There are some players in free agency who won’t get as much ink as the higher-end players. No matter where they end up, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and John Lackey will draw the most attention. But what about those middle- to low-tier free agents that figure to be in demand by many teams? Just because some players won’t receive $100 million contracts — or even $20 million — doesn’t mean they won’t be pursued hotly.
There are three players on the free agent market that I think will be pursued to the point where you might even consider them overpaid. Two of them likely won’t be a surprise to you, but the third name might cause you to do a double-take. Given his name is in the headline, I’m betting you already know who he is. Let’s run through the players.
Beltre, who will be 30 for most of the 2010 season, is a logical choice. While he won’t get a five-year, $64 million contract like he did with the Seattle Mariners his last foray into free agency, I’m not ruling out a package topping $20 million.
It may seem like a steep price, especially with Beltre coming off an off year, checking in with a .683 OPS in a career-low 111 games as a starter. However, his fielding remains tremendous and was worth $10.7 milion dollars according to Fangraphs this past year. This with a .683 OPS. He was worth $18.5 million in 2008, when he jacked 25 home runs and posted a .266/.327/.457 line. That’s tremendous value out of your third baseman.
Assuming that Beltre wants to win and will only sign with a team that considers themselves contenders, these are the teams I see potential fits with: Boston, Chicago White Sox, Houston, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle.
PROGNOSTICATION: St. Louis. I don’t buy that the team wants to hand David Freese a job. They’re going to have a bit of money to play with, and I don’t see Matt Holliday returning. They have to invest that money somewhere in order to contend, and I see the Cardinals as a dark-horse candidate that will leap forward and invest two years into Beltre. At that point, everyone will say “I didn’t see this team signing this player, but this makes crazy sense!” There’s always one every offseason.
With the Brewers’ trade for Carlos Gomez, Cameron will exit stage left. It comes at a bit of a surprise, considering how valuable Cameron has been over these last few years. As soon as I heard about the trade, my first thought was “who’s the lucky team that will get Cameron?”
I’ve long been a fan of Cameron. Even at age 37, he remains a tremendous defender and has settled in as a 20+ home run hitter. He’s gone a bit overlooked as he has only spent two years with a team that could be considered in the limelight: the Mets, from 2004-5. In addition, he’s had to deal with the cavernous Safeco Field and Petco Park for a large chunk of his career.
Teams in the hunt for Cameron number many, and much like I’m assuming with Beltre, Cameron will only be interested in those that consider themselves competitors. I’m thinking the list includes: Boston, Chicago (both teams), Cincinnati, Florida, New York Yankees, San Diego (only if Adrian Gonzalez is kept), San Francisco, St. Louis, Texas.
PROGNOSTICATION: New York Yankees. This makes a lot of sense to me. The Yankees have been linked to Cameron in the past, and there’s no denying his appeal: great defense, some pop in his bat that could be aided by the park, a short contract. Melky Cabrera figures to have a fine future as an above-average outfielder for a team, but Cameron would clearly be an upgrade. I’ll get some guff for this, but I’m not sold on Brett Gardner’s ability to start. A lot has been made about the Yankees’ desire to go younger, more athletic, things of that nature, but I can’t see New York ignoring Cameron. On a two-year deal, the Yankees can groom Austin Jackson on their schedule. Meanwhile, they get an athletic centerfielder who is one of the best in the game. It frees up Cabrera as a trade chip as well.
Much like Beltre and Cameron, I see a bigger market than most are projecting. Right now, Jacobs is technically still property of the Royals, although that will change shortly. Jacobs will head to arbitration with a $4 million price tag attached to him. No one will touch Jacobs at $4 million. He’s a butcher at first base and is fresh off a .228/.297/.401 showing.
That said, I think teams will go crazy for Jacobs on a one-year, $2 million deal or something thereabouts. He’s a perfect solution for a rebuilding team: entering his age 28 season, there is still a possibility everything clicks together for him. Even if he never tops a .300 OBP ever again, this is a guy who can crank out over 30 home runs if everything breaks right. I think a lot of his slump had to do with an adjustment to a new league, and he should rebound to his usual .260, 20+ home run ways… and there’s tremendous value in that.
Low-budget, uncompetitive or even competitive teams will be interested at some level. A list: Baltimore, Cleveland, Oakland, San Diego (sans Gonzalez), Texas, Toronto, Washington.
PROGNOSTICATION: Baltimore. The Orioles are entering a rebuilding year in every sense of the word. They need to bring along their young pitchers. Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz look like future stars, but they first have to get through a full major league season. Even while B-more was losing 90-plus games these last few years, they had an above-average offense to brighten their days. While the Orioles’ outfield triumvirate along with Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters should keep eyeballs on the team, this club has the potential to perform pretty poorly on offense. They currently have Ty Wigginton penciled into fulltime duty at third base, Cesar Izturis and his nonexistent bat at short and no easy calls at first or DH. Doesn’t Mike Jacobs make sense here? I think so.