The nation's economic slowdown won't have much of an impact on the very best of the more than 150 major league players who are currently eligible for free agency. Nearly unimaginable -- and, in some cases, perhaps unprecedented -- riches await those at the very top of the list, who include some of the finest players of their generation.
Penny-pinching by owners will likely trickle down to those who inhabit the list's middle reaches, the Joe Six-Packs and Plumbers (and Beimels and Credes) of the group -- and that's where relative bargains might be found. For example, this year Diamondbacks reliever Juan Cruz (No. 18) might not command a contract such as those awarded to last season's top free agent middle relievers -- Eric Gagne (1 year, $10 million from the Brewers), Octavio Dotel (2 years, $11 million from the White Sox) and Scott Linebrink (4 years, $19 million from the Sox) -- but the strikeout artist is quantifiably a better pitcher than all of them. And in 2008, no team will likely be willing to spend $48 million for four years of service from a player of Carlos Silva's caliber, as the Mariners did in `07.
Below you'll find one writer's ranking of the top 50 players available on the market, and the team that represents the best fit for each. Note that players cannot be signed by a team other than their current one until November 13, and that the list does not include players whose contracts provide for 2009 club options that have already been picked up, or whose club options will likely be picked up (such as the Mets' Carlos Delgado, the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero and John Lackey, the Rays' Carl Crawford and the Braves' Chipper Jones).
(* = player has a 2009 club option that has been, or will likely be, bought out)Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.