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.
Today the Oakland A’s officially acquired third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and a minor league prospect in a trade for San Diego outfielders Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham. This deal brings clarity to the A’s infield picture and unblocks a log jam in San Diego, making it a great move for both teams.
Kouzmanoff’s defense has gotten better each year and his hitting has been constant during his three years in the Bigs. He would be best suited as a 5 or 6 hitter but the A’s will likely need him to bat cleanup. Speedsters Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis will get on-base ahead of him so he should be able to build on his solid 88 RBIs of 2009.
The addition of Kouzmanoff pushes Jake Fox to the bench but Fox, a right-handed slugger, will still get plenty of playing time. The A’s will rotate Fox between first base, right field and DH as each of those spots are occupied by left-handed starters. This move should set the infield with Cliff Pennington and Mark Ellis up the middle. Fellow third baseman and longtime Athletic, Eric Chavez, is rehabbing after another surgery and it would be tough for him to play everyday. Just another reason this is a smart move for the A’s.
The trade of Kouzmanoff works out well for the Padres as they can now move Chase Headley back to third base which is his original position. The Friars will hope a reunion with his old position will bring comfort that translates into improved offensive output as well. Headley has performed below expectations the last two years but he is still young and the team has confidence he will be a switch-hitting threat in the near future.
Before the trade, San Diego’s projected lineup had two natural infielders (Chase Headley and Kyle Blanks) playing the outfield corners. Blanks is a large athlete who will eventually take over at first base or be traded. His bat is strong enough to keep him in the lineup and he will remain in right field. Will Venable displayed strong defense and hit 12 home runs in limited playing time which earned him first crack at left field.
This will be Scott Hairston’s second tour with the Padres. He is a strong right-handed outfielder with good pop but his role with the A’s became foggy when the team brought in Coco Crisp and re-signed Jack Cust. Last time around, he enjoyed the best success of his career and will be back to a platoon situation with left fielder Venable and center fielder Tony Gwynn, both of whom are left-handed. Aaron Cunningham is the other outfielder attained by the Padres and he will start the year in AAA but has a good chance to start in the future.
Due to the talent of the players and the situations they are heading to, I see this deal as a perfect win-win for everyone involved.
Adam LaRoche and Jose Valverde have signed while Bengie Molina is seemingly next to leave the free agent market. The rest of the players out there will need to seriously start thinking about lowering their salary demands before more and more jobs are filled. Here’s the top three remaining free agents at each position.
- Yorvit Torrealba, 31- The Giants would be the best fit for him.
- Rod Barajas, 34- Cleveland and Houston may have openings behind the plate.
- Jose Molina, 35- Still may head back to the Bronx to catch for A.J. Burnett.
- Russell Branyan, 34- Another 1 year deal will be his only option.
- Carlos Delgado, 38- Re-signing with the Mets is his best option.
- Xavier Nady, 31- The M’s would be a perfect fit to play some 1st, left and DH.
- Orlando Hudson, 32- It will come down to the Cubs and Nats.
- Felipe Lopez, 30- 2nd base for the Dodgers or 3rd base for the Cardinals.
- Ronnie Belliard, 35- May be Tigers backup plan if prospect Sizemore isn’t ready.
- Miguel Tejada, 36- Oakland and Minnesota could look at him.
- Orlando Cabrera, 35- Will play short in Cincinnati.
- Jerry Hairston Jr., 34- Many teams could use a veteran, speedy utility man.
- Melvin Mora, 38- The Angels could use him at 3rd and in left.
- Joe Crede, 32- Fits with the O’s who want to slide Atkins to 1st base.
- Adam Kennedy, 34- Similar to Hairston’s situation.
- Johnny Damon, 36- Atlanta seems to want him still.
- Jonny Gomes, 29- May have a platoon shot in Cincinnati or Detroit.
- Marcus Thames, 33- Tampa Bay, Toronto could give him playing time.
- Rick Ankiel, 30- Could land in Atlanta if Damon doesn’t.
- Reed Johnson, 33- Could get time at all three OF spots with the Yankees.
- Jeremy Reed, 29- The Cardinals could make him there 4th outfielder.
- Jermaine Dye, 36- His market is shrinking fast.
- Randy Winn, 36- Backup at this point in his career.
- Fernando Tatis, 35- Won’t get a starting job but will get a Major League deal.
- Jim Thome, 39- The White Sox are a great fit.
- Hank Blalock, 29- A backup role will be his best bet this spring; still very talented.
- Mike Jacobs, 29- Will have to sign a minor league deal and compete.
- Joel Pineiro, 31- Down to the Mets and Dodgers.
- Ben Sheets, 31- Most upside of all remaining free agents but very risky.
- Doug Davis, 34- In about a week he will have quite a few teams bidding.
- Kiko Calero, 35- A reunion with the Cards actually makes a lot of sense.
- Chan Ho Park, 37- Next best setup man left.
- Kevin Gregg, 32- Probably a 7th inning guy.
- Joe Beimel, 32- Kansas City doesn’t have a lefty in the pen yet.
- Will Ohman, 31- Hard to predict after a disappointing 2009.
- Mark Hendrickson, 36- Lots of teams could use a lefty starter/reliever.
So what openings are left on your team? And who will be signed to fill those spots?
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.
This question can be asked to both teams and players when it comes to the offering and accepting of arbitration in regards to Type A free agents. This question is a difficult one to answer on both sides in the midst of tough economic times and the world of egos among professional athletes.
If offered by a team to one of their Type A free agents, the player may accept for a one year deal holding a guaranteed salary very close to what they made in the previous year. If offered but the player rejects and signs with a new club, the original team will grab the signing team’s first round pick this summer. Teams may offer arbitration if they are confident the player will not accept just so they can grab another first round pick down the road. But, if the player isn’t confident he can land a better deal elsewhere he may accept, which could handcuff the offering team.
Obviously, surrendering a first round pick is hard for some teams to do, especially rebuilding teams. Losing that potential young talent along with adding the large salary most Type A’s demand can really set teams back. However if the original team isn’t so keen on paying a big sum for one more year, they don’t have to offer arbitration to those Type A players and their new team will not surrender a first round pick.
Over the past couple Hot Stove seasons, Type A’s have been left out in the cold. Other players who don’t cost teams draft picks are able to sign first, and sometimes, more lucrative deals. Last year, Orlando Cabrera was one of those Type A guys who had to wait. He ended up signing a one year deal with the Oakland Athletics, but his agent was able to include an important clause in his contract so this would not happen again. It said that his team could not offer him arbitration at the end of the year, so he would not cost another new team a draft pick the following summer. That makes him much more attractive in this winter’s middle infield market that already includes other Type A’s Miguel Tejada, Marco Scutaro, Orlando Hudson, and Placido Polanco.
With the deadline to offer arbitration tomorrow at midnight, Cabrera and his agent could have already given him a good lead on this year’s scramble for veteran shortstops and second basemen. As the winter progresses, look for more clauses like Cabrera’s to be implemented on short term deals as players try to rebuild their stock.