Looking back on a World Series that was both improbable and unpredictable, look for an equally bizarre avalanche of winter free-agent signings. Then again, maybe owners and general managers will come to their senses. The champion St. Louis Cardinals, it should be noted, went on their amazing run when a group of bench and fringe players started to click.
Ironically, the Red Birds face the ultimate challenge of trying to re-sign the face of their franchise, Albert Pujols, the market’s biggest prize. To be honest, I can’t visualize Albert playing anywhere else but St. Louis. He’s just too attached to the city, his teammates and community service. More than money, Pujols seeks a long-term contract with security for his family. I’m not saying the Cardinal’s front office should offer Albert an Alex Rodriguez-type deal. But if they need to add a few extra years to a new pact and make him happy, then why not get it done?
Another proven player testing the waters will be Aramis Ramirez, the Chicago Cubs third baseman, who racked up quality offensive numbers last season. Ramirez is looking for some love in the “Windy City,” where he has mentored shortstop sensation Starlin Castro and developed friendships with Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto. But at age 33, will he get that kind of security from the new kids in town, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer? Probably not, especially with Soriano’s outrageous contract on the books. My guess is that he’ll wind up in Atlanta, depending on whether or not Chipper Jones decides to enjoy retirement.
David Ortiz is another veteran with questions about his future. But “Big Papi” was pretty good last year and, as usual, was the heart and soul of the Boston Red Sox. With all the internal turmoil in “Beantown,” it would be ludicrous to let such a fan-favorite walk away.
Now, let’s examine the rest of my upper-tier list of Hispanic stars who are looking for new, mega-money deals.
1. Jose Reyes. There’s no way the Mets can afford to re-sign Reyes, who is looking to become baseball’s richest shortstop. Look for the Giants, who desperately need a table-setter with speed, to win the sweepstakes. But not at the Dominican’s rumored asking price of $20 million per season.
2. Carlos Beltran. The Giants rented him last year, but to no avail. At this stage of his career, Beltran is best suited for a DH role in the American League, probably one year at a time.
3. Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod was unhappy in Milwaukee last season, and the Brewers can’t wait to get rid of him, even if it costs them a hefty buyout. It’s hard to believe any club would care to put up with Rodriguez, a clubhouse cancer, for more than one year. But somebody will take the bait, because Rodriguez is still capable of finishing games.
6. Alex Gonzalez. Although his numbers were down last year, Gonzalez is still an excellent defender who can be retained without breaking the bank. That’s what the Braves will attempt to accomplish.
7. Rafael Furcal. He was huge in the postseason for the Cardinals, and the Dodgers picked up most of the bill. Now the question remains: Can St. Louis afford him, based on the pursuit for Pujlos? Furcal could end up in San Francisco if the talks for Reyes go sour.
8. Ramon Hernandez. The Padres probably won’t pull the trigger, but Hernandez would be a great fit behind the plate in San Diego. And it’s not often that the Padres get the chance to grab a player that they let get away.
9. Joel Pineiro. The Angels would like to retain the Puerto Rican, even with his history of injuries. But seven wins doesn’t equate to $8 million.
There are also quite a few other Type B and non-classified players who could be bargains for teams looking to fill holes and add to their bench. Here are a few names to toss around, all who made less than $3 million last year.
I’ll leave all of you with my most solid, free agent prediction for 2012. Omar Vizquel will be invited to join countryman Ozzie Guillen with the Florida Marlins and close out his Hall of Fame career. If nothing else, it would be a classy gesture.
Are you listening, Jeffrey Loria?