MLB Free Agency: 15 Biggest Players Who'll Definitely Move in the Offseason
The marketplace in baseball sees many of its big stars move from one club to another via free agency.
Although trading for and re-signing top players is a common practice, there is less fanfare and hype leading up to these moves as there are for free agent acquisitions.
The 2012 free agent class features an interesting and talented crop of players. Two of the bigger names that may potentially be available are Albert Pujols of the Cardinals and Jose Reyes of the Mets.
Pujols, arguably the best player in baseball, has spent his entire career in St. Louis, and it would be pretty shocking if he ever left.
Reyes has spent his entire career with the Mets, but with the team in serious financial trouble, it is unclear if they'll be able to afford their star shortstop. However, I feel he's more of a candidate for an in season sign and trade rather than being a free agent acquisition.
What follows is a list of 15 players, each of whom has their contract expiring at the end of the season (or whose team is unlikely to pickup an expensive 2012 option) and all of whom I feel will be playing for different clubs next year.
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15. Francisco Cordero, RP, Cincinnati Reds
Although other relievers like Matt Capps, Joel Zumaya and maybe even Brad Lidge (if the Phillies don't pick up his option) should be available this offseason, none of them possess the closing experience that Francisco Cordero has.
The 35-year-old Dominican owns 292 major league saves from stops in Texas, Milwaukee and Cincinnati.
Although he's been sturdy over the past three seasons with the Reds, Cordero has started allowing more base-runners; consequently getting into more trouble in his outings.
His strikeout rates are down, his walk rates are up and the fans are beginning to get fed up.
Who can blame Reds fans either? They'd rather see phenom lefty Aroldis Chapman and his 100-plus MPH fastball in the ninth inning than the boring Cordero.
To some baseball people, experience trumps everything. The Reds are unlikely to pickup the $12.5 million option Cordero has for 2012, which means the veteran will probably move onto his fifth major league team.
He will be sought after, despite the fact that he probably shouldn't be closing anymore.
14. Milton Bradley, LF/RF, Seattle Mariners
"If I was a musician, I’d be Kanye West. If I was in the NBA, I’d be Ron Artest. In baseball, they’ve got Milton Bradley. I’m that guy. You need people like me, so you can point your finger and go, ‘There goes the bad guy.” - Milton Bradley
Milton Bradley has always marched to the beat of his own drum. He's been in squabbles with teammates, fans and even management.
But in the eight stops on his major league tour, Milton Bradley has proven that he knows how to play baseball.
The 33-year-old switch hitter can be a very good player, it seems, when he cares. In 2008 with the Rangers, Bradley hit 32 doubles and 22 homers over 414 at-bats. This was good for a .999 OPS, including a .436 on-base-percentage.
Due to all the movement, his inconsistencies and a propensity to get injured, Bradley has hit the 140 games played plateau just once. He's made it 120 games on three occasions (2004, 2008, 2009).
Did I mention that he's also an average defender in center field and above average in the corner spots?
For all of his faults, it seems that Milton Bradley can be a tremendous player in the right situation.
If I was a contending American League team in an offensive park, I'd be more than willing to take a chance on this guy as a designated hitter/fourth outfielder.
13. Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Rafael Furcal has long been one of the most explosive players in baseball.
He is a good leadoff hitter with the ability to get on base, steal bases and play sound defense. Furcal also possesses one of the strongest arms of any everyday player.
Following an injury ravaged year in 2008 in which he appeared in only 36 games, Furcal signed a three year, $30 million deal to stay with the Dodger Blue.
He has thus far rewarded the club with his worst full season in 2009 and an injury riddled campaign in 2010 that included two disabled list stints and just 97 total games played.
The Dodgers hold a $12 million club option on Furcal for 2012. It only triggers if he reaches 600 plate appearances.
With Furcal already having landing himself on the DL this year, it seems unlikely that he'll meet that threshold.
The Dodgers are probably sick of watching their shortstop miss time, and Furcal will likely move on in the offseason.
Look for a team like the Giants to offer him an incentive loaded, one-year deal. When he's healthy, Rafael Furcal can still play at a very high level.
12. Rafael Betancourt, RP, Colorado Rockies
For most of his career in Cleveland, Rafael Betancourt was considered a potential closer of the future.
The Venezuelan never got an extended crack in the role, however, and he was shipped to the Rockies during the 2009 season.
Twice during the course of his career, Betancourt has posted a season with absolutely eye popping numbers.
The first came in 2007 with the Indians, when Betancourt posted an 80:9 strikeout to walk ratio over his 79 innings.
The second has come over his last year and a half with the Rockies. Since coming to Colorado, Betancourt owns a 118:13 strikeout to walk ratio over just 87 innings.
Betancourt has shown remarkable control of his 92 MPH fastball, which he mixes with a changeup and a slider.
He is an extreme flyball pitcher, so home runs have been an issue throughout his career.
However, Rafael Betancourt has posted mind blowing rate stats and should get a big offer from a sabermetrically inclined team before next season.
11. Josh Willingham, LF, Oakland A's
Despite the fact that he's been stuck in pitchers' parks throughout his major league career, Josh Willingham has managed to be a very productive hitter.
The 32-year-old Alabama native owns a career .848 OPS, a mark which he hasn't strained from by more than two tenths of a point (.820-.860).
Willingham was the perfect acquisition for A's general manager Billy Beane this offseason. He's a guy who doesn't hit for a high average, but manages to get on base a fair amount while knocking many of his hits for extra bases.
Willingham's career slugging percentage is .475. Though he's never played in more than 144 games, he can be relied upon for 30-plus doubles and 25-plus homers over the course of a season.
He's not a tremendous hitter by any means, but Willingham is a more than capable bat who can hold his own in the outfield as well.
If he can finally move to an offensive environment, Willingham should finally be able to crack the 30 homer plateau with ease.
10. Francisco Liriano, SP, Minnesota Twins
Concerns about the long term health of his pitching arm cloud Francisco Liriano's free agent status for 2012.
Liriano burst onto the scene in 2006, embarrassing all-comers in the American League with his fastball, changeup and lethal slider.
However, Tommy John surgery abruptly ended Liriano's 2006. It also disrupted his next three seasons thereafter.
Liriano finally appeared back near full strength in 2010, striking out 201 batters and walking only 58 in 191.2 innings.
His velocity finally returned to normal (94-95 MPH fastball), allowing Liriano to look dominant in most of his starts. Had he been a free agent this past offseason, Francisco would have gotten some big offers from a few teams.
Through the spring and his two starts this year, however, Liriano's velocity has fallen back to where it was from 2007-2009 (in the low nineties). His command has also not been nearly as sharp.
Sliders, especially nasty ones like Liriano's, put a lot of stress on a pitcher's arm. Thus far in 2011, it looks like the lefty is the victim of arm fatigue.
If he has injury problems again this season, contract offers will be few and far between. If he can get his velocity back and duplicate or improve upon his 2010, Liriano could rake in a ton of cash.
He has the potential to move to No. 1 on this list, or fall off of it entirely.
9. Kelly Johnson, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kelly Johnson loves playing in Arizona for a team that gave him a second lease on life.
He also loves playing second base next to teammate and underrated shortstop Stephen Drew.
But as the best available free agent middle infielder at the conclusion of this season, Kelly Johnson would be remiss if he didn't test his value on the open market.
Johnson was once a promising youngster with the Braves, but a poor batting average on balls in play led to his non-tendering following the 2009 season.
He signed a one year, $2.35 million deal with the Diamondbacks prior to last season.
Johnson rewarded Arizona with a six WAR campaign in 2010. His triple slash line was .284/.370/.496 with 36 doubles, 26 homers and 13 steals. He also played above average defense.
Second base has become a power hitting position in the past few years. Johnson has proven he can slug with the best of them and should be a commodity if he decides to open himself up to offers.
8. Edwin Jackson, SP, Chicago White Sox
Blessed with a mid-90s fastball, an average changeup and a devastating slider, Edwin Jackson has always had one of the most gifted arms in baseball.
The problem has always been refining that talent and putting all of his tools together.
Now on his fifth team, Jackson has been fortunate over the last year to be able to work with White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.
Cooper doesn't get nearly the recognition that colleagues like Dave Duncan do, but the White Sox results show that he's probably one of the better pitching coaches out there.
Jackson is off to a fast start in 2011, with a 2-0 record and 20 strikeouts over his first 14 innings. This included a 13 strikeout, one walk performance against the Rays last week.
At 28 years old, this may be the season that Edwin Jackson finally puts it all together and has a breakout year. If he can, the offers for his services should come pouring in once free agency hits.
7. Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod), RP, NYM
There is absolutely no chance that Francisco Rodriguez finishes 55 games for the Mets this season. If he does, a $17.5 million team option will automatically kick in for 2012.
The Mets newly led front office doesn't want to commit that much money to any relief pitcher, but especially one who is probably overrated and comes with a gluttony of off-the-field baggage.
Even forgetting his legal issues, having K-rod, with his wild delivery, is not an investment I would want to make.
His fastball and his slider, while still solid, no longer have that extra bit of explosiveness that they did while he was an Angel.
Although K-rod still strikes out over 10 batters per nine innings, that rate has decreased from the 12-plus strikeouts per nine innings he managed in Los Angeles.
Additionally, Rodriguez is extremely inconsistent. He is a cardiac closer who tends to allow a bunch of hits and walks before ultimately finishing out the game.
He has blown nearly 15 percent of his save attempts throughout his career.
Regardless of all of this, Francisco Rodriguez is still a "name" in baseball. And he is at worst a second tier closer. If someone like Jose Valverde or Jon Broxton makes it to free agency, K-rod will be considered the fourth or fifth best reliever on the market.
For now, I think he'll be No. 3, which should bring a nice payday.
6. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Chicago Cubs
The problem with Aramis Ramirez is that he's underrated; but every time you let someone know how good he is, he'll either struggle or land himself on the DL.
Ramirez is a 14 year major league veteran. He's spent all or part of his last nine seasons with the Cubs.
During his first five full seasons with the Cubs, Ramirez averaged over 30 doubles and 30 homers per season with a .913 OPS.
Ramirez combined with first baseman Derrek Lee to form a dangerous combination in the middle of the Cubs lineup. In 2004-2005, they had the organization primed to compete for its first World Series since 1908.
Ramirez has shown an inability to stay healthy throughout his career and is now a good bet to miss at least 20 games per season. He played just 82 games in 2009 and 124 in 2010.
Ramirez didn't look like the same player last year either. Although he managed 25 homers despite missing 40 games, he showed a decline in both plate patience and his defense.
He was bothered by a bad thumb for most of the year, however, and looks poised to rebound in 2011.
Despite all his experience, Aramis Ramirez is still just 32 years old. He's got a couple of good years left and maybe one more big contract with a contender.
5. Carlos Beltran, RF/CF, New York Mets
Carlos Beltran is well known for his contract year heroics.
The seven year, $119 million deal that Beltran signed with the Mets in 2004 expires after this season.
The offer came on the heels of a 102 game run with the Astros (90 regular season, 12 playoffs) in 2004, where Beltran posted 31 homers and 34 steals.
Beltran was traded from the Royals to the Astros in late June, and he finished with 38 homers and 42 steals over 159 regular season games that year.
Carlos Beltran was a tremendous five-tool player in his prime. He was a power hitting and gold glove caliber center-fielder who still owns the best stolen base percentage in the history of baseball (.881).
Although the health of his knees has reduced his speed and forced him to move to right field, Beltran is still talented, and at 33 years old he probably has something left in the tank.
He's played in just 145 games total over the last two years, but Carlos Beltran finally looks healthy and ready to stay in the lineup this season.
If Beltran can get the bat going and put together one final great year, it could make him a rich man once more.
4. Heath Bell, RP, San Diego Padres
Heath Bell avoided arbitration with the Padres and agreed to a one year, $7.5 million deal this past offseason.
If the Padres are able to stay in contention for the playoffs, Bell will likely remain on the team until 2011 free agency hits. Otherwise, he should be closing or setting up in another uniform by the first of August.
It's hard to replace a legend like all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman in San Diego, but Heath Bell has done about as good of a job as one could ask.
Over the past two seasons, Bell has registered 89 saves over 139.2 innings, with 165 strikeouts and only 52 walks.
He is a fastball-curveball pitcher. The first offering is thrown 80 percent of the time, ususally in the mid 90s. The breaking ball, which sits in the low 80s, is thrown about 20 percent of the time.
Bell is already 33 years old, however, and he has the type of big body that could break down easily.
Regardless, he should compete with Jonathan Papelbon to become the highest paid reliever this offseason.
3. Roy Oswalt, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Roy Oswalt may be the least heralded of the Phillies' three mercenary starters (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee being the other two), but over the last decade he has been one of the best and most consistent pitchers in baseball.
Since he was stuck on bad teams in Houston, however, most of his accomplishments went largely unnoticed.
Oswalt has displayed tremendous control throughout his career. At his best, he struck out nearly four times as many batters as he walked. Though these days that ratio is probably closer to 3:1, Oswalt remains one of the better starting pitchers in the game.
He's also been extremely durable, starting at least 32 games and throwing and throwing 200 or more innings in every year but 2001 (his shortened rookie season), 2003 and 2009 (30 starts, 181 innings).
Oswalt has a $16 million club option on him for next season with a $2 million buyout. He's 33 years old and has never won a title, though he did help the Astros make it to the 2005 World Series.
If Oswalt doesn't think the Phillies are the right fit to get him a ring, he could bolt after this year and take one nice, final contract from a team like the Yankees or Red Sox.
2. Jon Papelbon, RP, Boston Red Sox
Due to his eccentric style and the way he goes about his work, Jonathan Papelbon draws a pretty split reaction from Red Sox fans.
His detractors will point to the fact that Papelbon has seemingly abandoned his splitter in the past few seasons, an offering that used to serve as his strikeout pitch.
Additionally, Papelbon's control has worsened, and he seems to labor through all of the innings that he throws. He takes a lot of time between pitches and looks generally uncomfortable on the mound.
His greatest crime, however, was the fact that he blew eight saves in 45 chances last year; picking up seven losses along the way.
But one year of subpar results does not mean that a closer is on the decline. In fact, Papelbon's 2010 and 2009 were remarkably similar.
He threw 68 innings in 2009, striking out 76 batters, walking 24 and surrendering five homers. In 2010, Papelbon threw 67 innings, striking out 76 and walking 28. He gave up seven homers.
Despite allowing three more hits and just four more walks, Papelbon's ERA jumped from 1.85 to 3.90, and he blew five more saves.
His poor results last season were likely the cause of unfortunate random chance. Jonathan Papelbon is still an elite closer in the toughest division in baseball, who strikes out about three batters for every one that he walks.
He also brings that fire-breathing mentality to the mound that teams like to see from their ninth inning man.
With Daniel Bard waiting in the wings, the Red Sox are unlikely to shell out big money for a relief pitcher next offseason.
Papelbon should be as good as gone.
1. Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
Year in and year out, Prince Fielder is among the most productive hitters in baseball. For the past four seasons, the only rate stat of his that has fluctuated has been his home run-to-flyball percentage.
It's been at 24 percent twice, leading to seasons of 50 and 46 home runs respectively in 2007 and 2009.
When it was at 19 percent in 2008, Prince hit just 34 home runs. At 18 percent in 2010, he hit just 32.
2011 marks the final season of Prince Fielder's contract. Since the Brewers likely don't have the money to re-sign him, the 26-year-old slugger is probably now auditioning for the rest of the league.
How big of a year Prince has will determine how much money he cashes in for this offseason. Fielder is currently working on a one year, $15.5 million deal with the Brew Crew.
If he can return to the plateau of 45-plus homers, a seven year, $140 million offer is probably the bottom line, no matter the concerns about his weight.
If Albert Pujols re-signs with the Cardinals, Fielder will undoubtedly be the best free agent hitter available this offseason.
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