Every year, everybody thinks they know where an MLB player is going to sign. Last year, many figured Cliff Lee would sign long-term with the Rangers, then he ended up signing with the Phillies out of nowhere.
This year, Joe Nathan did the same, signing with the Rangers instead of sticking with the Twins or joining a club that did not already have an established closer. Nathan is just one of many who surprises both fans and sportswriters, year in and year out, with where they sign.
Here are 20 players (aside from Nathan) who could end up surprising everyone.
Despite recent developments, it seems like the Los Angeles Dodgers are favored to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda, who has been very solid in four seasons. Talk is that he'll either re-sign with the Dodgers or retire, given that he is now 37.
Since he probably won't re-sign given the fact that the Dodgers don't want to pay him eight figures, I see Kuroda returning to Hiroshima and finishing his career where he started. I've said it from Day 1, despite being one of the few to believe so, and I'm sticking to that.
Now that the White Sox have declined arbitration on him, there are very few who see Pierre coming back to the White Sox, as they are ready to move in a different direction.
While there are many teams that could use a nice leadoff man, I have a feeling Pierre will land in Kansas City. They need a new spark plug now that they have traded Melky Cabrera, and he fits their small-ball mindset, even though I see nothing connecting the two.
Derrek Lee is at the stage of his career where he can be a valuable pickup for half a season and can then be traded for prospects to a contender, but probably cannot offer more.
While this is the expected move for him, I see Lee staying in Pittsburgh and taking arbitration. It's a move that's unexpected, given his journeyman status in recent years, but I have to imagine he'd like to know where he will finish his career.
Yuniesky Betancourt was able to hold down the fort for the Milwaukee Brewers at shortstop, and there was talk about bringing him back another year. Now that the Brewers have declined arbitration on him, that seems unlikely.
The rational person would have him getting a backup deal somewhere, but for whatever reason he will likely get a starting shortstop deal somewhere, even though I don't think he's deserving of that.
This past season with the Tampa Bay Rays showed that Johnny Damon can still do what he's paid to do. He can hit 150 hits and 70 RBI in a season, and while he's not an elite DH by any means, he is consistent.
Sources have Damon returning to the Rays, and while it's a very good fit for him, I think he will surprise us and join a light-hitting team where he could be a key part in his quest for 3,000 hits, which he should be able to hit in 2013.
After a couple troublesome seasons, Coco Crisp put up respectable numbers in 2011 and is one of the better center fielders out there for any interested team. The Giants seem to be pushing for him, and Crisp has expressed a desire to play there.
That being said, I see Oakland as more likely to re-sign him. With Josh Willingham leaving, they don't have much of an outfield left, and Crisp has become one of the more reliable hitters in the lineup.
The Mets could be an option as well if they feel like moving Crisp or Angel Pagan to right, though that's unlikely even for this type of slideshow.
While we are on the subject of Oakland Athletics outfielders, while Josh Willingham has not been impressive with his defense the past couple years, he has been great with his bat, nearly breaking 100 RBI on a light-hitting Oakland squad.
So many teams are interested in Willingham for his bat that I'm not sure where he will end up. I know he'll stay in the American League since I imagine teams will occasionally DH him. The Twins are the favorite, but I could see the Indians or Orioles making a surprise jump at him.
Bartolo Colon surprised everyone by not only joining the Yankees but by putting up solid numbers in 2011.
As such, the Yankees are naturally interested in bringing him back.
I don't see this happening, since they will have enough starters presuming they sign C.J. Wilson or another free agent. Colon will either sign with another club or call it a career, though it's tough to say which club he would end up on.
After a terrible season with the Kansas City Royals and a minor league season with the Blue Jays, Kyle Davies was bad enough with a 1-9 record and a 6.75 ERA. Despite being a free agent I can't see any team wanting to sign with him.
However, he is still under 30, so I imagine a lower-level team will give him a final shot with a spring training invite, even though his major league career should realistically be over.
Now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Jamie Moyer is looking to pitch in 2012, despite the fact that most people watching this are expecting him to retire.
I think he will stun us and not only find a team willing to take him on, but he'll actually pitch a bit in 2012. I could see either Seattle or Atlanta being options, the latter only because they have a history of trying out "elderly" players.
As nice as it would have been to continue seeing Cody Ross play in San Francisco, that's not going to happen; he was not offered arbitration, and the Giants don't seem likely to bring him back.
I see him being picked up relatively quickly for a two or three-year deal, and where it is will be surprising, partially because there's very little discussion on destinations. Any team looking for a reliable fourth outfielder will end up picking Ross up.
After spending four decent years with the Cubs and Indians, there's no question that Kosuke Fukudome did not live up to his contract, and the one he receives this time around will definitely be a smaller deal (likely one year).
It's not out of the question for the Indians to re-sign him, but with Sizemore back I highly doubt that. Japan could be a likely destination, but he could potentially join a team like the Reds that needs someone with a half-decent strikeout-walk ratio in the outfield.
Despite Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder holding the spotlight on first basemen, Carlos Pena is an entirely fine consolation prize. He may not have a great batting average, but he can draw walks and get on base just fine.
A lot of teams could use a guy like him, and the Cubs are a possibility for re-signing him. Instead of the usual suspects, I can see the Brewers picking him up as someone who can somewhat replace Fielder.
Heath Bell had been one of the most consistent relievers in recent years, and he has continually been the subject of trade rumors.
Despite that, the Padres did offer him arbitration this year.
I can't see Bell staying with the Padres, even though that may be consensus. He could end up joining Adrian Gonzalez with the Red Sox, or the Cardinals could be a potential destination that's under the radar.
As much as I would love to continue seeing Mark Buehrle pitch in Chicago, I don't see it happening. The only serious ifs seem to be from the White Sox and Cardinals, but if the latter signs Pujols, then there's a good chance that Buehrle becomes a much-wanted free agent.
I think that he will be the one who the Nationals pick up and give a huge deal to; they pick one every year it seems, and at least Buehrle is consistent.
After not being the Brewers' closer this past season, K-Rod will not be pitching there next year despite them offering him arbitration.
As for where he'll go, that's a bit tougher.
The market is pretty deep on talented closers, but I can see a lower team with a nice payroll picking him up, such as the Orioles. The Nationals could pick him up as well, but I'm sure he would rather not battle it out with Drew Storen.
Casey Kotchman ended up having a surprisingly good year with the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting .306 in what was one of the best seasons of his career. As a result, he may end up getting a decent deal.
While he should get a one-year deal with the Rays, it seems more likely that another team will take the bait on Kotchman—perhaps the Dodgers or Pirates depending on what they do in the offseason.
Magglio Ordonez is someone who has been through two injury-riddled seasons, and at this point in his career would be a DH. He wants to play next year, but the Tigers have stated they likely will not bring him back.
I actually don't buy any of this, and I think after a month or so he will end up retiring. He had a great career, but I don't think Ordonez will be able to hold up, and he'll realize that.
Much like Magglio Ordonez, J.D. Drew has had a nice career, but after 81 games and his weakest season with the Red Sox, he has very little left in the tank. Drew has expressed desire to play in 2012, though.
Also like Ordonez, I do not see this happening, and at some point during the offseason Drew will choose to retire rather than be in a platoon situation.
Most people are entirely sold on Pujols re-signing with the Cardinals for the long haul, and I am one of those people. A minority, meanwhile, feel he will sign with the Miami Marlins as they try to use a new payroll to their advantage.
If he ends up not re-signing with the Cardinals (which could likely be due to Tony La Russa's retirement), then I think Pujols will end up signing with a team that pops up late in the game and ends up being a great fit for him.
As for which team—if I knew I would tell you.