Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Best fits for top free agents
By Jim Bowden
As end of the regular season approaches, every major league club that plans to delve into the free-agent market has its best scouts at the ballpark looking at the best guys who will be available during the offseason. They are evaluating every plate appearance and/or every pitch while the front office is using video technology to further evaluate prospective free agents. A club simply cannot do enough homework on a player’s health, character, work ethic and makeup.
Taking an early look at this year’s free-agent class, center field is clearly the position that offers the most depth and quality. However, there will be several quality pitchers available, too, both top-of-the-rotation types as well as closers.
Here is a list of the 11 best free agents -- in no particular order -- who will be on the market this November and with which team they might best fit. (You may notice that Mariano Rivera, David Ortiz and Torii Hunter are not listed here, and that's because I am almost certain they will re-sign with their current teams.)
Josh Hamilton, CF | Best fits: Rangers, Yankees Hamilton is the best position player in this year’s class, and the 31-year-old would like to get a deal in the range of what Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols received last year, which would mean a 10-year contract for more than $200 million. However, Hamilton’s well-documented issues with addiction and nagging health issues will dissuade some teams. Remember, though, it only takes one team to set the market.
Hamilton’s home is in the Dallas area and he has made it clear the Rangers are his first choice. He even plans on keeping his home in Texas even if he signs elsewhere. However, he also said he’s looking for fair market value -- not a hometown discount -- because he and his family have plans to redirect those earnings to charitable causes. In other words, the more money he makes, the more he can help worthy causes.
If the late George Steinbrenner were still alive, I have little doubt that Hamilton would soon be wearing Yankees pinstripes. And Yankee Stadium’s right-field dimensions are perfect for Hamilton. General manager Brian Cashman has said that the only position players he would sign to long-term contracts are “complete” players, and Hamilton fits that mold.
But in the end, the Rangers are his best fit because of the support the team has offered him on and off the field. However, team president Nolan Ryan and GM Jon Daniels stick to their limits, and if they can’t sign Hamilton within that structure, they won’t be afraid to walk away.
Zack Greinke, RHP | Best fits: Angels, Dodgers, Braves, Yankees The Southern California lifestyle fits Greinke, and the way he’s dominated for the Angels in his past four starts, re-signing him would be ideal. However, if things should not work out, the Dodgers could be interested in pairing Greinke with Clayton Kershaw at the top of their rotation. The Dodgers have shown they have money to spend, and if Greinke wants to stay in Southern California, Chavez Ravine could be an option.
However, don’t count out the Rangers, who always spend their money first and foremost on starting pitching, or the Yankees, as Cashman has a close relationship with Greinke’s agent, Casey Close, and could end up outbidding everyone.
The underdogs in this chase include the Royals, where select brass would love to get back Greinke to anchor their rotation. The Braves love top-of-the-rotation starters and signing Greinke would send a huge positive message to their fan base.
Fernando Rodney, RHP | Best fits: Giants, Angels, Dodgers The Giants could either bet on Brian Wilson returning successfully from Tommy John surgery or non-tender him and use the money to sign Rodney, the AL’s best closer this season. Rodney, 35, is a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate. His “Bugs Bunny” changeup possesses a 15 mph differential from his 97 mph fastball and has become one of the game’s best pitches. There won’t be a ton of competition for closers this offseason, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Angels made a play to bring back Rodney to put Ernesto Frieri back in the setup role, or if the Dodgers signed him to protect against Kenley Jansen’s recent health issues. (Note: The Rays do have a team option for Rodney for 2012.)
Michael Bourn, CF | Best fits: Phillies, Nationals, Reds Bourn will be the best defensive center fielder and leadoff hitter available. Reds manager Dusty Baker has been asking for a leadoff hitter since he arrived in the Queen City, and some of the field staff are tiring of Drew Stubbs’ strikeouts. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo continues to make center field his priority, and I think this is the offseason he finally finds a way to get it done. This will allow him to put Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth in the corners, which was his long-term plan. But the Phillies desperately need some speed and a leadoff hitter, and they’d love to be able to get Bourn to come back to where his career started, when they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2003 draft.
B.J. Upton, CF | Best fits: Phillies, Nationals Upton’s strong August and start to September is increasing his market value and officially pricing him out of Tampa Bay. The Phillies and Nationals are his best fits, and whoever doesn’t get Bourn will be the front-runner for Upton. The other sleeper team to watch is the team that acquires his brother Justin Upton, if the Arizona Diamondbacks trade him. Justin and B.J. have always talked about someday playing together in the major leagues.
Ryan Dempster, RHP | Best fits: Dodgers, Rangers Dempster really wanted to become a Dodger this July, and the Cubs tried everything to accommodate him in a trade. However, when the Dodgers wouldn’t budge during negotiations, the Cubs dealt him to the Rangers instead. The Dodgers are his most likely destination this fall, as he would take Chad Billingsley’s spot in the rotation if Billingsley ends up having to undergo Tommy John surgery, which is a distinct possibility. If the Rangers win the World Series this year with Dempster, the experience could also get him to rethink his position and possibly re-sign with them on a short-term deal.
Nick Swisher, RF | Best fits: Yankees, Phillies, Braves This is a really weak class in terms of corner outfielders, especially after Andre Ethier re-signed with the Dodgers during the season. Unless the Yankees are able to sign Hamilton or trade for Justin Upton, they will have no choice but to re-sign Swisher, who would like to stay in the Bronx. Swisher’s high energy and enthusiasm is important in the Yankees’ clubhouse, and the fact that he’s one of just three players in the majors who have hit at least 20 home runs for eight consecutive seasons speaks to his consistency. However, Citizens Bank Park would suit Swisher well, and there remains a vacancy in right field in the wake of the Hunter Pence trade. The Braves could put him in left field after they move Martin Prado to third base to replace the retiring Chipper Jones.
Kyle Lohse RHP | Best fits: Cardinals, Royals, Pirates Lohse has won 14 games in each of the past two years and his 2.81 ERA could even get some Cy Young support this year. Combined with two healthy years of 180 innings pitched, and a thin free-agent starting pitching market, Lohse should do very well this fall. The Cardinals are his best fit because of his success there and how well he and Yadier Molina work together. However, young contending teams such as the Royals and Pirates are desperate to rebuild their starting pitching and might be willing to give more length and dollars then the Cards.
Colby Lewis, RHP | Best fits: Rangers, Royals, Dodgers Lewis would like to remain a Ranger, and it appears the feeling is mutual because of his ability to win big games. After missing most of the season after right elbow surgery July 27, a low base salary with incentives is probably the deal that will get done in Texas. The Royals, who need to chase every starting pitcher, as well as the Dodgers -- who love veteran starters -- are other clubs to watch.
Edwin Jackson, RHP | Best fits: Royals, Indians, Marlins Jackson, 29, has proved himself to be a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter for contending teams over the past two years. His ERA has been under 4.00, and after the 2012 season, he’ll have double-digit wins in five consecutive years. The Royals are the best fit for him as a team with whom there is still room to grow with some of the best young position players in the game. The Marlins and Indians are two other teams that might pursue him.
Shane Victorino, OF | Best fits: Giants, Reds The Giants have a history of signing veteran free agents with winning attitudes to fill supplemental roles. Victorino fits that mold. It's still unclear if the Giants will consider re-signing Melky Cabrera in the wake of his suspension, and coupled with the fact that prospect Gary Brown is still not quite ready, Victorino would be a perfect short-term solution in left field for them. After the big second half Ryan Ludwick has had, Cincinnati seems like a less likely spot for Victorino, though they could sign him to play center field.