My predictions of a free agent hitter each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Chad Tracy to pinch hit and get some defense at 1st base for Adam Dunn.
Royals: Vladimir Guerrero to DH; maybe play some right to keep Jose Guillen rested. (I would say Scott Podsednik but it appears he is about to sign with them anyway.)
Pirates: Rick Ankiel to play right field and hit 4th/5th.
Orioles: Hank Blalock to play first base though Baltimore may use Garrett Atkins there.
Indians: Jose Molina to mentor the team’s young catching prospects.
Mets: Bengie Molina who will start at catcher.
Diamondbacks: Randy Winn to play left field and mentor their young outfielders.
Padres: Brad Ausmus to backup Nick Hundley at catcher.
Astros: Jerry Hairston Jr. to start the season at short until Manzella is ready
Blue Jays: Endy Chavez is a great defender in the outfield.
A’s: Khalil Greene to possibly get some innings at short and third.
Reds: Miguel Tejada to start at shortstop and hit 2nd.
White Sox: Ryan Church to be insurance for oft-injured outfielders Andruw Jones and Carlos Quentin.
Brewers: Fernando Tatis to provide some pop off the bench from the right side.
Cubs: Orlando Hudson to play second base and hit 2nd.
Rays: Marcus Thames who can hit for power and start if Joyce/Perez need time at AAA.
Mariners: Xavier Nady has power and can split innings at first with Casey Kotchman.
Tigers: Alfredo Amezaga to spend time in center and at second while prospects learn.
Braves: Jeremy Reed who won’t cost to much and can play all three OF spots.
Twins: Orlando Cabrera fit right in last year and he’ll be back to play second base this time.
Marlins: Gabe Gross to provide a lefty bat off the bench.
Rangers: Russell Branyan who will have to sign another cheap, one year deal.
Giants: Yorvit Torrealba to share catching duties with Buster Posey like Torrealba did with Iannetta in Colorado.
Cardinals: Matt Stairs to pinch hit.
Rockies: Jason Giambi will re-sign after a fun run in Colorado last year.
Red Sox: Rocco Baldelli to backup the outfield because I believe they will trade Jeremy Hermida.
Dodgers: Felipe Lopez to play second base and thrive in that lineup.
Angels: Melvin Mora who will get time at third and left.
Phillies: Paul Bako to play catcher at AAA and wait for an opportunity like he got last year with the Phillies.
Yankees: Reed Johnson to split time with Brett Gardner in left.
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.
Today the New York Mets signed Jason Bay to a four year deal with a reportedly player-friendly vesting option for the fifth year. Jason Bay will be locked in for the left field job. Carlos Beltran will again be the center fielder. These two are obvious given their production and they will hold down the four and five spots in the lineup.
Right field is not as settled however. Jeff Francoeur was brought in last year and did much better for the Mets than he had done for the Braves over the previous 3 months. Francoeur’s defense was always strong, especially the arm strength, but his offensive approach lacks patience as shown by his .309 OBP of 2009. His average did jump after a first half .250 to a second half .311. He slugged very well for the Mets too.
Angel Pagan was another outfielder who performed above expectations in the second half for New York. Pagan played all three outfield spots while filling in due to injuries. Pagan led off frequently in the season’s last two months, leading to his 54 runs in only 343 at-bats. He’s a switch hitter who took advantage of the huge gaps at Citi Field posting 11 triples which was the third most in the majors (and he had 190 less ABs than second place).
The last option has the most potential but least major league success. Fernando Martinez is the club’s top prospect but struggled in his debut last year. Martinez has time to grow as he is only 21. He is probably suited best for left field but will transition fine to right if needed as he is a great athlete.
I predict that Jeff Francoeur starts the year as the right fielder with Pagan still earning plenty of at-bats. Pagan will also get playing time in left to spell Bay late in games because of Bay’s poor fielding. Fernando Martinez, aka F-Mart, will have to start the year in AAA to get more playing time. The Mets are infamous for their bad luck and if that injury bug strikes again, Martinez will be the first to get called up.
Here’s what the next group of teams still needs going into the New Year:
Florida Marlins: Entering the off-season the entire world new what this team was going to do: cut costs. Jeremy Hermida was shipped to Boston while Matt Lindstrom was moved to Houston. Since then, the Marlins have tried and failed to sign Josh Johnson to an extension and trade slugger Dan Uggla. Uggla has plenty of potential suiters but teams are not agreeing on similar trade value. If Uggla is moved, as expected, Florida could bring in a first or third baseman with Jorge Cantu playing the other and Emilio Bonifacio likely filling the second base void. A left-handed bat off the bench, preferably an outfielder, is also needed.
Houston Astros: The Astros have been in a horrible state of flux since their World Series appearance. They’re not quite good enough to win the division and not quite bad enough to completely rebuild. The latter is probably the best move however. For the rest of the off-season, expect another catcher to be added with the goal of meshing the scrap-heap that is their pitching staff.
Kansas City Royals: Adding another starting pitcher would be smart along with a good lefty in the bullpen to match up with AL foes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Justin Kubel and Grady Sizemore. This division will be up for grabs next year because no teams in it are great just yet which gives the Royals hope. Hopefully the team will refrain from the idea of trading Alberto Callaspo. Players they may need to think about moving are Jose Guillen, Yuniesky Betancourt, Alex Gordon or Mike Aviles, in that order. Also, decide if David DeJesus will be in left or center.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels should focus on adding depth for the rotation and a swing man to come out of the bullpen. Though they have four young studs in the rotation even after the departure of Lackey, injuries seem to hit them each year. It seems inevitable Gary Matthews Jr. will be moved so the team will need some more pop added to the bench.
Los Angeles Dodgers: This team badly needs a fourth or fifth starter and is currently in early talks for Aaron Harang. Blake Dewitt is not the answer at second base and a reunion with Orlando Hudson is not in the plans after how much he was benched in the second half and the playoffs. The benching started because of injury but continued when Ronnie Belliard took his job. A more likely option is Felipe Lopez.
Milwaukee Brewers: More additions to the rotation are needed to compete with the Cardinals and Cubs. It has been rumored with great frequency (and great plausibility) that Mark Mulder will sign to fill one of those spots and reunite with former coaches Macha and Peterson. The Crew could also use an all-around utility player to fill out their bench.
Minnesota Twins: Depending on the Twins’ confidence in Francisco Liriano they may want to add a legitimate starting pitcher. However, even before that, the lineup needs to be more balanced. Last year the bottom half consisted of Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, and Alexi Casilla far too often. Bringing in J.J. Hardy to play short was a fine move but improvements need to be made to either third or second base. Mark DeRosa seems like a good fit and the club may re-sign Orlando Cabrera to play second.
New York Mets: A healthy year is this most important facot for the Mets. The Phillies and Braves already pose challenges no matter who the Mets bring in, but Jason Bay and Bengie Molina would certainly help. The Mets were interested in John Lackey and Jason Marquis but with them off the market a Joel Piniero signing makes sense.
New York Yankees: Like the Red Sox, the Yankees don’t need too much. If the team wants some insurance or just an insurance partner for Brett Gardner in left, there are plenty of options on the free agent market. Reed Johnson has been in talks with New York. Jerry Hairston Jr. would be a valuable re-sign for the bench.
Oakland Athletics: The A’s will finish in last place next year while they wait for both their starting pitching to mature and Chris Carter and Michael Taylor to make an impact at the major league level. For now, newcomers Coco Crisp and Jake Fox will get a chance to prove they are starters in this league. The entire team is young and don’t expect Billy Beane to block paths with one year deals this time around. Justin Duchscherer was signed to mentor the staff, but there won’t be any Frank Thomas, Orlando Cabrera, or Jason Giambi-like signings this winter.
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)