Free Agency Preview: Outfielders

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Free Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
Free Agency Preview – Second base
Free Agency Preview – Third base
Free Agency Preview – Shortstop
This is part six in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. The outfield is up now.
Matt Holliday (Cardinals) – It was an open question whether CC Sabathia or Mark Teixeira would get the offseason’s biggest free agent contract last winter, but there’s no doubt who will fare best this time around. Holliday has an MVP award to his credit, he’s just 29 and there isn’t really a flaw to his game. He’s not one of the game’s 10 best players, but there’s very good reason to think he’ll be a true star for a few more years and a fine regular for the duration of his next contract. His suitors figure to come from the usual suspects: the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Angels. Not all of them will be involved, but one or two will likely face off with the Cardinals once the bidding gets serious. Agent Scott Boras may need the Yankees there in the end if the final price tag is going to exceed $120 million for six years, and I’m not sure the Bombers will go that route, even though the money is almost certainly there. Prediction: Red Sox – six years, $120 million
Jason Bay (Red Sox) – Bay outhit Holliday last season, but he’s the older player by a year and a half and a much weaker defender. While Holliday should be a solid enough left fielder into his mid-30s, Bay would already by more valuable as a first baseman or a designated hitter now. Of course, he still has a lot to offer. Unlike Holliday, he’s proven he can be a force in the American League and he could continue to put up the better power numbers of the two. If the Red Sox could sign him for $60 million for four years, they’d probably lock him up and exit the Holliday chase. It’d make more sense to go to six years for Holliday than five for Bay, though. The Yankees, Angels, Giants and Cardinals could factor in here. Prediction: Angels – five years, $75 million
Johnny Damon (Yankees) – Now 36, Damon has lost most of his defensive value, but he turned in one of his best offensive season in 2009, finishing at .282/.365/.489 with a career high-tying 24 homers. He also came up big in both the ALCS and World Series for the Yankees. Going into the postseason, it was conceivable that the Yankees would offer Damon only a one-year deal to stick around. However, that’d be quite an insult after such a strong campaign, and while Damon would almost certainly prefer to stay with the Bombers, he’s certain to get multiyear offers from other clubs, perhaps even the Yankees’ crosstown rival. At worst, Damon should get the same kind of two-year, $19 million contract that Bobby Abreu received to remain with the Angels. Prediction: Yankees – two years, $22 million
Hideki Matsui (Yankees) – Bay and Holliday are the only free agents who finished with higher OPSs than Matsui’s 876 mark last season, and Matsui, of course, starred again in the postseason, hitting .349 with four homers in 43 at-bats and taking home World Series MVP honors. That’s going to be hard to top. Matsui is 35, and he’s missed big chunks of two of the last four seasons. His knees may never again allow him to play the outfield on a regular basis. Reports of the Red Sox potentially offering him a four-year deal were ludicrous, but Matsui might land a three-year pact if he’s willing to shop himself around. Still, everyone knows that he wants to remain with the Yankees and the Bombers would almost certainly like him back for at least one more year. As with Damon, there’s a compromise to be worked out here. Prediction: Yankees – two years, $18 million
Vladimir Guerrero (Angels) – While 2009 was obviously the worst season of his career, Guerrero hit .300/.347/.498 after the break and .378/.425/.541 in nine postseason games, all while always falling short of 100 percent physically. Considering that he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in April, it was impressive that he came back as well as he did. If Guerrero could still play the outfield on a regular basis, a three-year deal in excess of $10 million per season would be fitting. As a full-time DH, though, he’d hardly seem worthy of such a commitment. If he wants to remain on the West Coast, he needs to hope the Giants or A’s get involved, since the Angels seem to want to go in a different direction. Otherwise, Texas would make a ton of sense. Prediction: Rangers – two years, $18 million
Mike Cameron (Brewers) – Cameron gave the Brewers plenty of value for their $16.25 million over the last two seasons, yet GM Doug Melvin nearly traded him for Melky Cabrera a year ago and was quick to rule him out of the team’s 2010 plans this winter when he traded J.J. Hardy for Carlos Gomez earlier this month. Unfortunately for Cameron, the teams currently desperate for center field help — the White Sox, Royals and Padres — have tight payroll restrictions this winter. The Cubs have a need, but it’s doubtful that they’ll value him properly. Perhaps the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets could look at him if other plans go awry, but I’m lacking a good guess on where he might end up. He may not get the two-year, $20 million deal he deserves. Prediction: Braves – one year, $8 million
Jermaine Dye (White Sox) – Dye was an MVP candidate for three months last season, hitting .302/.375/.567 with 22 homers before the break. However, the word collapse is hardly strong enough for what followed. Dye hit just .179/.293/.297 the rest of the way to finish with a sub-800 OPS for the first time since 2004. Dye can probably bounce back a bit offensively at age 36, but he’s a hideous defender at this point and he’s always come up short in big situations. It’d be crazy to give him more than a one-year deal. I’m guessing he lands in San Francisco or Texas. Prediction: Giants – one year, $8 million
Marlon Byrd (Rangers) – Byrd’s case now looks a lot like Gary Matthews Jr.’s did three years ago before he secured a five-year, $50 million contract with the Angels: journeyman part-time center fielder heads to Texas, gets nice boost from hitter friendly ballpark and grows into full-time role just in time for free agency. Like Matthews three years ago, Byrd is 32 now. He doesn’t have Matthews’ defensive reputation, but he has been the more consistent hitter of the two. Of course, Byrd isn’t going to get a five-year deal; the market has changed since 2007 and so many other center fielders have been busts after getting long-term contracts. Byrd, though, might get three years. The Cubs would like him if they could move Milton Bradley, and the Giants have a history of targeting players like Byrd. Prediction: White Sox – three years, $20 million
Rick Ankiel (Cardinals) – In theory, Ankiel is the one free agent outfielder whose best years are still ahead of him. The former pitcher would have been set up for a big long-term deal had he matched his .264/.337/.506 line from 2008 last season. However, he slipped all of the way to .231/.285/.387 in a season riddled with injuries. Ankiel still hasn’t proven he can stay healthy for a full season, and he does have holes in his swing. Also, he’s probably not a long-term option in center field. Odds are that he’ll accept a one-year contract in an attempt to rebuild his value. The Jays, White Sox, Padres, Pirates and Marlins are some of the teams that may look to gamble on him. Prediction: Marlins – one year, $4 million
Coco Crisp (Royals) – Crisp got off to an excellent start as Kansas City’s leadoff hitter and center fielder before his shoulder started bothering him. His play quickly fell off, and he ended up undergoing season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in June. Crisp should be ready to play next season, and he could turn out to be a bargain. He’s one of the few legitimate leadoff options available, and he’ll probably be an above average defender for a couple of more years anyway. Prediction: Padres – one year, $4 million
Xavier Nady (Yankees) – It’s not a lock, but Nady will probably be ready for Opening Day following Tommy John surgery in July. It’d help if he signed as a first baseman, since he wouldn’t have to make any long throws, but there figures to be more interest in him as an outfielder. Nady was supposed to start over Nick Swisher for the Yankees last season after hitting .305/.357/.510 in 2008. There will probably be a few teams interested in him as a regular, and the Cardinals have already let him know they like him. Prediction: Cardinals – one year, $3 million
Randy Winn (Giants) – With his 790 OPSs and excellent defense in right field, Winn was a fine regular for the Giants in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, he fell all of the way to .262/.318/.353 last season and the Giants have decided to go in a different direction now. Winn may well be an adequate regular in center field for another year or two, but given that he hasn’t played that position regularly since 2004, it’s hard to imagine any team signing him as a starter there. The contenders figure to view him as more of a fourth outfielder. Prediction: Mariners – one year, $2.5 million
Other free agents: Austin Kearns (Nationals), Marcus Thames (Tigers), Andruw Jones (Rangers), Scott Podsednik (White Sox), Rocco Baldelli (Red Sox), Reed Johnson (Cubs), Endy Chavez (Mariners), Gary Sheffield (Mets), Fernando Tatis (Mets), Brian Giles (Padres), Eric Hinske (Yankees), Frank Catalanotto (Brewers), Garret Anderson (Braves), Matt Stairs (Phillies), Chris Duncan (Red Sox), Jason Michaels (Astros), Darin Erstad (Astros), Chris Denorfia (Athletics), Corey Patterson (Brewers), Wily Mo Pena (Mets), Jeff Fiorentino (Orioles), Bobby Kielty (Mets), Craig Monroe (Pirates), Jeff Salazar (Pirates), Alex Romero (Diamondbacks), David Dellucci (Blue Jays), Emil Brown (Mets), Jacque Jones (Reds), Darnell McDonald (Reds), Chris Burke (Padres), Joey Gathright (Red Sox), Brent Clevlen (Tigers), Bobby Scales (Cubs), Freddy Guzman (Yankees), Drew Macias (Padres), Jerry Owens (Mariners), Russ Adams (Padres)
The first eight players here all look like $2 million players to me. Kearns and Baldelli offer considerable upside. Andruw and Sheffield showed last season that they still have something to offer, even if they’re no longer capable of getting it done for six months at a time. Thames, Johnson and Chavez are fine role players. As for Podsednik, well, I’d avoid him entirely, but he may well get the biggest contract of the bunch.
Giles, one of the NL’s best outfielders in 2008, was such a disaster during the first 2 1/2 months of last season that the Padres wrote him off for the rest of the year. He turns 39 in January, but he deserves one more chance. Maybe the A’s will give it to him. … Pity the fans of the team that signs Anderson to play regularly. He was a big liability offensively and defensively for the Braves last season, and there’s just no reason to prefer him to someone like Hinske or Duncan, neither of whom are likely to be regulars themselves.

Trade candidates: Carl Crawford (Rays), B.J. Upton (Rays), Curtis Granderson (Tigers), Adam Dunn (Nationals), Josh Willingham (Nationals), Brad Hawpe (Rockies), Carlos Lee (Astros – NTC), Ryan Ludwick (Cardinals), David DeJesus (Royals), Corey Hart (Brewers), Chris Young (Diamondbacks), Delmon Young (Twins), Luke Scott (Orioles), Melky Cabrera (Yankees), David Murphy (Rangers), Jonny Gomes (Reds), Chris Dickerson (Reds), Ryan Spilborghs (Rockies), Milton Bradley (Cubs), Pat Burrell (Rays), Vernon Wells (Blue Jays – NTC), Aaron Rowand (Giants – limited NTC), Juan Pierre (Dodgers – limited NTC), Conor Jackson (Diamondbacks), Matt Joyce (Rays), Felix Pie (Orioles), Josh Reddick (Red Sox), Jeremy Hermida (Red Sox), Jack Cust (Athletics), Ryan Sweeney (Athletics), Travis Buck (Athletics), Eric Patterson (Athletics), Willie Harris (Nationals), Ryan Church (Braves), Wilkin Ramirez (Tigers), John Bowker (Giants), Fred Lewis (Giants), Brandon Moss (Pirates), Tony Gwynn Jr. (Padres), Eric Byrnes (Diamondbacks – NTC), Gary Matthews Jr. (Angels – limited NTC), Jose Guillen (Royals), Willy Taveras (Reds), John Mayberry Jr. (Phillies), Reggie Willits (Angels), Terry Evans (Angels), Matt Murton (Rockies), Clete Thomas (Tigers), Trevor Crowe (Indians), Xavier Paul (Dodgers), Wladimir Balentien (Reds), Brandon Jones (Braves), Brian Barton (Braves), Gregor Blanco (Braves), Joe Mather (Cardinals), Nick Stavinoha (Cardinals), Brandon Boggs (Rangers), Craig Gentry (Rangers), Roger Bernadina (Nationals), Casper Wells (Tigers), Luis Durango (Padres)
Yeah, that’s a lot of names. I doubt Crawford, Upton, Dunn or Lee is going anywhere. Granderson might, but the mediocre market for center fielders makes it less likely. Of the bigger names, Hawpe appears to be the best bet to depart. The Rockies have four major league outfielders without him, and they could use the extra cash. Hawpe is due $7.5 million next season. … It appeared that the Twins decided on their outfield when they sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy. Young, though, may yet be available if his improvement at the end of the season creates any serious suitors. The Twins could vastly upgrade their outfield defense by moving Young and signing a Cameron or a Crisp to play center.
The A’s have to decide which outfielders are keepers from a group that includes Scott Hairston, Rajai Davis, Cust, Sweeney, Buck, Patterson and Aaron Cunningham. If the season started tomorrow, they’d probably have Hairtson in left, Davis in center, Sweeney in right and Cust at DH. However, they may want to upgrade at one of those spots. I’d be surprised if Buck isn’t dealt. … Byrnes and Tavaras look like candidates to be released if the Diamondbacks and Reds can’t shed portions of their contracts in trades.

Non-tender candidates: Jack Cust (Athletics), Conor Jackson (Diamondbacks), Ryan Church (Braves), Jody Gerut (Brewers), Gabe Gross (Rays), Alfredo Amezaga (Marlins), Matt Murton (Rockies), Brian Anderson (Red Sox), Cory Sullivan (Mets), Jeremy Reed (Mets), Mike Morse (Nationals), Laynce Nix (Reds), Josh Anderson (Royals), Mitch Maier (Royals), Lou Montanez (Orioles), Jason Repko (Dodgers), Ryan Langerhans (Mariners), Alejandro De Aza (White Sox), Jason Pridie (Twins), Justin Ruggiano (Rays), Don Kelly (Tigers), Yordany Ramirez (Astros)
Cust probably bought himself another year by rebounding to hit .250/.399/.426 after the All-Star break. Still, he’s due $4 million or so in arbitration and it’s doubtful that he’d earn any more than that as a free agent. … Jackson, who needed to prove he’s healthy in order to guarantee his spot with the Diamondbacks, is currently batting .425 in 73 at-bats in the Dominican Winter League. He should be back as Arizona’s starting left fielder. … The Braves will likely seek an upgrade from Church. He’d probably earn a bit over $3 million in arbitration.
2010-11 free agents: Carl Crawford (Rays), Manny Ramirez (Dodgers), Jayson Werth (Phillies), Adam Dunn (Nationals), Brad Hawpe (Rockies)*, Jason Kubel (Twins)*, David DeJesus (Royals)*, Magglio Ordonez (Tigers)*, Pat Burrell (Rays), Jose Guillen (Royals), Eric Byrnes (Diamondbacks), Willie Harris (Nationals), Jody Gerut (Brewers), Willy Taveras (Reds), Alfredo Amezaga (Marlins), Willie Bloomquist (Royals), Mark Kotsay (White Sox), Gabe Kapler (Rays)
2011 options: Hawpe – $10 million ($500,000 buyout, voidable if traded), Kubel – $5.25 million ($350,000 buyout), DeJesus – $6 million ($500,000 buyout), Ordonez – $15 million (vests with 540 PA or 135 games started)
2011-12 free agents: Grady Sizemore (Indians)*, Carlos Beltran (Mets), Shane Victorino (Phillies), J.D. Drew (Red Sox), Vernon Wells (Blue Jays)*, Nate McLouth (Braves)*, Nick Swisher (Yankees)*, Michael Cuddyer (Twins), Corey Hart (Brewers), Raul Ibanez (Phillies), Bobby Abreu (Angels)*, Conor Jackson (Diamondbacks), Ryan Ludwick (Cardinals), Kosuke Fukudome (Cubs), Carlos Guillen (Tigers), Milton Bradley (Cubs), Juan Rivera (Angels), Josh Willingham (Nationals), Jeremy Hermida (Red Sox), Scott Hairston (Athletics), Jeff Francoeur (Mets), Cody Ross (Marlins), Ryan Church (Braves), Jonny Gomes (Reds), Juan Pierre (Dodgers), Jack Cust (Athletics), Matt Diaz (Braves), Gabe Gross (Rays), Gary Matthews Jr. (Angels), Cory Sullivan (Mets), Jeremy Reed (Mets), Ryan Langerhans (Mariners), Laynce Nix (Reds)
2012 options: Sizemore – $8.5 million ($500,000 buyout), Wells – $63 million player option for 2012-14, McLouth – $10.65 million ($1.25 million buyout), Swisher – $10.25 million ($1 million buyout), Abreu – $9 million vesting option ($1 million buyout)

The Mets break out the whuppin’ sticks, rout the Dodgers 13-7

Cespedes d'Arnaud

So often in life the anticipation of something outpaces its reality. For Mets fans tonight, it was the exact opposite. They had a grand old time. The Mets broke out the lumber and overwhelmed the Dodgers 13-4 to take a 2-1 lead in NLDS.

So much of that anticipation was about revenge, really. Hitting Chase Utley if he was in the lineup, perhaps, or at the very least sending some sort of retaliatory message the Dodgers’ way in response to Utley breaking Ruben Tejada‘s leg on Saturday. But with Utley out of the lineup — and the notion that base runners matter a whole heck of a lot in a playoff game — Matt Harvey just set out to pitch, not plunk. And Mets hitters set out to beat the living heck out of Brett Anderson and a couple Dodgers relievers. Living well is the best revenge, and for a major league team, winning baseball games is living well.

It didn’t start out so well for Harvey, as Yasmani Grandal singled in two runs in the top of the second with a third run scoring on a Curtis Granderson error on the same play. It was 3-0 Dodgers early and Mets’ fans sphincters’ clenched. But only momentarily.

The Mets came right back in the bottom of the second with four runs with a Travis d'Arnaud single and a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double from Curtis Granderson. In the next inning d’Arnaud hit a two-run shot. In the fourth Daniel Murphy singled in a run and Yoenis Cespedes hit a three-run bomb to left to make it 10-3. The Dodgers got one back in the top of the seventh but New York scored three more of their own in the bottom half. It was never a ballgame after the third inning.

Brett Anderson was the author of the damage through three, Alex Wood gave up the four runs in the fourth and hung on in the fifth in what became mop-up duty. Harvey was done after five and took the win. He wasn’t necessarily sharp, but he did strike out seven and was good enough. Some late damage from the Dodgers, including a three-run homer in the ninth from Howie Kendrick, was too little, too late. Granderson and d’Arnaud did the damage for New York, driving in five and three runs, respectively.

Once the competitive portion of this game was over, the Mets’ crowd turned to more important matters. Chanting things like “We want Utley!” Don Mattingly didn’t give him to ’em, probably because there was no downside to smacking him after the game got out of hand. But no upside either. Because of that stuff about living well, remember?

Now it’s on Clayton Kershaw to save the Dodgers from elimination [looks at watch] tonight, technically. If he doesn’t, his detractors will write another page in their Big Book of Clayton Kershaw Playoff Failures. If he does, we get a Game 5 back in Los Angeles.

Maybe Chase Utley gets into one of those.

Jake Arrieta beatable, but still unbeaten

Jake Arrieta
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Jake Arrieta gave up as many earned runs Monday against the Cardinals as he had in his previous 13 starts combined, yet the Cubs still won 8-6.

It’s the 15th straight time the Cubs have won a game started by Arrieta, who is set to finish first or second in the Cy Young balloting announced next month. Their last loss in an Arrieta-pitched game was when the Phillies’ Cole Hamels no-hit them on July 25. They won the previous four before that, too, so make it 19 of 20.

The outing could go down as Arrieta’s last of the season, though that would require the Cardinals beating the Cubs in back-to-back games to finish the NLDS. The more likely scenario at this point is that Arrieta starts Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers or Mets.

Arrieta, though, was vulnerable in this one, turning in his shortest start since June. Even in the shutout of Pittsburgh in the wild card game, the Pirates had chances in the middle innings (most notably before Starling Marte‘s well-hit grounder with the bases loaded turned into a double play in the sixth).

Tonight, he walked two in a row at one point, after not walking a single batter in his previous three starts. He gave up his first homer in six starts. The wind was a factor in tonight’s eight-homer barrage, but Jason Heyward‘s two-run shot off Arrieta went against the grain in left-center.

So, if nothing else, the illusion of impenetrability is now gone. Arrieta can be gotten to, if primarily in short bursts. That’s not going to do anything for the Cardinals — at least not unless Arrieta is called on to pitch an inning or two in Game 5 — but it’ll probably come into play later in the postseason.

Ding-Dong! The Cubbies ride homers to a 2-1 series lead

Jorge Soler

The wind was blowing out of Wrigley Field on Monday night, but mostly for the home team. Makes you think that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t all about the wind.

The Cubs hit six homers off of Cardinals pitching, one each from each of the first six batters in their lineup. Three of them came against Michael Wacha, who Mike Matheny inexplicably let bat for himself in the top of the fifth and take the hill in the bottom of the fifth and on to a third time through the Cubs’ order. He was shaky as it was, and quickly put a runner on and then allowed a two-run homer to Kris Bryant to make it 4-2. One batter later Kevin Siegrist came in and let Anthony Rizzo take him VERY deep to right field to make it 5-2.

Jason Heyward made it interesting in the top of the sixth with a two run shot to make it a one-run game but then Jorge Soler hit a two run shot in the bottom half and Dexter Fowler hit one in the eighth to make it 8-4. You can’t trade solo shots for multiple two-run jobs. You wanna get the Cardinals? Here’s how you get ’em. They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! They hit a solo homer, you hit a bunch of two-run shots. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get the Cardinals!

Not that the Cardinals didn’t do a lot. They scored four runs in five and a third against Jake Arrieta, who hadn’t been damaged like that since June 16. But five Cubs relievers held mostly firm. You tell me before the game that they got to Arrieta like that and I tell you they won. But nope.

Now it’s 2-1 Cubs in a best of five. They go tomorrow with Jason Hammel and try to eliminate the Cards. Who had best figure out how to counter the Cubs’ power.