We have reached the late afternoon of Major League Baseball's offseason drama.
The shadows are getting rather long out on the stage, and many of the main characters of this play have long since finished acting out their scenes and have gone back home to rest up for the remainder of the winter. Even some of the secondary players have reached their destinations. Brandon Webb, welcome to Texas. Derrek Lee, Baltimore has a great ballpark.
But there are still some stories to be found unfolding out there under the cold January sun. There are probably no more $100 million dollar contracts to be signed (at least among current free agents), but if you look a bit closer, you'll see that the people still out there hawking their wares shouldn't be unilaterally dismissed as irrelevant.
There are plenty of diamonds in the rough still to be had for the right price. Let's check out some of the ripest fruit still on the market.
(Too many metaphors for one page? Yeah, too many ...)
The now two-time World Series hero has largely retreated to his native Colombia since he helped the Giants win their first World Series in San Francisco history with a dramatic three-run homer off of Cliff Lee in Game 5.
The Giants have expressed interest in bringing him back in a reserve role to spell newly acquired Miguel Tejada at shortstop (San Francisco lost incumbent starter Juan Uribe as a free agent to the rival Dodgers), and extended him a $1 million offer to put off retirement for one more year. Renteria responded by essentially saying the offer was an insult.
He's universally liked around the game for being one of the truly good guys, but actually, he's a bit off base on this. He largely underperformed after being brought in back in 2009 for $18 million, only finally redeeming himself with his postseason heroics. I don't know of too many teams who would be willing to give him much more than the Giants offered at this point. He's an oft-injury plagued backup at this point in his career.
Nevertheless, he remains a great guy to have around the clubhouse and could transition into one of those Alex Cora-type roles as a player/mentor/de facto bench coach. I still think the Giants would be happy to have him back in some capacity in 2011. If he doesn't find common ground with them, the Reds may be a fit, but I say there's enough good feeling in the Bay about last year to make it work there.
Fuentes has lost a bit of his luster over the course of the last year and seems to be trying to wait for the market to build for him over time.
He's gone from a closer for a contending team, to an expendable contract, to a setup man (albeit an effective one), and now, at 35, his suitors are dwindling.
That doesn't mean they aren't there, however. They're just waiting to see if he lowers his asking price. He still had a completely respectable 2.81 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP last year, split between the Angels and Twins. And he's a lefty.
He'd be a good fit in Tampa, where Rafael Soriano doesn't appear likely to return, so he could go back to being a closer, which he wants. At this point, I think money and years are all that stands in the way.
Andruw Jones remains an intriguing enigma. He's certainly entered the twilight of his effectiveness as an everyday player, but every now and then, he's still able to show flashes of the brilliance of his younger days.
He started last year hot, with nine homers and a 1.062 OPS through May 5th, and began to make people wonder if he was indeed back to being the player who blasted 40+ homers and drove in 120+ back-to-back seasons for the Braves in 2005 and 2006. But after that point, he cooled off, batting just .216 with a .742 OPS the rest of the way.
He's still just 33, though, which is by no means over the hill in baseball years and potentially has enough pop left to convince someone to take a flier on him in the hopes of capturing lightning in a bottle. And while he's certainly lost a step (or two) defensively, he's still competent enough to have value as more than just a DH and pinch hitter.
Atlanta still has happy memories of his All-Star days, but he might not be able to find enough playing time there to be happy. The Yankees are always out there, ready to snatch up any bat that could help. Another potential landing spot is Tampa to fill out the lineup with some right-handed pop.
Wherever he ends up going, count on it being a one year deal where he'll hope to again prove himself, just like the last two years in Texas and Chicago.
Gregg has flown under the radar a bit this offseason.
He's not yet a household name, having bounced around from Anaheim, to Florida, to Chicago, and finally to Toronto last season, never staying in any one place long enough to gain much traction.
Despite his travels, he's been pretty effective wherever he's pitched. Gregg's compiled 20+ saves each of the last four seasons, including a career high 37 last year, while averaging close to a strikeout an inning during that time.
The Baltimore Orioles have shown the most interest and have been confirmed to have a two year offer on the table, but they're not alone in their pursuit. On multiple occasions, the deal has said to be close to done, but Gregg has hesitated while trying to consider his other options.
As I've been writing this, it appears that the deal is now back to being all but done. So consider Gregg an Oriole. Say hello to Derrek Lee for me.
Damon is another player who hasn't generated a lot of buzz this Hot Stove season, but continues to be an effective presence at the top of the order.
Forced to spend a season in Detroit after he was spurned by the Yankees last offseason (he wanted to stay in the Bronx, they wanted to get younger), he put up respectable numbers in Motown, batting .271 with a .355 OBP and 11 stolen bases.
He's not the Johnny Damon of old, but the older Johnny Damon still has some young legs. And he's always been a great guy to have around the clubhouse, seamlessly blending in wherever he's been.
Damon has tried fishing himself back to the Yankees again this offseason, but it doesn't appear that they're biting. He'll stay in the AL where he can DH. If not New York, would Kansas City not want to see him back in royal blue to close out his career?
As players with up-and-down careers go, Brad Penny is among the most consistently inconsistent pitchers you'll find.
After back-to-back 16-win, All-Star campaigns for the Dodgers in 2006 and 2007, Penny stumbled through most of the next two years before righting himself in the final month of 2009 when he was picked off the scrap heap by the Giants and was their best pitcher down the stretch, going 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA in six starts.
Then he signed with the Cardinals as a free agent and returned to his stumbling ways, with injuries limiting him to just nine starts, although he pitched effectively when healthy, to the tune of a 3.23 ERA in 55.2 innings.
What will Penny provide in 2011, and what's it worth to a team willing to pony up to find out? Well, he's not likely to return to St. Louis, as there are signs the organization wasn't happy with how he handled his rehab last season.
Look for him to land somewhere else in the National League. Perhaps a team like the Mets still desperate for starting pitching insurance would take the bait.
Adam LaRoche's story so far seems to me to be a bit like Kevin Gregg's. He's never been able to stick in any one market long enough to really make a name for himself, but he's been quietly effective, nonetheless.
The thing that makes him very appealing is his consistency. You can pretty much count on an average in the vicinity of .270 or so, 20 to 25 homers, and 80 to 90 RBI. There are a lot of teams that would take that kind of production to the bank.
His courtship with the Washington Nationals has been prolonged this offseason, and it is finally starting to look as if the two sides are ready to get a room and consummate this relationship once and for all. Derrek Lee going off the table seems to have been the impetus for the renewed urgency in getting a deal done.
LaRoche and Jayson Werth will give the Nats some solid production to make up for the loss of Adam Dunn.
Pavano has reached the point in his career, at 35, where he knows who he is, and teams know what to expect from him.
No, he's not the big money, front line starter the Yankees paid big money for a while back (and for which he will forever be linked to names like Terry Mulholland, Kenny Rogers, and Kevin Brown), but he can be a reliable, dependable innings eater if you don't ask him to be something he's not.
Reliable starting pitching is always in demand (just look at how many un-reliable starting pitchers are still able to find work every year...Oliver Perez, anyone?), and so Pavano should have trouble landing in someone's rotation once he's ready to decide.
I still think his best bet is to just stay in Minnesota, where he's got a good thing going. Texas was said to be interested a little while back, but that interest has waned with their signing of Brandon Webb. Then there's always the extremely active Washington Nationals, who seem to be in full on go-for-broke mode. Whichever team offers him a better contract might get him in the end.
It always comes back around to Manny, sooner or later.
He's down at number seven on this list specifically because teams around baseball seem to have grown more wary of his act, to the point that if he wants to play in 2011, he'll have to take a major pay cut. His bat remains dangerous, his head more so.
At this point, he's got to be considered a DH for an American League team, and the market for full-time DH's is both crowded and dwindling. The Rangers could've been a viable option if they don't re-sign Vlad the Impaler (more on him in a bit), but they've grown awfully chummy with Adrian Beltre of late (more on him in a bit, as well).
Then there's the Rays, who still always pop-up in discussions of AL teams looking to add some pop to their lineup. We've already discussed Andrew Jones as a possibility there, too.
You see how this is starting to get complicated?
I think the Rays should be more concerned about keeping their own free agents as opposed to signing new ones.
They've already lost the best all-around player in their franchise's (admittedly short) history, Carl Crawford. They also waved goodbye to fan favorite Carlos Pena. And they're more than likely not going to see Rafael Soriano back in uniform next year, either (see a few more slides forward...I gotta stop tipping my hand).
Then there's Grant Balfour, the Australian import who bounced around with Minnesota and Milwaukee for awhile before suddenly emerging as a late-inning stopper with the Rays during their miraculous turnaround season of 2008. He regressed a bit in 2009, but last year was one of the more effective setup men in baseball, sporting a 2.28 ERA and striking out a batter an inning.
He should be able to have his fair share of suitors, including the Rays. His only downsides are that even though he's only got three full seasons under his belt, he's already 33, and that middle relief is so unpredictable year-to-year. Also, he's a type A free agent, so any team signing him forfeits a first round pick.
The Nationals are involved with just about everyone at this point. The Orioles probably aren't a match anymore with Gregg in the fold. Perhaps the A's, who always look for affordable pitching, might come a-calling. It's a great pitcher's park.
I'm somewhat surprised that Jim Thome is still a baseball nomad at this point in the offseason.
I've talked before about how good a fit Minnesota seemed for baseball's elder statesman slugger last season and how effective he still was at age 39, with a .412 OBP and a .627 slugging percentage.
But the Twins have been dragging their feet on re-upping Thome, even though he's just 11 home runs shy of 600 for his career, an event that, when it happens, would be a feel-good PR bonanza.
He could still be back, but his status as a great teammate and his lack of ego make him appealing to other AL teams as well, including the Orioles, Rangers, and A's, who could be looking to re-create the Frank Thomas magic of a few years ago.
Andy Pettitte's story is actually pretty straightforward, and it's essentially the same one that's played out for a few offseasons now.
He's still a reliable and effective lefty, and his status in the Yankee iconography makes him that much more valuable to them (even though he left for a few years, he's still revered, along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada, as one of the four cornerstones of the franchise over the last 20 or so years).
But, he's always got one foot in retirement and has kept the Bombers waiting with bated breath while he ponders whether or not to return for one more run. Money doesn't seem like it would be much of a barrier, as if it ever is with the Yankees.
He's got to make a decision soon, one way or the other. My heart says he should return, but my head says his just isn't in it anymore. I hope he proves me wrong.
Beltre enjoyed a rebirth in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox, as one-year deals have a way of inspiring players to play their best. Five-year deals, like the one he signed with Seattle after an MVP-caliber 2004, apparently inspire lethargy and underachievement.
Of course, after a season like Beltre just had, where he batted .321 with 28 home runs, 102 runs batted in, and a league leading 49 doubles, he has the leverage to command another multi-year contract and has no shortage of suitors willing to give one to him.
In recent days, the Texas Rangers have emerged as the favorite to employ his services in 2011. They are rumored to be willing to part with somewhere in the vicinity of $90 million over six seasons. The deal would work for them, since incumbent third baseman and franchise stalwart Michael Young has apparently expressed a willingness to move to DH to facilitate Beltre becoming the third baseman (Young is an interesting case of unselfishness, having moved from shortstop to second base to accommodate Alex Rodriguez, then from second to third to accommodate Alfonso Soriano, and now from third to DH to accommodate Beltre).
If this rumor is true, it of course means that Vladimir Guerrero won't be back in Arlington. Maybe a six-year deal will allow Beltre to stay more inspired than a five-year deal did. Only time will tell.
Rafael Soriano is the crown jewel in this offseason's free agent class of closers.
He emerged as one of the best closers in baseball in 2010 during his first season with the Rays, with a 1.73 earned run average and a league leading 45 saves. And at just 31, he's still young enough to be effective for many more years to come.
He seems to be another player who's been waiting for his market to develop. He wants a three-year deal, but teams have become averse to committing to so many years with a reliever, especially one with just one full season as a closer under his belt.
The Yankees have always been rumored to have interest in using him as a setup man for Mariano Rivera, but he wants to close, and in any event, would it be wise for the Yanks to forfeit a high draft pick (Soriano is another Type A free agent) for a setup man?
One other team of interest has been the Chicago White Sox. They've publicly stated that they've spent their allotted money for free agents already, but that could just be a bargaining tactic. If they'd let him close, and he'd settle for two years instead of three, the White Sox could be the best option.
I'm ranking Guerrero as the top free agent on this list, ahead of Beltre, because of how consistent he's been as a hitter throughout his career.
Sure, he doesn't offer what Beltre does in the field, but Beltre's not exactly the Gold Glover he has been in the past either, and Vlad's not exactly Todd Hundley in the outfield.
His and Beltre's story lines are converging in more ways than one. He also settled for a one-year deal in 2010 after a sub-par, injury-plagued 2009 led to the end of his tenure in Anaheim. And he also rebounded with an excellent 2010, batting .300 with 29 homers and 115 runs driven in.
I'm more inclined to believe that he can do a better job of repeating that performance than Beltre can, based on their histories. Guerrero is flat out one of the best hitters of this generation. He instantly upgrades any lineup he's a part of, and showed last year that he's still got plenty left.
If Beltre supplants Vlad in Texas, he'll be shopping himself to the same potential DH landing spots as Manny, Thome, and Andruw Jones: Tampa, Oakland, Minnesota. And whichever team gets him will get the best value of any of those names.