also a player whose uncertain market value might prompt the Red Sox to decline to make Ellsbury a qualifying offer (should they opt not to re-sign him during the season, of course). If that's the case, then signing Ellsbury wouldn't require his new team to sacrifice a high draft pick. He's a useful player, but he's not the MVP candidate he looked like two years ago.

Matt Garza, SP, Cubs
A thin market for free-agent starters should help Garza this winter. There's no ignoring Garza's not-insubstantial injury history -- he's been on the DL four times since 2008 and didn't make his 2013 debut until May 21 because of a lat strain -- but he's a solidly above-average starter when healthy. For his career, Garza has pitched to a 3.84 ERA (108 ERA+), 1.29 WHIP and 2.47 K/BB ratio across parts of eight major-league seasons, which is a good third-starter's profile. For all those durability concerns, Garza did average almost 200 innings per season from 2008 through 2011. If he stays healthy for the rest of 2013, he'll have suitors.

Curtis Granderson, OF, Yankees
The reality is that Granderson, because of injury, has played in just eight games this season and isn't expected to return to the Yankees' lineup until at least the late days of this month. With that said, Granderson's two most recent injuries are the result of being hit by pitches and not the kinds of maladies typically associated with an injury-prone player. That will be taken into account this winter. Granderson's very much stretched in center these days, and he'll always have platoon concerns. However, he can be a defensive asset at the corners, and he still tags right-handed pitching (29 homers and a .511 SLG vs. RHPs in 2012). Also worth noting is that the numbers suggest Granderson can put up strong numbers against the opposite side even outside of Yankee Stadium.

Phil Hughes, SP, Yankees
Hughes' two top selling points? His age and that fact that he pitches his home games in Yankee Stadium. He won't turn 27 until late this month, which means he's quite young by free-agent standards. Also, note his career home-road splits …

Hughes at home: 355 2/3 IP, 4.78 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2.68 K/BB
Hughes on the road: 345 IP, 4.07 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.75 K/BB

As for Hughes's struggles against the opposite side, for his career lefties are hitting .269/.343/.479 against him in the Bronx but a far more palatable .228/.302/.355 against him on the road. Get Hughes out of Yankee Stadium, and he may finally realize his potential. Teams know this.

Brian McCann, C, Braves
On the downside, McCann will be 30 before the 2014 season begins, and he's coming off both a disappointing 2012 season and major shoulder surgery. On the upside, he's hitting .253/.347/.506 this season with seven homers in 26 games. He's a six-time All-Star, so the track record is there. If he stays healthy for the balance of the season and puts up his customary numbers, he'll be in high demand. Although McCann's performance at the plate has slipped in recent days, on the whole it's been a nifty bounce-back thus far.

Mike Napoli, 1B/DH, Red Sox
Napoli's diseased hips are going to limit what kind of commitment a team is willing to make, but the numbers in 2013 are strong. Thus far, Napoli is hitting .267/.350/.478, and he ranks sixth in the AL in extra-base hits. As well, he's played in 62 of Boston's 63 games this season. What will also help Napoli's cause is that -- for all the balls he's banged off the Monster thus far -- he's actually hitting better on the road. And, as has been the case throughout his career, Napoli's not showing much in the way of a platoon weakness. Considering the uncertainty surrounding him last offseason, consider 2013 to be a rousing success.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox
"Salty" plays a premium position, is young by pending-free-agent standards (28) and is thus far having his best offensive season at the plate. As well, he's working on his third straight season with a SLG of at least .450, so the power is established. Saltalamacchia is in the midst of helping himself quite a bit. Moving forward, his 2013 BABIP of .391 will likely come back to earth a bit, but a switch-hitting catcher with pop will be in healthy demand. Can eclipse 1,000 innings behind the plate for the first time in his career?

Other notable pending free agents (without contract options for 2014): Bronson Arroyo, Reds; Grant Balfour, Athletics; A.J. Burnett, Pirates; Nelson Cruz, Rangers; Scott Feldman, Cubs; Corey Hart, Brewers; Josh Johnson, Blue Jays; Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees; Tim Lincecum, Giants; James Loney, Rays; Paul Maholm, Braves; Kendrys Morales, Mariners; Justin Morneau, Twins; Michael Morse, Mariners; Ricky Nolasco, Marlins; Hunter Pence, Giants; Chase Utley, Phillies; Kevin Youkilis, Yankees

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

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