Top players who may score in free agency next winter
Posted: Wednesday January 3, 2007 12:17PM; Updated: Thursday January 4, 2007 2:10AM
The hard-throwing Carlos Zambrano has at least 200 strikeouts the last two seasons.
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Unless Jeff Weaver is your idea of a big-time free agent, we're sliding into the New Year plum out of them. Unless, that is, you want to wait around for Roger Clemens to make up his mind about playing. Again.
But it's never too early for next winter. Here's a look at a dozen of the most intriguing players who could hit the free-agent market next winter.
Not counting Clemens, of course.
Carlos Zambrano, SP, Cubs You think Barry Zito struck it rich in that seven-year, $126 million deal with the Giants? OK, you're right. He did. And Zambrano will, too, providing he stays healthy in '07. The big right-hander is almost as durable (four straight seasons of at least 30 starts and 200 innings), a much better power pitcher (fourth in the National League in strikeouts) and -- this is a major point -- three years younger than Zito. The Cubs will try to keep him off the market with some attractive offers to stay, but if he gets to free agency, he could better Zito's record contract in a hurry.
John Smoltz, SP, Braves He'll be 41 at the start of the 2008 season, and there is that concern about his surgically stuck-together elbow. But at some point, we'll have to stick Smoltz in there with Clemens, Greg Maddux and some others and just admit that he can pitch for as long as he damn well pleases. Smoltzie has put in about 230 innings in each of the past two years since returning as a starter, still showing he can dominate with a variety of pitches and one of the most competitive streaks in the game.
Jake Westbrook, SP, Indians Teams are already all over the Indians trying to pry this righty away. The one-time All-Star will be 30 next September, and although some of his numbers look scary -- he allowed a league-high 247 hits last year in 211 1/3 innings -- there's always the promise of the '04 season, when he went 14-9 with a 3.38 ERA. He's not a sure thing. But neither was Gil Meche and he got $55 million from Kansas City.
Doug Davis, SP, Diamondbacks The lanky lefty came to Arizona in a multi-player trade from the Brewers, who had talked to him about a contract extension but couldn't get it done. Davis has established himself as a durable starter over the past three years, though he's only 34-34 in that time. He's a cut fastball-big curve kind of guy, not overpowering and not all that dissimilar to Ted Lilly ($40 million from the Cubs). And that's good for Davis.
Bartolo Colon, SP, Angels The 2007 season should tell it all for Colon. Will he recover from the injury problems that limited him to 10 starts last year? Can he return to his 2005 form, when he won the American League Cy Young award (21-8, 3.48 ERA)? For the five years before '06, he was 88-53 with a 3.85 ERA and twice a 20-game winner. He pulled down four years and $51 million before the 2004 season. In these inflated markets, with a good '07, he could get that again next winter.
Mariano Rivera, RP, Yankees It's hard to think that the best postseason closer in history (0.80 ERA) -- one of the best anytime of the year -- will pitch anywhere but in the Bronx in 2008. But his contract is up after '07, and the Yanks have yet to lock him up. Mo is 37, and he has had elbow problems, but he has said he'll pitch three more years. There are older closers out there who aren't half as effective.