Before you grow completely weary of baseless speculation, I thought I’d lay the necessary groundwork for looking like a mouth-breathing fool two months from now. Today, I’m going to wield my unspectacular sense of prescience (actually perhaps “unspectacular” is too charitable. Take a gander at these 2004 Preseason Predictions and observe that I correctly predicted only one of the six division races) and attempt a reading of the free-agency tea leaves.

In no particular order….

Carlos Beltran

  • Where? Yankees. It’s a default-settings prediction, but it’s genuine on my part.
  • Why? They love their conspicuous consumption up there, and Beltran is squarely the prom queen of this year’s free agent class. The Yanks are actively shopping Kenny Lofton, and they’ll no longer abide the charred remains of Bernie Williams in center. Beltran makes sense.
  • How much? This is what I’m really no good at. I’ll say seven years, $117 million.
  • Good idea? In some senses, yes. He’s a very good player who should be entering his prime seasons. Beltran will be a massive defensive upgrade in center (that’s as much an indictment of the 2004 Yankee arrangement as it is lavish praise for Beltran’s glove work), and his offensive abilities are legion. Still, I think he’s poised to be overvalued. This past season was the best of his career. While his batting line of .267/.367/.548 is excellent, it’s somewhat less impressive when you consider he toiled in Kauffman and Minute Maid, two of the best hitter’s parks in the game.

    He’s already one of the most efficient base stealers of all-time, but that’s generally an overvalued skill. I love his 92 walks on the season, but 10 of those were intentional. On the positive side, that .267 average is comfortably below his established level of ability, so I expect him to add 15 points to that next season. The “rising tide lifts all boats” theorem is particularly true with regard to batting average and the other two rate stats. There’s no question he’ll be a tremendous boon to which ever team signs him, but he’s not Alex Rodriguez. I think he’ll be overvalued by the market, but the Yankees can withstand faulty player valuations by the dozen.

Pedro Martinez

  • Where? Red Sox.
  • Why? Comfort level on his part, the need for rotation stability on the Red Sox’s part.
  • How much? The Sox reportedly have a two-year, $25.5-million offer on the table with a $13-million option for 2007. I’ll say it takes a guaranteed third year, and Martinez inks for three years, $36 million.

  • Good idea? The Martinez of circa 2000 is probably gone forever, but, according to VORP, he was still the sixth-best pitcher in the AL this past season. This past season, he posted a stellar 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he posted his highest innings total since 2000. As far as his always-tenuous health goes, Will Carroll gives him an optimistic yellow light. Good enough for me, and good enough for the Sox.

Nomar Garciaparra

  • Where? Angels
  • Why? Dissatisfaction with David Eckstein and the “jumping bean” wallet of owner Arte Moreno.
  • How much? No idea. I’ll predict a two-year deal.

  • Good idea? I don’t think so. When healthy, he can still hit, but it’s the qualifier that’s been his undoing. There was speculation that he was malingering out of anger in Boston, but he missed more than a quarter of the Cubs’ games after being traded to Chicago. There’s also some doubt as to whether he’s an adequate defensive shortstop anymore. I don’t like his chances to justify the contract he’ll receive. I expect 95 games, a .520 slugging and prop-comic defense at short. Can anyone doubt that Miguel Tejada is clearly the best shortstop in the game now?

Jason Varitek

  • Where? Rangers. Wild guess.
  • Why? Manifest need for a productive catcher, Boston unwilling to meet contract demands.
  • How much? Scott Boras sent the first shot across the bow by saying his client seeks a five-year deal. That’s not going to happen for a 32-year-old catcher. However, I think his contract will be greater than what Boston’s due diligence will allow them to offer. I’ll say four years.

  • Good idea? Initially, the friendly environs of “Coors Junior” will make it seem so, but I expect the rigors of the position will get to him before 2008 rolls around. Boston will miss his production from such a premium position, but I think they’ll wisely read the market as overvaluing him.

Carlos Delgado

  • Where? Mariners
  • Why? He’s certainly not going to be a Blue Jay. There seems to be a mutual attraction with Seattle, and they most assuredly need a first baseman.
  • How much? I dunno, four years? How about “nothing remotely approaching his last contract?”

  • Good idea? For a contending team with a hole at first (e.g., Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Marlins), it would be, but the M’s are woefully deluded if they think they’re going to last 12 rounds with the Angels, A’s and Rangers next season. So, no, it’s a pointless Oriolesian move on the part of Bill Bavasi and his charges. For all you heard about Delgado’s down season in 2004, he wound up hitting .269/.372/.535 and had the third-best VORP of any AL first baseman. Still, he’s not a fit for the down-cycled Mariners.

Richie Sexson

  • Where? Mets
  • Why? Before the front-office upheaval in Arizona, it seemed a fait accompli that Sexson would return to the Snakes. Now, negotiations have taken a turn for the acrimonious. ‘Zona will resist the pressure to put at least a pair of major league hitters on the field next season, and the Mets, rudderless as ever, will begin their inspiring charge for 75 wins.
  • How much? Three years, guaranteed.

  • Good idea? No. Will says Sexson’s type of injury is prone to recurrence, and the Mets will continue their “surprise casserole” approach to assembling a roster.

Jeff Kent

  • Where? Astros
  • Why? The Astros have proven they’ll countenance sub-optimal defense at the keystone, and Kent can still hit. They declined his option, but Kent likes playing near home, and I think they’ll be able to craft a deal amenable to both parties.
  • How much? One year with an option, I’m guessing.

  • Good idea? Barring drastic decline, yeah.

Brad Radke

  • Where? Cardinals
  • Why? Baseball’s Worst OwnerTM in Minnesota decides he can’t afford him, and the Cardinals, with their evacuated rotation, need an effective innings guy.
  • How much? The Twins have offered two years and roughly $15 million. Say the Cards go three and 20.

  • Good idea? Yes. In terms of peripherals, Radke is coming off the best season of his career (5.5 K/BB ratio). He doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, but the strong Cardinal defense can generally abide a few extra balls in play. St. Louis will likely not re-sign one of both of Woody Williams and Matt Morris, they’ve already said publicly that Dan Haren and Rick Ankiel will work out of the bullpen, and Chris Carpenter is an unknown quantity because of the nerve problem in his arm. In other words, they badly need a guy like Radke.

Adrian Beltre

  • Where? Dodgers
  • Why? I’ve already examined the pressures that will be on GM Paul DePodesta to re-sign Beltre. I think it’s the only tenable choice, irrespective of how wise it is.
  • How much? Something like six years, $75 million?

  • Good idea? On balance, I think so. It wouldn’t surprise me if 2004 winds up being the best season of Beltre’s career. However, it will surprise me if he’s ever again (at least until he’s old) as ineffective as he’s been before 2004. He may not provide on-the-dollar value, but he’ll be an important and productive part of the Dodgers for the next five years.

Troy Glaus

  • Where? Red Sox
  • Why? They’ve picked up their 2005 option on Bill Mueller, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for Glaus. Mueller could wind up at second or in a super-utility role. At the very least, he’d provide strong insurance for Glaus in case that injured shoulder won’t allow him to play third for a full season.
  • How much? No idea.

  • Good idea? A calculated risk for sure. If he’s unable to handle third, he can play first, which would relegate Kevin Millar to spot duty at first, DH and in right. It’s doable, either way.

Next week, I’ll sound off on a few more selected free agents.

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