1. Robinson Cano, Yankees, 2B: He's turned in his usual excellent offensive season but his case for the big bucks is hurt by 1) signing on with noted Yankees fan Jay Z who made "the Yankees hat more famous than a Yankee can," and quite possibly 2) hints that the nouveau riche Dodgers may not have the money once they (hopefully) lock up about-to-be-Cy-Young-winner Clayton Kershaw. Cano's best case is that the Yankees need him for branding since all their other many great players are in their upper 30s or early 40s. The Yankees will counter by saying he's not Derek Jeter or A-Rod (the good, pre-roids A-Rod, that is). The 24 home runs, 85 RBI and .305 batting average are right in line with what you'd expect, but Fielding Bible has him as only a plus-7 this year (tied for 10th best among second basemen), down from a plus-22 last year, which was second-best to the Cubs' Darwin Barney. That's important since one of the key selling points for Cano, 30, is that he's the best-hitting middle infielder in the game. Cano's a better player than Mark Teixeira ($180 million, eight years) or probably even Prince Fielder ($214 million, nine years) but considering no one expects him to go, youngish veteran agent Van Wagenen will need to pull one out of his bag of tricks to hit the magic $200 million mark.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox, CF: He's played a big role in a World Series title, put up a monster 2011 season (he led the AL with 364 total bases) and proven to be a dependable leadoff man and stellar center fielder. One AL exec cited B.J. Upton's $75.2 million, five-year deal as a baseline figure, but that may be optimistic management thinking. Ellsbury will surely shoot for nine figures, and many think he'll get it despite a few injuries (one was misdiagnosed, exacerbating the situation) and a question as to how close he'll ever get to the 2011 power numbers. The Red Sox are low-keying their interest but Jackie Bradley Jr. isn't proven as a major-league center fielder, so they'd be in the game at the right price. The Mariners, Cubs (with ex-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein), Blue Jays and many others could also be in the mix. The Yankees, who'd been hoping to get that payroll below $189 million, could be a wild card.
3. Shin-Soo Choo, Reds, OF: With 85 walks and a .412 on-base percentage, figures only behind teammate Joey Votto in the NL, some may believe he's a better leadoff man than Ellsbury -- though many execs prefer to see him as an excellent right fielder rather than a below average center fielder. He does just about everything well (16 steals, 17 home runs) but may be better suited for right field. The Mets have been expected to be in their pitching -- though they could also consider Ellsbury. The Rangers, who once tried for him, are another possibility.
4. Brian McCann, Braves, C: Offensive catchers are invaluable so there should be a feeding frenzy for this seven-time All-Star with a perennial .800-plus OPS. The Rangers, Cubs, Phillies and Yankees seem like possible players, with the Tigers and Nationals -- two more in a potentially big field -- who could make sense.
5. Matt Garza, Rangers, SP: He's gotten healthy in time to lead a less-than-glossy starting pitching market. Has proven successful in the AL East, Wrigley Field and The Ballpark at Arlington, so not many knocks from a competitive standpoint. He cost quite a haul in trade (Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards and more), so the fair assumption is he'll get quite a haul on the market.
6. Ervin Santana, Royals, SP: He's been everything, and more, for Kansas City following a career in Anaheim/Los Angeles that also wasn't without highlights. With no history of arm trouble, could potentially make a score to rival even Garza.
7. Hunter Pence, Giants, OF: He may look clumsy, but he can do a lot of things well, and he's a winner. The Giants would like him back.
8. Ricky Nolasco, Dodgers, SP: Oddly overlooked on free-agent lists, he's been a consistently good pitcher and double-digit winner throughout his career. Would surely love to stay with his hometown Dodgers, for whom he has started 5-1, and if they win a World Series, maybe he gets his wish.
9. Nelson Cruz, Rangers, RF: A lot of folks wondered aloud if he'll take a financial hit to match website wizard Melky Cabrera. But the reality is, he's a much better clubhouse guy with a much longer history of sustained success. Reality: he'll easily get a three-year deal even after his Biogenesis suspension, and may get four. Was on his way to perhaps his best year (27 home runs) when he took MLB's deal to sit the rest of the season, disappointing his teammates.
10. Tim Lincecum, Giants, SP: He's had a disappointing run the last two years from a statistical standpoint, but as one AL exec said, "he's better than a 4.5 ERA pitcher." On occasions, he's been terrific (see the 148-pitch no-hitter), and his pedigree in a thin starters market will draw significant interest, much more than most would think. Some may like him better as a bullpen piece, but he should still have plenty of hits as a starter.