WHEN THE WORLD SERIES ENDS, THE FREE-AGENT DERBY BEGINS. HERE'S A SNEAK PEEK
This is an article from the Oct. 31, 2011 issue
It is not inconceivable that the top two members of this year's top-heavy free-agent class will find new homes this winter, but it is unlikely. Albert Pujols occupies the No. 1 spot in the fourth annual Reiter 50—SI.com's ranking of the 50 best players likely to hit the open market, which will be online this week—but despite his rejection of an offer reportedly worth around $200 million during spring training, it's difficult to imagine Prince Albert leaving St. Louis. Yankees ace CC Sabathia, No. 2 on the list, is likely to opt out of a contract that calls for him to earn $23 million in each of the next four seasons—but he will almost certainly re-sign with New York for a richer deal.
There are, however, several stars who are likely to find greener pastures than the ones in which they presently graze. Here are five elite players who are the best bets to change teams this off-season.
PRINCE FIELDER(Reiter 50 rank: 3rd)
AGE: 27 Position: 1B
2011 STATS: .299/.415/.566, 38 HRs, 120 RBIs
CURRENT TEAM: Brewers
BEST FIT: Cubs
Fielder didn't exactly bid adieu to Milwaukee after the Brewers' NLCS elimination, but there was a lot of past tense in his final press conference. ("Playing here was awesome," he said.) The burly slugger could move to the Cubs, who are starved for offense—their 654 runs was their lowest total since the strike-shortened 1994 season. Fielder would become the face of new president of baseball operations Theo Epstein's top-to-bottom rebuilding effort.
JOSE REYES (4th)
AGE: 28 Position: SS
2011 STATS: .337/.384/.493, 7 HRs, 44 RBIs, 39 SBs
CURRENT TEAM: Mets
BEST FIT: Nationals
Reyes's recurring health problems are a concern, but his production is not. He won the NL batting title this season and still has 50-steals potential. The on-the-rise Nationals could use a shortstop and top-of-the-order spark plug to complement future stars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Ted Lerner—baseball's richest owner—can afford to pay Reyes.
C.J. WILSON (5th)
AGE: 30 Position: SP
2011 STATS: 16--7, 2.94 ERA, 1.187 WHIP, 8.3 K/9
CURRENT TEAM: Rangers
BEST FIT: Angels
Two years ago Wilson was a periodically effective reliever, but the lefty has transformed himself into the best starting pitcher likely to be genuinely available on the market. While his playoff struggles demonstrated that he is not a true ace, he would make for a superior No. 3 in an Angels rotation topped by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.
ARAMIS RAMIREZ (10th)
AGE: 33 Position: 3B
2011 STATS: .306/.361/.510, 26 HRs, 93 RBIs, 1 SB
CURRENT TEAM: Cubs
BEST FIT: Marlins
Chicago holds a $16 million club option on Ramirez, but Epstein could buy Ramirez out, especially if he's eyeing Fielder. The Marlins will move into a new ballpark and are rumored to be contenders for a bigger name such as Pujols or Reyes. They could settle for Ramirez, who would fill a hole. No NL team's third basemen hit fewer home runs than the Marlins' (six).
JIMMY ROLLINS (11th)
AGE: 32 Position: SS
2011 STATS: .268/.338/.399, 16 HRs, 63 RBIs, 30 SBs
CURRENT TEAM: Phillies
BEST FIT: Giants
J-Roll's roll has slowed, and he isn't nearly the player he was in 2007, when he won the National League MVP award. Still, he remains intelligent and effective at the plate and in the field, and the offensively challenged Giants haven't had that type of player at shortstop in at least a decade. They should turn to Rollins, a Bay Area native.