Best position players still available this holiday shopping season
Prince Fielder is the best player left but he will also be extremely expensive
The Rockies may want to take a chance on veterans at both second and third base
Carlos Beltran would be a good fit in St. Louis, which must replace Albert Pujols
There are just five shopping days left until Christmas, and for general managers looking to flesh out their lineups via the free agent market, the list of available options is dwindling. Looking at Ben Reiter's Nov. 2 list of the top 50 free agents, eight of the top 10 and 14 of the top 20 have found homes for 2012. Here, then, is a look at the top player still available at each position and with which team they would fit best. Tomorrow, I'll examine the best pitchers still on the market.
Prince Fielder: The top free agent still on the market, Fielder and his agent, Scott Boras, have found the market for his services lacking. That might have something to do with their expectations of landing a contract comparable to Albert Pujols, who got a 10-year, $254 million deal. Fielder may be four years younger than Pujols, but he's not a comparable player. Fielder's career high bWAR (Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement) was 6.1 in 2009. Pujols has posted a bWAR below 6.1 just twice in 11 seasons.
Best fit: Rangers. They have a ballpark Fielder would thrive in. Their current first-base options (Mitch Moreland and Michael Young) are underwhelming. They have motivation after watching the Angels sign Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and if they do indeed lose the Yu Darvish sweepstakes to the Blue Jays, they'll have the cash, provided Fielder's demands conform to reality.
Aaron Miles or Ryan Theriot: Or both. The fact is, there are no remaining free agent second basemen who are meaningfully above replacement level. Theriot was just non-tendered by the Cardinals, who preferred Skip Schumaker, who is barely above replacement level himself. Theriot is the better fielder and can hit lefties a bit. Miles can switch hit, and while he doesn't have a strong platoon split, he could spell Theriot against the tougher righties.
Best fit: Rockies. They are the only team desperate enough at the position to try it, but only if they think DJ LeMahieu needs a little more time at Triple-A.
Ronny Cedeño. Take the slick-fielding Cedeño over Yuniesky Betancourt, who has a bit of pop in his bat (29 homers over the last two seasons), but no other value. In the past two years, Cedeño has hit .253/.295/.362 (80 OPS+), while Betancourt has hit .255/.279/.393 (81 OPS+). Cedeño's glove breaks that tie in a big way.
Best fit: Giants. The Giants need bats, but there isn't one available at shortstop, so why not bring in an ace defender like Cedeño to shore up the defense behind their fantastic pitching?
Casey Blake or Wilson Betemit. Or both. Blake would be the clear choice here if there weren't major concerns about the 38-year-old's health coming off neck surgery in September. Betemit is a terrible defender and a switch-hitter who can't hit lefties. As at second base, a platoon of these two could work for a desperate team, as the right-handed Blake could serve as Betemit's caddy against lefties and as a late-inning defensive replacement without being overextended physically.
Best fit: Rockies. Unless they plan on putting Michael Cuddyer at third base, the Rockies have a big hole there. Signing Betemit and using Cuddyer to spell him amid other utility duties could be the best solution there, and having Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop could help compensate for the brutal hot corner defense that would result.
Chris Snyder: Jason Varitek can still hit a little, and Ivan Rodriguez is still above average behind the plate, but both will be 40 by mid-April. Snyder is coming off back surgery, and Ramon Castro will be 36 in March and has had more than 200 plate appearances in the majors just once in his 13 big league seasons. Given that lot, I'd roll the dice on Snyder, who will be 31 in February, but not with much confidence.
Best fit: Dodgers. Their current catching situation is a combination of Matt Treanor and A.J. Ellis. They could use even Snyder's limited up-side.
Yoenis Cespedes. The Cuban defector won't become available until January and still has some legal hurdles to clear regarding establishing his residency in the Dominican Republic and getting cleared by Major League Baseball and the United States Office of Foreign Assets. In addition, he has never played a game in an affiliated league, but the 26-year-old is a monster talent, a legitimate centerfielder with speed and big-time power to all fields.
Best fit: Nationals. Assuming Bryce Harper will move to a corner, he and Cespedes could combine to terrorize National League pitching for the remainder of the decade, while inking Cespedes now could give the Nats an excuse to delay Harper's major league debut, which would be beneficial for both arbitration and development reasons.
Carlos Beltran. After two seasons ruined by knee surgery, Beltran made a nice comeback as a rightfielder at age 34 last year (.300/.386/.525 combined between the Mets and Giants). His age and recent injury history should keep his demands down, which also means he could be an appropriately-priced, short-term solution for a contender in need of help in an outfield corner.
Best fit: Cardinals. In the wake of Albert Pujols' departure and Allen Craig's knee surgery, Beltran would be a perfect fit for the defending World Series champions, slotting into rightfield to replace Lance Berkman who is moving to first base, and replacing Pujols' bat in the lineup. When Craig comes back, the Cardinals will have an abundance of outfielders, but Craig can spot at the four corners and second base and should be able to find plenty of playing time behind aging stars Berkman and Beltran, the fragile David Freese and the aforementioned Schumaker.
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