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The Reiter 50: Ranking top free agents

The Reiter 50: Ranking Top Free Agents
There is no hitter on this winter's free agent market who is as good as Mark Teixeira. There is no starting pitcher who is as good as CC Sabathia. There is no closer who is as good as Francisco Rodriguez.

This year's crop of free agents is not as talented as last season's, and nowhere near as talented as next year's class -- which could include Roy Halladay, Joe Mauer, Carl Crawford, Aramis Ramirez, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee and even Derek Jeter, among others -- promises to be. Baseball's general managers will probably try to save up for next winter's bonanza, and in general, that should prove to be a wise move. Most of the starting pitchers who will be on the market this offseason have an extensive injury history, or did not pitch in 2009 at all, or both. Many of the hitters are rapidly declining.

Still, there is a clear top tier that includes John Lackey, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. None of those three will earn deals equal to Sabathia's (seven years, $161 million) or Teixeira's (eight years, $180 million), but each could get relatively close due to the paucity of other players available on the market who have the ability to satisfy win-now types.

MLB teams have until Nov. 20 -- that is, until 15 days after the World Series' conclusion -- to negotiate exclusively with their own free agents, and the Angels have already re-signed Bobby Abreu (who would have ranked no. 5 on the below list) to a two-year, $19 million deal, with a club option for 2012. The Angels, in fact, could have a significant impact on the market, as they still have six probable free agents, including five members of the top 50 in Lackey (No. 1), Chone Figgins (No. 4), Vladimir Guerrero (No. 28), Darren Oliver (No. 38) and Kelvim Escobar (No. 44).

Also making a significant impact will be Aroldis Chapman, the 21-year old left-handed Cuban defector who will likely inspire a bidding war among the game's richest clubs. He is not, as an international free agent, included on this list, but his fate will undoubtedly affect many of those who are.

Herein, the second annual version of the Reiter 50:
 
1
John Lackey
Age: 31
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 11-8, 3.83 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 7.1 K/9
He's only arguably No. 1 on the merit of his talent alone -- either of the two men ranked immediately below him could occupy the top spot on the basis of skill -- but this is a market in which there appears only one starting pitcher who is a proven and durable team-changer and playoff performer, and that relative scarcity increases his value. Lackey went 7-4 with a 3.05 ERA and a .239 BAA in the second half, when he rounded into form after tightness in his elbow sidelined him for the season's first month and a half. As a Texas native, Lackey has long been viewed as a perfect fit for a Rangers club perennially in need of an ace. The Rangers' ownership situation is uncertain, though, and the Yankees also could use a pitcher, and they usually get what they need.

CURRENT TEAM: ANGELS
BEST FIT: YANKEES
 
2
Matt Holliday
Age: 30
Position: OF
2009 Stats: .313/.394/.513, 24 HR, 109 RBI, 14 SB
Holliday's season ended on an embarrassing note, after he dropped a fly ball in the ninth inning of Game 2 against the Dodgers in the NLDS, but before that he'd been a terrific acquisition for St. Louis: his .353 average, 13 home runs and 55 RBIs in 63 games as a Cardinal erased most concern about his struggles earlier in the season with Oakland. The Mets need to make an impactful move, and this one makes sense, as their left fielders hit only 12 home runs in '09. Holliday supposedly isn't thrilled by the idea of playing in New York, but he would have a terrific cast surrounding him, including Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran, and he's a Scott Boras client, which almost always means accepting the most lucrative contract out there.

CURRENT TEAM: CARDINALS
BEST FIT: METS
 
3
Jason Bay
Age: 31
Position: OF
2009 Stats: .267/.384/.537, 36 HR, 119 RBI, 13 SB
Bay's numbers are in some ways declining -- his best season came in 2005, when he was a Pirate -- and he is a subpar left fielder (only Ryan Braun was worse in '09, according to Ultimate Zone Rating). But he has performed too well for the Red Sox in the place of Manny Ramirez for them to allow him to go anywhere else.

CURRENT TEAM: RED SOX
BEST FIT: RED SOX
 
4
Chone Figgins
Age: 32
Position: 3B
2009 Stats: .298/.395/.383, 5 HR, 54 RBI, 42 SB
A horrible postseason, in which he hit .086 and stole nary a base out of the leadoff spot, shouldn't damage his value too much -- especially not to the Angels, who benefitted from his newfound selectivity (he walked an AL-high 101 times, after never before topping 65) and his terrific defensive play all season long. The White Sox were thought to covet him, but they appear to have filled their hole at third base by acquiring Mark Teahen from the Royals. Even so, the odds were that Figgins would remain an Angel all along.

CURRENT TEAM: ANGELS
BEST FIT: ANGELS
 
5
Nick Johnson
Age: 31
Position: 1B
2009 Stats: .291/.426/.405, 8 HR, 62 RBI, 2 SB
What? Nick Johnson is the FIFTH-best free agent on the market? Well, yes. Look at the names below him. Johnson's a terrific on-base man, and a good defender, and since he's hurt all the time, his asking price might not be too high. The Giants got terrible production out of their first basemen last year (who combined for a .733 OPS, second-worst in the NL), and their batters as a group got on base at a miserable clip (an MLB-worst .309 OBP), and they're a team that should be within striking distance of the playoffs should they rectify those situations. Johnson could be a perfect fit.

CURRENT TEAM: MARLINS
BEST FIT: GIANTS
 
6
Rich Harden
Age: 28
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 9-9, 4.09 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 10.9 K/9
So, Theo Epstein's reclamation projects didn't go so well last season -- John Smoltz? Brad Penny? -- but Harden's younger and (at this stage, anyway) more talented than either of those pitchers. His strikeout rate remains high, and he's clearly the second-best starter on the market, with a potential upside that might even exceed Lackey's. Harden shapes up as a classic Epstein acquisition -- although as franchises watch the market shake out, his price might rise.

CURRENT TEAM: CUBS
BEST FIT: RED SOX
 
7
Felipe Lopez
Age: 29
Position: 2B
2009 Stats: .310/.383/.427, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 6 SB
The first real sleeper on this list, Lopez could yet turn into a star. He certainly played like something close to one after the Brewers acquired him from the D-backs to fill in for an injured Rickie Weeks, hitting .320 with an .855 OPS in 66 games in Milwaukee. The Cubs seem like a good fit, and his presence would allow them to even better use mid-2009 acquisition Jeff Baker as a super-sub.

CURRENT TEAM: BREWERS
BEST FIT: CUBS
 
8
Mark DeRosa
Age: 35
Position: 3B
2009 Stats: .250/.319/.433, 23 HR, 78 RBI, 3 SB
2009 was a tale of two halves for DeRosa. In the first half, as an Indian, he hit .270 with 13 home runs and a .799 OPS. Then he was traded to the Cardinals on June 28, shortly thereafter injured his wrist, and hit .228 with a .696 OPS with St. Louis. His wrist has been surgically repaired, and there's little reason to think that he won't be able to perform at his first-half standard all season, for a team like the Phillies, who need to upgrade at third and declined a club option on underperforming Pedro Feliz. Also, DeRosa went to Penn, as if stuff like that matters in the cutthroat world that is the baseball offseason.

CURRENT TEAM: CARDINALS
BEST FIT: PHILLIES
 
9
Adrian Beltre
Age: 30
Position: 3B
2009 Stats: .265/.304/.379, 8 HR, 44 RBI, 13 SB
What happens when you reach the big leagues at 19? You hit the free-agent market twice while you're still in your prime. Beltre won't command anywhere near the five-year, $64 million contract he scored from the Mariners after posting a career year in 2004 with the Dodgers (he hit .334 with 48 homers and 121 RBI then, and hasn't topped .276, 26 and 99 since), but he remains a very good defensive third baseman and his offense should improve from last year, when he had to miss time with a testicular injury (the description included the word "tearing") that was no laughing matter. The Orioles, who won't bring back Melvin Mora, could work.

CURRENT TEAM: MARINERS
BEST FIT: ORIOLES
 
10
Jose Valverde
Age: 30
Position: RP
2009 Stats: 4-2, 2.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 25 SV
Valverde is clearly the top closer available on the market -- he led the NL in saves in both '07 and '08, and his peripherals remain strong. The Phillies won't be able to tolerate Brad Lidge working the ninth inning for much longer, but they might be able to tolerate him in a situational role, and Lidge could become a situational reliever if they have Valverde finishing games for them.

CURRENT TEAM: ASTROS
BEST FIT: PHILLIES
 
11
Erik Bedard
Age: 31
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 5-3, 2.82 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 9.8 K/9
Two winters ago, his value was only slightly below that of Johan Santana, but injuries made his tenure in Seattle a disaster (as did the quick development and outstanding performances of several of the players whom the Orioles received in return for him, including Adam Jones, George Sherrill and Chris Tillman). Bedard, though, remains as talented as any pitcher in the game, when he's healthy, and he could be a worthy and relatively low-cost gamble for a team that might be a frontline starter away from a championship, like the Dodgers.

CURRENT TEAM: MARINERS
BEST FIT: DODGERS
 
12
Randy Wolf
Age: 33
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 11-7, 3.23 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 6.7 K/9
No team that signs him can expect a repeat performance of 2009, when he posted career-bests in innings and WHIP and his lowest ERA since 2002. He is more a quality, if injury-prone, middle-of-the-rotation type, and both he and the Dodgers would be fine with that in 2010.

CURRENT TEAM: DODGERS
BEST FIT: DODGERS
 
13
Johnny Damon
Age: 36
Position: OF
2009 Stats: .282/.365/.489, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 12 SB
His strong postseason, and terrific baserunning play in Game 4 of the World Series, might have helped remind the Yankees of all the things that Damon can still do. Included among them are using his compact swing to pull balls over the close right-field wall at Yankee Stadium, and keeping left field warm until GM Brian Cashman can go after Carl Crawford either via a trade this season, or via free agency next winter.

CURRENT TEAM: YANKEES
BEST FIT: YANKEES
 
14
Orlando Hudson
Age: 32
Position: 2B
2009 Stats: .283/.357/.417, 9 HR, 62 RBI, 8 SB
A strong first half earned Hudson his second trip to the All-Star Game, and even though his production didn't fall off much, he still ended the season (uncomplainingly) in primarily a reserve role. Still, he's a strong defender, a good hitter and he's excellent in the clubhouse. He could fit in well on the Mariners, who might move incumbent second baseman Jose Lopez to third to replace the departed Beltre.

CURRENT TEAM: DODGERS
BEST FIT: MARINERS
 
15
Miguel Tejada
Age: 35
Position: SS
2009 Stats: .313/.340/.455, 14 HR, 86 RBI, 5 SB
He doesn't have near the power he did in the days in which he was an annual MVP candidate (how odd!), but he very definitely can still hit. A return to Oakland, which he left seven seasons ago to make his fortune, might be in the cards -- and he should probably play mostly DH, as his skills at shortstop have eroded.

CURRENT TEAM: ASTROS
BEST FIT: A'S
 
16
Billy Wagner
Age: 38
Position: RP
2009 Stats: 1-1, 1.72 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 14.5 K/9, 0 SV
Wagner looked as if he had returned to his old form in his six weeks with the Mets and Red Sox in '09, with his fastball back up to 95 mph after having undergone Tommy John surgery. The Orioles have a number of fine starting pitchers advancing through their system, or who have already advanced, but their bullpen remains thin. Wagner could represent a veteran back-end answer, and he'd be close to his farm in Virginia, where he keeps his beloved alpacas.

CURRENT TEAM: RED SOX
BEST FIT: ORIOLES
 
17
Rafael Soriano
Age: 30
Position: RP
2009 Stats: 1-6, 2.97 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 12.1 K/9, 27 SV
The Braves used co-closers during much of 2009 in Soriano and Mike Gonzalez (No. 20), and both become free agents this winter. Soriano, whose career had heretofore been injury-riddled, made 77 appearances in '09, and his terrific strikeout rate shows how dominant he often was. The Angels can't be comfortable with Brian Fuentes as their closer, even though they gave him a two-year, $17.5 million contract last winter, and adding Soriano would go a long way to remaking a bullpen that was nowhere near as effective last season as it had been in previous seasons.

CURRENT TEAM: BRAVES
BEST FIT: ANGELS
 
18
Adam LaRoche
Age: 30
Position: 1B
2009 Stats: .277/.355/.488, 25 HR, 83 RBI, 2 SB
He has always been a second-half hitter, but '09 was ridiculous: he had a .957 OPS in his final stop of the season, Atlanta, after posting a .770 in 87 games with Pittsburgh and a .789 in a brief stint in Boston. His final numbers look good, but his reputation for taking so long to get going might lower his price, as might relatively few open first-base jobs. Mets first basemen hit just 16 home runs last season, and the club might be able to add LaRoche at a surprisingly reasonable cost.

CURRENT TEAM: BRAVES
BEST FIT: METS
 
19
Andy Pettitte
Age: 38
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 14-8, 4.16 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 6.8 K/9
"I'll need to get home, talk to my family, talk to the Yankees, find out where they're at, and then I can probably start figuring out what I might do," Pettitte told reporters in the Yankees' clubhouse after he won the World Series-clinching Game 6. There's probably less uncertainty here than all that. The Yankees will want him back, Pettitte will want to return, and both will likely agree that he's earned a contract with more guaranteed money, and fewer incentive clauses, than the one he signed in '09. Mark it down.

CURRENT TEAM: YANKEES
BEST FIT: YANKEES
 
20
Mike Gonzalez
Age: 31
Position: RP
2009 Stats: 5-4, 2.42 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.9 K/9, 10 SV
Came back from a couple of injury-compromised years to rank third in the NL with 80 appearances, and to pitch very well in save opportunities and non-save situations alike. If the Braves keep one of their closers from '09, it will likely be Gonzalez.

CURRENT TEAM: BRAVES
BEST FIT: BRAVES
 
21
Orlando Cabrera
Age: 35
Position: SS
2009 Stats: .284/.316/.389, 9 HR, 77 RBI, 13 SB
The Twins' recent trade for former Brewer J.J. Hardy means that Cabrera's reasonably productive time in Minnesota has come to an end. (The Twins acquired Cabrera from the A's for the stretch run.) Now Cabrera enters the free-agent market for the second year in a row as a solid, if unspectacular, aging shortstop. The young Reds could use one of those.

CURRENT TEAM: TWINS
BEST FIT: REDS
 
22
Jon Garland
Age: 30
Position: SP
2009 Stats: 11-13, 4.01 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.8 K/9
Garland has already won 117 games in his big-league career, and he just turned 30 two months ago. He might be slightly underappreciated -- after all, he pitched very well (3-2, 2.72 ERA) after the Dodgers picked him up from the D-backs on August 31, but he didn't even make their playoff roster. His low strikeout rate scares people, but pitchers like him can succeed as middle-of-the-rotation NL options, and the Cubs could use some of those.

CURRENT TEAM: DODGERS
BEST FIT: CUBS
 
23
Justin Duchscherer
Age: 32
Position: SP
2009 Stats: DNP
A versatile pitcher who made the All-Star Game as a reliever in '05 and a starter in '08, Duchscherer did not play at all last season due to right elbow surgery, and then underwent treatment for clinical depression. But he went 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 2008, and those numbers will look inviting indeed to a number of pitching-starved teams out there, such as the Astros.

CURRENT TEAM: A'S
BEST FIT: ASTROS
 
24
Ben Sheets
Age: 31
Position: SP
2009 Stats: DNP
Sheets almost went to the Rangers last winter, but a two-year deal was scuttled when it was revealed in February that he would have to undergo surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow. The Rangers still need pitching, and Sheets still needs a job. An incentive-laden contract could work out well for both sides.

CURRENT TEAM: NONE
BEST FIT: RANGERS
 
25
Marco Scutaro
Age: 34
Position: SS
2009 Stats: .282/.379/.409, 12 HR, 60 RBI, 14 SB
Scutaro had easily the best year of his career in '09, particularly when it came to getting on base, and his OPS+ (109) topped 100 for the first time. The Red Sox always seem to need a shortstop, and their relationship with Scutaro could be something like a mogul's second marriage: perfectly fine, until something younger and better comes along.

CURRENT TEAM: BLUE JAYS
BEST FIT: RED SOX
 
 
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