Free agency predictions and notes from your friends at THT
This year’s free agent class is a relatively polarizing one. There are a few top names readily available at each position, but the depth is extraordinarily shallow. When the best available third basemen is Adrian Beltre and the second best available third basemen is a dead heat between former no-walk White Sox Juan Uribe (which is not to say that he was not valuable for the Giants over 2009-10) and the relatively punchless modern Miguel Tejada (totally fizzled up?), the scarcity becomes obvious.
Scarcity is a horrible thing from a team’s budget perspective because it allows those top players to charge a market premium for their services (cough cough Carl Crawford cough cough), meaning that teams will ultimately get a poor return (cough cough the Angels made this mistake before with Torii Hunter cough cough). It also means relatively poor players who usually get low-risk/moderate-reward-type contracts get overpaid.
Accordingly, a handful of us thought it might be interesting to toss our two cents in on where we thought the top names would land. Despite the lack of firm science behind our picking methodology (though we have explained some of our more controversial picks below the chart), the picks are…
NAME Jeffrey Gross Rich. Barbieri Brad Johnson Vince Caramela Cliff Lee Nationals Yankees Yankees Rangers Carl Crawford Angels Angels Angels Red Sox Adrian Beltre Red Sox Rockies Angels Blue Jays Jayson Werth Red Sox Red Sox Red Sox Angels Adam Dunn Cubs Nationals White Sox White Sox Victor Martinez Tigers Rangers Tigers Tigers Rafael Soriano Diamondbacks Angels Angels White Sox Mariano Rivera Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees Paul Konerko White Sox Diamondbacks Cubs Diamondbacks Derek Jeter Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees Hiroki Kuroda Rangers Rangers Mets Rockies Jorge De La Rosa Pirates Brewers Rangers Nationals Carl Pavano Twins Braves Cardinals Mariners Jake Westbrook Rockies Cardinals Rockies Cardinals Aubrey Huff Giants Giants Giants Cubs Juan Uribe Giants Giants Dodgers Rangers Carlos Pena Nationals White Sox Nationals Rays Jim Thome Rays Twins Twins Athletics Vladimir Guerrero Rangers Tampa Bay White Sox White Sox Manny Ramirez White Sox White Sox Rangers Retires Magglio Ordonez Tigers Tigers Tigers Twins Orlando Hudson Cardinals Mets Cubs Cardinals Lance Berkman Rangers White Sox Rays Braves Derrek Lee Orioles Orioles Diamondbacks Orioles Andy Pettitte Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees Jon Garland Cardinals Mets Padres Twins Javier Vazquez Nationals Mariners Nationals Padres JJ Putz Angels Cardinals Nationals Red Sox Scott Downs Red Sox Braves Yankees Diamondbacks Hideki Matsui Mariners Mariners Unsigned Retires Brandon Webb Mariners White Sox Nationals Royals
Jeffrey Gross FA Notes:
Call me insane, but I think the Nationals have a good shot at Cliff Lee this offseason. They’ve got the money and they’ve got the future talent to attract Lee. There is no doubt in my mind that the Nationals will offer both the most money and the most years. The question is whether or not Lee will go to D.C. and become the instant superstar of the team or whether he, like Mark Teixeira before him, will ignore all that and turn to the dark side (Pinstripes!). If Lee goes to New York, he’ll have to compete with C.C. Sabathia, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, et. al for face time. Likewise, in Texas, he will be competing with Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and others for media glory. In D.C., however, especially with Strasburg out, it will just be him and Ryan Zimmerman. That is not to say that the Nationals do not have other talented players, but if Cliff Lee goes to the Nationals, he becomes the center of attention. That is hard for a guy with an ego to turn down if he’s also getting paid and placed on a team with some serious up-and-coming talent. Plus, if the Nationals get Javier Vazquez like I believe they will, and then Strasburg comes back, they’ll have the absolute, most disgustingly good rotation in baseball. That is assuming Javi bounces back after an offseason of rest.
Most of my other picks are pretty straightforward. I think the Diamondbacks get Rafael Soriano because he’ll be the best relief arm on the market and they are desperate for a reliable ninth inning guy. The Red Sox will get Scott Downs, in whom they’ve been interested for over a year, because they need a lefty reliever. The Rangers or Rockies will get Hiroki Kuroda if the Dodgers do not re-up him. Both teams seem desperate for a strong, reliable No. 2 type who gives you innings a la (or better than) Ryan Dempster. Uribe/Huff will go back to San Francisco, where Brian Sabean overvalues over-the-hill players.
The only other controversial picks I can foresee are Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, and my thoughts on Jayson Werth. With regard to Manny, he’s coming off a down season and will likely be looking to rebuild value circa the Beltre method. The White Sox are in serious need of a power bat and designated hitter, and their park is basically Coors (Field) light. Barring the Sox getting Adam Dunn (who will end up in Chicago this offseason, I just believe it will be the North Side of Chicago) or Lance Berkman (who I think is going to end up in the AL West playing for either the Rangers or A’s), Manny is probably going to sign a relatively cheap one-year deal with the Pale Hose.
Then there is Jayson Werth. I agree with most that he will likely end up on the Red Sox. However, do not be shocked if he ends up back in LA trolling the outfield for the Dodgers. The Dodgers are now Mannyless and Podsless, which means they probably need a left fielder—unless they are content with Reed Johnson, which is like conceding the season before it begins.
You can read more of my witty free agency notes by player by clicking here.
Brad Johnson FA Notes:
Two teams appear four times in my predictions: the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals. It’s natural that the Yankees should figure prominently; after all, three of the players on the list (Rivera, Pettitte and Jeter) might as well not be free agents. That brings us to the Nationals. What doesn’t show up in my prediction is the offer to Cliff Lee that I expect to be comparable with the Yankees and Rangers. The offer to Crawford, which I expect to be the best on the table, doesn’t show up either.
The Nationals will probably lose out on these top free agents thanks to half a decade of futility in the nation’s capital. Yet be sure the front office is working hard to improve the team. If they can add a few critical pieces, they see themselves as contenders in 2012 when Stephen Strasburg returns to the hill.
Having missed on the top talent, the Nationals will retrench and bid on players who could re-establish value. Carlos Peña should top that list. Rather than re-sign the much pricier Adam Dunn, Peña could probably be brought in on the cheap. He should provide fairly similar value to Dunn, thanks to robust on-base abilities, good power, and a much steadier glove than the brick-mitted Dunn. Moving to the senior circuit should also help his cause.
J.J. Putz represents 2011’s Matt Capps. Down the stretch in 2010, closer Drew Storen appeared more like a setup man than a true closer. Bringing in Putz allows the Nationals to take some leverage off Storen. A trade deadline swap to a contender could bring in another useful piece like Wilson Ramos. They will be aiming for a starting pitcher prospect this time around.
The final two pieces, Javier Vazquez and Brandon Webb, are pure upside gambles of the Chien-Ming Wang variety. Many doubt Webb will contribute to any team in 2011. For around $1 million the Nationals could endear Webb to the training staff while hoping to squeeze a few odd innings out of him. A team friendly option(s) for 2012 and/or 2013 would be the Nationals’ motivation. Vazquez will be brought in purely to munch innings in the division where he put together Cy Young performance. If he can regain his previous form, he could be packaged with Putz to improve the return on that trade.
Vincent Caramela FA Notes:
Looking at the Cliff Lee situation, I have a feeling the Rangers will be aggressive in re-acquiring his services. The Yankees seem to be the favorites by default to land Lee. Last offseason there was some talk about the Yankees reducing payroll; that didn’t quite happen, but I do get this feeling that the Yanks will be serious about bringing their payroll below $200 million. This should take them out of the Lee sweepstakes since the Derek Jeter situation may be a bit more sticky than currently reported.
I wanted to pencil in Adrian Beltre as a Ranger since I see them moving Michael Young to the DH spot, but it’s hard to imagine the Rangers cranking out two big long-term deals this offseason. With that said, I think the Rangers grab Uribe short-term to fill the third baseman/utility spot, and with the Jays releasing Encarnacion and freeing up some payroll, I think Beltre would be a good fit and should get his five years in Toronto.
Addressing this huge influx of DH free agents, Adam Dunn will be tricky since he seems to be adamant about playing the field. If Konerko goes then I see the White Sox biting. Vlad Guerrero, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Hideki Matsui are limited to AL-only discussion; Thome and Guerrero seem content as one year leases and should find work. I can’t imagine any team being excited by the idea of signing Matsui as a DH clog so he could retire, and with all the talk of “old guy discounts” I have a hard time seeing Manny take a huge pay cut. He could very well be another candidate to walk away from baseball next season.