Projections for Pujols, Fielder, Reyes and the top 65 free-agents
Jonathan Papelbon is the only star to change teams so far this offseason
Albert Pujols is expected to join Alex Rodriguez in the exclusive $200 million club
The market is heavy with closers, including Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Joe Nathan
The winter spending season is off to a fast start if you're a middle-rung middle infielder. Clint Barmes, Willie Bloomquist, Mark Ellis, Jamey Carroll and John McDonald, who combined to hit 25 home runs last year, have deals for $33 million in total. Not bad for five guys who are no better than solid starters or backups.
Good for them. But many others are still waiting. The big deal so far is the $50 million over four years that closer Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies. But there are more monster deals are to come. Here's what to expect (with my own projections):
1. Albert Pujols. One of the greatest players of all-time entered the offseason with a contract offer from the Cardinals of about $200 million for nine years, and he's trying to beat that now. The Marlins made him an offer, and some said it was for nine years, too, but indications are strong that it was for far less than the Cardinals' original bid and Miami's real target is believed to be Jose Reyes. Word seems to be St. Louis won't go much higher, which could mean it dresses the offer up a bit to make it look better so he can stay and save face (eight years, $200 million?). Pujols and his agent, Dan Lozano, could wait for the best deal to materialize, but people who know Pujols say he'd prefer to remain in St. Louis if things are equal, or anywhere close. Projection: $220 million, nine years.
2. Prince Fielder. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio met with agent Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, in Milwaukee but nearly everyone believes the Brewers remain a long shot to retain their cleanup hitter. Fielder offered to stay for eight years and $176 million a couple years ago. But the target surely has climbed since then. The asking price is believed to be $200 million for eight years, which would give him the same annual salary as Phillies' slugging first baseman Ryan Howard. The Nationals, Mariners, Rangers, Orioles and Cubs are viewed as among the possibilities for Fielder. Projection: $195 million, eight years.
3. Jose Reyes. He has at least one offer, from the Marlins though it's been described as a "preliminary'' type bid. Sources suggest it is somewhat less than the $90 million, six-year offer it was reported to be, perhaps closer to $75 million. In either case, it is seen as a "safe'' opening salvo since it's not near the $100 million-plus Reyes is hoping to get. The Marlins are still viewed as the favorite since they seem to have him at the top of their very long list and are clearly trying hard. He would match Carl Crawford's $142-million deal except for an injury history that makes six years seem like a more realistic goal (also the Crawford deal looks like a disaster so far). The Tigers and Brewers have some interest, and the Mets have asked Reyes to come back to them for a counter once he's done shopping. Projection: $120 million, six years.
4. C.J. Wilson. His agent, Bob Garber, seems to be enjoying his moment in the spotlight as much as Wilson. They are off on a tour that will net Wilson beaucoup bucks, though not nearly as much as they seek. Word was, they were looking for close to $120 million over six years, which is obviously absurd. But in a way, he can't be blamed. Wilson is considered by most the best pitcher on the market with MLB experience if age is factored in. The Angels and Yankees are two possibilities, though New York hasn't signed off on a visit yet. The Rangers are believed only pretending to be interested at that level . Projection: $80 million, five years.
5. Yu Darvish. The Japanese star hasn't committed to posting yet, and if he doesn't it will be a real disappointment to his current team -- not to mention all the MLB clubs clamoring for his services. The Rangers, Blue Jays and Yankees are among those mentioned as possibilities, though the Yankees are believed to be gun-shy after a couple bad experiences with Japanese League pitchers. Darvish has terrific stuff, but he doesn't seem anxious to come. Posting: $40 million; Contract: $60 million, five years.
6. Mark Buehrle. A very consistent, tough and athletic performer for the White Sox who's seen by some executives as preferring to stay in the Midwest. However, his best opportunities may be elsewhere (and his agent, Jeff Berry, has been quoted as saying he is willing to consider all situations). Besides, the White Sox feel like they are giving up on this one already, Buehrle's hometown Cardinals don't really need a starter and the Cubs don't look ready to win in the next few years. The Marlins are in, and the Yankees and Nationals are two more expected to be. In a decidedly weak starting pitching market, he could get a year or two more than most figured. Projection: $56 million, four years.
7. Jimmy Rollins. Everyone figures the Phillies won't let him go anywhere, and they may overpay to do it. They love his leadership and defense, and they usually do what it takes to win. He seeks five years, and he can't be blamed for wanting to make up for his under-market deal last time. Many think he'll only get three. But Derek Jeter's deal (three years, $51 million with a fourth year player option) looks like a comp. Projection: $50 million, four years
8. Aramis Ramirez. He turned down a $16 million option for 2012 with the Cubs. So we have to figure he beats that, at least. One of the best-hitting third basemen in the game, but only average defensively. Projection: $39 million, three years.
9. Edwin Jackson. He's very talented, so much so, in fact, that some scouts see him as a potential No. 1 starter even though his statistics (career record of 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA) don't support that sort of outlay. He did not look good against the Brewers, his Kryptonite, in the NLCS, when he posted an 8.53 ERA in two starts. Some might wonder why he is traded so often, too (he's been dealt six times since 2006). Projection: $36 million, three years.
10. Ryan Madson. He thought he had a verbal agreement with the Phillies at $44 million for four years. He could repeat that figure, but most teams don't pay like Philly. The Red Sox, Rangers, Angels, Nationals and Marlins are all believed to be interested. Projection: $34 million, three years (plus an option).
11. Yoenis Cespedes. Hearing only positive things about this 26-year-old Cuban outfielder. A star in the making. Projection: $40 million.
12. Heath Bell. He's said he wants to go back to the Padres. But they aren't likely to be able to compete financially for this All-Star closer. The Red Sox, Rangers or Angels make sense. Projection: $32 million, three years.
13. Michael Cuddyer. A big plus in the clubhouse and batter's box. The Red Sox and Giants could be possibilities, though the Phillies are likely out after getting Ty Wigginton. Projection: $30 million, three years.
14. Carlos Beltran. Had a very nice All-Star year after basically missing all of spring training, putting himself in decent position this offseason. There is, however, the question about how healthy his knee is. The Red Sox and Giants are the most obvious possibilities. Projection: $28 million, two years.
15. David Ortiz. Should get his multiyear deal from Boston. No one sees him leaving. Projection: $28 million, two years.
16. Francisco Rodriguez. He was never going to get that $17.5 million option, anyway. Projection: $27 million, three years.
17. Carlos Peņa. Had a nice year on a one-year deal with the Cubs. Great power, fine defender, but you have to accept the low batting average. Projection: $22 million, two years.
18. Josh Willingham. Played home games in the impossible Oakland Coliseum, he still finished with 28 home runs and 99 RBIs. Professional hitter. The drawback is he's only a leftfielder or DH. Projection: $18 million, two years.
19. Francisco Cordero. The Reds didn't pick up his option at $12 million and it's doubtful he approaches that per year in a closer-heavy market. Projection: $16 million, two years.
20. Wei-Yin Chen. Taiwanese pitcher is starring in Japan and is getting a fair amount of action over here. Projection: $16 million, four years.
21. Norichika Aoki. Three-time batting champ is supposed to be the best pure hitter to come from Japan since Ichiro. Projection: $10 million posting. $15 million, three years.
22. Rafael Furcal. Terrific defense is hurt by an off year at the plate, though he wasn't 100 percent for much of the year. Got to be better than Barmes. Projection: $14 million, two years.
23. Paul Maholm. Underappreciated lefthander bounced back with strong season (a 3.66 ERA despite his 6-14 record). Projection: $14 million, two years.
24. Ramon Hernandez. One of the better hitting catchers around. Projection: $12 million, two years.
25. Roy Oswalt. A back injury and retirement talk will keep him to a one-year deal. Projection: $11 million, one year.
26. Kelly Johnson. It's been a good year already for infielders. Projection: $10 million, two years.
27. Hiroki Kuroda. He just may go back to Japan. If he stays, he wants to keep it to the Dodgers or Angels. Projection: $10 million, one year.
28. Alex Gonzalez. Superb defender. Haven't heard much about him. Projection: $10 million, two years.
29. Casey Kotchman. Had terrific year in Tampa Bay after eye procedure. Projection: $10 million, two years.
30. Takashi Saito. Former closer did very well in middle relief for Brewers. Projection: $10 million, two years.
31. Jason Kubel. Cuddyer Lite. Projection: $10 million, two years.
32. Chris Capuano. Solid year with the Mets (11-12, 4.55 ERA). Projection: $9 million, two years.
33. Frank Francisco. Yet another closer, he had 17 saves for the Blue Jays after being acquired from the Rangers for breakout October star Mike Napoli. Projection: $9 million, two years.