Though the Los Angeles Angels and Miami Marlins have tried their best, the free agent market is not picked clean yet. In fact, one of the prizes of this winter's class remains on the market in first baseman Prince Fielder, or as his agent Scott Boras has taken to calling him, "The PF Flyer."
Somehow it seems odd to equate Fielder to a Flyer regardless of the shared initials. Nonetheless, Fielder is the best player on a market that still includes some other intriguing options for teams still hoping for prices to drop so they can bargain shop as spring training approaches.
Here is a look at the 10 best players left on the market—using Tim Dierkes' ranking of this winter's crop at MLB Trade Rumors—and scouts' views on whether they’re worth a substantial investment.
Free agent: 1B Prince Fielder
Scout's view: "People look at his body and think it's dangerous to give him a long-term contract. I don't buy that. He might not look good in his uniform, but he's strong and durable, and he might have another 50-home-run season in him. He's one of the best power hitters in the game, he's only 28 years old, and he's a good kid. If I had the money and the need, I'd sign him in a heartbeat."
Free agent: RHP Edwin Jackson
Scout's view: "He's a different kind of free agent than you normally see, because you're looking at what he might do rather than what he has done. I know he's bounced around and he's 28, but I really see some upside here. I think he's starting to figure things out. I don't know if I'd go five years on him, but I might gamble with a four-year contract or at least three and an option."
Free agent: RHP Ryan Madson
Scout's view: "The red flag for me is that the Phillies were reportedly gung ho to re-sign him, then suddenly reversed course and signed Jonathan Papelbon to be their closer. Nobody knows players better than their own teams, and it's been a poorly-kept secret for a long time that the Phillies didn't think he had the mental makeup to be a top-flight closer. He pitched well in that role last year, but I'd be hesitant to go past one year on him. I just keep coming back to the Phillies backing off."
Free agent: RHP Hiroki Kuroda
Scout's view: "I like him a lot, and I'd give him big money on a one-year contract if I knew I was one good starting pitcher from putting my club over the top. He's one of the few pitchers who have come over from Japan and been as good as advertised. In fact, he's been better than advertised. He is really underrated."
Free agent: 1B Carlos Pena
Scout's view: "He can still help someone, but you better have a good right-handed hitter to platoon with him. He's completely helpless against left-handers now, so you can't play him 155-160 games anymore. At this stage of his career, he's a complementary player rather than a major cog in a lineup, and I'd pay him accordingly."
Free agent: RHP Roy Oswalt
Scout's view: "He's willing to take a one-year contract, and that's the only way I would sign him. You wonder how much longer he is going to last because of his back problems. He's still Roy Oswalt, and I wouldn't count him out, but I also wouldn't go crazy to sign him."
Free agent: RHP Javier Vazquez
Scout's view: "I think he's serious when he says he is going to retire, and I'm happy for him. You see so many guys in this game hang on too long, and it ends badly. This story has a good ending."
Free agent: LHP Paul Maholm
Scout's view: "He was asked to be a No. 1 in Pittsburgh, and that just wasn't fair. On a good team, he's a No. 5, maybe a No. 4. I'd take a shot on him for the back end of the rotation. He has a good idea of what he's doing on the mound and makes up for not being overpowering by getting guys to hit the ball on the ground. Put him on the right team in the right park with the stars aligned just right, and he might win you 15 games."
Free agent: RHP Bartolo Colon
Scout's view: "The Yankees wrung every lost drop out of him last season, which is a credit to them… He doesn't have anything left. I wouldn't even bring him to camp as a non-roster guy."
Free agent: LHP Jeff Francis
Scout's view: "He showed he was healthy last year, but his stuff just isn't very good anymore. His best role is exactly what it was last season with the Royals: serving as an innings-eater on a rebuilding team so it doesn't have to overtax its young starting pitchers."
Five random thoughts:
- I voted for five players on my Hall of Fame ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Larry Walker. Yes, I know Palmeiro is a drug cheat, but as I have explained many times in the past, I vote with the assumption that everyone who played in the Steroids Era might have done something illegal. There is no way to prove otherwise. Hence, treat all players from that era as equals.
- If I were prone to shirking my responsibility and voting on sentiment, I would have checked the box next to Terry Mulholland's name. He wasn't a Hall of Fame player, but he is a Hall of Fame person.
- Speaking of the Hall of Fame, longtime Yankees catcher Jorge Posada will be on the ballot in five years now that he is set to announce his retirement later this month. I won't vote for him, though. Then again, I didn't vote for Gary Carter, either, so maybe I have a hidden bias against New York catchers. That's bad news for Josh Thole's Cooperstown bid.
- I'd like Albert Pujols to invite me to be a guest in his suite at Angel Stadium just one time during the term of his 10-year contract with the Angels. I've been going to baseball games since 1969 but have never sat in a luxury box. No, wise guy, press boxes are not luxury boxes.
- If I could spend an entire season with one team this upcoming season and write a book, it would definitely be the Marlins. Will Hanley Ramirez accept moving to third base following the free agent signing of Jose Reyes? Will Carlos Zambrano have his annual eruption? What might Logan Morrison tweet next? Will Heath Bell set a record for most funny lines in one season? And the best part is that Ozzie Guillen will be running the show, truly a baseball writer/reporter's dream.
This week's Must Read comes from ESPN.com's Steve Wulf about former Rockies and Tigers catcher Ben Petrick and how he is dealing with Parkinson's Disease. It's very touching and very uplifting.
As regular readers of this column can tell, we've decided to change some things with On The Beat for 2012.
Many of you have emailed, left comments, or tweeted over the last year saying that you like the Scout's Views section of this column and want more of it. I will endeavor to deliver more of that this season, especially once the exhibition games begin in early March. I also plan to add more views from front office types and players, managers, and coaches, too.
While this isn't intended to give the column the gossipy feel of a supermarket tabloid, it is an attempt to bring the reader inside the major leagues and get a feel for what decision makers, talent evaluators, and those in uniform are thinking.
I have also been asked to share more of my own opinions on the game and will do that, too, as you can see above.
One other new feature will be called “Must Read.” It will be one story I find each week while perusing the Internet that I feel a majority of fans, statistically inclined or not, would enjoy reading. The amount of stories and information available today is amazing, and this is my way of trying to spotlight something from the rest of the crowd.
If you have ideas for any other features, please let me know, and I will consider incorporating them. Feel free to email me, leave a comment, or reach me on Twitter at @jperrotto or on Facebook at facebook.com/johnperrottosportswriter.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read, and best wishes for a great 2012.