Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Look at the Top Free Agents This Winter

By: Clayton Collier
   In an offseason of several franchise players looking for a new home, there are many reports and rumors giving us insight as to where these players may end up. Several of these free agents can turn an average team into the team to beat. Out of the large free agent market this winter, ten of these players are particular game changers. Here is the latest on their situation, stature and possible suitors:
Carl Crawford (OF)- Carl Crawford, 29, has emerged as one of the premier players in the game today. His presence in a lineup would add speed, average and power. Crawford has spent his entire 9-year career with the Tampa Bay Rays. Due to budget constraints, it appears that the four-time all-star will not resign with the Rays. Crawford, who earned $10 million last season, has drawn interest from several teams but the leading candidates appear to be the Boston Red Sox, The LA Angels and the Detroit Tigers. In 2010, Crawford had arguably his best year of his career batting .307/.356/.495 with 19 home runs, 90 RBIs, 47 stolen bases and 110 runs. Crawford also earned his first Golden Glove award and won his first Silver Slugger award. Crawford is likely to sign a contract in the range of 6-7 years and $95-$120 million.

Cliff Lee (LHP)- Cliff Lee, 32, is the best free agent pitcher on the market this winter. Lee was a 4th round draft pick by the Montreal Expos in the 2000 amateur draft. In 2002, he along with Brandon Phillips, Grady Seizmore and Lee Stevens were traded to the Indians for Bartolo Colón and Tim Drew. Lee had spent most of his career with the Indians up until late July when he was sent to the Phillies. Since then, Lee has become something of a journeyman-ace. Since the beginning of 2009, Lee has played on the Indians, Phillies, Mariners and most recently the Texas Rangers. The 2008 Cy Young award winner has drawn interest from 7-8 teams, most notably, the New York Yankees. The Yankees are seemingly going all-in to acquire the two-time all-star. They are reportedly compiling an offer in the range of 5 year, $115-120 million. The Texas Rangers though are prepared to engage in a bidding war with the Yankees. Rangers ownership has approved to take on more payroll in order to lock up Lee. Team president Nolan Ryan expects the Yankees to outbid the Rangers. In Lee's contract year, he went 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA, 185 K's compared to only allowing 18 walks. Lee finished 7th in the AL Cy Young balloting in 2010.

Jayson Werth (OF)- Jayson Werth, 31, since joining the Phillies in 2007 has made himself into a key man in their potent offense. It is safe to say the Phillies would not have enjoyed as much success as they have had in recent years without the development of Werth into an all-star caliber player. Werth can play either right or center field with great success. In 2010, Werth batted .296 with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs. Now that his contract is up, it also seems his tenure with the Phillies is up as well. Werth has hired the infamous Scott Boras, an action not for someone looking to resign. Also, the Phillies have begun exploring other options for right field such as Carlos Quentin. Werth is seeking a contract somewhere between Jason Bay's (4 years $60 million) and Matt Holliday's (7 years $120 million) signings during the 2009 season. Werth is expected to get somewhere in the range of 5 years and $90 million. Possible landing spots for Werth including the Red Sox and the Angels.

Adam Dunn (1B/OF/DH)- Adam Dunn, 31, is one of the best, if not the best, power bat on the free agent market this winter. Dunn has enormous power and consistently hits 35-40 home runs and 100+ RBIs per season. He has a career 13.96 home run per at-bat ratio, bested only by Mark McGuire, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Jim Thome. Dunn's only down side is his defense leaves much to be desired. Although, his 1st base defense has improved greatly this past season to a .990 fielding percentage, his outfield defense would be a concern. Dunn's last year of being a full outfielder he had a fielding percentage of .947 and career .967 fielding percentage in the outfield. For this reason, Dunn will most likely be limited to being pursued as a 1st baseman or a designated hitter. The former 2nd round draft pick has interest coming from the Nationals, Tigers, White Sox and Cubs. The Nationals offered Dunn, who made $12 million with Washington in 2010, offered Dunn a 3-year deal that has not been accepted by Dunn's agent for months. Dunn is seeking a contract in the 3-4 years and $40-$50 million range. In Dunn's contract season, he batted .260 with 38 home runs and 103 RBIs in 158 games played.

Derek Jeter (SS)- Derek Jeter, 36, captain of the iconic New York Yankees will undoubtedly resign. Jeter has been in pinstripes his entire career since being drafted 1st round, 6th overall in the 1992 amateur draft. Throughout Jeter's 15-year career, he has been the face of baseball. He is a no doubt hall of famer and will surely finish his career with the Yankees. Jeter's impressive resume consists of the 1996 Rookie of the Year Award, 5 World Series rings, 11 All-Star selections, 5 Gold Gloves and 4 Silver Sluggers. Jeter has complied 2,926 career hits, all as a Yankee. He currently is the franchise leader in career hits as a Yankee. When Jeter resigns he will likely become the first player in history to have 3,000 hits as a Yankee. The Yankees are reportedly going to offer Jeter a 3-year $45 million contract. Jeter, who made $21 million in 2010, wants a 4-6 year deal. Jeter is coming off his worst year in his career batting .270 with 10 home runs and 67 RBIs, 18 stolen bases and 111 runs. If Jeter does not resign with the Yankees, that would be an absolute shock and devastating to Yankee fans.

Victor Martinez (C,1B)- Victor Martinez, 31, is the best catcher available this winter and with few top tier catchers in general, Martinez, a switch hitter, could become a commodity in the free agent market this winter. The four-time all-star is a career .300 hitter and drives in an average of 20 home runs per season. In 2010, he batted .302 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs. Martinez does have lackluster defense behind the plate though. He has only a career 24% throw out rate on base runners. In 2010 for the Red Sox, Martinez allowed 99 steals and 37 wild pitches. Martinez has drawn interest from many teams including the Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers and Rockies. The Red Sox offered Martinez a 2-year contract but he declined because he is looking for a 4-5 year deal. Martinez is expected to reach a 3-4 year deal at $12-$18 per year.

Mariano Rivera (RHP)- Mariano "Mo" Rivera, 40, is arguably the best closer in baseball history. Mo, like Jeter has spent his entire 15-year career with the Yankees. Although 40, Mo hasn't not skipped a beat, being just as dominant throughout his entire career. the 11-time all-star has saved 559 games for the Yankees, second most all time. Mo has won 5 world series with the Yankees including the 1999 World Series MVP. In 2010, Mo went 3-3 with a 1.80 ERA and 33 saves. Mo has said he wants a 2-year deal. He is expected to reach a 2-year deal worth $18-$20 million.

Paul Konerko (1B)- Paul Konerko, 34, is a top tier 1st baseman available this offseason. After a few average seasons, Konerko was back in 2010, batting .312 with a monstrous 39 home runs and 111 RBIs. Konerko began his career with the Dodgers by being selected 1st round, 13th overall in the 1994 amateur draft. After having little success Konerko was traded to the Reds and soon after to the White Sox for Mike Cameron in 1999. From there, Konerko's career took off earning four all-star appearances. In Konerko's 12-year career with the White Sox, he batted .282 with 358 home runs and 1127 RBIs. Konerko has drawn interest from many teams but the most serious contenders appear to be the Diamondbacks and the White Sox. Konerko earned $12 million in 2010 and is expected to sign a deal of roughly 2-3 years at $12-$14 million per year. Konerko stated retirement is an option if he doesn't like the way the market for him turns out.

Carl Pavano (RHP)- Carl Pavano, 34, can be a poor man's Cliff Lee for those who lose the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. Pavano has had an interesting career. For most of his career, Pavano has been mediocre at best. Prior to 2010, Pavano has only had one good full season. In 2004 with the Florida Marlins, Pavano went 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA, earning him his sole all-star appearance and finishing 6th in the CY Young balloting. In 2010, Pavano has had something of a second breakout year going 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA and 7 complete games, 2 shutouts. Six to eight teams are reportedly interested in Pavano, with the Marlins and Twins emerging the front runners. The Marlins would have a problem with finding the room in the budget to sign Pavano, especially after signing John Buck. The Twins are making a strong push for Pavano. Pavano, who made $7 million in 2010, will most likely reach an agreement close to 3 years at $9-$11 million per year.

Rafael Soriano (RHP)- Rafael Soriano, 30, after Mariano Rivera, is the best reliever available this offseason. Soriano throughout his career has been the "go-to guy" and had success wherever he has gone. In 2009, the Braves finally gave Soriano the shot to close. Needless to say, Soriano flourished, compiling 27 saves, a 2.97 ERA and a 1.057 WHIP. In 2010, Soriano built on his improvements saving an AL leading 45 games for the Rays including a 1.73 ERA and a 0.802 WHIP, earning his first all-star appearance and finishing 8th in the CY Young award balloting. This winter, nearly every team will be looking for a reliable arm in the bullpen. Team such as the Angels, Rays, White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees could be possible suitors for Soriano. The Angels appear to be the leading contender for Soriano. The Angels are looking to expand their payroll and very well could land Crawford and Soriano. Soriano earned $7.25 million in 2010 and will likely earn a big contract. Soriano's agent is none other than super agent Scott Boras. Soriano could reach a 3-year deal worth $10-$13 million per year.

   With an offseason full of free agents capable of changing the entire image of a given team, these ten in particular you might want to keep an eye on.

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