Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Free Agency Preview - Hitters

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Following up last week's column, here's a revised look at this winter's free agent hitters. I also have trade candidates, non-tender candidates and future free agents listed.


Jason Varitek (Red Sox) - Scott Boras can keep talking big, but since the Red Sox aren't going to bid against themselves, he simply has to find another interested party. The Dodgers aren't biting, and the Tigers have little money and bigger priorities. Meanwhile, the longer he opts to wait, the more likely it is that the Red Sox will pull off a trade for a young catcher. The Red Sox would probably prefer to have Varitek back even if they do go get a Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Miguel Montero, but it's not going to be for three or four years and a pay cut will have to be involved.

Previous prediction: Red Sox - two years, $16 million
New prediction: Red Sox - two years, $16 million

Ivan Rodriguez (Yankees) - Rodriguez will skate into the Hall of Fame once he's been retired for five years, but free agency has never gone quite as planned for the soon-to-be 37-year-old catcher. Following the 2002 season, he remained unsigned until the end of January before settling on a one-year deal with the Marlins. A year later, it looked like he might end up with a one-year deal again before he inked a four-year contract on Feb. 3 with a Tigers team coming off a 43-119 season. History suggests that Rodriguez will take the top offer on the table, regardless of where it comes from. Still, it doesn't seem very likely that anyone will go to two years. Both the Marlins and Tigers have openings, but neither team wants him back. If the Yankees offer him arbitration, it's quite likely that he'd accept it.

Previous prediction: Reds - one year, $10 million
New prediction: Astros - one year, $7 million

Other free agents: Henry Blanco (Cubs), Josh Bard (Padres), David Ross (Red Sox), Gregg Zaun (Blue Jays), Paul Lo Duca (Marlins), Michael Barrett (Padres), Toby Hall (White Sox), Paul Bako (Reds), Johnny Estrada (FA), Brad Ausmus (Astros), Javier Valentin (Reds), Chad Moeller (Yankees), Vance Wilson (Tigers), Gary Bennett (Dodgers), Mike DiFelice (Rays), Sal Fasano (Indians), Eric Munson (Brewers), Guillermo Rodriguez (Giants), Adam Melhuse (Rockies), Raul Casanova (Mets), Josh Paul (FA)

I'm guessing Blanco will join Varitek as the only catchers to get multiyear deals this winter. He could stay with the Cubs as Geovany Soto's backup, but it's also possible that the Tigers will look at him as a starter. … Detroit will probably end up signing two of these guys. I think Ross would be the best option as a regular, but pairing an upside guy like Barrett or Bard with a reliable defender in Blanco could work out well.

Trade candidates: Curtis Thigpen (Blue Jays), Miguel Montero (Diamondbacks), Chris Snyder (Diamondbacks), Bengie Molina (Giants - NTC), Kelly Shoppach (Indians), Jeff Clement (Mariners), Kenji Johjima (Mariners), Rob Johnson (Mariners), Ramon Hernandez (Orioles), Jason Jaramillo (Phillies), Ronny Paulino (Pirates), Gerald Laird (Rangers), Max Ramirez (Rangers), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Rangers), Taylor Teagarden (Rangers), John Jaso (Rays), George Kottaras (Red Sox), Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies), John Buck (Royals)

The Diamondbacks still appear more likely to trade Montero than Snyder, but with their financial situation seemingly fairly dire, they'll have to consider all possibilities. Given his defensive reputation and consecutive solid offensive seasons, Snyder could bring in a talented young arm, perhaps a Homer Bailey or Justin Masterson. … Shoppach, Clement and Teagarden all qualify as long shots to be dealt. The Rangers seem quite a bit more likely to part with Salty. … Paulino could be a cheap starter for Detroit or Florida. Judging by how they treated him in September, the Pirates won't ask for much in return.

Non-tender candidates: Kevin Cash (Red Sox), Matt Treanor (Marlins), Guillermo Quiroz (Orioles), Rob Bowen (Athletics), Jamie Burke (Mariners), Wil Nieves (Nationals), Humberto Quintero (Astros), Raul Chavez (Pirates), Danny Ardoin (Dodgers), Robby Hammock (Diamondbacks), J.R. House (Astros), Corky Miller (Braves), Koyie Hill (Cubs), Ryan Jorgensen (Twins), Robinson Cancel (Mets), Luke Carlin (Padres), Paul Phillips (White Sox), Gustavo Molina (Mets), Mark Johnson (Cardinals)

2009-10 free agents: Victor Martinez (Indians)*, Ramon Hernandez (Orioles)*, Bengie Molina (Giants), Brian Schneider (Mets), Jason Kendall (Brewers), Miguel Olivo (Royals)*, Ramon Castro (Mets), Rod Barajas (Blue Jays), Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies)*, Jose Molina (Yankees), Mike Redmond (Twins)

2010 options: Martinez - $7 million ($250,000 buyout), Hernandez - $8.5 million ($1 million buyout), Olivo - $3.25 million mutual, Torrealba - $4 million mutual ($500,000 buyout)

2010-11 free agents: Joe Mauer (Twins), Victor Martinez (Indians), Chris Snyder (Diamondbacks), Gerald Laird (Rangers), A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox), Matt Treanor (Marlins)

2011 options: N/A

First Basemen/Designated Hitters

Mark Teixeira (Angels) - Teixeira only further boosted his stock by hitting .358/.449/.632 in 193 at-bats for the Angels and then going 7-for-15 in his first postseason series versus the Red Sox. Still, the chances of him receiving an eight- to 10-year megadeal may have decreased. The Yankees seem to be focused more on pitching, and the Angels probably won't be willing to do such a lengthy contract. The Orioles or perhaps even the Nationals might, but if Teixeira wants to be on a team with a chance to win in 2009, he may have to settle for five or six years. While I think it's too early to count out the Yankees or Red Sox, it looks like the Angels are in the driver's seat. They have the money to commit to him with Francisco Rodriguez likely on the way out, and winning now is expected to be a priority for Teixeira.

Previous prediction: Yankees - nine years, $200 million
New prediction: Angels - six years, $132 million

Jason Giambi (Yankees) - Giambi remains an offensive force, but his 876 OPS in 2008 was his worst in a healthy season since 1998 and he turns 38 in January. Also, it's a risky proposition signing him as a DH, considering his career OPS is 125 points worse there than when he's played first base. Fortunately, that really hasn't been an issue the last couple of years, suggesting that he's learned to adapt to spending most of the game in the dugout. He's even excelled in his very limited pinch-hitting opportunities lately, going 6-for-16 with three homers the last two years. Giambi would seem to be a very good fit in Toronto or in Texas if Milton Bradley leaves. Oakland stopped making sense as a destination with the Matt Holliday addition.

Previous prediction: None
New prediction: Blue Jays - one year, $7 million

Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers) - Garciaparra hasn't ruled out retirement at age 35, but after a poor 2007, he did contribute offensively when he was able to play last season. He was especially hot down the stretch, going 10-for-23 with two homers and six walks in September. He even managed not to embarrass himself when asked to return to shortstop, though his next team swon't look at him as more than an emergency option at the position. At this point, Garciaparra should be penciled in as a first baseman, third baseman or DH against lefties and part-time player versus righties. Three teams with left-handed hitting first basemen and injury-prone third basemen look like fits: Atlanta, Oakland and Toronto.

Previous prediction: Giants - one year, $3 million
New prediction: Braves - one year, $3 million

Other free agents: Eric Hinske (Rays), Cliff Floyd (Rays), Kevin Millar (Orioles), Frank Thomas (Athletics), Doug Mientkiewicz (Pirates), Sean Casey (Red Sox), Richie Sexson (FA), Tony Clark (Diamondbacks), Ben Broussard (Yankees), Scott Hatteberg (FA), Greg Norton (Braves), Jose Vidro (FA), Shea Hillenbrand (FA), Chris Shelton (Rangers), Mike Sweeney (FA), Erubiel Durazo (FA), Brian Myrow (Padres), Brad Eldred (White Sox), Mark Sweeney (Dodgers), Garrett Jones (Twins), Matthew LeCroy (FA)

Hinske was one of the Rays' best hitters last season, but the team decided it had no use for him at all once the postseason rolled around. He'll likely move on, and he could help a White Sox team that's especially short on left-handed hitters after parting with Nick Swisher. … Floyd is expected to weigh retirement. If he comes back, it could be with the Rays. … Most of the rest of these guys are potential part-time players, but Thomas and Sexson are clear exceptions. They don't have anything to offer unless they're regulars, and it may be that neither will be guaranteed a job. I don't think Thomas is done as a useful DH, but there are so few possible fits for him. Sexson, at least, can still potentially hook up with an NL team. Maybe he'll join the Nationals as additional Nick Johnson/Dmitri Young insurance.

Trade candidates: Kendry Morales (Angels), Lyle Overbay (Blue Jays), Prince Fielder (Brewers), Brad Nelson (Brewers), Micah Hoffpauir (Cubs), Chad Tracy (Diamondbacks), Josh Whitesell (Diamondbacks), Michael Aubrey (Indians), Ryan Garko (Indians), Dmitri Young (Nationals), Aubrey Huff (Orioles), Adam LaRoche (Pirates), Hank Blalock (Rangers), Chris Carter (Red Sox), Todd Helton (Rockies - NTC), Joe Koshansky (Rockies), Billy Butler (Royals), Jeff Larish (Tigers), Paul Konerko (White Sox - NTC), Juan Miranda (Yankees)

The Angels need to either play Morales or trade him. Another trip back to the PCL won't do him any good. It's possible thae he'd get a chance to stick around as a DH if Teixeira re-signs. … A Fielder trade is pretty unlikely, but he remains on the list. Ryan Howard, on the other hand, has been removed. He's completely safe following the Phillies' World Series victory. … The Royals are calling Mike Jacobs their new first baseman, but like Butler, he's a born DH. It's possible that they would move Butler if the right offer came along. They would, however, be crazy to sell him without getting another potential star in return. Butler for Saltalamacchia would actually make some sense for both teams.

Non-tender candidates: Dan Johnson (Rays), Ryan Shealy (Royals), Andy Phillips (Reds), Jeff Bailey (Red Sox), Joe Dillon (Athletics), Randy Ruiz (Twins), Oscar Salazar (Orioles)

2009-10 free agents: Adam LaRoche (Pirates), Jim Thome (White Sox), Aubrey Huff (Orioles), Carlos Delgado (Mets), Hank Blalock (Rangers), Chad Tracy (Diamondbacks)*, Nick Johnson (Nationals), Dmitri Young (Nationals), Ross Gload (Royals)*

2010 options: Tracy - $7 million ($1 million buyout), Young - $6 million vesting option (guaranteed w/500 PA in 09), Gload - $2.6 million

2010-11 free agents: Albert Pujols (Cardinals)*, David Ortiz (Red Sox)*, Lance Berkman (Astros)*, Derrek Lee (Cubs), Carlos Pena (Rays), Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox), Paul Konerko (White Sox), Lyle Overbay (Blue Jays)

2011 options: Pujols - $16 million ($5 million buyout), Ortiz - $12.5 million, Berkman - $15 million ($2 million buyout)

Second Basemen

Orlando Hudson (Diamondbacks) - Hudson has suffered season-ending injuries the last two years and played in 145 games just once in his six full years as a major leaguer, but that shouldn't prevent him from receiving a contract worth about $10 million per year. He had OPSs in the 800-820 range in all three of his seasons in Arizona, and he's still a fine defender, even if he's entered the phase of his career in which he's not going to deserve the Gold Glove awards he'll continue to win. The White Sox, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Giants, Nationals, Royals, Padres and Rockies appear to be the teams most likely to sign second basemen this winter. The Indians and Mariners are also possibilities if they decide to rearrange their infields. Hudson would probably prefer to be with the Mets if the money is there, but my guess is that he ends up in the AL Central with the Indians or White Sox.

Previous prediction: White Sox - four years, $42 million
New prediction: White Sox - four years, $40 million

Jeff Kent (Dodgers) - Maybe he wouldn't be a full-time second baseman any longer, but Kent could almost certainly help a contender as a part-timer and his old team in San Francisco could do worse at first base. Still, he's probably going to call it a career at age 40. We could be looking at an unbelievably deep class of Hall of Fame candidates come 2014.

Previous prediction: Retirement
New prediction: Retirement

Felipe Lopez (Cardinals) - Lopez went from .234/.305/.314 in 325 at-bats for the Nationals to .385/.426/.538 in 156 at-bats for the Cardinals, putting him back in line for a starting job in 2009. Unfortunately, he seems to think that also entitles him to a multiyear contract, even though he was a pretty dreadful player for more than a year and a half previously. That no one is going to look at him as a starting shortstop hurts his chances of getting one. It still seems fairly likely that he'll end up back with the Cards on a one-year deal.

Previous prediction: Cardinals - one year, $4 million
New prediction: Cardinals - one year, $4.5 million

Ray Durham (Brewers) - Durham showed that his down 2007 was an aberration by hitting .289/.380/.432 for the Giants and Brewers last season, but he gives back with his glove everything that he contributes over the average second baseman with his bat. As an occasional starter at second, first and DH, he could be fairly valuable. He'd fit nicely with the Yankees, Royals and A's in the AL.

Previous prediction: Indians - one year, $3 million
New prediction: Athletics - one year, $3 million

Other free agents: Mark Grudzielanek (Royals), Juan Uribe (White Sox), Mark Loretta (Astros), Tadahito Iguchi (Phillies)*, Craig Counsell (Brewers), Damion Easley (Mets), Tony Graffanino (Indians), Pablo Ozuna (FA), Jose Valentin (Mets), Miguel Cairo (Mariners), Freddie Bynum (Orioles), Luis Rivas (Pirates), Marcus Giles (FA), Hector Luna (Blue Jays), Andy Gonzalez (Indians), D'Angelo Jimenez (Cardinals), Mark Bellhorn (Reds)

The Diamondbacks will likely go bargain hunting and could end up with two of these guys. Players like Grudzy, Loretta and Easley can't be counted on to start 140 games, but having two members of the group split time could work out fine. … Iguchi wants to play regularly, so he might end up back in Japan.

Trade candidates: Sean Rodriguez (Angels), Kelly Johnson (Braves), Hernan Iribarren (Brewers), Rickie Weeks (Brewers), Adam Kennedy (Cardinals), Aaron Miles (Cardinals), Tony Abreu (Dodgers), Josh Barfield (Indians), Dan Uggla (Marlins), Luis Castillo (Mets), Ronnie Belliard (Nationals), Brian Roberts (Orioles - limited NTC), Freddy Sanchez (Pirates), Danny Richar (Reds), Esteban German (Royals), Brendan Harris (Twins), Robinson Cano (Yankees)

The Marlins have already traded four of their arbitration-eligible players, but they say they're keeping Uggla. Time will tell. … Roberts could be pursued by both Chicago teams and the Mets. The Orioles figure to make one more attempt to lock him up beyond 2009 before they consider dealing him. … Cano is likely to stay in New York. He's owed $25 million over the next three years, so it's quite possible the Padres would want nothing to do with him as part of a Jake Peavy deal.

Non-tender candidates: Esteban German (Royals), Chris Burke (Diamondbacks), Ruben Gotay (Braves), Augie Ojeda (Diamondbacks), Russ Adams (Blue Jays), Craig Stansberry (Padres), Jarrett Hoffpauir (Cardinals)

2009-10 free agents: Brian Roberts (Orioles), Placido Polanco (Tigers), Mark DeRosa (Cubs), Freddy Sanchez (Pirates)*, Akinori Iwamura (Rays)*, Marco Scutaro (Blue Jays), Ronnie Belliard (Nationals), Aaron Miles (Cardinals), Jamey Carroll (Indians), Adam Kennedy (Cardinals), Esteban German (Royals)

2010 options: Sanchez - $8 million ($600,000 buyout), Iwamura - $4.25 million ($250,000 buyout)

2010-11 free agents: Akinori Iwamura (Rays), Mark Ellis (Athletics)*, Kaz Matsui (Astros), Chris Burke (Diamondbacks)

2011 options: Ellis - $6 million ($500,000 buyout)

continue story »
Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
Email :Matthew Pouliot

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