Resetting the market: The Top 20 remaining free agents
This year's free-agent crop is strong, but most of those players remain unsigned
Jon Garland, Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez are the best starting pitchers left
This star-studded free-agent market is reminiscent of Bengie Molina on the base paths. That is to say, it's not moving too swift. Despite one of the best groups of free agents in years, a vast majority of those available players remain unsigned into the new year.
The reason for that is obvious: It's the economy, stupid.
Yet it's still too early to tell how badly free agents will be hurt in the pocket books. Sure, most of them have had to wait. But some of those who did sign already scored big. CC Sabathia ($161 million, seven years), Mark Teixeira ($180 million, eight years) and A.J. Burnett ($82.5 million, five years) hit jackpots. But so did much lesser lights Edgar Renteria ($18.5 million, two years) and Willy Taveras (a two-year deal for $6.25 million plus incentives).
The relief market has been a total bust so far, though, with record-breaking closer Francisco Rodriguez ($37 million, three years) and Brian Fuentes ($17.5 million, two years) getting contracts for about half what they sought.
Meanwhile, a vast majority of players are still seeking employment. Predictions about what they may get varies. The economy is dreadful, but baseball is doing better than most industries, and most revenues are already locked in.
There's plenty of talent still out there, and here are some of the best of it. Here are the best free agents ranging from the excellent to the simply worthwhile who remain unsigned (top 16 listed by alphabetical order).
Bobby Abreu, OF. He's a better player than folks seem to be giving him credit for. Sure, he won't run into walls; but hey, the cautious approach keeps him healthy. Abreu, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are the only three players with at least 100 RBIs in each of the past six years. Looks like he may be California Dreamin', with the A's, Angels and Dodgers all possibilities, plus Tampa Bay.
Milton Bradley, OF/DH. He thrived in Texas last year and it would have been nice to see him return. But apparently he's on to greener pastures. The Cubs look primed for a big run at Bradley, who would fill their need for both offense and defense in right field (assuming he can stay healthy). Abreu wouldn't be bad for the Cubs, either, but they appear focused for now on Bradley, who led the AL in on-base percentage (.436) and OPS (.999). The Rays also have interest. (UPDATE: The Cubs reached agreement with Bradley on a three-year, $30 million deal on Monday.)
Pat Burrell, OF/DH. Pretty well limited to the AL by a declining ability to play the field. His bad second half seems to be hurting him, too, but let's not forget that he hit on the road, too, not just at Citizen's Bank Jokeyard. (UPDATE: Burrell reached a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Ray's on Monday.)
Orlando Cabrera, SS. Someone recently posed this question to me: What's the difference between Cabrera and Edgar Renteria? The answer, besides the $18.5 million miraculously given to Renteria, is that Cabrera currently is the better player. And it's not close. The A's, Royals, Jays, Twins and Padres look like they could use a shortstop.
Joe Crede, 3B. The Giants looked at his medicals and appear to be the most likely landing spot. When he's healthy, he can play defense and has very good power.
Adam Dunn, OF. The Nationals, with Dunn's old employer, Jim Bowden, currently their GM, look like a prime possibility. They badly want a left-handed power hitter and have plenty of money left after failing to sign Teixeira. Dunn has also been mentioned as a fallback option if the Dodgers can't bring back Manny Ramirez.
Jon Garland, SP. His career hasn't been that dissimilar to those of Burnett, Derek Lowe and other sought-after free agents. But a weak 2008 season (despite the usual 14 victories), has him in a much different (read as lower) place. The Mets, Dodgers, Orioles and White Sox have been mentioned as possibilities.
Jason Giambi, DH/1B. The A's and Rays have some interest in the slugger/fun lover. But he's not going to get his three-year deal.
Orlando Hudson, 2B. Even a superb all-around talent like Hudson may be hurt in this market. Both New York teams have interest but it'll take a trade to open a spot for him at second base with either. The Nats are another possibility.
Derek Lowe, SP. That $36 million, three-year offer by the Mets isn't going to get it done. The Red Sox, Braves and Phillies could be threats here.
Oliver Perez, SP. The Mets also want to keep Perez to three years but probably will need to go to a fourth year to have a realistic shot. The Brewers and Reds are among several that have been mentioned.
Andy Pettitte, SP. The $10 million Yankee offer might need carbon dating pretty soon. Pettitte's people were telling folks at one time that he had a three-year deal elsewhere. He's hurt that they never moved from their first offer, not even an inch. Even so, by now he should make the call, one way or the other.
Manny Ramirez, OF. The Dodgers remain the favorite to keep Ramirez, but the rival Giants loom as a major threat. L.A. wants to keep it to two years but eventually gave in on a third year for Rafael Furcal, and will probably have to do the same with the man who saved the franchise last season. All along, San Francisco has said it might take a stab at one of the "big three'' (and the other two, Sabathia and Teixeira, are gone already), so it stands to reason that they're in for Ramirez, the perfect antidote for their moribund offense. The Angels say they're out, but he'll still be tempting for them as well. Then there's always that so-called mystery team to contend with.
Ben Sheets, SP. He's not getting the proper respect. His career is better than Burnett's, yet teams still seem to be focusing on his rough finish. Texas looks like it might be the best chance right now.
Jason Varitek, C. Through all the travails of his negotiations with the Red Sox, it makes too much sense for Varitek to stay in Boston. He's their leader, and they can carry his stick.
Randy Wolf, SP. Solid pro could wind up with Mets, Dodgers or someone else.
And four more I like...
Garret Anderson, OF. He can still hit. Even in a down year, he had some very big days.
Cliff Floyd, DH. Great in the clubhouse and still dangerous at bat if he's healthy.
Freddy Garcia, SP. He's had a couple minor setbacks, but if fit he's clutch. A winner.
Tim Redding, SP. The Mets, Orioles and Rockies are among those looking at Redding, who won 10 games for the Nats, which if you think about it, isn't such a small accomplishment.