After last night's incredible Red Sox comeback, baseball fans are left without a playoff game until the action resumes Saturday with Game Six at Tampa Bay.
Since Friday's my assigned AN posting day, I thought a quick league-wide free agent discussion could be a bridge until game-time tomorrow.
In the comments section, please pick ~10 of the top free agents and make a prediction as to where they will sign this offseason. If you want, you could add a quick analysis of why you think they'll land at that particular destination.
Sabathia - Yankees. Not his ideal choice (NL, West Coast), but money talks (eight years, 150MM).
Burnett - Yankees. Largest deal on table. Yanks rotation becomes Sabathia/Wang/BurnettPettitte/Mussina, with Hughes and Kennedy as #6 and #7. Inevitably Hughes will be needed most of the year as a terrific injury fill-in. Joba remains in pen and pitches 80 healthy, high-leverage innings. (This scenario won't happen, but it would make them a playoff team again if it did. Instead they'll enter the year thin, with Joba as their #4 and Hughes as their #5, and no depth. One or both will get hurt, there's no depth behind them, and that's how you get Sidney Ponson starting 10 games for a $210MM team).
Sheets - Red Sox. Takes a slight discount in years/money. Sox don't need 200 innings thanks to their depth - just 140-150 good ones, and a guy who is a playoff starter in Wakefield's place. Sheets is also good insurance against a badly injured Beckett or completely ineffective Wakefield in the '09 regular season, which would torpedo a BoSox playoff berth.
Lowe - Dodgers. He pitched well in LA, likes it there, and needs the NL. Best deal on the table. Yanks/Red Sox wisely take a pass.
K-Rod - Mets. Largest deal on the table, good clubhouse fit, great area of need for NY.
Fuentes - Brewers. Brewers miss out on Sabathia, have money to burn, and decide they need a closer. Best deal on the table.
Furcal - Dodgers. Mutual interest, enough cash available to keep other suitors at bay. Even after a three-error game in the clincher, Torre and brass didn't throw him under the bus.
Giambi - Yankees. To me, no one's writing that the smart play is to either exercise the option or get him to agree to a slightly cheaper one-year deal. Why does it make sense for the Yankees to let him walk? Let me get this straight: The Yankees sign aging vets who can hit almost every year. It's smart business - money is their best available resource. But those guys eventually need to take res idence at the lowest rungs of the defensive spectrum. So instead of keeping those lower rungs open for their aging hitters for years to come, they're gonna sign...a first baseman who will marginally outperform Giambi offensively to an 8-9 year contract? Think about this: What position is A-Rod going to be playing on defense when he's 39, 40 years old? What are they going to do with Jeter in his late-30s, when they want him to retire as a Yankee but his shortstop defense is intolerable? I think the Yanks should try to bring Giambi and Abreu back for a year and leave those lower defensive rungs (LF, 1b) open for the long-term. With the pitching additions I mentioned above, that team could absorb having a bad defense. If their starting nine is Posada-Giambi-Cano-Jeter-A-Rod-Nady-Damon-Abreu-Matsui, AND they have the rotation I mentioned above, that's a playoff team, terrible defense and all.
Teixiera - Angels. Somehow I have a feeling that Tex would crumple like Shawn Bradley taking a charge if he signed in New York. He belongs in LA, and they obviously traded for him anticipating it could become a long-term relationship. They'll get him, make a minor pitching addition or two, and become a 90-91-win team on paper again, ensuring them yet another playoff berth in a weak West.
Manny Ramirez - Mets. What other team wants to make a 4-5 year commitment to him? If there's one clubhouse in baseball where he can both feel comfortable long-term, AND be disciplined if necessary without alienating him, it's this one. This signing, along with K-Rod and one or two of the second-to-third-tier starters, would return them to the playoffs.
Adam Dunn - Cubs. Obscene cash gets him to accept less-than-favorite destination and likely position switch (RF). They've done it before (Soriano). They need a left-handed bat and this is the best one left. I guess I could see Raul Ibanez going here instead, and Soriano moving (yet again!) to right field. By the time he's 38, Soriano will be catching Monday through Friday and pitching left-handed out of the bullpen on weekends.
Pat Burrell - Phillies. I couldn't find a better fit for him. Philly's a tough place to play, and he's already won that battle, and the fans. Good vibes and plenty of revenue from getting to the World Series. Fills two voids that would be created if he left (righty power bat, left field). Might as well pencil him in there, even though his deal will probably look Eric Byrnesian by the end of it.
Those are my predictions on 12 top free agents. I intentionally left out Orlando Hudson, the second-best middle infielder, because I think he's overrated.
If the Yankees and Red Sox gobble up that much free agent pitching, it'll force other contenders to take some serious gambles. Some team is going to take an expensive multi-year flier on Oliver Perez; another team is going to bank on 30 decent starts from Carl Pavano. I could see the Mets getting one of those guys, and the Cubs re-signing Dempster and Wood. Paul Byrd and Jon Garland would make sense for budget-conscious NL contenders like the Brewers or Cardinals, since they can't be more than a No. 5 in the AL at this point in their careers. That covers pretty much every relevant starter, and also covers the pitching needs of every contender, since they'll be the ones who drive the market.
Two quick trade predictions: Peavy to the Dodgers, Huston Street to the Cardinals. The Blue Jays, as the fourth-best team in the AL East for the foreseeable future, should perhaps consider trading Roy Halladay and extracting max value for one of the five best pitchers in baseball...but I don't think they will, even though they could get 6-7 prospects and instantly have one of the top 5 farm systems in the game on the basis of that one trade if they did.
Leave your own ideas and scenarios below!