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Plenty of talent still up for grabs -- for the right price
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More than 100 free agents remain unsigned, including several of the biggest names — and virtually all of Scott Boras’ clients.
Spring training begins in approximately six weeks. The signings will continue until then, and beyond.
A look at some of the biggest names still on the market:
Matt Holliday — All signs point to him returning to the Cardinals, probably this week. I’m guessing that Holliday will sign a seven-year contract for about $120 million, a deal which would represent victory — and defeat — for both sides.
While Holliday would earn nearly double what Jason Bay received from the Mets, he also would fall $60 million short of Mark Teixeira, the player to whom Boras compared him most.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, would secure their No. 1 target for far less than Boras’ initial asking price. Still, some would question why they even went that high for Holliday when the competition for him appeared limited.
Johnny Damon — The chances of Damon matching Bobby Abreu’s two-year, $19 million contract with the Angels would appear slim, but there are at least two clubs that could view him as a strong fit. The Giants and Braves.
The Giants ranked 11th in the NL last season in on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot. Damon batted second for the Yankees, but his OBP the past six seasons is .366. He has not forgotten how to hit first — and he would help provide a winning edge.
The Braves, like the Giants, need one more bat — though, like the Giants, they probably want a better defender than Damon in left.
Still, an eventual outfield of Damon, Nate McLouth and top prospect Jason Heyward would be formidable, with Matt Diaz spelling Damon and Heyward against left-handed pitching.
Melky Cabrera? The Braves could trade him to clear money for Damon.
Adrian Beltre — He's close to choosing his next team, according to Yahoo! Sports. Clubs seem to be overlooking his offensive shortcomings while placing perhaps too much emphasis on his defensive value.
Listen, we all know Safeco Field is a black hole for right-handed hitters, but Beltre never has been Mr. OBP. His career mark in that category is .325, and his career OPS-plus — that is, his OPS adjusted to his park and league — is a mere 105. The median OPS-plus is 100.
Still, Beltre will be fully recovered from shoulder surgery next season, and could thrive as a complementary part in a powerhouse lineup.
Prediction: Red Sox
Joel Pineiro — Perhaps the best remaining free-agent starting pitcher, but several clubs remain skeptical, considering that last season was by far Pineiro’s best since 2003.
At least six clubs still could spend on a starter — the Mets, Dodgers, Angels, Brewers, Nationals and Orioles. Well, maybe not the Dodgers — they’re acting as if they’re the Pirates while the McCourts reprise the War of the Roses.
The Mets seem like the best bet — they could build on the additions of Bay and relievers Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarashi by signing Pineiro and free-agent catcher Bengie Molina.
Aroldis Chapman — I’m starting to think that one of the low-revenue clubs might get him as his price rises beyond the comfort level of big spenders such as the Yankees and Red Sox.
I know, I know — the above sentence makes little sense. But the Yankees and Red Sox, in the newest phase of their blood rivalry, want efficient players at efficient prices; as if the rest of baseball will forget that they’re both stinkin’ rich.
Chapman is a hard-throwing left-hander, but he was not an efficient pitcher in Cuba, averaging 5.6 walks per nine innings in his last four seasons. Given the intense competition to sign him, he also will not come at an efficient price.
Orlando Hudson — The Mets could transform their clubhouse if they added Hudson along with Bay — and oh yes, they would be getting a pretty good second baseman, too.
Of course, the Mets cannot act on Hudson unless they trade second baseman Luis Castillo, but the Milton Bradley-for-Carlos Silva deal proved that anything is possible when teams want to exchange inflated contracts.
The Mariners’ defense would be absurdly good if they added Hudson and moved Jose Lopez to first base. The Nationals still like Hudson and the Tigers could be a possibility, but their bigger needs are a closer and a DH.
Ben Sheets — Arguably the best starting pitcher in the entire free-agent class, but the question remains: Is he healthy?
Sheets missed all of last season while recovering from elbow surgery. Teams likely will want to see him throw before deciding whether he is worthy of an investment.
He still makes the most sense for a high-revenue club that can absorb the risk, but the Yankees and Red Sox do not figure to spend more on starting pitching.
Vladimir Guerrero — The DH market is flooded — Guerrero, Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye are still available, among others.
The Rangers figure to get one of the top three, though they only might be willing to spend $4.5 million to $5 million. The Tigers likely will land another.
One scout said of Guerrero, “His bat speed hasn’t regressed as much as the scouting world thinks. You have to remember he wasn’t at full strength all last season. Leg issues and shoulder issues took their toll.”
Miguel Tejada — A potential bargain.
Tejada, who turns 36 on May 25, is not the player he once was — his Home run power is down, and he needs to move from shortstop to third base. Still, his price should be reasonable — perhaps even reasonable enough for a low-revenue team such as the Twins.
Then again, I’m not sure how many players from Latin America — or even California or Florida — will jump at the chance to play outdoors at Target Field. A free agent on a one-year contract might not want to risk a poor start in chilly April temperatures.
If Tejada’s price drops far enough, he still could fit for the Cardinals, whose leading internal third-base candidate, David Freese, was arrested in December for driving while intoxicated.
Jose Valverde — The Tigers can wait and wait; who is going to outbid them, the Pirates?
In theory, Valverde could increase his possibilities by considering offers to set up — the Cubs, for example, could sign him as protection for Carlos Marmol.
Valverde, however, probably will not want to settle for a reduced role. He led the National League in saves in 2007 and ’08, and converted all 17 of his chances with a 1.64 ERA after the All-Star break last season.
His best outcome would be to close for one year, then re-enter the market.
The Tigers would forfeit a first-round pick for signing him — a significant obstacle. A team that finished with one of the 15 worst overall records last season would lose, at worst, a second rounder.
Jon Garland/Doug Davis/Jarrod Washburn — The Brewers almost certainly will sign one of those three; the Mets, Dodgers, Cardinals and Angels could be in the mix for the others, along with the Nationals and Orioles.
Keep in mind, too, that three potential Hall of Famers are still on the market — Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Randy Johnson. Martinez and Smoltz definitely want to pitch next season. Johnson is undecided.
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