More so than any other sport, baseball is truly an all year event. The World Series ends, and we get treated to about four months of rumors, speculation, blockbuster signings and trades, and unheralded moves that pay major dividends down the road.
While this year's free agent class is obviously lacking in depth, there are a few marquee talents headlining the group, such as Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, and Jayson Werth. Additionally, a few future Hall of Famers near the end of the road (Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome) may be available at bargain prices.
I enjoy speculation as much as anyone and have taken a stab at predicting where some of the cream of this year's crop will be suiting up next season.
Most of the contract guesses are a shot in the dark. How much each player gets often depends on how soon they sign, and it's hard to guess who will sign when.
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Signs 6 year, $150M contract with New York Yankees
Other Suitors: Texas Rangers
This really looks like a two horse race to me, and I'm just not going to pick against the Yankees in a bidding war. He was a good fit in Texas and it seems he enjoyed his time there, but when the Yankees want someone, they usually get him.
After playing for four teams in the span of two years, you can take Lee at his word when he says he'll go where the years are.
The prospect of paying a 38 year old past his prime $25M a year probably doesn't sound too appealing, but the Yankees will do whatever it takes to land this off season's biggest prize.
Signs 6 year, $108M with Los Angeles Angels
Other Suitors: Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants
Boston and Detroit will make a play, but Crawford will end up with his buddy Torii Hunter in Orange County. He would provide them a much needed spark atop the lineup, and he and Hunter would make up two thirds of a great defensive outfield. In short, he is precisely what they need.
Like Lee, Crawford may be overpaid in the final years of the contract, but if he can help them get back on top in the AL West and maybe win a World Series, I'm sure the Angels won't mind paying him down the road.
Signs 6 year, $96M contract with Boston Red Sox
Other Suitors: Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves
Having missed out on Carl Crawford, the Red Sox will do everything in their power to land Werth, the next best outfielder on the market. I think Werth is a better fit for them any way, as he hit 46 doubles in 2010 and would hit even more playing half his games in Fenway Park.
He'd be a perfect fit for the Tigers as well, and I personally think the Phillies need to do whatever it takes to keep him, be it trading Ibanez, Polanco, or whomever. He's basically their only source of right-handed power.
Signs 3 year, $42M contract with Chicago Cubs
Other Suitors: Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers
If he holds firm on his current stance against DHing, Adam Dunn is going to cost himself millions this off season. Whereas AL teams like the Tigers and White Sox could offer him at least four years to be their DH, no NL GM in his right mind should offer him more than two years, given what a liability he is in the field.
His defense aside, the Cubs need power. They considered him before he signed with Washington two years ago, and Dunn is said to like the idea of playing on the North Side. Another NL team to watch in these sweepstakes is the Dodgers, who also need power and could have vacancies at 1B and LF.
Signs 4 year, $60M contract with Detroit Tigers
Other Suitors: Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox
Despite Dave Dombrowski's insistence on Alex Avila being the starting catcher, the Tigers have been linked to Martinez all off season. It's not hard to see why; he'd provide great protection for Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the order, with the ability to catch a few days a week as well.
Boston wants to keep him and it seems Texas wants to lure him as part of a package deal with Cliff Lee, but no team needs him more than Detroit. Even if he wants to catch every day, they can offer him millions and millions of reasons to change that stance.
Signs 5 year, $65M contract with Boston Red Sox
Other Suitors: Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers
While I don't think Theo Epstein was terribly sincere in saying bringing Victor Martinez back was a priority, I think he meant it when he said the same thing about Adrian Beltre. He was Boston's best player in 2010, and just resigning him might be easier than moving Kevin Youkilis to 3B and pursuing Adrian Gonzalez.
While he never looked at home in Safeco Field, Fenway Park treated him much better. Convinced he can have sustained success, the Red Sox won't be hesitant to offer him a five year deal.
Signs 3 year, $36M contract with New York Yankees
Other Suitors: Why even bother?
Really not much to contemplate here. Rivera is still the best closer in the game, and the Yankees do not have an obvious in-house successor. I'm not exactly sure how much money he's going to get or for how long, but the Yankees will hold on to one of the faces of their franchise.
Signs 3 year, $60M contract with New York Yankees
Other Suitors: He's not leaving.
Crazy as it sounds, the Captain's return to the Bronx seems more in doubt than Rivera's. This is the season of speculation and no doubt it's fun, but there's no really no use for it here.
Negotiations may not always go smoothly, but at the end of the day, Derek Jeter is the New York Yankees. Brian Cashman simply is not going to allow him to get his 3,000th hit wearing anything other than pinstripes.
Signs 3 year, $30M contract with Chicago White Sox
Other Suitors: Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles
I still don't understand where the general sentiment that Konerko was leaving Chicago came from. Unless they can woo Adam Dunn or make a surprise move for Prince Fielder, I don't think the White Sox can afford to lose him.
He's already turned down less money to stay with them once, so clearly money isn't all that matters to Konerko. If he doesn't return, the Angels have loved him forever, and playing close to home in Arizona may appeal to him as well.
Signs 3 year, $33M contract with Arizona Diamondbacks
Other Suitors: Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox
There aren't many teams looking for closers this winter, but of the few that are, none might be as desperate as Arizona. Rafael Soriano would immediately provide an anchor at the back end of a bullpen that posted the worst ERA in MLB last season (5.74, more than a run worse than the next worst team).
Merely adding Soriano wouldn't be the cure, but it would be a start for Kevin Towers.
Signs 4 year, $48M contract with Milwaukee Brewers
Other Suitors: Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees
Its telling that the best pitcher on the open market not named Cliff Lee is either, depending on whom you ask, one of the nastiest southpaws in the game or another Oliver Perez waiting to happen. Bottom line: there will be no shortage of teams seeking Jorge De La Rosa's services this winter.
I see Doug Melvin pulling out the stops to add De La Rosa to a rotation that looks awfully thin behind Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf. Either New York or Texas could see him as a consolation prize for missing out on Lee, and the Tigers could be tempted by this live-armed left hander as well.
Signs 1 year, $7M contract with Texas Rangers
Other Suitors: Chicago White Sox, Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners
The Rangers declined their part on the mutual option, but you have to believe that they would still want Vlad back given the influence he had in the middle of that lineup in 2010. Cliff Lee obviously is the greater priority, but Vlad's departure would leave a gaping hole in Texas' DH spot as well.
Chicago and Seattle got dismal DH production in 2010 and could come calling, and Billy Beane and the A's are said to be looking for power and could implore Vlad to continue his AL West tour.
Signs 2 year, $20M contract with Los Angeles Dodgers
Other Suitors: Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees
No matter how limited their flexibility may be, the Dodgers have plenty of incentive to bring back Kuroda. Bringing him back to a rotation that already has Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Ted Lilly locked up could help the Dodgers rebound quickly in 2011.
If he doesn't return to L.A., Seattle has been an appealing option for Japanese players for some time now. The Yankees certainly have the need and were rumored to be interested in trading for him last August.
Signs 2 year, $18M contract with San Francisco Giants
Other Suitors: Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs
One of the biggest bargains of last off season, Huff is primed for quite the pay day this winter. Whether or not the Giants decide to bring him back could depend on whether or not they feel stud prospect Brandon Belt is ready or not.
In the end, I think they'll err on the side of caution and retain one of the most vital pieces of the 2010 World Champions.
Signs 2 year, $16M contract with Detroit Tigers
Other Suitors: Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers
If the Tigers are not seriously considering bringing Maggs back, they better be certain they have a legitimate shot at landing (in addition to Victor Martinez) either Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. There will be no shortage of suitors for either player.
Bringing back Ordonez, who has stated he'd like to remain in Detroit, to shore up the middle of the lineup might just be the Tigers' safest route.
Signs 3 year, $30M contract with Minnesota Twins
Other Suitors: St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers
Having put his experience in New York behind him, Pavano has established himself as a legitimate workhouse, logging 420.1 innings the past two seasons between Cleveland and Minnesota.
Their most dependable starter besides Francisco Liriano, the Twins might not be able to afford to lose him. If he doesn't return to the twin cities, St. Louis, Colorado, and Milwaukee (among other teams) are looking for dependable starters.
Signs 1 year, $5M contract with New York Mets
Other Suitors: Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres
With Luis Castillo a prime candidate to be released, the Mets could be on the lookout for a second baseman this off season. On top of that, they could use a positive presence in their clubhouse. Orlando Hudson would provide both.
Despite his sparkling reputation, it seems the O-Dawg is playing for a new team basically every year. After a down year in 2010, it looks like he's going to have to accept another one year deal.
Signs 3 year, $18M contract with St. Louis Cardinals
Other Suitors: San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros
After coming up with big hit after big hit for the Giants this past postseason, you have to think the Giants would love to have Juan Uribe back as their starting SS in 2010. That said, the versatile infielder should have plenty of suitors this off season.
The Cardinals strike me as the logical fit. They could use some help at 2B, SS, and 3B, and Uribe can play all three positions.
Signs 1 year, $10M contract with New York Yankees
Other Suitors: Retirement.
Given his age, Pettitte is either going back to the Yankees or he's calling it a career. He certainly showed in 2010 that he has something left in the tank, so I'm going to say he'll be back. It all boils down to what he wants to do, and obviously, only he knows that.
Signs 1 year, $5M contract with Toronto Blue Jays
Other Suitors: Oakland A's, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers
Honestly, I don't have a clue what's going to happen to Manny this off season. He might not even be willing to swallow his pride and play for $5M or less. He's said he'd like to play for Toronto and they could have an opening at DH if they move Adam Lind to 1B.
The A's, White Sox, and Tigers are all looking for middle of the order bats this off season, and could turn to Manny as a backup option if they miss out on the cream of the crop.
Signs 3 year, $21M contract with St. Louis Cardinals
Other Suitors: Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies
After posting a 3.48 ERA in 75 innings for St. Louis since joining them at the trade deadline, general sentiment was that the two sides would look to continue the relationship. Though word is that negotiations have slowed down the past few days, I still see the Cardinals bringing him back.
If an agreement can't be reached, the Pirates could certainly use his veteran influence.
Signs 2 year, $16M contract with Baltimore Orioles
Other Suitors: San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers
Having hit 35 home runs with a .972 OPS as recently as 2009, Derrek Lee could end up being one of the biggest bargains of this off season. Having missed out on Victor Martinez and Paul Konerko, I see the Orioles signing the former Cub and Brave.
As many teams could benefit from taking a flier on him, I don't see him having any problem finding a job this winter.
Signs 1 year, $7M contract with Oakland A's
Other Suitors: Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants
2010 was not the greatest season for the longtime Astro, but Lance Berkman still finished the season with a very solid .368 OBP. His power disappeared though, as he posted a SLG over 100 points below his career average.
The A's have been linked to him all off season and they seem like a good fit. The Giants could be looking for a 1B if he wants to go back to the NL.
Signs 2 year, $16M contract with Colorado Rockies
Other Suitors: St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers
Garland isn't a Cy Young contender but every year, you can count on close to 200 innings, a sub 5 ERA, and at least 10 wins. The Rockies, among other teams, are said to be looking for that kind of dependable starter.
If the Cardinals can't resign Westbrook, they could be a fit, as could the Dodgers if they don't bring back Kuroda.
Signs 1 year, $5M contract with Minnesota Twins
Other Suitors: Texas Rangers, Oakland A's
If you're strictly talking bang for the buck, Jim Thome was the best signing of last off season, hitting 25 home runs in 276 plate appearances and helping the Twins withstand the loss of Justin Morneau at the cost of $1.5M.
He was a good fit in Minnesota and could opt to return there but plenty of teams, Texas and Oakland among them, are looking for DH's, so Thome should have no trouble finding work for next season.