October 2011

2012 Top 50 Free Agents With Predictions

The sixth annual MLB Trade Rumors Top 50 Free Agents list is here!  The entire list of available free agents can be found here, and you can filter by position and signing team with our free agent tracker here.

This year, I'm excited to introduce a new contest that will allow you to test your free agent prediction abilities against those of the MLBTR writing team as well as other readers.  After players start signing, we'll have a leaderboard showing the contestants with the best "batting averages" on their picks.  Once everyone has signed, the winners will receive sweet prizes.  Here are the top 50 free agents for which you'll be making predictions, along with my guesses.

1.  Albert Pujols – Cardinals.  The Cubs, Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Marlins, Nationals, and Dodgers are other potential suitors, but a significant premium would be required to lure away the longtime Cardinal.  $225-230MM over nine years seems a fair compromise for the Cardinals and their superstar first baseman.

2.  Prince Fielder – Mariners.  Fielder has the same potential suitors as Pujols, with the Brewers also a possibility.  The Scott Boras client is a tough free agent to place, as there are good reasons for every team to avoid a potential $150MM+ commitment.  The Mariners and Cubs are the most likely matches for me.  Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik drafted Fielder in '02 with the Brewers, and his team lacks a premium bat.

3.  Jose Reyes – Brewers.  Reyes is another difficult top free agent to predict.  The Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Giants, Pirates, Reds, Twins, Rays, and Cardinals could have a need at shortstop, but not all of those teams can or should spend $100MM+ on Reyes.  The Mets will entertain re-signing Reyes, but the Brewers seem more likely to approach Ryan Braun's speculated $120MM price range.

4.  C.J. Wilson – Nationals.  Wilson's poor postseason may have damaged his stock slightly, but in his defense he racked up 250 innings over 39 starts this season in total and started 37 games in 2010.  $100MM is still possible for Wilson, though 78% of MLBTR readers think he'll fall short.  Front-of-the-rotation starting pitching is a big need for many teams, including the Nationals, Marlins, Royals, Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs.

5.  Yu Darvish – Blue Jays.  Darvish is not technically a free agent, and in fact he hasn't even decided about being posted at this point.  If he does come over from Japan, a $100MM commitment will likely be required.  The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Nationals, Mariners, and Royals could put in bids, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a few "mystery teams" enter the fray.

6.  Edwin Jackson – Marlins.  Jackson, a Scott Boras client, could also make sense for the Nationals and several other teams looking for a 200-inning starter with upside.  Since Jackson is only 28, Boras could seek a four-year deal.

7.  Jimmy Rollins – Phillies.  Rollins probably won't find the five-year deal he seeks, but the Phillies have the need and the means to reach a new agreement with him.

8.  Aramis Ramirez – Orioles.  Ramirez seeks a multiyear deal, and as the best available free agent third baseman he's justified.  He could give the Orioles a powerful corner bat on a three-year deal.  

9.  Carlos Beltran – Red Sox.  Beltran is a tough player to place, if the Giants are unable to re-sign him.  He's a 34-year-old Scott Boras client who's likely to seek at least three years despite significant injury concerns in 2009-10 and a disinterest in being a designated hitter.  It'll take a team with a right field opening and a tolerance for risk.

10.  Jonathan Papelbon – Red Sox.  I can picture the Red Sox going as high as three years and $39MM to retain Papelbon, though the closer will test the market.  A half-dozen teams could seek closers this winter, but the list is short on big spenders and it's been a while since we've had a $40MM+ reliever.

11.  Michael Cuddyer – Twins.  Cuddyer would fit with the Rockies, Red Sox, or Cubs, but he's spent his entire career with the Twins and may prefer to stay.

12.  Mark Buehrle – White Sox.  Buehrle is another player who is difficult to picture with another club. The lefty finds the National League enticing, however, and he could join Ozzie Guillen in Miami since the Cardinals don't have an opening.

13.  David Ortiz – Blue Jays.  Ortiz backed off from his comments about Red Sox drama, and there's a limited market for an expensive player with no ability to play defense.  Still, he'd give Toronto's offense a nice boost without requiring more than a two-year deal.  That might leave Edwin Encarnacion having to play a significant amount of first base, however.

14.  Ryan Madson – Phillies.  If the Phillies don't re-sign Madson, and the Red Sox keep Papelbon, who would give Madson big money to close?  As a Scott Boras client, Madson could seek a four-year deal with a salary approaching $10MM.

15.  Hiroki Kuroda – Dodgers.  Kuroda doesn't want to play anywhere else, according to Dodgers GM Ned Colletti.

16.  Carlos Pena – Pirates.  Pena is a nice fit for the Pirates on another one-year deal, assuming they don't re-sign Derrek Lee.

17.  Francisco Rodriguez – Marlins.  K-Rod, a Scott Boras client, would like to return to the closing role on a three-year deal.  The Marlins would have the opening and the money, if they non-tender Juan Carlos Oviedo.

18.  Roy Oswalt – Rangers.  Oswalt could return to Texas for a winning team, and he'll require a much shorter commitment than C.J. Wilson.

19.  Javier Vazquez – Retirement.  There's a strong sentiment that Vazquez will retire, but he'd be in demand if not after posting a 1.92 ERA and 6.05 K/BB ratio since mid-June.

20.  Heath Bell – Padres.  Bell hopes and expects to return to the Padres, perhaps on the first multiyear deal of his career.

21.  Coco Crisp – Giants.  Though he posted a low on-base percentage in 2011, Crisp could fill the Giants' need for a center fielder and leadoff man.

22.  Hisashi Iwakuma – Twins.  The Twins bid on Iwakuma last year when he was posted, and this year they can simply sign him as a free agent.

23.  Kelly Johnson – Dodgers.  Johnson could provide the Dodgers some offense from second base, though the Blue Jays and Tigers could also be in the mix.

24.  Josh Willingham – Reds.  As one of few affordable right-handed power sources on the market, Willingham could fit with the Reds, Rockies, Indians, and others. 

25.  Paul Maholm – Rockies.  Though Maholm does not appear to be on the Rockies' radar at the moment, he's coming off a decent season and won't require a huge commitment.

26.  Grady Sizemore – Marlins.  Sizemore is a classic risk/reward case, and the Marlins don't seem interested in playing it safe this winter.  

27.  Bartolo Colon – Red Sox.  Colon had an excellent comeback season, but he will still have a hard time finding a two-year deal.  Perhaps he could take an incentive-based contract and remain in the AL East with the Red Sox.

28.  Erik Bedard – Blue Jays.  If the Blue Jays hit on a wild card like Bedard and also land Darvish, they'd have a fearsome rotation.  Bedard is a healthy free agent for the first time, and perhaps he'll lean toward his native Canada.

29.  David DeJesus – Cubs.  DeJesus could be an asset for the Cubs at the outfield corners on a one-year deal.

30.  Jason Kubel – Dodgers.  Kubel could improve the Dodgers' offense as their left fielder, unless they go with Jerry Sands at the position.

31.  Ramon Hernandez – Pirates.  Hernandez would give the Pirates offense out of the catcher spot, though GM Neal Huntington may balk at giving up a second-round pick to sign him.

32.  Jeff Francis – Pirates.  Francis is one of many starting pitchers who could add depth to the Pirates' rotation at a reasonable cost.

33.  Chris Capuano – Mariners.  After subtracting Doug Fister this summer, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik seems likely to add a piece to his rotation.

34.  Tsuyoshi Wada – Orioles.  Wada is expected to come to MLB as a free agent, though one question is his ability to handle a full rotation workload.

35.  Clint Barmes – Twins.  Barmes provided good value this season, and the Twins have a clear middle-infield need.

36.  Casey Kotchman – Rays.  Kotchman posted a fine 2011 season after signing a minor league deal, but his price should remain reasonable as teams wonder whether he can do it again.

37.  Freddy Garcia – Yankees.  Even with Sabathia in the fold, the Yankees will need additional rotation depth.  Another stint with Garcia makes sense if his price remains reasonable.

38.  Aaron Hill – Diamondbacks.  Hill's stellar 142 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks this year provided hope he can bounce back in 2012.

39.  Johnny Damon – Orioles.  Damon probably requires a designated hitter opening, yet his level of offense doesn't justify a full-time spot.  He's a difficult free agent to place.

40.  Aaron Harang – Angels.  Would Harang accept a below-market deal to stay close to home?

41.  Jamey Carroll – Tigers.  The versatile Carroll fits at the top of the Tigers' order, playing mostly second base.

42.  Rafael Furcal – Cardinals.  The Cardinals and Furcal are known to have mutual interest in a new deal; he showed promise in his Cards stint this year.

43.  Juan Pierre – Reds.  Pierre will have to take a more reduced role next year, perhaps under Dusty Baker again.

44.  Frank Francisco – Mariners.  Francisco was homer-prone this year, but he's still an asset in the late innings.

45.  Jason Marquis – Mets.  Marquis may have to take a one-year deal with the Mets to realize his goal of playing in New York.  

46.  Joel Pineiro – Cubs.  Pineiro had great success in '09 in the NL Central, and could be a bargain if he rights the ship.    

47.  Jonathan Broxton – Mets.  Broxton had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur and loose bodies from his elbow in September and expects to be ready for Spring Training.  Though he may not be the Broxton of old, I expect incentive-laden offers to be plentiful.

48.  Joe Nathan – Twins.  Nathan is excited about free agency, but after so many successful years closing for the Twins he may want to return to the role full-time in 2012.

49.  Kerry Wood – Cubs.  It's Cubs or retirement for Wood, and there's no reason not to bring him back.

50.  Bruce Chen – Royals.  As long as Chen's price tag doesn't get excessive, he's a good fit back with the Royals.

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Cardinals Decline Options On Dotel, Furcal

The Cardinals declined their options for Octavio Dotel and Rafael Furcal, according to the Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated). The Cardinals will pay Dotel a $750K buyout instead of a $3.5MM salary and they'll pay Furcal a $1.3MM buyout instead of a $12MM salary.

Dotel, 37, arrived in St. Louis along with Marc Rzepczynski and Edwin Jackson in the trade that sent Colby Rasmus to Toronto. In 54 total innings for the Cardinals and Blue Jays, Dotel posted a 3.50 ERA with 10.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 30.1% ground ball rate. MLBTR reported today that Dotel is a Type A free agent.

Furcal, a Type B free agent, hit .231/.298/.348 in 369 plate appearances for the Dodgers and Cardinals in 2011, spending time on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. The 34-year-old shortstop started discussing an extension in September, but didn't reach an agreement.

Quick Hits: Price, Aardsma, Willingham, Angels

Happy Halloween to MLBTR's readers! We've already seen C.C. Sabathia sign an extension and Tony La Russa retire today. Here are some more updates from around MLB…

  • Rays left-hander David Price opted out of the contract he signed when Tampa Bay drafted him, according to Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune. He's still under team control through 2015 as an arbitration eligible player, however. Price could earn $7-8MM in 2012 through arbitration according to MLBTR's projections, so declining his $2.433MM option was merely a formality.
  • David Aardsma, who became a free agent today, wouldn't rule out returning to the Mariners, according to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times (on Twitter).
  • Agent Matt Sosnick told Joe Stiglich of the Bay Area News Group that he expects Josh Willingham to sign a three-year deal and doesn’t expect his client to re-sign with the Athletics (Twitter link).
  • ESPN.com's Buster Olney hears that Yankees executive Billy Eppler was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto in the Angels' search for a GM (Twitter link).
  • The White Sox announced that they hired Jeff Manto to be their hitting coach, Joe McEwing  to be their third base coach and Mark Parent to be their bench coach (Twitter link).
  • Dave Cameron introduces FanGraphs' top 50 free agents of the offseason. MLBTR's list of top 50 free agents is on its way as well.

NL East Notes: Vazquez, Dobbs, Lopez, Nix

On this date in 1973, Tom Seaver of the Mets won the NL Cy Young award, becoming the first pitcher to take home the prize with fewer than 20 wins. We checked in on the Mets earlier tonight; here are some updates on their division rivals…

  • Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post gets the sense that the Marlins could convince Javier Vazquez to return for another season if they offer him $10MM for 2012.
  • The Marlins have some interest in re-signing Greg Dobbs, but not in bringing Jose Lopez back, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
  • There's "nothing substantial" developing between the Nationals and free agent outfielder Laynce Nix, according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. The sides have discussed a deal for 2012 and Nix has interest in returning to D.C. for another season.
  • David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution doubts that the Braves would dangle Jair Jurrjens in trade talks because his knee injury reduces his trade value (Twitter link). Jurrjens spent much of August on the disabled list with a right knee strain and didn't pitch in September.

NL Central Notes: Cardinals, Samardzija, Votto

Tony La Russa's retirement has highlighted a busy day in the NL Central. Here are the latest notes from the division…

  • Former Cardinals infielder David Eckstein told Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports that Albert Pujols would re-sign in St. Louis if the Cards make third base coach Jose Oquendo their next manager.
  • Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan told Morosi that he’s going to return to St. Louis in 2012, but it doesn’t sound as though he’s looking to manage the team (Twitter link).
  • The Cubs declined Jeff Samardzija's $3MM option for 2012, according to Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald (Twitter link). Samardzija isn't yet arbitration eligible and remains under team control.
  • One person with ties to the Reds says there's "not a chance" Joey Votto becomes available this offseason, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com. The Reds control the first baseman's rights through 2013.

Red Sox Notes: Manager, Ortiz, Papelbon

The Red Sox declined their club options on relievers Dan Wheeler and Scott Atchison today. Here are more details on the Red Sox, who have formally begun their managerial search…

  • Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin interviewed for Boston's managerial opening today and told reporters, including Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, that he's hoping for the job. "The way I look at it is, who wouldn’t want to manage the Boston Red Sox?”
  • Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum will interview for Boston's managerial opening Wednesday, according to Lauber (on Twitter). Boston hasn't yet asked for permission to interview others.
  • Red Sox GM Ben Cherington hopes to name a manager by Thanksgiving, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com (on Twitter).
  • Cherington doesn't expect to reach a deal with David Ortiz or Jonathan Papelbon before the players hit free agency on Thursday, according to Lauber (on Twitter).

Latest On CBA Talks

Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires this offseason, but the owners and players are working toward an agreement and it won’t be a surprise if they announce a deal soon. Here are the details on the collective bargaining process:

  • The MLB Players Association is willing to start taxing draft bonus spending, but they're adamantly against a hard-slotting system, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com. Slotting is the final major issue to resolve in talks between MLB and the players' union.
  • We should expect a new collective bargaining agreement by the end of the week, according to MLB.com's Barry Bloom (on Twitter).

Indians Notes: Sizemore, Carmona, Lowe

The Indians started their offseason off with a few major moves today, acquiring Derek Lowe from the Braves, picking up Fausto Carmona's option and declining Grady Sizemore's. Here are some more notes about the Indians…

  • Indians GM Chris Antonetti told Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he visited Sizemore's Arizona home to tell him that the Indians had decided to decline his option. The decision was "very difficult" for Antonetti, but he determined that there were better ways for the Indians to spend the $8.5MM they saved. 
  • The Indians will pursue a "quality outfielder" through free agency, Antonetti said. There's still a chance that the Indians will re-sign Sizemore. 
  • The Indians are expecting better results from Carmona in 2012, since the groundballer has bounced back from difficult seasons in the past.
  • Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer says the Indians should make Michael Brantley their everyday center fielder and shop for a corner outfielder this offseason.
  • ESPN.com's Keith Law breaks down the Lowe trade and says it helps the Indians, since they get another groundball pitcher who makes his starts. Lowe isn't much more than a back-of-the-rotation pitcher, Law writes, so Atlanta's willingness to part with him for salary relief and lefty reliever Chris Jones is understandable.
  • Jason Roberts of FanGraphs explains that there's reason for the Indians to expect Lowe to rebound from his ugly 5.05 ERA in 2012.
  • When I looked ahead to the Indians' offseason last week I explained that adding rotation depth was a significant part of the team's offseason challenge. Now that they've acquired Lowe and declined Sizemore's option, their next job will be to re-establish outfield depth.

LaCava In Baltimore To Meet With Angelos

8:46pm: There's no indication that the Orioles are ready to announce a decision and team officials haven't ruled out interviewing more candidates, according to Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun.

2:13pm: Orioles GM candidate Tony LaCava is back in Baltimore today to meet with owner Peter Angelos, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.  This will be LaCava's first meeting with Angelos.  Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun writes, "The Orioles are not expected to do a second round of interviews, so the fact that LaCava is back almost certainly means that he and the ownership component of the search committee are discussing the conditions of his employment. It doesn't mean, however, that he has been offered the job officially or will accept it."

Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports that Angelos attended the Orioles' initial interview with De Jon Watson of the Dodgers, but missed LaCava's first meeting with the team (Twitter links).  Kubatko hears that the Orioles won't contact Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine about their job opening.

LaCava is currently the Blue Jays' vice president of baseball operations and assistant General Manager; learn more about him by reading Ben Nicholson-Smith's August interview.

Mets Notes: Reyes, Harris, Hairston, Wright

The Mets announced that they're lowering their outfield fences and moving them in for the 2012 season. The wall will be as much as 12 feet closer to home plate in some places, which should make Citi Field — currently the 28th hardest park to homer in — more hitter-friendly. Here are some more updates on the club…

  • MetsBlog has graphics of the new look for Citi Field.
  • Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports that the Mets don't expect Jose Reyes to sign in November. The Mets will decide whether to make a competitive offer for Reyes once other teams set the market for him. Martino reports that the Mets won't sign free agents Willie Harris or Scott Hairston until much later in the offseason, if at all.
  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson asked Reyes' representatives how much it would take to lock him up, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). When Reyes didn't respond, the Mets decided to wait and see how the market develops.
  • Alderson told reporters, including Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, that he expects David Wright to return to the Mets in 2012.
  • Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com gets the impression that the Mets' payroll could dip below $100MM on Opening Day (Twitter link). The Mets have had a payroll of at least $100MM every season since 2004.