With Christmas just around the corner, and the Winter GM Meetings already a thing of the past, Major League Baseball's Hot Stove league is well underway.
Going into this offseason, there was much talk about guys like Cliff Lee, the one true ace available, Jayson Werth, considered the best offensive threat on the market, and Carl Crawford, the superlative all-around threat coming off of arguably his best season.
Now, all of those names are spoken for with nine-figure contracts. Lee has taken his talents back to Broad Street, Werth won't get to reunite with Lee as he bolted for the Nationals, and Crawford will be fronting a revamped Red Sox lineup that will also feature Adrian Gonzalez, acquired in a trade with San Diego.
So where does that leave everyone else?
There is still plenty of talent left out there, and a number of teams looking to fill holes going into 2011. Well fear not, fearless reader! In this feature, we count down the top ten remaining free agents, and predict where they might be headed. So read on to make sense of the free agent landscape as it currently stands.
Pettite is a tricky proposition because he obviously still holds a good deal of value, but as seems to be his wont almost every year now (think baseball's Brett Favre), he's hinted that he might retire, and this year, there's more reason to take him seriously.
He pitched very effectively for the Yankees last year when healthy, going 11-3 with a 3.28 era in 21 starts, but he missed two months in the middle of the season with a groin injury, and ever the family man, being away from his every year seems to wear on him more than most.
He'd obviously still be a good fit in the Yanks rotation, and it's hard to see him anywhere else except back in Houston at this point. The Bronx Bombers should be doing everything they can to coax him to stay in the fold one more year.
Fuentes has quietly been a premier closer for a while now, racking up 20 or more saves with an ERA under 4 for each of the last six years. In 2009, he admirably filled the hole in Anaheim left by the departure of K-Rod, and led the league with 48 saves.
In 2010, he was made expendable by the Angels, having fallen out of contention, and finished the year as an effective setup man for the Twins. He's got playoff experience, and as important as anything else, he's a lefty.
He'll certainly want to land somewhere that needs a closer. The Red Sox have expressed interest, but they obviously already have a closer in Jonathan Papelbon. Arizona could've been a fit until they signed J.J. Putz. Now, look at a team like the Braves to perhaps bring his experience and reliability into the fold to replace the retired Billy Wagner.
Webb is a bit of an enigma. While he's missed almost all of the last two seasons as a result of various shoulder ailments, when he's been healthy, he's been nothing short of one of the best starting pitchers in the National League.
Webb won the NL Cy Young award in 2006, and finished second in the voting in each of the next two seasons. In 2008, his last full season, he went 22-7 with a 3.30 ERA. He's also been a workhorse, throwing 12 complete games and 7 shutouts between 2006 and 2008. His sinker has been as devastating a pitch as any, and he can compete even if that's his only pitch that's working.
The only reason he's so far down on his list is the simple fact that, two years removed from any activity, his health has to be a question mark until he proves himself. He says that he'll be ready to pitch a full season in 2011. If so, there's not a team that couldn't use what he can give. Right now, the Nationals could be a fit, as can the Cubs or the Rangers.
Manny, Manny, Manny. His travels, trials, and tribulations are well documented. When motivated, he's still shown the ability to be one of the flat out best pure hitters in baseball. The only problem is, his moods shift like the winds, and being able to tell if he's going to stay motivated is a crapshoot.
He wore out his welcome in Los Angeles by late last summer, and was allowed to go to the South Side of Chicago as a month long rental. He probably won't be back there in 2011, and the question is, what team will take a chance on his prodigious talent outweighing his prodigious ego?
With the Tampa Bay Rays losing Carlos Pena, who provided the bulk of the lineup's power over the last few years, they seem to be the best potential fit at this point. With Ramirez sitting 45 homers shy of 600, he just might be able to muster up enough motivation in a new location to stay happy and effective for a little while, at least.
Speaking of older sluggers approaching 600 home runs...except that's where the similarities between Manny Ramirez and Thome end. Thome was a model citizen in his one year in Minnesota, and he always has been held up as a model teammate.
And he's still remarkably effective at the plate. He chalked up a .412 on-base percentage, and a .627 slugging percentage, for an impressive 1.039 OPS in 2010. Yeah, he's always struck out a ton, but he's still a threat to park one every time he steps to the plate, and if he doesn't go yard, he's still just as likely to get on base through a walk.
At this point in his career, he needs to play in the American League so he can be a full-time DH. Staying with the Twins would be as good a fit as any, as he seemed to fit right in last season. He'll join the 600 club with his 11th round tripper in 2011.
Pavano also played for the Twins in 2010, and took a major step towards repairing his image.
After signing a big-money contract with the Yankees following a career year with Florida in 2005, he never lived up to the money in four injury-riddled seasons. But since joining Minnesota midway through 2009, he's been both effective and reliable.
2010 was one of his best years, as he went 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA and provided stability to the Twins rotation. He's another player that would seem to be best suited for staying in the Twin Cities - don't mess with a good thing. If he chooses to leave, the Nationals are still looking for a starter (unless they get Webb), and if things drag on, the Pirates may look to nab a veteran bargain.
In the end, I look for him to stay in Minnesota.
Lee lost a bit of his luster as he struggled with injuries and inconsistency early on in 2010, but a midseason change of scenery from Chicago to Atlanta helped his fortunes, and his final numbers (.260 AVG, 19 home runs, 80 RBI) were quite respectable.
He's also still only one year removed from one of his best seasons, when he batted .306 with 35 HR and 111 RBI in 2009. He's a solid, professional teammate and his smooth glove at first base and 6'5" frame make him valuable in the field, as well.
The Washington Nationals have proven themselves to be one of the more aggressive players in this market, having already inked Jayson Werth to a megadeal. If Lee doesn't set his price too high, either they or the Padres (fresh off of trading franchise cornerstone Adrian Gonzalez) might come calling.
Guerrero enjoyed quite the renaissance in 2010. After years as one of the best all-around hitters in baseball for the Expos (what the Nationals used to be called, for you youngsters) and Angels, he seemed to be showing signs of age and slowing down a bit in an injury shortened 2009 campaign.
With that as his most recent impression, the Angels let him walk, and he settled for a one-year deal in Texas. Lo and behold, once there, he rediscovered his stroke, batting .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI en route to helping lead Texas to its first World Series berth. He probably would've been a strong MVP candidate if Josh Hamilton hadn't been his teammate.
Yes, he'll turn 36 in 2011, but he can still rake, and he's now shown a willingness to sublimate his ego for the good of the team. It's actually surprising that he's still out there right now. It's probably because he had been looking to upgrade to a multi-year deal, but now that he seems more willing to talk about less, we could see him back in the fold in Arlington before long.
After struggling to fully realize his potential for some time, Soriano is now a legitimate stopper at the back of the bullpen.
He first made a real impression with the Braves in 2009, when he struck out 102 in just 75.2 innings, and saved 27 games. After moving to the Rays in 2010, he built on that success by leading the American League with 45 saves, and posting a miniscule 1.73 ERA.
Soriano is another name that is a bit confusing to see as still available. Perhaps he's been waiting for his true market to develop. It's hard to think that a power closer like him who's still just 31 wouldn't be able to command a multi-year deal.
The Angels had been mentioned earlier in the offseason, but that pursuit seems to have cooled. The Yankees are another rumor that won't go away, but would he settle for setting up Mariano Rivera? Right now, anything is still possible, but with a potential hole in the rotation if Andy Pettitte calls it quits (and Cliff Lee in Philadelphia), the Yanks might be well served to stockpile their 'pen.
Beltre hits the market again this offseason, after being in a similar spot to Vladimir Guerrero going into 2010.
He was disappointing throughout his time in Seattle, after signing there for big money coming off a monster 2004 (.334 AVG, 48 HR, 121 RBI). His power seemed to be gone in 2009, a year in which he hit just 8 home runs. But leave it to a one-year contract and a pennant race to rejuvenate him, and he was one of Boston's top threats in 2010.
He finished the year with a .321 AVG, 28 HR, 102 RBI and a league leading 49 doubles, and played a solid third base as well, a key defensive position. That gave him lots of options going into 2011, and he's been taking his time deciding. The A's got tired of waiting and went with Hideki Matsui. The Angels could be a landing spot, but he's said to have rejected their latest offer.
If Beltre insists on holding out for the big bucks again, this could go on a while. I don't think the Angels are going away in their pursuit, however. Look for them to reel him in, eventually.