will be the top free agent on the market this offseason. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
The Dodgers signed 26-year-old Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million contract on Monday. Their expectation is that the power-hitting Guerrero, who played shortstop in Cuba, can be their starting second baseman in 2014. The signing follows Los Angeles' triumph with fellow defector Yasiel Puig, who was signed last June, and should have clear repercussions on an increasingly compelling second base market this offseason.
The Dodgers intend to send Guerrero, who, like new White Sox first baseman and fellow Cuban Jose Abreu, defected earlier this year and established residence in Haiti, to winter ball, as they did with Puig. Guerrero might need a bit of minor league exposure before he is ready to be inserted in L.A.'s lineup, but general manager Ned Colletti said on Monday that Guerrero, who will turn 27 in December, would be in the majors, "if not right away then very, very soon thereafter," adding, "he's a big league player."
If that's the case -- and Guerrero's age and salary certainly paint him as a major league starter -- it means Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson was telling the truth earlier this month when he said his team was unlikely to pursue second baseman Robinson Cano, the top free agent on the market this winter. It also likely means the Dodgers won't pick up the $5.75 million option on incumbent second baseman Mark Ellis. With Tigers' second baseman Omar Infante also hitting the market and the Reds looking to trade Brandon Phillips, that significantly reduces Cano's leverage heading into his free agency, which likely increases his already excellent chances of re-signing with the Yankees, who list him among their top priorities this winter.
In addition to those teams, the Orioles are another contender that could use a second baseman now that Brian Roberts' contract has expired. The Reds could potentially move Billy Hamilton to second if they deal Phillips, but Hamilton hasn't played that position since rookie ball. Then again, Cincinnati may find the market for the 32-year-old Phillips, who is owed $50 million over the next four years, lacking. It's also worth keeping an eye on the Braves, who left Dan Uggla off their postseason roster but still owe him $26 million over the next two years, and the A's, who finished the season with a platoon of Eric Sogard and Alberto Callaspo at the keystone.
The Tigers are the only team in that bunch likely to take a series run at Cano. With the Dodgers out of the picture, Cano and Detroit are not a far-fetched pairing especially given that the Tigers once again fell tantalizingly short of their first championship since 1984. Eighty-four-year-old owner Mike Ilitch, a former Tigers farmhand who bought the team in 1992, has shown a willingness in recent years to open his impressive wallet in pursuit of the team's first title under his stewardship. Ilitch surprised everyone when he gave Prince Fielder
a nine-year, $214 million contract in January 2012, and Cano, who is reportedly looking for a contract even richer than that one, will find very few teams who can meet his expected price tag. Detroit may just be one that is willing and able to do so.