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Bowden's Bullets: Free-agent bear market

11/26/2011
Who will sign Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols? Will Yu Darvish become available? AP Photo/Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s winter meetings begin next Sunday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, and there will be fireworks.

Make no mistake, general managers are savvy enough to take advantage of being in a spotlight under which they can get their clubs national attention and maximize their teams' ability to sell tickets, luxury boxes, promotions and advertising. I predict there will be a flurry of movement this year because the free-agent market has remained somewhat inert thus far.

Players: Free agents and possible trades

• Indeed, the three best position players available have had very little play thus far despite being clear impact players. Albert Pujols (No. 1 on my free-agent value rankings) has had two offers -- his standing offer from the St. Louis Cardinals since last winter and the Miami Marlins’ offer, which didn’t even match the Cardinals’. Frankly, the Cardinals have found no need to increase their offer.

Prince Fielder has seen so little action that there is a growing sentiment that a return to the Milwaukee Brewers is not out of the realm of possibility. That which seemed so unlikely at season’s end is now seemingly a bona fide consideration. There has been some outside interest, including from the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs.

• Many thought that Jose Reyes, by improving his on-base percentage and becoming one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, would have suitors lining up. Indeed, considering Reyes is a 27-year-old shortstop entering his prime who sports above-average defense and a strong arm, teams like the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers should be in an all-out bidding war for Reyes’ services, but that simply has not been the case.

• However, the top free-agent pitchers in this market, left-handers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, are enjoying at least 10 teams vying for them. The Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees are the early favorites on Wilson, while the Washington Nationals and Cubs are making loud noise on Buehrle. Wilson continues to meet with the Angels and although they haven’t made the offer he’s looking for, it seems like it would be the perfect fit for both him and the Angels. A rotation of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson and Ervin Santana certainly would improve the Angels' postseason chances, especially if first baseman Kendrys Morales can come back healthy in the middle of their lineup.

• The Cubs have been fascinating to watch this offseason. They have been very aggressive with a wide range of free agents and have been in on trade talks with at least a dozen clubs. What’s been interesting is for a club that struggled so much in 2011, the conversations have not been limited to long-term solutions, but rather, they’ve included everyone from prospects to one-year stop-gap players.

• The drama surrounding whether Japan League star pitcher Yu Darvish will be posted or not by his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, took an unfortunate twist this week with the announcement that Darvish’s pending divorce could delay his posting until the proceedings are final. The attorney for his wife wants to make sure that any new contract with a major league club is included in the settlement. Get ready for the soap opera, as Darvish is clearly the best free-agent right-handed starter, if he’s available.

• The Cincinnati Reds are getting serious inquiries on Yonder Alonso from teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics. However, with Joey Votto eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, there are several Reds executives that would prefer to hold on to him as protection and let him continue to develop in left field, just in case he can become adequate out there. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t make a deal for Wade Davis, Gio Gonzalez or Justin Masterson in a package deal, but that type of trade likely will not be presented to them.

• Jerry Hairston’s postseason with the Brewers has really increased his value as a utility player, as several contending teams are playing for his services, including the front-running Giants.

Managers and front office personnel

• The Red Sox are expected to name their manager this week to have him in place by the time they land in Dallas. Here are my odds: Bobby Valentine remains the favorite at 2-1; Gene Lamont at 5-1 and Torey Lovullo at 25-1.

• New Houston Astros owner Jim Crane has yet to give public endorsements to Tal Smith or GM Ed Wade, which is normally not a good sign during an ownership transfer. The Rays' Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker, and the Rangers' Thad Levine are considered as possible GM targets if Crane decides to make a change, according to people in the know. Hunsicker served as the Astros' GM in 1995-2004, leading the Astros to four NL Central titles and reaching the NLCS four times.