This is quite possibly the deepest class when it comes to star production. A-Rod still leads the pack but there are some young franchise players who have the talent to be perrenial All-Stars. There will be plenty of production to go around and waiting to grab a third baseman in later rounds shouldn’t hurt you too badly.
- Alex Rodriguez NYY- Rodriguez missed time at the beginning of the year and still had 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. He’s a slugger with a lifetime .390 OBP and can still steal some bases.
- Evan Longoria TB- His first full season in the Bigs led to 33 HRs and 113 RBIs. Longo scored 100 runs and hit 44 doubles, despite lots of strikeouts.
- Pablo Sandoval SF- The Kung Fu Panda will again challenge for a batting title. His power will continue to grow and he doesn’t strikeout. Sandoval just needs the guys in front of him to get on-base.
In the running: David Wright NYM, Ryan Zimmerman WAS, Mark Reynolds ARI
- Miguel Tejada BAL- Miggy’s power isn’t what it once was, but he is still gets his extra base hits and comes through in the clutch. Tejada will be batting next to guys like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Weiters… You get the idea. He will qualify for third base shortly after opening day.
- Aramis Ramirez CHC- When A-Ram is healthy, he is a top 5 third baseman. In only 82 games last season, Ramirez drove in 65 and hit 15 HR. His OBP has risen in each of the last three years to a career-high .389 last season.
- Kevin Kouzmanoff OAK- Kouzmanoff is not a superstar, but he’s a solid RBI hitter. He was over-shadowed by Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego but now moves on to Oakland. Kouz has had 80 RBIs in each of the last two years and could improve his HR totals now that he’s away from PETCO Park.
- David Wright NYM- Wright could very easily move back up to “The Elite” category but here’s why I moved him down to the “Caution” level. A move to Citi Field and injuries to the rest of the lineup helped bring his HRs down by 23 and his RBIs down by 52. That’s a lot. As far as I know, the Mets are still going to play half their games in Citi Field and Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are already missing time.
- Adrian Beltre BOS- In 449 at-bast, Beltre failed to reach double-digits in homeruns. His RBIs were down to 44. Will a change of scenery help him rebound or will he continue his decline?
- Chipper Jones ATL- Chipper played in his most games since 2003 but failed to reach 20 HRs for the first time in his career (besides 1993 when he played in 8 games). Jones will put up a good AVG and OBP but for the second year in a row he had decreases in runs, hits, doubles, HRs, RBIs, and SLG.
Rosters are starting to take shape as we inch closer to spring training. The trade market has been relatively quiet this off-season and the free agent market is dwindling. Some teams are rather comfortable with their rosters as they currently stand but many spots are still in question. Let’s take a look at the most important position battles for each American League team this spring:
Orioles- LF: The Orioles have put together a stellar offense that also has great depth on the bench. Besides left field, the lineup is set. Felix Pie is only 25 and finally realized some of his potential last season after a rough start to his career in Chicago. He provides great defense in left field and a left-handed bat for the bottom of the order. Nolan Reimold is two years older and made his debut last year. As a rookie, Reimold put up 15 homers and 45 RBIs in only 104 contests. They could form a platoon but Pie may be the early favorite to start more games.
Red Sox- IF: The Red Sox are completely set as far as hitters besides maybe another bench player. The bench is currently made of Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, Bill Hall, and Jeremy Hermida. One player who could still find his way onto the team is former starting third baseman, Mike Lowell. The Sox nearly traded Lowell to the Rangers earlier this off-season but his injuries kept the deal from being finalized. Adrian Beltre was signed to play third base. First base is already set with Kevin Youkilis. It seems like the only way for Boston to handle this is to trade Lowell for whatever they can get after he proves his health during spring training.
White Sox- BENCH: After shaking up the lineup earlier this winter, the batting order seems to be set. The White Sox have a veteran bench including Ramon Castro, Omar Vizquel, and Mark Kotsay. Whoever else is on the bench will have a tough time finding at bats. Jayson Nix has a shot at making the team as the primary right handed pinch hitter. Jayson, like his brother Laynce of the Cincinnati Reds, doesn’t hit for a high average but does provide raw power. Brent Lillibridge would give the team more versatility but has disappointed in all phases at the plate during his two years in the pros. Others who will get a look this spring include catcher Tyler Flowers, infielders Jason Botts and Freddie Bynum, and outfielders Brady Clark and Alejandro De Aza.
Indians- C: The Indians have many spots that are not set heading into camp. First base, second base, and left field could potentially have competitions this spring. However, the most important battle this spring in Cleveland’s camp could be that for the job of starting catcher. Lou Marson was brought in when the Indians traded Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. Carlos Santana is another candidate. Santana is one of the game’s top prospects and his switch-hitting skills profile similar to those of former Cleveland catcher, Victor Martinez. Lou Marson has already played at the top level but Santana has a higher ceiling. Mike Redmond was signed to mentor both prospects and help a young pitching staff.
Tigers- LF: The Tigers seem to be set with rookie Austin Jackson in center field. The left field competition will include front runners Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn along with rookie Wilkin Ramirez. Raburn, who can play all over the field, has had the most success including a strong showing in 2009. The Tigers have also been linked to Johnny Damon this off-season. He would be a nice upgrade at the top of their order because none of the in-house options are ideal for the two spot in the lineup.
Royals- 2B/SS: The Royals have two huge battles this spring and both need to be mentioned here. Alberto Callaspo was a great find last year and spent most of the year around the top of the lineup. He is a very well-rounded hitter with good pop and a good eye. His defense was very poor, however, and that prompted the Royals to acquire Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen trade. Getz is a good defender with more speed than Callaspo. Early in the off-season it didn’t seem to be a log-jam as Callaspo could slide into the DH spot but the Rick Ankiel acquisition moves Jose Guillen to DH. The Royals will have to decide between defense and offense when it comes to their second baseman. The shortstop battle will be just as competitive this year. Yuniesky Betancourt was brought in via trade last summer. That deal left many questioning the front office because Betancourt has been declining in every facet of the game and is under contract through 2011. Mike Aviles was possibly the team MVP in 2008 before injuries derailed his 2009 campaign. The loser of the shortstop competition could very well be traded this spring.
Angels- C: The Angels’ starting catcher will probably be Mike Napoli but expect Jeff Mathis to give him a run for his money. Napoli has more power but his numbers did not go up with the increase in playing time he had last year. Napoli also struggled in the post-season. Mathis is a career .200 hitter but still gets plenty of playing time under Mike Scioscia. Mathis’ great post-season may give him a boost in confidence heading into spring training.
Twins- 3B: The Twins entered the off-season with holes at second, short, and third. Orlando Hudson will play second and J.J. Hardy was traded for to play short. Nick Punto is the favorite to play third given his great defense and the presence of many other prominent bats to pick up his slack at the plate. If Ron Gardenhire needs another bat, however, Brendan Harris could get some playing time. Others who will get a chance to audition at third base this spring are Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, and Danny Valencia.
Yankees- BENCH: Like many other AL teams, the Yankees’ defense is set. New York’s All-Star lineup is amazing, as usual, but every team needs depth. Juan Miranda is a first baseman that has been blocked by Mark Teixeira after solid play throughout the minors. He will fight for a bench spot with the big league team as a left-handed pinch hitter. Marcus Thames will also compete for a pinch hitting role but he is right-handed. Rule 5 Draftee Jamie Hoffman has a slim chance at making the team as a reserve outfielder and may need an injury to either a starter or to Brett Gardner in order to make the roster. Mike Rivera will compete with Francisco Cervelli for the chance to backup Jorge Posada.
Athletics- LF/RF: Coco Crisp is the only outfielder that is a lock for a starting position in Oakland’s outfield. Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney are the early favorites to start in left field and right field, respectively. Davis finally got consistent playing time and was able to produce runs in many clutch plate appearances last season. Sweeney is best known for plus defense but since arriving in Oakland he also has a .349 OBP. Sweeney still lacks power and speed. Travis Buck enters spring training with a chip on his shoulder after the club brought in Gabe Gross, Michael Taylor, and re-signed Jack Cust. Michael Taylor is one of the top prospect in baseball and many think he is ready for a full-time role in Oakland.
Mariners- C: Most of Seattle’s lineup will be different from opening day 2009 (catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, and left field). Catcher is the leading question mark entering 2010. Adam Moore is the catcher of the future but the Mariners see now as their best chance to take the division from the Angels. Will they let Moore grow in the midst of a pennant chase? Josh Bard is a veteran that was invited to camp with a chance to make the roster. Bard had two fairly good seasons in 2006 and 2007 but struggled at the plate last year in 90 games. Moore and Bard will battle Eliezer Alfonzo and Rob Johnson for playing time this year but the Mariners should not expect too much offense from this spot in 2010.
Rays- C: In 2008 Dioner Navarro was an All-Star catcher for the American League Champions. In 2009 Dioner Navarro lost playing time and saw his OBP drop from .349 to .261 while the Rays missed the playoffs. Navarro is still young but the Rays project to again be one of best teams in baseball and need production from the entire lineup to keep pace with Boston and New York. Kelly Shoppach was brought in to compete with Navarro. He is another young catcher who experienced a drop-off in production last year. The Rays hope the competition between the two will spark better play in 2010.
Rangers- 1B: The Rangers will again have a good offense with players like Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, and so on. One spot that isn’t so great is first base. Chris Davis played well as a rookie in 2008 but his ability to get onbase completely fell off the chart last year. The Rangers have their eyes set on the playoffs and tried to acquire Mike Lowell as insurance for first base. Lowell’s nagging injuries didn’t allow the deal to be completed. Justin Smoak is a switch-hitting prospect but is still very young. The Rangers may still look to free agency for a hitter like Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, or, longtime Ranger, Hank Blalock.
Blue Jays- LF: The Blue Jays are in rebuilding mode and are looking to stopgaps to fill in all over the field. Utility-man Jose Bautista may end up being the stopgap in left field. He has the ability to hit for power but will not have a high average. Bautista is the favorite but Jeremey Reed is another option along with speedster Joey Gathright. The Jays had a potential five tool left fielder in Michael Taylor but traded him for corner infield prospect, Brett Wallace. Free agents Johnny Damon and Willy Taveras could be brought in to play left and provide top-of-the-order experience as well.
The multi-year deals have not been flying around like off-seasons of past. Think players like Carlos Silva or Gil Meche would walk away with 4-5 year deals this winter? Now that we’ve entered 2010 teams will be looking for this year’s low-risk/high-reward one year deals. But some guys are worthy of longer commitments. Here are the top dozen players with the best chance of getting a 2+ year deal and a possible destination.
C- Bengie Molina: 2 years, New York Mets
1B- Russell Branyan: 2 years, Texas Rangers
1B- Adam LaRoche: 2 years, Seattle Mariners
2B- Orlando Hudson: 2 years, Chicago Cubs
2B- Felipe Lopez: 2 years, Los Angeles Dodgers
SS- Orlando Cabrera: 2 years, Minnesota Twins
SS/3B- Miguel Tejada: 2 years, Cincinnati Reds
3B- Adrian Beltre: 3 years, Boston Red Sox
LF- Johnny Damon: 2 years, San Francisco Giants
LF- Matt Holliday: 6 years, St. Louis Cardinals
SP- Aroldis Chapman: 5 years, Florida Marlins
SP- Joel Piniero: 3 years, New York Mets
Some remaining free agents who are on the fringe include Rick Ankiel, Vladimir Guerrero, Doug Davis, Jarrod Washburn and Jose Valverde. Marlon Byrd’s backloaded contract with the Cubs may set precedent for quite a few of these players who want that extra year guaranteed.
Though a couple big name targets are off the market, each team can still fill there voids with quality talent. Here’s the best of what’s left:
- Orlando Cabrera ss
- Orlando Hudson 2b
- Matt Holliday lf
- Russell Branyan 1b
- Adrian Beltre 3b
- Rick Ankiel rf
- Bengie Molina c
- Marlon Byrd cf
With the free agency period off to a frustratingly slow start, I’ve decided to post my synopsis of the top free agents in this year’s market. Also listed are some potential destinations.
1. Matt Holliday OF– Great all-around hitter who rebounded well in St. Louis after his short stay in the AL. He is the premier offensive player in this year’s class and a legitimate 3-hitter for any contender. His combination of power, speed, and competitiveness will land him the biggest contract of all free agents in the coming months. Yankees, Mets, Red Sox
2. John Lackey SP– Despite a couple recent injuries, Lackey’s leadership and determination are great intangibles. He consistently puts his team in the spot to win games and will be the ace anywhere he goes, besides the Yankees… Yankees, Brewers, Angels
3. Jason Bay OF– Bay has taken some hits lately for his defense and even criticism for rejecting the Red Sox initial offer of 4 years/$60MM. Bay, however, was able to post great HR and RBI numbers and that’s what gets free agents paid. Bay is a great number two option to Holliday. Red Sox, Mets, Giants
4. Chone Figgins 3B/UT– After Chone struggled mightly in the playoffs, he is on a mission to get back in the post-season and earn another ring. Figgins will go to a winner where he can play third base, his best position. Many teams have been rumored to the speedy utility man for many different positions, though the White Sox have said they’re already out of the hunt due to the price. Angels, Phillies, Mariners
5. Aroldis Chapman LHP– Chapman is a lefty phenom who defected from Cuba who just changed his agency. He has great stuff and a fastball that approaches 100mph. Nearly every team has some level of interest in his rare skills set. He may spend some time in the minors, but will still earn a great paycheck. I could see Chapman as the Dodgers’ single big move this off-season if they’re unable to attain Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers
6. Mike Gonzalez LHP/Rafael Soriano RHP– This pair of relievers come from the same bullpen and can both setup or close. Their electrifying stuff will earn them both a huge (and probably over-priced) payday. My guess is that both will have a chance to close. Phillies, Braves, Tigers
7. Orlando Hudson 2B– This perennial gold glover is a switch hitter with pop and speed. He can work an at-bat and is a great clubhouse guy. The only thing going against Hudson is his injury plagued second-half with the Dodgers, which will keep him affordable like this time last year. Mets, Nationals, Twins
8. Joel Piniero SP– I like Piniero. Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan once again worked his magic with Piniero. Piniero always had talent and he finally turned the corner. In a relatively weak market for starting pitchers, Piniero comes in as the number two. Mets, Cardinals, Brewers
9. Mark DeRosa 3B/UT– Mark DeRosa built his great reputation off a couple solid years with the Cubs. His value diminished a bit with a wrist injury which required surgery after the season and a rough stay with the Cards where his OBP dropped significantly. DeRosa though, is a good option for most teams as he can play a very formidable second and third along with first and the corner outfield spots. Even though the Cubs fans love this guy, they will not reunite on the Northside. Phillies, Cardinals, Twins
10. Bengie Molina C– In a very thin offering of catchers this year, Molina provides a veteran presence with a solid bat. He has hit cleanup or fifth many times in the past few years with the Giants. Mets, Brewers, Mariners
11. Jason Marquis SP– Marquis’ sinker worked well for him in Colorado where he flourished for the first half, but then dropped off. He is durable and an innings eater, and provides some offense from the pitcher’s spot for what it’s worth. Keep in mind his 10 year streak of making the playoffs. Mets, Cardinals, Rockies
12. Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui OF/DH– Pros: came up huge in the post-season. Cons: age and declining overall skills. These two Yankees favorites would both love to be back in the Bronx but the Yankees are looking for more athleticism in LF and would rather commit one year too few than one year too many. White Sox, Yankees, Mariners
13. Rich Harden SP– Harden would like to be back in Chicago’s rotation but I’m not sure he proved his health enough to be warranted a raise in the windy city. He has an upper 90s fastball and a nice changeup/sinker that makes him perhaps the biggest risk/reward pitcher this year. It’s very conceivable Boston picks him up to be another reclamation project similar to Paul Byrd, John Smoltz, and Brad Penny of late. Red Sox, Cubs, Mets
14. Adrian Beltre 3B– Beltre is still a great defender and a power threat. His value is nowhere near it was the last time he hit market and cashed in, but he will still be coveted with lots of vacancies at the hot corner this year. Phillies, Orioles, Twins
15. Nick Johnson 1B– Johnson is known for his injuries and his above average OBP. He improved that OBP with his second half Marlins stint in which he posted a .477 OBP. This off-season he will earn himself a multiyear deal to provide the steady production people have grown accustomed to. Mets, Giants, White Sox
- Orlando Cabrera SS
- Russell Branyan 1B
- Miguel Tejada SS/3B
- Marlon Byrd OF
- Vladimir Guerrero DH/RF
- Adam LaRoche 1B
- Fernando Rodney RP
- Andy Pettitte SP (would be higher on the list, but the Yankees are the only destination)