When the MLB offseason first began, all the talk was about which teams would sign Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, easily the two biggest names on the market. Two months later, Pujols has cashed in and Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle also have found new homes in the open market. So, what about Fielder?
Everybody pointed to the fact Fielder was younger than Pujols and, because of it, might see a bigger level of interest. Instead, we know that the Marlins, Cardinals and Angels all made offers for the two-time MVP, while there has only been rumors of talks involving Fielder. The Seattle Mariners have been said to have the most interest, thus far, while the Chicago Cubs have also been mentioned. Still, no team has actually put an offer up for Fielder, giving no indication what his market value actually is.
In addition to Fielder, there are other big names still available and no clear expectations of a destination for any of them. From power bats to closers to middle-of-the-rotation starters, there is still a bit of talent for teams to acquire via free agency. And a few teams could really benefit from some of the players that remain. Let’s take a look at what’s available:
1. 1B Prince Fielder
When it comes to Fielder, the one thing we know for sure is he won’t be returning to the Brewers in 2012. The recent signing of slugger, Aramis Ramirez eliminated that possibility. It is unclear why no one seems too interested in a 27-year-old All-Star who is capable of leading the league in home runs and RBIs every year. While he is asking for a Pujols-like contract (10 years, $200 million plus), it is more realistic to see him get a deal around six years.
Best fit: Miami Marlins – The Marlins have made a big splash this offseason after signing Reyes, Buehrle and Heath Bell. This gives them a solid rotation, a stopper at the back end of the bullpen and a table setter that should do damage on the base paths. The only thing missing now is a true run producer. Young hitters such as Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison scare no one and Hanley Ramirez has proven he is not a sure thing after last season. If the Marlins were willing to commit nearly $200 million to Pujols, the $180 million over eight years Mark Teixiera got should be where the discussions start for Fielder.
2. CP Ryan Madson – I am really not as high on Madson as everyone else is. While stuff isn’t an issue, last season was the first year he really showed he can be relied on to close games. Doing it in a pressure-packed place like Philadelphia also helps when it comes to value. But closers in this league pop up every two seconds. He is likely to command around $10 million annually and for a guy that has only succeeded at the position once, that is a little too much of a reach for me. Madson’s name has been linked to the Red Sox more than any other team since the Phillies and Marlins both signed closers (Jonathan Papelbon and Bell respectively).
Best fit: Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays have a glaring hole at the back of their bullpen, and no one from last year’s team really fits the bill to take that role in 2012. Madson would be that guy, and the Blue Jays would love to make a big splash to allow them to gain some ground in the AL East. I say three years, for around $30 million is the outcome for a deal here.
3. SP Roy Oswalt
At one time, Oswalt was one of the best pitchers in baseball. But years of continuous injuries have him here. He is 34 years old and coming off of a season in which he posted a record of 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 139.0 innings (23 starts). What that reads on the open market is a two-year deal and about $11-$14 million annually. The teams that have come up in Oswalt discussions include the Rangers, Red Sox and Nationals. While he still possess the abilities of an ace, the odds of him giving a ball club 200 innings of work next season aren’t too high.
Best fit: Kansas City Royals – I really loved this team last season, offensively. With young guys like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, the production at the plate should only increase next season and beyond. The rotation is a different story. All the quality arms are still a couple years away from being major-league ready, so additions need to be made. Why not add Oswalt? He still can pitch at a high level and although the Detroit Tigers were impressive last season, the AL Central is never a sure thing for any team in any year. Add Oswalt to Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Felipe Paulino and you have a team that could possibly compete. It might take more money to draw his interest though (maybe two years, $28 million).
4. SP Hiroki Kuroda
Kuroda is an interesting free agent to predict. Many reports say he only wants to pitch in Los Angeles despite the love that some East Coast teams (Yankees and Red Sox) have for him. The Dodgers don’t seem to be too interested in committing much money towards him, so if the 37-year-old wants to pitch for market value, it may have to be elsewhere. Kuroda is durable, and probably the most reliable pitcher left in free agency. I don’t see him getting more than a two year deal and $9-$12 million annually sounds about right.
Best fit: Boston Red Sox – After one of the most historic collapses in baseball history, the Red Sox need to make sure it won’t happen again. Offensively they were an elite team, but their pitching just couldn’t hold leads. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are set atop the rotation. The rest is up in the air. Clay Buchholz should be ready for opening day, but he missed more than half of last season. John Lackey (Tommy John surgery) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (injuries and inconsistency) are also not penciled in. Kuroda would be a perfect fit here. The run support he would receive could get him 15 wins easy, and that would allow the Red Sox to leave Daniel Bard in the bullpen where he excelled. Two years, $24 million makes sense for both parties.
5. 1B Carlos Pena
Pena really got off to a slow start in 2011 but ended on a good note. His power (28 homers) and patience (101 walks) as a left-handed bat is something every team could use. He signed with the Cubs last season for one year and $10 million. That sounds like a good deal for him once again in 2012. While there hasn’t been much talk surrounding Pena, teams that could use a veteran power bat include the Giants, Cubs, Rays, Indians, Mariners, Dodgers, Brewers and Pirates.
Best fit: San Francisco Giants – The Giants have really been lacking a middle-of-the-order hitter and of the guys in their price range, Pena fits the bill. All of their long-term finances are going to be tied up in their starting rotation (extensions ahead for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain) so a one-year commitment to Pena makes sense. Aubrey Huff didn’t repeat his strong 2010 season, so starting him as the everyday first baseman won’t result in much offensively. Pena is capable of hitting the ball out of spacious AT&T Park and he should come cheap. One year, $7 million with incentives could be just enough.
6. SP Edwin Jackson
For a guy who pitches 200 innings every year, it is surprising how Jackson can’t stay on one team. He is your typical high-velocity, questionable-control kind of guy and which screams number three starter in the open market. Jackson gave the St. Louis Cardinals some great starts down the stretch and wasn’t bad in the playoffs. There are a few teams in need of innings-eaters such as the Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Royals, Reds and Rockies. Something like a four year, $32 million deal is the best-case scenario for Jackson.
Best fit: Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays don’t have anyone dependable outside of Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow in their rotation. Of the arms on the market, Jackson fits well as a number-two starter right behind Romero. The Blue Jays don’t have the best bullpen either, so his ability to ignore a pitch count helps as well. The offense, led by Jose Bautista, is respectable, so 12-15 wins is very possible on a four-year deal just under over $30 million.
7. OF Coco Crisp
Crisp was productive hitting leadoff for Oakland last season. His .264 average could have been a little better, but his 49 stolen bases led the AL. There are a few teams out there who could use not only a true leadoff hitter but a game changer defensively in the outfield. The Nationals, Reds, Rockies, Dodgers and Indians are the most in need. The switch-hitting Crisp will be 32 on opening day, so a long-term deal is out of the question. Two years at $10-$12 million sounds about right for him.
Best fit: Washington Nationals – The Nationals are just about through with the idea of playing Roger Bernadina everyday in center field because they don’t have much else. They have been linked to B.J. Upton for almost a year now but need to realize he is nothing special. Crisp is the leadoff hitter they have lacked for a while and is the perfect table-setter for a lineup that will feature sluggers like Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Michael Morse. His steals should equal more runs scored in 2012 and more wins for the Nats.
8. SP Javier Vazquez
Vazquez is in a similar situation as Kuroda. It is unclear how much he really wants to pitch in 2012 but his performance to end last season says he should. In his last 19 starts, he went 10-4 with a 1.42 ERA. There really hasn’t been much talk when it comes to interest in Vazquez but I expect that to change once Oswalt, Jackson and Kuroda are off the board. Teams would be crazy to pass up a guy with the abilities that Vazquez possess. At 35 and retirement being discussed, I can’t see him signing anywhere for more than two years. That works well for the Tigers, Reds, Royals, Rockies, Red Sox and Orioles. Two years, $18 million would be a good price here.
Best fit: Colorado Rockies – The Rockies are in need of rotation help and Vazquez would be a big addition. Adding an arm like that could put them right back in the thick of the NL West. He is a guy who can pitch deep in ball games when he is hot, which would also do their shaky bullpen wonders in 2012. If last season’s strong finish was a sign of things to come, the Rockies won’t miss Ubaldo Jimenez at all. I say throw $18 million over two years his way with no hesitation. They would just have to hope he really wants to play because with Ozzie Guillen (Guillen questioned his ability to pitch in big games back in 2009) now managing the Marlins, there is zero chance he returns there.
9. CP Francisco Cordero
Cordero has proven to be one of the most consistent closers in baseball over the last few years. Last season he saved 40 games and posted a 2.45 ERA in 69.2 innings. While his velocity continues to fall at this point in his career, it didn’t seem to phase Cordero as opponents only hit .198 (career-best) against him. He still gets guys out with the best of them, and the argument could be made that he is a better option for teams than Madson. Teams in need of a closer include the Red Sox, Reds, Blue Jays, Mets and Orioles. His services should require two years and no more than $8 million annually.
Best fit: Cincinnati Reds – Cordero has held down the back end of the Reds bullpen for the last four years and there is no reason for it not to continue. Their relievers as a group were pretty effective last season, so it only makes sense for them to keep the group together. Adding another lefty in Sean Marshall helps, as well. Unless the Red Sox swoop in and make an offer for more than one year, I don’t see Cordero going elsewhere, so I think the Reds could get away with a one-year, $7 million deal.
10. OF Juan Pierre – Pierre might not be a .300 hitter anymore but he is still one of best leadoff hitters in the game. His 27 steals were disappointing, but he is just two years removed from stealing 68 bags, so I expect that to improve. Leading the league in getting caught stealing (17 times) isn’t much of a red flag either. He simply runs a lot, so he will get caught his fair share of times (caught 17 times or more seven times in his career). While many feel he might struggle to catch on as an everyday player in 2012, he is still a true leadoff hitter who should have an average around .280 and steal 30-40 bags for some team. That to me screams everyday-player despite below-average defense in the outfield. I say he fits well for the Nationals, Dodgers, Reds, Orioles, Marlins and Indians.
Best fit: Cincinnati Reds – The Reds have everything they need offensively except a true leadoff hitter. Drew Stubbs is a heck of a player, but he doesn’t belong at the top of the order (205 strikeouts led the MLB). If he could hit either second or sixth behind Jay Bruce, it would fit their lineup much better. With a hole in left field, Pierre should come right in and complete this unit. With all the hitters behind him, it’s not out of the question for him to score 100 runs for the first time since 2004.
Other notable free agents: Derrek Lee, Joel Pineiro, Kerry Wood, Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, Casey Kotchman, Rich Harden, Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez, Darren Oliver, Livan Hernandez, Ryan Ludwick, Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, Jeff Francis, Cody Ross, Mike Gonzalez, Carlos Guillen, Orlando Cabrera, Arthur Rhodes.