Is free agency dead in baseball? Not entirely, though this winter will feature fewer potential franchise-changers than in years past, for two related reasons.
One is that several clubs who could previously be counted upon to spend big, like the Mets, Red Sox and Yankees -- and, last winter anyway, the Marlins -- seem to be in cost-cutting mode.
Another is that organizations now strive to sign their young stars to extensions that prevent them from reaching the open market. This season alone, All-Stars including the Giants' Matt Cain, the Dodgers' Andre Ethier, the Phillies' Cole Hamels, the Cardinals' Yadier Molina and the Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero re-upped with their current teams, precluding them from joining this off-season's free agent class.
Even so, there will, as always, be talent available. Among this season's Reiter 50 -- SI.com's annual ranking of the top 50 domestic players on the free agent market -- is a pair of genuine superstars who figure to enter next spring as two of the top dozen or so highest paid players in a game, at least on an average annual basis, although both present causes for concern.
The list is deep at some positions, and very shallow at others. Is your team in search of solid starting pitchers, or outfielders? Take your pick. Is it in need of someone to play in your infield? Start looking for trading partners, if not down on the farm.
A free agent with Hamilton's gifts can usually expect to command a nine-digit contract that extends into his 40s. But Hamilton's history of injuries and drug addiction means he will likely receive an offer that will be high on dollars but short on years. Offering it to him could be the Brewers, who surprised everyone with their late season push into contention, and who might envision Hamilton and Ryan Braun -- they'd be the NL's scariest heart of the order -- leading them back into the playoffs.
The market runs deep with quality starting pitchers, but Greinke stands alone as the only in-his-prime ace available, despite his 3.83 ERA in the three seasons since his AL Cy Young award. Every pitching-needy team will covet him, but the Dodgers, with new owners whose pockets seem to be bottomless, will be a favorite to get him.
Upton has never consistently fulfilled the promise he demonstrated in 2007, when at 22 he hit .300 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. He has shown flashes of doing so, such as during the playoffs in 2008 and this past September, when he hit 12 homers. Still, his age and tools make him one of this winter's most attractive free agents. Should the Rangers decide to part ways with Hamilton, they will need a centerfielder, and they might invest in Upton's persistent potential.
Suitors who hope that Bourn's sub-par second half (he batted .225) might depress his value will be disappointed, as many teams -- including the Braves -- will covet a classic leadoff hitter who also happens to be the game's best defensive centerfielder. Washington is a likely destination. The up-and-coming Nationals want to move Jayson Werth out of the leadoff spot and Bryce Harper out of center, and they have a strong relationship with Scott Boras, Bourn's agent.
Swisher contributed to the Yankees' postseason malaise, as he batted .167 during the playoffs, a figure that would impress only Alex Rodriguez. Despite that recent hiccup, clubs will pursue him for his consistency: He is one of six players to hit more than 20 home runs in each of the last eight seasons. The Phillies traded two outfielders -- Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino -- at the deadline, and could use Swisher to bolster a lineup that is largely aging, unreliable, or both.
"I love having Adam LaRoche," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo
That could lead LaRoche to make the short move to Baltimore. The Orioles declined an $11 million option on Mark Reynolds and need to fill their first base and DH spots.
Do you believe Haren can again be the solid No. 2-caliber starter he was from 2005 to 2011, when he averaged 14 wins, had an ERA of 3.49 and struck out more than four times as many batters as he walked? Or do you think his 2012 season -- he went on the disabled list for the first time in his career, was hampered by lingering discomfort in his back and had a 4.33 ERA -- is a sign of things to come?
One thing his down year made likely was that the Angels will decline his $15.5 million club option for 2013. The desperately pitching-needy Royals, who just swung a deal to acquire Haren's ex-Angels teammate Ervin Santana, could give Haren a short-term deal and hope he recaptures his value.
The former Dodger proved this year that his numbers were not a creation of the NL West. In fact, his first season as a Yankee -- in the much more difficult AL East -- was in many ways the finest of his five in the U.S. Kuroda is always a threat to return to Japan, but he was New York's steadiest starter all season. Chances are good that the Yankees will make it worth his while to stay in the Bronx for at least one more year.
The underrated Lohse had the best season of his 12-year career in 2012, setting personal bests in wins, ERA, WHIP and innings pitched. He's not likely to return for a sixth season in St. Louis, though, as the Cardinals have enough options (Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal) to fill their rotation without his now-expensive services. The Blue Jays don't have that luxury -- apart from Brandon Morrow, their supposedly up-and-coming rotation proved to be neither last season and ranked 25th in starters' ERA (4.82) -- and the club will seek a steady veteran starter. Lohse fits the bill.
Soriano entered 2012 as a wildly overpaid set-up man, but he ended it as a merely well-paid closer: He emerged to save the Yankees' bullpen after Mariano Rivera was lost for the season to a knee injury. Soriano tied for third in the majors in saves despite not recording his first until May 10 and he blew only four chances.
That performance makes him the best closer on the market, and that fact led him to decline his $14 million option in favor of a shot at long term security. After Jose Valverde's postseason meltdown (in which he allowed 9 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings), the Tigers have the need and resources to give it to him.
Jackson doesn't turn 30 until next September, yet he has already pitched for seven different franchises, making him baseball's version of Chucky Brown or Joe Smith. That tells you that clubs know he is good enough to contribute -- and he is; since 2009 his ERA is 3.98 -- but not quite good enough to keep around.
Jackson was a free agent last year and settled for a one year deal with the Nationals in the hope that this winter he'd find a long-term home. The guess here is that he will, and it could be with the Red Sox, who after their post-deadline trade with the Dodgers have money to spend and open spots in their rotation.
The Giants were the obvious winners of the December 2011 trade in which they acquired Pagan from the Mets for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez. Pagan had an excellent all-around season, and San Francisco's surge to the World Series title really took off when it put him back in the leadoff spot in early August. The Reds' top off-season priority -- perhaps their only off-season priority -- is to acquire a leadoff-hitting centerfielder. Should they find themselves outbid for Bourn (and perhaps Upton), they could turn to Pagan.
It is appropriate that Scutaro follows Pagan in these rankings, as that is what he did so successfully did in the Giants lineup after being traded to San Francisco from Colorado in July. "Without him, we wouldn't be sitting right here," said Ryan Theriot in the moments after his club's World Series win -- yes, the same Ryan Theriot whose starting position Scutaro took.
That is how deeply Scutaro endeared himself to the Giants, as a productive No. 2 hitter (he hit .362 with 44 RBIs in 61 regular season games after being acquired) and as a coach on the field whose contact-hitting style rubbed off on his teammates. Even if they don't re-sign Pagan, the Giants will do everything they can to bring back Scutaro.
Had Napoli reached free agency after his first season in Texas, and not his second, he would have become a much richer man. In 113 games in 2011 he hit .320 with 30 homers, 75 RBIs and an OPS of 1.046, then drove in 15 runs in 17 postseason games. Napoli's down year in 2012 will lower his price tag, and the Red Sox could be the high bidders. They have holes at first base and catcher (where Jarrod Saltalamacchia batted .200 after the All-Star break), and Napoli can shuttle between both.
Here is further proof that this year's free agent class runs deep with quality starters, if not ace material. Sanchez was everything the Tigers hoped for after they acquired him from the Marlins in July, and even better than that in three playoff starts (he yielded four runs total and less than a baserunner per inning). Still, he is only the seventh-best starter on the market. Sanchez will be attractive to the Angels, whose once deep rotation has already lost Ervin Santana and could also lose Zack Greinke and Dan Haren.
We are now three seasons removed from Rivera's suggestion, made during the celebration of the Yankees' 27th championship in 2009, that he wanted to play for another five years. Rivera was as good as ever in 2010 and '11 -- he saved 77 games and had a combined ERA of 1.85 -- and he started this season similarly before tearing his right ACL on May 3 while shagging balls during batting practice in Kansas City. "I'm not going out like this," he said at the time, but now he is reportedly considering retirement. Don't believe it. Rivera will be back and, almost certainly, will be back as a Yankee.
Everyone thinks Cabrera, who served a 50-game suspension after failing a drug test in August and was banished from the Giants' championship run, will accept a one-year, relatively low-salary deal in an attempt to prove he can hit like a batting champion (which he would have been, had he not recused himself from the race) without the help of PEDs. But it seems like at least a half-dozen teams will be willing to bring him aboard on such terms -- and that might create a bidding war, driving up both his contract's value and length.
Cabrera might not have to prove he can hit without enhancers -- several teams might be willing to take that gamble for him. The Mariners, last in the AL in runs scored for four straight years, have reason to push the highest stack forward onto the felt.
Another proven starter who will be looking for a new home, Marcum spent more than two months in the middle of the season on the DL due to tightness in his elbow, but he finished the year pitching more or less to his career norms. The Twins desperately need dependable arms -- they were last in the AL in starters' ERA (5.40), and the only lock for next year's rotation is Scott Diamond -- and their search could begin with Marcum.
When Ortiz was lost for the season with an Achilles injury in mid-July (his attempted August comeback lasted one game), he was on pace to put up numbers straight out of his prime: 41 homers, 108 RBIs, an OPS of 1.026. His age might have kept him from reaching all of those totals, had he played the full year, but he still remains a very big part of the Red Sox' plans. That he re-signs with Boston -- for more than one year, this time -- might be the biggest lock on this list.
Pierzynski's eighth year with the White Sox was by far his best. He slugged nine more home runs than ever before and set a career high in OPS (.827). Still, the White Sox, in a gentle rebuilding mode under new general manager Rick Hahn, could give Pierzynski's job to his cheaper and younger former backup, Tyler Flowers.
That would pave the way for the lefthanded-hitting Pierzynski to head to the Bronx. His late career power binge could continue thanks to Yankee Stadium's shallow rightfield wall, he could act as a placeholder for a few years until top prospect Gary Sanchez is ready and his intense -- and sometimes controversial -- personality could enliven a clubhouse that seems in need of enlivening.
One of the only things that went right for the Red Sox in 2012 was the signing of Ross to a one-year, $3 million deal last January. Ross's production was everything Boston could have asked for, and he was one of the only persistently upbeat members of a dour clubhouse. He won't come so cheap this time -- he is reportedly seeking a contract similar to the three-year, $21 million deal given to Josh Willingham by the Twins last winter. Ross probably won't prove that pricey, and the Sox, who have openings in their outfield on either side of Jacoby Ellsbury, will try to make him a long-term fixture.
Guthrie began the year with a 3-9 record and a 6.35 ERA for Colorado. Then, after being traded to the Royals, he morphed back into the dependable, innings-eating sinkerballer the Rockies thought he was. In his final 11 starts -- 10 of which turned into Kansas City wins -- he had a 2.17 ERA and allowed opponents an OPS of just .597, thereby establishing his value as a free agent. The rebuilding Cubs will likely be small-time players in the market, but they desperately need a veteran starter to bulk up a rotation that is painfully thin behind Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood. Guthrie might be just that.
McCarthy suffered 2012's scariest injury when he was struck in the head by a line drive on Sept. 5 and underwent emergency brain surgery. But he suggested in the pages of
Pettitte's comeback after a year of "retirement" was cleaved in two by, appropriately, a comebacker that broke his ankle and forced him to miss three months. On either side of his DL stint, though, Pettitte showed he can still be a very effective big game starter. That the Yankees lost both of his playoff outings had little to do with him; he allowed 5 runs in 13 2/3 innings. Pettitte is threatening retirement again, but odds are that he will return for a 15th season in pinstripes.
Drew has yet to develop into the star he was expected to become as
In his first year in the U.S., Iwakuma was mediocre as a relief pitcher -- his ERA was 4.75 in that role -- but a revelation after the Mariners inserted him into their rotation at the beginning of July. In 16 starts he went 8-4, with a 2.65 ERA and a 1.232 WHIP, and he showed much better command in that role, nearly doubling his strikeout-to-walk ratio (from 1.53 to 2.79). There is no doubt, however, that he benefited from pitching at Safeco Field (his ERA was 2.49 at home, 4.20 on the road). Both he and the Mariners have reason to have him continue to do so.
At his advanced age he will never again be the magician he once was, but Ichiro looked something like it after his surprising July trade from the Mariners to the Yankees. In 67 games with New York he batted .322 (he'd hit .261 in 95 games with Seattle) with five home runs, 27 RBIs, 14 steals and an OBP of .340.
Ichiro will likely be picky about his next destination, and the Yankees, who will have a hole to fill if Nick Swisher departs, could bring them back. If they don't, he could move on to San Francisco, where he would fit in very nicely in that contact-hitting, move-the-line-along offense, particularly if the Giants lose Angel Pagan.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Broxton, a two-time All-Star for the Dodgers by the age of 26, successfully rebounded from an injury-destroyed 2011: He was first the Royals' closer (he converted 23 of 27 save opportunities there) and then, after a trade, a setup man to Aroldis Chapman in Cincinnati. He did it by regaining his fastball, which he was occasionally able to dial up past 100 miles per hour. The Brewers are in desperate need of stability in the back end of their bullpen -- they blew an MLB-high 29 saves, which contributed to the falling short in their unlikely playoff push -- and they can find it in Broxton.
Dempster was a major disappointment after the Rangers sent two prospects to the Cubs to acquire him at the deadline. Yes, he went 7-3 for Texas, but in his 12 starts his ERA was 5.09 (it was 2.25 in Chicago), and his WHIP was 1.435 (1.038 in Chicago). That late swoon won't demolish his asking price, but it will decrease it, perhaps to the point at which the Indians -- whose rotation still needs the anchor that Ubaldo Jimenez hasn't at all proven to be -- can afford him.
Affeldt was last seen plowing through the tricky part the Tigers' lineup in the eighth and ninth innings of the Giants' 10-inning, World Series clinching win in Game 4. He struck out Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Delmon Young and Andy Dirks in succession before inducing Jhonny Peralta to fly out, thereby confirming what we already know: even though he is lefthanded, he is far from a lefty specialist. In fact, his effectiveness against batters who hit from either side of the plate -- righties batted .244 against him, lefties .236 -- makes him the highest-ranked middle reliever on this list. GM Brian Sabean won't be able to re-sign all his free agents, since as many as seven members of his championship roster might reach the market, but Affeldt should be a priority.
Young has one thing going for him -- he is the youngest free agent on the market, as he will not turn 28 until September -- and several working the other way. He doesn't really hit righthanded pitchers (he had a .649 OPS against them, .833 versus southpaws), he has become such an abominable outfielder that he really should be limited to DH, and, oh yes, he was arrested on a hate crime last April in New York.
The last will probably disqualify him from joining the Yankees -- where he could have been useful, as a half of a DH platoon with fellow free agent Raul Ibañez -- and the first two make him the most difficult player on this entire list to fit into a new team. Demand for him will likely be very low -- perhaps low enough that he will become attractive to the Rays, who got rid of Young in 2007 (four years after they had made him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft) but who are always looking for value.
The market for second basemen is only slightly deeper than it is for shortstops, and that should be a boon to Johnson. Despite registering a career-low OPS in 2012 (.678), and striking out far too much (159 times, seventh most in the AL), he possesses a nice power/speed skill set. The Twins' offense came around in the second half, when it ranked 10th in runs scored, and Johnson could boost it even further while providing a significant upgrade on Jamey Carroll or Alexi Casilla.
You're not supposed to improve after moving from the NL West to the AL East, but that's what Saunders did upon being traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles in late August. He was 6-10 with a 4.22 ERA in Arizona, but 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in Baltimore -- and he pitched terrifically in the playoffs, allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings in both his club's wild-card game win over the Rangers and ALDS Game 4 loss to the Yankees.
Those six weeks did much to boost the former top prospect's attractiveness -- to the point at which the Tigers, who might lose Anibal Sanchez and could stand to diversify their righty-heavy staff with a veteran southpaw, might have interest.
It's difficult to put much stock in a career year when it comes at age 32, particularly when it comes in part thanks to a career-high BABIP of .332. Still, the veteran of six teams has long been a useful hitter and a solid-enough and versatile defender. Even if he regresses somewhat at the plate, he would still represent a good signing for the Orioles, who desperately need a second baseman. The men who played there last year for Baltimore, mostly Robert Andino, Ryan Flaherty and Omar Quintanilla, combined to bat a dreadful .213, with an OPS of .596.
We know Ludwick thinks he's worth far more than the $2 million he earned from the Reds last season because he turned down his half of a mutual $5 million option for 2013. He's right. He should be paid more than that after turning in what was by far his best season since 2008, in part by taking advantage of Great American Ballpark's friendly walls (16 of his homers came at home) -- but he shouldn't be paid so much more that he proves unaffordable to the Reds. The odds are good that he'll return for a few more years in Cincinnati.
Hunter is a rarity for a big time free agent: He more or less earned every penny of the five-year, $90 million deal the Angels gave him prior to the 2008 season. In his five years in Anaheim he avaraged 143 games played, 21 homers and 86 RBIs, and his formerly Gold Glove defense didn't really decline until the last few seasons. He was also, for what it's worth, an extremely agreeable presence in the clubhouse.
The Angels will likely decide they've gotten enough out of him, but the Cubs badly need even a part time outfielder -- especially if they trade Alfonso Soriano -- and Hunter could fill that role, as well as providing leadership to a callow clubhouse.
Hairston had a solid season overall, but he really excels versus lefthanded pitchers: against them his OPS was .867. As was starkly demonstrated by Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, the Tigers' lineup struggles against lefties -- they hit .253 off them in the regular season. Now that they seem ready to part ways with southpaw-killer Delmon Young, Hairston would be a defensively superior fit.
Want to see what a truly awful contract year performance looks like? Take a look at Victorino's numbers. Last winter the former star figured to be in this list's top 10, and last March Victorino suggested that he would seek a five-year contract this winter. He won't get anything close to that after a season, split between the Phillies and Dodgers, in which virtually all of his offensive numbers except for steals fell off, in many places dramatically.
Clubs know that players whose success is based on their speed can fade quickly, and Victorino might have already begun to do so. The Braves, though, will likely need a quick centerfielder who can lead off after the probable loss of Michael Bourn. They never overspend, but it looks like they might not have to on Victorino.
Youkilis was better with Chicago, where he was traded after his relationship with the Red Sox became damaged beyond repair, but not that much better. He hit .233 with the Red Sox, .236 with the White Sox. The Greek God of Walks didn't even walk that much: 51 times in 122 games. The fact is that he is simply no longer the annual batting title contender and MVP candidate he once was.
That doesn't mean he can no longer be useful, particularly in a year in which free agent third basemen are scarce. The left side of Arizona's infield could really use an infusion of talent, as the depth chart is currently topped by players like Willie Bloomquist, Chris Johnson, John McDonald and Cliff Pennington. Youkilis could provide it.
Unlike Jeremy Affeldt, Burnett is best used as a lefty specialist: lefthanded batters hit .211 against him in 2012 to righthanded hitters' .298, and Burnett had a remarkable strikeout to walk rate against lefties of 28 to 1. Still, just because his uses are limited doesn't mean he's not valuable, particularly in a year in which very few desirable true LOOGYs will be available (the only other one might be veteran Randy Choate). The Nationals don't have any other players on their roster who can fill the role as well as Burnett can, and although he turned down his half of a $3.5 million mutual option, they will strive to work something more agreeable out with him.
Martin will never become the elite offensive catcher that his first three years with the Dodgers (he hit .285 with an OPS of .806 and averaged 14 home run, 78 RBIs and 16 steals) suggested he might. But he has good power (his 39 homers over the past two seasons ranked him seventh among catchers), and he handles a pitching staff well. Not as well as Jose Molina, the Rays' crafty starter in 2012, but Tampa Bay simply can't sustain another year of Molina's bat -- in 102 games, he hit .223 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs -- and Martin would constitute an overall improvement.
The longtime Phillie ranked No. 12 on this list last November, signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with Cincinnati last January and tore a ligament in his pitching elbow last March, making it likely he will never throw a pitch for the Reds (who did not consider picking up his $11 million mutual option for 2013).
Madson, however, was for years in Philadelphia one of the league's most reliable relievers, and he steadily improved over his time there. In 117 appearances between 2010 and '11, he had an ERA of 2.45. Many teams will likely float to him a short-term, incentive laden deal to see if his repaired ligament can hold up, and the Mets -- who are surely tired of cycling through ineffective closers, like Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch last year -- should be one of them.
Liriano's excellent strikeout rate -- he just missed qualifying for third-best in the majors -- suggests he has the stuff to return to his 2006 Rookie of the Year form, when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA for Minnesota. His struggles are perplexing: batters basically square up anything they don't miss entirely (he allowed nearly a hit per inning after his trade to the White Sox this season).
Still, he might be another change of scenery, or perhaps a new pitching coach, away from becoming an ace. The Rangers have a terrific pitching coach, Mike Maddux, and injuries to Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz that will extend into the regular season mean they need another starter.
Villanueva has never reached Lirano's highs in his seven-year career, but he has rarely approached his lows either. He is, simply, steady -- apart from 2009, his ERA has never topped 4.61 -- and versatile, too, as he can either start or relieve. The Twins need steady innings more than virtually any other team, and would likely sign him to start for them. A free agent haul of Marcum and Villanueva, while modest, would be an important step forward for Minnesota.
Scott has recently had trouble staying healthy, as assorted injuries have limited him to less than a season's worth of games -- 160 -- over the past two years. But when he plays, he hits home runs: he averaged 25 per year in Baltimore between 2008 and '10. The Indians, after parting ways with the even more injury-prone Travis Hafner, need a DH, one with power (their 136 homers ranked 12th in the AL), and one who produces against righthanded pitching. Scott could fill those needs, on the cheap.
Colon has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons. In August he was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for synthetic testosterone, and last week he was hit in the mouth by a line drive while pitching in the Dominican League (he is reportedly OK).
But the 2005 AL Cy Young winner remains a man with an appetite for innings, and has developed sensational control -- his 1.4 walks per nine innings last year represented the best ratio of his 15-year career, and on one remarkable night last April he threw 38 consecutive strikes. That sort of skill set, and the low-cost depth he can provide, will be coveted by the Pirates.
Adams' nearly five-year run as one of the game's top setup men hit a snag in September, when in just 8 1/3 innings his ERA jumped from 2.45 to where it ended up. It was later revealed that he had been suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome. Adams had surgery to address the problem in mid-October, and don't expect teams to be entirely scared away from a player who has used a low-90s fastball and hard slider to pitch to a 1.98 ERA in 297 appearances since 2008. The Angels' bullpen was stabilized a bit by their trade for Ernesto Frieri, but it was still the AL's third-worst overall, and L.A. loves to sign players away from its biggest rival.
If you are going to undergo Tommy John surgery during a contract season, you should have it early on. Baker had his in April, ensuring that he would miss the entire year and that the Twins would decline his $9.25 million option, but that he would be close enough to health to attract some interest as a free agent. Baker had a solid 2011 -- he went 8-6, with a 3.14 ERA and a strikeout rate of 8.2 batters per nine innings, the best two such ratios of his career. The Rockies are so pitching-poor that they couldn't even fill out a rotation for much of last season (they went with four starters for a good portion of it), and if they do not try to splurge on one of the surer and more expensive things higher up these rankings, Baker could be a good alternative.
Soria should come in second to Ryan Madson among former All-Star closers looking to return from injury on a free agent deal. The Tommy John surgery that forced Soria to miss all of last season was his second, and he might not be able to return until a few months into the 2013 season. He will not be able to command a base salary near the $8 million option on him that the Royals declined, but plenty of teams will be willing to gamble a little on a closer who saved 132 games with a 2.01 ERA before he turned 27. The Royals may try to re-sign him, but they have a good closing option in Greg Holland. If they don't, the Reds -- who will likely try to move Aroldis Chapman into the rotation -- make sense.
The second of Berkman's consecutive one-year contracts with the Cardinals did not turn out nearly as well as the first. Prior to 2011, St. Louis signed him for $8 million, and he delivered a stellar year (.301, 31 HR, 94 RBIs) that earned him some MVP votes and helped his club to a world championship. The Cardinals rewarded him with $12 million for 2012, and he played in just 32 games, due to recurring knee trouble that required a few different surgeries.
Berkman might retire, but won't if the perfect situation presents itself. What might that be? A chance to return -- albeit for far less than $12 million -- to Houston, in his home state of Texas and the city in which he spent the first 12 years of his career, and in which the Astros, as a new member of the American League, will now need a designated hitter.
The match makes so much sense, in fact, that it elevates Berkman above the rest of this year's probable free agents (in the others receiving votes category: Joe Blanton, Randy Choate, Raul Ibañez, J.P. Howell, Maicer Izturis, Carlos Peña and Grady Sizemore) and into the final spot of the Reiter 50.