MLB Free Agents: Top 20 Hitters on the Market
The moment after Brian Wilson threw the final pitch of the 2010 World Series, 142 Major League Baseball players officially became free agents.
The first champagne cork hadn’t been popped in the San Francisco Giants locker room when approximately 19 percent of opening-day rosters didn’t have a contractual agreement for the 2011 season.
Welcome to the MLB Hot Stove season.
We would wait for the Giants to fly back home to San Francisco and hold their championship parade, but we simply don’t have time to do that.
Clubs have five days to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents before the bidding is opened up to the rest of the league.
What does that mean precisely?
When Monday morning arrives next week, Cliff Lee can officially bolt Texas if he chooses to do so.
To prepare for the free agent bonanza that will be upon us shortly, Bleacher Report will take a look at many of the names that could be on the move.
Today, we look at 20 of the top hitters on the free-agent market.
There’s one distinction in play: This is a list of names, not a ranking, which is why they will not be numbered from 1-20.
Yes, rankings are fun. Debating who’s the best at anything provides a great conversation point.
But presenting this discussion in that form would simply be an insult to your intelligence. Why?
Well, let’s say that the free-agent market this year is rather feeble, at best.
There’s a handful of intriguing names, and then it drops off rather quickly. Getting to 20 quality names on this year’s list wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Therefore, I think you’ll be able to discern rather quickly who is potentially an impact bat and who isn’t.
With that in mind, here are 20 hitters who are (or could be) free agents this winter.
Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Let’s just get this one out of the way early.
Jeter isn’t going anywhere, so technically this is a bit of a cop-out on my part.
Jeter has been a career Yankee and he will always be a Yankee, if only because New York would claim a state of emergency if he went anywhere else.
But that’s not to say that negotiations between Jeter and the Yankees won’t be tense this winter.
Jeter just made $21 million in 2010 for having the worst season of his brilliant career. As he creeps into his late 30s, many wonder how much longer he can remain at shortstop.
Could the Yankees ever ask Jeter to move off the only position he has ever known? Could he be asked to move away from a position that he helped transcend in the modern era?
Can the captain of the Yankees, the man who has made so many memorable jump-throws from the 5-6 hole, quietly shift to left field without there being a controversy?
General manager Brian Cashman and the rest of the organization will have to handle this one delicately.
Lance Berkman, New York Yankees
Berkman has a $15-million club option included in his deal for the 2011 season, but the Yankees are expected to pay the $2-million buyout and go a different direction.
New York traded for Berkman mid-season in hopes of adding a little more sock to its lineup for the playoffs. But Berkman hit only one home run in 37 regular-season games with New York before contributing in October.
Berkman will get some offers, but they won’t be for the type of dollars that the Houston Astros gave him in 2005.
But Berkman, who is a switch hitter, remains relatively healthy and gets on base, so somebody should find a use for him.
He’d be best suited for an American League club that could give him some at-bats at DH.
Edgar Renteria, San Francisco Giants
A little more than a month ago, Renteria explained how he hoped to finish the season strong and then lead the Giants through October, because this may be the last baseball season he would ever play.
In recent years, multiple trips to the disabled list have tested Renteria’s will. Fifteen seasons in the big leagues and a banged-up elbow were getting the best of him.
How do you do this morning, Mr. World Series MVP?
Yes, what an amazing month it was for Renteria.
With his three-run home run Monday evening off Rangers ace Cliff Lee, the shortstop that wanted to stop gave the Giants all the runs they needed to win their first World Series since moving to San Francisco.
Renteria will surely take some time to think about next year, but he does have a club option for 2011 worth $10.5 million. If the Giants don’t want to pick that up, they can buy it out for $500,000.
The guess here is that San Francisco would welcome Renteria back for another year as its starting shortstop. But is that what Renteria wants?
Way too early to tell.
He’ll have to let the emotions settle before deciding with his family whether he wants to play a 16th season or call it quits as a World Series champion.
A nice problem to have, indeed.
Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers
Guerrero had a great season for the Rangers before going quiet in the World Series (who didn’t against San Francisco’s pitching?)
He hit .300 with 29 home runs and has a mutual option for 2011 worth $9 million.
If Texas declines, Guerrero is owed $1 million. If Guerrero declines, then there is no buyout.
At this point in Guerrero’s career, his best move would probably be to go back to Texas.
In one ugly game in San Francisco, Guerrero proved he can’t handle the outfield anymore. He’s strictly a DH, so that cuts his potential suitors in half.
Couple that with health concerns and it’s hard to imagine Guerrero getting more than $9 million on the open market.
Why not go back to a place that’s a great hitter’s ballpark and play with a talented team that has a chance to contend again next year?
Sounds good to me.
Michael Cuddyer, Minnesota Twins
Cuddyer has a club option for next season worth $10.5 million that also comes with a $1 million buyout.
Cuddyer has been a solid player for the Twins and it seems like he’s comfortable in Minnesota.
Cuddyer isn’t an impact bat and he isn’t going to be the final piece that makes a championship team. But his value could be higher this winter amidst a weaker crop of hitters.
The Twins will likely exercise Cuddyer’s option. But if they don’t, there should be numerous teams interested in offering him a multi-year deal.
Jorge Cantu, Texas Rangers
Exhibit A for what guys like Cuddyer are up against this winter.
Aubrey Huff, San Francisco Giants
If Cody Ross was a free agent, he would have made himself the most money off this Giants team simply because of the October he had.
But since he isn’t, that honor goes to Aubrey Huff after putting up a strong season in San Francisco.
The Giants signed Huff to a one-year deal last winter for $3 million, and Huff responded by hitting 26 homers with a .891 OPS.
Huff will have numerous clubs interested in his services this winter, but it would make sense for the Giants to bring him back on a multi-year deal.
He’s a quality bat that had success in the spacious AT&T Park, and his personality fits the team and city perfectly.
Huff may not repeat these numbers next year. But he proved to be a very valuable piece during San Francisco’s title run.
Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays
Somebody will offer Pena a nice contract on the free-agent market this winter.
Pena is a big left-handed bat that hits home runs. And power is a limited commodity.
That team just won’t be the Rays, however.
For all the home runs Pena hits, he strikes out a ton, he doesn’t get on base and he isn’t a great defensive first baseman.
That would be fine on the cheap, but Pena made $10.125 million in 2010 and it’s hard to imagine him taking a significant pay cut to stay in Tampa Bay.
That’s Pena’s choice.
But it’s also hard to imagine the Rays tying up such a large chunk of their payroll to one player who isn’t elite at his position.
Jim Thome, Minnesota Twins
Thome needs to go back to Minnesota.
They love him there, he fits into the clubhouse perfectly, he got plenty of at-bats and he had success in the Twins new ballpark.
Thome is aging and he can’t play a position, so even American League teams that are looking for a DH will be reluctant to offer considerable years and dollars.
The Twins paid Thome $1.5 million last year and he responded by hitting 25 home runs with a .412 OBP in 340 plate appearances.
Think the Twins got their money’s worth there?
Minnesota should offer the 39-year-old a nice pay raise on a two-year deal and extend the happy marriage.
Juan Uribe, San Francisco Giants
Like Huff, Uribe was another glue guy for the Giants, except he didn’t put up the same production as Huff.
Uribe did hit 24 home runs in 148 games, and if he is willing to come back to San Francisco for the $3.25 million he made this year, the Giants may have him back.
If he is looking for a big increase on a multi-year deal, well, I’m not sure he’s going to find that out there.
Adrian Beltre, Boston Red Sox
Beltre has a player option for 2011 that he will decline.
Beltre had a strong 2010 in Boston, where he had a .919 OPS. He would have been a MVP candidate if the Red Sox were in the A.L. East race.
Beltre will most likely ask for a contract worth somewhere in the $10 million range annually, and I’m not sure Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is going to give that to him.
The Red Sox would love to trade for San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez and plug him in at first base next year, but that has yet to develop.
If that happens, Boston could move Kevin Youkilis to third base full time, plug Gonzalez in at first and they would be set for the next five years.
Beltre is another guy who will benefit from a weak crop of hitters and will most likely get the money he is hoping for from a team desperate for offense.
Derrek Lee, Atlanta Braves
Lee won’t be offered arbitration in Atlanta and he will most likely have to take an incentive-laden deal if he wants more years.
Lee can be a productive bat and still handles himself well at first base. But he is not the hitter he was five seasons ago when he placed third in the N.L. MVP race.
Teams looking for a veteran right-handed bat that can hit 20-25 home runs, and a player who can scoop up the ball at first, will have an interest in Lee at the right price.
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Ortiz has a $12.5 million club option for 2011, with no buyout.
Even if the Red Sox don’t pick that up, can you see Big Papi playing anywhere other than Fenway?
I don’t think so.
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays
Crawford is one of the most-coveted players on the market this winter and some think he will sign a six-year deal worth $100-plus million.
All that means is that he’s no longer going to be playing in Tampa Bay.
When Crawford’s legs are healthy, he can be a disruptive catalyst at the top of a lineup.
The big-money teams will be on him, with the Los Angeles Angels considered an early favorite to land the left fielder.
If you want Crawford, you better be prepared to spend.
Victor Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Martinez seems to be going back to Boston because he wants to play there. And the Red Sox have no reason not to sign a switch-hitting All-Star catcher.
Of course, you have to consider a team like the New York Mets hopping in and throwing a sack of bills around. But this should be a free agent that gets locked up to a large contract fairly quickly.
The Red Sox need Martinez to be a big cog in the middle of their order in the immediate future, and the guess here is that Epstein will pay accordingly.
Jayson Werth, Philadelphia Phillies
Werth is another one of the bigger names on the market this winter.
He has done well for himself in Philadelphia.
He’s posted a OPS of .860 or better in each of the past three seasons while playing a key role in Philadelphia’s run to two World Series appearances.
But Werth is also a Scott Boras client, so you know he’s going to be asking for a lot of money given the market.
Will the Phillies pay for that?
Perhaps, and they could use Werth’s right-handed bat to offset the left-handed bats of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
If Werth wants more than Philadelphia is willing to pay, however, then the Phillies seem prepared to give top-prospect Dominic Brown a full opportunity to win the starting right field job in spring training.
Nick Johnson, New York Yankees
The story is always the same for Nick Johnson.
Nice player, can’t stay healthy.
But Johnson is a left-handed bat that gets on base, so as long as he has a heart beat, somebody will take a chance on him.
Orlando Hudson, Minnesota Twins
Hudson signed a one-year deal with the Twins for $5 million, but then didn’t live up to it.
It wasn’t long ago that Hudson was garnering MVP talk with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But then he broke his wrist, slipped off to Minnesota and nobody ever heard from him again.
The most talkative man in the big leagues went silent.
For a table-setting type of player, Hudson’s .338 OBP in 2010 won’t cut it, and he played in only 126 games.
Unless he’s willing to play for an incentive-laden deal, he probably won’t be back in Minnesota.
Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
Konerko has had a nice run in Chicago.
He helped the club win a World Series title in 2005 and then had a fabulous 2010 season in his walk year.
Konerko hit .312 with a .393 OBP and 39 home runs.
If that’s how he’s going to hit, Chicago would be more than happy to bring him back for a few more seasons.
But there’s no way to expect Konerko to duplicate this season again in 2011, so his market remains unclear.
He will want to capitalize on his year, but who is going to meet his dollar demands?
We’ll see, but there’s always numerous teams interested in a quality hitter who happens to be a great clubhouse guy.
Konerko shouldn’t have trouble finding work.
Adam Dunn, Washington Nationals
Dunn likes it in Washington. But he may command the most dollars (annually) on the trade market this year, and that may not be a commitment Washington is willing to make.
Ideally, Dunn goes to the American League and hits 45 home runs with a .390 OBP as a full-time DH.
If the Angels lose out on Crawford, they may be an interesting team in on Dunn.
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