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Evaluating & Predicting the Top 50 Free Agents

November 9, 2010

Predictions are tough to make with any degree of accuracy. If they weren’t, I’d go place a few bets in Las Vegas and come away rich enough that I’d never need to work again. But then again, what’s the fun in that? With the MLB free agent signing period underway it has become commonplace for some of the bigger analysts and bloggers to rank the available free agents and make predictions as to where they may land. ESPN’s Keith Law recently ranked his Top 50 free agents while MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes not only ranked his Top 50 but also predicted where they may sign. Let’s take a look at how the two lists compare and purely for the fun of it I’ll list my predictions* as well.

* Take note these are merely predictions. If I’m correct on 5-10 of them, great.

** For ease of comparison, I’m going to post these in order using Law’s rankings. Where Dierkes differs I will try to specify. Their lists are actually quite different and clearly the thought process behind their creations varied. 

1. Cliff Lee – Easily the top available starting pitcher on the market regardless of who you ask. Lee will have his choice of destinations amongst a variety of suitors. We already know that the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, and Washington Nationals will pursue his services. MLBTR predicts he lands in New York. I agree.

2. Carl Crawford – The top position player available, Crawford combines speed, strong defense, and a consistent ability to get on base. He set a career high in home runs in 2010 and stole 47+ bases for the 7th time in his career. MLBTR predicts he lands in Los Angeles with the Angels. I’m leaning towards Boston.

3. Jayson Werth – Here is the first disagreement between Law and Dierkes’ lists as Tim has #’s 3 and 4 flip-flopped. Werth can potentially be just as valuable as Crawford but doesn’t nearly have the same track record. Versatile enough to handle any outfield position, Werth also provides a bit of power. MLBTR predicts he lands in Boston. I’m thinking he ends up in Detroit.

4. Adrian Beltre – Beltre had a huge offensive season but that seems to be his MO in contract years so there has to be a little bit of buyer caution. I know Boston would like to bring him back but I think there may be another team that will outbid them for his services. MLBTR predicts he lands in Boston. I’m leaning towards Beltre returning to Los Angeles, but with the Angels and not the Dodgers.

5. Victor Martinez – Again, a discrepancy between the two lists as Dierkes has #’s 5 and 6 flip-flopped. Martinez is easily the top catcher available on the market but I’m not convinced he can remain behind the plate for long. Any team that signs him will need to have the ability to eventually move him either to first base or designated hitter. MLBTR predicts he lands in Detroit. I’m going to say he ends up in Baltimore. They’re in need of a big middle of the order bat and could use a first baseman. Martinez could even catch on occasion to give Matt Wieters a day off.

6. Adam Dunn – We know he’s had an offer on the table from Washington since the All Star Break but nothing has materialized from it so I don’t see him returning to the Nationals. MLBTR predicts he lands in Chicago with the Cubs. I agree, but the deal seems contingent on the team shedding some payroll (i.e. Kosuke Fukodome) first.

7. Carl Pavano – Law has Pavano 7th while Dierkes has him 13th. If anyone could have predicted that Pavano would even be in anyone’s Top 50 list going back two years then I sure hope that person played the lottery. Pavano has turned in two solid seasons since his seemingly never ending string of injuries, however. MLBTR predicts he lands back in Minnesota. I agree, it seems like the best fit for him.

8. Jorge De La Rosa – Law has De La Rosa 8th on his list while Dierkes has him 12th. A number of scouts seem to consider him an Oliver Perez in-waiting but I disagree. I think De La Rosa will be able to handle himself just fine but I don’t see him looking to sign in a big media market. MLBTR predicts he lands in Kansas City. I think he could be the free agent starter the Nationals are searching for.

9. Andy Pettitte – Dierkes has Pettitte ranked at #25. Ultimately his choices are likely either a return to New York or retirement. Pettitte has long said as much himself. MLBTR predicts he decides to retire and I happen to agree. I think there is a part of Andy that would like to return for one more season but injuries started to catch up to him in 2010 and he has little left to prove.

10. Jake Westbrook – Dierkes has him ranked 14th. Since being traded to St. Louis last summer it has long been expected that he could end up resigning there. MLBTR predicts he lands there and it just seems too logical to disagree.

11. Hiroki Kuroda – Kuroda is probably one of the more underrated starters available. A return to the Dodgers does seem remotely possible but we still don’t know what kind of flexibility they are going to have this winter from a financial standpoint. MLBTR predicts he lands in Pittsburgh. I think Seattle would be a good fit.

12. Paul Konerko – Dierkes has Konerko at #9 on his list. This could be an interesting situation as Konerko has already stated he won’t have a problem taking 2011 off if he doesn’t receive the contract offer he thinks he deserves. He could return to Chicago but I don’t think that’s too likely unless things drag late into the offseason. There are a handful of other potential suitors who will be in the market for a first baseman. MLBTR predicts he lands back in Chicago with the White Sox. If he’s willing to take an extra year in place of a higher annual salary then I could see him landing in Arizona with the Diamondbacks.

13. Derek Jeter – Dierkes has Jeter listed at #10 and predicts he ends up back in New York. Let’s face it, Jeter isn’t going anywhere. The only question that remains are the terms of a deal.

14. Orlando Hudson – Hudson comes in at #22 on Dierkes’ list. The second baseman has bounced around a bit recently, unable to land anything more than one year deals in each of the past two offseasons. This winter seems as thought it will be more of the same for the soon-to-be 33 year old. MLBTR predicts he lands in St. Louis. While the Cardinals would be a fit I think Hudson could end up in San Diego instead. Both teams need help up the middle of their infield and near the top of their lineup.

15. Aubrey Huff – There appears to be mutual interest between Huff and San Francisco about reuniting for at least one more season. MLBTR predicts he lands back there. However, I personally think that the Giants are a sleeper to make a big trade for one of the potentially available first baseman such as Prince Fielder. As such, I’m going to say Huff lands in Pittsburgh considering they seem adamant about finding a bat for first base rather than giving Garret Jones 500+ at bats there.

16. Hisashi Iwakuma – While technically not a free agent, Dierkes opted to leave Iwakuma out of his discussion. We know that he has been posted and that the bidding period has come to a close. Word came out early this afternoon that the winning bid has been submitted by Oakland. They will not have 30 days to work out a contract, assuming Rakuten accepts the bid. While it seems safe to say this is an easy one to predict, there are no guarantees when it comes to negotiating that contract. Iwakuma will end up in Oakland, I believe, which could make it interesting to see which of their current starters they attempt to trade for that much needed bat.

17. Rafael Soriano – Clearly the top reliever available on the market, Soriano is coming off a fantastic season with Tampa Bay. Dierkes has Soriano ranked at #7 on his list compared to Law who lists him at #17. There are a multitude of teams seeking closers this winter but many simply won’t have the funds to make a serious run at Soriano. MLBTR predicts he lands in Los Angeles with the Angels. I am going to agree.

18. Mariano Rivera – Coming in at #8 on Dierkes’ list, Rivera is a similar case to that of Jeter. He will return to the Yankees without question. It’s merely a matter of working out the terms.

19. Manny Ramirez – Manny comes in at #20 on Dierkes’ list. He had a largely disappointing 2010 season but the fact remains, when interested he is still capable of being one of the top bats in baseball. There are numerous teams that could use his bat at designated hitter but few that would be willing to take a chance on him. MLBTR predicts he’ll land in Oakland. I think it’s more likely he ends up someplace like Tampa Bay. No matter where he signs it won’t be on a big money contract.

20. Juan Uribe – Checking in at #16 on Dierkes’ list comes the versatile Uribe. He’s capable of handling second base, shortstop, and third base which only increases his value and the number of potential suitors. MLBTR predicts he’ll land in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. I’m going to say he ends up in St. Louis where they’ll truly be able to take advantage of his versatility.

21. Brad Penny – Penny is the first true free agent who was absent from Dierkes’ list altogether (aside from an honorable mention at the end, with no prediction). Penny’s value on the free agent market is tough to predict considering he only made nine starts in 2010 before being shut down in May to injury. He did pitch decently over those starts, however. He’s likely looking at a one year deal at best, maybe with an option if a team seems convinced he can hold up physically. He could be a fit someplace like Kansas City or maybe Arizona, depending on what his salary demands look like.

22. Joaquin Benoit – Benoit checks in at #37. He returned to form in 2010 after a few injury plagued seasons and will attract some attention on the market. The Rays might be able to offer a chance to close some games so maybe that gives them an edge. MLBTR predicts he lands in Tampa Bay. I agree.

23. Koji Uehara – Dierkes has him down at #49. He’s spent time in both the rotation and bullpen over the past few seasons with Baltimore. A return there seems possible but not likely as the Orioles seem destined to revamp their bullpen through low-cost signings. MLBTR predicts he lands in New York with the Mets. I’m going to say he signs with Arizona late in the offseason.

24. Jim Thome – Thome comes up at #18 on Dierkes’ list. After signing a well-below market value contract last winter that was heavily loaded with incentives Thome had a great season with Minnesota. He sits just 11 home runs shy of 600 so I can’t see him struggling to get offers for 2011. MLBTR predicts he lands in Tampa Bay. I think a return to Minnesota is most likely. Personally I’d like to see him land in New York to split time at DH with Jorge Posada but other teams will be able to guarantee him more playing time. 

25. J.J. Putz – Dierkes has Putz at #32 on his list. He’s shown an ability to close in the past but has mostly been more of a setup type the past few seasons when healthy. MLBTR predicts he lands in Detroit. I actually like Detroit as a landing spot for him. He’s originally from nearby and they are in need of a late-game reliever.

26. Magglio Ordonez – Coming in at #21 on Dierkes’ list, where Ordonez lands could be an interesting situation. Detroit picked up his option last winter despite many questioning the decision. This time they opted not to do so largely because of the large salary it would have given him. Ordonez reminds me a lot of Carlos Lee in that he can still show some offensive prowess but doesn’t offer much defensively. MLBTR predicts he lands in Toronto. I’m going to say he ends up in Oakland as they are in need of a bat in the middle of their lineup and I don’t see Ordonez getting a big money contract.

27. Johnny Damon – Damon checks in at #47. The Yankees let him walk last winter and he signed on with Detroit only to see a dramatic dip in production. He’s not the greatest defensive outfielder but still offers some veteran leadership that teams often undervalue. MLBTR predicts he lands in Chicago with the White Sox. It does seem like a good fit if Chicago views him as a DH instead of an everyday outfielder.

28. Vladimir Guerrero – Guerrero, who comes in at #19 on Dierkes’ list, was permitted to reach free agency solely because Texas didn’t feel his option for 2011 was warranted. While the salary was a bit on the high side, there seems to be a good fit for both sides there. MLBTR predicts he ends up back in Texas. I completely agree.

29. Pat Burrell – Dierkes has him at #36. Last season’s American League experiment surprisingly didn’t go well but he found his swing once he returned to the National League. I’d presume that means he’d prefer to avoid such an issue again. MLBTR predicts he lands in San Diego. I’m going to say he ends up in Atlanta. They’re reportedly looking for an outfield bat and seem willing to take a flyer on an aging veteran like they did last year with Troy Glaus.

30. Carlos Pena – Pena checks in at #17 on Dierkes’ list. He is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career but could bounce-back in a big way in the right situation. MLBTR predicts he lands in Washington. It seems like a logical fit. The Nationals want a defensive minded first baseman and will be in need of some power to replace Dunn. Pena could thrive in a move to the NL.

31. Jhonny Peralta – Peralta is actually a very simple argument. There were rumors before the season ended that he and Detroit had a mutual interest in working out a deal. Shortly after locking up Brandon Inge on a two year commitment they seem prepared to give Peralta a nearly identical deal. The deal was actually finalized yesterday.

32. Derrek Lee – Coming in at #23 on Dierkes’ list, Lee is yet another available first base option. He had off year in 2010 but still can offer some value as a strong defensive first baseman with some moderate power. MLBTR predicts he lands in Milwaukee as a replacement for the likely-to-be-traded Fielder. I think Lee could be a good fit for Tampa Bay. He could also be a potential fit with San Francisco if they opt for signing a first baseman rather than trading for one. 

33. Kerry Wood – Wood comes in at #43. A strong second half working out of the Yankee bullpen certainly increased whatever value he has but ultimately I think he’s best suited as a setup type rather than closer. MLBTR predicts he lands back with the Cubs. There have been reports of some mutual interest there but I think Chicago’s financial limitations might get in the way. I’m going to say Wood lands in Atlanta and takes over the 8th inning. 

34. Hisanori Takahashi – Dierkes has him at #35. Surprisingly Takahashi and the Mets were unable to work out a mutually beneficial deal despite extending their deadline a few days. Takahashi reportedly wants an opportunity to start so maybe that was one of the sticking points. MLBTR predicts he lands in Philadelphia. I’m thinking he could be a fit with the Dodgers who could give him that chance to start or ultimately use him in sort of a swingman role.

35. Grant Balfour – Balfour comes in at #42 according to Dierkes. He was the star of the 2008 Rays bullpen but has had two down years since. Still a valuable option out of the bullpen he will see some offers though. MLBTR predicts he lands in New York with the Yankees. I’m going to agree on New York but I think he signs with the Mets instead.

36. Scott Downs – Dierkes has Downs at #31 on his list. He’s likely the top left handed reliever on the market but he’s a Type A free agent so whatever team signs him will have to surrender a draft pick which could eliminate a few suitors. MLBTR predicts he will land in Boston. Boston seems possible but I think they go in a different direction with their bullpen. I’m going to say Downs ends up in Philadelphia.

37. Jon Rauch – Rauch began 2010 as the Twins closer and by the end of the season he was in more of a setup role. He certainly has shown the ability to close in his career but seems to struggle in the second half. I don’t envision too many closing opportunities being available for him because of those late season struggles. He could be a fit somewhere like St. Louis.

38. Jesse Crain – Crain would like a chance to close but there are just too many options with experience and too few openings. However, he could fill a role in the backend of someone’s bullpen. He’ll be a relatively low cost option so I’ll say he lands in Tampa Bay.

39. Frank Francisco – Francisco struggled at the onset of last season and subsequently lost his job as closer to Neftali Feliz. He would never regain the role but did put up a decent season. Francisco could be an option in Boston.

40. Ramon Hernandez – Hernandez’s best trait has long been his ability to handle a pitching staff but he provides little in the way of offense. A return to Cincinnati could be possible but I think it’s unlikely. I’m thinking he could be a fit with San Diego.

41. Jason Frasor – Frasor is the second of three veteran Toronto relievers that we’ll see on this list and like the others a repeat engagement with the Blue Jays seems unlikely. Frasor is a tough one to call but he has been relatively consistent over his career. He could be a fit with San Francisco.

42. Brian Fuentes – Dierkes has Fuentes at #33. He could seek out an opportunity to close but finding such a job seems rather unlikely at this point. However, he would end up being one of the better left handed options available so there could be a market for him. MLBTR predicts he lands in Arizona. I’m inclined to agree although Boston and St. Louis could be options as well.

43. Matt Guerrier – Poor peripherals are the biggest factor that will go against Guerrier but otherwise he’s been a fairly reliable reliever much of his career so there could be options. He seems like the type the Yankees could look at for the middle of their bullpen. It’d be a low cost deal but would at least give him the chance to be on a competitive team.

44. Lance Berkman – Berkman takes spot #24 on Dierkes’ list. We know a return to Houston, while of interest to him, is likely out of the question considering his potential contract and defensive limitations. In fact, if a return was likely they likely wouldn’t have traded him last summer. Most of the first base options have been covered at this point but there could still be an opening or two depending on some trades. MLBTR predicts he lands in Arizona. I think Berkman could be a fit with Milwaukee if/when they do end up dealing Fielder. 

45. Miguel Olivo – Olivo is listed at #28 on Dierkes’ list. He’s had a few solid seasons in Colorado but it was time for them to move on, especially with Chris Iannetta in the fold. Olivo fits into the second tier of catchers available this winter. MLBTR predicts he lands in Texas. I think he could be a fit with the White Sox as a backup/mentor for Tyler Flowers

46. Hideki Matsui – Matsui checks in at #46. 2010 showed he still has some pop left in his bat but he’s limited to DH’ing for the most part which will limit his options. MLBTR predicts he lands in Seattle. I think Seattle would be the best fit as well but the White Sox could also be a sleeper here depending on how late into the offseason he remains unsigned.

47. Bill Hall – Hall’s versatility – he played second, shortstop, third, left field, and even pitched an inning – helps his cause. As does a decent season at the plate after a miserable season split between Milwaukee and Seattle. However, he doesn’t really profile as a starter in my opinion which makes finding him a place to play a little tougher. The Dodgers are in need of an infielder or two so Hall could be a good fit there. 

48. Nick Johnson – Johnson’s another tough one to predict here and that’s only partly due to the fact that he missed nearly the entire 2010 season due to injury. He’s due for a “make good” contract. He still can handle first base and gets on base decently. Toronto seems like a good fit.

49. John Buck – Buck comes in at #29 according to Dierkes. MLBTR predicts he lands in Boston since they don’t seem prepared to hand the starting catcher duties over to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Personally I don’t see the Red Sox overpaying for a catcher, especially one coming off of a career season. Buck would be a fit in Texas, however.

50. Javier Vazquez – Dierkes has Vazquez at #30. A return to the National League seems both likely and advisable for Vazquez. MLBTR predicts he lands in Washington. He’s expressed an interest in returning to play for the Nationals but I think they fill the void in their rotation elsewhere. I think the options will be limited so he could end up falling in the lap of a team like Houston. 

That is the Top 50 according to Law. However, as his list and Dierkes’ were so vastly different there were a handful of players that aren’t represented on both. So, in the name of being thorough, let’s take a look at any of those from Dierkes’ list we have not yet discussed which actually brings out list to a grand total of 61.

51. Jon Garland – At #26 on Dierkes’ list we have Garland. He’s an innings eater but he’s coming off of this third straight one-year contract. He also seems partial to West Coast teams. MLBTR predicts he lands in Colorado. A repeat run in San Diego doesn’t seem completely out of the question but Colorado also would be a good fit. So too would San Francisco if they end up having a need in the rotation due to a trade. Let’s go with Colorado here. 

52. A.J. Pierzynski – Coming in at #27 on Dierkes’ list, Pierzynski is an interesting case. He has seemed quite fond of his time in Chicago but I don’t see a return there too likely. MLBTR predicts he lands in Florida. I think that could be his best option.

53. Adam LaRoche – Dierkes has him at #34. LaRoche is another one that is tricky to predict simply due to the sheer volume of first base openings around the game. Last year he turned down a three-year offer from San Francisco and ended up with just a one-year deal in Arizona. I don’t see him finding too many multi-year opportunities this time around. MLBTR predicts he lands in Baltimore. That could be a possibility. As could Tampa Bay if they don’t sign another free agent first baseman.

54. Kevin Millwood – Millwood comes in at #38. He had a horrid 2010 in Baltimore from a performance standpoint but was praised for how he conducted himself in the clubhouse with the younger pitchers on the roster. I’d expect another year with the Orioles isn’t out of the question but not likely. MLBTR predicts he lands in San Diego. That seems logical to me. 

55. Kevin Correia – Correia is listed at #39. He’s been an unexpected surprise the past two seasons in San Diego which should earn him a decent deal. MLBTR predicts he lands in Milwaukee. There or Kansas City could be good fits. I could see the Mets as a sleeper here.

56. Arthur Rhodes – Rhodes comes in at #40. He’s likely the oldest free agent available and coming off a season that earned him his first ever All Star appearance. MLBTR predicts he lands back in Cincinnati. I don’t see him going anywhere else.

57. Pedro Feliciano – The reliever who appeared in the most games in each of the past two seasons checks in at #41 on Dierkes’ list. I, for one, have to be a little worried that all of that use is going to come back and bite whatever team he signs with. But time will tell there. MLBTR predicts he lands in Los Angeles with the Angels. I think the Angels would be a good fit, especially since I think they’ll have a big offseason.

58. Scott Podsednik – At #44 we have Podsednik. He posted a strong year that surprised most. It seems clear the Dodgers would like to bring him back but it’s uncertain if they’ll be the ones to make him the best offer. MLBTR predicts he lands in Cincinnati filling multiple of their needs. I agree.

59. Yorvit Torrealba – Dierkes has him at #45. Yet another catcher who needs a home. However, I have never been sold on him as a starter. MLBTR predicts he lands with the Dodgers. I think a backup role with the Mets is a little more likely.

60. Kevin Gregg – Checking in at #48 we have Gregg. The final Blue Jay reliever on the list, Gregg seems to be the only one with any realistic potential to end up back in Toronto. However, they are hoping to continue building into something and I’m not sold on the idea of them spending much on a reliever. MLBTR predicts he lands with Atlanta. I’m going to say Toronto on a low cost, two year deal. 

61. Brandon Webb – Finally, we have Webb at #50 on Dierkes’ list. MLBTR predicts he lands in Washington on a deal similar to that which the Nationals gave Chien Ming Wang last offseason. While Webb is certainly looking at a deal that will force him to prove his health if he is to earn a good deal, he should have a number of suitors. He’s a project that could appeal to Boston, Baltimore, Minnesota, Seattle, Los Angeles (Dodgers), Milwaukee, Florida, Washington, or New York (Mets). Any deal is going to be heavily incentive based but I’m going to say he lands in New York.

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