We're now more than a month and a half into the 2008-2009 offseason, which means that about 50 percent of the gap between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training has elapsed.
Many of the winter's marquee free agents have already found new homes. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira are viewed by some as the foundation for a new Yankee dynasty. Shortstop Rafael Furcal may or may not have spurned the Braves when he ultimately decided to continue donning Dodger blue. And AL West standouts Raul Ibanez and Francisco Rodriguez will renew their rivalry in the NL East, after signing with the Phillies and Mets, respectively.
But even with that group, and several other big names, now off the market, plenty of talent remains. Here's a look—in reverse order—at the Top 30 free agents still available for the taking, and where I think they'll end up.
30. LHRP Will Ohman
Ohman spent the 2008 season with the Braves, appearing in 83 games, and tossing 58.2 innings of 3.68 ERA ball as a situational left-hander out of Bobby Cox's bullpen. The 31 year-old held opposing southpaw hitters to a .200/.254/.314 line in 105 at-bats, and although he also limited righties to a .695 OPS in 117 at-bats, Ohman seems best-suited for LOOGY duty. He's on the lookout for a two-year contract, and—after earning $1.6 million last year—is drawing interest from the Mets, Indians, and Rockies, in addition to the Braves.
29. RHSP Paul Byrd
Byrd split the 2008 season between the Indians and Red Sox, posting an aggregate 11-12 record and 4.68 ERA in 180 innings. However, the 38 year-old's numbers improve drastically, if you overlook a disastrous 1-5 June, during which he was torched for a .320 average by opposing batters and may have been tipping his pitches.
Hardly a dominant starter at this stage of his career, Byrd could still be a valuable member of the rotation for a team that plays in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, but his preference to pitch near his Atlanta home severely impairs his leverage.
28. C Gregg Zaun
Though most of the focus in this year's thin free agent catching market is on Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Varitek, 37 year-old Gregg Zaun could be a passable, cost-effective starting catcher for a team looking for a short-term stopgap at the position. Zaun hit just .237 in a part-time role with the Jays last year, but the switch-hitter's plate discipline (.344 career OBP) and solid defense make him a viable option behind the dish.
Prediction: Red Sox
27. RHSP Jon Garland
After being acquired by the Halos from the White Sox for shortstop Orlando Cabrera last offseason, Garland was essentially a pinata for Mike Scioscia's team, serving up 237 hits and 23 homers in 196.2 innings of work. Nevertheless, he managed to collect 14 victories and lose just eight times.
While Garland is durable and capable of eating 200 innings a season, the 29 year-old SoCal native isn't much more than a younger—and likely pricier—version of fellow free agent Paul Byrd. The Dodgers, Orioles, and Mets are rumored to be interested in Garland, but a return to the Southsiders is also a possibility.
Prediction: White Sox
26. RHSP Braden Looper
Looper spent his first season with the Cardinals working exclusively out of the bullpen in 2006, but a rash of injuries forced the veteran into Tony La Russa's rotation, where he posted a 4.94 ERA in 2007, and improved it to 4.16 last year.
The 34 year-old northpaw could serve in either capacity for his next team, but figures to draw more interest—and earn more money—as a starter. The Orioles and Brewers are the two teams that have thus far expressed strong interest in Looper.
25. RHSP Pedro Martinez
The market for Pedro is hard to gauge, after his 2008 campaign offered little to suggest that he's overcome the rotator cuff surgery he had two years ago, and the hamstring woes he faced in the early part of last season.
Now 37 years of age, Martinez was rocked for 127 hits in 107 innings of work last year, resulting in an ugly 5.61 ERA. Although he did occasionally show flashes of his former self, there is little to suggest that Pedro is any more than a number-four or -five starter at this stage of his career.
He's likely to sign a short-term, low-value deal with incentives sometime closer to Spring Training.
24. C Jason Varitek
The Red Sox's Captain remains one of the premier pitch-callers in baseball, but Varitek's bat has gone south in a hurry, and he's no longer an adequate thrower, having nabbed just 22.2 percent of opposing base-stealers in 2008. While the 36-year-old figures to improve on the .220 average and .672 OPS he posted this year, even Scott Boras will have trouble marketing him based on his bat.
If the Red Sox are able to acquire a viable backstop via trade, or opt to go with another free agent such as Gregg Zaun, Varitek may struggle to get more than a one-year deal worth far less than he'd like to earn.
23. RHSP Brad Penny
Brad Penny pitched poorly in between disabled list stints during the 2008 season, but he's likely to find a team willing to give him a major league deal on the merits of his 2007 campaign, which was highlighted by a 16-4 ledger and 3.03 ERA.
The 30 year-old, hard-throwing sinkerballer could make a passable number-two or -three starter if he recovers fully from the shoulder woes that plagued him last season, and could be worth a gamble for a team in search of low-cost rotation depth.
Prediction: Red Sox
22. C Ivan Rodriguez
That Pudge, a 37-year-old declining both at the plate and in the field, is this year's best free agent catcher says plenty about the dearth of options available to teams seeking help at the position.
Though Rodriguez batted .295 with a .756 OPS for the Tigers in the first half of the season, he was mired in an awful slump after being shipped over to the Yankees, contributing just a .219/.257/.323 effort for New York.
While Pudge is still a decent thrower and adequate blocker, his pitch-calling skills have been sharply criticized of late. A return to the Marlins could be I-Rod's best option, but that would require him to take a significant pay-cut.
21. OF Gabe Kapler
Kapler went from player, to minor league manager, to player, resurrecting his on-field career with the Brewers last season. The right-handed hitting 33 year-old logged a .301/.340/.498 line in 229 at-bats for Ned Yost's team last season, and should have no trouble finding a gig as a fourth-outfielder, though he may still have the bat and glove to handle full-time duties.
A return to the Red Sox is possible, but Kapler could also draw interest from the Yankees, who are hurting both offensively and defensively in center.
Prediction: Red Sox
20. 3B Joe Crede
The 30 year-old Crede recovered from back issues to bat .248/.314/.460 in 335 at-bats for the White Sox last season, and his 17 long-balls figure to attract interest from teams in need of power.
But it's important to note that eleven of Crede's homers were hit at US Cellular Field, a ballpark known to be friendly to righty power-hitters, and that his back woes could very well recur. Still, his pop and above-average defense at the hot corner should allow Crede—a reserve in the 2008 All-Star Game—to find a desirable home.
19. OF Ken Griffey Jr.
For a supposedly injury-prone guy in his late-30s, Junior did a fine job staying on the field the last two seasons. But after batting .249/.353/.424 in 490 at-bats split between the Reds and White Sox last year, he may no longer have neither the bat to play right, nor the range to adequately handle center.
Some team will certainly find room in its lineup for the now 39 year-old Griffey, but he's likely to have to settle for a one-year deal. A nostalgic return to Seattle seems like an attractive option.
18. OF Jim Edmonds
After GM Jim Hendry and the Cubs rescued him from the unfriendly confines of Petco Park, the 38 year-old Jim Edmonds rewarded them with a .937 OPS in 250 at-bats as part of a platoon with Reed Johnson. Despite making occasional appearances on the Web Gems segment of Baseball Tonight, however, Edmonds is no longer a great defensive center-fielder, which may be the reason why the Cubs aren't particularly interested in bringing him back.
There is a slight chance that Edmonds will opt to hang up his cleats, but if he doesn't and the Cubs are unable to find another left-handed bat for their outfield, the best bet is still on him returning to the Windy City.
17. LHSP Randy Johnson
Randy Johnson is 45, has chronic back issues, and is now a shadow of the elite lefty power-pitcher he once was. Unsurprisingly, the penny pinching Diamondbacks are not especially interested in spending the money it will take to bring him back, and Johnson's preference to stay in the Pacific time-zone figures to land him in Northern California.
The pitcher-friendly ballparks of the Giants and A's could help him keep his ERA in the 3.00's, but their sub-par offenses will require him to work for his wins. Just five shy of 300, however, the Unit would be an attraction for the disillusioned fans of either squad.
16. LHSP Randy Wolf
When Astros' GM Ed Wade acquired Randy Wolf from the Padres near the Trade Deadline last season, many pundits found the move puzzling. But although the Astros finished far out of the playoff picture, Wolf's 6-2 record and 3.57 ERA in a dozen starts helped keep them afloat.
He has fought shoulder ailments in the past, but with a 4.26 lifetime ERA, the 32 year-old southpaw should be able to at least approach the three-year, $30 million deal he's looking for this winter, with the Dodgers and Mets perhaps leading the way for his services.
15. LHSP Andy Pettitte
The Yankees' signing of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira has put Andy Pettitte into a precarious position this holiday season. He has indicated that he'll either don Pinstripes or retire, but GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners now appear content to have younger prospects like Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Alfredo Aceves battle it out for the fifth spot in their superb rotation.
The 36 year-old Pettitte went 14-14 with a 4.54 ERA last season, but his 4-7, 5.35 effort after the All-Star Break could also prove to be a hindrance. With the Yankees potentially out of the picture, if Pettitte wants to continue playing, he could reunite with Joe Torre in Los Angeles, jump ship and join the enemy Red Sox, or possibly return to Houston.
14. RHRP Brandon Lyon
Lyon's final year with the Diamondbacks was a tumultuous one, as he was handed the closer role coming out of Spring Training, pitched well and notched 19 saves during the first half of the season, but then flamed-out after the All-Star Break and was shelled for a repulsive 8.46 ERA and 2.06 WHIP.
He has the stuff to be an effective middle-reliever, and perhaps even the variety to start, so the 29 year-old righty should be able to convince some teams to look past his struggled this summer. The Twins, Brewers, and Red Sox are rumored to be interested, but Lyon could wait for Brian Fuentes, another inconsistent late-inning reliever, to sign before choosing a team.
13. SS Orlando Cabrera
O-Cab was the White Sox's bounty in the Jon Garland swap last offseason that seemed to benefit neither team involved. He batted .281/.334/.371 in 661 at-bats for Ozzie Guillen's team, which would have been more palatable had 34 year-old not suddenly turned into a defensive liability.
Still, with Rafael Furcal, Edgar Renteria, and Cesar Izturis now off the market, Cabrera is the best shortstop available, although his desire to get a deal close to the three-year, $30 million hitch Furcal got may temper teams' interest for the time being.
12. LHRP Brian Fuentes
With K-Rod now off the market, Brian Fuentes is the best closer available, but he's biding his time in search of a lucrative multi-year deal. Fuentes was superb for the Rockies during the second half of last season, allowing just 14 hits while striking out a whopping 45 batters in 25.2 innings of work, en route to a stellar 1.75 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
While he's unlikely to keep that up for his next team, the 33 year-old southpaw can be expected to be at least an adequate bullpen ace. Fuentes could step into K-Rod's shoes in Anaheim, but he's also drawn interest from the Nationals, Brewers, and Cardinals, though St. Louis has reportedly pulled its offer.
11. RHRP Juan Cruz
Like Fuentes, Juan Cruz had a terrific second-half of the season in 2008, posting a 1.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP out of the Diamondbacks' bullpen. While he has never served as a closer, the 30 year-old flame-thrower has the stuff to perform passably in that role, and could certainly be an elite middle reliever.
His walk-rate (31 in 51.2 innings last year) is a concern, but if Cruz can continue to miss bats like he did last season (34 hits, 71 strikeouts), it can easily be overlooked. The Brewers, Nationals, Cardinals, and Giants are said to be interested in adding him to their relief corps.
10. 1B/DH Jason Giambi
Now that Mark Teixeira is off the market, Jason Giambi—shoddy defense notwithstanding —is undoubtedly the best first-baseman available via free agency. His .247/.373/.502 line with 32 homers last season should be attractive to any team in need of reasonably priced power, in spite of his occasional laziness in the field, and his desire to land a three-year deal.
The A's are believed to be in the lead for Giambi's services, but Billy Beane seems unlikely to offer the 37 year-old more than a two-year hitch, so teams like the Blue Jays, Rays, and Giants could jump in and snatch him.
9. LHSP Oliver Perez
Oliver Perez's next contract will depend on whether teams can use his youth (he's 27) and his fine hit-rate (167 in 194 innings last season) to look past his awful walk-rate (105 in that same span) and consider him a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter.
If they're not able to come to terms with Derek Lowe, the Mets will likely take his chances with Perez and bring him back; if they are, however, Perez's agent Scott Boras will need to give other teams his best sell-job to land the inconsistent southpaw a well-paying, multi-year deal. The Cardinals, Nationals, White Sox, and Brewers are among the teams that could land Perez if he prices himself out of Queens.
8. OF Bobby Abreu
With Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady supplanting him in New York, Bobby Abreu is in search of a new home, and his .296/.371/.471 line in 609 at-bats last season (.327/.408/.522 after the All-Star Break) should help him find one.
While the 34 year-old's defense in right-field leaves much to be desired, his bat is more than adequate at the position, and the lefty's polished approach at the plate will entice teams in need of OBP help. The A's could be interested in Abreu if they fail to land his former teammate Jason Giambi, and he may also be on the wishlist of the Rays, Jays, and Cubs.
7. 2B Orlando Hudson
Had Orlando Hudson not suffered a wrist injury toward the end of last season, there's a good chance he would've been off the market by now, as the best second-baseman available. However, teams are struggling to overlook O-Dog's injury history for his superb defense and career year (.305/.367/.450) at the plate last season.
The Giants were known to be interested, but they've since signed Edgar Renteria; the Mets may not have the money Hudson desires; the Yankees appear set with Robinson Cano and are unlikely to open their wallets for another luxury; and the cash-strapped Diamondbacks have opted to go with Felipe Lopez at the keystone. So where does that leave Hudson? Returning to Toronto or heading to the Nats could be his best options.
Prediction: Blue Jays
6. OF Pat Burrell
Now that the Phillies have signed Raul Ibanez to play left-field, it's apparent that Pat Burrell will be donning another team's uniform for the first time in his career. His .250/.367/.507 effort at the plate last season should help his case this winter, and the fact that he played most of his home games in the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park should not be a concern for teams because Burrell was markedly better on the road (21 homers, .964 OPS) last season than at home (12 homers, .786 OPS).
Apart from his bloated strikeout total, the biggest hole in Burrell's game is his defense, which is significantly substandard and figures to hurt his value in the eyes of National League teams. Still, the Reds, Cubs, and possibly the Giants may have interest in the 32 year-old, and the Mariners, Rays, Rangers, and Yankees could all use him as their DH.
5. RHSP Ben Sheets
The only knock on Ben Sheets as a pitcher is the laundry-list of injuries that have plagued him throughout his career. However, had the NL's 2008 All-Star Game starter not dealt with elbow soreness toward the end of the past season, he might've been viewed as a better investment than fellow injury-prone starter A.J. Burnett.
With a 3.72 career ERA and a lifetime K/BB approaching 4.00, Sheets should eventually find some team willing to give him a multi-year deal. The Rangers and Astros have been linked to Sheets in the past, and the Red Sox could attempt to counter the Yankees' recent spending by taking a gamble on him; if the market for the 30 year-old righty fails to develop, the Brewers could jump in and bring him back.
Prediction: Red Sox
4. OF/DH Milton Bradley
Milton Bradley batted .321/.436/.563 last season, bashed 22 homers, finally realizing the potential many thought he had, and leading the American League with a .999 OPS. But he remains a volatile commodity, both because of his injury history and his emotions, which have had a negative clubhouse influence on his teams in the past.
The 30 year-old switch-hitter is best-suited for a designated hitter role, so Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Seattle could be ideal destinations for him. The Cubs and Reds are the only National League teams that figure to show much interest in him.
3. RHSP Derek Lowe
The 35 year-old Lowe is coming off his best year since 2002, after winning 14 games for the Dodgers last season, in the course of posting a 3.24 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. While his ability to sustain that success is highly questionable, Lowe is the best free agent pitcher remaining on the market, and he's likely to earn himself a nice payday because of it. The Mets are reportedly deep in discussions with Lowe, but an offer has yet to be confirmed. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are rumored to be lurking on the periphery and could bring him back if the price is right. If neither of those pans-out, the Brewers, Braves, and Nationals could attempt to lure the sinkerballer.
2. OF Adam Dunn
He may be a horrible defender and a strikeout machine, but there are fewer surer bets in baseball than Adam Dunn to produce 40 homers and an OPS near .900. That should be enough to make him the second-best player still available on the free agent market, and to entice teams in need of left-handed pop, in spite of his defense. Yet many teams are unwilling to overlook those E's and K's, so it's possible that the 29 year-old Dunn will turn out to be a bargain for whichever team ultimately signs him.
The Orioles and Nationals could become strong players for Dunn after losing out on Mark Teixeira, and the A's, Giants, and Braves could land him as well. If concerns about the health of David Ortiz or Mike Lowell arise, the Red Sox could be in the thick of the Dunn market as well.
1. OF Manny Ramirez
If the Red Sox weren't the biggest losers in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, then Manny Ramirez was, because the Yankees—once considered to be among his suitors -- no longer need him. That means the Dodgers are the only team actively pursuing Ramirez at the moment, though agent Scott Boras could instruct the enigmatic 36 year-old slugger to be patient.
If he waits long enough and the market fails to develop, the Yankees could jump back in and make Ramirez their DH, and the Giants—hoping to keep him away from their chief division rivals—could also enter the bidding.
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