Friday December 12th, 2008

After four long days during which news and rumors -- far more of the latter than the former, it must be said -- spread electrically through the long, wide corridors that connect the elevator bank with the conference center at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, baseball's winter meetings finally ended on Thursday afternoon. The offseason, though, has only barely begun. As of Friday afternoon, just 11 of the top 50 available free agents, according to the list I compiled a month and a half ago, have been signed (a 12th, Mike Mussina, retired), and of those 11, only five -- CC Sabathia, Francisco Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster and Raul Ibanez -- rank in the top 20.

The meetings seemed to confirm the notion that the economy will have a real impact on all but a few big league teams (you know who they are), and as a result, on the dollars committed to all but a few free agents.

One general manager insisted to me that he and the majority of his colleagues are not using the economic crisis as a mere bargaining ploy, as some player agents have suggested. "You've got a lot of owners whose other businesses are being impacted," he said. "Most teams will operate with varying degrees of caution. It's clearly going to affect us, and it's going to affect most teams."

Of the free agent market, the GM added, "The top group will definitely get fair contracts, and there will be a tier just below them that will do very well, but somewhere below them I assume there will be an underbelly. What's going on is real, whether it's [533,000] people losing jobs last month, or corporations in deep trouble. That impacts everyone."

Everyone, perhaps, but whomever the loaded-as-ever Yankees choose to sign, plus a handful of top starting pitchers, and Mark Teixeira and Rafael Furcal. Even though most free agents will find themselves wishing they'd have hit the open market in 2007, not '08, there's still a significant amount of talent available to the highest bidder. Below you'll find a post-winter meetings update of the Reiter 50, with new "best fits" and explanations where appropriate.

Age: 28 Position: Starting pitcher Club in 2008: Brewers Old best fit: Dodgers Signed with: Yankees

His seven-year, $161 million contract, a record for a pitcher, puts him in a tough spot. If he contends for the Cy Young award each and every season, he'll only be doing what he's supposed to do; if he comes up a bit short, he'll be a viewed as a historic failure. Accepting that pressure is worth an extra $61 million, I suppose.

Age: 28 Position: First baseman Club in 2008: Angels Old best fit: Yankees New best fit: Angels

Both the Nationals and Orioles have reportedly made huge offers (eight years and $160 million in the Nats' case) to the switch-hitting Maryland native, but that might not be enough to land Teixeira. The Red Sox and Yankees are firmly in the mix, but Angels owner Arte Moreno will probably do whatever it takes to bring Teixeira back.

Age: 38 Position: Outfielder Club in 2008: Dodgers Old best fit: Dodgers New best fit: Dodgers

At the winter meetings, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti compared negotiations with Manny to "like watching the San Andreas Fault." I still believe Manny will end up with the Dodgers, but he won't be happy with the contract, which likely won't be much more than he would have earned had he just stayed in Boston, and we all know what's bound to happen if you watch the San Andreas Fault long enough.

Age: 27 Position: Relief pitcher Club in 2008: Angels Old best fit: Angels Signed with: Mets

What a bullpen the Mets now have, with K-Rod closing for them (thanks to his three-year, $37 million deal, about half as much in total as he initially sought) and J.J. Putz setting him up! Right? Unless Rodriguez's velocity continues to decrease, and Putz continues to struggle to stay healthy ... but let's not talk about that now.

Age: 31 Position: SP Club in 2008: Blue Jays Old best fit: Braves New best fit: Yankees

Brittle in the past but threw a career-high 221.1 innings in 2008, which was (guess what?) his contract year. His 231 strikeouts led the American League, and his filthy stuff has GM's salivating. On Friday, Burnett reached an agreement with the Yankees on a five-year, $82.5 million deal.

Age: 35 Position: SP Club in 2008: Dodgers Old best fit: Red Sox New best fit: Red Sox

A bit boring, sure, but has topped 200 IP in six of last seven seasons and is a proven postseason performer. He'll be a rotation's glue, and will be duly rewarded. Should they not sign Teixeira, the Red Sox will have plenty to spend on Lowe.

Age: 31 Position: Shortstop Club in 2008: Dodgers Old best fit: Dodgers New best fit: Dodgers

Would be much higher (perhaps No. 4) if not for back issues that limited him to 36 games in '08. That he turned down a good offer from the A's (four years, between $35 million and $40 million) points to a return to L.A.

Age: 34 Position: SS Club in 2008: White Sox Old best fit: Blue Jays New best fit: Blue Jays

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston clearly covets Furcal -- in his meeting with the Toronto beat writers he must have mentioned his name a half-dozen times -- but might have to settle for Cabrera, who will fill the Jays' need for a leadoff-hitting shortstop.

Age: 27 Position: SP Club in 2008: Mets Old best fit: Mets New best fit: Mets

Regressed a bit from '07 to '08 (ERA and WHIP jumped and K-rate dropped), but riches await lefthanded strikeout artists of this age. Would be a fine consolation prize for the Mets should they lose out on Lowe, etc.

Age: 29 Position: OF Club in 2008: Diamondbacks Old best fit: Angels New best fit: Nationals

As unfairly maligned as any player with five straight 40+ home run seasons and a .365+ OBP can be. Nats fans dreaming of Teixeira will be disappointed if this long-time Jim Bowden favorite is signed instead, but Dunn will be far more affordable and he should continue to produce for a club that desperately needs some offensive juice.

Age: 33 Position: RP Club in 2008: Rockies Old best fit: Brewers New best fit: Cardinals

Lefty regained form and closer role in '08 (30 saves, 2.73 ERA), and Tony La Russa made it clear at the meetings that Fuentes is his guy. "I know he likes our situation, and we like him," La Russa said. "It seems like it's a perfect fit."

Age: 31 Position: RP Club in 2008: Cubs Old best fit: Cardinals New best fit: Indians

Seems assured of becoming an Indian, and very well might be by the time you read this, provided he passes his physical. He might be injury-prone, but he's certainly better than JoeBo (Joe Borowski).

Age: 32 Position: OF Club in 2008: Phillies Old best fit: Phillies New best fit: Angels

Pat the Bat is a slightly lesser version of Dunn: lots of power (29+ homers for four straight years), great OBP, takes a lot of unfair criticism. He could thrive as a replacement for Garret Anderson in Anaheim, where Mike Scioscia could replace him with Reggie Willits late in games, and where he'd probably see a lot of at-bats as a DH.

Age: 35 Position: OF Club in 2008: Yankees Old best fit: Mets New best fit: Mets

Not the player he once was, particularly in rightfield, but has six consecutive 100+ RBI, 22+ SB seasons and hasn't slowed too much. Could move to left for the Mets and stop the revolving door they had there in '08, when 11 players combined to hit just 10 home runs.

Age: 31 Position: SP Club in 2008: Cubs Old best fit: Cubs Signed with: Cubs

As expected, the Cubs re-signed Dempster, to a four-year, $52 million extension. While Dempster probably won't repeat his 17-6, 2.96 ERA performance from 2008, Chicago did well to lock him up three weeks ago, as the market for top starting pitchers now appears to be skyrocketing.

Age: 30 Position: SP Club in 2008: Brewers Old best fit: Rangers New best fit: Rangers

Enters every season as a Cy Young candidate, only to have candidacy derailed by injuries (he hasn't topped 200 innings since '04). Torn muscle near pitching elbow that kept him out of the postseason should have suitors very, very concerned, but the Rangers, as always, desperately need an ace.

Age: 36 Position: OF Club in 2008: Mariners Old best fit: Cubs Signed with: Phillies

Late bloomer (drove in 100+ runs each of the past three years, only once before that) has become an under-the-radar star. While the Phillies, who signed him to a three-year, $30 million contract, already had a glut of lefthanded hitters, Ibanez isn't bad against southpaws. A move to Citizens Bank Park will only improve his numbers.

Age: 30 Position: RP Club in 2008: D'backs Old best fit: Mets New best fit: Brewers

If the closer-needy Brewers lose out on Fuentes, they could do worse than turn to a combination of this fire-baller (who struck out 71 batters in 51.2 IP this season) and Trevor Hoffman (see No. 32).

Age: 30 Position: Second baseman Club in 2008: Diamondbacks Old best fit: Mets New best fit: Mets

Good-natured clubhouse leader reportedly loves the idea of playing in New York, and Mets GM Omar Minaya shouldn't allow the very questionable four-year deal he gave to Luis Castillo last summer prevent him from bringing the O-Dog aboard.

Age: 30 Position: OF Club in 2008: Rangers Old best fit: Rays New best fit: Rays

Emotional and injury-prone, and most likely mainly a DH at age 30, but when he plays, he hits (.999 OPS in `08). Rays need a rightfield/DH-type, even though they just acquired Matt Joyce from Detroit, and are considering Bradley, who could thrive off their youthful energy.

Age: 35 Position: Third baseman Club in 2008: Dodgers Old best fit: Indians Signed with: Dodgers

Colletti has one of his many free agents back in the fold, for three years and a reported $17 million. Blake is solid and dependable (17+ home runs for six straight seasons), but not a star.

Age: 36 Position: SP Club in 2008: Yankees Old best fit: Yankees New best fit: Yankees

His return to New York would be crucial if they don't sign Burnett, Lowe or Sheets. He was solid in '08 before a late summer swoon in which he dropped seven of his last nine decisions, finishing 14-14 and raised his ERA from 3.76 to 4.54.

Age: 31 Position: RP Club in 2008: Dodgers Old best fit: Dodgers New best fit: Tigers

The Tigers reportedly are after this valuable lefty reliever (2.02 ERA in '08) who can also shut down right-handed hitters (they have batted just .263 against him). Did not yield a home run in 49.0 innings pitched -- only one other pitcher (the Orioles' Jim Johnson) pitched more dinger-less innings.

Age: 38 Position: Designated Hitter Club in 2008: Yankees Old best fit: A's New best fit: A's

A return to Oakland could be a nice coda to his career, and he'd represent an upgrade over the other codgers A's GM Billy Beane has recently used as a DH (Frank Thomas, Mike Sweeney). Still more productive than you think.

Age: 40 Position: SP Club in 2008: Yankees Old best fit: Yankees New best fit: Retirement

Moose could have undoubtedly earned a rich deal after his first 20-win season, probably to stay with the Yankees, but he decided he'd had enough after 18 years. "I always said when I got to this point, I wanted to go out on my own terms," he said -- and that he did.

Age: 30 Position: OF Club in 2008: Angels Old best fit: Giants New best fit: Reds

Has had only one outstanding season (in '06), but could prove a bargain if finally given a full-time gig. The Reds seem as good a fit as anyone.

Age: 33 Position: SS Club in 2008: Tigers Old best fit: Cardinals New best fit: Giants

San Francisco, which has been very active this offseason (although in this slow market, it's all relative), filled its gap at shortstop with Renteria, for two years and $18.5 million. "I played good in the National League," Renteria said. "I feel real comfortable." The Giants hope his struggles in Detroit (.317 OBP) were simply league-based, and not the beginning of a decline.

Age: 46 Position: SP Club in 2008: Phillies Old best fit: Phillies New best fit: Phillies

Remarkable 16-win season in Philly -- not to mention his 6.1 inning, five-hit, three-run gem in Game 3 of the World Series -- has earned the Souderton, Penn., native at least another year as MLB's oldest active player, and I don't put much credence into rumors that he'd go elsewhere.

Age: 31 Position: RP Club in 2008: Twins Old best fit: Reds New best fit: Reds

Terrific lefty specialist (left-handed hitters hit .202 against him in '08) should be on the move as Twins have younger and cheaper options on board in Jose Mijares and Craig Breslow. Many teams could use him, but the Reds will be looking to replace several departed free agents in the pen.

Age: 38 Position: 2B Club in 2008: Royals Old best fit: Cardinals New best fit: Padres

Perpetually underrated veteran has hit .294 or better in six straight seasons. Injuries and age are a concern, but he could work well in San Diego, where his veteran leadership and steady play at second would be valued.

Age: 36 Position: OF Club in 2008: Angels Old best fit: Padres New best fit: Braves

The Angels declined to pick up his option ($14 million), and there are a number of teams that could use him at a significantly reduced salary. The Braves are one.

Age: 41 Position: RP Club in 2008: Padres Old best fit: Padres New best fit: Brewers

While manager Bud Black insisted in Vegas that all bridges between the Padres and Hoffman haven't been burned, a return to San Diego seems unlikely after the Padres enraged the all-time saves leader by withdrawing their contract offer to him.

Age: 30 Position: 3B Club in 2008: White Sox Old best fit: Twins New best fit: Twins

A very difficult player to value. He's an excellent defender and true power hitter when healthy, but back problems have limited him to 144 games played over the past two seasons, and back problems usually don't just go away. After negotiations with Casey Blake fell apart, Minnesota could still use some power and a third baseman, and could take a chance on Crede.

Age: 45 Position: SP Club in 2008: Diamondbacks Old best fit: Diamondbacks New best fit: Giants

As inconsistent as he is now, the Big Unit can still accumulate strikeouts by the bushel-full, and had some magnificent stretches last season (an August in which he posted a 2.46 ERA, for instance). Both Bay Area teams are interested, but Johnson is said to be leaning toward the Giants, where he'd make for a terrific No. 4 or 5 starter in what is shaping up to be a strong Tim Lincecum-led rotation.

Age: 29 Position: RP Club in 2008: Reds Old best fit: Giants Signed with: Giants

We nailed this one: Affeldt was the first free agent to sign, and he went to the team that we believed to be the best fit for him. For $8 million over two years, the Giants get a dependable lefty reliever coming off his best season yet in 2008. He handles righties (.255 BAA) as well as lefties (.269).

Age: 38 Position: SP Club in 2008: Red Sox Old best fit: Brewers New best fit: Marlins

You know what you're going to get from this sturdy old-schooler: somewhere around a .500 record, and somewhere around a 4.50 ERA. That promise will be attractive to a team in need of a veteran No. 4 or No. 5 starter, and the Marlins, who play in pitcher-friendly Dolphin Stadium, are interested.

Age: 39 Position: OF Club in 2008: White Sox Old best fit: Mariners New best fit: Mariners

The Kid significantly declined last season (the Sox were surely hoping for more than three HR and 18 RBI in 41 games after they acquired him from Cincinnati), but he'll continue his run up the all time homer list as, perhaps, a part-timer where it all began.

Age: 34 Position: SP Club in 2008: Cardinals Old best fit: Braves New best fit: Orioles

Unexpectedly became a reasonably effective starter (24-26) in two seasons in St. Louis after spending his first nine as a reliever. But his K-rate is low (just 4.7 per nine innings), and what happens if he leaves the tutelage of St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan? The Orioles are desperate to do something in this market, so they might bite, but it might not end well.

Age: 31 Position: RP Club in 2008: Braves Old best fit: Tigers New best fit: Rockies

Won't make you say, "Oh, man!," but lots of teams will covet a dependable middle reliever like him. Seriously, take your pick; while I originally thought he might fit in well in Detroit, their pursuit of Joe Beimel means I now like him in Colorado.

Age: 37 Position: 1B Club in 2008: Orioles Old best fit: Red Sox New best fit: Pirates

Average keeps declining (to .234 last season), but his pop (20 HR, 72 RBI) will find him a platoon or reserve role somewhere. The Pirates have been talking about him, and he'd probably get as much playing time there as anywhere else.

Age: 31 Position: 2B Club in 2008: Twins Old best fit: Twins Signed with: Twins

Versatile utilityman has less power than a moped (11 career HR), but plays everywhere, can steal some bases and usually hits near .300. Minnesota doesn't care all that much about power, and the two-year, $8.5 million deal to which they signed him during the meetings means he'll probably be their everyday shortstop through 2010.

Age: 29 Position: SP Club in 2008: Angels Old best fit: Cardinals New best fit: Cardinals

Went 14-8 in his walk year in Anaheim but had 4.90 ERA, and has never equaled his '05 campaign (18-10, 3.50) in which he finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting. A move to the NL would help.

Age: 33 Position: OF Club in 2008: Red Sox Old best fit: Reds New best fit: Red Sox

Represents a reasonable value as a fourth outfielder, and perhaps increased his potential usefulness by playing a solid first base for the Sox after Mike Lowell went down and Kevin Youkilis was shifted to third. If the Sox don't sign Teixeira, Youkilis and Lowell will start the season at the corners of the infield and Kotsay could again play a backup role.

Age: 37 Position: SP Club in 2008: Mets Old best fit: Nationals New best fit: Mets

Many thought the Mets would get two good years out of his four-year deal; they got one, his first. His next contract could yield fewer than that, and as such will likely be largely incentive-based. Omar Minaya still likes him, so why not take another chance, this time with a seriously diminished downside risk?

Age: 27 Position: OF Club in 2008: Rays Old best fit: Rays New best fit: Rays

Admirably dealt with his mitochondrial disease in the postseason, but the energy-sapping disorder makes him necessarily a part-time player. Even so, was the best of the Rays' rightfield options down the stretch, and would be a fine reserve going forward.

Age: 38 Position: OF Club in 2008: Cubs Old best fit: Cubs New best fit: Cubs

Looked done in 26 games with San Diego (1 HR, 6 RBI) but surged after moving to the Cubs (19 HR, 49 RBI in 85 games). Still a competitor, and still useful, as long as he doesn't retire.

Age: 37 Position: C Club in 2008: Yankees Old best fit: A's New best fit: Marlins

Gave the Yankees virtually nothing after they acquired him from the Tigers (.219 average, 2 HR, 3 RBI in 33 games), and he's not nearly what he used to be defensively. The Marlins recently cut backup Matt Treanor, so they have a reserve role to fill, and Pudge could work well with their young staff.

Age: 36 Position: RP Club in 2008: Phillies Old best fit: Phillies Signed with: Phillies

Southpaw struggled with the Cubs but was terrific after trade to Philadelphia: 1.88 ERA, .767 WHIP in 19 appearances, and lefties hit .220 against him. New Phillies GM Ruben Amaro rewarded him with a one year, $2 million extension.

Age: 28 Position: 2B Club in 2008: Cardinals Old best fit: Astros Signed with: Diamondbacks

Orlando Hudson hasn't signed anywhere yet, but the D'backs' acquisition of Lopez means they're ready to move on without him. Looked revitalized after becoming a Cardinal midway through the season (hit .385 as a St. Louis reserve), and he'll have every chance to become Arizona's everyday second baseman.

Age: 36 Position: C Club in 2008: Red Sox Old best fit: Red Sox New best fit: Red Sox

Warhorse can still call a game, as his agent, Scott Boras, will tell you, but offensively he has a giant fork sticking out of his latissimus dorsi (.220 BA, .313 OBP in '08). Most likely scenario has the Sox keeping their captain around one more year to mentor the younger backstop they'll look to acquire. I believe he made a mistake by not accepting arbitration.

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