After a surprising World Series victory by the Giants, there’s only a five-day turnaroundbefore we see 142 players in free agency. Where are the big names heading? What trades might we see? Let’s start with the biggest fish in this small free agent pond…
SP Cliff Lee
Main suitors: Rangers, Yankees
Dark Horse candidate: Nationals
Following three stellar starts in the postseason with a dud and a Series-clinching loss, there are some newfound questions about what Lee can expect from free agency. This is a pitcher who will be 33 next season, just had back issues in August, and has pitched a lot of innings the past three years. Add in the fact that long-term pitcher deals tend not to work out very well (see Kevin Brown, Barry Zito, among others), and there really shouldn’t be a deal to any pitcher above 4 years.
However, the rules go out the window when the Yankees are in the bidding and have a target in their sights. While I wouldn’t make a long-term deal with a pitcher of this age, if it takes 6 years to get Lee in pinstripes, expect the deal to get done.
You can’t rule out the Rangers, however, who are fresh off a deep postseason run, have new owners and a big-money TV contract to make matching the Yankees’ offer a possibility. Also, the Nationals are talking about making a big splash in free agency, and there would be no bigger splash than stealing away Lee.
Predicted deal: Yankees, 5 years, $135 million
LF Carl Crawford
Main Suitors: Red Sox, Angels
Dark Horse Candidates: Yankees, Mets
Crawford is easily the best position player in this free agent market. The Rays can’t afford him anymore, and the Red Sox are looking to benefit from Tampa’s budget cuts. They have a huge need in the outfield, and even if Crawford’s stellar defense would help more in right, he would be a cornerstone in Fenway’s short left field.
The Angels, coming off a disappointing year, could really use a tablesetter for their lineup, and Crawford’s blend of speed and ability to get on base could be a key for a 2011 turnaround. Owner Arte Moreno has not been shy about spending money, and I don’t think they’ll be outbid.
I list the Yankees and Mets as dark horses for different reasons. For the Mets, I feel they absolutely need Crawford, even if he would have to play right field for them (Jason Bay has to play in left), and would be a huge boost to their lineup – he’s a great fit for Citi Field in my opinion. The Yankees are probably not as focused on upgrading their outfield as much as getting Lee, but if they fail at getting Lee, don’t be surprised if Granderson or Swisher are on the trading block and Crawford is playing left field at Yankee Stadium.
I don’t see the Yankees missing on Lee, however, and Crawford goes elsewhere.
Predicted deal: Angels, 5 years, $100 million
OF Jayson Werth
Main Suitors: Phillies, Angels, Red Sox
Dark Horse candidates: Nationals, Braves
Werth is going to get a big-money offer, and while he’s a solid major leaguer, he’s really going to benefit from the Jason Bay and Matt Holiday deals last year. He is definitely not the $100 million player that one of these teams is going to make him.
Between the Red Sox and the Angels, whoever misses out on Crawford will go after Werth hard. I don’t think the Phillies will be able to find the money in their budget to retain him, but their lineup is really lefty-heavy, so don’t be surprised if a couple pieces are moved (Ibanez? Blanton?) to free up the money for Werth.
I mention the Nationals and Braves, since like I mentioned before the Nationals are looking to make a splash in free agency, and the Braves could really use a replacement for Chipper Jones in their outfield.
This one, I honestly have no feel on where he will end up, so take this with a grain of salt.
Predicted deal: Red Sox, 5 years, $100 million
Other Hot Stove Notes:
-Expect the three Yankee FA’s to re-up with the team, even if they go to free agency. I’m thinking a one-year deal again for Pettitte, a two-year deal for Mo Rivera, and either a 3 or 4-year deal for Jeter. Money might be an issue in the Jeter negotiations, but he wouldn’t get nearly the kind of money on the open market that the Yankees would give him.
- The biggest names in this market left are Rafael Soriano and Jorge De La Rosa. Considering that closers generally get overpaid in free agency, and there’s no starting pitcher on anywhere near the same level of Cliff Lee available, both guys could be budget-breakers for the teams that land them.
- As free agency proceeds, expect the trade market to produce a couple interesting moves. Zack Greinke, like I stated already (Zack Greinke On The Move? But Where Exactly?), should be on the move to the team that comes up with the biggest offer – Twins or Rangers being the lead candidates. Adrian Gonzalez could be on the move, although it wouldn’t surprise me if the Padres see if they can build on last season to make another run at a weak NL West. Prince Fielder also could be on the way out.
- Bud Selig should be focusing more on expanding instant replay in baseball, instead of making the long baseball season longer by adding more playoff games. I have no problem with the concept of two wild card teams who have to play a do-or-die game to make the Divisional round, but only if he also makes sure that we don’t have anymore November baseball.