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Come and get 'em

Damon, Burnett top list of most intriguing free agents

Posted: Monday October 31, 2005 12:03PM; Updated: Monday October 31, 2005 12:56PM
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A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett has a losing career record but may be the top pitcher on the market.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The champagne still was dripping down Paul Konerko's neck last Wednesday night in Houston when a radio guy from Chicago asked the White Sox first baseman about his impending trip into free agency. The question, specifically, was whether Konerko could envision himself anywhere other than Chicago next season.

"It's hard to," Konerko said on the field at Minute Maid Park after the Sox completed their World Series sweep of the Astros. "But we'll have to see what happens."

We'll all just have to wait to see what shakes out this winter as Konerko and dozens of other free agents hit baseball's never-mild market. Some, like Konerko, are liable to hit the financial mother lode. Some -- Sammy Sosa comes to mind -- will be looking for a paycheck of any kind.

And in between those two, there are millions to be made and millions to be spent and, of course, millions and millions of rumors that are at the heart of baseball's Hot Stove League.

My Top 10 Most Intriguing Free Agents

Johnny Damon, CF, Red Sox
The Red Sox, once they figure out what's going on with GM Theo Epstein, will try to re-sign Damon. The Yankees might make a run at Boston's leadoff man, too, and we might as well count the Angels in as a possible suitor. For a weak-armed center fielder on the wrong side of 30, Damon will be in big demand. With the hard-charging Scott Boras doing his negotiating, Damon will stand to make at least $10 million per.

A.J. Burnett, RHP, Marlins
From mid-July through mid-August, with midseason trade rumors swirling, Burnett won seven straight starts, looking for a while like he might carry the Marlins to the National League's wild card all by himself. But a terrible stretch at the end of the season (0-6 in his last seven starts) did him -- and the Marlins -- in. The question now is how much that finish -- and Burnett's classless reaming of the franchise on his way out -- will hurt his free agency. The guess here is not as much as you might think.

Rafael Furcal, SS, Braves
Furcal started out 2005 terribly, but his second half (.322, .394 on-base percentage), along with the always-hot market for shortstops, has priced him right out of the Braves' plans. The Cubs are the team most often mentioned as Furcal's new home. Don't be surprised to see the strong-armed leadoff man sign a long-term (four-plus years) deal worth more than $11 million per.

Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
The face of the largely faceless Sox, Konerko (with right fielder Jermaine Dye) provided the pop in the lineup, with 40 homers and 100 RBIs in the regular season. He was also the MVP in the American League Championship Series (.286, two homers, seven RBIs in five games against the Angels). Ask manager Ozzie Guillen about leaders on the team, and he points out Konerko. He'll probably stay in Chicago, with a nice raise.

Billy Wagner, LHP, Phillies
A stand-up guy who still throws near 100 mph and who is closing in on 300 career saves, Wagner may yet return to Philly. But a lot of other teams could use his savvy and his talent, if they're willing to pay (Wagner made $9 million in '05). The diminutive lefty is a proven closer who is still among the top five in baseball (a 1.51 ERA last year, only three blown saves, and opponents hit just .165 off him).