Baseball Free-Agent Watch

November 22, 2004

Jacob Luft's Top Free Agents

1. CARLOS BELTRAN OF,age 27

2004 salary: $9 million

Three-year averages: .281 average, 31 HRs, 103 RBIs, 39 SBs

Outlook: Beltran (below) fell two homers shy of the fourth 40-40 season in history, and now his agent, Scott Boras, is building momentum for a 10-year, nine-figure deal. Expect the Yankees or the Cubs to nab him, with the Astros--the team he led to the NLCS--making a token run.

2. PEDRO MARTINEZ RHP, age 33

2004 salary: $17.5 million

Three-year averages: 201 IP, 224 K's, 2.84 ERA

Outlook: Forget those ugly outings against the Yankees. The Martinez we saw pitch for Boston in Game 3 of the World Series showed that any team with money to spare would be foolish not to court him.

3. ADRIAN BELTRE 3B, age 25

2004 salary: $5 million

Three-year averages: .278, 31 HRs, 92 RBIs

Outlook: With his youth, power and great glove, Beltre easily could get Vladimir Guerrero money (5 years, $70 million). But other than L.A., the only high-payroll teams that might need a third baseman are Anaheim (where Dallas McPherson is Troy Glaus's heir apparent) and Seattle.

4. CARL PAVANO RHP, age 28

2004 salary: $3.8 million

Three-year averages: 186 IP, 121 K's, 3.99 ERA

Outlook: Pavano has battled through injuries to become a reliable innings eater. (His 23 quality starts last season were only three behind major league leader Randy Johnson's.) A control artist, Pavano needs a spacious ballpark and a tight defense behind him, the way he had with Florida last year. Expect the Red Sox and the Yankees to wage a bidding war as the Marlins struggle to keep up.

5. J.D. DREW, OF,age 29

2004 salary: $4.2 million

Three-year averages: .283, 21 HRs, 64 RBIs

Outlook: Drew ranked in the top 10 in the NL in on-base percentage, slugging, runs, triples and walks last year, when he surpassed 500 at bats for the first time. He compares favorably with Beltran, but for a much lower price tag. The Braves will do everything they can to re-sign him, and given how comfortable he is in Atlanta, he would do well to stay.

• Check out SI.com baseball editor Jacob Luft's complete Top 10 Free-Agent List at SI.com/baseball.

Available Players Best Left Alone

1. TROY PERCIVAL RHP,age 35

2004 stats: 33 saves, 2.90 ERA

Outlook: Closers age about as gracefully as NFL running backs. With Francisco Rodriguez waiting in the wings, Anaheim has no use for Percival, who had just 33 strikeouts in 492/3 innings last year.

2. KEVIN MILLWOOD RHP, age 29

2004 stats: 9--6, 4.85 ERA

Outlook: The Phillie hasn't flourished since leaving Atlanta and pitching coach Leo Mazzone in 2003.

3. JARET WRIGHT, RHP, age 28

2004 stats: 15--8, 3.28 ERA

Outlook: See Millwood. Wright had a career year in 2004--under the tutelage of Mazzone.

• Extensive hot stove coverage, including a weekly column from Tom Verducci, can be found all off-season at SI.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTODAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICS (BELTRAN)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)