What the top free agents should expect to command
Posted: Thursday November 8, 2007 11:51AM; Updated: Thursday November 8, 2007 11:41PM
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Specifically, after Alex Rodriguez the market features three prime center fielders (Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand), a couple other longtime Yankees stars (Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera), an interesting reliever or two (Francisco Cordero), a few solid though not spectacular starters (Carlos Silva, Livan Hernandez and Kyle Lohse) and a bunch of middling or bit players, plus the usual smattering of aging former stars.
As one baseball executive put it, the list features mostly Scott Boras clients and late bloomers, as teams have made a concerted effort to lock up their most valued commodities. There are several ways to assess the lack of depth and talent of the free-agent class, but perhaps Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said it best: "My reaction to the free-agent market is, I'm glad we're not in it.''
Ah, well, at least we have A-Rod.
Teams are eligible to begin making offers to outside free agents on Tuesday. Without further ado, here's a list of the top free agents and how much each player should expect to command in one of the weaker markets in years:
1. Alex Rodriguez. It's a perfect storm for A-Rod, with the one imperfection being the absence of the Yankees in what promises to be a record contract. Here's what should help him: A career year. A weak market. Several big-market teams in need of a third baseman. The Angels look like they may lead the pack, with the Dodgers, Mets and Red Sox in pursuit. The greats usually get 30 percent more than you'd guess, so I'm moving it up from my late-season prediction of $256 million for eight years.
2. Torii Hunter. Superb season was timed perfectly for one of baseball's best people. The Twins tried $45 million for three years. He may double that.
3. Andruw Jones. Four hundred putouts dispute the notion that he's lost a half step. But his season with the stick didn't become him. Cost himself tens of million with his awful performance at the plate (26 homers -- his lowest total since 1999 -- and a career-low .222 batting average).
4. Aaron Rowand. Great chemistry guy plays with reckless abandon, maybe almost too reckless sometimes. Coming off a career year (.309, 27, 89).
5. Jorge Posada. Has the Yankees where he wants them. They're offering three years but have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he'd jump to the Mets.
6. Mike Lowell. Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who's in the third base-market after A-Rod opted out, opined, "I personally believe the player's preference is to stay in Boston first and foremost.'' Lowell and the Red Sox still may be at odds over the years, though, with Boston offering three and Lowell looking for four.
7. Francisco Cordero. Big year in Brew City (44 saves, 86 K's in 63 1/3 innings). Nice acquisition for Doug Melvin, but it'll be tough to keep him.
8. Mariano Rivera. No response to the Yankees' three-year, $39 million offer. He'll make 'em sweat it out, but eventually he should come back.
9. Carlos Silva. May be the best free-agent starter out there. Came on at the end of last season (7-4 in the second half), and should cash in. Word is, the Twins tried $20 million for three years. With roughly 20 teams interested, he'll do much better than that.
10. Kyle Lohse. Always willing to take the ball. It's what happens afterward that can be troublesome (9-12, 4.62 ERA with the Reds and Phillies last year).
11. Livan Hernandez. Innings eater, competitor, excellent fielder and fine hitter.
12. Mike Cameron. The 25-game suspension won't deter everyone.
13. Barry Bonds. Everyone thinks he'll get a job, but no one admits they'll hire him. Still, that 1.000-plus OPS is nothing to sneeze at.
14. Paul Lo Duca. Mets only want him as a last resort.
15. Tom Glavine. Braves, Nats and Astros have checked in. But of course he'll choose to stay home in Atlanta.
16. Kerry Wood. Resurrected career and showed enough flashes to get a multiyear deal. Likely to remain a Cub.
17. Yorvit Torrealba. Fine game-caller and defender, but weak arm and suspect bat (despite playoff heroics). Rockies want him back but Mets also need a catcher.
18. Luis Castillo. Useful player leads weak second-base market.
19. Kaz Matsui. Playoff hero isn't the same guy who flopped in New York.
20. Eric Gagne. Determined to find a closer's job after bombing as Boston's set-up man. Before that he was brilliant as Texas closer (2.16 ERA, 16 saves).
21. Todd Jones. Better than folks think. Without overpowering stuff he has 115 saves over the last three years.
The rest of the field: Cliff Floyd, Kenny Lofton, David Wells, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa. These former stars will be hard-pressed to exceed $5 million for one year, if that.