WTNYFebruary 24, 2004
04-05 Free Agent Hitters
By Bryan Smith

In order to dig deeper into the mess that is next offseason, I first want to establish a comprehensive list of the next group of major free agents. Ive mentioned a few in the last couple of articles, but I wanted to put them all together.

First, a list of the top twenty free agent hitters next offseason, along with pertinent information on each player (including 2001-2003 OPS+).

1. Carlos Beltran- CF- Kansas City (119, 108, 126)- While the 1999 Rookie of the Year wont compare to others on this list in terms of OPS+, Beltran has the full bag of tricks. Beltran is the best baserunner in the Majors, and plays a fantastic centerfield. Hell supply at least thirty stolen bases a season, as well as seventy walks. There have been no substantial negotiations with the Royals, as Allain Baird is comfortable with David DeJesus patrolling center in 2005. Beltran will be highly sought after by teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, and possibly, the Mariners.

2. Carlos Delgado- 1B- Toronto (141, 153, 160)- All Delgado does is hit. Carlos is the best left-handed hitter in the American League, and behind only Bonds and Helton in the Majors. Delgado led the league in OPS last year, as well as total times on base. That number is helped by the fact that he walks at least 100 times every season, so basically, hes second to only Bonds as favorite sabermetric hitters. Delgado is a threat to approach a .600SLG every season, and nearly capturing the Triple Crown led him to being voted second in the AL MVP race. I believe this will be Paul DePodestas first target, and deservingly so.

3. Lance Berkman- OF- Houston (162, 152, 137)- In the history of baseball, Berkman ranks behind only one switch-hitter in career OPS, Mickey Mantle. Lance has had a magnificent beginning to his career, yet he hardly gets the press that fellow NL Central stud Albert Pujols garners. Berkman will likely be the Astros primary target next year, ahead of Biggio, Kent, and Clemens on Gerry Hunsickers priority list. Berkman will stay apart of the Killer Bs, I guarantee it.

4. Magglio Ordonez- RF- Chicago (135, 152, 142)- Numbers four and five were almost traded for each other, and this is my way of saying that Theo Epstein would have gotten the better side of that deal (can anyone get the short end of the stick against Ken Williams?). Ordonez is a sensational hitter, and even as a Cubs fan, Ill admit hes the best offensive player in Chicago. Mags doesnt run a lot anymore, but hes one of the leagues most consistent hitters. I do not think the White Sox will keep Ordonez, leaving him to what should be a very soft market.

5. Nomar Garciaparra- SS- Boston (114, 132, 121)- Nomar has worked hard to return to the 1997 version of himself, and the last two years are testament to the fact that hes back. Nomar is good for .300/.350/.515 every season, as well as about fifteen stolen bases. His defense at short is a bit under league average, but honestly, who cares? Nomah is the heart of New England, and the fans devotion to their shortstop will not change despite the offseason drama. Theo is already in talks with Nomars agent, and I doubt hell still be on this list in two months.

6. Richie Sexson- 1B- Arizona (124, 130, 136)- The bad news for Richie Sexson is that try as he may, Sexson just cant reach the .280 batting average plateau. The good news? His plate discipline keeps improving; his walks total has increased in every season. The number reached 98 last season, leading to his career high .379OBP. This, along with a .279ISO, is the reason that the Diamondbacks have become so infatuated with Sexson. Whether Jerry Colangelo can afford to retain Sexson beyond 2004 remains to be seen, but considering the number of deferrals he has, its doubtful.

7. Jose Vidro- 2B- Montreal (113, 126, 111)- Since 1900, only five second basemens have hit .300 in five seasons before they turned 29. Four of those players are in the Hall of Fame, including former Twin great Rod Carew. The fifth? Jose Vidro. Unfortunately, being an Expo has shielded many baseball fans of Vidro, who has been a top-3 second basemen in the Majors for four seasons. Unless Major League Baseball finds a buyer soon, Vidro will follow the fate of former teammate Vladimir Guerrero in leaving Montreal/San Juan. The most likely, and equally frightening, destination is in the Bronx.

8. Garret Anderson- LF- Anaheim (100, 130, 137)- Nine straight years. That is the amount of time that Garret Anderson has hit .285 in the Majors, spanning his entire career. Andersons contact skills rival and other Major Leaguers, although his plate discipline is equivalent to Randall Simon. Andersons powerful display in the Home Run Derby exposed his power to the country, yet since 2000, hes having a hard time eclipsing the 30HR mark. The Angels love the leadership he brings to the table, and the team has said re-signing Anderson will be a priority.

9. Derrek Lee- 1B- Chicago (113, 131, 135)- Thirty jacks, twenty steals, and a Gold Glove, all from first base. Derrek Lee is definitely a unique player, and Im under the belief that hell be the Cubs best hitter in 2004. Lee has continued to blossom in each Major League season, and I think hell approach 40HR in Wrigley Field. The Cubs would be wise to lock up Lee now, because if they wait, he could rise very quickly on this list.

10. Richard Hidalgo- RF- Houston (104, 89, 142)- When hes on, Richard Hidalgo is a player to be reckoned with. Unfortunately for the Astros, Hidalgo has been off too much during his time with Houston. While 2003 was his second (see 2000) season to date, there remains too much worry that Hidalgo will slip into the pathetic, overweight right fielder that we saw in 2002. The Astros spend too much on Hidalgo years ago, and I dont suspect Hunsicker will make that gamble again.

11. Troy Glaus- 3B- Anaheim (127, 115, 118)- Amidst all the Garret Anderson praise and Dallas McPherson hype is a former third overall pick that just hasnt developed the way Bill Stonneman would have hoped. While Troy Glaus has hit forty home runs in two different seasons, his career batting average is .253. Glaus, like the player preceding him, just could not stay the 2000 version of himself. Troy will likely draw some fat cash from somewhere, but it wont be Anaheim.

12. Orlando Cabrera- SS- Montreal (87, 84, 95)- In the early days of his career, the knock on Cabrera was always that he couldnt hit. Things changed last year when Cabrera set highs in nearly every offensive statistic, including sixty-six extra base hits. Add that with twenty stolen bases and a Gold Glove-caliber SS, and you have a fantastic ballplayer. Sure, Cabrera hasnt topped an OPS+ above 100, but hes just starting to come around.

13. Geoff Jenkins- LF- Milwaukee (105, 103, 133)- Like #16 on this list, the question is not Can He?, the question is Will He? Geoff Jenkins showed in 2000 that he has all the potential in the world, but just cant stay healthy. He managed 128 games last year, putting numbers that already have General Managers salivating over. With this being his contract year, it would be a good time for Jenkins to stay healthy for 162 games and hit forty home runs. If that happens, he would undoubtedly surpass fellow outfielders Anderson and Hidalgo in front of him.

14. Corey Koskie- 3B- Minnesota (121, 118, 121)- Corey Koskie has always been more than an average player, likely the reason his OPS+ has never dipped below 108. Quietly, Koskie is one of the more complete third basemen in the game, and a high walk total will win him over with stat-heads. Koskies OBP shouldnt dip below .370 again, and while his SLG appears to be descending, I expect that number to rise to about .470. The Twins will likely let Mike Cuddyer play the hot corner after 2004, leaving Koskie to an ugly market.

15. Bill Mueller- 3B- Boston (124, 98, 140)- The 2003 batting champ ranks fifteenth on a future free agent list? Has Bryan gone crazy? Possibly, but I simply couldnt justify putting Mueller ahead of any player in the top-15. Fenway Park has been very nice to Mueller, I just dont think there is another stadium in the game that Mueller could hit 69 extra-base hits in. Hell want to return, but Kevin Youkilis may stand in his way. But heck, Id be happy to see him don Cubbie Blue again.

16. J.D. Drew- OF- Atlanta (162, 110, 133)- Try as I might, its really hard to go against John Scheurholtzs judgment. While Drews consistently low AB numbers scare me, hes like Delmon Young to Grady Sizemore. Sure, Young has a sky-high ceiling, but isnt it a bit early to say hell reach that? Ill just say that Id like to see 425AB in a season before I jump on the J.D. Drew bandwagon. But, Ill sure as Hell never deny that the kid has skills.

17. Jose Valentin- SS- Chicago (117,104, 103)- Being a Chicagoan, Ive seen Jose Valentin play more than a few times. I havent been all that impressed in the past by Valentin, so I was a bit surprised when both the Diamond Mind and UZR defensive systems ranked Jose at the top of the SS charts. My White Sox friend has this theory that Valentins errors come often in the cold weather, but as the season goes on, he gets hotter. While Valentin wont contribute to the team average or OBP, its always nice to get 25HR from your SS. Just ask Ozzie Guillenahh, the irony (Ozzies career HR total of 28 was matched by Valentin last year).

18. Jason Varitek- C- Boston (124, 94, 120)- By giving low rankings to both Bill Mueller and Varitek, Im sure that Ill enfuriate Red Sox nation. Ill be watching my back the next few days, but I really believe that the Varitek selection is justified. Varitek will be 33 in 2005, the year that everything starts to fall off for catchers. His power seems to be highly volatile, so predicting where his HR total will be in three years might even be too hard for PECOTA. I respect the fact that pitchers love the guy, but unlike Chuck LaMar, that wont put him in my top 5 (see Martinez, Tino).

19. Aramis Ramirez- 3B- Chicago (125, 69, 104)- Yes, I know the Cubs have had 4,193 third basemen since Ron Santo left, but that doesnt mean the team should lock up Ramirez. While Im a big believer in Aramis for 2004, like Hidalgo, his shady past is reason enough to avoid long-term deals. If he hits 30HR in Wrigley next year, Ill still be crossing my fingers that Billy Mueller or Corey Koskie sign the dotted line. Aramis has as much talent as anyone, but his mind seems a bit too fragile for my liking.

20. David Ortiz- DH/1B- Minnesota (107, 122, 144)- No Peter, hes not the MVP. And if I was anyone but Theo Epstein, I wouldnt be the least bit interested in Ortiz. Why? .315/.399/.635. That was Davids OPS in Fenway last year, as opposed to .256/.335/.541 away from Bostons confines. If the Red Sox are trying an offense/defense platoon with Reese and Bellhorn this year, maybe a home/away next year? Well see, but all I know is, I would be hard pressed to believe that Ortiz wont be in Boston in 2005.

Thats it for today. Ill review the hitters with options tomorrow, as well as give my top twenty list for pitchers. Otherwise, do me a favor and cruise through the new digs here at All-Baseball

Comments

What about Edgar Renteria? If his 2004 is a repeat of 2003, he is definitely more valuable (and younger) than Nomar, and likely more valuable than Magglio.

The salary site I used as research said that Renteria has an option for the 2005 season. Was this wrong?

I don't think Berkman is a FA until after '05.

I am looking for people to do a fantasy keeper league. I have a 3 spots left. If you or your readers are interested, leave me a comment on my site.

I am looking for people to do a fantasy keeper league. I have a 3 spots left. If you or your readers are interested, leave me a comment on my site.

i'm pretty sure renteria _is_ a free agent, and i'm positive aramis is not -- his contract ends this year, but he goes into arbitration next...

I fully expect the Mets to be big players for the Beltran/Magglio sweepstakes. In fact, I'd be very surprised if the Mets aren't able to land one of them.