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
November 22, 2004
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.