Hard to believe that Prince Fielder is still available.
I doubt that I'm the only baseball fan that's noticed that one of the most attractive long-term free-agent candidates in recent memory is still on the open market as the calendar prepares to flip from 2011 to 2012.
That's a bit of a surprise.
Last season the two biggest free-agent prizes were long gone from the open market by now.
Carl Crawford signed with the Boston Red Sox on December 8th, 2010, and Cliff Lee signed with Philadelphia one week later on the 15th.
It wasn't just last season that top talent had been snatched up by the time New Year's was on the immediate horizon.
John Lackey ( considered "top talent" at the time) inked his deal with Boston on December 16th, 2009.
Prince Fielder, however, remains on the open market. He's only 27 years old and could be the rare player who signs a deal of eight to 10 years and actually produces at a high level throughout the duration of the contract.
There are some other free-agent prizes lurking out on the market as well.
Where will these players end up, and why?
Prince Fielder will be a star somewhere next season- but where?
The short list:
Toronto Blue Jays
Fielder has been linked to all of these teams. Each team has good reason to and not to sign Fielder.
The Cubs are theoretically said to be rebuilding and shedding salary. Signing a player to a contract that will likely be in the neighborhood of eight years and $200 million would be an odd way to "shed salary." Then again Fielder is still young ( 27), has all the signs of being a prolific power hitter for the next decade, and could serve as an anchor for a rebuilding process.
The Baltimore Orioles are rebuilding too. The problem is that they've been rebuilding for more than 10 years. At some point one would expect them to actually make progress. In addition the issue in Baltimore is pitching—not hitting. Sure Fielder would be a fantastic addition but the Orioles would still need pitching, and lots of it. That would be more difficult to make happen with Fielder's monster salary.
Toronto was in on Pujols, then they were going to snag Yu Darvish; then they had Gio Gonzalez coming over from Oakland. The problem is that they're 0-for-3 on those players. The Jays got a nice young closer in Sergio Santos in a trade with the White Sox, but they've yet to land any of the high profile players they've pursued this offseason. Could Fielder be the exception? The Jays have said that they won't go more than five years on a guaranteed deal with a hitter. That could change if Fielder were willing to head north to Toronto though.
Seattle wants Fielder, but does Fielder want Seattle? In addition can they afford to sign him even if he was open to heading to the Pacific Northwest? Seattle would seem like an odd destination for someone that claims to want to play in the postseason in the immediate future. Of course Fielder could also be the missing piece to bring Seattle to the playoffs.
If Fielder wants to link up with a team that is in great shape for the 2012 postseason then the Texas Rangers may be the ideal spot for him. Can they afford him after dropping over $50 million on Yu Darvish, who they've yet to sign? That's the key question. If Fielder did go to Texas the answer to the question, " who has the most feared lineup in baseball?" would be answered easily and without debate.
What about Washington? The team has yet to make a big free-agent signing this year. They pulled off a major trade last week when they sent four nice prospects to Oakland for lefty Gio Gonzalez. Adding Fielder to the Nationals lineup would be huge plus for the Nats, who are looking to keep pace with the newly improved Miami Marlins as well as perennial division powers the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.
WIth Scott Boras as his agent there's always a chance for a dark horse surprise, but at this point the fact that Fielder hasn't signed is a bit of a surprise in the first place.
At some point in January Yoennis Cespedes will establish residency in the Dominican Republic. Once that happens a free-agent frenzy of sorts is expected to break out.
Cespedes is nearly mythical at this point. He's the "Keyser Soze" of the 2011-2012 free agent class. Everyone seems to know how amazing his skills are but very few people have actually seen him play baseball. Or they've seen workouts as well as slickly produced made for hype YouTube videos of him.
An actual game, against real big league competition? That's a different story.
Cuban defectors have moved onto major league baseball with varying results. Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez both had pretty impressive runs as major league pitchers. Jose Contreras was a disappointment.
Aroldis Chapman who was the last big name Cuban player to come to America has fulfilled his promise as far as his physical ability goes. He arrived with a reputation as one of the hardest throwing pitchers on the planet and having touched 105 miles per hour in a major league game he's fulfilled that promise. His actual performance has been up-and-down so far. He's still young and still holds tons of promise though.
Cespedes is cut from the Chapman cloth. He's young and his pure athletic ability is probably as good as just about any player in major league baseball.
Can he hit a major league curveball though? Can he play within the structure of the majors? Is he mature enough now? Will he be able to learn? Those are the type of intangibles that dog every prospect regardless of their background. When that prospect is from another country as well a culture that remains fairly isolated from ours those concerns get magnified.
Cespedes has plenty of suitors. It's pretty much the regular big-market laundry list with teams like the Nationals and Marlins who are flush with cash thrown in as well.
The odds on favorites are the Marlins due in large part to the massive Cuban population in Miami. The Marlins have clearly embarked on a mission to make sure their controversial new stadium is full and have already inked Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to free agent contracts. They were in on Albert Pujols until almost the end of the bidding war as well.
The Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, and Nationals are all also said to have more than just casual interest. Cespedes makes sense for each of these teams as well - provided of course that he fulfills the lofty expectations that will be draped upon him. He's expected to command a fairly high price and that may scare off teams like Boston who have made it known they're not likely to add any sort of considerable money to their already sky high payroll this offseason.
In addition there is very real concern about how good he'll be. He's expected to command a contract in the $35-$60 million dollar range. That's not a massive amount but for a guy who doesn't have as much as one triple A at-bat it's high. What if he can't hit major league breaking balls? What if he's not disciplined enough to utilize his prolific athletic ability over a 162 game major league season?
Those are the types of concerns that will eventually thin out the ranks of the teams pursuing him. He's a risk. Someone is going to take that risk and the odds on favorites still seem to be Miami.
Ryan Madson has been the top closer on the market for over a month now.
Papelbon and Bell are long gone. When the free agent signing season started there were only two closers with better resumes than Ryan Madson. Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell. It's been almost a full month since they've both been signed. Well over a month since Papelbon was snatched up.
Since then everyone has known who the top remaining closer on the market was. It was Ryan Madson.
Madson must be starting to feel similar to Aaron Rogers on April 29th of 2005. That was the day of the NFL Draft when Rogers stock inexplicably fell and he eventually landed with the Packers at number 24. Things have worked out well since then but at the time it was a rough day for Rogers.
Will Madson's eventual team get similar great results when they eventually do sign him?
That's a good question. The better question is who will eventually sign him and the teams that still seem to be leading the pack as potential destinations are the Boston Red Sox who lost their closer Jonathan Papelbon to Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Angels who have concerns about second year pitcher Jordan Walden who was very shaky down the stretch in his rookie season 2011.
Madson is said to want a four year deal. If that's the case and there's no getting around it then forget Boston. They weren't going to give Jonathan Papelbon a four year deal and he was the best closer in Red Sox history. They're not giving a four year deal to Madson either.
If Madson comes down to the three year $30 million range then the Sox could be in. Of course that would also bring other teams in as well. The Red Sox seem unlikely to engage in a bidding war for Madson and the Angels seem determined to enter 2012 as the team to beat in the American League West. If Madson really wants to play in Boston then he'll be there but if it's about money and years then expect the Angels to win this one.
Roy Oswalt will bring a veteran presence to whatever rotation he eventually ends up in.
Two off-seasons ago Adrian Beltre was a free agent but he wasn't attracting the type of attention he had hoped for. Five seasons in Seattle the last of which had been spent battling injuries of various types had reduced his value.
Yes everyone knew he could hit for power and that he could win a gold glove at third base but would he ever be that type of player again? There were too many questions for a long term commitment the likes of which Beltre was initially seeking.
So Beltre decided to put it all on the line and sign a one year deal with the Boston Red Sox. He figured that if he played to his abilities in Boston then he'd get plenty of attention and he could sign the big long term deal next year.
It worked out pretty well for Beltre who hit .321 with 28 home runs, 102 runs batted in and a league leading 49 doubles for Boston in 2010. That led him back into free agency last winter and this time the Texas Rangers came calling to the tune of five years and $80 million.
Roy Oswalt is coming off a pretty disappointing year in Philadelphia. Not only did Philadelphia enter the season as favorites to win the World Series and fall short but Oswalt finished 2011 with the highest whip ratio of his 11 year career and the lowest strikeout rate as well.
That's probably partially responsible for the luke warm response to his free agency as well as his public willingness to accept a one year contract from a potential suitor.
Once Oswalt made that announcement there was an increase in interest but as of now no one has signed him.
Who could sign him? Familiar names like Yankees, Red Sox, and a possible return to Philadelphia are all in the mix. American League teams are no doubt going to be concerned with his lack of experience in that league. Detroit with it's spacious ballpark and with Jim Leyland as manager could also emerge as a contender. With a one year deal as an option a team like Atlanta may take a flier on Oswalt as well.
The real question is whether or not last season was a randomly off year for Oswalt or is he starting to show signs of decline do to his age ( 34). That's something that teams will try and determine when they make or don't make him a one year offer.
In spite of a very solid season in Oakland Coco Crisp has yet to draw as much interest as some might have expected.
Coco Crisp is coming off a season in which he played for one of the weakest offensive teams in all of baseball. He played outstanding centerfield, led the entire American League in stolen bases with 49 and accomplished that while only playing in 136 games.
Surely someone will want him?
Crisp will get signed that's for certain. What team and how the deal will be structured is yet to be determined.
Crisp has a spotty medical history. Basically he gets hurt a lot. The 136 games he played in last season were the most since he appeared in 145 games for the Red Sox in 2007. Crisp is also 32 years old now. He's not going to get any better, or any faster as he ages. With that in mind teams are probably very cautious about the length of the deal.
Crisp was on the radar of the St. Louis Cardinals but they signed Carlos Beltran. He is said to be in search of a team that could contend. That would seemingly rule out the Cubs but they've still been linked to him and their new President Theo Epstein acquired Crisp back when he ran the Red Sox.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are probably the most likely team. They could use his speed and his glove. They could contend in the National League West and they don't have the money to drop of the real big ticket free agents. Crisp could fit in well there. The Marlins could conceivably offer him a deal as well.
Edwin Jackson is waiting to land a free agent contract.
Edwin Jackson is waiting for a team. The smart money here says that teams are waiting for his price to come down. It's more about the length of the contract than the money per year. Teams just don't want to invest more than three years in a pitcher who has had plenty of problems with consistency throughout his career.
Both the Yankees and Red Sox who have been for the most part spectators this offseason could eventually emerge as Jackson destinations.
The Red Sox seem more inclined to acquire players via trade than free agency this offseason. The Yankees conversely seem determined to hang on to most of their top prospects and hit the market if they're going to acquire anyone. Of course they'd happily deal A.J. Burnett but oddly enough the phone isn't ringing off the hook with teams looking to get him on their roster.
Jackson could also land in Detroit. Detroit was where Jackson had by far his best season in the majors. Pitching in spacious Comerica and playing for Jim Leyland who seems to be the perfect manager for some pitchers paid off very well. In 2009 with Detroit Jackson was 13-9 with a 3.62 e.r.a. and a career low whip ratio of 1.262.
There are probably quite a few teams interested in Jackson but all of them are waiting until his demands put him in a place where they feel like they can offer him a deal they're comfortable with.
Carlos Pena can hit plenty of home runs but too many strikeouts and a low batting average limit his options.
Carlos Pena has a problem. He strikes out way too much. That's always been a problem for Pena but when you're leading the American League in home runs as he did in 2009 with 39 blasts then the .227 batting average and the 163 strikeouts are just part of the cost of doing business.
When your home runs drop down to a less eye popping 28 and your batting average is still just .225 all of a sudden that low average and high strikeout rate become a bit more of a concern. Add in that Pena is now 33 years old and you can understand why he's still on the open market.
He's not a good enough player for a contending team to bring in with a short term contract and if you were a team in rebuilding mode then why waste money on a player who's clearly past his prime and isn't going to dramatically change the makeup of your team's offense.
The market for Pena is thin and it will continue to be so. Still 28 home runs isn't a bad amount. Pena could always bridge the gap for the Brewers who are going to lose Prince Fielder. He could also be a short term solution in Cleveland or Tampa Bay.
Pena seems destined to get no more than a one or two year deal and if the three teams listed above are indicative of the types of teams that may pursue him then his cost will probably be somewhat reasonable as well.
Hiroki Kuroda has been mentioned in numerous rumors but has yet to sign with anyone.
Hiroki Kuroda was supposed to have been traded last July. After all he was the subject of numerous rumors that had him going to any number of destinations.
None of that really panned out though. Kuroda stayed in Los Angeles and now he could end up anywhere between Boston Massachusetts and HIroshima Japan.
At 36 years old anything more than a one or two year deal is unlikely. Kuroda is said to be seeking as much as $12 or $13 million per season. That seems like a lot of money to spend on a player who has spent his entire big league career pitching in the offensively barren National League West. Especially for the two teams who's names always seem to surface with every free agent available.
The Yankees and Red Sox have been "linked" or "rumored" to be involved with almost every available free agent for the better part of the current century. In spite of all the players the two teams do acquire they can't sign all of them.
For every guy these two teams sign there are ten or twenty that don't sign with them. So in spite of the rumor mill constantly churning out stories in which free agents such as Kuroda are coming to either Boston or New York it's just not true. Not always at least.
Both New York and Boston were low ball bidders in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes and both teams have recently had bad experiences with Japanese Pitchers. For Boston it was ( and still is) the highly publicized Daisuke Matsuzaka. For New York it was the far less hyped but still by no means a bargain Kei Igawa.
Kuroda just doesn't seem like the type of pitcher who will thrive in the pressure cooker that is the American League East. A team like Detroit or even the cross town Los Angeles Angels could come calling though.
Paul Maholm is hoping to capitalize on a solid 2011 season on a decent Pittsburgh team.
Paul Maholm is still out there.
He's a left handed starting pitcher who is under 30 years old.
He was the eighth overall pick in the 2003 MLB Amateur Draft.
He's made 26 or more starts in each of the last six seasons.
Last year in spite of a woeful win-loss record of 6-14 he probably had his best overall year on the mound.
Maholm is experiencing a perfect storm of contributing factors that have led to him not only remaining on the market but also having a free agency nearly devoid of the speculation and rumors that most free agents deal with.
It starts with the win-loss record. That's just the tip of the iceberg though. He's played his whole career in Pittsburgh which isn't exactly a focal point of media attention when it comes to baseball. He's also a guy who doesn't strike batters out. Then add in the amount of attention that guys like Pujols, Reyes, and Fielder generate as well as the Yu Darvish phenomenon and the other free agents still on the market and it's easy to see why Maholm is an afterthought in many people's mind.
Maholm will try and get a three year deal, he's more likely to get a two year deal and it's likely that a team like Colorado could come calling. Don't rule out the Red Sox and Yankees though who may view Maholm as low hanging fruit where perhaps they could find some semblance of a bargain.