Free agent market loaded with All-Stars
MLB.com predicts players at all positions who could make impact
It's a free agency jungle out there. A month ago, an agent rashly forecast that come Jan. 1, more than a hundred names will remain on the open market. Now that appears to have been a conservative call.Above-title names such as Mark Teixeira and Derek Lowe aren't the only holdups. Shopping clubs are indecisive about where to turn, because when you aren't being blinded by the glowing names, you realize this is one of the most bountiful free-agent crops in a long time. So, where do you go? To the ritzy displays in the showcase window? Or rummage through the bargain bins a few floors below, mining for the inevitable bargains? In December, the right choice is never obvious. No need for a historical litany to make that point, just one example from last winter's market: The Mariners made their pitching strike quickly, on Dec. 20 signing Carlos Silva for four years and $48 million; for the first $8.25 million of that in 2008, Silva returned a 4-15 record with a 6.46 ERA. Another right-hander, Kyle Lohse, loitered on the market until being signed by the Cardinals midway through Spring Training. At half the price, Lohse went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA. So there. When projecting an All-Star team of free agents, none of the considered statistics begins with dollar signs. Our 25-man All-Star roster comprised of this offseason's free agents, already signed or still available: INFIELD First base: Mark Teixeira. Who else? He has five straight seasons with 30-plus homers and 105-plus RBIs, and is just now making peace with the strike zone. His first five seasons he had 256 more strikeouts than walks; in 2008, he had more walks (97) than strikeouts (93) for the first time. Second base: Orlando Hudson. Ending the last two seasons on the DL has raised red flags, but his track record for pop, defense and clubhouse impact flashes a green light. Shortstop: Rafael Furcal. He's the best in a crowded field, even though he essentially took an injury bye last season. But he hit .357 and had a .439 on-base percentage in the 36 games he did play, which is why the Dodgers were so desperate to get him back. If he wasn't a gem, the Braves wouldn't be so upset. Third base: Casey Blake. Long underrated, he is finally getting his due in the fishbowl of Los Angeles. Bench: Orlando Cabrera; emerging from Ozzie Guillen's kennel has marred his reputation, but his teams keep winning. Jerry Hairston Jr.; he's played every position but catcher, so he's a wonderful way to stretch your roster, and is coming off a career-best .326 season. OUTFIELD Left: Manny Ramirez. Keep him motivated, and stand back. A reason to also keep him in the NL -- counting Interleague Play, World Series and his two-month joyride with the Dodgers, is a career .325 hitter against that league, with 76 homers and 234 RBIs in 1,109 at-bats.
Center: Rocco Baldelli. Yes, the pickings are slim here. We're going with that revised, encouraging prognosis removing the restraints from a guy who still is only 27, letting all that talent again surface.Right: Bobby Abreu. Why is he still available? Not many free agents out there have six straight 100-RBI seasons, .300 lifetime averages and a career on-base percentage of .405. Has nobody been paying attention? Bench: Raul Ibanez, Milton Bradley, Mark Kotsay. Your mix-and-match DHs, and someone to bring some late-game leather out of the dugout. CATCHING
Backstop: Jason Varitek. His field presence makes him stand out in a weak field. There isn't a single free agent under 30, and he and fellow 36-year-old Ivan Rodriguez were the only ones to start more than 62 games behind the plate last season.Backup: David Ross. The "baby" of the field at 31, has the biggest upside. Active behind the dish, with a terrific arm. ROTATION No. 1: Derek Lowe. What it comes down to is, if we had one game to win, of all the free agents he'd get the ball. He has an ideal temperament, he's durable and proven in the clutch time and again. No. 2: CC Sabathia. Toto, we're not in the Midwest (Cleveland, Milwaukee) any more. Is anyone unsettled by his explanation that one reason he didn't stay with the Brewers is because he thinks there will be less pressure on him in the Bronx? No. 3: Jon Garland. Surprised? He has notched double-digit victories in each of the past seven seasons. He pitches to contact, so needs a good fit, but is a workhorse ideal in the middle of any rotation. No. 4: A.J. Burnett. His numbers within the AL East are phenomenal, and convinced the Yankees to pony up. He could be in the perfect spot to finally validate his rep. Or, as one Major League executive cautioned when the market opened, "The fear is this is Carl Pavano II." No. 5: Randy Johnson. The only tough call for us is, do you get him for the hype of 300 wins (he is five away), or for a playoff push? His second-half numbers were nearly vintage Unit (2.41 ERA, 78 strikeouts and 12 walks in 86 innings). BULLPEN Closer: Francisco Rodriguez. The fallacy that this market of closers was too crowded for a big score was one of the great scams of our times. How many had 62 saves last season, or 208 before their 27th birthday? The Mets' besieged starters are already sleeping better. 8th-inning setup: Brandon Lyon. May not have the stomach to close, but check out his domination in non-save situations for the D-backs in the first half of last season, before his confidence got shot. Great stuff, still in his 20s. Matchup specialists: Lefty, Joe Beimel; hasn't allowed a homer to a left-handed batter in over 220 plate appearances since September 2006. Righty, LaTroy Hawkins; veteran has stuck around long enough to finally find his ideal role -- held righties to a .189 average last season. Long men: Lefty, Jeremy Affeldt; his resilient arm can either hold a lead, or hold the other team at bay. Righty, Russ Springer; so he's 40 -- are you going to believe his birth certificate or his line? He's posted a 2.24 ERA in 146 games the past two seasons.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.