2012 MLB Free Agency: Where Top 10 Remaining FAs Will Sign
Everybody can take a deep breath—Prince Fielder has finally found a new home. What that signals for the teams not lucky enough to attract his services is they can finally snatch up those last-minute, lower-priced pieces from the bargain bin before spring training begins in just over a month.
While most of the big bats on the free-agent market have already been signed, at least two significant starting pitchers remain in the pool in addition to a number of position players that could make the starting lineups for whichever team decides to pick them up.
Here are the latest rumors and my predictions for where the top 10 free agents will land.
Although a solid talent who would most comfortably slot in as a No. 3-type starter, Edwin Jackson has yet to be signed this winter. This is mostly due to the hefty price tag he and his agent Scott Boras commanded early on, which ultimately pushed potential suitors—like the New York Yankees—off him for more readily available options.
But for Jackson, who maintains just a 44 percent groundball-rate, Fenway may be a risky option if he's looking to bolster his future value with a strong showing this season. A move to a more spacious park like Safeco may make more sense for the 28-year-old righty—if the Seattle Mariners are indeed interested.
However, the move makes the most sense for the Red Sox, who—because of lingering injury concerns for both Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz—lack starting pitching depth. And as Jackson has averaged 199 innings pitched over the last three seasons, he may be the best, most reliable pitcher available on the market.
Prediction: Boston Red Sox
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The interest for Roy Oswalt has literally been all over the map. While the Indians, Brewers, Red Sox and Nationals have all been linked to the 34-year-old right-hander, the apparent front-runners for Oswalt are the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.
There have also been rumors that Oswalt would consider retirement if not presented with the right fit, and he only seems interested in St. Louis and Texas at the moment. However, I personally find the possibility of Oswalt retiring at the tender age of 34 unlikely and may be a sign of some posturing on his part.
The problem with his two options, though, is the Cards may not have enough monetary flexibility to sign the pricey starter who is reportedly looking for somewhere in the ballpark of eight-million-per for—preferably—two years, and the Rangers would have to shuffle their already well-stocked starting rotation to make room for him.
With all this being the case, though the Rangers appear to be the most likely suitor at this point, I could see a team like the Washington Nationals—who still have room in their starting rotation for another arm and presumably have the funds to sign a big-name free agent after their recent whiff with Prince Fielder—could come out of nowhere to surprise.
Prediction: Washington Nationals
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After, well, practically everybody wrote off Javier Vazquez last year for being dead-armed and done, he went on to post a jaw-dropping 1.92 ERA after June 16, good for third in the league behind only Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee.
This winter, all signs point to Vazquez retiring, and the hot stove has been pretty much silent on any teams' interest since mid-January.
With no apparent front-runners and spring training coming around the bend, retirement may look like the most likely scenario for the 35-year-old. However, there is always a midseason signing as a possibility.
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Johnny Damon had a productive—albeit unspectacular—year with the Tampa Bay Rays last year and is looking for the opportunity to duplicate his production pretty much anywhere, as he is just 277 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.
While recent news from the hot stove has the New York Mets in tentative pursuit of the aging left fielder, the market is also stacked with aging, productive-albeit-unspectacular, left-handed hitters like Damon, so it makes the move anything but solidified.
However, for the Mets—who already have Andres Torres in center, Jason Bay in left, and a likely platooned right field with Scott Hairston and Lucas Duda—it's difficult to see where Damon would fit into their scheme of things.
The Baltimore Orioles had also expressed interest in Damon, but with their recent signing of Wilson Betemit to a surprising two-year deal, they may have already filled that void.
Damon's other suitor has been the New York Yankees, who recently voided their designated hitter spot by dealing superstar prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners. But again, with the options for what kind of role Damon would fill being so readily available, it's practically a toss-up figuring who will land there.
Still, there may be some nostalgia buried deep somewhere in that Yankee psyche, which may be enough to sign Damon over the multitudinous others; and Damon's notching his 3,000th hit with the club may be another feather in the Yankees historic cap.
Prediction: New York Yankees
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For a solid-fielding first baseman who hit .306 in 500 at-bats last season, Kotchman has received surprisingly little interest from teams over the winter. However, the one persistent suitor that has continually showed up on hot stove reports for Kotchman's services has been the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians' need at first base has been well documented, as they were one of the many teams pursuing Carlos Pena before he was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays in January. As the possibilities at first base have dried up, and while Matt Laporta is still slated to be the Indians opening-day starter, Kotchman increasingly looks like he may be the answer for the Indians.
Prediction: Cleveland Indians
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The Manny Ramirez saga—after his twice testing positive for performance enhancing drugs—continues on into 2012. Although Ramirez turns 40 in May, the A's have expressed interest in the aged slugger who currently sits at 555 career home runs.
The A's managing partner Lew Wolff has been quoted as saying (about Ramirez), "I wouldn't want to not have a player because he made a mistake and paid the price for it," but the final decision ultimately rests at the feet of A's GM Billy Beane.
If the A's pass on him, however, Ramirez will, in all likelihood go into 2012 unsigned. With a team seemingly so far removed from a shot at a divisional title, it appears the only reason to sign Manny may be to draw some crowds to an otherwise barren ballpark.
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There's not much of a market for a 37-year-old left fielder who is coming off a year where he posted a career-worst .251 batting average and is most aptly suited for DH-ing purposes at this point in his career. To be fair though, Hideki Matsui still hit 12 home runs and collected 72 RBI while playing home games in gargantuan Oakland-Alameda Coliseum last season.
Still, while the A's have expressed just a glimmer of interest in Matsui, only the New York Yankees have been the other team to express any sort of interest at all—and that's mostly because the price on Matsui is right. With the stringent budgetary restraints the Yankees have faced this offseason, just one or two-million dollars is all they have to spend on finding a new DH. But because there are more viable options at similar prices on the market, Matsui is likely to find himself a free agent when the season starts.
He may find a role down the road as a Jason Giambi or Jim Thome-like pinch hitter, but for now, there just isn't enough demand for his play in the abundant left field/designated hitter market.
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Thanks to playing in the friendly confines of San Diego's Petco Park last season, Chad Qualls successfully revitalized his quickly floundering career. This offseason, numerous teams have inquired after his services—including the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies—but his emergence in hot stove conversation has been sparse.
The Los Angeles Angels have been continuously noted as seeking bullpen help, but there has been no news of their interest in Qualls. Still, after most recently missing on trying to sign Francisco Cordero, the Angels may eventually find their way to inquiring after Qualls. It's complete speculation at this point, but in my estimation, it seems to be the best fit for Qualls, who will probably warrant a signing somewhere before the season starts.
Prediction: Los Angeles Angels
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The Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes, has been the most hotly scouted foreign prospect this side of Yu Darvish this offseason. Multiple teams have made their interest clear in Cespedes, and with his recently granted eligibility for free agency, rumors have been swirling.
While the Miami Marlins have been one of his most avid suitors, Cespedes has been rumored to not want to play in Florida, perhaps due to the large Cuban population in Miami and the presumably higher expectations he may face there. But if they offer a high enough bid, he may have no choice but to go.
Among other teams, the Chicago Cubs have also been rumored to have a serious interest in Cespedes. With their focus on long-term success, his needed time in the minor leagues to hone his spectacular raw talent may be the best scenario for the still developing 26-year-old.
Prediction: Chicago Cubs
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Derrek Lee may still have some gas left in the tank at 36, as evidenced by the .337/.398/.584 stat-line he posted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in limited action last year, but if he's waiting for a sizeable contract, it's unlikely to happen.
While the Pittsburgh Pirates have shown interest in bringing Lee back for another go-round, Lee has not reciprocated interest. The Cleveland Indians are still in play for a first baseman, but as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted, if Lee doesn't find a "perfect situation," he may choose to retire instead. In this case, neither the Pirates nor the Indians appear to present a "perfect situation," especially with some other first base options available.