We’re bumping this up top overnight because it quickly got buried by the Andrew Brackman news this afternoon. Enjoy.
Earlier today professional good guy Tim Dierkes, owner of MLB Trade Rumors, engaged in his annual practice of predicting where the top 50 free agents will land. He even setup up a contest, which could turn into loads of fun. I encourage everyone to give it a try. It’ll be at least as fun as ottoneu’s Pick Six.
Much as I enjoy Tim’s work, I found myself disagreeing with many of his free agent picks, particularly the ones towards the top of the list. Instead of entering his contest, I thought it would be worthwhile to print his list with my own predictions. There are a lot of tough choices here, and there’s no way I’ll get more than half of these right. But given team needs needs, resources, and inclinations, here how I think the free agent market shakes out.
1. Albert Pujols – Cardinals. They signed Matt Holliday for seven years and $120 million. It’s hard to do that and then, two winters later, let the best player in baseball walk.
2. Prince Fielder – Brewers. Tim has him going to the Mariners, which could be funny for Yankees fans. He’d probably DH at first — which is one reason I don’t think he’d sign there — but he could loom as Justin Smoak’s replacement. And then we could think back to the Cliff Lee trade and giggle a bit. But ultimately I think the Brewers will lay out and keep their killer three-four combo in tact.
3. Jose Reyes – Tigers. Tim picked the Brewers, but I can’t see them letting Fielder walk and signing Reyes, even if Reyes will probably get a little less money. There are a few other options here, but there are issues. The Dodgers could fit, but their financial situation is unknown. Ditto the Mets, who I’d put as the No. 2 suitor. The Giants had a record payroll in 2011, missed the playoffs, and have about $90 million committed to 2012 (counting Lincecum) with plenty of spots to fill. The Nationals could jump in, I suppose. The Red Sox would probably be the favorites had they not signed Carl Crawford last off-season. The Cardinals are going to be at a huge payroll level after Pujols. That leaves the Tigers. They cut payroll by almost $20 million from 2010 to 2011, and made the playoffs. They could make the outlay for Reyes and really shore up their offense.
4. C.J. Wilson – Cubs. Chances are Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer aren’t planning a big run in 2012, but they do need pitching in the long term. Their starters were in the bottom third of the league, and they do have a few openings. They surely plan to contend in 2013, and any contract Wilson signs will keep him around through at least 2015, and probably 2016.
5. Yu Darvish – Yankees. The Yankees have the resources, and he would probably represent a better deal for them than Wilson. I laid out the case for Darvish and stand by it.
6. Edwin Jackson – Nationals. If they miss out on Wilson, I fully expect them to beat other teams’ offers for Jackson.
7. Jimmy Rollins – Phillies. They don’t have the cash to sign Reyes, and they’re not starting the season with Wilson Valdez at shortstop if they can help it. The Giants might be interested if they don’t sign Reyes, but I really see the Giants going with a lower cost option.
8. Aramis Ramirez – Brewers. They claim poverty often, but after a deep playoff run I can see the Brewers again making a run in 2012, especially if they bring back Fielder. They definitely have an opening at third, and I don’t see Ramirez getting a ludicrous contract this winter. The wild card here is Tim’s pick, the Orioles. But will a new GM make the same kind of mistakes that old regimes made? No, I think the Orioles will try a different approach this winter and avoid a potential mistake in Ramirez. There’s another wild card here, too, but I view it as far less likely.
9. Carlos Beltran – Giants. Their offense was putrid in 2011, and they could use a full season of Beltran in right field. They’ll have an opening for him, too, so it’s a perfect fit.
10. Jonathan Papelbon – Red Sox. It’s hard to see him leaving, especially given other teams’ financial situations. I don’t see a team like the Reds laying out that much for a closer.
11. Michael Cuddyer – Twins. I expect this to play out for a while, with Cuddyer holding out for more than the market will bear. Once his price comes down I see him returning to Minnesota.
12. Mark Buehrle – White Sox. He seems like a finicky guy, bent on pitching in St. Louis or Chicago. With the Cardinals eating up most of their payroll in Pujols, it’s doubtful they bring him in there. I can see the White Sox bringing him back and trading John Danks.
13. David Ortiz – Red Sox. Here’s the aforementioned Aramis Ramirez wild card. Might it make sense for the Sox to bring in Ramirez, let Ortiz walk, and use the oft-injured Kevin Youkilis as their DH? I might see it. But I think they can keep both Youkilis and Ortiz at their current positions and finding a right-handed bat in right field. That’s certainly the path of least resistance, and I think it will benefit the Sox the most — especially because their best prospect, 3B Will Middlebrooks, could be ready sometime next year.
14. Ryan Madson – Phillies. They need a closer, and they’re familiar with Madson. He’ll be cheaper than Papelbon, so I think they stick with the devil they know.
15. Hiroki Kuroda – Dodgers. This is the easiest pick, since he’s shown no inclination to pitch elsewhere.
16. Carlos Pena – Indians. I thought about the Rays for him, but I think he’ll still price himself out of their range. The Indians clearly have something up their sleeves, and I think they’ll want someone more reliable than Matt LaPorta at first base. If the Indians aren’t in on him, it could come down to lesser teams. Tim picked the Pirates. I think the Rays might step in if that’s the case.
17. Francisco Rodriguez – Rangers. Losing Wilson will open up another spot in the rotation, which Neftali Feliz could fill. That opens the closer spot, and Rodriguez seems like a fit.
18. Roy Oswalt – Diamondbacks. They have only $28 million on the books for 2012, with only a few arbitration decisions. That leaves them with some spots to fill, but they could still easily fit Oswalt in the payroll. In fact, don’t be surprised to see them jump in on one of the higher-rated free agents. Plus, Oswalt has professed his desire to remain in the NL.
19. Javy Vazquez – Marlins. He’s talked about retirement, but I can see him hooking on with the Fish for one more season, to open their new stadium.
20. Heath Bell – Padres. He’s basically tied the Padres’ hands with his statements.
21. Coco Crisp – Giants. I agree with Tim here. I think he could replace Andres Torres in center. He’d also add some D, which could be necessary with the possibility of Aubrey Huff in LF.
22. Hisashi Iwakuma – Reds. They need pitching, and I can see them jumping on Iwakuma rather than one of the higher priced free agents. The Diamondbacks could be players here, too.
23. Kelly Johnson – Blue Jays. They have an opening at second and I think he’d fit nicely into their lineup. He also handles lefties well, which will come in handy against the AL East powerhouses such as CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, and David Price.
24. Josh Willingham – Red Sox. He could be a nice right-handed complement to their lefty-heavy lineup. He could also see a nice numbers boost from bouncing balls off of, and hitting them over, the monster in left.
25. Paul Maholm – Royals. They’re looking for pitching and won’t find much on the free agent market. It’s a very Royals move.
26. Grady Sizemore – A’s. They have three outfielders coming off the books in Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Willingham. They could add this high-risk, high-reward option.
27. Bartolo Colon – Rockies. They lost their ace and brought in some young guys who could contribute. Colon would add some depth, though he’s not a great insurance option.
28. Erik Bedard – Mariners. He seems comfortable there, as he continually re-signed even as he spent many injured years not pitching for them. I see little reason to predict he’ll sign anywhere else.
29. David DeJesus – Dodgers. They’ve needed help in left for a while, and this could provide some insurance in case Jerry Sands doesn’t develop.
30. Jason Kubel – Reds. That buys them a little outfield help and another lefty with some power.
31. Ramon Hernandez – Twins. They want to keep Mauer there, obviously, but if he gets injured and they have to move him I imagine they want someone better than Drew Butera.
WARNING: It’s going to get pithy from here on out.
32. Jeff Francis – Royals. Just because they need pitching and they did an OK job for them.
33. Chris Capuano – Mets. They can always use pitching, and Capuano did a fine job for them, all considered.
34. Tsuyoshi Wada – No Idea. I know nothing about the guy, and won’t speculate. Tim picked the Orioles. That could work.
35. Clint Barmes – Twins. If there’s a middle infield worse than the Twins, it’s the Astros. But they know they’re a few years out and probably have little need for Barmes right now.
36. Casey Kotchman – Pirates. Someone’s going to overpay him, and the Pirates have some payroll and an opening at first. Short-term is the way there, since they might have to move Pedro Alvarez in the long term.
37. Freddy Garcia – Yankees. I think they offer arb, and I think he accepts — and I don’t think either side cares that much.
38. Aaron Hill – Diamondbacks. It was a short-term win-win trade for the Diamondbacks and the Blue Jays. I can see them keeping their respective returns.
39. Johnny Damon – No Clue. Johnny’s time as a full-time player might be up. If he’s going part-time it’s anyone’s guess where he signs.
40. Aaron Harang – Mets. Consider him this year’s Chris Young, but with lower injury risk.
41. Jamey Carroll – Twins. Keep betting on lower-tier middle infielders to sign with the Twins and you’ll eventually get a hit.
42. Rafael Furcal – Cardinals. Since he likely won’t come at a high price, given his injury issues, the Cardinals could get him on a team-friendly deal. It’s risky for them, but he’s the best of the low-priced players.
43. Juan Pierre – Reds. Another agreement with Tim. I think that they could use him as a fourth outfielder who gets some semblance of regular at-bats.
44. Frank Francisco – Mariners. If David Aardsma is gone for good they could use a closer, or at least a setup man. I doubt Francisco comes with a high price tag.
45. Jason Marquis – Mariners. I can see them building up his value early in the year and dishing him at the deadline.
46. Joel Pineiro – Phillies. He could add some depth to their top-heavy rotation. Potential high reward, especially in a hitters’ park.
47. Jonathan Broxton – Mets. Agree with Tim here. Broxton would help solve a few of the Mets bullpen issues, and likely won’t come with a high price tag.
48. Joe Nathan – Twins. I think he’ll be back. It’s just a matter of the price.
49. Kerry Wood – Cubs. This is another easy choice, given his professed desire to stay with the Cubs or retire.
50. Bruce Chen – Pirates. They’ll have rotation openings, and they could see him taking Maholm’s place.