- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
For some of baseball's free agents, the market conditions couldn't be more promising. Teams are flush with money, their pockets lined well into the future by new, massive national and local TV contracts, and by cost-containment measures in the amateur draft and international markets.
"There's so much money out there, it's scary," said a highly ranked executive this week.
Clubs are ready to spend like it's the Christmas season. The problem with that, however, is that the 2012-2013 free-agent class is thought to be among the weakest in history.
Zack Greinke is going to be the most prominent pitcher in the market, and he's going to get really big dollars. But so will players who are regarded as average, or even below-average.
Here are 10 free agents who will soon get more money than they ever imagined:
1. Angel Pagan
Talk about great timing. The longtime big leaguer, now 31 years old, couldn't have picked a better summer to have a career year, with 61 extra-base hits, 95 runs and 29 stolen bases. He also ranked among the best center fielders in some defensive metrics. It's hard to imagine exactly where the bidding for him will go, but given that the Giants want to keep him and there could be interest from financially powerful teams such as the Rangers and Yankees, as well as the Mariners, it wouldn't shock baseball executives if Pagan winds up getting a four-year deal for something in the range of $50 million or more.
2. Kyle Lohse
The right-hander is going to hit the jackpot, after having one of the best seasons of his career. Some agents and executives are speculating that he'll get a deal close to the five-year, $77.5 million contract that C.J. Wilson got last winter.
3. Nick Swisher
Oh, sure, his time with the Yankees might be over, and yes, he has really struggled in October. But he has been incredibly consistent in his regular-season production in recent years, generating a high on-base percentage through patient at-bats, and he can play first base as well as the outfield. The Cubs, who are trying to get their young players to work the count and need working examples such as Swisher and Kevin Youkilis to help show the way, could be an interesting fit, and so could the Orioles.
4. Joel Peralta
The price for good setup men such as Peralta continues to climb. He pitched in 77 games in 2012, and had a career high of 11.28 strikeouts per nine innings, with only 17 walks allowed.
He's not Greinke, and on his best day, he might not be Lohse. But he just turned 29, takes the ball regularly (he had five straight seasons of 31 or more starts) and he has an almost pristine medical history.
6. B.J. Upton
He sometimes drives rival evaluators crazy with his swing, which some scouts say stays on one plane of the strike zone, and there have long been questions about the consistency of his focus and effort. But Upton had a late-season burst of power to fill out his stat line: He hit 28 homers and stole 31 bases, and is considered a very good defensive center fielder.
He's coming off a season in which he hit 27 homers and had a career-high .501 slugging percentage. He may not get offers of more than two years, but he figures to get more money in this contract than he did after the 2010 season, when he signed for two years, $8 million -- especially with the Rangers, Yankees and other teams fishing for catching help.
8. Ryan Ludwick
A year ago, he settled for a one-year, $2.5 million deal, plus a $5 million option for 2013. But after mashing 26 homers in 2012, Ludwick is going to decline that option, because in the current market, he's going to get something a lot better.
The Reds want Ludwick back, Hal McCoy writes.
9. Mike Adams
He will be coming back from surgery, but he has been among the most dominant right-handed setup men in the game in recent years, his performance sometimes shaped by his home ballpark -- he thrived in Petco Park, and had some troubles in Texas.
There will be a lot of competition for him.
10. Rafael Soriano
The Yankees probably won't be the team that gives him the multiyear deal he'll seek, after opting out of his current contract, but with the Tigers, Angels, Giants and other prominent teams set to be active in the market for closers, somebody is going to give him a lot of money.
Greinke's status is a key for the Angels, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• By the time the dust settled Saturday, Oakland added another strong-fielding outfielder in Chris Young, Arizona added a serviceable shortstop and more bullpen depth and Miami rid itself of its worst contract.
A few impressions:
1. Young has strong defensive metrics, along with some power, and now he joins a group of outfielders that already includes Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith and Coco Crisp. On paper, that represents a surplus, but keep in mind that Crisp is oft-injured and manager Bob Melvin can keep four in that group in the lineup daily through the use of the DH. It may be that somebody brings an interesting proposal to the Athletics for Smith or Crisp this winter, but their plan is to keep all five next season. The Athletics added depth and power, writes Susan Slusser.
2. Heath Bell had a horrendous 2012 season and is now 35 years old, so it's a little surprising that Arizona is absorbing $13 million of the $21 million still owed to him. But nobody knows Bell better than Arizona GM Kevin Towers, who acquired him from the Padres, and it may be that by the end of the upcoming winter, getting an accomplished reliever such as Bell on a two-year, $13 million deal -- which is what Arizona is doing -- will seem like a bargain.
From Steve Gilbert's story:
"In my mind, as well as I know him since the velocity is still good and he's still got the good rotation on the breaking ball, I think changing scenery and getting back into hopefully a comfortable environment for him, I think he'll be strong," [Towers] said of Bell. "I don't think there's a lot you have to do in the way of tweaking where he's at. I think it's just really getting back to where he was before, challenging hitters and throwing to contact and going right after them."
Bell's average fastball velocity, according to fangraphs.com:
2007: 96 mph
2008: 94 mph
2009: 94 mph
2010: 94 mph
2011: 94 mph
2012: 94 mph
3. As expected, the Marlins' payroll will be dramatically reduced; as of today, the team has about $55 million in salary obligations to Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, et al, and will likely open next season far short of their 2012 payroll of $101 million.
Buster Olney writes that despite a weak free-agent class this season, 10 players will be ready to cash in, including Kyle Lohse, Angel Pagan and Mike Adams.