With the season on the horizon, I figured that it’s time to take a look back at my Top 50 Free Agents list. I published this baby on October 25, 2005, which was before any of the other lists came out. My goal was to beat Steve Phillips and ESPN, so we’ll tally it up at the end. The list is in the format Player – Prediction/Actual.
1. Roger Clemens – Astros/Undecided. The Rocket has been holding up this entire review for quite some time. He’ll probably come back to Houston, so this one will be a win. But does anyone really think he’d play anywhere else?
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Mariners/Lions. Back before Japan’s best pitcher made a splash in the WBC, it looked like his team might post him and allow the Mariners, Yankees, Athletics, and Red Sox to compete for his services. He would’ve probably been a more valuable commodity than A.J. Burnett if he’d come over. Alas, Seibu’s manager said that it was obvious that his 2005 season record (2.30 ERA, 9.4 K/9) was "not convincing enough" for the team to post him. Keep an eye on this one for the 2006-07 offseason.
3. Paul Konerko – White Sox/White Sox. I had a feeling it would be impossible for the Sox to let him walk even with the demand for a five-year deal. The Angels and Orioles were deeply involved, with the Orioles even topping Chicago’s offer. In the end, Paulie stayed put. You have to respect that.
4. A.J. Burnett – Nationals/Blue Jays. I figured the team would have an owner by December and that the new regime would open up the checkbook for the best available starting pitcher. Burnett and Washington had mutual interest, but Toronto simply outbid everyone else.
5. Brian Giles – Cardinals/Padres. We’ll probably never really know how amenable Giles was to leaving San Diego. He certainly could’ve gotten more than three years and $30MM. Giles has the type of skills that age well, and he was the best available outfielder by far. Maybe the Cardinals never could’ve signed Giles even if they wanted to. But the difference between Juan Encarnacion and Giles is probably four full wins in 2006, so keep that in mind at the end of the season. Same goes for the Cubs, who went with Jacque Jones.
6. Rafael Furcal – Cubs/Dodgers. The Cubs really needed to overpay to get Furcal. I like Ronny Cedeno, I really do. But the 2006 difference in value is something close to three wins. Those three wins might’ve pushed the Cubs over the hump for a division title. The Dodgers swooped in with a shorter contract offer with a high annual average salary. If L.A. eventually uses Cesar Izturis at second base, Derek Lowe will really reap the benefits of his new middle infield.
7. Nomar Garciaparra – Dodgers/Dodgers. I figured they’d employ him on the left side of the infield – Nomar doesn’t really have the bat for first base anymore. For one year at a price of $6-10MM, it’s a low risk investment for a major market team. Still, I’m not sure if he’ll be measurably better than Hee Seop Choi, who was waived. But c’mon, it’s No-mah!
8. Hideki Matsui – Yankees/Yankees. This was a gimme, he didn’t really consider signing elsewhere. He’ll continue to rack up the RBIs.
9. Kevin Millwood – Orioles/Rangers. Sosa and Palmeiro off the books, and the chance to reunite Millwood with Leo Mazzone? Peter Angelos passed, as he often does on health risks. Baltimore instead settled for a host of lamer moves: acquiring Kris Benson, Corey Patterson, and LaTroy Hawkins, signing Ramon Hernandez despite the presence of Javy Lopez, and signing Kevin Millar and Jeff Conine for veterany goodness. All that for fourth place? Hell, the D-Rays are a starter or two away from making the O’s a last place club. With Burnett off the market, Texas went with the best available starter.
10. Billy Wagner – Mets/Mets. The Phillies swung and missed, and instead signed up for three years of Tom Gordon and his creaky elbow. Mets fans can rest easy in the ninth inning, as Braden Looper is somewhere far, far away (St. Louis).
I realized that 50 is a lot of players, so I’ll break this into a five-part series.