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Friday, November 13, 2009

Top 2010 Free Agents, by Position

I've bolded half a dozen players who will probably dictate the market. Until they've signed, most of the rest will have to wait. There will be many teams hoping to learn from the what happened in '08-'09, as players like Bobby Abreu, Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera, and Adam Dunn signed short, small contracts and then produced well above their pay-grade. The owners may have a more difficult time selling the "economic downturn" argument this time around.


1. Bengie Molina (A) 35 yrs.-old
2. Rod Barajas (B) 34
3. Ramon Hernandez (B) 34
4. Brian Schneider 33
5. Jason Kendall (B) 36

There is a strong possibility that none of the five men listed above will be resigned by their current franchises, because each team (Giants, Blue Jays, Reds, Mets, & Brewers) has a young (and inexpensive) prospect on the verge of promotion. It is possible that Kendall, considering his age and the fact that he's already pulled down over $70 Million in his career, might be willing to resign with Milwaukee at a discount and share time with Angel Salome, but I think it is unlikely that Molina or Barajas would be open to similar situations with Buster Posey and J. P. Arencibia. They will hope to be wooed by teams without either a stable veteran or a particularly promising youngster; San Diego, Houston, and Kansas City fit the bill. As do the Mets, who in all likelihood are done with the Brian Schneider experiment (680 OPS in 169 games over the last two seasons), but may not be convinced that Omir Santos (688 OPS in 96 games in '09) is the answer either. Ramon Hernandez had his worst season since 2002, suppressing his value, but at 34 he could still prove to be a cheap source of power for a team willing to use him in a utility role.

First Base:

1. Nick Johnson (B) 31
2. Adam LaRoche (B) 30
3. Aubrey Huff (B) 33
4. Hank Blalock 29
5. Russell Branyan 34

There isn't a true slugger on the market at first base this offseason, which might lead teams to make desperate bids for guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder, who names have circulated on the rumor mill on and off for the past couple seasons. There are several franchises in desperate need of output from first base - Mets, Giants, Mariners, and Orioles, for starters - who may be seduced into paying too much for one of these thoroughly mediocre options. For value, I would probably suggest the high-risk/high-reward options: Nick Johnson and Hank Blalock. Both are young-ish and have shown flickers of brilliance at times, but have been dogged by injuries. Some good luck and the right environment could catch lightening in a bottle. However, it would be downright asinine to sign any of these guys to more than a one or two-year contract.

Second Base:

1. Orlando Hudson (A) 32
2. Placido Polanco (A) 34
3. Felipe Lopez (B) 30
4. Adam Kennedy 34
5. Jerry Hairston Jr. (B) 34

Joe Torre's somewhat flabbergasting decision to go with Ron Belliard over Orlando Hudson in the playoffs may suppress O-Dog's price, again, after what was a pretty strong season overall. Hudson got off to a blistering start (he was hitting .332 on June 1) and made his second All-Star team. The general impression will be that he fell off drastically in the second-half, but that's simply not true. His power (which he has never exactly been known for) did decline, but he still hit .284 after the All-Star Break and actually raised his OBP (.363). Add in the fact that he plays a position where offensive production is scarce and remains a solid, if not spectacular, defender (he does own four Gold Gloves), and I can't see how this guy isn't valued just below the top tier of free agents this winter.

Much the same is true of Polanco, who also flashes serious leather and is still a solid contact hitter. Teams should be wary, however, that his splits have declined consistently since 2007, when he hit .341. If he suffers an equivalent decline next year, we'll suddenly be looking at a replacement-level player. In both cases, their status as A-level free agents, meaning that the team that signs them would have to give up a high draft pick, makes them more risky investments and, in Polanco's case especially, suggests that re-upping for another year with the current franchise may be the smart play for both sides.

Third Base:

1. Chone Figgins (B) 32
2. Adrian Beltre (B) 31
3. Mark DeRosa (B) 35
4. Melvin Mora (B) 38 [Assuming Orioles Buyout His Option]
5. Troy Glaus (B) 33/Joe Crede 32

Somebody really needs to explain to me how Latroy Hawkins and Marco Scutaro get A designations, while Chone Figgins, a guy who was an All-Star and has garnered MVP consideration in four different seasons (including this one, I can safely speculate), is given a B. For Figgins, it is certainly an incredible boon. As an excellent, versatile defender and one of the sport's top leadoff hitters, he was going to be one of the premier targets this offseason regardless. But the B designation could exacerbate the bidding war, as teams will be willing to pay more with the knowledge they won't have to sacrifice a top pick, as they would for anybody on their list of alternative acquisitions, like, potentially, Hudson, DeRosa, Polanco, Cabrera, Tejada, or Scutaro, all inferior players at this stage in their careers.

DeRosa and Beltre will also be pretty hot commodities. Beltre can't hope to duplicate the $64 Million contract he signed in 2005, but inserted in a quality lineup in a better hitter's park, his production would almost certainly improve and he is a premier defensive cornermen. He could easily be worth $25 Million over the next three seasons. DeRosa was a productive, popular player on both the Cardinals and the Cubs. He could fit in at second, third, or as a utilityman, versatility which is worth something. He is, on the other hand, a 35-year-old with a history of back and leg ailments who has never played 150 games in a season.


1. Orlando Cabrera (A) 35
2. Miguel Tejada (A) 36
3. Marco Scutaro (A) 34
4. Alex Gonzalez 32
5. Adam Everett 33

As mentioned above, the A designation isn't doing anything to help the top three shortstops on this list, even though each is coming off of a highly productive campaign. Cabrera, who was a real spark for the Twins after coming over in a deadline deal, was a good bet to resign, until Minnesota traded for J. J. Hardy. Scutaro, who had a career year, which few people would be willing to bet on him duplicating, may be a good candidate to re-up with the Jays. Houston, on the other hand, is probably done with Miguel Tejada. His defense was atrocious in 2009 and he no longer hits for enough power to make up for it, and, of course, there were some distracting matters this past spring that the Astros probably want to put behind them. Tejada's negotiating position with other teams may be predicated on his willingness to consider a position change. Even if he doesn't, however, he's still productive enough with the bat to find employment somewhere, perhaps with the Pirates or the Royals. The latter two guys on this list, Gonzalez and Everett, may be among the few free agents whose negotiating position has improved in the last couple years. The increasing emphasis on defense from front offices will certainly help them (as it did Everett last offseason), as will the fact that they will still be cheaper (and younger) than any of the top trio of options and won't require compensation picks.

Left Field:

1. Matt Holliday (A) 30
2. Jason Bay (A) 31
3. Johnny Damon (A) 36
4. Rocco Baldelli 28
5. Garret Anderson (B) 38

The top two free agents this offseason are both power-hitting left-fielders. Both are relatively young, both have postseason experience, both have reputations as good clubhouse presences, and neither is a complete butcher on defense, driving up demand for them even further. Teams should be wary, however, since neither Jason Bay nor Matt Holliday have demonstrated the consistency of a Mark Texeira or a Miguel Cabrera, although both will be attempting to lobby for similar contracts. There is a strong chance that some franchise desperate to prove something to its fans - perhaps the Mets, Cubs, or Giants - will dramatically overpay for the cream of this watered-down crop. Indeed, some may not have a choice. Holliday and Bay look all the better because their are few good second-tier options among free agent outfielders. Johnny Damon proved himself still a very productive top-of-the-order hitter, but his defense is atrocious and he is edging toward 40.

Center Field:

1. Mike Cameron (B) 37
2. Marlon Byrd (B) 32
3. Coco Crisp 30
4. Rick Ankiel 30
5. Endy Chavez 32

As the league trends toward defense, teams are more and more likely to recognize center-fielders who aren't 30 HR threats. Franklin Gutierrez and Carlos Gomez were both targeted despite their apparent offensive limitations. That's great news for Mike Cameron, Coco Crisp, Rick Ankiel, and Endy Chavez. Expect both Chicago teams to covet these rangy glovemen. Byrd, on the other hand, hit well enough last season to be a corner outfielder, at least in the friendly confines of Arlington. Teams looking at his progressing power over the last couple seasons should be very wary of his home/road splits.

Right Field:

1. Vladimir Guerrero (A) 34
2. Hideki Matsui (B) 36
3. Jermaine Dye (A) 36
4. Xavier Nady (B) 31
5. Randy Winn (B) 36

Designated Hitter:

1. Carlos Delgado (B) 38
2. Jim Thome 39
3. Andruw Jones 33
4. Jason Giambi 39
5. Gary Sheffield 41

I'm lumping the right-fielders and designated hitters together, because with the exception of Randy Winn, it would probably be in the best interest of all these fellows never to pick up a glove in 2010, either because they are prone to injury themselves or they've got the range of a tugboat. The fact that Guerrero, Dye, Nady, Jones, and Delgado could occasionally play the field with increase their value, but they still aren't reasonable options for National League teams, as they will need regular opportunities to rest at the DH. All of these guys are capable of giving their teams good at-bats and most of them will be excellent dugout presences as well, but I expect all, with the possible exceptions of Guerrero and Matsui, all will have to wait until spring for suitors to present themselves.

Right-Handed Starting Pitchers:

1. John Lackey (A) 31
2. Rich Harden (B) 28
3. Ben Sheets 31
4. Joel Pineiro (B) 31

5. Brett Myers 29
6. Vicente Padilla (B) 32
7. Jon Garland (B) 30
8. Jason Marquis (B) 31
9. Kelvim Escobar 33
10. Carl Pavano (B) 34
11. Brad Penny 32
12. John Smoltz 43

Left-Handed Starting Pitchers:

1. Aroldis Chapman 22
2. Erik Bedard (B) 31
3. Randy Wolf (A) 33

4. Jarrod Washburn 35
5. Andy Pettitte (B) 38
6. Randy Johnson (B) 46

What was already a shallow group of starting pitchers has been made even moreso by the quick resigning of Tim Hudson in Atlanta and the D-Back's decision to pick up Brandon Webb's option. Aroldis Chapman and John Lackey are going to get very big deals, despite the fact that Chapman is a complete enigma and Lackey has won more than fourteen games only once. Starting pitching is alway in demand, so the super injury-prone (Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, and Erik Bedard), the headcases (Brett Myers, Vicente Padilla, and Jason Marquis), and the geezers (Andy Pettitte, John Smoltz, and Randy Johnson) will probably all get paid. There aren't many bargains, but Kelvim Escobar, Brad Penny, and Carl Pavano probably offer the best combination of low risk and potentially high reward.


1. Jose Valverde (A) 32
2. Rafael Soriano (A) 30
3. J. J. Putz 33
4. Fernando Rodney (B) 33
5. Billy Wagner (A) 38

Right-Handed Relievers:

1. Tony Pena Jr. 29
2. Brandon Lyon (B) 30
3. Kiko Calero (B) 35
4. Rafael Betancourt (A) 35 [Assuming Rockies Don't Pickup His Option]

5. Takashi Saito 40
6. Octavio Dotel (A) 36
7. Latroy Hawkins (A) 37
8. Bobby Howry (B) 36
9. Brendan Donnelly 38

Left-Handed Relievers:

1. John Grabow (A) 31
2. Joe Beimel (B) 32
3. Scott Eyre (B) 38
4. Darren Oliver (A) 39
5. Ron Mahay 39
6. Eddie Guardado 39

The A designation is going to crush the value of free agent relievers like Billy Wagner, Rafael Soriano, John Grabow, and Octavio Dotel. It also makes it a near certainty that veterans like Darren Oliver, Latroy Hawkins, and Rafael Betancourt will resign with their current teams. J. J. Putz is coming off two straight injury-plagued seasons, but not that long ago he was considered among the premier closers in all of baseball. He could be the best bullpen value on the market. Jose Valverde will come at a high price, but few people have noticed that he has been among the best closers in baseball over the last three seasons and currently sits at #9 in total saves among active players (167).

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