I want to apologize that my writing has been less frequent than Mark Titus, formerly of http://clubtrillion.blogspot.com/ now of Grantland. Unfortunately my hiatus hasn’t been caused by landing a gig with Bill Simmons, but it was mostly caused by accepting a promotion that pays actual American dollars and getting acclimated to the role. I suppose that isn’t entirely true, it’s mostly caused by me coming up with great article ideas, writing a little, then by the time I got back to it, the story had passed, but the new job is at least partly to blame. There are a few articles that haven’t run past their statute of limitations that you can expect to see soon, but here are a few that I had in the works but had to scrap.
- Criticizing Tim Tebow as a QB is understandable, but criticizing him as a person reveals a serious character flaw
- This isn’t the World Series, it’s a Tony La Russa v. Ron Washington over-managing contest
- Women’s basketball is terrible. (OK, this isn’t really a story, just a thought that I have at least once a day)
OK, enough of that. Let’s get to the heart of the matter. The dust hasn’t yet settled on the MLB season and the improbable champion Cardinals but the free agency period is about to kick off. This means big market teams will spend, small market teams will complain and Bud Selig will continue to look like the weird guy who sits on the computer all day at your local library. Here are my thoughts on where the top 10 free agents will end up when Spring Training kicks off in 4 months.
- Albert Pujols – 2010 Team: Cardinals – The best player in baseball is undoubtedly the biggest fish in the free agent pond. Not only is he one of the greatest players in baseball history, but he is also underrated. After posting video game numbers for his entire career, I still heard some announcers this year claiming that Matt Holliday was the Cardinals’ best hitter. At any rate, Pujols will command an enormous payday. He won’t get A-Rod numbers, but I don’t think 230 million is out of the question… and yes, I do think it comes from the Cardinals: 2012 Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals.
- Prince Fielder – 2010 Team: Brewers – The undeserved red-headed stepchild of this year’s free agency. Prince Fielder is a superstar. In any other year he would be the highlight of the class. This year however he is simply outclassed by Pujols. Don’t feel too bad for him; he will still command $150 million over 6 years from a team that ignores his bad body (hasn’t failed him yet). The Brewers will make a nominal offer, but I don’t think it will be enough to keep him in Milwaukee. Other teams that may be in play are: Marlins (need a big name to fill their stadium), Dodgers (If they quickly get new ownership), Indians (won’t spend the cash, but would be a great fit), Nationals (also won’t pay), Mariners (will throw the money at him, but will he really want to be a part of a mid-market rebuild?)… Ultimately I think Theo makes a splash and Fielder ends up in the Windy City. 2012 Prediction: Chicago Cubs.
- Jose Reyes – 2010 Team: Mets – There are a ton of teams that need a top flight shortstop. The list includes the Giants, Reds, Twins, Rays, Cardinals, Braves, Nationals, Pirates, and Phillies (if Rollins leaves). But Reyes isn’t just a top flight shortstop, he is a top flight shortstop at an overinflated price. The overwhelming price tag means you can eliminate at least half of the teams from that list. He’s looking to land at least Carl Crawford money (7yr. – 140M), and after the first two dominoes fall, his landing spot will be a little more clear. Ultimately I think it comes down to the Giants & Brewers… and I see him going west. 2012 Prediction: San Francisco Giants
- Yu Darvish – 2010 Team: Nippon-Ham Fighters – Darvish is the next “can’t miss” prospect from Japan. Unlike a good number of the formers, Darvish could actually live up to the hype. He routinely hits upper-90s with his fastball and combines that with plus-secondary pitches. At 24 years old he would be one of the youngest top prospects from Japan. The usually players would all vie for posting rights that could approach the 75M range. The problem is that Darvish may not even elect to test the MLB waters and could remain in Japan. If he does, the blind bid system may actually help the “mystery teams” that may include the Mariners, Nationals and Blue Jays. Still, I think with CC off the market Nolan Ryan backs up the brinks truck and brings him to Texas. 2012 Prediction: Texas Rangers
- CJ Wilson – 2010 Team: Rangers – Despite faltering in the playoffs, the straight-edge racer is the best starter on the market by a mile and commands a healthy payday. This is where things get interesting. If Darvish doesn’t post (which we may not know for a while) the Rangers would love to have their #1 starter back in the mix, and he’s stated that he wants to be back in Texas. Still, as the best starter currently on the market, he may command a price way above his head (in the Jayson Werth mold). Plenty of teams, including the Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers, and Nationals may be willing to toss nearly 20M at him. If he’s offered that kind of deal, he can’t pass it up and the Rangers are too smart to match. I think the Nats realize they still have to overpay and they will. 2012 Prediction: Washington Nationals
- Jimmy Rollins – 2010 Team: Phillies – J-Roll is no longer elite. Truthfully, even in his MVP season he wasn’t deserving of being put on the elite level. Still, he’s a top 20% player placed in the top 5% by the media. Usually these types of players are more valuable to their current team than the market (read, Derek Jeter). I think that’s the case here. The Phillies aren’t shy and have no other current options at short, so ultimately I think this deal gets done, and 4 years – 55 Million seems about right for a really good player and good clubhouse guy. 2012 Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies
- Carlos Beltran – 2010 Team: Giants – Beltran proved that he can still produce like a franchise player when healthy. Unfortunately his list of teams will be limited by 3 factors: his age (34), his agent (Scott Boras), and his injury history (too numerous to list). Where does he fit? He has stated his disdain for being a DH, but I don’t think the AL is out of the question if he can be convinced that he will get to trot his aging body out to right field more often than not. There’s a team in the Northeast that seems to fit the bill in both contract requirements (40-45M for 3 years), track record (JD Drew), and need… 2012 Prediction: Boston Red Sox
- Heath Bell – 2010 Team: Padres – A closer at #8 on the list? I’m first on the boat with those that think the save statistic is nothing more than nonsensical fun with arbitrary endpoints. That said, Heath Bell is a game over closer and those are rare. Aside from Mariano Rivera, Bell is undoubtedly the best closer in the game. Over the past 3 seasons his mass-understood stats are as follows: 132 Saves, 2.36 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 216 K/202 IP. He loves San Diego, San Diego loves him, and I think he finally gets his first multi-year deal in a feel good story, staying home. 2012 Prediction: San Diego Padres
- Edwin Jackson – 2010 Team: Cardinals – Jackson is potentially the most fortunate free agent on the market. He’s a #3 starter that will be getting fringe #1, but solid #2 money. The market is pretty weak and he is a 28 year-old innings-eater with solid upside. He has the feel of a mid-market overpay to the tune of 4yr. – 52M. He will get to be in the front of the rotation and count as a “splash” signing… The team most in need of a splash will reunite him with his former manager Ozzie Guillen. 2012 Prediction: Florida Marlins
- Michael Cuddyer – 2010 Team: Twins – Evidently I seem to value Cuddyer more than most others that I’ve heard. I’m not sure why, in my mind, considerint the price-point, he’s the most attractive outfield option on the market and provides a mid-market team a great opportunity to land a .280/.350/.820 guy with multiple position capability. He’s not the soundest defender, but he’s not a butcher by any stretch. At 32, he may be starting to break down, but he’s only played less than 139 games twice in the past 6 years. Where does he fit? Just about everywhere including the Rockies, Red Sox, Twins, and Cubs. Ultimately, I do think he stays in the AL Central, but will go out on a limb and say he ends up in Cleveland to the tune of 3 yr. – 30M. 2012 Prediction: Cleveland Indians
Other notable free agents: Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox), David Ortiz (Red Sox), Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers), Carlos Pena (Cubs), Roy Oswalt (Phillies), Grady Sizemore (Indians), Jason Kubel (Twins), Coco Crisp (A’s), Kelly Johnson (Blue Jays), Ryan Madson (Phillies), Mark Buehrle (White Sox), Aramis Ramirez (Cubs).