Free at last: The top free agents
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With the baseball season officially over, it’s time for teams to immediately start working on building rosters for next season. There’s no rest for the weary (or for the wicked, depending on which version of the old saying you’ve heard). All teams will be signing at least a couple free agents to make sure they can field a full team.
This has become an exciting time of year for baseball fans as they hear rumors and reports about which free agents might be coming or going from their teams. And with 30 teams and 25 positions available on each team, there are a lot players moving around.
Some players will sign on with different teams because they need a change of scenery, some want a chance to play for a contender and some just want a chance to play. But no matter what the players say in their press conferences or through their agents or on Twitter, the one thing they really, really, super, mega want is dollars. Take a look at Carl Crawford last year – he was an awful fit for the Red Sox and for Boston, but they offered the most money, so he took it.
A few years back Adrian Beltre left Los Angeles in free agency to play for the struggling Seattle Mariners for about $2 million a year more than the Dodgers offered. First, yes, $2 million is a lot of money, but is it really when you’re talking about the difference between $12 million and $14 million? And what about when you factor in taxes, agent fees and a wife? Now it’s not so much of a difference. But it was enough of a difference to make Beltre leave the Dodgers where he played for a contending team in a city with a grande Hispanic community that treated him like a hero to go to the mediocre Mariners where he was treated like any other baseball player.
I’d like to think that if it was me, I wouldn’t go for the money grab and that a comfortable team and city would mean a lot to me. And admittedly it does make me feel superior to think that I would take slightly less money for a better overall situation. Because, remember, money can’t buy happiness (except when you use it to buy things that make you happy).
But hey, enough of my yappin’ – what do ya say, let’s boogie. Here’s a look at the top players available in free agency this year and where I think they’ll wind up.
1. Prince Fielder, First Base
’11 team: Milwaukee Brewers
As a general rule, I don’t trust people whose names are also nouns – and this guy’s name has two nouns. But in what is one of the weakest talent pools ever, Fielder is one of the very few quality free agents and one of the only actual superstars. Offensively, he’s the full package – providing lots of power and lots of patience – as well as lots of girth. He’s an adequate fielding first baseman (though he’s no prince at fielding – thanks, yes, I’m a professional writer) and he’s been very durable over the years despite his wide load.
Fielder is going to get a contract for eight years and $200 million even though the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies are covered at this position. With Frank McCourt on the way out, the Dodgers could mend fences with their fans and improve the team by signing Fielder. The Angels could use a bat like his. Or maybe Theo and the Cubs will make a big splash to start things off right.
’12 team: Texas Rangers – They’ve got the money and the need and the world-famous BBQ.
2. Albert Pujols, First Base
’11 team: St. Louis Cardinals
As anyone who’s read my column before should know, I love Pujols – mainly for having the greatest last name ever. But Pujols is also a fantastic baseball player and by all accounts a heck of a guy. Pujols is a superstar that does everything really, really well. “If Pujols is so great, Jed, then why is he #2 here?” Good question. Sort of – I mean what does it really matter what order I rank these guys and why are you wasting your time reading my worthless opinions when you could be outside playing with your kids or solving crimes or whatever?
Wait, where was I, oh, right Pujols. Yeah, Pujols would be #1 if Pujols was the same age as Prince Fielder or even if we knew for sure Pujols was actually the age Pujols claims: 32 – which Pujols isn’t. [Editor’s note: Allegedly.] All the teams listed above would get much better with Pujols on their roster, but Pujols means too much to the Cardinals and that city would go bananas if they don’t re-sign Pujols. And so the Cardinals will overpay, like the Yankees did with Derek Jeter. And they should. He’s Pujols.
’12 team: St. Louis Cardinals – They’re the champs and they need their Pujols.
3. Jose Reyes, Shortstop
’11 team: New York Mets
Hey, do you guys remember when Reyes was one of the most exciting players in all of baseball? Yeah, don’t worry, take your time – it was a while ago. Well, now Reyes has been demoted to being one of the most exciting players in all of baseball … free agency … this year. You know when you’re playing baseball video games … ok, yeah, not you – some other guy that plays baseball video games – and looks exactly like you. Anyway, you know how you can turn injuries off and your players will never get injured ever? If you could do this in real baseball, Jose might be the best free agent available. Of course, if you could change that, then maybe you should also work on some sort of “no cancer” setting for the rest of us.
There are a few teams looking for a shortstop and one of them will pay him more than they should, cross their fingers and hope that Bartolo Colon’s stem cell “doctor” makes house calls. The Red Sox seem like they might be interested in Jose, as well as the Phillies, Brewers and Tigers. The Yankees should be interested so they can replace the statue of Derek Jeter that currently plays shortstop for them.
’12 team: San Francisco Giants – They need the offense and Miguel Tejada isn’t returning their calls.
4. Jimmy Rollins, Shortstop
’11 team: Philadelphia Phillies
Rollins is another guy with the injury problem, and he’s certainly getting along in years. But he’s an improvement for most teams at shortstop – maybe. Okay, definitely an improvement for some teams at shortstop – maybe. This is why J.J. Hardy signing with the Orioles last year was so surprising. He’d be right around here on this list and lined up for a huge contract to play pretty much wherever he wanted to. But he chose to sign with Baltimore midseason. So I guess he really must love playing in Baltimore – which I have decided is now a euphemism for someone who’s a loser. Example: My friend Charles just got dumped and lost his job – he must love playing in Baltimore.
Back to Rollins – as with the first basemen, there will be multiple suitors for his services – based more on reputation than his actual skills which are and will continue to be steadily declining.
’12 team: Philadelphia Phillies – I mean they have to, right? If they don’t sign Reyes.
5. Yu Darvish, Starting Pitcher
’11 team: Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters
Darvish isn’t actually a free agent. He plays in the Japanese league, and they are almost certain to post him to the major leagues. So, all interested teams will make blind bids for the right to attempt to sign him as a free agent. This is what happened a few years ago with Daisuke Matsuzaka when he wound up in Boston for a grand total of about $100 million ($50 million for him and $50 million to his Japanese team). Without having pitched an inning, Yu already has one of the great names in baseball history. I can see the signs at the stadium now: “Yu are out!” “Yu gotta believe!” “Yu had me at strike three!” Or as ESPN’s Chris Berman would say: Yu “Whirling” Darvish. Right, Chris? Oh, and please retire.
I have no idea what kind of major league pitcher Darvish will be. He’s been on everyone’s radar since the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and everyone who is good at guessing about this kind of thing says he’s going to be exceptional. But they also said that about Dice-K in Boston. Yeah, it’s a risk. He could be an ace or he could be just another crappy Japanese import. (Buy American!) With the shortage of good starting pitching and the lack of available free agents, all the big spenders will be involved – just like with Dice-K. The Yankees and Red Sox could use him and the Mariners are always interested in adding Asians to their team (um, reverse racism much?).
’12 team: Texas Rangers – They really could have used a dominant starter in the World Series (and, of course, a better manager).
6. C.J. Wilson, Starting Pitcher
’11 team: Texas Rangers
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