The rumors are flying in the already steaming Major League Baseball hot stove. With the Winter Meetings starting today, many free agents are sure to find new homes in the upcoming days and weeks.
But where will they end up? The answer is not as sure for some as it is for others.
With the outlandish deal given to Jayson Werth, the uncertainty of this offseason has dramatically increased. After more major players sign, the dominoes are sure to fall. Here are 10 of the most coveted prizes of this offseason, their possible suitors and where they will end up.
Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers
Paul Konerko boasted MVP-caliber numbers in 2010, hitting .312/.393/.584 with 39 home runs and 111 runs batted in. Even at 34, Konerko will be a hot commodity among teams looking for a power-hitting first baseman.
The Baltimore Orioles have been popping up in the discussion of many top free agents this offseason. There is a glaring hole at first base (among many other positions) in the Charm City, and the Orioles seem willing to pay for top-level talent.
In Texas, the Rangers are looking for a veteran at first base, as well. With Mitch Moreland as the projected starter for 2011, the Rangers may feel that Konerko can be the missing piece to their World Series run in 2010. He could certainly bolster a lineup that is already stacked with power hitters.
However, the Chicago White Sox, with whom Konerko has played since 1999, seem to be the front-runners for his services. Despite the signing of Adam Dunn last week, the White Sox have expressed a strong desire to sign both players. Dunn, who is not the strongest fielder, would be a perfect fit in the DH role, while Konerko would continue to man first base.
Where He Will Sign: Chicago White Sox
Possible Suitors: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers
Cliff Lee is undoubtedly the most talented pitcher in this free agent class. Over the past three years, it can be argued that no pitcher in baseball has been as good as Lee. A strike-throwing machine, Lee has turned into a dominant force in the American League. At age 32, Lee may be looking for a multi-year deal that takes him near the end of his career.
The Boston Red Sox have just recently thrown their name into the Cliff Lee circus. While this may be wishful thinking, the Sox can never be entirely counted out of the sweepstakes for any year's best free agent.
However, this race will most likely come down to the Yankees and Rangers. The Texas Rangers, with whom Lee finished the 2010 season after leading them to their first World Series appearance, have expressed the desire to re-sign Lee to a long-term contract. While they do not have the Yankees spending power, the Rangers feel that if Lee truly enjoys playing in Texas, he will be willing to take a slight pay cut to remain a Ranger.
But in the volatile business that is Major League Baseball, it almost always comes down to dollars and cents. Clearly, the Yankees can offer Lee the most money, and probably the longest contract. While a huge deal would be a huge risk to both the Rangers and Yankees, it is a significantly smaller risk for the Yankees.
Last season, the Yankees were possibly one starting pitcher away from their 28th World Series title. Following a failed season (at least in terms of the Yankees standards), it would seem as if the Steinbrenners and GM Brian Cashman will do everything in their power to sign Lee.
Where He Will Sign: New York Yankees
Possible Suitors: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles
Adrian Beltre may be in one of the best positions of any free agent this year, simply because this isn't a deep free agent class in terms of third basemen. Beltre had a standout year in 2010 for the Red Sox, batting .321/.365/.553 with 28 home runs and 102 runs batted in.
In what was probably his second-best year in the bigs, Beltre guaranteed himself a gaudy contract that will probably exceed his statistical output.
Nevertheless, Beltre is a highly coveted free agent among teams in need of a third baseman.
It has been reported that Beltre was close to signing with the A's, who offered him a five-year, $64 million contact, according to sources. However, Beltre has expressed that he does not want to play in Oakland. Over the past week, he has said that he wished to stay in Boston, if the numbers were right.
But no matter his wishes, Beltre will, in all likelihood, not be a member of the Red Sox next season. On Monday, the Sox finalized a deal that will send Padres' first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Beantown. This means that Gonzalez will play first, while Kevin Youkilis will be moved to third. This effectively leaves no room in Boston for Beltre.
It may come down to the fact that the Angels are the only team left with the spending power to land Beltre. While they may have not been his first choice, the Angels certainly offer the best team around Beltre. This may be the deciding factor in a multi-year contract.
Where He Will Sign: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Possible Suitors: Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Washington Nationals
Carl Pavano resurrected his career in 2010 with the Minnesota Twins, going 17-11, with a 3.75 earned run average in 221 innings pitched. Following a failed stint with the New York Yankees, during which Pavano started just 26 games in three years, he was able to remain healthy in Minnesota, ultimately becoming the Twins most consistent pitcher last season.
It is quite possible that Pavano is the best pitcher left in this free agent class whose name is not Cliff Lee. Even at 34, Pavano is a good option for many teams looking for a consistent starter for the next several years.
Among the teams interested are the Florida Marlins. Pavano would fit in well with the Marlins; he could serve as a mentor to a relatively young pitching staff. Pavano's game would also bode well in Florida; known as a strike-thrower lacking the ability to blow away hitters, he fits best in large ballparks that do not surrender many home runs. It is possible that Pavano would be willing to return to the team that he won a World Series with in 2003.
The Minnesota Twins perhaps offer the most stability to Pavano for the near future. With a playoff-caliber team, Pavano could return to the Twins for another playoff run. Although the Twins have never been known as big spenders, it is unlikely that Pavano will wield a large contract.
The Washington Nationals have already been the surprise of this offseason by signing Jayson Werth to a preposterous contract. While most view this deal as a major risk, the Nats are also looking for a veteran to bolster their starting rotation. Pavano fits the mold perfectly. Even after signing Werth, the Nationals have more than enough money to offer an appealing contact to Pavano.
Where He Will Sign: Washington Nationals
Possible Suitors: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, New York Yankees
Carl Crawford, despite the outrageous contract of Jayson Werth, is set to be the highest-paid position player of the offseason. His combination of speed and potential power make him the main target of many teams going in to the Winter Meetings.
There are few teams who have the spending power necessary to land Crawford. As is the case in most years, the Yankees and Red Sox lead the way, this time accompanied by the Angels. But after the Red Sox trade for Adrian Gonzalez, and the Yankees sights set on Cliff Lee, Crawford may be the odd man out in the AL East.
This could leave the Angels in the best position to land Crawford. They have the money it will take to sign him, and also can offer a potential playoff team.
However, if we have learned anything over the years, it is to never rule out the Yankees and Red Sox. After the Werth signing in Washington, the Red Sox are still looking to fill a void in the outfield. Although they have traded for Gonzalez, who is sure to get a superstar contract, the Sox may still be willing to pay the price for Crawford.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are certainly most focused on signing this year's best free agent pitcher, Cliff Lee. It has been rumored that if the Yankees are able to acquire Lee, the price for Crawford will be too high, even for the Yankees.
This situation is eerily similar to that of the 2008 offseason, which saw the Yankees land C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira, even after it was said that the Yankees were out of the running for Teixeira following the signings of both Sabathia and Burnett. If it could happen then, why couldn't it happen again this year?
Where He Will Sign: New York Yankees
Possible Suitors: Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals
Brandon Webb could turn out to be the best bargain amongst starting pitchers in this year's free agent class. Although Webb has not pitched since Opening Day 2009 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, many are quick to forget that Webb is a former Cy Young winner, taking the award in 2006. If Webb is able to remain healthy, he could be a major addition to any team's starting rotation.
Many see the Texas Rangers as the favorite to land Brandon Webb, mainly because Webb's shoulder surgery was performed by Keith Meister, the Texas Rangers' team doctor. If the Rangers are unable to re-sign Cliff Lee, Webb could help fill a void in the Rangers' rotation.
In addition, Webb is well-suited for the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, a park that is known as a hitters park. Webb sports a power sinker, which has helped keep his home runs numbers low in past seasons. At 31, Webb is young enough for a long-term contract, as long as the Rangers feel he is healthy enough to receive one.
As a result, Webb could get some of the money that would have otherwise been used to attain Cliff Lee. However, if the Rangers are able to sign both pitchers, their chances of repeating as American League champions would be greatly increased.
Brandon Webb is the latest on a long list of free agents on the Washington Nationals' radar. Webb, who is being overlooked by many teams because of his injury history, could turn out to be a bargain for the Nationals, who may be strapped for cash after the outrageous deal given to Jayson Werth.
As a result, Webb may be able to be locked up for several years at a discount. This could greatly help the Nationals, who are doing their best to become a playoff team immediately. Webb would add a veteran presence to an otherwise young Nationals' rotation. However, if the Nationals can sign Carl Pavano, they could drop out of the Webb sweepstakes.
The Chicago Cubs have emerged as a leading candidate to land Brandon Webb. Following a dismal 2010 season during which the Cubs finished fifth in the not-so-strong National League Central, the Cubs would love to see Webb at the top of their rotation. With uncertainty surrounding the future of Carlos Zambrano, Webb could be an important acquisition for the Cubs' rotation. However, if Zambrano can be retained, the Cubs could make their way up the National League Central standings.
Where He Will Sign: Chicago Cubs
Possible Suitors: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays
When it is all said and done, Carlos Pena may turn out to be the steal of this year's free agent class. Pena struggled mightily for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, hitting a dismal .196/.325/.407, with 28 home runs and 84 runs batted in.
However, Pena's batting average will almost certainly rise in 2011, and he has always been known as a hitter with great plate discipline and a solid on-base percentage. He is also a great fielder, which has become a more important part of the picture at first base around the league in recent years. This should be more than enough to get a decent multi-year contract for Pena.
The Baltimore Orioles will likely make a play for Carlos Pena. With very little young talent at first base, Pena could fill a large void within the Orioles organization. Pena would also help defensively for a team that was in the middle of the pack in terms of fielding in 2010.
Pena could also see himself playing within the friendly confines of Wrigley Field next season. Following the departure of first baseman Derrek Lee via trade last season, the Cubs are in need of a power hitting replacement. Pena could also help defensively with a young middle infield, for a team that finished last in the majors in fielding percentage.
It has been reported that the Toronto Blue Jays are most aggressively pursuing Carlos Pena at the Winter Meetings. The Blue Jays, who will, in all likelihood, part ways with first baseman Lyle Overbay, will be looking for a power bat for the middle of the lineup. The Jays would love to sign Pena, who has hit 13 home runs against Toronto over the past three seasons, the most of any team.
For a Toronto team looking to compete in the extremely deep American League East, Pena could be an integral piece in turning the Blue Jays into a legitimate contender.
Where He Will Sign: Toronto Blue Jays
Possible Suitors: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers
Rafael Soriano had a breakout season as the Rays' closer in 2010, posting a 1.73 earned run average with 45 saves. In an offseason with few quality free agent relievers, Soriano is clearly the best option at closer for teams who need to fill that void.
Although he has already declined arbitration, the Tampa Bay Rays would love to bring back Soriano as their closer. While the Rays are not known as big spenders by any means, they are willing to bring back the closer for the right price. However, at a reported $30-40 million, Soriano's asking price will most likely be far too high for the Rays to match.
An interesting idea has surfaced in Arlington. If they are unable to re-sign Cliff Lee, sources say that the Texas Rangers would be willing to move last year's breakout closer, rookie Neftali Feliz, to the starting rotation to make room for Rafael Soriano at closer. The 22-year-old Feliz certainly has the stuff to be a quality starting pitcher, and if such a deal worked out, the Rangers would greatly benefit. Although Lee is their number one priority, this would be a great plan B for a team looking to repeat at American League champions.
However, it has been reported that the Angels have been most aggressive in the pursuit of Soriano. In fact, ESPN's Buster Olney has reported that the Angels have stopped receiving trade offers in order to put their best foot forward to sign Soriano to a long-term deal. This would make the most sense, as the Angels have the money necessary to meet the $30-40 million desired by Soriano.
Where He Will Sign: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Possible Suitors: Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Washington Nationals
Another Twin on the free agent market is second baseman Orlando Hudson. Hudson had a down year for Minnesota in 2010, batting .268/.338/.372 with six home runs and 37 runs batted in. However, Hudson is known more for his fielding prowess, which will give him the most appeal this offseason.
It is likely that Hudson will only get a one-year deal from any team because of his offensive struggles in 2010. However, several teams would love to have someone with the defensive abilities of Hudson. The Twins would be willing to sign Hudson to a one-year contract, even after a tough season. However, it is likely that, after declining arbitration from the Twins, Hudson will go elsewhere.
Once again, the Washington Nationals are in the running for a top free agent. With 23-year-old Danny Espinosa projected as the starting second baseman for 2011, the Nats may be looking to bring in Hudson for one year, if only to give Espinosa time to develop.
If any team is looking to forget the 2010 season, it is the New York Mets. Following a disastrous season, Hudson would be a great fit for the Mets, who are lacking any depth at second base. Hudson would be able to work with shortstop Jose Reyes, which would immediately give the Mets one of the best defensive middle infields in the National League East.
Where He Will Sign: New York Mets
Possible Suitors: New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Retirement
Andy Pettitte has quietly become the "other pitcher" that the Yankees are Rangers are fighting for. While both are determined to sign Cliff Lee, Pettitte would certainly be a great consolation prize for either organization. However, at age 38, Pettitte has not guaranteed a return next season, saying on numerous occasions that he is considering retirement.
If any other team has a chance, Texas seems like the best bet. Pettitte has ties to Texas, where he grew up, as well as to Rangers' owner Nolan Ryan. It was reported last week that Ryan has been in contact with Pettitte to lure him to Arlington.
Although these reports have been refuted, it seems as if Pettitte would feel comfortable with the Rangers. While Lee is their biggest priority, Pettitte would create a veteran presence in the Rangers' rotation.
However, if Andy Pettitte does return, it seems most likely that it will be with the New York Yankees. Pettitte has stated in past years that he does not want to play anywhere but in New York. Even if the Yankees sign Lee, Pettitte would be a welcome addition to a starting rotation that struggled mightily when Pettitte went down with an injury last season.
A fan favorite, most Yankees fans would gladly welcome Pettitte back for another season in the Bronx.
Where He Will Sign: New York Yankees