New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays

Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 10-1


It’s time for the final chapter in our rundown of the winter’s free agents. I don’t think there will be any controversial choices in the top 10 below. All will get multiyear deals if they want them, and none should have to settle for less than $10 million per year.


10. Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers – Age 36) – Which starting pitcher in this year’s free agent pool has the lowest career ERA? Kuroda actually beats out Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte with a 3.60 mark in three seasons since arriving from Japan. He’s also coming off his best season, as he finished 2010 with a 3.39 mark and 159 strikeouts in 196 1/3 innings. Durability is a concern, particularly since Kuroda is turning 36 in February and will want a three-year contract. The Dodgers might have taken themselves out of the running to re-sign him when they gave Ted Lilly a $33 million deal.

9. Paul Konerko (White Sox – Age 35) – Konerko didn’t actually set any new highs in the traditional categories this season, but it was still a career year for the 34-year-old. He hit .312-39-111 and finished with a 977 OPS that topped his previous best of 932 from 2006. While he’s long been a fine regular, Konerko had never come in higher than ninth in the AL in slugging or OPS until finishing fourth in both categories this year. The well-timed campaign will probably see to it that he gets at least $25 million for two years this winter. However, it’s worth remembering that he’s the same age as Lance Berkman and Derrek Lee and he hasn’t been as productive as either over the course of his career.

8. Victor Martinez (Red Sox – Age 32) – Many wondered whether Martinez might be looked at as a first baseman by the time he reached free agency, but most signs point to him remaining a catcher for at least another couple of years. He does struggle to throw out basestealers, but he grades out fine elsewhere. With their visions of landing Joe Mauer having been quashed months ago, the Red Sox will make an attempt to re-sign their catcher. The Tigers, Rockies and Orioles are also thought to be interested, with only Baltimore likely to try to turn him into a first baseman/designated hitter right away. It’ll probably take about $36 million over three years to sign him.

7. Mariano Rivera (Yankees – Age 41) – The only question here is the length of the deal. Rivera, long the game’s highest-paid reliever, just finished up a three-year, $45 million contract, and he’s certainly not in line for a paycut after finishing with a sub-2.00 ERA for the seventh time in eight years. Even at 41, he has a case for another three-year deal, and while the Yankees could always call Derek Jeter’s bluff if he balks at a shorter contract, Rivera probably wouldn’t have much trouble finding big-time suitors if he really wanted to put himself on the market. If he settles for $30 million over two years, it’d be out of loyalty.

6. Derek Jeter (Yankees – Age 36) – This has the potential to be the most interesting negotiation of the winter, though Jeter and the Yankees probably won’t let it come to that. Maybe it wouldn’t make sense for any other team to give Jeter more than a three-year, $24 million contract, but the Yankees aren’t going to embarrass the face of the franchise by asking him to take that much less than what Alex Rodriguez is making. My thought is that the Yankees should hold the line on three years, but offer him $15 million per year. It’d be fitting if he and Rivera received the same salaries.

5. Adrian Beltre (Red Sox – Age 31) – Held back by playing in pitcher’s parks, Beltre was always underrated in his down years, as he combined a solid bat with outstanding defense in third base. Finally getting a chance to play in a hitter’s park, Beltre hit .321-28-102 for the Red Sox. Of course, it wasn’t his career year; Beltre had a 1017 OPS during his remarkable 2004 season with the Dodgers. But the 919 OPS he had this year far outclasses anything else he’s done. His third highest OPS was an 835 mark set way back in 2000, and he’s been over 800 just one other time in his 12 full seasons. So the bidders probably won’t be fooled; everyone is going to expect him to decline in 2011. But since he’s just turning 32 in April and he remains an elite defender, he should be a major asset for several more seasons. He’s worthy of a four-year contract, and he could get $12 million-$13 million per season.

4. Adam Dunn (Nationals – Age 31) – Dunn has made himself a more attractive property by trading walks for singles. Whether he’s actually any better of a player for it is a different question. Dunn hit in the .260s with 38 homers in both of his seasons in Washington, but his OBP dipped to .356, which was nearly a career-worst mark for him. Dunn’s stock is also higher now because he’s merely a poor defensive first baseman, rather than a league-worst defensive left fielder. He doesn’t want to DH yet, so signing with a team that will keep him at first could be a priority. He’s likely to aim for $55 million-$60 million over four years, though he may have to settle for $45 million for three.

3. Jayson Werth (Phillies – Age 31) – Consecutive seasons of 159 and 156 games have gone a long way towards dismissing concerns about Werth’s durability. The 1997 first-round pick didn’t establish himself as a regular until 2008, but over the last three seasons, he has the sixth-highest OPS among major league outfielders. He’s also an above average defender in right field, though agent Scott Boras’ claims that he should be looked at as a center fielder can probably be dismissed. The benchmark for Werth will likely be the four-year, $66 million contract Jason Bay received from the Mets last winter. That deal will be worth $80 million over five years if the 2014 option vests. Werth will probably shoot for the full $80 million guarantee. Whether he gets it could hinge on involvement from the Yankees and/or the Red Sox.

2. Carl Crawford (Rays – Age 29) – From an OPS standpoint, Crawford has never had a year as good as any of Werth’s last three. He does bring a whole lot to the table, though. Crawford is the game’s best defensive left fielder and a premier basestealer. Plus, his .307/.356/.495 line this season was far from shabby. He also has youth on his side, and his best seasons may yet be ahead of him. The total package figures to get him the longest deal of any free agent this winter. $17 million a year for six years would make him just the eighth outfielder to get a nine-figure contract. Everyone expects the Angels to make a serious run at him. Unclear is whether the Yankees or Red Sox will do the same.

1. Cliff Lee (Rangers – Age 32) – OK, so he’s not the greatest postseason pitcher ever. Lee’s poor World Series still probably didn’t dial down the interest from the Rangers or Yankees at all. He’s the one elite starting pitcher available this winter, and he has no concerns about his arm to drive down his price tag. It’ll probably be a two-team race, as the Rangers’ new ownership tries to make a big splash and keep him away from the team Texas beat to advance to the World Series. To do so, they’ll almost certainly have to commit at least $20 million per year for five seasons. The Yankees went all of the way to $161 million for seven years to land CC Sabathia, and while they probably won’t be willing to give Lee such a lengthy deal, they could offer to match Sabathia’s $23 million-per-year salary.

Playoff Reset: Four games in one day!

Cole Hamels
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Oh baby.

There’s baseball from noon to midnight today, with a pair of Game 2s in the American League and a pair of Game 1s in the National League.

Tons of great starting pitchers–including the best in the world and a trio of big-name trade deadline acquisitions–and we’ll find out if a home team can actually win a game after starting the playoffs 0-4.

The Game: Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
The Time: 12:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Rogers Centre, Toronto
The Channel: MLB Network
The Starters: Cole Hamels vs. Marcus Stroman
The Upshot: Stroman coming back from what was deemed a season-ending knee injury in spring training to start Game 2 of the ALDS is a helluva story and the Blue Jays need him to come up big after David Price failed to do his part in Game 1. Yovani Gallardo somehow wriggled out of trouble against Toronto’s scary lineup, but as a left-hander Hamels has an even tougher assignment versus the never-ending right-handed power. Assuming it’s all in the lineup, of course. There are big health question marks for both sides, as Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Bautista all exited Game 1 with injuries and their respective statuses could swing the balance of power in the series.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 3:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
The Channel: FOX Sports 1
The Starters: Scott Kazmir vs. Johnny Cueto
The Upshot: Two headline-grabbing trade deadline pickups with a lot to prove, as Kazmir and Cueto both struggled for their new teams. Cueto was bumped back to Game 2 after being acquired to front the Royals’ rotation and there was some speculation that Kazmir might not even have a spot in the ALDS rotation. Kansas City losing Game 1 last night and Houston having Dallas Keuchel waiting in the wings for Game 3 puts a ton of pressure on Cueto’s shoulders. Generally one of the toughest pitchers to homer against, he allowed 10 homers in 13 starts for the Royals and the Astros’ power-packed lineup will put him to the test all afternoon. Can the defending AL champs get off the mat quickly or will they head to Houston in need of a win to keep the season alive?

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 6:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
The Upshot: Former Red Sox teammates Lester and Lackey square off in Game 1 of the first ever playoff series between two of the biggest rivals in baseball, with the Cubs fresh off their Wild Card game triumph over the Pirates and the Cardinals coming off an MLB-high 100 wins. Yadier Molina‘s ability to play through a thumb injury will be key for the Cardinals and it’ll also be interesting to see how much faith manager Mike Matheny has in Adam Wainwright to get late-inning outs as a reliever after returning from a torn Achilles’ tendon.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Time: 9:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jacob deGrom vs. Clayton Kershaw
The Upshot: Quite a way to finish an entire day of baseball, as the Mets go looking for their first playoff win since 2006 and Kershaw tries to cement his legacy as an all-time great by dominating in the playoffs like he does in the regular season. And don’t overlook deGrom, because last year’s Rookie of the Year winner has a 2.61 ERA and 349 strikeouts in 331 innings since debuting last May. Among all starters with at least 300 innings during the past two seasons Kershaw ranks first in ERA and deGrom ranks fourth, with Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke in the 2-3 slots. This is a speculator pitching matchup.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.