09/07/09 8:52 PM ET
Depth missing from free-agent class
Teams in need may not find perfect fit this offseason
If two teams wanted to close the door on one season and move ahead with plans for a new year, it would be those two teams.
Both the Mets and the Cubs were among the leaders this season -- but only when it came to dollars spent on payrolls. They are big-market teams that have shown they will spend for free agents.
The problem the Mets and Cubs now face, along with other teams that may already be thinking about 2010, is that this year's free-agent market will be exceptionally thin in terms of top talent.
If a team is looking for a power hitter, the top two choices would appear to be Matt Holliday of the Cardinals and Jason Bay of the Red Sox.
The interesting thing about these two players is that they may very well decide to stay put after being traded to their current teams -- Holliday just before the Trade Deadline this year and Bay last year -- and finding themselves on contending clubs with strong lineups.
It might seem unlikely that Holliday would forgo free agency in that he is represented by Scott Boras, but the experience of having been dealt from Colorado to Oakland may be enough to make him realize that St. Louis is an ideal place to play.
The pitching picture is even less robust than the offensive side, with most observers rating John Lackey of the Angels and Rich Harden of the Cubs as the top free agents.
In that Major League Baseball executives are not allowed to comment at this time on potential free agents with opposing clubs, I sought out the views of two young men who follow the game closely on a daily basis -- Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com and Jeff Euston of Cot's Baseball Contracts -- and both listed Holliday and Lackey the top two players, with Bay and Harden among their top 10.
Two other players who made both top 10 lists were the Angels' leadoff man Chone Figgins and his teammate Vladimir Guerrero. Angels manager Mike Scioscia is a strong believer in continuity, and it would be no surprise to see him push hard for keeping Figgins at the top of his lineup.
"What makes Figgy attractive, not only to us but to the rest of the league, is his versatility," Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. "His versatility is special. He's not only a guy that can just play a lot of positions. He's a plus player at a lot of positions."
It was a candid view by Scioscia but his comments already are in the scouting reports of other teams. There has been speculation in the Chicago media that Figgins could be a strong fit for both the Cubs and the White Sox.
Another free agent the Angels will have to deal with is right fielder Bobby Abreu, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract on the eve of Spring Training and was one of the best bargains of last year's free-agent class.
There are teams that will be hoping they can find Abreu-like production this offseason for $5 million.
The Dodgers made what proved to be two very important signings last offseason on one-year deals to pitcher Randy Wolf and second baseman Orlando Hudson. Wolf reportedly was guaranteed $5 million with a chance to move to $8 million, while Hudson signed for $3.4 with incentives that could reach a total of $8 million.
Both Wolf and Hudson have improved their standings as they prepare to enter another offseason where they will be free agents.
Overall, there are few players in their prime who will be in this year's free-agent class.
"Clubs are signing more of their good young players to long-term contracts to keep them from being free agents," said Tigers president and general manager David Dombrowski. "If they cannot accomplish that, they are more apt to trade the players for young prospects rather than to receive Draft choice compensation."
Of all of the free agents, there is one case where the player will be in control of the finances.
That would be Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers. When he signed a two-year contract last offseason, he gained the right to have a player option for 2010 at the value of $20 million.
A player faced with free agency usually has a lot of anxiety. Manny being Manny, there is only a ready-made decision to ponder. And it shouldn't be that tough.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book, "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue," was published by SportsPublishing LLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.