There are many questions surrounding who will manage the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, with both teams interviewing some of the same candidates, but not to be overlooked is free-agency. And this year’s crop is talent-laden with unknown destinations. So where will they go?
1. Albert Pujols
This past week, coming off a remarkable run to a World Series Championship, the St. Louis Cardinals erected a statue of Pujols, who is the face of the franchise. The future Hall of Famer turned down a contract offer last offseason, and their chances of signing him this offseason weren’t looking too good. Eight months later, an unbelievable title has to change matters. How can he not stay? And how do you celebrate the unveiling of a statue and then leave? He will have his share of suitors, but he belongs in Cardinal red.
He had an off-year by his standards, hitting 37 homers and driving in 99 rbi’s while hitting .299, and though he will be 32 before next season begins he is worth paying a hefty price for. If the Cardinals let him go, especially with the underwhelming farm system they have, they would be set back for a while. He very well could chase the almighty dollar if someone else offered more than St. Louis, but they need him and he needs them.
Team: Cardinals. Contract: eight years, worth $200 million.
2. Prince Fielder
Fielder is one of the best power hitters in the game and is only 27 years old. The concern revolving around his conditioning and weight could create some hesitancy among potential suitors. After all, he is listed at 5 ’11″, 275 pounds, and who knows how durable he would be over a six to eight year contract, especially if he remains in the National League and has to play first base.
Nonetheless, he is an excellent power hitter, with 32 or more homers in the past five seasons. There is no telling, though, which team will benefit from his strength. CBS Sports recently polled seven baseball writers, asking them for their predicted destinations of the top free-agents. No team was picked twice.
I think he would be a great fit for the Seattle Mariners. Their General Manager, Jack Zduriencik, drafted Fielder years ago when he was at the helm in Milwaukee, and Seattle has some money to spend. They need offense desperately, too; they ranked last in Major League Baseball in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage. There, Prince could play first then DH if need be as the contract wears on.
The question remains: would he go to Seattle? The team lost 101 games in 2010 and 95 this past season. The Cubs, Angels, Nationals, and Orioles, among others that are expected to show interest, could be more preferred landing spots.
Team: Mariners. Contract: seven years, worth $160 million.
3. C.J. Wilson
The Texas Rangers ace had a forgettable postseason as his team fell short. He had a 5.79 ERA in six appearances, five of which starts, allowing 21 runs in 29 innings. These struggles may have hurt his value on the market, but he was one of baseball’s best pitchers during the regular season, when he had a 16-7 record with a 2.94 ERA in 223 1/3 innings.
Many teams could use a lefty with his talent, and many teams just need as much pitching help as they can get. The Angels qualify, and after missing out on outfielder Carl Crawford last offseason they will certainly be aggressive. How sweet would it be for them to keep Wilson within the American League West?
Team: Angels. Contract: five years, worth $85 million.
4. Jose Reyes
Reyes is the riskiest of the bunch. The oft-injured shortstop wants to stay with the New York Mets, but they may not want to pay what it will take. And they may not want to give someone who has missed 191 games over the past three seasons the six or seven contract his age and talent suggest. When healthy, Reyes is one of the most electrifying players in baseball. He managed to win the National League batting title this season while playing in only 126 games; he hit .337 with 16 triples, 31 doubles, and a .385 on-base percentage.
Some team is bound to give Reyes nine-figures. The Mets know his injury history more than any other team, and I think they would be hesitant to make that kind of commitment. A team that could may very well be Fielder’s former club. The Brewers are in need of a shortstop, and a confidence-booster if they lose Fielder. This past October, star outfielder Ryan Braun said, “I think there’s a better chance we sign [Reyes] than we re-sign Prince,” as reported by the New York Post. He’s right, but does it all depends on whether the front office thinks as highly of the 28-year-old.
It would be sad to see him leave New York, but I don’t see him taking a pay-cut if a team like Milwaukee offers more. He had an incredibly exciting run with the Mets. And they probably knew the 162nd game of the 2011 season would probably be his last in blue and orange.
Team: Brewers. Contract: six years, worth $105 million.
5. Mark Buerhle
Buerhle’s situation is similar to Pujols in one respect: he has known only one organization. The 32-year-old left-handed pitcher came up with the Chicago White Sox in 2000, and has been one of the games most durable pitchers. Excluding his rookie season, when he appeared mostly as a reliever, Buerhle has thrown 200 or more innings, made 31 or more starts, and won 10 or more games each season. He gives up a lot of hits, but he has kept the runs to a minimum as Chicago’s ace.
Just as Pujols belongs with the Cardinals, Buerhle belongs on the South Side.
Team: White Sox. Contract: four years, worth $44 million.