MLB logoMLB

MLB Free Agents 2011-12: Odds for Where Top 50 Players Will Land

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst ISeptember 19, 2011

MLB Free Agents 2011-12: Odds for Where Top 50 Players Will Land

1 of 51

    With the season racing to a premature finish for two-thirds of all 30 MLB franchises, those who cheer for eliminated teams have their sights fixed on the hope borne by the coming of winter. Jose Reyes could be under someone's Christmas tree; Prince Fielder is more likely to drop like the ball at New Year's.

    One way or another, with new teams or old ones, a handful of true stars and a laundry list of second-tier options will be making major money on the open market this November, December and January. It's a wild race, a prospector's dream but a risk manager's nightmare. Players will be overpaid, and players will be underpaid. There will be surprise signings, and some you saw a mile away.

    Here are the top 50 free agents of the coming offseason, along with the odds that they sign with several suitors and a ballpark estimate (get it?) of their total monetary haul.

50. Jon Garland

2 of 51

    Breakdown

    For many years of his decade-long career, durability had been Jon Garland's most impressive asset. Mind you, a lot of value can be derived from the ability to rack up volume. Garland had thrown 200 or more innings in six of the past seven seasons before having the 2011 campaign cut short.

    He might well get back on that horse, since he's only 32, but the Dodgers are not going to exercise their $8 million option to find out if it happens. Look for Garland to latch on with an NL team in need of pitching, perhaps even Los Angeles, albeit for much less money.

     

    Odds

    LA Dodgers: 50%

    Washington: 20%

    Chicago Cubs: 10%

    St. Louis: 10%

    Florida: 5%

    NY Mets: 5%

     

    Estimate: one year, $2.5 million

49. Rich Harden

3 of 51

    Breakdown

    As ugly as Harden's mechanics are, his stuff sure is pretty. Harden's repertoire is as simple as it gets: He throws his fastball two-thirds of the time or so, and a straight change the remainder. The pitches are so nasty, though, that Harden succeeds with that simple blend when he can stay on the mound.

    Therein, of course, lies the rub. Harden really struggles to stay on the mound. He last topped 100 innings in 2009. Even at 30 next year, he's a risky investment, but with every season of injury problems and struggles through which he battles, the expenditure (and therefore the risk) one must make to get him gets smaller. Someone will snap him up just to see what happens.

     

    Odds

    Oakland: 40%

    Seattle: 25%

    Boston: 15%

    Chicago Cubs: 10%

     

    Estimate: one year, $1 million 

48. Jim Thome

4 of 51

    Breakdown

    If Thome plays another season, only two scenarios make any sense:

    1. He stays near home and plays for someone in the Midwest.
    2. He chases a World Series ring to one coast or the other.

    Neither feels overwhelmingly likely. Thome reached 600 home runs this season, came back to win a ring and has met frustration in both Minnesota and Cleveland in that effort. If he does return, he could well be a part of a winner somewhere, but as age comes closer to grabbing him every day, Thome might decide to sit down and simply enjoy the life of an all-time good guy who never needed the spotlight.

     

    Odds

    Retirement: 60%

    Cleveland: 20%

    Minnesota: 5%

    Chicago Cubs: 5%

    Chicago White Sox: 5%

    Tampa Bay: 5%

     

    Estimate: one year, $2 million

47. Vladimir Guerrero

5 of 51

    Breakdown

    Like Thome, Guerrero is a future Hall of Fame player in the twilight of his career. Like Thome, Guerrero has always just missed the glory of winning a title—and too often, the glory that ought to have been accorded to each for their greatness.

    Unlike Thome, Guerrero is 36 (he will be 37 next year) and still might have something in the tank. On the other hand, this has been his worst season in years, and if he hits two home runs over the last week-and-a-half to reach 450 for his career, he might feel other milestones are out of reach. Will there be interest in him as a designated hitter? Absolutely. But it might not develop until February.

     

    Odds

    Boston: 30%

    Baltimore: 20%

    Detroit: 10%

    Tampa Bay: 10 %

    Oakland: 10%

    Retirement: 10%

     

    Estimate: one year, $5 million

46. Kosuke Fukudome

6 of 51

    Breakdown

    An ill-appreciated but solid all-around outfielder, Fukudome posted a .369 OBP in three-and-a-half seasons with the Cubs before stumbling after a July trade to Cleveland this summer. With his four-year deal done after the year, some think Fukudome might go back to Japan. For his part, though, the patient hitter and smooth fielder said more than once that he hopes to stay in MLB.

    His best chance to do so will be with an NL team, where his bat is more viable. He would fit especially well in the shaky outfields of the NL West.

     

    Odds

    Colorado: 35%

    San Diego: 20%

    San Francisco: 10%

    Pittsburgh: 10%

    Houston: 10%

    Cleveland: 5%

    Chicago Cubs: 5%

    Japan: 5%

     

    Estimate: one year, $5.5 million

45. J.D. Drew

7 of 51

    Breakdown

    For as long as Scott Boras draws breath, never count out one of his clients in a free-agent frenzy. Drew has always been a solid player when healthy, but injuries have run what was already a dreadful year clear off the rails in 2011. The Red Sox seem unlikely to make any big advances in order to keep him this winter, and as the game grows to value youth more and more, Drew will probably focus on settling in with a second-tier team rather than a top-notch contender.

    At 36, he will be a tough guy for whom to project a major bounce-back in 2012, too. Drew has the skills to beat those odds, though, with patience and modest power at the plate and a great defensive reputation. He might not get big money, but he will not be forgotten, either. If the Diamondbacks, who already have Drew's brother Stephen at shortstop, get involved, don't be shocked.

     

    Odds

    Colorado: 40%

    Arizona: 20%

    NY Mets: 15%

    San Francisco: 15%

    Oakland: 10%

     

    Estimate: two years, $12 million

44. Mike Gonzalez

8 of 51

    Breakdown

    Beneficiary of an August trade to Texas, Gonzalez might now get to audition himself in the postseason and make some extra money this winter. He is a solid lefty arm out of the bullpen, who consistently strikes out more than one batter per inning pitched. Even from a fly-ball pitcher with occasional control problems, that profile has value to any number of teams.

    Where he lands might simply be a function of finding a ballpark that fits and a team that believes he can succeed in their division—because he is clearly not cut out for the AL East.

     

    Odds

    Milwaukee: 25%

    LA Dodgers: 20%

    LA Angels: 20%

    Texas: 10%

    St. Louis: 10%

    Florida: 5%

    Colorado: 5%

    Minnesota: 5%

     

    Estimate: two years, $4.7 million 

43. David DeJesus

9 of 51

    Breakdown

    Other than a big shift in the wrong direction for his strikeout rate, nothing suggests DeJesus cannot continue to be a decent—if perpetually unspectacular—outfield asset for a team in need of a left-handed platoon partner and/or corner outfield defensive sub.

    Those are roles too rarely utilized in the modern game, of course, in part because so many teams waste resources by carrying 12 or 13 pitchers, and in part because the current batch of front offices are as unimaginative and rigid in their roster-building as ever. In places like Oakland, Boston and Tampa bay, though, where DeJesus's skills do not go unnoticed, they might find their greatest reward.

     

    Odds

    Oakland: 35%

    Boston: 20%

    Tampa Bay: 15%

    Baltimore: 10%

    Washington: 10%

    Houston: 10%

     

    Estimate: two years, $9 million

42. Rick Ankiel

10 of 51

    Breakdown

    His best asset is his rocket arm, which is usually a sign of a player with low overall utility. Ankiel could find a niche as a defensive sub if he continues to take good routes to balls the way he has done this year, but otherwise, he will need to keep relying on middling power and speed for his value.

    St. Louis, his longtime organization and a fanbase to whom dedicated a full-page thank-you ad this spring, might be the best suitor. Washington could stick with Ankiel if other options fall through. More likely, he will assume a bench role with a team who needs outfield help and a pinch-hitter with pop.

     

    Odds

    Colorado: 30%

    St. Louis: 25%

    Washington: 25%

    Cleveland: 20%

     

    Estimate: one year, $2 million

41. Cody Ross

11 of 51

    Breakdown

    No team should put Ross in center field anymore, but as a league-average hitter with 20-homer power, he's not useless. Think Jonny Gomes, but with the ability to play defense.

    Ross might be able to get the most money and biggest role by simply staying put, where Giants fans still seem to love him for his showing in the 2010 playoffs. He could find his best success, though, by signing on to take aim at a short left-field porch somewhere like U.S. Cellular Field.

     

    Odds

    Chicago White Sox: 30%

    San Francisco: 30%

    Baltimore: 20%

    Washington: 10%

    Colorado: 10%

     

    Estimate: two years, $9.5 million

40. Carlos Guillen

12 of 51

    Breakdown

    Well, that's the operative word, isn't it? Breakdown.

    Guillen has fallen off a cliff since 2006, when he played shortstop full-time and had a world-class season for a Tigers team that went to the World Series. Injuries have severely curtailed him since then, and now at 35 (he will be 36 at the end of the month), Guillen is all but kaput as a regular contributor.

    Consider: He has played just 176 games over the past three years, with wRC+ (which uses linear weights to express offensive value on a scale whereby 100 is average) figures of 94, 98 and 68 during that span. He has shifted permanently away from shortstop, turned out not to be viable at second or third base (though they played him there anyway) and does not have the stick to support himself as a corner outfielder.

    The Tigers run perhaps the most loyal organization in baseball. That's why things have worked out despite all Miguel Cabrera went through. It's why Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski have what feel like lifetime appointments to their positions in management. It's also the best imaginable reason that Guillen could have a job next year, but even then, it's not that great a reason.

     

    Odds

    Detroit: 50%

    Coerced retirement: 50%

     

    Estimate: minor league deal 

39. Kerry Wood

13 of 51

    Breakdown

    Never underestimate the value of a charismatic, well-liked and respected GM. Yes, Jim Hendry did many things wrong, and yes, the Cubs were right to fire him in August. In December, however, when Hendry convinced Wood to return to Chicago and become the next great Cubs icon, he demonstrated the value of his likability.

    This winter, the Cubs will not have that on their side. Still, they figure to take an interest in keeping Wood, and Wood has never hesitated to put the team's interests above his own in the past. Other teams will want him, but the smart money says Wood stays at Wrigley Field.

     

    Odds

    Chicago Cubs: 75%

    LA Angels: 15%

    Texas: 10%

     

    Estimate: one year, $2.6 million

38. Pat Burrell

14 of 51

    Breakdown

    Narrative notwithstanding, the Giants got a great deal on Burrell last winter. Coming off a 20-homer, .817-OPS season in which he was also a big part of their World Series run, San Francisco nabbed Burrell for a mere $1 million. Burrell doesn't figure to get much of a bump from his .755 OPS in less action this year, but he should find a big league deal somewhere.

    He'd fit best in the AL, but teams often get a compunction about giving players more than one shot at the whole DH thing, so don't count out a return to San Francisco.

     

    Odds

    Seattle: 35%

    San Francisco: 35%

    Baltimore: 20%

    Boston: 5%

    Philadelphia: 5%

     

    Estimate: one year, $1 million

37. Casey Kotchman

15 of 51

    Breakdown

    If front offices are fooled by Casey Kotchman's 2011, they're beyond help. Then again, no one ever said some front offices weren't beyond help. Kotchman's .808 OPS is not anything special for a regular first baseman. His walk and strikeout rates are in line with his career numbers.

    He just happens to be hitting .306, which has helped everyone forget to look at all that is wrong with Kotchman:

    1. At 28, he is no longer a prospect. Power development would be extremely unusual at this point, especially now that the steroid era is over.
    2. His defense, once a major asset even at first base, is now merely average. He's not nearly as quick on hard-hit balls to his left as he used to be, and he looks (somehow) to have gotten less comfortable scooping and stretching on throws around the bag.
    3. Much of his success has been driven by a .335 batting average on balls in play. Kotchman simply cannot sustain that. His extreme ground-ball tendency is one reason; his lack of speed is another.

    All that said, he will be somewhere next year, if only as a defensive backup at first base and occasional pinch-hitter. Doug Mientkiewicz lives.

     

    Odds

    Tampa Bay: 45%

    LA Angels: 30%

    Minnesota: 25%

     

    Estimate: one year, $1 million

36. Omar Infante

16 of 51

    Breakdown

    If there's a clearer case of a player who will absolutely be back with his team next season despite pending free agency, it eludes me. Florida dealt Dan Uggla for Infante, more or less. They made him their full-time second baseman, and despite his .694 OPS, he has been a very good fielder there and rewarded their faith.

    The two sides are already talking extension, and Infante will be back in the Fish fold before the exclusive window for negotiating with incumbent teams ends.

     

    Odds

    Florida: 95%

    Boston: 5%

     

    Estimate: three years, $10.5 million

35. Johnny Damon

17 of 51

    Breakdown

    Everywhere he goes, Damon seems to make himself a crucial part of the clubhouse culture. Attitude is hard to quantify; impact and leadership are not. Damon is a guy who still hits better than most, who makes himself the heart of the team and who provides left-handed punch with some speed to boot.

    Unfortunately, Damon's days as a viable defensive outfielder are behind him, and that mitigates his value and his marketability. Relatively few teams have an opening for Damon. His $5.25 million salary this season turned out to be a bargain for Tampa, so he could be back there in 2012.

     

    Odds

    Tampa Bay: 70%

    Oakland: 20%

    Chicago White Sox: 10%

     

    Estimate: one year, $6 million

34. Alex Gonzalez

18 of 51

    Breakdown

    Gonzalez's on-base percentages for the past three years read as follows: .279, .294, .267. Those numbers are atrocious. He really struggles to maintain any offensive value, despite solid power (36 home runs the past two years). That Fredi Gonzalez batted Gonzalez second in the Braves lineup 19 times is a vicious (if somewhat redundant) indictment of Gonzalez's glaring problems filling out a batting order.

    That said, Gonzalez is not without value. He plays shortstop and he plays it well, and that's enough to keep a guy around a long time even if he can barely hit. The Braves might want him back for 2012, but if they go younger, the Reds and others will be waiting to talk to him.

     

    Odds

    Cincinnati: 40%

    Atlanta: 30%

    San Francisco: 20%

    Milwaukee: 10%

     

    Estimate: two years, $4 million

33. Coco Crisp

19 of 51

    Breakdown

    Crisp has turned out to be a good value for the A's on a two-year deal, returning about 6.0 WAR on a $10 million investment despite (predictably) missing time due to injury. His defensive numbers look shakier this season, but small samples of those numbers are not to be trusted. That goes double in the case of guys like Crisp, who has always been very good in the outfield and has looked just as good this year.

    Teams need to beware paying for stolen bases in the case of Crisp. He has stolen 74 bases over the past two years combined, just nine fewer than he had swiped in total the previous four seasons. The real value from Crisp, though, is in his ability to get on base enough to use the speed (although not as much as would be ideal), and in the modest pop he blends into his game.

    The A's could try to keep Crisp, but he should be a fairly hot commodity this winter, with teams in both leagues looking to plug him into center field holes.

     

    Odds

    Washington: 40%

    Oakland: 30%

    Milwaukee: 20%

    NY Mets: 10%

     

    Estimate: two years, $12.5 million

32. Jonathan Broxton

20 of 51

    Breakdown

    Red flags abound. Broxton just underwent shoulder surgery, fully three months into rehab for an injury that just didn't get better. He's a huge man, which calls his longevity into question. He's also a power reliever, which has the same impact on consumer confidence.

    The Dodgers probably have a good shot at keeping Broxton very cheaply, but once those bonds break, he could free-float through the free-agent sea for a month or two before someone takes a flier on him. It could be a very high-reward proposition for whoever takes that chance.

     

    Odds

    Boston: 50%

    LA Dodgers: 25%

    St. Louis: 10%

    Philadelphia: 10%

    Tampa Bay: 5%

     

    Estimate: one year, $1.25 million

31. Joel Pineiro

21 of 51

    Breakdown

    Pineiro pitches to contact like few others in modern baseball history. It's a philosophy instilled during Pineiro's brief stay in St. Louis, by pitching coach Dave Duncan. Duncan had Pineiro missing few bats but getting ground balls on fully three-fifths of his batted balls and keeping walks down well enough to succeed wildly.

    Maybe he needs to go back to Duncan for some maintenance, though, because Pineiro is not getting ground balls or keeping the ball in the park as efficiently, and his strikeouts have totally evaporated: In a little over 130 innings this year, he has fanned only 55 batters.

    Barring an unlikely return to the Cards, Pineiro could peddle his services to any team who calls a pitcher-friendly park home and who can line up an excellent defense behind him. He also could find nothing.

     

    Odds

    Seattle: 30%

    LA Angels: 20%

    St. Louis: 20%

    San Diego: 20%

    Florida: 10%

     

    Estimate: one year, $3 million

30. Heath Bell

22 of 51

    Breakdown

    Bell and the Padres need each other—really. Bell continues to get batters out, though his strikeouts are way down and the red flags are flying in certain areas. He would really struggle outside the friendly non-confines of PETCO Park, but he remains a solid closer there. Meanwhile, San Diego continues a scattered but earnest rebuilding effort. They've done very well thus far, so keeping Bell around to provide continuity and institutional memory as the process marches on makes sense.

    This one could be done the moment the Padres offer Bell arbitration; he has said he would consider simply accepting that offer.

     

    Odds

    San Diego: 90%

    LA Angels: 10%

     

    Estimate: three years, $20 million

29. Hiroki Kuroda

23 of 51

    Breakdown

    Kuroda and the Dodgers reached agreement on a one-year, $12 million deal before Kuroda even got the right to negotiate with other teams last November. It's worked out terrifically, as it naturally would, because Kuroda is as good as he is unheralded. The question now is whether Kuroda realizes how much he left on the table to return last winter, and whether he will be willing to do it again.

    If he gets to market, the Dodgers have no chance to keep him. Teams will clamor for his services, and he will end up out East somewhere.

     

    Odds

    LA Dodgers: 50%

    New York Yankees: 25%

    Boston: 15%

    Chicago Cubs: 10%

     

    Estimate: two years, $25 million 

28. Wilson Betemit

24 of 51

    Breakdown

    Betemit is caught in a difficult spot: He's too miserable to even moonlight as a full-time infielder, but his bat probably cannot quite carry him as a corner outfielder. He might never establish himself as a full-time player on a winning team, but the better teams will always have space for a marginal defender but solid switch-hitting batter like Betemit.

    Don't expect him to return to Detroit, but don't be stunned if it happens, either.

     

    Odds

    Philadelphia: 30%

    Boston: 25%

    Detroit: 20%

    San Francisco: 15%

    NY Mets: 10%

     

    Estimate: one year, $2 million

27. Clint Barmes

25 of 51

    Breakdown

    The tools to play second base or shortstop with roughly equal and solid aplomb do not come along every day. Barmes' bat comes and it goes, which is why the Rockies found him expendable last winter when they dealt him to Houston. Given a shot to start every day there, though, Barmes has responded with nearly league-average production at the plate, and really slick glove work at short.

    The Astros are very unlikely to let him get away, but he could start in more than one lineup around baseball.

     

    Odds

    Houston: 75%

    Cincinnati: 15%

    Tampa Bay: 10%

     

    Estimate: two years, $9 million

26. Hisashi Iwakuma

26 of 51

    Breakdown

    I can tell you one thing: Iwakuma isn't going to be with Oakland next season. Beyond that, there's the usual amount of reliable information about which teams will take interest in a Japanese pitcher who might or might not come over this winter—which is to say, none.

    A year after a failed posting to the A's, Iwakuma could profile as a top-six starter on the free-agent market, assuming full health. He does not need to be posted again, so it really comes down to market value and team need.

     

    Odds

    Stays in Japan: 35%

    NY Yankees: 30%

    Seattle: 20%

    Chicago Cubs: 10%

    Texas: 5%

     

    Estimate: three years, $21 million

25. Ramon Hernandez

27 of 51

    Breakdown

    If Infante and Bell are near sure things to stay put this offseason, Hernandez is their counterpart. He will almost definitely not be back with the Reds, whose top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco looks ready, and who have Ryan Hanigan in place to share duties until Mesoraco is fully prepared for the role.

    Hernandez's track record leaves little about which teams must wonder. He's a contact hitter, with good (but not great) power, who walks enough to have value but never enough to be elite. He's not overwhelmingly athletic behind the plate, but he plays there. His age is a minor concern. He will find a spot somewhere, possibly at the long-overdue end of the Jeff Mathis story arc in Los Angeles.

     

    Odds

    LA Angels: 30%

    Milwaukee: 25%

    Toronto: 20%

    Pittsburgh: 15%

    Cincinnati: 5%

     

    Estimate: one year, $2.5 million


24. Ryan Madson

28 of 51

    Breakdown

    Who wants to pay for saves?

    Seriously, Madson is on the last year of a three-year, $12 million deal, and he chose a great time to walk into the closer mess in Philadelphia and wrestle his ninth-inning demons to the ground. That deal he's winding up is a great one, and he is a fine pitcher who well deserves it. When he gets a $4 million raise just for pitching in a post-Lidge era bullpen and piling up numbers that don't matter, he will go from great value to drain on the Phillies' resources.

    Ryan Howard is sitting here with me as I type this, and with every word, he has slid down in his seat a bit more. He's now hiding on the floor under the desk.

    Relax, Ryan. I'm talking about Madson and saves. We'll discuss your RBI another day.

     

    Odds

    Philadelphia: 80%

    St. Louis: 10%

    LA Angels: 10%

     

    Estimate: three years, $25 million

23. Ryan Doumit

29 of 51

    Breakdown

    Mercifully did the Pirates relent in their inexplicable effort to make an outfielder of Doumit, who is admittedly not great behind the plate but who could be Jason Varitek for any team in baseball if they would only let him. Pittsburgh will decline the option that would make him their highest-paid player next season, but might bring him back anyway. Failing that, he could do a Russell Martin moonlight thing for the Yankees or a similarly stacked team.

     

    Odds

    Pittsburgh: 55%

    Philadelphia: 20%

    NY Yankees: 10%

    LA Dodgers: 10%

    Milwaukee: 5%

     

    Estimate: one year, $5 million

22. Mark Buehrle

30 of 51

    Breakdown

    For over a year, already, word on the street has been that Buehrle would like to go home to Missouri and play for the Cardinals. Normally, that kind of "he'd give a hometown discount, he's a family man, he really loves the area" is just filler tossed out by columnists fighting deadlines.

    In this case, though, there's an apparent and meaningful fit there. Buehrle and the Cards match up monetarily only if Albert Pujols walks and the team feels comfortable with what's left offensively, but assuming that does happen, Buehrle is a pre-molded Dave Duncan dreamboat. 

     

    Odds

    Chicago White Sox: 50%

    St. Louis: 35%

    NY Yankees: 10%

    Chicago Cubs: 5%

     

    Estimate: three years, $26 million

21. Aaron Hill

31 of 51

    Breakdown

    After an interesting little challenge trade between the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks, Arizona will have to decide about Hill after they take care of their postseason business. He could come back on a club option, but the D'Backs will probably decline that, and then it's dilemma time: Do they offer Hill arbitration, hoping he declines so that they can get a draft pick? Or do they let him walk for fear he'd accept and get an inflated one-year salary?

    If he gets away from Phoenix, he may wish he had never left. Two uneven seasons at the plate and declining defense at second base make him less than attractive for most clubs. Luckily, it's a lacking position around the league right now, and a move to third base could ameliorate Hill's defensive value.

     

    Odds

    Arizona: 30%

    Colorado: 20%

    Chicago White Sox: 10%

    NY Mets: 10%

    Milwaukee: 10%

    St. Louis: 10%

    Houston: 10%

     

    Estimate: one year, $4.2 million

20. Josh Willingham

32 of 51

    Breakdown

    In Oakland, Willingham has truly proven himself. He proved he could crush lefties; he proved he could hit for power even in power-unfriendly parks; and he proved he will never not be a disaster playing the outfield. Willingham is a great hitter. Asking him to play the outfield is just self-immolating.

    He will find greener pastures this winter, whether it's as a stopgap first baseman or as a DH/platoon outfielder. Then again, he might stick in Oakland, if they wise up and give him precisely that role.

     

    Odds

    San Diego: 40%

    Oakland: 20%

    Boston: 20%

    NY Yankees: 20%

     

    Estimate: three years, $13 million

19. Yu Darvish

33 of 51

    Breakdown

    Many pitchers come over from Japan. Few do it as young as Darvish stands to if he posts this winter. Fewer still do it with his combination of stuff, polish and youth. Darvish is not the typical Japanese command-control artist, with six different pitches. He has a big repertoire, but relies on mostly his fastball (which sits around 93 miles per hour) and a hard breaking ball.

    Darvish, who will be just 25 next season, has a worrisome amount of mileage on his arm already, but that's really the only mitigating factor in the possible hoopla over Darvish coming Stateside. Look for the usual suspects to be in heavy if this happens.

     

    Odds

    Stays in Japan: 30%

    NY Yankees: 30%

    Boston: 20%

    Toronto: 10%

    Chicago Cubs: 10%

     

    Estimate: $25 million to post, four years, $40 million for Darvish himself

18. Kelly Johnson

34 of 51

    Breakdown

    Here's the other half of that Hill trade. Johnson stands to net the Blue Jays' two draft picks, assuming HE doesn't accept arbitration himself. He's a more talented defender than Hill, and his upside at the plate is demonstrably higher. Still, he might struggle to get rich off a .311 wOBA in a contract year.

    Johnson does not need to move to third base, which is on his side. He also bats left-handed, which makes it a lot easier to find a lineup slot for him. The Yankees will not be discarding Robinson Cano to chase Johnson, but he would be an upgrade for most of the league at the keystone sack.

     

    Odds

    Toronto: 35%

    Colorado: 25%

    Chicago Cubs: 20%

    Detroit: 20%

     

    Estimate: one year, $2.45 million 

17. Russell Martin

35 of 51

    Breakdown

    The Yankees hit on something here. Martin has hit plenty to return the small investment they made in him this winter, and that's before one considers the job he has done getting great numbers from a mostly awful pitching staff. I'm not a huge believer in that slippery "game-calling" skill, but when Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon rise from the dead to post ERAs around 4.00 and are angling for the playoff rotation, something else is at work.

    Why New York would let him get away is beyond me.

     

    Odds

    NY Yankees: 65%

    Boston: 20%

    Tampa Bay: 10%

    LA Angels: 5%

     

    Estimate: two years, $11 million 

16. Jimmy Rollins

36 of 51

    Breakdown

    It's nearly as hard to imagine Rollins in another uniform as it is to imagine the Phillies without J-Roll. No longer the superstar he was five years ago, Rollins remains a special fielder at a premium position, and hits plenty to remain more than a little valuable. Ruben Amaro might not be able to hold this whole team together, but Rollins is going nowhere.

     

    Odds

    Philadelphia: 95%

    NY Mets: 5%

     

    Estimate: four years, $40 million

15. David Ortiz

37 of 51

    Breakdown

    Absent a meaningful step back in walk rate, Ortiz has suddenly stopped striking out. It's nearly unprecedented for a man his age to so apparently turn the tables on time and suddenly reemerge as a super-duper star at age 35. The best comparison might make your hair stand on end: it's Barry Bonds. 

    Obviously, in this day and age, there's no way Ortiz is doing what Bonds was doing. It's too huge a risk, and anyway, he'd have been caught by now. One way or another, though, Ortiz is mashing again, and it looks like he'll do it for another few years at this point. The Red Sox, by the way, will not let him do it for anyone else.

     

    Odds

    Boston: 85%

    LA Angels: 10%

    Seattle: 5%

     

    Estimate: two years, $25 million

14. Roy Oswalt

38 of 51

    Breakdown

    If I haven't done it yet, here's my big chance to piss off Phillies fans: I really don't see how the team can pick up Oswalt's option for 2012. It would cost them $14 million, and that's a big price tag for a guy who will finish shy of 140 innings pitched; who has developed some chronic back problems; and who will 34 years old next year. They might normally pay it and simply take on those risks, but because the roster is bloated with a payroll that exceeds that with which ownership and the front office are comfortable, it becomes an untenable chance.

    That's not to say the Big Four will be the Big Three. It might be, but the Phils also might be able to keep Oswalt if he will sign on for a two- or three-year deal at a reduced annual rate. Before that deal goes through, though, Oswalt could get a better offer closer to home.

     

    Odds

    Philadelphia: 70%

    St. Louis: 15%

    NY Yankees: 15%

     

    Estimate: three years, $37 million

13. Jonathan Papelbon

39 of 51

    Breakdown

    Give Papelbon credit. On a two-year downward trend, nearing the Land of the Early-Fading Closers, he raged against the dying of the light and re-established himself as an elite relief ace this season. He has induced swings and misses on fully one-sixth of his total pitches this season, a remarkable figure.

    Closers always get overpaid. Saves are overrated. In this case, though, Papelbon's peripheral stats back up that evaluation of his value. He's a stud at the back of the bullpen. Boston will probably keep him, which shows the power of a great walk year, because a season ago, the plan was for Daniel Bard to steal Papelbon's mantle.

     

    Odds

    Boston: 60%

    LA Angels: 40%

     

    Estimate: three years, $35 million

12. Edwin Jackson

40 of 51

    Breakdown

    Having a quietly steady career, Jackson heads for market as the best right-handed hurler available, coming off three seasons with WAR figures between 3.5 and 4.0. He would fit many places, as he's a fairly neutral pitcher who relies on stuff more than anything else in getting batters out. He's succeeded in the AL East. He's succeeded in pitcher's parks, and in extreme hitter's parks. He's a pretty safe guy on whom to bet, and his arm has all kinds of upside.

    A Chicago reunion with former Rays teammate Matt Garza makes the most sense, but whether both sides will see that light is an open question. Somewhere, there might be a team willing to throw more money at Jackson. Somewhere to the east...

     

    Odds

    Chicago Cubs: 40%

    NY Yankees: 35%

    Washington: 15%

    Texas: 10%

     

    Estimate: three years, $33 million


11. Jason Kubel

41 of 51

    Breakdown

    Though not a good fielder, Kubel can hit right-handed pitching all day and every day. He fits into openings across the league because of the power he packs into his left-handed stroke. He might well be back in Minnesota, but Kubel could also help in Baltimore, Colorado and other places where lineup balance is wanting.

     

    Odds

    Minnesota: 60%

    Baltimore: 20%

    Seattle: 10%

    Oakland: 10%

     

    Estimate: one year, $3.8 million 

10. Michael Cuddyer

42 of 51

    Breakdown

    Cuddyer is a hotter commodity, and is therefore more likely to depart Target Field and its depressive (to offenses) atmosphere than is Kubel. Though he bats right-handed, Cuddyer is not a sheer platoon hitter and he brings versatility—if not grace—to the defensive side of the game. He also has a very strong arm in right field, which would be an asset in his most widely whispered destination.

     

    Odds

    Colorado: 40%

    Minnesota: 30%

    San Diego: 20%

    St. Louis: 10%

     

    Estimate: two years, $20 million

9. Carlos Pena

43 of 51

    Breakdown

    Pena is an A-plus clubhouse guy, has rebounded nicely from a down year for the Rays in 2010 and has endeared himself to Cubs fans with power, intellect and a great attitude. If the team keeps him, as many think they will, it could be as a more permanent solution and they could focus on fixing their dreadful pitching. 

    If the Cubs make the opposite choice and pursue Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, Pena's fate would suddenly be subject to the whims of those teams who lose their first basemen this winter.

     

    Odds

    Chicago Cubs: 50%

    Baltimore: 25%

    Milwaukee: 10%

    Cleveland: 10%

    Pittsburgh: 5%

     

    Estimate: two years, $22 million

8. Aramis Ramirez

44 of 51

    Breakdown

    Ramirez has made clear that his 2010 struggles—which really were limited to the first half anyway—were only a blip. He may not be his full former self, but he should be a productive slugger for at least another few years. 

    That's the good news. The bad news is that his defense at third base has gone from good to atrocious in five years. He has perhaps less range than any other patrolman of the hot corner in all of baseball.

    Still, he has value, and if/when the Cubs' option for 2012 does not kick in (the team might decline, or Ramirez—who has the right to decline even if Chicago exercises and who said he wants more than a one-year commitment), Ramirez should fetch a fair bit on the free-agent market. It could well be from the Cubs themselves, but then again, it could not be.

     

    Odds

    Chicago Cubs: 50%

    LA Angels: 30%

    Milwaukee: 20%

     

    Estimate: three years, $41 million

7. Carlos Beltran

45 of 51

    Breakdown

    It's been a tremendous, resurgent year for Beltran, who could not stay healthy enough in 2009 or 2010 to contribute the way he usually might. He's a top-tier hitter again.

    For teams weighing free-agent options, though, Beltran has to have question marks all over him. Can he stay healthy two years running at age 35? Can he keep hitting this way in the long term? Is he a good defender anywhere in the outfield anymore?

    Beltran will get his money, possibly in San Francisco, likely elsewhere. The contract might not be the bargain the winner hopes for, however.

     

    Odds

    Boston: 40%

    San Francisco: 30%

    Florida: 30%

     

    Estimate: three years, $42 million

6. Lance Berkman

46 of 51

    Breakdown

    The same things will be true of Berkman at 36 as were true of him at 26. He will still be a great hitter, with power from both sides of the plate. He will still have a great approach, leading to lots of walks. He will still be a huge offensive weapon, and a huge defensive liability anywhere but first base.

    Fortunately for the Cardinals, then, they might soon have a vacancy at first base. Berkman will be back with St. Louis almost regardless of any other outcomes this winter, but Pujols leaving would really seal the deal.

     

    Odds

    St. Louis: 80%

    San Francisco: 10%

    LA Angels: 5%

    Chicago Cubs: 5%

     

    Estimate: two years, $24 million

5. C.J. Wilson

47 of 51

    Breakdown

    Wilson became the first in what we will someday remember as a parade of successful transitions out of the Rangers bullpen and into their rotation. He threw over 200 innings in his first full season as a starter in 2010, then did it again this year—only much better. He cut his walk rate by about 30 percent, continued to get above the ball and force grounders, and has a 3.38 xFIP to show for it all.

    Texas will do their utmost to keep him. Only the big guns have anything like the money it would take to lure him away, and even then, he might decide to stick to his guns and pitch for the Rangers the rest of his career. If CC Sabathia does not opt out of his contract with the Yankees, Wilson could make huge money.

     

    Odds

    Texas: 70%

    NY Yankees: 15%

    Chicago Cubs: 10%

    Boston: 5%

     

    Estimate: five years, $60 million

4. Jose Reyes

48 of 51

    Breakdown

    Putting aside all injury questions, Reyes is a top-10 talent in this game and an absolute thrill to watch. He's exciting, gifted and fast as hell. Unfortunately, sometimes his hamstrings cannot keep up with his legs, and when that happens, he can miss anywhere from two weeks to two months.

    That risk, along with the underwhelming performance of Carl Crawford (who boasted comparable offensive skills and market demand last offseason) in the first year of his Red Sox deal, might hold down the price, but only slightly.

    The big question seems to be how serious the Mets are going to be about retaining Reyes. If they decide he is not worth what they would need to spend, it really becomes a free-for-all. Until then, New York has to be the clear front-runner.

     

    Odds

    NY Mets: 55%

    San Francisco: 35%

    Chicago Cubs: 5%

    Boston: 5%

     

    Estimate: six years, $115 million

3. CC Sabathia

49 of 51

    Breakdown

    Sabathia will opt out at the end of the year. That's almost certain. While it looks equally certain, at first, that the Yankees will pony up nine figures and keep him forever, there are a couple of flies in that ointment.

    One fly is Sabathia's weight. That fly is heavy. Sabathia's body type lends him his awesome durability, according to some. According to others, though, it sets him up for future injury risk or a rapid decline. Either way, it sprinkles uncertainty into the process.

    Secondly, there is the competition. If New York hesitates, if they toy with Sabathia the way they did last winter with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, they will lose him. The Cubs could make a massive splash, but the real story—the fun one, too—would be if the Rangers swept in and stole Sabathia from New York after the feud between those front offices that bubbled up last year and has never totally quieted.

     

    Odds

    NY Yankees: 90%

    Texas: 5%

    Chicago Cubs: 5%

     

    Estimate: five years, $120 million

2. Prince Fielder

50 of 51

    Breakdown

    The most durable player in baseball for the past half-decade, Fielder can be counted on for 30-plus home runs and a bunch of walks every season. He is probably the best value, and safest sign, anywhere on the market.

    That said, Pujols will get more money, because Pujols has a broader appeal. Fielder, despite his advantage in youth, is already a much worse fielder and worse baserunner than Pujols. Being a Scott Boras client always works in an elite free agent's favor, and it will do it again for Fielder. Boras will find or fabricate interest in unexpected corners.

    The comments Fielder made about the smallness of his chance of staying in Milwaukee notwithstanding, the Brewers have a better opportunity here than anyone seems to think. Would it strain their budget to its limit to retain Fielder? Yes. Their fans have heartily embraced the team's all-out mentality, though, and the revenue streams are flowing like full-fledged rivers for the Crew right now. Even in a tiny media market, the team is getting great ratings, and attendance is soaring only almost as high as merchandise sales.

    It will be interesting to see if Fielder or Pujols feels any reticence about signing with the division-rival Cubs.

     

    Odds

    Chicago Cubs: 60%

    Washington: 10%

    Milwaukee: 10%

    LA Angels: 10%

    Baltimore: 5%

    Scott Boras Mystery Team Special: 5%

     

    Estimate: eight years, $200 million

1. Albert Pujols

51 of 51

    Breakdown

    In by far his worst big league season, Albert Pujols is leading the National League in home runs, has a .301/.372/.546 line, remains a top-three defensive first baseman and will walk more times than he strikes out for the 10th time in his 11 seasons. His off year would be the best of, quite literally, 99 percent of all players in MLB history.

    That said, there are a few mitigating factors in the Pujols Sweepstakes. He still gets the top spot, for consistency and body of work, but questions about the following might stay the hands of bidders as the auction gets really interesting:

    1. Age. Any contract Pujols signs will take him through age 40 or later, and that's just if he is really 31. He probably isn't. He's probably 33 or 34.
    2. Injury risk. Pujols has dealt with nagging shoulder, back and elbow injuries, and this season, he fractured his wrist. He recovered in a mere two weeks, and has MVPs on the shelf already to prove that he doesn't mind the chronic things, but compared to (say) Fielder, durability might be an issue here.

    That said, Pujols will get mega-bucks somewhere and should be well worth the money for the first three or four years of any deal. The team who gets him will be the one who ponies up most for that upfront benefit, which means the Cardinals are the obvious choice.

     

    Odds

    St. Louis: 90%

    LA Angels: 5%

    Chicago Cubs: 4%

    Boston Red Sox: 1%

     

    Estimate: eight years, $220 million

Where can I comment?

Stay on your game

Latest news, insights, and forecasts on your teams across leagues.

Choose Teams
Get it on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Real-time news for your teams right on your mobile device.

Download
Copyright © 2017 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BleacherReport.com is part of Bleacher Report – Turner Sports Network, part of the Turner Sports and Entertainment Network. Certain photos copyright © 2017 Getty Images. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of Getty Images is strictly prohibited. AdChoices