Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Top 50 Free Agents

Our scouting trip to the deep south concluded with thoughts on the "Top 50 Free Agents" in baseball. There are several writers supplying their lists, so I thought I'd throw in our two cents.

This hot stove league looks a bit warmer on the trade front than free agents. Scott Boras will talk about Matt Holliday's place in history and Johnny Damon's genetic disposition until he's blue in the face. That doesn't change the fact that there is no sure thing that all 30 teams are pursuing.

Without further ado, here is our list of Top 50 Free Agents to keep you warm this winter. Happy Thanksgiving!

1. Matt Holliday
We do not fear that he is just a player who can mash National League pitching. His struggles with the A's were symptomatic with adjusting to a new league for the first time and moving from a home park in Colorado to a cavernous football stadium in Oakland. Given time, protection of a good lineup, and a home ballpark like Fenway, Holliday will put up near Blake Street numbers - at least for a few more years.

2. John Lackey
Lackey has been consistent, when healthy. He used to be durable - whatever that means. And, a couple of years ago when checking to see if he was over the hill for fantasy purposes, I was shocked to see that he was still in his late 20's. He'll turn 32 during the 2010 World Series.

3. Jason Bay
Bay’s terrible defense "drops" him to third on this list. I would not want my favorite National League team to invest in him.

4. Chone Figgins
He'll be 32 in January, and his best asset is his speed. I'd be concerned that the legs are the first to leave a player, but we’ve recently seen guys stay in condition to run into their mid 30's (see: Damon, Abreu). Figgins has also made himself a much better hitter in recent years, as his advanced metrics suggest more solid contact & line drives than his first few years in the league.

5. Aroldis Chapman
If Matsuzaka had performed well this season, Chapman would be at the top of a few lists. The Yankees can win the bidding war easily, then trade Chamberlain and/or Hughes in mega deals for someone like Doc Halladay or King Felix.

6. Andy Pettitte
Why wouldn't the Yankees throw 8 to 10 million at this guy? He seems to settle down everyone's nerves in the playoffs, which is worth more than a few miles per hour on his cutter. Plus, you know he'll take a shot in the behind for his teammates.

7. Rich Harden
I'd rather go for talent, upside, the best stuff on the market… just don't spend all your money on this guy, and get another innings eater, while you're at it.

8. Randy Wolf
Randy Wolf will probably want to cash in on his '09 success and sign early, and maybe the team that signs Harden should sign him, too. It can be a challenge for any team to sign two of the Top 10 free agents in one offseason, but look at what the Yankees did last year. They signed the three biggest free agents on the entire market for BIG dollars. This offseason, no-one is going to make the kind of money that Sabathia & Teixeira got - not Holliday, Lackey, Bay, or anyone. But looking at it on a smaller scale, why couldn't a mid-market team sign the two Top 5 free agent pitchers this season? Staying away from Lackey & Chapman makes everyone else relatively "affordable".

9. Jose Valverde
Papa Grande can bring da heat. He's a little bit crazy, but he can solidify the back end of your bullpen in a hurry. We've always liked him and think he's been underrated by playing in lower-exposed markets. If you need a closer this offseason, you should trade for one on the cheap. If you have nothing to trade, sign Valverde. On game days, cook him up some rice 'n' beans, and tell him to settle in until the 7th inning.

10. Noel Arguelles
Another Cuban flamethrower. He doesn't have the buzz that Chapman in getting, but he's only 19 and already throws in the low 90's in his long, lean, and athletic frame. He should sign for about 8 million dollars. (Paging Jim Hendry, please stop giving $7.5 million to guys like Josh Grabow, when you can get guys like this for $8 million. Let's get younger, not more mediocre.)

11. Adrian Beltre
There are a lot of star 3rd basemen in baseball, like Longoria, Arod, Wright, Zimmerman, & Chipper. That being said*, Beltre is a world class defender, terrific athlete, and good hitter. He won't get fat on another mega deal, but he'd be a great pickup on a one or two year deal.

12. Nick Johnson
He's very valuable when healthy. As a perenial leader in On-Base Percentage, Johnson proves to be one of the toughest outs in baseball. His injury history will limit him to a 1 or 2 year deal, and his lack of power & speed should limit him to 4 to 6 million per year.

13. Felipe Lopez
Lopez should still have a couple more "prime" years left. Let's see which team helps him cash in.

14. Rafael Soriano
Soriano is another flame throwing right-handed reliever. He is more injury prone than Valverde, but a little less crazy. I still think he's crazy, but not as crazy. Personally, I like my relief pitchers to be as crazy as possible without going over to Julian Tavarez land.

15. Mike Cameron
Some people see the Yankees coveting Cameron to take over Centerfield until Austin "Action" Jackson is ready to be anointed as the next Yankee great. I could see that happening, too. Why not? They can get anyone they want.

16. Mike Gonzalez
The Yankees requested medical reports on Gonzalez and Soriano from the Braves. My money is on Brian Cashman choosing the more sane option, who also happens to pitch from the left side.

17. Vladimir Guerrero
I'm rooting for Vladdy Daddy to have a resurgence. He doesn't perform at a superstar level anymore, but he's still got something left.

18. Orlando Hudson
I thought Hudson was having a good year, but Joe Torre gave his position away to Ronnie Belliard at the end of last season. Some think that he has slowed down in his swing and his legs, and he has a lot to prove in 2010.

19. Ben Sheets
We could swap Sheets and Harden on this list because they both have no-hitter stuff and long injury histories. I'd love for the Cubbies to get him.

20. Mark DeRosa
DeRosa is coming off wrist surgery, which could diminish his power for a year or longer. His versatility still has more than a handful of teams interested in his services. I see him signing relatively soon with a good club.

21. Jermaine Dye
Dye is still a dangerous hitter. He's been underrated in certain circles, but I still see and hear him hit the ball squarely all the time.

22. Miguel Tejada
Miguel's home/road splits and advanced aging process show he needs to be in a hitter's park. The fact that he can still bang close to 200 hits every season, shows he has some value.

23. Johnny Damon
The Yankee Stadium wind tunnel helped Damon's Homerun totals, but he also had a very good OPS+, which tries to negate ballpark effects. He's gotta be an HGH guy, right?

24. Adam LaRoche
LaRoche is a notorious slow starter, who mashes right-handed pitching. He may need a platoon partner versus tough lefties, but a guy who can hit 20+ HR's in 400 AB's vs right handed pitching has value to many clubs.

25. Marco Scutaro
I just don't believe in gambling on guys who have career years at age 34.

26. Joel Pineiro
The most hittable pitcher in baseball doesn't walk people because AB's rarely last 4 pitches against Pineiro. His groundball tendencies can lead to successful longevity, but I wonder if this is the next coming of Dave Duncan's Jeff Suppan. How's that working out for the Brew Crew?

27. Jason Marquis
The pride of Staten Island wants to go back to the city. I think he grew up a Yankee fan, but the way he can hit makes him perfect for the National League. How perfect? His teams have gone to the postseason in every season of his 10-year career. Prize to anyone who can show cause & effect for this.

28. Brad Penny
The White Bartolo Colon is going to try to have a productive career in his late 30's by throwing heavy fastballs, high heat, and enough breaking pitches to get quality starts.

29. Rafael Betancourt
I think Betancourt has a chance to blossom into a fine closer. At the very least, he should be able to be a bridge to a closer for a more established bullpen.

30. Orlando Cabrera
His defense is slipping, but he's still a leader who guys like to play with. If he moved to second base, his defense would go from average at shortstop to very good at second.

31. Erik Bedard
I don't think Bedard can be counted on for much of 2010, but if he can project to value in 2011, teams may want to sign him now with at least a club option.

32. Hideki Matsui
He can only play DH. That is limiting, even for a World Series MVP. Could his Japaneseness make him a Mariner? Do the Angles want him? I could see the A's want him, but he'd likely go back to Japan before taking a huge paycut to play in Oakland.

33. Billy Wagner
Showed he had something left last autumn. He may not be an All-Star again, but I think he'll be effective and overpaid.

34. Jon Garland
Garland can be overpaid, or a bargain. He has a lot at stake this year and may have to settle for another 1-year deal hoping for a better economic marketplace next offseason.

35. Fernando Rodney
Rodney is an interesting free agent. He doesn't strike out a ton of guys and he walks too many. Yet, he is a young guy with 70 career save and even closed for a very talented Dominican Republic bullpen in the WBC. I think he wants to stay with the Tigers because he (like us) loves Jim Leyland.

36. Yorvit Torrealba
Torrealba seems like one of those late-blooming, defensive catchers who will have a great influence on his teammates. Perhaps, I'm confusing him with someone else, but I'd rather have him than Bengie Molina.

37. Hank Blalock
It seems that Blalock's problems have been with staying healthy. Since moving to DH, his health has improved and the production (at least against RHP) has been valuable. He's like a younger, and less accomplished Jim Thome. I wouldn't mind it if my favorite American League team gave him $5 million and 400 AB's as a DH.

38. Kelvim Escobar
The comeback trail is a long and filthy road for some. In the past few years, Kelvim Escobar has spent enough time in trainer's rooms and rehab sessions to last five careers. Everyone prefers a healthy arm to one with injury history, but sometimes I feel like guys who've been out for so long, but haven't lost their velocity, are due and will finally have a great year.

39. Placido Polanco
Talk is he might move to 3rd base, but I don't see him improving on his power. How much longer can this guy remain effective in the batter's box?

40. Marlon Byrd
Byrd's stock is at an all-time high after banging 20 HR's last season. Unfortunately for him, he is only good in Texas' ballpark, as his Home/Road OPS shows: .873/.740.

41. Carl Pavano
I really do not like Carl Pavano, but he proved last year that he can be effective when motivated.

42. Bengie Molina
Molina will probably never bat cleanup again and probably won't even get 400 AB's again. But, he could be a good mentor for a young catcher, cough, cough, Buster Posey.

43. Jarrod Washburn
Last year showed that Washburn can be good in a big ballpark with excellent outfield defense. Unfortunately for Washburn, dozens of fly-ball pitchers fall into that category.

44. Chan Ho Park
His value remains only if he stays in the bullpen. There have been rumblings out of Park's camp that he wants to start again, but that would be about as effective as having Mike Harkey start games for the Yankees.

45. Darren Oliver
Oliver reinvented himself once focusing on the bullpen. He was almost out of the game a couple of years ago, but now he is eagerly anticipating a large payday as a free agent. He may be able to get a Grabow contract, but regardless I expect him to return to the Halos.

46. Jim Thome
All DH all the time. I hope he doesn't have to retire, but he may have to follow the footsteps of Frank Thomas and get his Hall of Fame speech ready.

47. Pedro Feliz
Feliz couldn't hit when he was a young player. The fact that he can still play above average defense at the hot corner means that he will find work somewhere. His World Series ring and "leadership"/"intangibles" will make him more appealing to someone.

48. Aubrey Huff
Huff was so bad for the Tigers, that he might be forced into an early retirement. Seriously.

49. Randy Wynn
Wynn is not going back to San Francisco, but who's going to throw away over 3 million dollars per year to sign him? His power has disappeared. His Career Homerun to Flyball percentage is 7.8%, and that is AFTER last season's HR/FB% of 1.4%.

50. Adam Everett
Some team is going to give Everett a million bucks to play gold glove shortstop. Unfortunately, he's better suited for the American League because he's too weak a hitter to combine with a pitcher.

So, that rounds out our Top 50. Anyone we left out? Let us know in the comments section. Any Mark Hendrickson fans out there? Ronnie Belliard? Who's overhyped? Who are the best bargains out there? As we said before Happy Thanksgiving!

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