Now that Jayson Werth has signed his jaw-dropping contract with the Nationals, the hot stove dominoes are likely to start falling. Werth’s contract, henceforth known as the Nationals’ Deficit, gives Carl Crawford more leverage than a supermodel at a Star Wars premiere. Multiple sources are now reporting Crawford’s agent is seeking eight years and $180 million, or 2 ½ times the total payroll for the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays. It’s likely that the only way Crawford would get more money is if his agent was also Scott Boras, and the Nationals were competing against themselves to sign him.
It just happens that there is one other free agent linchpin seeking similar money—Cliff Lee—and exactly two teams with the capital to sign them. Though the Rangers and Angels have thrown their hats in the free agency ring, the most likely scenario still has it that the Yankees and Red Sox will rochambeau for Crawford and Lee. That would leave the rest of the league, henceforth known as the Other 28, to compete for the services of the remaining outfield options. And there are some needy competitors. The Rays will have to replace the bats of Crawford and Carlos Pena, the Angels will look to improve their lineup after a sub-.500 season, and the Tigers appear poised to keep spending.
Here then are the ten best likely available outfielders once Crawford signs…
The team that pursues but doesn’t sign Crawford will likely turn their attention to Guerrero, who may not have been clutch in the World Series, but is clutch at signing one-year deals. Guerrero hit .300 with 29 HR and 115 RBI, and is a likely fit for the Rangers if/when they ultimately don’t re-sign Lee. Vlad reportedly wants a three-year deal but will consider a hometown discount with the Rangers, which is a factor given his age. If they do re-sign Lee they may be back in bankruptcy court and Vlad will be elsewhere.
Ordonez had a vesting option that would have paid him $15 million for 2010. Unfortunately, that vanished when he broke his foot in July, which may have been the real reason he was writhing in pain at home plate that hot day in Detroit. The most likely destination for Ordonez is Boston. The Red Sox already have three injury-prone outfielders in Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury, and don’t appear afraid of adding a fourth. Ordonez and the Tigers were enjoying a renaissance in 2010 until the injury effectively ended both campaigns.
The 2009 World Series MVP and holder of the world’s largest private pornography collection has met with the A’s and Orioles already, but reportedly prefers playing with a contender. Matsui will be 36 this year but is numbers last year (.274-21-84) were on par with his career averages and he has a penchant for the clutch hit. If the Yankees lose out on Crawford could he wind up in pinstripes again?
Sources have told MLB.com that the Nationals are likely to trade Willingham now that they have Werth under contract. Willingham is a consistent RBI threat with a high OPS and a decent glove in left field. He is also soon-to-be 31 with a gimpy knee, and has failed to add to his power numbers since his rookie year in 2006. Either way, it’s likely he could be yours for a reasonable price.
That’s right, Manny could be Manny in town near you next year. With his gas grill no longer a free agent on eBay, and on the downside of the downside of his career, it may take time for Ramirez to find work. In fact, it might be a good idea for him to get a resume on Monster.com, but Ramirez could fit in with a team like the Yankees or Rays that need a right-handed bat to mash and a glove to grow cobwebs. Or he could wind up as the Allen Iverson of MLB and head to Turkey.
The Twins have their starting outfield in place (with Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer taking the corner outfield spots), and Kubel will likely sit on the outside looking in when spring training starts. The Twins did pick up his 2010 option at $5.25 million, but they are clearly disenchanted with his production (OPS down from .907 to .750), raising the question of whether he was hurt by the team’s move to Target Field. He was nearly a .300-30-100 player two years ago and could be on the move before the season starts.
The Dodgers say he isn’t available and more than one opposing GM has asked. He’s the team’s most talented player and appears destined to string together some 30-30 campaigns. On the other hand, his effort gets questioned by the media and fans, he argues with coaches and got benched last year. His agent, Dave Stewart, raised the notion last year that his client might be happier playing elsewhere in the middle of a pennant race. All of this on a team in which stability in the front office and ownership box are not a hallmark. He could be a superstar, or he could be Son of Manny, meaning he could be available for the right price.
Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz, Jeff Francoeur and Andruw Jones are all available and standing by for your phone call. I don’t want to say the Braves have had a revolving door in left field, but they do set up meet-and-greets in the bullpen before most games. Their best option in left next year will likely be Nate McLouth, whose contract makes him more untradeable than a baloney sandwich on rye in the school cafeteria.
Cabrera slumped badly during his first year in the NL, but he’s 26 and can play all three outfield spots. Franceour has a cannon and a nice beard, and Andruw Jones is still just 33 years old. Despite that, Diaz has drawn the most interest so far, with the Red Sox and Pirates vying for his bat and speed.
Yes he’s a 34-year-old SB threat with no power and little to add defensively. But in a weak outfield free-agent class, Podsednik is the best remaining left-fielder (sorry, Johnny Damon). He has a .300 BA and .397 OBP over the last two seasons, better than average in the NL from the leadoff position. He might be Plan C, but he can handle lefties and may wind up as somebody’s everyday leadoff hitter.
It has become clear at the winter meetings that the Red Sox are interested in acquiring Beltran, the former speedy and moderately paid Mets outfielder. Beltran is owed $18.5 million in 2011, and cleared waivers last August. The Mets would likely have to eat part of his salary for the privilege of not having to see him in their outfield next year.