Posted: Friday November 2, 2012 10:30AM ; Updated: Friday November 2, 2012 12:03PM
Ben Reiter
Ben Reiter>INSIDE BASEBALL

Reiter 50: Hamilton, Greinke lead list of offseason's top free agents

Story Highlights

There are fewer franchise-changing free agents available than in years past

Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke are award-winners who could turn a team around

Outfielders B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher round out the top five

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Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton stands a good chance of joining baseball's exclusive $100 million contract club.
John Biever/SI

Is free agency dead in baseball? Not entirely, though this winter will feature fewer potential franchise-changers than in years past, for two related reasons.

One is that several clubs who could previously be counted upon to spend big, like the Mets, Red Sox and Yankees -- and, last winter anyway, the Marlins -- seem to be in cost-cutting mode.

Another is that organizations now strive to sign their young stars to extensions that prevent them from reaching the open market. This season alone, All-Stars including the Giants' Matt Cain, the Dodgers' Andre Ethier, the Phillies' Cole Hamels, the Cardinals' Yadier Molina and the Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero re-upped with their current teams, precluding them from joining this off-season's free agent class.

Even so, there will, as always, be talent available. Among this season's Reiter 50 -- SI.com's annual ranking of the top 50 domestic players on the free agent market -- is a pair of genuine superstars who figure to enter next spring as two of the top dozen or so highest paid players in a game, at least on an average annual basis, although both present causes for concern.

The list is deep at some positions, and very shallow at others. Is your team in search of solid starting pitchers, or outfielders? Take your pick. Is it in need of someone to play in your infield? Start looking for trading partners, if not down on the farm.

Herewith, the fifth annual edition of the Reiter 50:

1. Josh Hamilton

Age: 32
Position: OF
2012 Stats: .285/.354/.577, 43 HR, 128 RBI, 7 SB
Current Team: Rangers
Best Fit: Brewers

A free agent with Hamilton's gifts can usually expect to command a nine-digit contract that extends into his 40s. But Hamilton's history of injuries and drug addiction means he will likely receive an offer that will be high on dollars but short on years. Offering it to him could be the Brewers, who surprised everyone with their late season push into contention, and who might envision Hamilton and Ryan Braun -- they'd be the NL's scariest heart of the order -- leading them back into the playoffs.

2. Zack Greinke

Age: 28
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 15-5, 3.48 ERA, 1.196 WHIP, 8.5 K/9
Current Team: Angels
Best Fit: Dodgers

The market runs deep with quality starting pitchers, but Greinke stands alone as the only in-his-prime ace available, despite his 3.83 ERA in the three seasons since his AL Cy Young award. Every pitching-needy team will covet him, but the Dodgers, with new owners whose pockets seem to be bottomless, will be a favorite to get him.

3. B.J. Upton

Age: 28
Position: OF
2012 Stats: .246/.298/.454, 28 HR, 78 RBI, 31 SB
Current Team: Rays
Best Fit: Rangers

Upton has never consistently fulfilled the promise he demonstrated in 2007, when at 22 he hit .300 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. He has shown flashes of doing so, such as during the playoffs in 2008 and this past September, when he hit 12 homers. Still, his age and tools make him one of this winter's most attractive free agents. Should the Rangers decide to part ways with Hamilton, they will need a centerfielder, and they might invest in Upton's persistent potential.

4. Michael Bourn

Age: 30
Position: OF
2012 Stats: .274/.348/.391, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 42 SB
Current Team: Braves
Best Fit: Nationals

Suitors who hope that Bourn's sub-par second half (he batted .225) might depress his value will be disappointed, as many teams -- including the Braves -- will covet a classic leadoff hitter who also happens to be the game's best defensive centerfielder. Washington is a likely destination. The up-and-coming Nationals want to move Jayson Werth out of the leadoff spot and Bryce Harper out of center, and they have a strong relationship with Scott Boras, Bourn's agent.

5. Nick Swisher

Age: 32
Position: OF
2012 Stats: .272/.364/.473, 24 HR, 93 RBI, 2 SB
Current Team: Yankees
Best Fit: Phillies

Swisher contributed to the Yankees' postseason malaise, as he batted .167 during the playoffs, a figure that would impress only Alex Rodriguez. Despite that recent hiccup, clubs will pursue him for his consistency: He is one of six players to hit more than 20 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. The Phillies traded two outfielders -- Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino -- at the deadline, and could use Swisher to bolster a lineup that is largely aging, unreliable, or both.

6. Adam LaRoche

Age: 33
Position: First base
2012 Stats: .271/.343/.510, 33 HR, 100 RBI, 1 SB
Current Team: Nationals
Best Fit: Orioles

"I love having Adam LaRoche," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told SI.com in September, after LaRoche recovered from a 2011 season ruined by a torn labrum in his shoulder and carried Washington's injury-ravaged 2012 lineup for weeks at a time. The Nationals might be fond of LaRoche, but should they sign Bourn they will have no room for him, as a full outfield will push Mike Morse to first base.

That could lead LaRoche to make the short move to Baltimore. The Orioles declined an $11 million option on Mark Reynolds and need to fill their first base and DH spots.

7. Dan Haren

Age: 32
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 12-13, 4.33 ERA, 1.291 WHIP, 7.2 K/9
Current Team: Angels
Best Fit: Royals

Do you believe Haren can again be the solid No. 2-caliber starter he was from 2005 to 2011, when he averaged 14 wins, had an ERA of 3.49 and struck out more than four times as many batters as he walked? Or do you think his 2012 season -- he went on the disabled list for the first time in his career, was hampered by lingering discomfort in his back and had a 4.33 ERA -- is a sign of things to come?

One thing his down year made likely was that the Angels will decline his $15.5 million club option for 2013. The desperately pitching-needy Royals, who just swung a deal to acquire Haren's ex-Angels teammate Ervin Santana, could give Haren a short-term deal and hope he recaptures his value.

8. Hiroki Kuroda

Age: 38
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 16-11, 3.32 ERA, 1.165 WHIP, 6.8 K/9
Current Team: Yankees
Best Fit: Yankees

The former Dodger proved this year that his numbers were not a creation of the NL West. In fact, his first season as a Yankee -- in the much more difficult AL East -- was in many ways the finest of his five in the U.S. Kuroda is always a threat to return to Japan, but he was New York's steadiest starter all season. Chances are good that the Yankees will make it worth his while to stay in the Bronx for at least one more year.

9. Kyle Lohse

Age: 34
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 16-3, 2.86 ERA, 1.090 WHIP, 6.1 K/9
Current Team: Cardinals
Best Fit: Blue Jays

The underrated Lohse had the best season of his 12-year career in 2012, setting personal bests in wins, ERA, WHIP and innings pitched. He's not likely to return for a sixth season in St. Louis, though, as the Cardinals have enough options (Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal) to fill their rotation without his now-expensive services. The Blue Jays don't have that luxury -- apart from Brandon Morrow, their supposedly up-and-coming rotation proved to be neither last season and ranked 25th in starters' ERA (4.82) -- and the club will seek a steady veteran starter. Lohse fits the bill.

10. Rafael Soriano

Age: 33
Position: Closer
2012 Stats: 2-1, 2.26 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 42 SV
Current Team: Yankees
Best Fit: Tigers

Soriano entered 2012 as a wildly overpaid set-up man, but he ended it as a merely well-paid closer: He emerged to save the Yankees' bullpen after Mariano Rivera was lost for the season to a knee injury. Soriano tied for third in the majors in saves despite not recording his first until May 10 and he blew only four chances.

That performance makes him the best closer on the market, and that fact led him to decline his $14 million option in favor of a shot at long term security. After Jose Valverde's postseason meltdown (in which he allowed 9 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings), the Tigers have the need and resources to give it to him.

11. Edwin Jackson

Edwin Jackson
Edwin Jackson could be headed for the eighth team of his career in 2013, which will be his 11th major league season.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Age: 29
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 1.218 WHIP, 8.0 K/9
Current Team: Nationals
Best Fit: Red Sox

Jackson doesn't turn 30 until next September, yet he has already pitched for seven different franchises, making him baseball's version of Chucky Brown or Joe Smith. That tells you that clubs know he is good enough to contribute -- and he is; since 2009 his ERA is 3.98 -- but not quite good enough to keep around.

Jackson was a free agent last year and settled for a one year deal with the Nationals in the hope that this winter he'd find a long-term home. The guess here is that he will, and it could be with the Red Sox, who after their post-deadline trade with the Dodgers have money to spend and open spots in their rotation.

12. Angel Pagan

Age: 31
Position: OF
2012 Stats: .288/.338/.440, 8 HR, 56 RBI, 29 SB
Current Team: Giants
Best Fit: Reds

The Giants were the obvious winners of the December 2011 trade in which they acquired Pagan from the Mets for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez. Pagan had an excellent all-around season, and San Francisco's surge to the World Series title really took off when it put him back in the leadoff spot in early August. The Reds' top off-season priority -- perhaps their only off-season priority -- is to acquire a leadoff-hitting centerfielder. Should they find themselves outbid for Bourn (and perhaps Upton), they could turn to Pagan.

13. Marco Scutaro

Age: 37
Position: Second base
2012 Stats: .306/.348/.405, 7 HR, 74 RBI, 9 SB
Current Team: Giants
Best Fit: Giants

It is appropriate that Scutaro follows Pagan in these rankings, as that is what he did so successfully did in the Giants lineup after being traded to San Francisco from Colorado in July. "Without him, we wouldn't be sitting right here," said Ryan Theriot in the moments after his club's World Series win -- yes, the same Ryan Theriot whose starting position Scutaro took.

That is how deeply Scutaro endeared himself to the Giants, as a productive No. 2 hitter (he hit .362 with 44 RBIs in 61 regular season games after being acquired) and as a coach on the field whose contact-hitting style rubbed off on his teammates. Even if they don't re-sign Pagan, the Giants will do everything they can to bring back Scutaro.

14. Mike Napoli

Age: 31
Position: Catcher
2012 Stats: .227/.343/.469, 24 HR, 56 RBI, 1 SB
Current Team: Rangers
Best Fit: Red Sox

Had Napoli reached free agency after his first season in Texas, and not his second, he would have become a much richer man. In 113 games in 2011 he hit .320 with 30 homers, 75 RBIs and an OPS of 1.046, then drove in 15 runs in 17 postseason games. Napoli's down year in 2012 will lower his price tag, and the Red Sox could be the high bidders. They have holes at first base and catcher (where Jarrod Saltalamacchia batted .200 after the All-Star break), and Napoli can shuttle between both.

15. Anibal Sanchez

Age: 29
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 9-13, 3.86 ERA, 1.267 WHIP, 7.7 K/9
Current Team: Tigers
Best Fit: Angels

Here is further proof that this year's free agent class runs deep with quality starters, if not ace material. Sanchez was everything the Tigers hoped for after they acquired him from the Marlins in July, and even better than that in three playoff starts (he yielded four runs total and less than a baserunner per inning). Still, he is only the seventh-best starter on the market. Sanchez will be attractive to the Angels, whose once deep rotation has already lost Ervin Santana and could also lose Zack Greinke and Dan Haren.

16. Mariano Rivera

Age: 43
Position: Closer
2012 Stats: 1-1, 2.16 ERA, 0.960 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 5 SV
Current Team: Yankees
Best Fit: Yankees

We are now three seasons removed from Rivera's suggestion, made during the celebration of the Yankees' 27th championship in 2009, that he wanted to play for another five years. Rivera was as good as ever in 2010 and '11 -- he saved 77 games and had a combined ERA of 1.85 -- and he started this season similarly before tearing his right ACL on May 3 while shagging balls during batting practice in Kansas City. "I'm not going out like this," he said at the time, but now he is reportedly considering retirement. Don't believe it. Rivera will be back and, almost certainly, will be back as a Yankee.

17. Melky Cabrera

Age: 28
Position: OF
2012 Stats: .346/.390/.516, 11 HR, 60 RBI, 13 SB
Current Team: Giants
Best Fit: Mariners

Everyone thinks Cabrera, who served a 50-game suspension after failing a drug test in August and was banished from the Giants' championship run, will accept a one-year, relatively low-salary deal in an attempt to prove he can hit like a batting champion (which he would have been, had he not recused himself from the race) without the help of PEDs. But it seems like at least a half-dozen teams will be willing to bring him aboard on such terms -- and that might create a bidding war, driving up both his contract's value and length.

Cabrera might not have to prove he can hit without enhancers -- several teams might be willing to take that gamble for him. The Mariners, last in the AL in runs scored for four straight years, have reason to push the highest stack forward onto the felt.

18. Shaun Marcum

Age: 31
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 7-4, 3.70 ERA, 1.266 WHIP, 7.9 K/9
Current Team: Brewers
Best Fit: Twins

Another proven starter who will be looking for a new home, Marcum spent more than two months in the middle of the season on the DL due to tightness in his elbow, but he finished the year pitching more or less to his career norms. The Twins desperately need dependable arms -- they were last in the AL in starters' ERA (5.40), and the only lock for next year's rotation is Scott Diamond -- and their search could begin with Marcum.

19. David Ortiz

Age: 38
Position: DH
2012 Stats: .318/.415/.611, 23 HR, 60 RBI, 0 SB
Current Team: Red Sox
Best Fit: Red Sox

When Ortiz was lost for the season with an Achilles injury in mid-July (his attempted August comeback lasted one game), he was on pace to put up numbers straight out of his prime: 41 homers, 108 RBIs, an OPS of 1.026. His age might have kept him from reaching all of those totals, had he played the full year, but he still remains a very big part of the Red Sox' plans. That he re-signs with Boston -- for more than one year, this time -- might be the biggest lock on this list.

20. A.J. Pierzynski

Age: 36
Position: Catcher
2012 Stats: .278/.326/.501, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 0 SB
Current Team: White Sox
Best Fit: Yankees

Pierzynski's eighth year with the White Sox was by far his best. He slugged nine more home runs than ever before and set a career high in OPS (.827). Still, the White Sox, in a gentle rebuilding mode under new general manager Rick Hahn, could give Pierzynski's job to his cheaper and younger former backup, Tyler Flowers.

That would pave the way for the lefthanded-hitting Pierzynski to head to the Bronx. His late career power binge could continue thanks to Yankee Stadium's shallow rightfield wall, he could act as a placeholder for a few years until top prospect Gary Sanchez is ready and his intense -- and sometimes controversial -- personality could enliven a clubhouse that seems in need of enlivening.

21. Cody Ross

Age: 32
Position: OF
2012 Stats: .267/.326/.481, 22 HR, 81 RBI, 2 SB
Current Team: Red Sox
Best Fit: Red Sox

One of the only things that went right for the Red Sox in 2012 was the signing of Ross to a one-year, $3 million deal last January. Ross's production was everything Boston could have asked for, and he was one of the only persistently upbeat members of a dour clubhouse. He won't come so cheap this time -- he is reportedly seeking a contract similar to the three-year, $21 million deal given to Josh Willingham by the Twins last winter. Ross probably won't prove that pricey, and the Sox, who have openings in their outfield on either side of Jacoby Ellsbury, will try to make him a long-term fixture.

22. Jeremy Guthrie

Andy Pettitte
If Andy Pettitte doesn't reitre, expect to see him back in Yankees pinstripes for a 15th season in New York.
AP

Age: 34
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 8-12, 4.76 ERA, 1.409 WHIP, 5.0 K/9
Current Team: Royals
Best Fit: Cubs

Guthrie began the year with a 3-9 record and a 6.35 ERA for Colorado. Then, after being traded to the Royals, he morphed back into the dependable, innings-eating sinkerballer the Rockies thought he was. In his final 11 starts -- 10 of which turned into Kansas City wins -- he had a 2.17 ERA and allowed opponents an OPS of just .597, thereby establishing his value as a free agent. The rebuilding Cubs will likely be small-time players in the market, but they desperately need a veteran starter to bulk up a rotation that is painfully thin behind Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood. Guthrie might be just that.

23. Brandon McCarthy

Age: 29
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 8-6, 3.24 ERA, 1.252 WHIP, 5.9 K/9
Current Team: Athletics
Best Fit: Padres

McCarthy suffered 2012's scariest injury when he was struck in the head by a line drive on Sept. 5 and underwent emergency brain surgery. But he suggested in the pages of Sports Illustrated that he might have been able to pitch in the World Series had the A's advanced that far, and he should be fine by spring training. While he has always been prone to injuries of the less life-threatening kind, McCarthy came through on his early promise in his two seasons in Oakland (over 43 starts, he went 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA). The A's, with a full, young and talented rotation, likely won't spend to bring him back, but he could catch on down the coast in San Diego, where the ballpark is even more friendly to pitchers and the staff more in need of him.

24. Andy Pettitte

Age: 41
Position: Starting pitcher
2012 Stats: 5-4, 2.87 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, 7.0 K/9
Current Team: Yankees
Best Fit: Yankees

Pettitte's comeback after a year of "retirement" was cleaved in two by, appropriately, a comebacker that broke his ankle and forced him to miss three months. On either side of his DL stint, though, Pettitte showed he can still be a very effective big game starter. That the Yankees lost both of his playoff outings had little to do with him; he allowed 5 runs in 13 2/3 innings. Pettitte is threatening retirement again, but odds are that he will return for a 15th season in pinstripes.

25. Stephen Drew

Age: 30
Position: Shortstop
2012 Stats: .223/.309/.348, 7 HR, 28 RBI, 1 SB
Current Team: A's
Best Fit: A's

Drew has yet to develop into the star he was expected to become as Baseball America's No. 5 prospect in 2004. Just once has he hit more than 15 homers, and he has never batted better than .291 or driven in more than 67 runs. But he reaches free agency at a very good time: no other true shortstop is on this list. Drew will be in demand, but the A's -- who acquired him from the Diamondbacks in August and just bought out his $10 million mutual option -- could commit virtually their entire free agent budget to bringing him back, as they have no other position of clear need.

 
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