With the Major League Baseball offseason upon us, Off the Wall presents its first annual set of predictions on where the biggest names in free agency will land as the Hot Stove begins to sizzle. This year’s class of free agents includes several high-profile names; however, there is little to get excited about outside of this group of All-Stars who are undoubtedly primed for big paydays in the months ahead. The cream of the crop can be sorted out into the following categories:
1. The Core Four … or three I guess. It’s not a question of where, but rather how much for Yankee legends Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Jeter and Rivera are locks to return to the Bronx, on what will certainly be player-friendly deals for two players clearly past their prime. While Rivera has still maintained his invincibility, Jeter was suspiciously vulnerable to American League pitching to the tune of a .270/.340/.370 slash line. Look for both players to earn upwards of $15 million annually. The case is a bit trickier for Pettitte, who has turned into Brett Favre of late after contemplating retirement each of the last three offseasons. I expect Pettitte to finally hang up the cleats this season after missing a large portion of last season due to injury
2. The Ace of Spades. Cliff Lee is undoubtedly the most prized possession of the 2010-11 offseason, with the lefthander expected to reel in over $120 million in free agency. Only a few teams can even come close to offering that kind of deal and even with new ownership in place it seems unlikely that the Rangers have enough cash to keep Lee on their roster. The team offering the most money will likely come out on top in the sweepstakes for Lee, a player who has been traded three times in the last two years. Expect the crafty lefthander to be in pinstripes come Opening Day.
3. The Star Outfielders. On this year’s free agent market, no outfielders can compare to Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. The speed, power and defense of these five-tool players are a rarity in baseball, and both outfielders will be paid handsomely for their unique skillsets. The Angels will have little interest dealing with Scott Boras (Werth’s agent) after the Mark Teixeira dispute from two seasons ago, thus forcing them to place their sights on Crawford. In response to the Lee deal, Boston will look to strike back by extending the contract they withheld from Jason Bay last offseason to Werth.
4. The Power at the Corners. MVP candidate Adrian Beltre is poised to sign a huge deal this offseason; however, it seems as though there are very few suitors for his services. The Boras client would be a hard sell for the Angels, and it appears unlikely that Beltre would sign with Oakland after declining more money to sign with them last year. Expect Beltre to remain in Boston, where he put up arguably the best numbers of his career. Across the diamond from the hot corner stands a formidable group of first basemen including Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Aubrey Huff and Carlos Pena. Dunn has made clear that he doesn’t want to DH full-time, so the Cubs seem most likely to overpay for his one-dimensional style of play and poor defense. Konerko and Huff should be locks to stay with the White Sox and Giants, respectively, after each had what could be called career-saving seasons. Both should be awarded respectable two-year deals after proving they still have plenty left in the tank. Pena is an interesting case after hitting below the .200 mark. An underachieving team like Washington or Baltimore could take a flyer on the perennial 30 homerun, 150-strikeout candidate.
5. The Difference Makers. The free agent cupboard is barren in the catching and closing departments this winter. At a position where very few stars exist outside of Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez is a rare gem in the catchers market. The Red Sox will likely not feel the need to extend Martinez a four-year deal after committing so many dollars to Werth and Beltre, providing a clear path for the Tigers to overpay the 31-year old. Martinez will certainly be very serviceable for the next few years, but an extended contract will leave the team that signs him with an aging backstop who will have to be moved to a DH role. Rafael Soriano is another unique talent on the market poised to earn at least a three-year contract. While I’m expecting the Angels to pay up for the hard-throwing righty’s services, that prediction is really nothing more than speculation and process of elimination. If Boston or the White Sox are able to unload their over-priced closers, they too could be fits for the dominating Soriano.
6. The Best of the Rest. As crazy as it might sound, Carl Pavano might well be the second most reliable starting pitcher on this year’s market. Another former Yankee, Jake Westbrook, is also available this offseason, but I expect both starters to remain with their current teams. Aging sluggers like Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Derrek Lee and Manny Ramirez are readily available this winter. While Guerrero and Thome were successful in Texas and Minnesota, respectively, Lee and Ramirez struggled before and after late season trades saw them changing uniforms. As such, look for Guerrero and Thome to return to their old teams in hopes of reaching back into the fountain of youth. Lee could be a nice fit in Arizona, Washington or Baltimore, while Ramirez could face retirement unless a team like Oakland is willing to send a few million his way in exchange for the roller coaster that is “Manny being Manny.”
Original Author: Evan Rich