An Early Look At The 2011-12 Free Agent Class

If this winter’s class of free agents intrigued you, just wait until next year. Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth will be distant memories when Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and, potentially, C.C. Sabathia hit the open market this November.

Pujols did not reach an agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals last week, which means the sides stopped negotiating until after the season, when the Cardinals will have to bid against other interested teams. Not long before the Pujols negotiations ended, C.C. Sabathia declined to say definitively that he won’t opt out of his contract and the chances of Sabathia hitting free agency have never seemed better.

If Sabathia – arguably the top left-handed pitcher in the game – and Pujols – probably the best hitter in the game – hit free agency along with Fielder, it would be one of the most potent combinations the free agent market has seen in a long while. Sabathia has averaged 20 wins, 234 innings and 197 strikeouts since arriving in baseball's toughest division two winters ago and Pujols has averaged 41 home runs, a .331 batting average and a .426 on-base percentage since arriving in the majors a decade ago, so few free agent classes compare.

Lee, Crawford and Werth led this offseason’s free agent class; the 2009-10 winter featured Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and John Lackey; Sabathia himself joined current teammate Mark Teixeira in free agency after the 2008 season and Alex Rodriguez and Torii Hunter were available the offseason before that. 

All of those players were considered difference makers worthy of tens of millions of dollars when they hit free agency, but to find a free agent class with as much star power as Fielder, Sabathia and Pujols, we have to go back to the 2000-01 offseason, when a 28-year-old Manny Ramirez hit free agency alongside A-Rod, who was just 25 at the time.

It’s not often that two of the game’s top sluggers join a legitimate ace on the free agent market, and that’s what MLB owners have to look forward to after the coming season. It’s not just Fielder, Sabathia and Pujols, either.

Make no mistake – it’s a top-heavy class without much starting pitching or many middle-of-the-order hitters other than Fielder and Pujols. Prospective free agents Rickie Weeks and Jose Bautista signed extensions and Adrian Gonzalez will do the same in April, so those power bats are off the market.

Kelly Johnson, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins highlight a middle infield class that includes a number of capable second basemen and Carlos Beltran, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham are among the top outfielders who will become available.

Yu Darvish, the 24-year-old right-hander who has dominated hitters in Japan and expressed interest in pitching in MLB, could join Sabathia in the class of available starters. Left-handers Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson will also hit free agency, but the real depth is in the bullpen.

Shutdown relievers Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Ryan Franklin, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Rauch, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Koji Uehara and Jose Valverde could all hit free agency next offseason in what would be the most impressive relief class in recent memory.

None of those closers will provide as much intrigue as Pujols, who will hit free agency under unique circumstances. He doesn’t compare well with current players other than Rodriguez and even A-Rod is an imperfect point of reference for Pujols, who has better rate stats, but less impressive counting stats than Rodriguez did when he signed his record-breaking ten-year, $275MM contract with the Yankees.

Baseball-Reference lists Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez and Juan Gonzalez as similar batters to Pujols through age 30. Seven Hall of Famers fill out the top ten list of Pujols’ most statistically comparable players, so he is in select company. Not only is the nine-time All-Star and two-time defending NL home run champion one of the best players of his generation, he's one of the best players of all time.

Pujols’ numbers compare favorably with the ones that inner-circle Hall of Famers like Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron had accumulated at similar points in their careers. Agent Dan Lozano won’t mention the old timers’ modest contracts in negotiations with interested teams, though he’ll likely justify his client’s asking price by pointing out just how rare hitters like Pujols really are.

There are top free agents every year, but players like Fielder and Sabathia aren’t out there every winter. And if Pujols has a typical year in 2011? He and Lozano will be able to argue convincingly that players of Pujols' caliber are special talents and deserved to be paid in accordance with their place in history.


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67 Responses to An Early Look At The 2011-12 Free Agent Class Leave a Reply

  1. Not sure I would call Rauch a shut down reliever :)

    Other then that, it is a solid relief group.

    • vonhayesdays 4 years ago

      not sure id call ryan franklin anything

      • Ferrariman 4 years ago

        his beard strikes fear into hitters.

        • NYBravosFan10 4 years ago

          the only people that ryan franklin strikes fear into are his teammates and fans

  2. coolstorybro222 4 years ago

    the braves NEED to go after Dejesus. He can do every position in the outfield.

    • They may not even need him, if Schafer lives up to his potential. Also, he could very easily be a Type A free agent, meaning the Braves would have to give up their 1st round pick for him.

      Let’s wait a year and see how this all unfolds, eh??

      -C

      • j6takish 4 years ago

        DDJ is a solid player who probably isn’t going to get the attention he deserves. He’s not a superstar but he’s a lock to be a 2-3 win player with good defense. I was really hoping the Tigers would have gotten in on him this past offseason, but expecting a good trade out of Dumbrowski may have been asking too much

      • craigkimbrelfan 4 years ago

        I’m really looking forward to seeing how Schafer pans out. He had an awesome start back in 09′ then went to crap when he hurt his wrist. Of course he’s been pretty much non-existent since. This is the first healthy year since and I like his chances to become effective again.

      • craigkimbrelfan 4 years ago

        I’m really looking forward to seeing how Schafer pans out as well. He had an awesome start to the 09′ year before the injury. Of course, everything went to crap for all of 2010 afterwards. I think he can be effective, considering this will be mark the first healthy season in a couple of years.

      • coolstorybro222 4 years ago

        Unless there’s another Bryce Harper stewing in the college baseball system, I don’t really see the braves shedding tears over losing a draft pick, besides Schafer is in Triple A at the beginning of the year.

  3. Rauch isnt a slouch…. But shutdown? I didnt really see ANY shutdown relievers there besides Heath Bell…..

  4. monroe_says 4 years ago

    One could argue that CC is the best lefty in the game, but they would be wrong. CC’s WAR over last three years 7.6, 6.3, 5.1 = not the greatest trend, while the Great Cliff Lee is 7.2, 6.6. 7.1 …

    • Wouldn’t it be convenient if all we had to do to compare players was look at one number? Then we wouldn’t need scouts or GM’s and we could evaluate all the talent!

      • start_wearing_purple 4 years ago

        And wouldn’t it be convenient if the argument about the game’s best lefty could be boiled down to a statement.

        I’m not saying who’s the best.

        • Because you’d be right in saying Joe Saunders, but the rest of the world just doesn’t want to hear it.

          • start_wearing_purple 4 years ago

            I stand by my point, so far it seems like a handful of people are coming close to arguing who’s the best lefty… yet only one person has thrown out a fact.

          • I was just being facetious. We REALLY know you had Randy Wolf on your mind the entire time.

          • CitizenSnips 4 years ago

            It’s all about that winning percentage!

          • RedSoxDynasty 4 years ago

            Saunders? Not even a top 15 lefty. I’ll presume you were being sarcastic!

          • I specifically picked out one of the worst starting lefties in terms of WAR (who gave at least 200 innings.)

      • agreed, WAR isn’t the end all be all of comparisons, but it’s a start.

        I wouldn’t dare call CC the best lefty in the game. You can argue he is but it wouldn’t even be close to a general consensus.

        • vonhayesdays 4 years ago

          who would you say is the best lefty in the game. CC gotta be close to the top

        • How can you come up with a definitive answer to that question? The problem is that the question is too broad. Are we talking all left handed pitchers, or just starters? What factors are you weighting, eg. WHIP, IP, ERA, W-L? What time frame are we talking about? Regular or post-season? If you asked a hundred different people, you’d probably get 100 different answers as to what they think the most important factors are.

          For what it’s worth, to me the best pitcher is the guy who keeps hitters off the bases the most and pitches a ton of innings, who has done it consistently over at least 5 seasons, and also doesn’t show any signs of letting up in the near future. Whoever has the best combination of those factors would be the best pitcher imo.

    • YanksFanSince78 4 years ago

      Or in other words, CC has been worth a combined 19 WAR over the last 3 years and Lee a combined 20.9 over the same period. Not a big differece over a 3 year span.

      Edwin Jackson had a better WAR than Chris Carpenter last year. Does that autmotically make him a better pitcher? No.

      • ejr 4 years ago

        the OP ends by highlighting CC’s downward trend in WAR, not simply the totals. But I agree that a 3 year span of 2 win difference isn’t much. Though, I would give Lee credit for turning in consistent performances in that 3 years, considering he was traded about 600 times!

    • william 4 years ago

      not sure where you got your WAR#’s from baseball-reference has it like this

      sabathia war 2008 7.1 (cle 2.3,mil 4.8)
      2009 4.3 nyy
      2010 5.4 nyy

      lee 2008 7.3 cle
      2009 5 (3.9 cle,1.1 phi)
      2010 4.3 (2.7 sea,1.6 tex)
      not saying either one is the greatest just curious where you got those numbers
      link to baseball-reference.com
      link to baseball-reference.com

  5. Oh, AND Soriano (If he is the same as he was LAST YEAR)

  6. cbcbcb 4 years ago

    CC will be the Phillies fifth starter.

  7. East Coast Bias 4 years ago

    CC is a beast!

  8. Ben_Cherington 4 years ago

    David Price would like to be included in the best lefty talk!

    • Chuck345 4 years ago

      Well let’s give David Price a chance to string together a few great seasons first before we go calling him the best lefty.

  9. william 4 years ago

    not sure where your getting your WAR stats from but according to baseball-reference sabathia WAR 4.8,4.3,5.4
    lee WAR 1.1,2.7,1.6
    I’m not saying either is the greatest just not sure about where you got your numbers from

    • nm344 4 years ago

      Lee does not have that WAR according to any source.

  10. I’m wondering what kind of improvement would that mean to a team like the Blue Jays. If they threw ridiculous money at Pujols to play first, Prince to DH, and CC Sabathia, they would be back in the AL Central. Maybe they’d have to trade for a little more pitching but that’s a huge step up from Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion.

    • Jfb95 4 years ago

      How in the world would the be back in the AL central?

    • Andy Mc 4 years ago

      Add Pujols, Fielder and CC, and the Jays are the best team in the AL East right now.

      • RedSoxDynasty 4 years ago

        Wild card at best behind guess who?

        • MaineSox 4 years ago

          Cocky much?

          IF they signed all three of those guys (they wont – just playing along) I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them beat out both the Sox and the Yanks for the division title.

          • RedSoxDynasty 4 years ago

            Cocky? Maybe! Honest? Definitely! The Red Sox would still have a slightly better lineup top to bottom, a better starting 5, better defense, and much better bullpen! New York would fall back by losing CC in this scenario but would still give the hypothetical Jays team a run! Red Sox by a minimum 5 games easy! Truth Hurts!

      • NYBravosFan10 4 years ago

        yeah…you have fun affording that one

  11. MykeD 4 years ago

    the agents are the ones who are going to destroy baseball…cant wait until 2020 when a player signs a 5 year/ $1 billion contract to pitch relief….the greed…$30 mil a year for Albert ? if one man is that great, then he should have his own team to himself, since his yearly paycheck will be comparable to most teams yearly payroll…then he can pitch, hit , catch, maybe even be his own skipper…c’mon people, the bloated contracts are going to destroy the game…there needs to be some type of balance to the game and the finances…whatever happened to “take one for the team” ? the Yank’s are a perfect example of “money can’t buy you everything”…every year they seem to base their off-season on signing or trying to sign the top free agents out there, mind you the RedSox are becoming the team they have always loved to hate…luxury tax, revenue sharing, who cares…there is such an unbalance in the sport that there should only be 8 teams and we only need the playoffs and the World Series…why punish small market teams through a 162 season when they cant afford a highly competitive team ? or would it be a better sport if all of the high level major leaguers were selected each year like a fantasy draft ? then paid according to their previous years performance level…there are ways to figure out a fair and balanced solution to make the sport equally competitive…agree or disagree, the sport needs to be fixed, and big time at that…

    • InLeylandWeTrust 4 years ago

      The agents do what their clients tell them to do. Do you really think Albert’s agent is forcing him to pursue a 300 million dollar deal?? Also, the owners are the ones giving out these contracts. Jayson Werth would not be making 120 million over 7 years if someone did not offer that deal. It is fashionable to blame the agents and claim they are ruining baseball, but it is a 2 way street.

    • RedSoxDynasty 4 years ago

      Baseball is as competitive as the NFL and NHL with many different teams winning over the last 20 years. Even the late 90’s Yankees teams were won on homegrown talent, not payroll! Baseball is fine as it is. Argue with the owners who won’t investxany of their own money and pocket the revenue sharing money! And you can also argue with fair-weather fans who don’t support their teams and stay away from the ballpark. Even bad Red Sox, Cubs and Yankees teams have had strong attendance through the years yet the Rays, Marlins, Tribe, Royals, Pirates, A’s et al fans fail to support their teams. Losing teams who don’t spend or get support are the problem in baseball so please stop the crying. No one feels bad for you when you’re irrelevant!

    • RedSoxDynasty 4 years ago

      You wanna fix a sport than start with the NBA where the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Pistons, Spurs and Rockets have had a monopoly for about 30 years!

  12. ejr 4 years ago

    That list of relievers is insane! And the amounts some of them will get when relievers are often hard to count on from year-to-year will be even more insane.

    But let’s not think so far ahead. The season hasn’t started!!

  13. MadmanTX 4 years ago

    It’d be hilarious (not really) if Sabathia left the Yankees to sign with the Phillies for less money to replace Oswalt in the rotation and join up with his buddy, Cliff Lee.

    Still, the Rangers would make a run at him. And maybe Pujols too.

  14. So Matt Thornton is not a shut down reliever but Rauch is?

  15. Yeah surprised they didn’t mention Thornton, he’s better than most of those relievers

    • NYBravosFan10 4 years ago

      he deserves to be given a chance at a closing role

  16. Slopeboy 4 years ago

    Is he quick enough to be a point guard?

  17. NYBravosFan10 4 years ago

    that would make him a Marlin and they’re wayyyy to high on Gaby Sanchez to bother with Pujols…plus Pujols probably can’t clothesline the way Sanchez can

  18. RedSoxDynasty 4 years ago

    Gotta wonder how Darvish fairs after Dicek got a 50 mil posting fee! Looking back the Sox overpaid and Dicek was bigger than Darvish is now and had more international experience and success too! What do you guys think about Darvish’s MLB future and contract cuz, while I know teams will bid high for him in a thin market, just how high is high?

  19. jwredsox 4 years ago

    busttttt

  20. Andy Mc 4 years ago

    The Jays will be in on him, I bet. Think of what the Jays could do with an Ace added? They could then trade a few of the “excess” young, quality SP to bolster offense, the bench, and the pen. Prospects could move too.

    Darvish just happens to be popping up at exactly the right time for the Jays, who have Under $30MM committed to 2012, and will spend under $60MM in 2011. He fits, the money is there, and he could bolster what is already going to be a fantastic rotation for the 2012 season (injuries notwithstanding).

    Darvish/Romero/Morrow/Cecil/Drabek (Stewart/Rzepczynski/Litsch/McGowan?)

  21. Andy Mc 4 years ago

    You really have been on another planet then. Maybe just in another country 😉

    Anyway, the Jays do indeed have the wealthiest ownership in MLB (Rogers Communications) and the President and CEO, Paul Beeston, has recently stated that a 140+ payroll is not far away. The GM has consistently stated that he envisions a payroll in the BOS/LAA/PHI range.

    The Jays have less than $30MM committed to 2012, and should come in under $50MM without losing any pieces to free agency, just paying arbitration.

    The (local) market is the 4th largest in MLB, and Rogers owns the stadium and the TV/Radio rights and stations. The Jays have a national audience too.

    The Jays could sign Pujols, CC and Prince and come in under $140MM for 2012. I don’t expect that, (I wish), but Darvish is easily within their reach.

  22. Andy Mc 4 years ago

    I don’t actually believe the Jays will go after these three FAs. I just used them as an example of the team’s flexibility. I guess you can’t understand that this is not, I repeat not, the “same old Jays”. New GM. New manager, who, just so happens to be the former Red Sox pitching coach (and clearly signed off on the Bautista deal). The Wells deal was 7 years and over 120. Bautista’s? 65 for 5. Big difference, especially with such tiny payroll commitments, and a very good young, controllable talent base.

    Halladay didn’t want to wait until 2012-2013 to make a run, after the JP Ricciardi attempts failed (2006-2008).

    The Jays and the Nationals are two VERY different organizations, and the disparity in talent should be obvious (although the Nats could emerge in 2012-2013 as well).

    You should read up on the Jays before offering such a misguided opinion. Too bad MLBTR doesn’t allow links to be posted.

  23. Commander_Nate 4 years ago

    Darvish has been better than Dice-K in just about every measurable way. Another interesting point that Free_AEC brings up is his size (due to his mixed Japanese/Persian heritage) might allow him to hold up better throughout a full MLB season. I’ve also seen this theory mentioned in a few other articles about him.

  24. Andy Mc 4 years ago

    So now, all you have to counter the point that Darvish could be a major target of the Jays, is that you believe they won`t spent any money?

    You only see a foolish, FO, with no intention of competing in the AL East. Seriously, just read the national U.S. sports outlets’ articles about the Jays, never mind local and Canadian perspectives. You may be shocked.

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