MLB Hot Stove: Where Are Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Others Headed?
An all-time great World Series is in the books, but for many baseball fans, the fun is just getting started.
It's hot stove season; five months of speculation, rumors, blockbuster deals and free agent signings leading up to Opening Day.
One big free agent domino, CC Sabathia, has already fallen; the ace recently re-upped with the Yankees on a new deal. However, there are still several fascinating free agents to follow in the weeks ahead.
When it comes to predicting landing spots for free agents, there are some fits that make too much sense not to happen, such as both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and the Yankees (often the case when players have spent most or all their careers with one team).
For the most part though, how the offseason plays out is extremely hard to predict. Every winter, there is at least one deal that comes completely out of nowhere (Jayson Werth's deal with Washington last winter).
Nonetheless, I'll take a stab at predicting where 25 of the biggest free agents will sign and how much they'll make. Don't dwell too much on the contract predictions, as they are strictly rough estimates.
Signs 1-year, $7.5M deal with Atlanta Braves.
One of baseball's brightest young stars, injuries have sabotaged Sizemore's career since late in the 2009 season. With Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo entrenched in the oufield and the Indians looking for a big outfield bat, I think he has run his course in Cleveland.
Provided he's healthy, he should have no trouble finding a new home. The Braves got poor production out of their outfielders in 2011, particularly Martin Prado and Jason Heyward. In the end, I see Frank Wren signing Sizemore to push those two—Prado especially—for playing time.
Signs 2-year, $16M deal with Miami Marlins.
The Oscar Gamble look-alike had a mediocre 2011 campaign, swiping 49 bases but posting a .314 OBP that left a lot to be desired. Nonetheless, as basically the only legitimate starting center fielder on the market, Crisp figures to draw plenty of interest this winter.
While I think both Bay Area teams will make a run at him, I think he ends up in Miami, where they need both a center fielder and a leadoff hitter.
Signs 3-year, $18M deal with Toronto Blue Jays.
After the Diamondbacks traded him to Toronto in late August, Johnson rebounded from what had been a lost season to have a strong final stretch. In 33 games with Toronto, he hit .270/.364/.417 (after hitting .209/.287/.412 with Arizona).
A handful of other teams, including the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Tigers, will be on the lookout for second basemen this winter but I expect Alex Anthopoulos to do what it takes to keep Johnson in the fold.
Signs 2-year, $20M deal with Chicago Cubs.
On a mostly hapless club, Pena proved to be a worthwhile investment for the Cubs. While he only hit .225, he hit 28 HR, drew the third-most walks in the NL (good for a BB% of 16.7 that led all major league first basemen) and finished the season with a very solid .357 OBP.
While some have speculated that the Cubs could be in play for Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, I don't expect the Cubs' new management to hand out that lavish a contract so soon or try to fix the Cubs overnight.
Instead, look for the Cubs to retain Pena for the immediate future as part of a more gradual rebuilding plan.
Signs 2-year, $12M deal with St. Louis Cardinals.
After an injury-plagued season in Los Angeles, Furcal bounced back nicely in 50 games with the Cardinals. While he had a lackluster postseason, the Cardinals may not have made the playoffs without Furcal, who posted an .819 OPS in the month of September.
To the surprise of no one, the Cardinals declined a $12M club option on Furcal. However, with no internal option to step in at shortstop and far more pressing issues this winter, I do expect the Cardinals to work out a deal to retain Furcal and quickly resolve the issue of shortstop.
Signs 3-year, $30M deal with Seattle Mariners.
As was the case for several of his teammates, Kubel struggled through an injury-plagued 2011 season, playing in only 99 games. His totals (12 HR, 58 RBI, .273/.332/.434) projected over a full season were in line with his career averages, though.
While I could see him going back to Minnesota, I see Jack Zduriencik stepping up and adding Kubel to bolster Seattle's punchless offense.
Signs 1-year, $10M deal with Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers haven't always been competitive during his tenure, but Kuroda has been a workhorse since first joining them prior to the 2008 season. 2011 was another fine season by the Japanese right-hander, as the 3.07 ERA and 202 innings he posted were both career highs.
While plenty of teams would love to have him, Kuroda is awfully comfortable in Los Angeles and if he doesn't re-sign there, he'll likely head back to Japan. I do think he'll return to the Dodgers on a one-year deal, but wouldn't be surprised if he returned to his homeland.
Signs 4-year, $44M deal with Kansas City Royals.
Think youth, great raw talent, an all-star appearance and a no-hitter will earn a pitcher long-term security?
Think again. Despite having all those assets, the 28-year-old Jackson has played for six teams (seven if you want to count the two hours he spent as a member of the Blue Jays this past July) in eight years.
One would guess he's sick and tired of being traded, and years will be important to him in negotiations this winter. With Adam Wainwright returning and several greater priorities to tackle, the Cardinals won't look to retain him.
Jackson will need only drive a few hours down I-70 to find a new home though, as I see him ending up with the Royals, who need top-of-the-rotation arms if they mean to compete in 2012.
Signs 2-year, $20M deal with Chicago White Sox.
161 wins later, it's safe to say the White Sox' selection of Buehrle in the 38th round of the 1998 draft worked out alright. After 13 years on the South Side, however, the southpaw's future with the team is in doubt.
Some are convinced he'll either stay with the White Sox, sign with his hometown Cardinals, or retire. If that's really the case, that's disappointing news for several would-be suitors (Boston, Miami and Toronto to name a few). Of those three scenarios, the first seems the most plausible to me, though I don't think he'll earn as much as he can if he stays in Chicago.
At this point in his career, I doubt that matters too much to Buehrle.
Signs 2-year, $14M deal with Miami Marlins.
While he may not have enjoyed setting up, K-Rod proved to be pretty good at it, recording 17 holds, posting a 3.30 K/BB, and holding opposing batters to a .566 OPS. The all-time single-season saves leader figures to get a closing job somewhere.
Early word is that the Marlins plan on spending this offseason. I'll believe them handing out any six- or seven-year deals when I see it, but I do think they'll at least spend to bring a proven closer to South Beach. K-Rod will be their pick.
Signs 3-year, $33M deal with Minnesota Twins.
Named to the All Star team, Cuddyer was poised to have a career season through the first half of the season (.298/.369/.474, 13 HR, 43 RBI). Injuries slowed him down considerably in the second half, but he still finished with a respectable .805 OPS in line with his career average (.794).
Cuddyer has been with the Twins his entire career, and while I expect teams like the Red Sox and Giants to vie for his services, I think he will end up staying with the only organization he's ever known when all is said and done.
Signs 2-year, $20M deal with Cincinnati Reds.
After a sluggish start to the 2011 season, Willingham absolutely exploded in the second half (.251/.352/.531, 18 HR, 54 RBI), ensuring he'll be among the most coveted outfielders this winter.
Word is that he prefers the East for the sake of being close to his Alabama home. While I could see the Braves and the Indians making a run at The Hammer, I'm picking the Reds to bring him in to provide some right-handed thump between lefty sluggers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.
Signs 3-year, $30M deal with Los Angeles Angels.
No Brad Lidge or Jose Contreras? No problem for the Phillies, as Madson took off his first season as a full-time closer, saving 32 games in 34 chances and posting a 1.15 WHIP and 3.88 K/BB. The eight-year veteran has set himself up for a nice payday.
The late innings weren't too kind to the Angels in 2011, as their SV% of 61 was the third-worst in baseball and a big reason they missed out on the playoffs for a second straight year. I don't think Madson is worth $30M, but the Angels are desperate for late inning security; money may prove to be no object.
Signs 2-year, $18M deal with San Diego Padres.
Put in the unenviable position of having to replace Trevor Hoffman, Heath Bell has flourished since taking over the ninth inning duties in San Diego. His 132 saves since the start of 2009 are the most in the majors and his 2.54 FIP in that span is fifth among all relievers.
You'd think there would be a long list of teams vying for his services, but Bell seems hell-bent on staying in San Diego (anyone who's ever been to San Diego can understand why he wouldn't want to leave), claiming he'd accept arbitration if offered it.
One way or the other, he's staying with the Padres.
Signs 4-year, $48M deal with Boston Red Sox.
Despite his meltdown in game 162, 2011 was yet another successful season for the Red Sox closer, as he saved 31 games in 34 chances and his 8.70 K/BB was third among all relievers in 2011. After six eventful years in Boston, the flamethrowing right-hander is set to hit the open market for the first time.
He's been linked to the Phillies forever and I expect the Rangers to be major players in these sweepstakes if they do move Neftali Feliz to the rotation. However, as Daniel Bard is clearly not ready to assume a closer's role and there are no better options on the free agent or trade market, I think Ben Cherington will ultimately do what it takes to keep Papelbon in Boston.
Signs 1-year, $10M deal with Boston Red Sox.
This was probably the hardest prediction for me to make; I don't have a clue what Oswalt is going to do this offseason. He's coming off a season in which his age started to show but nonetheless, there figures to be a long list of teams vying for this services.
I think he's thrown his last pitch for the Phillies; their front three is the envy of baseball and with Vance Worley breaking out and Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick in the fold, he's expendable. He's sent signals in the past that he's averse to pitching in the AL, but the junior circuit just might present the best opportunities for the veteran.
I could see him ending up in New York or Texas, but I don't think either of them is as motivated to improve their rotation than Boston, where he'd fit in nicely behind Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz.
Signs 3-year, $42M deal with San Francisco Giants.
While he couldn't slug San Francisco back to the postseason, 2011 saw Beltran remind the baseball world just what he's capable of when healthy. In a season in which he called two hitters' purgatories home—Citi Field and AT&T Park—the veteran switch-hitter nonetheless hit .300/.385/.525 with 22 HR and 84 RBI.
While he may have cost himself some dollars in dumping agent Scott Boras, he also probably expanded his market. He'd fit in nicely in Boston or Texas, but he made a good impression on the Giants and I expect they'll keep him, even if it means overpaying.
While he claimed he wanted the Giants to add more offense before he'd consider them, if they show him the money, he'll sign.
Signs 2-year, $24M deal with Boston Red Sox.
After insisting on a multi-year contract from Boston last year, Ortiz did everything in his power to ensure long-term security with a monster 2011 season. The slugger hit 29 HR with 96 RBI, and finished fourth in the AL in OPS (.953).
Perception is split as to how likely he is to return to Boston. Unfortunately for Ortiz, his foreignness to the glove likely limits his suitors to AL teams. While I don't see a fit for him in New York, I think he'd fit be an excellent pickup for Toronto; there are doubts as to whether or not he fits with Alex Anthopoulos' philosophy though.
While the Red Sox could opt for more flexibility with the DH position, Ortiz is a Boston icon and he wasn't part of the problem last year. I simply don't see a better fit for him.
Signs 3-year, $36M deal with Philadelphia Phillies.
Through June 1, it seemed a lock that Ramirez would exercise his $16M player option for 2012 as his stock had plummeted due to a sluggish start to the 2011 season (.289/.346/.396, 2 HR, 19 RBI). However, A-Ram exploded from there on, hitting 24 HR with 74 RBI the next four months, finishing the season with a very respectable .306/.361/.510 batting line.
With an extreme shortage of third basemen on the market and plenty of teams seeking help at the position, Ramirez predictably opted for free agency and figures to cash in. I expect the Angels and Tigers to at least inquire but when all is said and done, I think he ends up in Philadelphia.
The Phillies have been among the most aggressive teams in baseball the past few seasons and Charlie Manuel has stated he'd like to see the club upgrade at third base.
Signs 4-year, $56M deal with Philadelphia Phillies.
While age is starting to catch up with him, Rollins remains one of baseball's best shortstops and a solid catalyst when healthy. His 11-year tenure in Philadelphia has been quite eventful, including an NL MVP and a World Series Championship.
There's at least a small chance that tenure may be over though, as Rollins is set to turn 33 this month and slowly but surely, the Phillies are getting pretty old. Originally from the Bay Area, the Giants could be a match, as could the Brewers.
Ultimately, all that matters in Philly these days is winning right now, and the Phillies are better poised to do that with Rollins. As such, expect the two sides to eventually come to an agreement on a new contract.
Toronto Blue Jays win bidding rights, signs 5-year, $70M deal.
The latest sensation from the Far East, the Yu Darvish sweepstakes figure to be one of the most intriguing story lines of the winter. Since debuting in 2007, the phenom has been the best pitcher in the Japan Pacific League and he posted his best season yet in 2011 (18-6, 1.43 ERA, 7.67 K/BB).
While there are several cautionary tales of Japanese pitchers not having sustained success in MLB, Darvish might just be the most talented pitcher the Land of the Rising Sun has ever offered and he'll have plenty of suitors.
The Yankees surely will have interest and the Mariners have long been a landing spot for Japanese players, but I've got the Blue Jays winning his services. A talent of this kind added to a young rotation with a lot of upside is just what Toronto needs to make noise in 2012.
Signs 6-year, $90M deal with Washington Nationals.
With C.C. Sabathia off the market, Wilson takes over as the best proven option among free agent starters. Since moving to the rotation in 2010, Wilson has gone 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA, 49.2 GB% and a 10.5 WAR that ranks ninth among all major league starters in that span.
While he wants to stay in Texas, given the salary he's set to command, I'm not sure the interest will be mutual. The Beasts of the AL East have been linked to Wilson all offseason long, but I think he ends up in Washington.
The Nationals have shown a willingness to spend since Mike Rizzo took over as GM, and Wilson would join Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman to give Washington a pretty formidable front three.
Signs 7-year, $119M deal with San Francisco Giants.
Reyes couldn't have picked a better time to have a career season. The 28-year-old hit .337 to win the NL batting title (in controversial fashion, but a battling title no less), stole 39 bases and registered a career best .877 OPS.
Unfortunately, the campaign also saw Reyes give validity to his most common critique: injury proneness. He had two separate DL stints in 2012 and played in only 126 games. Nonetheless, as at least one GM will be too smitten by the thought of Reyes' potential impact; he is bound to break the bank this winter.
I don't see the Mets, who know about his injury troubles all too well, matching his best offer. He could very well stay in the NL East as the Braves, Marlins, Phillies and Nationals all could find themselves in need of a shortstop.
However, few teams need the spark a healthy Reyes would supply more than the Giants, and I see Brian Sabean pulling out the stops to add the dynamic shortstop.
Signs 8-year, $184M deal with Texas Rangers.
Rather than trading him, the Brewers opted for one last blaze of glory with Fielder in the fold. After coming up a little short, they now are faced with the cold, hard reality that their slugging first baseman has likely played his last game in the Beer City.
Where he winds up is anyone's guess. The Dodgers need him, but even with their ownership situation finally being resolved, who knows if they can afford him. The Orioles and Nationals could both be in the market for a first baseman. Some have wondered if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would make a splash to start their tenure in Chicago by bringing in the three-time all-star.
I've got him signing with Texas, an organization whose resolve to improve just went up a notch (or two) with their second straight World Series loss. While it would seem the already offense-heavy Rangers would then have an embarrassment of riches, Fielder would be a worthy investment given the uncertain futures of Josh Hamilton and Michael Young in the Lone Star state.
Signs 8-year, $240M deal with St. Louis Cardinals.
For the first time in his career, Pujols, the man some (including me) think will one day go down as the greatest player in baseball history, is set to sign with whatever team he pleases. In spite of his astronomical price tag, plenty of teams will get in line for the Machine's services.
The most intriguing scenario is Pujols bidding St. Louis farewell and signing with the Cubs, taking on the challenge of leading the team to its first World Series championship in over a century. Like I've said though, I just don't see the Cubs' new management making such a lucrative commitment so soon. He'd fit in nicely with the Dodgers and Nationals as well.
That said, the Cardinals simply cannot let him get away, and I don't think they will. Even if he left, they'd still retain a nice nucleus, but not one capable of contending for a World Series year after year. Additionally, it would devastate the Cardinals fanbase (a fanbase renowned for their sensibility).
Given the milestones to look forward to and the draw he represents, Pujols is worth whatever it takes to sign him.
No matter where he signs, we can all take comfort in knowing that Pujols, as classy an athlete as you'll ever see, will not treat us to "The Decision 2.0."