MLB Free Agency: Fire up the hot stove

Albert Pujols.

The free agency market this year is topped by the greatest player of the last 20 years. He’ll likely stay in St. Louis though. Metro looks at intriguing free agents from the class of 2011, including a couple that could be Yankees:

Hitting

Albert Pujols: .299 BA, .907 OPS, 37 HR, 99 RBI

Pujols has been the biggest free agent all year and remains so after winning his second World Series title. At 32, Pujols has already earned $104 million in 11 seasons, but enters free agency in a year when many of the big markets don’t have openings at first base. It would be difficult to imagine the Cardinals not retaining him even if takes them well over $20-25 million per year to do so.

Prince Fielder
– .299 BA, .981 OPS, 38 HR, 120 RBI

Unlike Pujols, there seems to be little chance in Fielder returning to his team. In 2010, Fielder reportedly rejected a deal similar to Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million deal. Then the Brewers made a long-term commitment to Ryan Braun and now don’t appear to have the resources to make a larger offer. If he does leave, the Cubs could lure him using the allure of 81 games at Wrigley Field. The Cubs are a team that could use a big bat anywhere, but especially at first base. Their 654 runs were their worst in a 162-game season since 1992 and it marked the third straight year they have finished in the bottom half of the NL in runs scored. Also helping Fielder’s representatives in negotiations with the Cubs is that first baseman Carlos Pena hit .225 in his one-year deal.

Jose Reyes: .337 BA, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 39 SB

Reyes’s free agency has been a day that many Met fans have dreaded, possibly even more so when owner Fred Wilpon said to New York magazine that Reyes was not getting “Carl Crawford money.” Reyes may not get Crawford’s $140 million, but figure on at least $100 million. With the Mets apparently cutting payroll to the $110-115 million range, this does not bode well for their fans. The one thing that could help is if other teams are scared off by his injury history, which included two DL stints this past season. Several teams have the need for a frontline shortstop in his prime and that includes the Phillies if Jimmy Rollins leaves. It also includes the Giants, who used a mix of young and old (Brandon Crawford, Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera) at the position. If those teams don’t get involved Washington could be a possibility. The appeal of having shortstop with the potential to win a batting title and swipe 50 bases may be appealing to a team that is banking on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for its future. Also not helping the Mets is that they have approximately $70 million tied up in six players.

Jimmy Rollins: .268 BA, .338 OBP, 16 HR, 30 SB

Rollins is a former MVP, but that was four years ago when the Phillies began making the playoffs regularly. Rollins is now 33 and seeks a five-year deal. Any type of deal adding up to five years might be too lengthy for the Phillies, though it might be difficult to part ways with a 12-year veteran. If he does leave, a possibility could be the Giants if they don’t get Reyes.

Aramis Ramirez: .306 BA, .871 OPS, 26 HR, 93 RBI

Ramirez had a nice bounce back year for a 71-win team and then promptly said to a Dominican newspaper that he wanted a multi-year deal from the Cubs. Not many teams have third base openings, but Ramirez is the best free agent at his position and a team like the Marlins with a new ballpark and new manager in Ozzie Guillen could offer him the multi-year deal.

Grady Sizemore: .224 BA, .706 OPS, 10 HR, 32 RBI

Injuries have robbed Sizemore of his effectiveness, especially in the last two seasons. His last good season was 2008 (.268, 33 HR, 90 RBI, .876 OPS). Since then, he has batted .234 with 28 home runs and 109 RBI in the last thee seasons. That was why the Indians declined his $8.5 million option. Though he is a center fielder, he could become a right fielder, especially if the Red Sox sign him. If he remains in center field, someone like the Marlins could take a chance since they plan on raising payroll.

Carlos Beltran: .300 BA, .910 OPS, 22 HR, 84 RBI

The last time Beltran was in free agency, he was the leading man. That was in 2005 when he was still a center fielder in his prime and wound up getting a seven-year deal from the Mets. That deal ended with two injury-plagued years and with him playing right field for the Giants. Beltran is believed to desire a three-year deal, but there are teams with an opening in right field and the willingness. One of those teams is the Red Sox, but that’s if they’re willing to accept a declining defensive player. After scoring the NL’s fewest runs (570), and their worst in a full season since 1985, the Giants have the need for offense from the middle of their lineup.

Michael Cuddyer: .284 BA .805 OPS, 20 HR, 70 RBI

On a 99-loss team racked by injuries, Cuddyer was one of three Twins to appear in more than 100 games. He also was one of two with at least 500 at-bats and led the team in home runs, hits and OPS. He did so while playing four positions. Cuddyer would fit in with a lot of teams. One might be the Phillies, who could use him at first base while waiting for Howard to recover, especially if they are willing to ignore him turning 33 and seeking more than $10 million per year.

David Ortiz: .309 BA .952 OPS, 29 HR, 96 RBI

Ortiz won’t be coming to the Yankees not even if they want to tweak the Red Sox. The Yankees are keeping that spot open for a bunch of their older players and rookie Jesus Montero. Since that’s all Ortiz can do at this point, he is limited and his comments about leaving Boston seem to be a ploy to create a marketplace. Ortiz is believed to be seeking a three-year deal, which might be too long for any team. If he does not return to the Red Sox, the other three AL East teams besides the Yankees might have an opening and interest.

Starting Pitching

C.J. Wilson: 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Despite his poor postseason performance, someone will pay for Wilson’s services and possibly even offer $100 million. A 16-game winner that has pitched 250 innings is hard to come by. That being said, Wilson pitches to contact often with Texas’s superb defense behind him and gets to face teams like the Mariners and Athletics four or five times a year. Wilson might not be a Yankee or a Red Sox, but in a small sampling he has shown he can pitch against them, going 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in nine starts. Even if the postseason showed he may not be ace, he would be a nice fit with two established aces. One that comes to mind is behind Dan Haren and Jered Weaver with the Angels, who have missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in 10 years.

Mark Buehrle: 13-9, 3.59 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Not many have a World Championship, a perfect game and no-hitter on their resume. Randy Johnson achieved that and so has Buehrle in an 11-year career for the White Sox. He has reached double-digit wins and pitched 200 innings each year. If the Yankees wanted a second lefty instead of Wilson, they could gauge Buehrle’s interest, though the lefty seems more interested in staying with the White Sox or another Midwest team.

Roy Oswalt
: 9-10, 3.69 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

The Phillies declined his $16-million option after getting 16 wins and 36 starts from him. Concerns about his back pain could scare some teams away. Oswalt missed six weeks and hinted at retirement. Oswalt may also want remain close to home in Mississippi, which might make the Rangers a sensible fit if they lose Wilson.

Hiroki Kuroda: 13-16, 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Kuroda has won 41 games since joining the Dodgers in 2008 and last year was his finest season in terms of wins, innings pitched (202) and strikeouts (161). Kuroda has indicated he would like to stay in Los Angeles even with the team’s ownership situation in flux. He is 37, so it would also be hard to imagine many other teams bending over backwards to give him much more than the $47 million he has been paid the last four years.

Yu Darvish: 12-8, 1.78 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

If he decides to go from the Nippon Ham Fighters, teams will have to pay a posting fee. Fifteen players have gone through the posting process, including Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa. The Red Sox paid $51 million for Matsuzaka on Dec. 14, 2006 and the Yankees paid $26 million for Igawa 13 days later. The cost for posting could be similar and then the $100 million offer could follow from a few teams.

Relief Pitching

Jonathan Papelbon: 4-1, 2.94 ERA, 31 saves, 0.93 WHIP

Despite giving up the two-strike hit that officially eliminated the Red Sox, Papelbon was significantly better last year. He lowered his ERA by nearly a run, gave up four fewer home runs and had the third-best WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings ratios. Papelbon made $12 million last year, which made him the fourth-highest paid closer. Only Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez and Brad Lidge made more and the last two are also free agents. If Papelbon leaves, Daniel Bard is the likely closer unless they shop for another free agent after he went 2-9 last year.

Heath Bell
: 3-4, 2.44 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 43 saves

Bell almost left San Diego last year on two occasions. He was rumored to be headed to Texas, and San Francisco claimed him off waivers, but could not work out a deal. Bell remained in San Diego where he has saved 132 games the last three years. Bell made $7.5 million and could be due for a significant raise. Bell has publicly stated his desire to stay in San Diego, but is reportedly believed to be seeking a three-year deal worth more than $25 million while the team is thinking of a two-year deal with an option.

Francisco Rodriguez: 6-2, 2.64 ERA, 1.298 WHIP, 23 SV

Rodriguez spent the final few months as a successful setup man in Milwaukee, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings. Even though he mostly kept quiet about it, he wants to close games again. A pitcher who will be 30 on Opening Day that has already racked up 291 saves is attractive to some teams. One could be the Marlins, who might not tender inconsistent Leo Nunez, otherwise known as Juan Carlos Oviedo.

Other notable names in the free agent market: RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Ryan Madson, 1B Carlos Pena, OF Jason Kubel, SS Rafael Furcal, DH Johnny Damon.

Met and Yankee free agents

Mets:
Miguel Batista, Chris Capuano, Scott Hairston, Willie Harris, Jason Isringhausen, Chris Young

Yankees:
Luis Ayala, Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, Jorge Posada


Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter
@LarryFleisher.


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