MLB's Top 20 Free Agents Set To Hit the Market

Brandon CroceAnalyst IAugust 5, 2011

MLB's Top 20 Free Agents Set To Hit the Market

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    Now that the MLB non-waiver trade deadline is over, the next great deal of player movement will be the 2012 free-agency period. Teams are still able to make trades for the next few weeks, but it is much tougher as players must clear waivers and very rarely is a top talent traded.

    Front offices around baseball will slowly start turning their focuses toward the 2012 free-agency period with some big names potentially in this class, including Albert Pujols.

    The free-agent market this year has a lot of talent at first base, shortstop and relief pitchers, with very limited options at second base and third base. Here are the top 20 players who could be joining No. 5 this winter. 

Coco Crisp

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    Coco Crisp has spent the past two seasons in Oakland and will be a hot commodity for teams that need help in center field and at the top of their batting order. He hit .279 last season and currently is hitting .274. He had 32 stolen bases last year and currently is tied for second in the majors with 33.

    At 31 years of age he still has a few good years remaining and, with the outfield options looking weak this year, Coco should generate decent interest.

Rafael Furcal

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    Rafael Furcal could become a free agent if the Cardinals do not pick up his $12 million team option at the end of this season, something I would categorize as very unlikely. He has had a down year this year hitting only .205, but has shown new life since being traded to the Cardinals, where he is hitting .286 through his first four games.

    Furcal has one of the strongest arms in the game at shortstop and has hit above .300 two of the past three seasons with the Dodgers. I could see him ending up with a playoff contender and being a serviceable veteran for a year or two.

Jonathan Broxton

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    Jonathan Broxton has struggled a bit with injuries in 2011, after back-to-back appearances in the All-Star game. Even with the down year, I think he will be sought after once free agency starts. Teams are always looking for quality bullpen arms, and with Broxton's track record, I am sure there will be more than a couple of teams interested in him.

    He has not thrown since the beginning of May when he developed bone spurs in his throwing elbow. As of mid-July, he still has not started throwing and I would be surprised if he throws again this season. I think he may take a one-year deal to try and raise his value and hit the free-agency market in 2013 looking for that big contract.

C.J. Wilson

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    I would not be surprised to see a number of teams go after this lefty. He is only 30 years of age and has put together an impressive year and a half as a starter with a record of 25-13 and an ERA around 3.35.

    He made the successful transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation in 2010 and was an All-Star this season. If he finishes the season strong, he should be in line for a big contract this winter.

Edwin Jackson

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    Edwin Jackson has been with five different teams since 2008 and could make it No. 6 in 2012. He was traded this past season from Chicago to Toronto, who then in turn sent him to St. Louis.

    It is really surprising he has been moved this much as he has put up decent numbers everywhere he has been. He is only 27 years of age and a strong finish in St. Louis could help his case in free agency.

Mark Buerhle

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    Mark Buehrle has been as steady a pitcher as there has been in the game today. He has started at least 30 games every season since 2001, and has earned double-digit wins each of those seasons.

    He made four All-Star games over that span and is still young enough at 32 to receive a multi-year deal. Buehrle does have a vesting option in 2012, but that only kicks in if he is traded, which seems very unlikely at this point in the season.

Ryan Ludwick

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    Ryan Ludwick was traded at the deadline by San Diego, sending him on his way to the Iron City of Pittsburgh. He has struggled, however, since being traded from St. Louis last season.

    He was hitting .281 before being traded from the Cardinals, but hit only .211 the rest of last year and is only hitting .233 this season. With all that said, teams were looking to make a move for the outfielder and I am sure he will be sought after by teams this winter; it may not be as a starter, but more likely as a backup outfielder and a bat coming off the bench.

Carlos Pena

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    Carlos Pena left the Rays last season to join the Chicago Cubs and will be a free agent once again after this season. Pena is doing exactly what he has the past couple seasons, hitting home runs and not much else.

    Since 2008, his highest batting average has been .247, but he has hit home run totals of 31, 39, 28 and has 20 this season. I am sure there will be teams in need of a power hitter calling the first baseman this winter.

Jonathan Papelbon

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    Jonathan Papelbon is one of the top closers in the game today. While his ERA has gone up from 0.92 in 2006 to 3.35 this season, he has collected over 35 saves each season. He has had as many as 41, back in 2008.

    I find it hard to believe Papelbon would pitch for any team other than the Red Sox, but there are plenty of teams that would love to have his type of production at the back of their bullpen.

Ryan Madson

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    The Phillies will have a tough decision to make this offseason with what to do with their closer role. Brad Lidge has been hurt this season and could become a free agent if they decide not to pick up the team option for him, which is $12.5 million.

    Ryan Madson, on the other hand, has excelled in the closer role since taking over this season. He has converted 19 of his last 20 save attempts and has an ERA of 1.86. There are a number of good closers available this offseason and Madson will generate plenty of interest.

CC Sabathia

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    CC Sabathia signed a seven-year deal back in 2008, but can opt out of his contract after this season. Some may wonder why he would opt out of a contract that would pay him $115 million over the next five seasons. Well, if he does, it will probably be because he can get more money on the open market this winter.

    He has collected 56 wins and only 20 losses in 2.5 years of work. He hasn't had an ERA higher than 3.40 and currently has an ERA of 2.55 this year. I don't think he is going to leave the Yankees, but I could see him forcing the Yankees to offer an even larger contract.

Michael Cuddyer

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    Michael Cuddyer has spent his entire career with the Minnesota Twins and is coming off a four-year deal worth $33.5 million. He is the type of player any manager would love to have, as he can help an organization win in a number of ways.

    He can play a number of different positions, including right field, first base, second base and third base. He also has shown he is more than capable at the plate, hitting over .300 this season and has a career .273 batting average.

    He is the type of player who can do the little things that help a team win and, if he chooses to leave the Twins, I am sure he will generate plenty of interest.

Heath Bell

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    Heath Bell was a hot commodity at the trade deadline with a number of teams trying to work a deal for him. I am sure that will carry over once he is a free agent after this season. The guy has been arguably the best closer in the game the last three seasons.

    He has been an All-Star each of the past three seasons with save totals of 42, 47 and 31 this season. He had a K/9 ratio of 10.2, and 11.1 each season before this one. Not to mention he has had an ERA no higher than 2.71, and currently sports a 2.23 ERA this season.

Carlos Beltran

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    Carlos Beltran has had a great bounce-back year after two down years with the Mets. He played so well that he was the top prize at this season's trade deadline and the San Francisco Giants were the winners.

    He is hitting .287 this season with 30 doubles, 15 home runs and 68 RBI, and was named an All-Star for the sixth time in his career. He is setting himself up for another nice contract this winter, but not like the one he received from the Mets back in 2005. At 34, his age will start to come into play, but there may be a team out there willing to offer him a multi-year deal.

Aramis Ramirez

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    Aramis Ramirez could become a free agent this winter if the Cubs decide not to pick up his team option, which would be for $16 million next year. This is a big price tag for a player who has been up and down over his career with the Cubs.

    He is currently hitting .285 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI, but did hit only .241 with 25 home runs and 83 RBI last season. The Cubs are unfortunately not going to be competing for a title anytime soon, so they may decide to cut payroll and start rebuilding.

    If that is the case, Ramirez will be sought after by a number of teams in a free-agency market weak at third base.

Jimmy Rollins

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    Jimmy Rollins has been a key piece of the Phillies offense for the better part of a decade now, and will become a free agent after this season. He has had his up-and-down years, but age is catching up to him a bit and he is losing his speed, which made him so valuable to the team.

    From 2004 to 2009, he had over 30 stolen bases each season and, after injuries slowed him down in 2010, he has regained his form a bit, stealing 24 bases so far this season. He has never really hit for a high average—a career .273 hitter—but if he can show he still has some legs on the basepaths, a team will most likely offer him a hefty contract.

    Even with as good as Jimmy Rollins has been over the years, he probably won't get the biggest contract for a shortstop this season because of this next player.

Jose Reyes

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    Jose Reyes is having an MVP-type year and it couldn't come at a better time, as he will be a free agent this winter. The guy is hitting .339 with five home runs and 36 RBI, but is among the league leaders in triples (with 16), hits (with 172) and runs (with 79).

    Reyes, like Rollins, has had to deal with injuries recently, but, at only 28 years of age, he still has some good years left. If the Mets decide not to try and bring him back, Reyes will be one of the hottest free agents on the market this year.

David Ortiz

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    It is hard to think David Ortiz would finish out his career anywhere other than Boston, but he is a free agent after this season. People are always questioning if/when Big Papi is going to lose that power at the plate. Well, it certainly hasn't been this year, as he is hitting .289 with 20 home runs and 69 RBI.

    If Big Papi were to leave Boston, his options are limited, as he would only be able to go to a team in the American League where he can play DH. Even though it seems unlikely he would leave the Red Sox, he is still one of the top free agents available this year.

Lance Berkman

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    Lance Berkman has looked like the Berkman of old this season since joining the St. Louis Cardinals. After finishing out last year with the Yankees, Berkman signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals and could cash in for a big contract because of it.

    He is hitting .283 with 28 home runs already, along with 73 RBI. He has helped keep the Cardinals in the race for the NL Central when players like Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday were out with injuries.

    At 35 years of age, Berkman shouldn't expect a long-term deal, but I think a number of teams will be calling if he decides to leave the Cardinals.

Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols

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    There are two big names that could hit free agency this winter that everybody will be watching: Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Both first basemen should pull in massive contracts, but the question remains who will get the bigger deal and where will they end up?

    Prince Fielder is much younger at 27 years of age and is having a better year. He is hitting .296 with 24 home runs and 79 RBI, not to mention his Brewers are first in the NL Central. However, Fielder has not been as consistent, or done it as long, as Pujols.

    Albert Pujols has hit over .300 every season from 2001 to 2010, hitting over 40 home runs in six of those seasons and not having a home run total of fewer than 32. He has also hit over 100 RBI in each of those seasons, and let's not forget the three MVP awards he has over that span.

    The concern for some is that he is 31, and, for the first time in his career, missed extensive playing time with an injury—a broken wrist suffered earlier this year. I think in the end, Pujols will get the bigger deal, but I would not be surprised to see both first basemen in different teams' jerseys next season.