With the winter season coming to an end and pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, baseball fans can now begin to smell the green grass of America’s greatest pastime.
And with that said, it is only appropriate to analyze the free-agency moves of this past off-season. These are moves that may push teams into the playoffs, to a World Series title, or completely backfire.
So without further adieu, here are my top-20 free agent signings of the past off-season (in no particular order):
Milton Bradley, Chicago Cubs — Coming off the best year of his career, the often-injured and troubled outfielder signed with the Chicago Cubs in what was an interesting move to say the least. The always intense Bradley will either be a perfect marriage for the equally excitable Lou Piniella, or one who finds himself in the doghouse the entire season. If healthy, the 30-year-old will provide the Cubs with a great deal of flexibility, as he could play all three outfield positions. Additionally, Bradley will add even more depth to an already-dangerous lineup, where he should hit between Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Cubs fans can expect a .300 hitter with 20 home runs, 85 runs and 85 RBI this season.
Deal: 3 years, $30 million
A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees — Just one part of the Yankees' off-season spending spree, Burnett joins a totally-rebuilt Yankees rotation. The 32-year old Burnett was 18-10 a year ago with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he logged 221 1/3 innings that included 231 strikeouts. Even more impressive was that Burnett recorded better than a 2.5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio (231 to 86) as a power pitcher. Now with a better team, the motivation of a new contract, and an arsenal of filthy pitches, Burnett should win somewhere between 15 and 20 games every season as a Yankee. The only thing can prevent him from achieving these numbers is injuries, which have seemed to trail him his entire career.
Deal: 5 years, $82.5 million
C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees — Along with fellow free agent Manny Ramirez, who has yet to sign with a team, Sabathia was one of the two crown jewels of this off-season. Sabathia is a complete difference maker who is a work horse capable of carrying an entire pitching staff (the Milwaukee Brewers, for example). Just 28, Sabathia should settle into New York very nicely and provide the Yankees with what they so desperately need. There is no reason to not expect Sabathia to win 20 to 22 games, along with a Cy Young award, and a possible World Series title in 2009.
Deal: 7 years, $161 million
Pat Burrell, Tampa Bay Rays — Although I am not a fan of Burrell’s game, Burrell should be an excellent fit for the Rays. Burrell is best suited as a designated hitter at this point of his career and his post-season and overall experience will be a tremendous asset to the young Rays. Burrell should hit in the No. 5 or 6 slot and be a solid RBI guy in a very good lineup that already includes Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria. Burrell’s numbers in 2009 should look like a .270 average, 25 homers, 85 RBI, and 75 runs.
Deal: 2 years, $16 million
Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers — The ageless Hoffman continues to pitch and despite being 41, can still contribute to just about any team. Hoffman saved 30-of-34 opportunities last year for the San Diego Padres while still possessing great command (46 strikeouts, 9 walks). And while his ERA was alarming at 3.77, which was the first time in seven years that he was above 3.00, Hoffman can still be counted on as a decent contributor as a third fantasy closer. Expect about a 3.00 ERA, excellent WHIP, but only 20 to 25 saves due to the pitchers that the Brewers have lost from last season.
Deal: 1 year, $6 million
Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies — Losing Burrell to the Rays via free agency opened the door for Ibanez. The underrated Ibanez, like Burrell, will fit in very nicely with his new team where he will assume the left field duties while hitting fifth. In a very talented lineup that features Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Ibanez should improve on his yearly solid numbers. Plan on a .300 average, 20 to 25 homers, 90 to 100 RBI, and 85 runs.
Deal: 3 years, $31.5 million
Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets — Coming off one of the best seasons ever for a relief pitcher, Rodriguez comes to the Mets to shore up a bullpen that single-handedly kept the Mets from the post-season a year ago. The 27-year old, big-game and electric reliever is exactly what the Mets need at the end of games. And while it is hard to expect a repeat performance of K-Rod’s remarkable numbers from a year ago, Rodriguez will still be one of the best closers in all of baseball. A 2009 season of 40 to 45 saves, a 2.00 ERA, 70 strikeouts, and a 1.20 WHIP should be easily attainable.
Deal: 3 years, $37 million
Randy Johnson , San Francisco Giants — The 45-year old lefthander joins his fifth club in his 20th year of his Hall Of Fame career. Just five wins shy of the illustrious 300-win mark, Johnson is an excellent signing for a young and talented pitching staff. Johnson will not only serve as a mentor for young hurlers like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, but he will help to round out a very nice rotation in what is a weak NL West. Count on Johnson to record 12 to 15 wins with a respectable ERA and a good amount of strikeouts. Johnson is definitely worth a late-round selection.
Deal: 1 year, $8 million
Brad Penny , Boston Red Sox — After battling shoulder problems all of last season and only making 17 starts, Penny heads to Beantown hoping for better results in 2009. Penny is a power arm who if healthy, could be a nice sleeper, but I would not expect anything more than 10 to 12 wins.
Deal: 1 year, $5 million
John Smoltz, Boston Red Sox — Just like Penny, Smoltz is battling back from a shoulder injury as well. However, Smoltz’s injury required surgery that is expected to keep him out until May or even June. The good news, though, for the Red Sox is that the ultra-competitive Smoltz is already participating in conditioning drills with the rest of the team in Spring Training. While this is good news for fantasy owners, I would not commit a roster spot to Smoltz unless you can stash him in a DL spot or if you have deep roster requirements in your league.
Deal: 1 year, $5.5 million
Oliver Perez , New York Mets — Recently re-signed, the 27-year-old left hander is an essential piece to the top of the Mets rotation. Perez is a big-game pitcher who possesses all of the skills to be an All-Star caliber pitcher. However, in order to do so, he must control his emotions and his control. Being a year older and with the security of a new contract, Perez should continue to evolve. He should get 14 to 16 wins, post a 3.75 ERA, and get almost 200 strikeouts. Just beware of a high WHIP, which is possible with Perez.
Deal: 3 years, $36 million
Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees — Despite a disappointing 14-14 season, which was the first time in 14 seasons that Pettitte did not finish with a winning record, Pettitte still had an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 3 to 1 while recording over 200 innings. At 36, Pettitte can still pitch effectively and earn you 13 to 15 wins. I just would not count on him for a good ERA or WHIP.
Deal: 1 year, $5.5 million
Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees — Coming off five straight 30-plus homer and 100-plus RBI seasons made Teixeira one of the most sought after free agents of this off-season. And with the Yankees needing not only another power bat in their lineup but improved defense at first base, Teixeira was the perfect match. Now with better protection around him in 2009, there is no reason that Teixeira should not have his finest season yet. Expect 35 to 40 homers, 110 to 120 RBI and a .300 batting average. Those numbers should look very appealing to Texiera fantasy owners this season.
Deal: 8 years, $180 million
Kerry Wood, Cleveland Indians — Wood really blossomed in his new role as closer for the Chicago Cubs last season. Wood saved 34 games, had a respectable 3.26 ERA that included more than a 4 ½ to 1 strikeout-to- walk ratio with a sparkling 1.04 WHIP. Now in 2009, Wood looks to take over the closer role for the Indians, who really lacked a true stopper last season. Fantasy owners should wait on Wood and not count on him as your first or second closer due to his health risk. One solid year is not enough to sell me.
Deal: 2 years, $20.5 million
Derek Lowe, Atlanta Braves — After losing Smoltz to the Red Sox and Tim Hudson to Tommy John surgery, the Braves were desperate for a veteran starter. And with Lowe on the market, the Braves really had no other options. At 35, Lowe is a risk, as the Braves signed him for a four year deal at $15 million per year. However, Lowe has proven to be durable, as he has averaged over 200 innings per year for the last seven seasons. Fantasy owners should look to scoop him up in the last five rounds or so of your draft with the expectations of about 15 wins, a decent ERA and a low WHIP.
Deal: 4 years, $60 million
Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs — Just like his former teammate Wood, Dempster had a stellar year in 2008 which resulted in a big contract. Dempster won 17 games, logged more than 200 innings and had an ERA under 3.00. While all of these signs point to Dempster possibly turning a corner as a starter, I would still be wary, as it was only one year. Don’t overpay for Dempster. Instead, try to steal him in the middle rounds and hope that he repeats his 2008 efforts.
Deal: 4 years, $52 million
Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers — Furcal was one of the early fantasy season surprises last year until he required surgery on his back. As a result, Furcal was only able to play in 36 games and left both the Dodgers and fantasy owners extremely disappointed. Now signed to a $30 million contract over the next three years, the Dodgers are really gambling that Furcal can not only be healthy but produce for the majority of the season. Wait patiently and try to steal him late. Furcal is simply too much of a risk at such a premium, middle-of-the-infield spot in fantasy.
Deal: 3 years, $30 million
Brian Fuentes, Los Angeles Angels — The former Rockies closer signed with the Angels and looks to fill the huge void that was left by K-Rod, who signed with the Mets. Although Fuentes is probably better suited to be a seventh or eighth-inning pitcher, he has proven that he can close. When drafting Fuentes, look to scoop him up as your third or possibly fourth closer due to the fact that Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo will be lurking to vulture saves and or possibly take over as the closer.
Deal: 2 years, $17.5 million
Adam Dunn, Washington Nationals — Despite coming off five straight 40-homer seasons, Dunn was left without a team until the Nationals signed him last week. Dunn is one of the most intriguing fantasy players that I have come across, as he will clearly help you out in the power categories, but destroy you in others like batting average. Dunn is a straight-up masher who, if available in rounds five to seven, you cannot afford to pass up on as he will do your team more good than bad.
Deal: 2 years, $20 million
Bobby Abreu, Los Angeles Angels — The always-consistent Abreu is coming off yet another fine all-around season highlighted by his sixth consecutive 100 RBI year. And at an affordable $5 million a year, how can the Angels go wrong? Abreu could not fit the Angels' old-school style any more perfectly and after losing Garret Anderson and Mark Teixeira, Abreu also fills the Angels' immediate need for a hitter. Expected to hit second and the motivation of playing for another contract, expect Abreu to once again be a nice fantasy option with a .295 average, 20 homers, 110 runs, 100 RBI and 20 steals.
Deal: 1 year, $5 million