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November 9, 2008

Every Given Sunday

Getting Ink Done

by John Perrotto

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On Friday the market for free agents officially opens when teams can begin making offers to players other than those who finished the season with other clubs. The Brewers and Dodgers got the ball rolling at this past week's general managers meetings in Dana Point, California, with the Brewers offering left-hander CC Sabathia five years and $100 million to stay in Milwaukee, and the Dodgers offering two years and $50 million in an effort to keep left fielder Manny Ramirez in Los Angeles.

Considering those were only starting points, it's hard to imagine how high the dollar figures will eventually go. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 25 free agents, listing their WARP3 for the 2008 season, and making educated guesses about where they might land:

  • CC Sabathia (11.1): The big left-hander is 28 years old, has never had surgery, and figures to be a workhorse for many years to come. He's the biggest prize on this year's market, and while the Brewers came out of the gate aggressively, Sabathia figures to see bigger numbers from the Yankees. The Cubs, Angels, and Giants will also make a play, with the Dodgers as the wild card. In the end, the Yankees will throw so much money at Sabathia that he won't be able to say no.

  • Manny Ramirez (10.8): The left fielder had an amazing two months with the Dodgers, playing so well that agent Scott Boras actually believes he'll be offered a six-year contract. That might be a reach; the slugger is 37 years old, and there aren't as many teams interested as one would suspect. The Yankees are concentrating more on adding pitching, and the Angels would prefer to keep Mark Teixeira, while the Nationals and Blue Jays seemingly don't have enough money to get a deal done. Look for the Dodgers to re-sign Ramirez after doubling their initial two-year, $50 million offer to four years and $100 million.

  • Mark Teixeira (10.8): The switch-hitting first baseman turned down an eight-year, $140 million offer from the Rangers in 2007, so they traded him to the Braves, who in turn dealt him to the Angels this past season. Teixeira would be the most logical fit for the Angels and the Red Sox, and the Yankees also have at least some degree of interest. The one team that seems ready to blow Teixeira out of the water is the Nationals, who could go as high as 10 years and $200 million after a season in which they lost 102 games and had poor attendance in their new Nationals Park. Teixeira grew up in Maryland, and the gut feeling is that he won't say no to a big-money offer from DC.

  • Raul Ibanez (8.9): The veteran outfielder is generating few headlines so far in the Hot Stove League, but both the Cubs and Mets are after him. He'll land with the Mets to fill their left-field hole.

  • Mike Mussina (8.9): The biggest question is whether Mussina will decide to retire-he admits that if he comes back he'll want it to be for three years so he can try to reach 300 wins. While the bet is that he'll retire, if he does play it will be with the Yankees, keeping him as close as possible to his home in Mountoursville, Pennsylvania.

  • Ryan Dempster (7.9): It seemed automatic that the Cubs would re-sign the right-hander to rejoin their rotation, but he is also getting interest from the Mets and Braves. Dempster will be back with Cubs, but only after they raise their initial offer of three years and $36 million to four years and $50 million.

  • Milton Bradley (7.8): Despite having a fine 2008 season spent primarily as a designated hitter, he won't be returning to the Rangers after they declined to give him a multi-year offer. The Mets will make a play if they can't sign Ibanez, and the Phillies, Rays, and Blue Jays all have varying degrees of interest. The right fit for Bradley, prone to occasional outbursts of temper, will be the Blue Jays and the cool hand of veteran manager Cito Gaston.

  • Orlando Cabrera (7.5): The slick-fielding shortstop wore out his welcome with the White Sox after only one season because of his outspokenness and perceived selfishness. The Orioles and Twins both need a shortstop, and they both like Cabrera a lot. Figure on the Twins landing him after just missing the playoffs last season.

  • Francisco Rodriguez (7.5): The record-setting closer's original asking price was five years and $75 million, but he's now backing down from that. The Angels would like to re-sign him, but they showed last winter that they would not bust the bank on a closer when they failed to reach a deal with K-Rod. That leaves the Mets and the Indians as the two hottest pursuers, and the Mets have more money to throw at someone of Rodriguez's caliber.

  • Derek Lowe (7.1): The Dodgers would like the sinkerballer back, but the right-hander has had enough of the West Coast and wants to return East. His first preference is said to be the Red Sox, though the Yankees and Mets may be posed to make better offers. It says here that he winds up with the Yankees to complement the hard-throwing Sabathia in a pitching makeover.

  • Adam Dunn (6.9): Though he has "AL" written all over him with designated hitter as his probable best position, the slugging left fielder/first baseman wants to stay in the NL. As far as potential suitors, the Nationals have much interest, and the Cubs would like to add a big left-handed bat. Since we've gone out on a limb and projected Teixeira signing with the Nationals, Dunn falls to the Cubs, where playing right field in Wrigley Field will prove to be quite an adventure.

  • Casey Blake (6.4): He should draw plenty of interest because of his ability to play all four corner positions while providing a decent amount of pop. The Twins will make a play for him despite releasing him twice before, the Dodgers will consider retaining him after acquiring him from the Indians in a July trade, and Cleveland will also try to convince Blake to return; the Rangers have substantial interest as well. Look for Blake to wind up back with the Indians, who were unable to match his production after plugging Andy Marte in at third base for the final two months of the season.

  • Bobby Abreu (6.2): The Cubs have been mentioned often in conjunction with the lefty-swinging outfielder, and the Mets could also use him. In the end it seems Abreu will do what he desires most and re-sign with the Yankees, though he is unlikely to get the three-year contract he is hoping for.

  • A.J. Burnett (6.2): The right-hander opted out of the final two years of his five-year contract with the Blue Jays, but he has not shut the door on a return to Toronto. The Yankees will be in on him, along with the Orioles and Nationals. Burnett's wife is from the Baltimore area and the Orioles need a frontline starter to stabilize an awful pitching staff, so it makes sense for him to sign with them.

  • Ben Sheets (6.1): The right-hander remains a question mark after being unable to start for the Brewers in the postseason because of an elbow problem that did not require surgery. While the Yankees are interested in him (along with every other starting pitcher roaming free), it says here that the Brewers will come up with a creative deal to keep Sheets, particularly if they can't re-sign Sabathia.

  • Pat Burrell (6.0): The right-handed hitter has had his ups and downs with the Phillies and is looking for at least a three-year contract. He turned down a two-year, $22 million offer from the Phillies late in the season, but will wind up re-signing with Philadelphia once he finds a soft market for his services.

  • Orlando Hudson (6.0): The Gold Glove second baseman has become an injury risk in recent years, and that will prevent him from getting a contract that breaks the bank, but the White Sox, Mets, and Giants are all expected to make bids. The flamboyant Hudson is the type of player who is not afraid of playing in New York, and he will be Big Apple-bound.

  • Andy Pettitte (6.0): The left-hander has made vacillating about retirement his rite of autumn, but he says that he wants to play one more year with the Yankees. For their part, the Yankees don't seem all that excited about retaining Pettitte, and they likely won't have room in the rotation for him if they sign two other free-agent starters. Pettitte's best option will be to take a below-market deal from the hometown Astros, or else to retire. He'll likely join the Astros.

  • Jamie Moyer (5.9): The ageless south-pawed wonder isn't joking when he says he would like to pitch five more years and retire when he turns 50. He wants a multi-year deal, but is said to be amenable to a one-year contract with an option to stay with his hometown Phillies.

  • Kerry Wood (5.7): The oft-injured right-hander has made the transition from starter to closer and seems to be fine with staying a Cub forever, even if it means leaving more money on the table from other teams. While the Mets and Indians would love to sign him to be their closer, look for Wood to remain on the North Side.

  • Brian Fuentes (5.5): The Rockies don't want to bring the left-handed closer back at three years and $33 million, but plenty of other teams are lined up to makes offers, including the Indians, Angels, Mets, and Cardinals. It makes the most sense that he would land with the Angels as a replacement for Rodriguez at something in the range of four years and $44 million.

  • Jason Giambi (5.3): The Yankees would like to bring Giambi back at a reasonable rate after buying out his $22 million option for 2009 for $5 million. It seems almost certain that Giambi is headed back to the Athletics, however, particularly after they hired his old strength coach, Bob Alejo, this past week.

  • Nick Punto (5.3): Coming off of a career year, Punto looks to cash in with a multi-year deal. The Twins want to upgrade at shortstop, so a logical landing spot would be the Cardinals; they're looking to add a middle infielder and Punto can play second.

  • Jason Varitek (5.3): The switch-hitter is in steep decline and is likely to find a weak market for his services, despite agent Scott Boras claiming he will land the catcher a four-year deal. He is more valuable to the Red Sox than to other clubs because he knows the pitching staff, and he will return on a two-year contract in the $20 million range only because Boras knows how to get every penny possible out of a negotiation.

  • Randy Johnson (5.1): The left-hander will return to the Diamondbacks only if he's willing to take a pay cut to $5 million for one year. Thus, the Big Unit figures to pursue his 300th victory in another uniform. While it's hard to determine exactly what the market will be, we'll just take a wild stab here and say he winds up with the Angels in 2009.

---

The Rawlings Gold Glove winners were announced this past week, and the catchers in each league were first-time winners. On the surface, it seemed fitting that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina finally won in the National League; he has had the reputation of being an above-average defender since breaking into the majors in 2004. Conversely, the Twins' Joe Mauer winning in the American League was a bit of a surprise, since he is considered more of an offensive player after winning batting titles in two of the last three seasons.

In terms of BP's FRAA, among backstops Molina was second in the NL with 10, trailing only the Brewers' Jason Kendall, who had 15. It's notable that Molina had a career-high 10 errors. "This was my worst season defensively," Molina told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "My percentage of throwing out runners [32 percent] was low, and I committed 10 errors. That's not a good season for me. Next year, I have to go out there and put up a better season. Every game I try to be perfect. I don't want to commit any errors. I want to throw everybody out."

Mauer, meanwhile, had six FRAA, which tied him for seventh in the AL and was far behind the Rays' Dioner Navarro, who had a major league-leading 20. Mauer made just three errors and threw out 26 percent of runners attempting to steal. "When I first got to the big leagues, I think people knew I was going to be a pretty good hitter, but I take a lot of pride in my defense," Mauer told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I still have a lot to learn, but it's definitely a good feeling to get recognized for the hard work I've put in so far." Mauer is the first Twins' catcher to win a Gold Glove since Earl Battey in 1962.

Molina was one of five first-time winners in the NL, along with Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, and Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth. Other first-time winners in the AL were Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and Rangers shortstop Michael Young.

The biggest surprise among the first-timers was McLouth, who had -17 FRAA, though the league managers and coaches who vote on the award were likely swayed by him making only one error in 390 chances as well as hitting 26 home runs and stealing 23 bases in his first season as a regular. "I know it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I really believe hitting is what gets you noticed for the Gold Glove," McLouth observed. "If I wouldn't have been a 20-20 guy this year, I don't think I would have won. It shouldn't be that way, but that's the way it's always been with the Gold Glove voting. You've got to do something with the bat before people notice your defense."

---

When the White Sox open the season on April 6 at home against the Royals, it seems a safe bet that President-elect Barack Obama will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Obama lives in Chicago and has never played politics in declaring that he is a White Sox fan and really doesn't care much for the Cubs. "I'll make an executive decision right now," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said a day after Obama became the first African-American to win a presidential election. "If he would like to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day next year, we can find a spot for him. When we won the World Series [in 2005], he was one of the first ones at the front door waiting for us."

Williams has been friends with Obama dating back to the {resident-elect's years in the Illinois legislature. Williams said that Obama's concern about the White Sox is always whether or not they have enough pitching. "Now I not only have to answer to Jerry Reinsdorf about pitching, I have to answer to the President," Williams said. "It's one thing when he would ask me about pitching as a senator, but now he's going to ask the question and I have to say, 'Mr. President.' I have to answer to the highest office now."

Obama should have liked Williams' response last season, as the White Sox were sixth in the AL in runs allowed, giving up an average of 4.47 a game while winning the Central.

---

While most of the news coming out of this past week's general managers' meetings concerned bids to free agents and trade talks, the GMs also took a step toward eliminating coin flips to decide home-field advantage for tie-breaker games that determine division champions or wild cards. The Twins' 1-0 tie-breaker loss to the White Sox in Chicago on September 30 for the AL Central title spurred the GMs to consider the change.

The Twins and White Sox were tied with 88-74 records after 162 games of the regular season, and though the Twins held a 10-8 edge over the White Sox in the season series between the two clubs, a coin flip held 16 days before the end of the regular season determined that the game would be played at U.S. Cellular Field.

Twins GM Bill Smith said he did not raise the issue at the meetings. "We didn't want it to look like sour grapes from a team that lost," Smith said. Other GMs put it on the agenda, though, and Major League Baseball will draft a proposal for teams to consider next month at the winter meetings in Las Vegas that calls for head-to-head records to determine home-field advantage. MLB has been resistant to the idea because determining tie-breaker sites in advance allows the television networks and home teams more time to prepare for the games. "I think it's better to decide it on the field," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said.

---

NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Padres figure to trade right-hander Jake Peavy to either the Cubs or Braves by the end of the week. ... If the Cubs don't land Peavy, they plan to pursue the Orioles' Brian Roberts again after failing to acquire the second baseman last winter. ... The Cardinals have emerged as the favorites to land Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday in a trade, with a package centered around outfielder Ryan Ludwick. ... The Giants, contrary to much speculation, will not trade right-hander Matt Cain for a power hitter. ... The Mets have interest in a pair of Rays right-handed starters, Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine, but will need to offer more than reliever Aaron Heilman to get a deal done. ... The Diamondbacks are considering moving third baseman Mark Reynolds to second base in anticipation of losing Hudson as a free agent, and they also have at least some interest in trading for Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez. ... The Marlins want to upgrade at catcher and have made the Rangers' Max Ramirez and Pirates' Ryan Doumit potential trade targets, offering left-hander Scott Olsen. ... The Marlins plan to give the starting center fielder's job to rookie Cameron Maybin next spring. ... If Mark Cuban fails in his bid to buy the Cubs, look for him to make a play to buy his hometown Pirates, whose owner, Bob Nutting, may be more willing to listen to a sales pitch with the newspaper industry in major trouble.

AL Rumors and Rumblings: Among those who are emerging as candidates for the Mariners' manager's job are former Rangers and Mets manager Bobby Valentine, former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, and Padres bench coach Ted Simmons. ... The Yankees are eyeing Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron, and are said to be willing to give up center fielder Melky Cabrera and possibly right-hander Ian Kennedy in a trade. ... The Tigers are the latest team to join the chase for Japanese amateur right-hander Junichi Tazawa, joining the Red Sox, Mariners, Braves, and Phillies.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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