Where Will They Land? Free Agent Predictions

I'll be the first to acknowledge that the odds of the A's signing Carl Crawford are very slim.  But I'm going to lay out the set of circumstances that gives the A's a slightly better opportunity.  What follows below is a "Major Free Agent Predictions Thread" - after you've read mine, please post your own predictions in the comments. 

I've organized these by team.  The player and signing team is listed in bold, with the analysis for each in italics underneath.

Cliff Lee - Yankees

I think the Yankees will build their off-season around this signing.  He is rumored to want "CC Sabathia Money," and while the $23M per year is reasonable, the $161M total value probably isn't.  It's hard to imagine a 31-year-old pitcher getting a seven-year deal like Sabathia did at age 27.  Sick of being traded, Lee is going to want no-trade protection, and the Yankees are more comfortable giving that out than small-market teams are.  Five years, $115M, with a vesting option for a sixth year that could bring the total value to $138M would get it done. No other team would be willing to take that risk, and the Yankees can afford to.  Lee's bargaining position is incredibly strong this off-season. Not only is he the lone ace on the market, but the extensions of Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, and Josh Johnson have left the "Ace FA Starter" cupboard bare for the next two years.

Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte - Yankees

They wouldn't sign anywhere else, and they have too much left in the tank to retire.  But collectively, they'll cost enough that retaining them and adding Lee amounts to the extent of the Yankees' off-season splurges this winter.

Adrian Beltre - Angels

His family lives in LA, and he recently said that his family sacrificed for him on his last free agent choice (Boston), but that he would make the decision for his family this time.  The Angels received terrible 3b performance this season, and the drop-off from Beltre to the second-tier in the free agent and trade markets at the third base position is very steep.  This match just makes too much sense.  Four years, $56-60M.  At that price, the Angels are (hopefully) forced to stand pat in the outfield and DH, with Torii/Burgos/Abreu/Rivera/Napoli. 

Jayson Werth, Carlos Pena, David Ortiz (option exercised) - Red Sox

This is my Red Sox prediction that no one is making right now.  If their plan truly is the one that Peter Gammons and Nick Cafardo and every other Bostonian has been shouting from the rooftops - to go "full bore" after Carl Crawford - then why would they make that so transparent in the media?  What would they gain from that?  I don't buy the Gammons bluster one bit on this one.  I think it's more likely that whatever is being leaked to media at this point in the free agent game is in fact just a smokescreen. Crawford doesn't make much sense for the Red Sox anyway - they have three left-field options internally with Cameron, Ellsbury, and Kalish.

Now to sell you on these Red Sox predictions:  The Sawx love them some draft picks. I think they'll let Beltre and V-Mart walk to collect the four high draft picks they'll garner as compensation.  This more than offsets the first-rounder they'll lose for signing Werth, who seems to be a perfect fit for Fenway:  right-handed power, awkward facial hair, full of grit. I think that Werth will be more important to the Red Sox than Crawford because ultimately the team needs a long-term replacement for soon-to-be-35-year-old J.D. Drew, who enters the final season of his deal in 2011 coming off a down year.  There are no elite outfielders on next year's FA class and the Red Sox lack a RFer internally, so signing Werth now and putting him in left for a year makes the most sense to me.  Convers

If the Red Sox can persuade Carlos Pena to take a one year, "rebuild your value" deal similar to the one they gave Beltre, I think they'll do a handstand.  This pushes Youkilis back to third, where he might remain for a while, because...these off-season moves set up their plan for 2011-2012 off-season - to sign either Adrian Gonzalez or Albert Pujols to a huge deal. This would push them into luxury-tax territory, but accumulating that kind of talent over the next two years would also help ensure that they regained a stranglehold on an annual playoff berth (along with the Yankees) for the next several years.

At catcher I think they'll tolerate a second-tier option like John Buck, Gerald Laird, or a trade candidate in hopes that Saltalamacchia can develop into a starter. 

If each of those players sign in exactly that location:

To me, that's the scenario that gives the A's a sliver of hope in signing Crawford.  Because those signings would mean that the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox - three very desirable teams to play for - had all spent their money elsewhere. If the cards fall differently, I gave the A's zero chance whatsoever.  For example, here's an alternate universe prediction, and its resulting chain of events:

The Rangers re-sign Cliff Lee.  Andy Pettitte retires.  The Yankees have $33M+ to burn but a crucial SP hole. They trade Brett Gardner, Jesus Montero and Joba Chamberlain to the Royals for Zack Greinke, who has two affordable years left on his deal.  Trading Gardner creates a left-field void filled by...signing Crawford. 

So, that's it for me - I'll end optimistically by stating that the A's will indeed sign Crawford to a 7-8 year deal, using almost every penny of their off-season money. 

But how about you?  Where will those elite players mentioned above land?  I'll also mention some second-tier guys in the comments below.

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