Pujols Hit Paydirt, Fielder Remains in Limbo
About half of the top 10 players on the market now have new contracts, which sets the market for the remaining crop.
Prized targets like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, CJ Wilson, Heath Bell and Jonathan Papelbon have found new homes, with much of the action taking place in Miami.
All of a sudden, the Marlins are throwing money around like a big-market team.
There are still plenty of players available on the market, including Prince Fielder, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson and Aramis Ramirez to name a few. Now that the market has been set, let's look at the fallout of where the remaining free agents could land.
Fielder is one of the best young hitters in baseball. At just 27-years-young, he already has 230 HRs and 656 RBIs to go with his career .282 average.
His .929 OPS puts him 11th among active players, and because of his strong defense, there isn't a club in baseball that wouldn't benefit by signing him.
That leaves just a handful of teams that could afford the $100 million+ Fielder will command.
The Marlins are rumored to be interested but may not have the budget, as they have already spent over $200 million this offseason.
As coveted as Fielder is, offers from his top suitors shouldn't differ by much. It will come down to playing for a winning organization and location, which eliminates Toronto and Baltimore.
His interest in staying in Milwaukee has wavered, but even adding Fielder won't help the Mariners in the heavy-hitting AL West.
The race for Prince will come down to the Cubs, Nationals and Rangers.
After losing out on Mark Buerhle and CJ Wilson this year, and Mark Teixeira a few years back, the Nationals are probably salivating over the chance to land Fielder. But the team needs money freed up to surround Stephen Strasburg with a sufficient rotation.
The Rangers have available payroll after losing CJ Wilson to division rival L.A. and will certainly look to counter their signing of Pujols. But Texas' lineup already contains five players that hit 25+ HRs in 2011, and they need to replace Wilson.
That leaves the Cubs, which makes sense for a couple reasons. New President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer need to make a splash to reinvigorate the Chicago faithful. They also need to replace Aramis Ramirez's bat. Finally, the team is looking to move Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano, which suggests a giant shakeup is in the works.
What better way to begin rebuilding a franchise then to sign a young, cornerstone slugger? The Cubs have the greatest need for Fielder, which will ultimately be his destination.
Although J-Roll is the top SS available after Reyes, he isn't going anywhere but back to Philly.
The three-time All-Star and 2007 National League MVP has spent his entire career with the Phillies and isn't about to leave a team poised for another World Series run.
At 33-years-old, Rollins rebounded from an injury-plagued 2010 campaign with a respectable season.
He only missed 20 games and hit .268 with 16 HRs and 63 RBIs. The only question is how long the deal will stretch, but the Philadelphia Inquirer has reported it could be a three-year deal averaging $10-$12 million per season.
It is worth noting that Milwaukee showed heavy interest in Rollins but were told not to bother, as Rollins never had any intention of leaving the only team he has known.
Darvish has been high on every MLB scout's radar since his emergence in the 2004 National High School Invitational Baseball Tournament, where he pitched a no-hitter in the first round.
The 25-year-old sports a 93-38 record and a 1.99 career ERA in seven seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Darvish is the latest Japanese prospect in a well-documented, successful group that includes Ichiro Suzuki, Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, Akinori Otsuka and Kazuhiro Sasaki.
However, that group also includes underwhelming performers Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kosuke Fukudome, Takashi Saito and So Taguchi.
Darvish was "posted" by the Ham Fighters, and MLB teams will submit their bids for the pitcher's services until 5pm EST this Wednesday.
In the past, Ichiro was posted and awarded to Seattle for $13.125 million. Daisuke was awarded to Boston for an outrageous $51.11 million.
Although there have been instances where the system resulted in success, teams like Boston and New York will be wary when bidding, as the winning bid is a separate cost from the actual contract.
Pitching-desperate clubs will be the most active suitors for Darvish. Included in the bidding are the Rangers, Blue Jays and Red Sox. The Rangers will probably end up with the winning bid, as they have lost out on all major free agents thus far this offseason.
Expect to see Darvish in the Rangers' rotation heading into the 2012 season.
With David Ortiz accepting arbitration from Boston, Ramirez remains the most coveted available bat after Fielder.
The slugger is entering his 15th professional season, but at 33-years-old, teams will be skeptical of committing to a contract north of three or four years.
Still good for 25+ HRs and a .300 average, Ramirez would be a good fit for a team in need of power at a cheaper cost than the top free agents. He should be able to land a three-to-four-year deal in the $13-$15 million per year range.
His top suitors are the Brewers and Angels now that Philly has focused on re-signing Rollins and keeping Polanco at third.
The Angels may have exhausted their financial resources at this point, so look for the Brewers to lead the bidding. In the end, Ramirez will end up with Milwaukee as a welcome addition to their new-look lineup in 2012.
Beltran managed to stay healthy for almost a full season in 2011 and was acquired from the Mets by San Francisco at the trade deadline.
However, his bat provided little help down the stretch, but he still remains the top free agent outfielder on the market.
The Giants have decided to move on from the three-time Gold Glove winner, leaving Beltran's future wide open.
Boston is rumored to be avoiding the luxury tax threshold and will probably have Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish in right field next season.
Beltran is probably priced out of Minnesota and Atlanta's ranges, as both teams are getting creative just to go after Michael Cuddyer.
St. Louis is the most logical landing spot for Beltran. Their buy-low strategy proved successful with Lance Berkman last year, and they need to bring in talent to replace Pujols in the lineup.
With Berkman shifting to first base full-time in 2012, Beltran would fit nicely as the new starting RF in St. Louis.