WTNYOctober 28, 2003
Free Agents like crazy
By Bryan Smith

Busy day in the Major Leagues, as rumors are flying and free agents are filing. Bartolo Colon rejected a 3-year, $36M offer from the White Sox, obviously delusional on what the current market will provide him. And staying in Chicago, Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa have a week to decide on their futures, after that, their respective club will decide instead.

If you're yet to find a source with all the Major League free agents, ESPN has provided the best I've found. In today's article I'll write about my top all-free agent teams, at the Major and minor league level. So, if you need a minor league free agent list, head over to Baseball America. And over the next few months my site should be a transactional analysis haven, and that begins today with Grady Little's hiring and some more odds and ends.

Now to the free agents, beginning with my first all-free agent team at the Major League level:

C- Pudge Rodriguez- Marlin for sure in 2004
1B- Scott Spiezio- Weakest 1B class in recent memory
2B- Luis Castillo- Plenty of options available
SS- Miguel Tejada- Great road numbers, not getting enough press
3B- Robin Ventura- Talk about a weak class
LF- Carl Everett- Good left-handed bat, can also play center
CF- Mike Cameron- Another player with great road numbers
RF- Vladimir Guerrero- Trails only A-Rod and Prior in best young player rank
DH- Frank Thomas- Still a .400 OBP and 40HR threat
SP- Kevin Millwood- Consistent pitcher with ace-like performance
SP- Bartolo Colon- Eats innings like he does food
SP- Greg Maddux- Valuable in more ways than his pitching
MR- Shigetoshi Hasegawa- Can fill every role imaginable in 'pen
SU- Tom Gordon- Stuff finally came back, after long hiatus
CL- Keith Foulke- Oakland just waiting to get draft compensation

That obviously proves this isn't a strong year, especially on the infield corners. But, I would say it's a much deeper class than past seasons, which makes an honorable mention team worth noting:

C- Javy Lopez- Who woulda thought?
1B- Eric Karros- Will slug left-handers in platoon, provides good D
2B- Todd Walker- Postseason heroics will increase interest
SS- Kaz Matsui- And you thought Hideki has doubles power?
3B- Joe Randa- Consistent player that will hardly ever hurt you
LF- Royals LF Rondell White and Raul Ibanez
CF- Kenny Lofton- Wins wherever he goes
RF- Gary Sheffield- Second-best free agent
DH- Rafeal Palmiero- Nearing his end
SP- Andy Pettite- Yankees must re-sign homegrown stud
SP- Sidney Ponson- 2003 breakout star will get huge interest
SP- Miguel Batista- Gives manager so many options
MR- Tim Worrell- Still in middle relief, even after 38 saves
SU- LaTroy Hawkins- Yankees likely already calling
CL- Eddie Guardado- Who wouldn't want Everyday Eddie?

Players have 15 days following the World Series to file, and on that date I will give a much more detailed analysis of the free agent class, full o' predictions. So, keep coming back.

One of the least publicized things in baseball are minor league free agents, likely because there are about 600 available every offseason. But players seep through the cracks, and every season more players make spending a quick buck on a minor leaguer worth every penny. Some of 2003's best:

1. Jeremi Gonzalez- Tampa Bay success story after 25IP in 1999-2002
2. Billy McMillon- Averages over .300 in AAA for four straight seasons before 2003
3. Luis Ayala- 10-game winner had thrown 7.2 innings in 2002, Mexico League vet
4. Ryan Freel- Good K/BB rates and versatility gave infielder 137AB
5. Amaury Telemaco- Once had a lot of promise, but nothing in 2002
6. Adam Melhuse- AAA vet will be Oakland back-up catcher next season

After seeing that, I have drawn two conclusions about what to look for in minor league free agents. First, a good indicator for success are pitchers who once had hype, but injuries had made them fall off the map. Hitters need a good track record of success, with walk rates as a key indicator. And, all players chosen should be entering their peak seasons.

So, here are 10 minor league free agents who bear watching in the offseason:

1. Justin Thompson- Former 15-game winner was in NWL this season
2. Ryan Kohlmeier- Ex-Oriole closer has been improving in AAA last two seasons
3. Donnie Bridges- Former Expo top prospect had good season in AA
4. Ed Yarnall- Once Yankee southpaw came back from Japan in 2003
5. Corey Thurman- Blue Jays Rule V pick with tons of potential
6. Trent Durrington- Utility player, .824OPS in AAA with 35 steals
7. Phil Hiatt- Utility infielder, proven AAA record, lacks plate discipline
8. Midre Cummings- No worse than any fourth outfielder in baseball
9. Edwards Guzman- Got time in Montreal, but could be '04 Melhuse
10. Olmedo Saenz- Gamble, but once was a good player for A's

Moving onto transaction analysis, where I have five moves to examine:

1- Red Sox fire Grady Little- I'm not supporting this move as much as Red Sox fans are. Little took this team far, and although his managing cost the Red Sox the World Series, let's not forget the World Series. And secondly, who else is there to replace Little next season? Don Zimmer would be my choice, just for the pure hilarity of it all. But whomever Theo Epstein comes up with will likely be an interesting choice.
2- Reds name Dave O'Brien GM- I'm a little skeptical, since O'Brien hasn't exactly been spending time in baseball's best organization, the Texas Rangers. I did predict he would be here, but I guarantee a long tenure. I see the Reds as a pretty bad team, with enough young studs to tempt the city for awhile. Losing Carl Lindner should be priority number one.
3- Greg Myers was re-signed to a one-year, 900K deal in Toronto- Well, there goes the 3rd best catcher available. Myers would have attracted numerous offers, since he is a veteran catcher who can hit right-handers and handle pitchers well. The Blue Jays will use him and Kevin Cash next season, as they prepare for the arrival of Guillermo Quiroz.
4- Brewers land first minor league free agent, Travis Phelps- Phelps comes out of the Braves system, and had a little success in AAA this season: 9-5, 3.47ERA, 77H/93.1IP, 91K/38BB. He has a chance of making the Brew middle relief corps next season, but won't find himself on a top minor league free agent acquisition list next year.
5- Rangers sign Billy Sylvester- Although Phelps won't be a big name, Sylvester has the stuff to do it. He has had amazing H/9 ratios as he's gone up the Atlanta pipeline, but has always walked too many guys. Have Orel Hershiser decrease his walk numbers, and the Rangers could have walked right into a solid set-up man for 2004.

Finally, let me mention I've added two new links to my left, Seth Speaks and Jeremy Heit's blog. Definitely go check those blogs out, as they give good output very regularly. I'll have my Yankees organizational meeting tomorrow, and if any of you missed the Atlanta one yesterday, the link is here.