Top 2011 free agent landing spots

Free agency predictions and notes from your friends at THT

This year’s free agent class is a relatively polarizing one. There are a few top names readily available at each position, but the depth is extraordinarily shallow. When the best available third basemen is Adrian Beltre and the second best available third basemen is a dead heat between former no-walk White Sox Juan Uribe (which is not to say that he was not valuable for the Giants over 2009-10) and the relatively punchless modern Miguel Tejada (totally fizzled up?), the scarcity becomes obvious.

Scarcity is a horrible thing from a team’s budget perspective because it allows those top players to charge a market premium for their services (cough cough Carl Crawford cough cough), meaning that teams will ultimately get a poor return (cough cough the Angels made this mistake before with Torii Hunter cough cough). It also means relatively poor players who usually get low-risk/moderate-reward-type contracts get overpaid.

Accordingly, a handful of us thought it might be interesting to toss our two cents in on where we thought the top names would land. Despite the lack of firm science behind our picking methodology (though we have explained some of our more controversial picks below the chart), the picks are…

NAME                Jeffrey Gross  Rich. Barbieri Brad Johnson   Vince Caramela
Cliff Lee           Nationals      Yankees        Yankees        Rangers
Carl Crawford       Angels         Angels         Angels         Red Sox
Adrian Beltre       Red Sox        Rockies        Angels         Blue Jays
Jayson Werth        Red Sox        Red Sox        Red Sox        Angels
Adam Dunn           Cubs           Nationals      White Sox      White Sox
Victor Martinez     Tigers         Rangers        Tigers         Tigers
Rafael Soriano      Diamondbacks   Angels         Angels         White Sox
Mariano Rivera      Yankees        Yankees        Yankees        Yankees
Paul Konerko        White Sox      Diamondbacks   Cubs           Diamondbacks
Derek Jeter         Yankees        Yankees        Yankees        Yankees
Hiroki Kuroda       Rangers        Rangers        Mets           Rockies
Jorge De La Rosa    Pirates        Brewers        Rangers        Nationals
Carl Pavano         Twins          Braves         Cardinals      Mariners
Jake Westbrook      Rockies        Cardinals      Rockies        Cardinals
Aubrey Huff         Giants         Giants         Giants         Cubs
Juan Uribe          Giants         Giants         Dodgers        Rangers
Carlos Pena         Nationals      White Sox      Nationals      Rays
Jim Thome           Rays           Twins          Twins          Athletics
Vladimir Guerrero   Rangers        Tampa Bay      White Sox      White Sox
Manny Ramirez       White Sox      White Sox      Rangers        Retires
Magglio Ordonez     Tigers         Tigers         Tigers         Twins
Orlando Hudson      Cardinals      Mets           Cubs           Cardinals
Lance Berkman       Rangers        White Sox      Rays           Braves
Derrek Lee          Orioles        Orioles        Diamondbacks   Orioles
Andy Pettitte       Yankees        Yankees        Yankees        Yankees
Jon Garland         Cardinals      Mets           Padres         Twins
Javier Vazquez      Nationals      Mariners       Nationals      Padres
JJ Putz             Angels         Cardinals      Nationals      Red Sox
Scott Downs         Red Sox        Braves         Yankees        Diamondbacks
Hideki Matsui       Mariners       Mariners       Unsigned       Retires
Brandon Webb        Mariners       White Sox      Nationals      Royals

Jeffrey Gross FA Notes:
Call me insane, but I think the Nationals have a good shot at Cliff Lee this offseason. They’ve got the money and they’ve got the future talent to attract Lee. There is no doubt in my mind that the Nationals will offer both the most money and the most years. The question is whether or not Lee will go to D.C. and become the instant superstar of the team or whether he, like Mark Teixeira before him, will ignore all that and turn to the dark side (Pinstripes!). If Lee goes to New York, he’ll have to compete with C.C. Sabathia, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, et. al for face time. Likewise, in Texas, he will be competing with Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and others for media glory. In D.C., however, especially with Strasburg out, it will just be him and Ryan Zimmerman. That is not to say that the Nationals do not have other talented players, but if Cliff Lee goes to the Nationals, he becomes the center of attention. That is hard for a guy with an ego to turn down if he’s also getting paid and placed on a team with some serious up-and-coming talent. Plus, if the Nationals get Javier Vazquez like I believe they will, and then Strasburg comes back, they’ll have the absolute, most disgustingly good rotation in baseball. That is assuming Javi bounces back after an offseason of rest.

Most of my other picks are pretty straightforward. I think the Diamondbacks get Rafael Soriano because he’ll be the best relief arm on the market and they are desperate for a reliable ninth inning guy. The Red Sox will get Scott Downs, in whom they’ve been interested for over a year, because they need a lefty reliever. The Rangers or Rockies will get Hiroki Kuroda if the Dodgers do not re-up him. Both teams seem desperate for a strong, reliable No. 2 type who gives you innings a la (or better than) Ryan Dempster. Uribe/Huff will go back to San Francisco, where Brian Sabean overvalues over-the-hill players.

The only other controversial picks I can foresee are Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, and my thoughts on Jayson Werth. With regard to Manny, he’s coming off a down season and will likely be looking to rebuild value circa the Beltre method. The White Sox are in serious need of a power bat and designated hitter, and their park is basically Coors (Field) light. Barring the Sox getting Adam Dunn (who will end up in Chicago this offseason, I just believe it will be the North Side of Chicago) or Lance Berkman (who I think is going to end up in the AL West playing for either the Rangers or A’s), Manny is probably going to sign a relatively cheap one-year deal with the Pale Hose.

Then there is Jayson Werth. I agree with most that he will likely end up on the Red Sox. However, do not be shocked if he ends up back in LA trolling the outfield for the Dodgers. The Dodgers are now Mannyless and Podsless, which means they probably need a left fielder—unless they are content with Reed Johnson, which is like conceding the season before it begins.

You can read more of my witty free agency notes by player by clicking here.

Brad Johnson FA Notes:
Two teams appear four times in my predictions: the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals. It’s natural that the Yankees should figure prominently; after all, three of the players on the list (Rivera, Pettitte and Jeter) might as well not be free agents. That brings us to the Nationals. What doesn’t show up in my prediction is the offer to Cliff Lee that I expect to be comparable with the Yankees and Rangers. The offer to Crawford, which I expect to be the best on the table, doesn’t show up either.

The Nationals will probably lose out on these top free agents thanks to half a decade of futility in the nation’s capital. Yet be sure the front office is working hard to improve the team. If they can add a few critical pieces, they see themselves as contenders in 2012 when Stephen Strasburg returns to the hill.

Having missed on the top talent, the Nationals will retrench and bid on players who could re-establish value. Carlos Peña should top that list. Rather than re-sign the much pricier Adam Dunn, Peña could probably be brought in on the cheap. He should provide fairly similar value to Dunn, thanks to robust on-base abilities, good power, and a much steadier glove than the brick-mitted Dunn. Moving to the senior circuit should also help his cause.

J.J. Putz represents 2011’s Matt Capps. Down the stretch in 2010, closer Drew Storen appeared more like a setup man than a true closer. Bringing in Putz allows the Nationals to take some leverage off Storen. A trade deadline swap to a contender could bring in another useful piece like Wilson Ramos. They will be aiming for a starting pitcher prospect this time around.

The final two pieces, Javier Vazquez and Brandon Webb, are pure upside gambles of the Chien-Ming Wang variety. Many doubt Webb will contribute to any team in 2011. For around $1 million the Nationals could endear Webb to the training staff while hoping to squeeze a few odd innings out of him. A team friendly option(s) for 2012 and/or 2013 would be the Nationals’ motivation. Vazquez will be brought in purely to munch innings in the division where he put together Cy Young performance. If he can regain his previous form, he could be packaged with Putz to improve the return on that trade.

Vincent Caramela FA Notes:
Looking at the Cliff Lee situation, I have a feeling the Rangers will be aggressive in re-acquiring his services. The Yankees seem to be the favorites by default to land Lee. Last offseason there was some talk about the Yankees reducing payroll; that didn’t quite happen, but I do get this feeling that the Yanks will be serious about bringing their payroll below $200 million. This should take them out of the Lee sweepstakes since the Derek Jeter situation may be a bit more sticky than currently reported.

I wanted to pencil in Adrian Beltre as a Ranger since I see them moving Michael Young to the DH spot, but it’s hard to imagine the Rangers cranking out two big long-term deals this offseason. With that said, I think the Rangers grab Uribe short-term to fill the third baseman/utility spot, and with the Jays releasing Encarnacion and freeing up some payroll, I think Beltre would be a good fit and should get his five years in Toronto.

Addressing this huge influx of DH free agents, Adam Dunn will be tricky since he seems to be adamant about playing the field. If Konerko goes then I see the White Sox biting. Vlad Guerrero, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Hideki Matsui are limited to AL-only discussion; Thome and Guerrero seem content as one year leases and should find work. I can’t imagine any team being excited by the idea of signing Matsui as a DH clog so he could retire, and with all the talk of “old guy discounts” I have a hard time seeing Manny take a huge pay cut. He could very well be another candidate to walk away from baseball next season.

Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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13 years ago

Lee, Vasquez and Strasburg would be the “absolutely most disgustingly good rotation”?  Really?  Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain want to have a word with you!

J. Welderson
13 years ago

Not that I think much of Vazquez at this stage of his career, but the Nats also have Jordan Zimmermann, who projects pretty nicely as a number two starter.  Any rotation with Lee, Strasburg and Zimmermann would be immediately one of the best in baseball.  Unfortunately, I think it’s extraordinarily unlikely to happen.

Jeffrey Gross
13 years ago


Word on the grapevine is that the lawyer for Regression called Matt Cain’s agent a week ago. Improved walk rate with a lower F-Strike%? Declining SwStr%? Average strikeout stuff?

Yeah, I stick by my comment smile Thanks for the input though!

13 years ago


That’s what they’ve been saying about Cain for the last 4 years and he just keeps getting better.  The Giants just proved that they have the best rotation in baseball and they are likely to continue that for the next several years.  Oh yeah, you might have forgotten that Tim Lincecum is on that team too.  He sent Cain and Bum to talk to you because they are a lot bigger than he is.

You go ahead and stick by your comment and i’ll stick by mine. We’ll see who has the best rotation next year and the year after that.

13 years ago

I am curious to see if the Dodgers have somethinng to say about your “best rotation next year” comment, Dr B.
Kershaw, Billz, Kuroda and Lilly is a formidable 1-4 in the rotation.

Jim C
13 years ago

As a native Washingtonian tired of reeling with Deja Vu or the performance of the Nationals, echoing that of the horrible Senators teams of my youth, I certainly hope that Mr. Gross’ prediction comes true. I also fervently hope that Carlos Pena takes over at 1B, and Adam Dunn goes to an AL team to DH since he is either unable or unwilling to learn to play first base properly.

Brad Johnson
13 years ago

What’s with the fascination with best rotation?

First, I’d like to point out that winning a World Series does not prove a team has the best rotation. The Giants are certainly in contention for that nearly pointless honor, but there is neither proof nor pudding here.

Second, that Dodgers rotation is decidedly un-formidable. It’s not a bad rotation (if a 5th pitcher surfaces), but I wouldn’t expect it to be much better than 7th-10th best. It reminds me of the Phillies ‘08 rotation after they acquired Blanton. One very nice lefty ace, one highly erratic righty, and some innings munchers. That was by no means intimidating, just solid.

Jim, I can assure you that the Nats front is spending a lot of time trying to acquire impact pieces. They intend to add another front line starter to work with Strasburg by 2012. They will push for Lee, but even tossing the best offer out there probably won’t be enough. I expect Lee to prioritize proximity to playoffs. I actually expect the weak offer the Phillies are anticipated to put forth (about 4/80) to be higher on his list than any Nats offer, but time will tell.

Brad Johnson
13 years ago

I think we’re operating with different definitions of ‘proof’ and ‘best.’ From a purely topical perspective, yes, they were the best thanks to that ERA and whiffability.

If you approach it with the lens of true talent, it is by no means certain. There is more than enough doubt so that nobody can really say that the Giants are ‘proven’ to have the best rotation. They might be a top contender for best, but by no means is there proof. Of course, true talent is a fairly fraught topic, especially the numerical representation of it so the Giants could be unfairly penalized in such an approach simply because the margin of error expanded greatly.

Of course, that’s nitpicking, but then again I like to pick nits. I know that wasn’t exactly a well worded post, so let me know if my distinctions aren’t clear.

13 years ago

Re: Kuroda-he threw 196 innings in 2010 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.161 WHIP in 31 starts….his best year since coming over to MLB …..what’s not to like?
Lilly-in 193 innings in 2010, he had a 3.62 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 30 starts…..and one can make an argument that he is moving to a ballpark where flyballs go to die….so his FB% may not hurt him much.
I also think Billz figured things out in the 2nd half last year….we’ll see.
And Kershaw is an ace.

Jeffrey Gross
13 years ago

The first domino has fallen: Hiroki Kuroda has re-upped with the Dodgers. Seems our predictions (which were made before the re-signing reports) were way off here!

13 years ago


Of course I am biased and freely admit it, but Kershaw/Bills/Kuroda certainly deserves to be in the discussion as does the Phillies rotation.


It’s not just about winning the World Series!  The Giants had the top ERA and the most K’s in all of baseball.  They won their division with great pitching from start to finish.  They dominated teams with darn good lineups in the post season, beating pitchers who were touted to be better even tough said pitchers had better lineups backing them up.  Moreover, the Giants top 4 pitchers are all young and still getting better!

The Giants have the best rotation in baseball and are likely to continue to have the best rotation in baseball for the next few years.

I admit Billz and Kershaw give me pause, but I don’t think Kuroda is durable and Lilly is on his last legs.  The Dodgers will regret giving him that desperation contract.  He’s just not going to be able to sustain success as a flyball pitcher with an 85 MPH fastball.