Alright, it’s time for my second annual Top 50 Free Agents list.
I used to rag on ESPN for being so far off on predictions, and then I tried it myself. My list, which came out on October 25th of last year, had 12 out of 50 correct. OK for a first try, I suppose. Steve Phillips was at 9 correct. It’s mostly a crapshoot to be honest.
Still, it’s great fun to try to piece together the free agent puzzle. I’ve been stewing over this thing for a couple days now, conferring with many excellent intelligent friends/bloggers. Thanks to all for the assistance. Without further ado, here’s the MLBTradeRumors.com Top 50 Free Agents list.
1. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Yankees. Cashman needs a #1 starter, and not many teams can take on this kind of risk for such a huge amount of money. I think he’s a Yankee all the way. Seattle stepping down only increases the chances.
2. Alfonso Soriano – Phillies. Pat Gillick might have some competition from the Mets, but the Phils seem serious about spending big-time money for another superstar level player. Soriano and Howard could provide a ton of Ks and home runs as a tandem.
3. Aramis Ramirez – Cubs. Sportswriters like to spew silly things about how Ramirez didn’t "carry the team" when Derrek Lee was out and how he’s lazy. Somehow I doubt these minor, partly made-up issues are on Jim Hendry’s mind as he negotiates with the 28 year-old third baseman. The contract could run as long as six years.
4. Barry Zito – Padres. We know the Padres aren’t particular fond of Scott Boras, but who really is? He might be the best bet for a long-term contract for a pitcher, and the Padres have over $30MM to play with this winter. Peavy/Young/Zito/Hensley looks mighty solid to me.
5. Barry Bonds – Giants. I don’t buy the "lack of interest" angle for a second. When a player gets on base 45% of the time, wants a one or two-year deal, and is poised to break a major record, many teams are going to inquire. We all know the negatives: former(?) ‘roid usage, the attitude, the age, the defense. But from a strictly baseball sense, the pros outweigh the cons by a long shot. I just can’t see the Giants letting him leave after all they’ve been through together.
6. Jason Schmidt – Mariners. After passing on Daisuke Matsuzaka, I think the Ms will pony up for perhaps the next best option. This is a team that had no problem handing $40MM to Jarrod Washburn. Schmidt is a risky long-term bet but so were Wash and Richie Sexson. Add in the much-mentioned fact that Schmidt hails from Washington state, and we have a match.
7. Roger Clemens – Astros. I think he is up for more, despite the steroid allegations and such. We could all do without the will he/won’t he drama this time though. The Red Sox will certainly give him a call as well, but the family arrangement with Houston is pretty sweet. Plus, a Carlos Lee signing could convince the Rocket to give it one more try.
8. Carlos Lee – Astros. Almost seems like a foregone conclusion. Tim Purpura has $30 million to burn, leaving room for one huge bat even if the two 40-something starters return. Lee lives on Drayton McLane’s ranch in the spare bedroom or something like that so that’s a factor I guess.
9. Gary Matthews Jr. – Cubs. And to think they placed him on waivers back in ’01. Plenty of clubs (White Sox, Angels) would like to add Matthews after his career year. While he’ll be 33 next year, Sarge Jr. plays a fine center field and will still be an above average hitter for his position even after some regression.
10. Tom Glavine – Mets. It’s either Mets or Braves, and the Mets make a lot more sense financially. The newspapers report that a deal could be close, although they have backed off recently.
11. Vicente Padilla – Mets. Minaya may crave a big-name addition to the rotation, but there are only so many to go around. He’ll be 29 next year, making him a younger free agent. Bring in Padilla, Sexson, Freel, Dmitri Young, and Ponson and you’ve got a head start on the All-DUI team. Francisco Liriano, Esteban Loaiza, B.J. Upton, and Rafael Furcal are not available, however. Wow DUIs are popular in baseball now that I think about it.
12. Frank Thomas – A’s. Reports indicate that Big Frank and the A’s are not too far from an agreement. An Adam Dunn trade could be the backup plan, but right now it looks like Thomas. We should be cautious not to count our chickens before they hatch, as Frank has a rep for chasing maximum dollars.
13. Ray Durham – Giants. The Giants have a lot of free cash, and Ray Ray is coming off his best year yet. Kevin Frandsen would be OK, but Durham would be much preferred.
14. Jim Edmonds – Cardinals. As the price of Edmonds is essentially $7 mil for one year, it’ll be hard to cut ties and decline that option. He redeemed himself in the playoffs somewhat.
15. Jose Guillen – Pirates. Not too many teams are in need of a right fielder, but the Bucs could be one if Xavier Nady plays first. Because he lost 2006 to injury, Guillen could provide an affordable power bat on a two-year deal.
16. Akinori Iwamura – Indians. The Phillies and Padres will be in hard on him as well. Iwamura could be one of the best bargains of the offseason. He could play mainly second base for the Tribe but his assistance could be needed on the left side of the infield.
17. Mike Mussina – Yankees. Moose hasn’t made much noise about fielding offers from other teams. I think he stays and tries to get that ring in New York.
18. Greg Maddux – Dodgers. Colletti would like to bring Maddux back; Mad Dog was excellent in 73 innings as a Dodger. He will probably take a one-year deal and is a lock for 200 innings.
19. Julio Lugo – Red Sox. Lugo’s time spent in L.A. hurt his stock, but he’s still the best free agent shortstop by a long shot. The Red Sox tried to trade for him this summer and I think they’ll snag him this winter. Other options include the Blue Jays or the Mets as a 2B.
20. Andy Pettitte – Astros. Pettitte could very well retire; we probably won’t know for a while. He posted a 2.80 ERA in the second half to salvage some value. There will be plenty of interest if he fields offers from other clubs.
21. Moises Alou – Orioles. Baltimore is a place where Mo can shift between left field and DH to preserve his knees. He led all free agents in slugging percentage but will have a hard time staying on the field.
22. Adam Kennedy – Cardinals. The scrappyish Kennedy could be one of the left-handed bats the Cards need. He’s more about defense, though, and that fits with Jocketty’s preference for contact pitchers. The Angels no longer need his services with Howie Kendrick ready.
23. Gil Meche – Blue Jays. Which free agent pitcher can the Jays lure out to Toronto? My guess is Meche. He’s among the top second tier options and will be just 28 next season.
24. Kei Igawa – Cubs. The Cubs have a clear need for a starter or two, and an increased focus on scouting Japan could lead to Jim Hendry to Igawa. Only one team can get Matsuzaka, after all. Igawa would be a fine consolation prize.
25. David Dellucci – Cardinals. An affordable, professional, left-handed hitter to play left field. Dellucci could also lead off if need be.
26. Ted Lilly – Giants. Lilly hopes to return to the Bay Area, but the A’s probably won’t have him. The Giants are in decent shape in the rotation but might prefer some stability instead of opening the season with Noah Lowry, Jonathan Sanchez, and Tim Lincecum at once.
27. Jeff Weaver – Cardinals. The Cards obviously need a starter or two. Probably two. Weaver had success under Dave Duncan after an awful stint with the Angels. Even with the World Series heroics and Scott Boras he could be a mild bargain.
28. Jeff Suppan – Orioles. Suppan is primed to be one of the worst signings this winter. I can see the Orioles making such a move. Someone will sign up for four years of mediocrity at $30MM+. As usual, the O’s will probably miss out on the first tier guys.
29. Luis Gonzalez – Giants. Gonzo is the godfather of Bruce Bochy’s childen or something like that, so it seems like a good fit. OK, I made that up. But he’s old and the Giants love that attribute in a player. Todd Linden may be worth a shot in right but the Giants need some kind of stability in left.
30. Juan Pierre – Dodgers. There aren’t that many center fielders out there, and I don’t see Colletti entering ’07 with some sort of Repko/Kemp/Drew thing in center. Pierre just seems like a Colletti-type signing to me.
31. Nomar Garciaparra – Angels. Even with a possible Miguel Tejada acquisition, Nomar can come in and play some first base or DH. He’d have some name value as an acquisition for the Halos.
32. Frank Catalanotto – Rangers. Not only is he a former Ranger, but they tried to trade for him this summer. Texas has pretty good outfield options in Nelson Cruz and Brad Wilkerson, but stability and flexibility with Catalanotto and Lofton makes sense.
33. Dave Roberts – Rockies. The Rox are going to find a center fielder one way or another. If they miss out on Gary Matthews Jr. Roberts looks like the guy. He’s a helpful player but may have a hard time playing above average CF defense and staying healthy.
34. Woody Williams – Cardinals. Williams has been rumored a future Astro for some time, but he also wouldn’t mind playing the Cards again. He’s very much Walt Jocketty’s type.
35. Trot Nixon – Phillies. The need for right fielders isn’t huge this year. Nixon’s power is declining but he’s a fine defender and popular player. This signing might hinge on a Burrell trade.
36. Kenny Lofton – Rangers. Someone has to fill the void in center if Matthews tests the market and finds something better. Why not a 48 year-old speedster? Should Matthews and Lee leave, the Rangers will have a lot of question marks in the outfield.
37. Adam Eaton – Mariners. The Mariners haven’t been afraid to make several major free agent signings in one offseason. Inking Washington natives Eaton and Schmidt would mean reliance on only one of Jake Woods and Cha Seung Baek, a good thing. The whole "hometown" reasoning usually isn’t a great guide to free agent destinations, but this makes sense.
38. Randy Wolf – Rangers. It’ll be a somewhat risky signing, but the Rangers need some starters. I only have them down for one free agent starter, so another would have to come via trade. I could see a major splash with a Young or Teixeira trade.
39. Mark Mulder – A’s. Mulder still has friends on the A’s and could be a bargain for Billy Beane on an incentive-based deal. The Orioles have been mentioned as well, but are probably the third choice after the A’s and Cards.
40. Kerry Wood – Cubs. Wood has a chance to be an important cog in the Chicago bullpen. Or he has a chance to flame out for the millionth time. He looked dominant out of the ‘pen for a brief stint in ’05. For once, no one is counting on him for anything. Except me. C’mon Kerry, you can do it. Pitch 60 innings.
41. Eric Gagne – Indians. Another wild card but possible bullpen ace. Mark Shapiro doesn’t have an aversion to Scott Boras, and the Tribe has a strong need for a closer. He can sign a Joe Borowski type or roll the dice on an incentive deal for Gagne. Or both, I suppose.
42. Jose Valentin – Reds. I’m having a hard time pinning down a good destination for Valentin. He had a career year after an awful ’05; he’ll be 37 next year. Perhaps if the Reds move Brandon Phillips to short they’ll sign Valentin for a decent price to play second.
43. Rich Aurilia – Cubs. Not sure where Aurilia could go and be a starter. Perhaps he could play third for the Dodgers, but they acquired Wilson Betemit last summer. He’d be a fine fit as the Cubs’ second baseman for a year, even with Ryan Theriot, Freddy Bynum, and Ronny Cedeno hanging around.
44. Mark DeRosa – Phillies. There have definitely been some whispers that DeRosa might jump to Philly if they offer him a starting job. How about third base? Don’t forget that he went to UPenn.
45. Joe Borowski – Giants. There aren’t a lot of decent closers out there. JoBo would be an OK addition in San Francisco. He’s one guy who could slide into middle relief without a tantrum if Armando Benitez shows something.
46. Aubrey Huff – Padres. Some concerned Pads fans think the team could try Russell Branyan as the starting 3B. I think Kevin Towers will go after some kind of "name" player, with Huff as a decent option. Remember, the Padres have quite a bit of money to burn.
47. Craig Wilson – Blue Jays. J.P. Ricciardi has liked Wilson for some time, and now he has a need for a LF or DH depending on where Adam Lind plays. I think Wilson would come out to Canada for a chance at a regular role and a team that respects his abilities. Mets could be a possibility as well.
48. Ryan Klesko – Tigers. In Klesko we have a patient left-handed slugger on the cheap who claims he’s finally healthy. Why not throw him a few mil to find out? Obviously the Tigers would do more than just sign Klesko; I think they’ll go the trade route this winter.
49. Kevin Millar – Orioles. Perhaps his second half resurgence saved him? I can’t find too many other teams where Millar could be mostly a regular, so he might sign for a little less to stay another year.
50. Miguel Batista – Rockies. One of the game’s best groundballers would work in the Colorado rotation. He wouldn’t be spectacular, but the Rockies need a starter or two. Three if they trade Jason Jennings.
As a disclaimer, I realize that plenty of teams with money to burn don’t have a proportionate amount of free agents from the Top 50. The Royals, Dodgers, White Sox, and Blue Jays seem particularly under-represented. What can I say – there are more than these 50 to go around, and the trade market should be lively. Also I suggest that you bust out a spreadsheet and give this a shot; it’s a challenge to make it all fit in a reasonable way.
Some pretty good players missed the cut for the Top 50. Guys like El Duque, Mike Stanton, Wes Helms, Mike Piazza, Gregg Zaun, Cliff Floyd, and Jamie Walker were on the fringes and could easily belong.