Free at last: The top free agents
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
Wilson is my pick for the newly created John Lackey Free Agency Regret Award. Wilson had some really nice numbers this season, but did any of you see that playoffs performance? Yeah, we all did. He needs to have a great defense behind him to help offset all the walks he gives away like Halloween candy. The Rangers had a great defense and there aren’t many other teams that do.
Wilson also loves to bat and you can only do that on a regular basis in the National League. And frankly pitchers who can hit should always be in the National League. Or we could just have both leagues that play the exact same sport use the same set of rules and have a designated hitter in both leagues. The Yankees are rumored to be interested in Wilson’s services and as a Red Sox fan, I love this move!
’12 team: Washington Nationals – They have money to spend and Wilson has a bank account – perfect match.
7. Aramis Ramirez, Third Base
’11 team: Chicago Cubs
Have you ever seen the movie “Beautiful Girls”? Yeah, that one with Timothy Hutton and a far-too-mature-for-her-age Natalie Portman. Timothy Hutton’s character is asked to describe his current girlfriend and for every category he rates her a “good, solid seven and a half.” Ramirez is a good, solid seven and a half. He’s going to sign with a team and make them slightly better next season than they were without him.
I’m a little worried that Aramis will join the “I don’t need to work out anymore because it makes me tired” club. But third base is a position that is hard to get good production from these days and there will certainly be a few teams interested – let’s just hope they keep an eye on his donut consumption.
’12 team: Anaheim Angels of south of Los Angeles – They’ve got to get one of these free agents one of these days – law of averages.
8. Carlos Beltran, Outfield
’11 team: New York Mets/San Francisco Giants
Coming off a bunch of injuries, Beltran put together a nice season last year. Nice enough for the Giants to foolishly trade away one of their top pitching prospects to acquire his services. His defensive skills have slipped from being a very good center fielder to being an adequate corner outfielder, and he would probably do himself a huge favor if he signed with an American League team where he could take a few days off and be the designated hitter every now and then.
Beltran is another player who would be “a nice addition” to most clubs. If he’s your team’s fourth-best hitter, you might make the playoffs. If he’s your team’s best hitter then you might not want to renew those season tickets – or turn on the TV.
’12 team: San Francisco Giants – But only because I promised I’d guess a team for each player – it should really be an American League team.
These four pitchers all seem like they’re about the same level to me. Sure, they all have different pitching styles, but it feels like they all have about the same possibility of being adequate with flashes of brilliance and flashes of crappiness. Kiroda has been really good at times, but after he wasn’t traded last year, he just fell apart – maybe because he’s old. Buehrle will give you a ton of innings and he doesn’t walk guys. Jackson is one of the most frustrating pitchers in the league – durable and he strikes out a lot of guys – but seems to never quite live up to his potential. Vazquez was Lackey-esque the first half of the season and excellent for the second half. He also has that weird thing where he insists on playing on the east coast so he’s closer to home. Somebody needs to show him an atlas and explain air travel to this kook.
These pitchers are not just good – they’re good enough.
’12 team: Various teams desperate for starting pitching
10. David Ortiz, Designated Hitter
’11 team: Boston Red Sox
Big Papi! He had a very good year offensively and if he could play defense at all, I think he would be the guy that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer go after for the Cubs. Ortiz has to stay in the American League and there aren’t a lot of teams that are willing to spend a lot of money for their designated hitter. Ortiz is left-handed and did slightly better against left-handed pitchers last year, but he’s likely to get worse. Also in this weird left-handed designated hitter category is Carlos “Versus Right-Handed Pitchers Only” Pena. If you sign this guy, do not let him bat against left-handed pitchers. If you do, then as a manager you are just Jim-Tracying your team’s chances of winning.
I could see the Mariners trying to sign Ortiz or maybe the Twins trying to bring him back home. “But, Jed, what if he signs with Yankees – they have a lot of money?” You shut your mouth or I will hunt you down and murder you. [Editor’s note: Jed?] [Note to editor: It’s just an expression.]
’12 team: Red Sox – They kind of have to keep him after Tito and Theo left, right? I don’t know – that team is a mystery right now.
Having an elite closer is really a luxury item in baseball – like leather seats in your SUV or a wine cellar or a bidet. Teams that spend a lot of money tend to spend a lot of money on the guy with that “special ability” to close out a game and get the “save” – or so their agents would have you believe.
Papelbon had been deteriorating the last couple years, but last season he seemed to regain his earlier form and was one of the best in the league. Until that last game – yikes. Papelbon was the one who blew the lead against the Orioles, and the Red Sox missed out on a chance at the playoffs. So, it’s probably time to move on. Madsen was given his first real opportunity to be “the guy” in Philadelphia when the team officially gave up on Brad Lidge (a year later than everyone else had figured out he was toast). They’re both going to make a lot of money and they’ll probably stay with their current teams.
’12 team: Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies – Or they could mix it up and go Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox
These guys aren’t quite the bottom of the barrel, but they’re definitely in the Bargain DVD Bin along with Adam Sandler movies, Jennifer Aniston movies and that Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston movie.
Injuries and inconsistency drop the value of this group. There’s a lot of talent here, and one of them or maybe even two (but not three and definitely not all four) will help some teams slightly and come through with a season that will justify their signing and put a team in the playoffs or save someone else’s job.
’12 team: Yes, definitely.
There are hundreds of other guys (I think – I didn’t check but that sounds about right – no really, it’s usually a lot of guys) available in free agency and most of them are going to sign somewhere. Some will sign for less than they want and some will sign for more than they are worth – or “Werth” – get it? Because Jayson Werth signed for too much money last year – oh, shut up.
I can’t even believe you have read this far. Go do something productive.