Monday, January 21, 2008

Top Free Agents

A rare collection of superstars hit free agency in Moneyball's inaugural offseason. No matter what your team needs, you're likely to find a difference maker -- if you've got the cash. Let's take a look at the top 10 available free agents:

1. 2B Kyle Thomas The bidding starts at four years, $42 million for this 29-year-old MVP candidate, who's arguably the most complete player in either league. He'll likely crack 100 extra-base hits per season over the life of that contract, steal 30 bases a year and play Gold Glove-caliber defense. One talent evaluator voted him most likely to be a $20 million LF at age 35, but another scout wasn't so sure. "He's just jealous his team can't afford Thomas," he sniffed. "Even if he loses some range and has to move to the OF, he still has the quickest wrists and strongest forearms in the game." Thomas is building a solid resume for a Hall-of-Fame career, and he'll be paid handsomely to do it.

Update: Kansas City made the winning bid for this superstar's services, lavishing five years, $110 million and a full no-trade clause on Thomas, with a player option for his age-33 season. Agent Scott Boras strutted through his offices afterward, barking, "I'm the wiz. Nobody beats me."

2. 3B Seth Brush The best pure hitter on the open market also plays above-average defense at the hot corner. The 31-year-old works hard at his game, so any age-related decline would likely be minimal, and his power is legendary. "I heard Brush knocked the ball past the SS one time on a hit-and-run play, and the dude was bunting," said one scout. "He's incapable of light contact." The bidding starts at four years, $25.55 million for this beast, but his agent said he expects to get five years, $50 million. Amazingly, that could be a bargain.

Update: Toronto outlasted numerous suitors to land the market's most coveted bat with an offer of four years, $77.6 million, a full no-trade clause and a $20 million player option for a fifth year.

3. LF Bo Forrest It seems strange that a perennial contender for the batting crown could go unnoticed, but Forrest somehow slips under the radar. Maybe it's his low-key, lunchpail demeanor, but this guy works hard at his game, and there's nothing he doesn't do well. He's asking for three years and $25.75 million, and if he signs for anywhere near that, someone is getting a steal. "I would sign this guy in a heartbeat," said one scout. "He's exactly the sort of guy you want on your team."

Update: Forrest returns to Minnesota, who brought him back to the fold for his asking price of three years, $25.8 million, with a team option on the third year.

4. 1B Hi Rivers This perennial All-Star is asking for five years and $31.1 million, and most likely someone will pay him all that and more. But that might not be a good idea, according to some talent evaluators. "He's a heck of a hitter, but he's a 30-year-old 1B with declining power and no speed," one scout said. "Whoever signs him is going to be begging someone to take that contract off their hands as soon as next season." But even his detractors admit he'll knock in 100 runs and contend for the batting title this season and possibly the next.

Update: Atlanta dives into Rivers for five years and $41 million.

5. RP Bubbles McCallum Suitors are expected to pay exorbitant amounts for the services of super closer Bubbles McCallum, a colorful character and intense competitor. "He's on the downside of his career, but the guy can close out games," said one GM. "I wouldn't give him more than two, possibly three, years, but I'd pay him dearly for his time." The veteran's asking for two years and $14.6 million, but many executives expect the bidding to hit $30 million. The only question will be whether that will be for two or three years.

Update: Houston backed up the Brinks truck and dumped five years, $38.2 million on Bubbles.

6. SP Humberto Martin The bidding starts at three years, $22.5 million for the top SP on the market, but some observers think the rubber-armed Dominican could get a much richer contract. "It wouldn't shock me if someone gave him $40 million for five years," said one team executive. "I'm not sure it's a good idea, but it wouldn't shock me." Martin's agent has strongly denied an Internet report that his client suffered a groin injury during a nightclub fracas, but some teams were scared off by lurid photos of the incident which hit the tabloids.

Update: As free agency winds down, Martin remains unsigned as teams apparently shied away from his injury risk and questionable lifestyle choices.

7. SP Turk Melheuse Opinions are varied on the left-handed strikeout machine. "That dude's a stud," said one GM. "I'd break the bank on him, if ownership would let me spend the kind of scratch he'll get." Bidding starts at three years, $24.75 million and is certain to climb higher, but another GM said he wouldn't make any calls to Melheuse's agent. "He gives up a lot of bombs, and his stuff is surprisingly mediocre," the GM said. "I can't help but think he gets by on luck, and that runs out eventually." It only takes one team to make Melheuse a very rich man, and someone undoubtedly will do that.

Update: San Diego signs Meleuse to four-year, $38.2 million contract that includes a $5 million bonus and a mutual option on the fourth year.

8. SP Paul Stahoviak Rumors swirled over the offseason linking Stahoviak with unfair training practices (cough: PEDs), but the 33-year-old left-hander will still draw interest from a number of clubs tempted by his still-considerable talents and modest two-year, $13.5 million demands. "That guy has some good stuff, and he can pitch just a ton of innings," said one scout. "I wouldn't worry about the new testing program with a guy like 'The Stovepipe.' He's a tireless worker and fierce competitor. He'll be good for a few more years, at least." Some observers think he could get $20 million, but $16 million for two years and an option for a third is the guess here.

Update: Washington looks past the controversy and picks up the Stovepipe on a relatively modest two-year, $15.6 million deal that could prove to be the biggest steal in FA.

9. CF Cesar Montanez The top leadoff man on the market is poised to make a lot of money. At just 28 years old, Montanez possesses outstanding range and a cannon arm, but his real value is getting on base and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. "This guy is just what you want at the top of your lineup," said one scout. "He's got the power to hit doubles and the speed to turn them into triples. He gets the best jumps of anyone I've seen." Bidding starts at four years, $26 million, but most observers think he'll get twice that amount.

Update: Montreal gets their man on a five-year, $37 million contract that includes a mutual option on the last year.

10. Joseph Saitou The Japanese right-hander might not post some of the eye-popping numbers as some of the flashier FAs, but he still has his admirers. "This guy gives you a chance in every ballgame he starts," said one GM. "He probably won't win any Cy Youngs, but I think he's the FA who's most likely to pitch for a World Champion." He'll cost that team at least $24 million for four years, but some executives think he could be the highest-paid FA pitcher this season.

Update: Cincinnati snags Saitou for his asking price of four years and $24 million, sweetened with a $3 million signing bonus and a mutual option on the last season.

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