MLB Free Agency: Predicting Contracts and Destinations for the Top 50 FAs

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst INovember 4, 2011

MLB Free Agency: Predicting Contracts and Destinations for the Top 50 FAs

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    Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols will combine to pull down some $400 million this winter as they both become free agents, with rich teams like the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers much in need of their services.

    Beyond those two, however, it's an open question: Who else can command a nine-figure deal? Who will be underrated and will go to some small-market team for a below-market rate?

    The pitching side of this free-agent class is tissue-thin, so Mark Buehrle and a handful of relievers will get overpaid a bit.

    Meanwhile, the drop-off is substantial from Fielder, Pujols and Jose Reyes to the rest of the available position players, but the depth the market offers will make Clint Barmes, Ryan Doumit and Casey Blake (among others) undervalued commodities.

    Here are predictions for the top 50 available free agents. Listed in bold will be their projected destination and the specifics of the contract they will receive.

50. Jorge Posada

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    Projected Sucker (Erm, Suitor): Baltimore Orioles

    Projected Deal: One year, $4.4 million

    Jorge Posada has no role left with the Yankees. After a season of below-average offensive output as a platoon-vulnerable DH, he should have no role anywhere.

    He is 40 years old, well past his utility, but has enough name recognition to make one last lap around the American League if he so chooses. I say he will sign on with Baltimore in an effort to stick it to Joe Girardi's Yankees.

49. Joel Pineiro

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    Projected Suitor: Washington Nationals

    Projected Deal: One year, $3.3 million

    Joel Pineiro did the wise thing when he arrived in St. Louis in 2007 with his career on the line: He made himself clay in Dave Duncan's hands.

    The Cards' sinker Svengali showed Pineiro the way of the ground ball, a discipline Pineiro only thought he already practiced.

    In 2009, Pineiro broke out. Under Duncan's eye, he got ground balls on over 60 percent of all pitches with which opponents made contact. He walked scarcely 3.1 percent of the batters he faced. As a result, he also won 15 games and logged a 3.49 ERA in 214 innings.

    That convinced the Angels to give him a two-year, $16 million contract, at which point he promptly stopped being an elite ground-ball pitcher and completely ceased to miss bats.

    In 2011, he struck out fewer than one of every 10 opposing hitters, which led to 182 hits and a 5.13 ERA in 145.2 innings.

    The Nationals will snag Pineiro off the market, where he might well be mostly unwanted, but because he is so malleable, Washington might end up relishing the decision to take the risk.

48. Bruce Chen

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    Projected Suitor: Kansas City Royals

    Projected Deal: Two years, $7 million

    Fly-ball tendencies and the inability to miss bats are a bad blend in a lot of situations, but it worked like a charm for Bruce Chen in 2011. It worked partially due to luck—his stuff still stinks—but also in part because he pitched in a very spacious park and in front of a very talented trio of defensive outfielders.

47. Kosuke Fukudome

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    Projected Suitor: Oakland Athletics

    Projected Deal: One year, $4.9 million

    Kosuke Fukudome is a grossly underrated talent. He is a fine defensive player. He reaches base at a .360-plus clip. Too many put too much pressure on Fukudome to tap his power potential during his tenure with the Chicago Cubs.

    If ever an organization could recognize an OBP-skilled, defensive-minded outfielder undervalued by the market, it's Oakland.

46. Laynce Nix

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    Projected Suitor: Washington Nationals

    Projected Deal: One year, $1.4 million

    Last season was a step backward for Laynce Nix. A strong 2010 (in just 182 plate appearances) earned him more playing time in 2011 than he had seen in the big leagues since 2004.

    The result was a .299 OBP backed up only modestly by solid-average power. Nix's defense is nothing special. His legs are nothing special. He will fit well on the Nationals next season, but in a fourth or fifth outfielder role.

45. Brad Penny

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    Projected Suitor: Arizona Diamondbacks

    Projected Deal: One year, $2.1 million

    Secondary skills permanently escaped Brad Penny years ago, but the man still throws pretty hard and can eat innings. That has value in a few places, not least Arizona.

    The Diamondbacks have Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson in place but figure to trade or non-tender Joe Saunders, and Penny could be a cheaper version of Saunders. In that role, he could provide critical protection from the temptation to rush Trevor Bauer and/or Jarrod Parker to the parent club in 2012.

44. Alex Gonzalez

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    Projected Suitor: Cleveland Indians

    Projected Deal: One year, $2.2 million

    Flashy plays and Web Gem counters aside, incumbent Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is not a good defender. That's a big problem, because by exercising an option on Fausto Carmona and trading for Derek Lowe, the Indians assured themselves of having the most grounder-crazy starting rotation in baseball for at least the second year in a row.

    Alex Gonzalez need not replace Cabrera; he can simply bump the slugging switch-hitter to second base. That could save the Indians 25 runs next season. If Gonzalez will hurt them with his pop-infused but poor bat (he will), then that's the cost of doing business.

43. Johnny Damon

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    Projected Suitor: Tampa Bay Rays

    Projected Deal: One year, $5 million

    Johnny Damon might need to take a small pay cut in order to avoid playing the 2012 season for his fourth team in as many years. He has every reason, though, not to upset the apple cart.

    Damon still has a very real chance of reaching 3,000 hits, and the Rays have to have treasured the clutch hits he came up with and the way he melded into the clubhouse culture there.

42. Rafael Furcal

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    Projected Suitor: St. Louis Cardinals

    Projected Deal: Two years, $8.2 million

    Unless the Cardinals are comfortable calling back Ryan Theriot for another go-around at shortstop, they figure to try to retain Rafael Furcal.

    It'll take a multi-year deal to do it, but given the blend of injuries, diminishing range and growing offensive ineptitude that have beset Furcal of late, it should not mean huge money.

41. Darren Oliver

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    Projected Suitor: Texas Rangers

    Projected Deal: One year, $2.65 million

    Free-agent migrations are just like migrations of any other kind: They will not happen without both push and pull factors, sending the migrant to a new home.

    Assuming the front office does not blame Darren Oliver for his having been in at stupid times in the World Series because Ron Washington is stupid, though, there should not be severe push factors in play here. That Oliver is a Type A free agent pretty well takes care of potential pull factors. No team wants to give up a draft pick just to get a middle reliever.

    Look for Texas to get Oliver back at a reasonable rate.

40. Ramon Santiago

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    Projected Suitor: New York Mets

    Projected Deal: Two years, $8.3 million

    If you're going to lose a Jose Reyes, do it this winter.

    The Mets have some fine options to replace their superstar shortstop, the most feasible of which is the glove-first Ramon Santiago. This would be the first time Santiago ever got a full-time job and some organizational trust.

39. Octavio Dotel

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    Projected Suitor: Milwaukee Brewers

    Projected Deal: One year, $4 million

    Octavio Dotel's resurgence (if one can call it that) stemmed basically from being utilized the way he always ought to have been but never had been before. He is a righty specialist, really, a force to be reckoned with until someone steps into the other side of the batter's box.

    The Brewers can solidify their bullpen and fortify against the potential losses of Francisco Rodriguez and LaTroy Hawkins with this move.

38. Aaron Hill

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    Projected Suitor: St. Louis Cardinals

    Projected Deal: One year, $4 million

    With the end of the Tony La Russa era, one might hope, can come the end of the Cardinals' perpetual reliance upon middle infielders without discernible value. Aaron Hill is a good hitter when he finds his stroke and an average fielder at second base, and the Cards will be thankful they paired him with Furcal.

37. Mark Ellis

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    Projected Suitor: Colorado Rockies

    Projected Deal: Two years, $9.2 million

    Mark Ellis is a fair-to-middling batter, a solid on-base guy but largely powerless at the plate. What he brings to the table is much more defined by his glove, which has been the most consistent and one of the best overall at second base for the better part of a decade.

    Colorado traded for him this season and will hold on tight after he had an encouraging audition with the Rockies.

36. Derrek Lee

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    Projected Suitor: Pittsburgh Pirates

    Projected Deal: One year, $6.5 million

    Derrek Lee fit like a glove after the Pirates dealt for him last season. Though their quixotic run at the NL Central title fell embarrassingly short, Lee was sensational both on the field and in their clubhouse.

    Pittsburgh is an organization that makes many decisions on that basis, and Lee is a man who succumbs easily to inertia. He will be back.

35. Grady Sizemore

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    Projected Suitor: Boston Red Sox

    Projected Deal: One year, $5.5 million

    This is the Mike Cameron/Andruw Jones/Eric Chavez corollary. Just when a star player's skills seem to have faded entirely, and when his health is most in question, the Red Sox and Yankees (being very well able to absorb whatever risk financially) will take a chance on that guy and get a stunningly successful 200-plus plate appearances out of him.

    It's happened before, and it's going to happen again.

34. Aaron Harang

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    Projected Suitor: Pittsburgh Pirates

    Projected Deal: Two years, $9.75 million

    Aaron Harang rehabilitated his career a bit with a season by the sea in San Diego, but then again, everyone succeeds when they pitch in San Diego.

    Harang still has some skills, and they will translate nicely to any of baseball's weaker divisions. The Pirates play in one of those and have some strong motivation to pursue pitching this winter.

33. Jim Thome

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    Projected Suitor: Cleveland Indians

    Projected Deal: One year, $2.25 million

    Jim Thome still has interest, and he still has value. A few teams will call with various roles to offer, but to beat the Indians (close enough to home, and his first organization), someone might have to put a full-time gig on the table.

    That's if Thome even wants to do such a thing anymore.

32. Bartolo Colon

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    Projected Suitor: San Diego Padres

    Projected Deal: One year, $2 million

    Bartolo Colon salvaged his career a bit with the Yankees last season, but his stuff remains unexceptional, and he is getting really old.

    The Padres can get him cheaply, use him for about 150 innings of what would be very effective ball in that park and then either trade him or simply allow some team to overpay for his services in 2013.

31. Ramon Hernandez

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    Projected Suitor: Miami Marlins

    Projected Deal: Two years, $7.25 million

    Looking to spend some money and fill their new park next season, the Marlins approach this winter with the idea that no hole need go unfilled.

    They have a definite hole at catcher, even with John Buck signed for one more season, and they could fill it best by nabbing the underrated Ramon Hernandez. He's a good defensive catcher, has pop and (unlike Buck) should post an OBP above .330 every year.

30. Ryan Doumit

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    Projected Suitor: Seattle Mariners

    Projected Deal: Two years, $9.6 million

    The fact that Ryan Doumit is not a hot commodity shows just how low executives' opinions of his health and his viability behind the plate must be, because normally a catcher who bats from either side of the plate and has his secondary skills would have GMs tripping over themselves.

    He will find the right home in Seattle, where their catching situation is a total nightmare.

29. David DeJesus

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    Projected Suitor: Milwaukee Brewers

    Projected Deal: Two years, $14 million

    David DeJesus has been underrated for years and now hits the open market ready to be vindicated. He should be able to find a full-time role.

    As a left-handed bat, he would be a big asset to the Brewers. He could also step in and immediately become their everyday starter at any outfield spot, depending on whether the team decides to move Ryan Braun or Corey Hart to first base in Prince Fielder's absence.

28. Paul Maholm

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    Projected Suitor: Kansas City Royals

    Projected Deal: Two years, $10.25 million

    If Paul Maholm seems an uninspired addition, remember that Chen did too a year ago. With a terrific defense behind him, the contact- and ground-ball-oriented Maholm could actually be one of the huge underrated assets on the market this winter.

    Of course, Dayton Moore will overpay him, which partially negates the benefit thereof.

27. Andruw Jones

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    Projected Suitor: New York Yankees

    Projected Deal: One year, $3 million

    Andruw Jones' days of roaming center field respectably are long gone, but the Yankees have two center fielders on the roster anyway. His days of consistently hitting right-handed pitching are gone, but the two outfielders with whom he has and would continue to rotate bat left-handed anyway.

    Jones is still a useful player, and the Yankees still have more use for him than any other club.

26. Freddy Garcia

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    Projected Suitor: New York Yankees

    Projected Deal: One year, $7 million

    Whereas last winter the Yankees nabbed Freddy Garcia off the scrap heap, this offseason finds him just this side of a solid resurgence. Garcia will re-sign with the Yanks, but first he would be wise to milk his free agency for roughly double his 2011 salary.

25. Francisco Rodriguez

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    Projected Suitor: Seattle Mariners

    Projected Deal: Three years, $17 million

    After David Aardsma selected free agency, the Mariners have Brandon League and little else in their bullpen.

    Bringing in Francisco Rodriguez would ensure that, if by some chance Danny Hultzen is ready by spring and the offense coagulates to reach its potential ahead of schedule, Seattle has a bullpen in place that can support that success.

24. Jason Kubel

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    Projected Suitor: Minnesota Twins

    Projected Deal: Two years, $15.5 million

    Jason Kubel made $5.25 million in 2011, and that was on a club option.

    On the open market, he will attract some serious attention. Any left-handed hitter with plus power does.

    That might drive up the price, but the Twins love Kubel, and it's hard to see the parties parting ways.

23. Ryan Madson

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    Projected Suitor: Philadelphia Phillies

    Projected Deal: Three years, $28 million

    Ryan Madson is a Boras client, so if I'm wrong about the money, I'm low.

    But in a free-agent pool riddled with mixed and inconsistent track records, Madson's is one that stands out. He has all kinds of valuable skills, and the Phillies are not letting him get away.

    The only question is to what extent the open market will allow Madson and Boras to squeeze GM Ruben Amaro.

22. Kelly Johnson

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    Projected Suitor: Toronto Blue Jays

    Projected Deal: Two years, $14.5 million

    A rough 2011 hurt Kelly Johnson's free-agent value, but the skills (power, on-base ability, a modicum of speed and average defense up the middle) are still extraordinarily valuable.

    The Blue Jays dealt for him midseason with the dual notions of either re-signing him or accepting draft-pick compensation when he left. The market seems to be pushing the two sides back together, so Alex Anthopoulos will run with the first of those scenarios.

21. Carlos Pena

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    Projected Suitor: Cleveland Indians

    Projected Deal: Two years, $24 million

    The Indians don't dive into free agency often. They demonstrated their wariness of the system by trading for Derek Lowe this week.

    Still, they need to beef up at first base in order to have the offensive punch necessary to take advantage of their window to win. Carlos Pena is a great fielder, a big power hitter and an excellent clubhouse presence, all of which are especially important to this Tribe squad.

20. Michael Cuddyer

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    Projected Suitor: Colorado Rockies

    Projected Deal: Three years, $30 million

    The Rockies' mandate is to always find quality people first and quality players second. It's a bit ignorant, narrow-minded and counterproductive, especially because they do not broadly define the term "quality people." It also leads them to some great players, though, and allows them to pitch people like Michael Cuddyer really well.

    They will overpay for him, but Cuddyer will be an asset in Coors Field.

19. Clint Barmes

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    Projected Suitor: Milwaukee Brewers

    Projected Deal: Two years, $16.5 million

    This will be the steal of the winter.

    Whether the Brewers or some other team nabs Clint Barmes, it will be getting a solid defensive shortstop with a modicum of power and an acceptable (not great, but acceptable) on-base percentage every year. Barmes is a hidden diamond in a zircon market.

18. Hisashi Iwakuma

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    Projected Suitor: Minnesota Twins

    Projected Deal: Three years, $16 million

    Last winter, Hisashi Iwakuma got posted by his Japanese team but failed to agree to terms with the A's. He has wished he had every moment since.

    Iwakuma got hurt to start the 2011 season, and when he returned to action, his velocity had gone AWOL. He will still find a big-league club willing to gamble (the Twins make sense because of their collapsing rotation), but the money is going to be substantially lower than even the low-ball offer he considered that Oakland gave him last year.

17. Heath Bell

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    Projected Suitor: San Diego Padres

    Projected Deal: Two years, $22 million

    Heath Bell loves the Padres and wants to stay put. After the team elected to deal Mike Adams instead of Bell in July, that seems more feasible than ever.

    In fact, fearing that the thickly built closer might accept an offer of arbitration, the Padres might just give him a bit of extra security (and extra money) to sign him quickly.

16. Coco Crisp

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    Projected Suitor: Colorado Rockies

    Projected Deal: Two years, $19 million

    The Rockies need to reload a bit, and sometimes the best way to do so is to simply turn things over a bit. Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith could be trade fodder, and if they are, the outfield picture in Colorado gets murky in a hurry after Carlos Gonzalez. Coco Crisp's speed would serve him very well in the spacious center field at Coors Field.

15. Mark Buehrle

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    Projected Suitor: Chicago White Sox

    Projected Deal: Two years, $26 million

    Mark Buehrle could probably get more on the open market, but given the general notion that he won't be getting too long of a contract, staying put seems the most likely scenario for Buehrle. The White Sox, meanwhile, are nearly broke.

14. Jonathan Papelbon

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    Projected Suitor: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

    Projected Deal: Three years, $35 million

    Jordan Walden notwithstanding, the Angels bullpen was as much a liability last year as it has been at any point in the Mike Scioscia era.

    If they can but fix that and be a bit more judicious about benching Vernon Wells and playing Mike Trout more often, they are contenders again in 2012.

    Jonathan Papelbon helps shore up that unit, and Walden becomes a terrific setup man.

13. Josh Willingham

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    Projected Suitor: Cincinnati Reds

    Projected Deal: Three years, $30 million

    Once upon a time, the Reds made decisions the same way the Rockies do today. That led them down a wayward path, so nowadays, they evaluate players like commodities.

    As such, they will be the ones who gobble up the sensational right-handed power of Josh Willingham, at a better value than the deal the Rockies give Cuddyer.

12. Hiroki Kuroda

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    Projected Suitor: Los Angeles Dodgers

    Projected Deal: One year, $14 million

    Hiroki Kuroda does not want to go anywhere else. His mistake was saying so to Ned Colletti, who happily leaked it.

    The Dodgers now have all the leverage in this situation, and that should keep this to a one-year commitment.

11. Edwin Jackson

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    Projected Suitor: Texas Rangers

    Projected Deal: Three years, $32 million

    Quietly, Edwin Jackson has become a very good ground-ball pitcher the last few years, which makes him somewhat Rangers Ballpark-proof. That, coupled with his great velocity and power slider, makes him arguably the best right-handed pitcher available.

    The Rangers will recognize the fit and sign him in the hopes that brilliant pitching coach Mike Maddux can unlock the superstar potential there.

10. Aramis Ramirez

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    Projected Suitor: Miami Marlins

    Projected Deal: Three years, $38 million

    Statuesque defense notwithstanding, Aramis Ramirez is an underrated slugger.

    He is a lock for 25 homers and an .850 OPS when healthy, and though his glove work at third base is good only within eight feet (it sometimes feels like eight inches) of the foul line, Ramirez would fill a hole for a Marlins team that intends to be aggressive.

9. David Ortiz

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    Projected Suitor: Toronto Blue Jays

    Projected Deal: Two years, $31 million

    David Ortiz's big bounce-back is complete, and just in time for a new deal.

    He sounded frustrated by the Red Sox in his most recent public comments, and the Blue Jays seem certain to at least make him a sturdy offer. At this point, he might take it very quickly.

8. Jimmy Rollins

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    Projected Suitor: Philadelphia Phillies

    Projected Deal: Four years, $44 million

    The market beckons, and it will help Jimmy Rollins secure what he deserved better a few years ago—his first eight-figure annual payday.

    He is not the dynamic star batter and runner he once was, but he does enough to be average or better with the bat, and his glove is still a tremendous asset at shortstop.

7. Roy Oswalt

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    Projected Suitor: Boston Red Sox

    Projected Deal: Two years, $28 million

    Now that he isn't retiring, Roy Oswalt fits about anywhere.

    It may be that he prefers not to play in the AL East, but assuming he has no such compunction, it would be a shock to see a team other than the Red Sox or Yankees win the bidding for Oswalt's services.

6. Carlos Beltran

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    Projected Suitor: Atlanta Braves

    Projected Deal: Three years, $46 million

    Carlos Beltran has power. He plays solid defense in corner spots. He has experience and knows what it is to play for a winner.

    Those are qualities the Braves treasure this winter. They need a jolt of offensive thump, it would be great if it came from the outfield and they are working hard to clear payroll in order to make such an acquisition.

    This one feels inevitable. It's that perfect.

5. C.J. Wilson

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    Projected Suitor: Washington Nationals

    Projected Deal: Four years, $54 million

    Money still falling out of his pockets after a terrible postseason, C.J. Wilson makes his way into free agency almost in shame.

    Still, the Nationals lead a group of five or six teams that will bid him into a solid deal. With Wilson added to a rotation that will feature Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals could become a third NL East powerhouse next year.

4. Yu Darvish

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    Projected Suitor: New York Yankees

    Projected Deal: $39 million to post; five years, $76 million

    Yu Darvish is the highest-upside pitcher available, a young man with electric stuff and a more American delivery that American pitching coaches will be able to work with much better than they could with many of his forebears.

    As importantly, Darvish has an American approach to pitching. Unlike virtually all other Japanese hurlers who have made their way stateside, Darvish is unafraid to work inside.

    He'll cost a pretty penny, but what good is being rich if you never throw your money around?

3. Jose Reyes

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    Projected Suitor: San Francisco Giants

    Projected Deal: Six years, $114 million

    If this doesn't happen, why is Brian Sabean GM in San Francisco?

    He does not run effective player-development operations, and he does not consider the long term when making key decisions. He is an aggressive, win-now executive, and Jose Reyes rapidly fills three gaping holes in the Giants' playoff hopes.

    This should be a no-brainer, even if it means trading one of Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum to make payroll space.

2. Prince Fielder

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    Projected Suitor: Chicago Cubs

    Projected Deal: Seven years, $175 million

    Theo Epstein is too smart to lock into a long-term pact with Albert Pujols, but too competitive to not claim an elite talent on the rare occasion that such a player hits the free market. There are basically two teams competing seriously for Prince Fielder's services this winter, and the other might well land Albert Pujols.

    Fielder is a better value, though Pujols is a better player.

1. Albert Pujols

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    Projected Suitor: Texas Rangers

    Projected Deal: Eight years, $220 million

    Albert Pujols has dedicated a statue outside his St. Louis restaurant. He has won his second World Series title, an achievement wrought by several organizational decisions to make that happen urgently.

    It seems as though the Cardinals themselves don't really want to spend astronomically to keep Pujols. It seems like the choices to play him at third base for an extra win during a rough stretch, and to allow him to rush himself back from a wrist injury, were signals from the front office that they needed to win in 2011, lest they never have the band all together again.

    Meanwhile, the Rangers lost the World Series perhaps most because of poor first-base defense. That's a fluke and a shock, but it still might nibble at the back of Jon Daniels' frontal lobe as he sits down to make decisions this winter.

    With Pujols, the Rangers would have arguably the greatest infield ever assembled going into 2012.


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