Baseball Beat/WTNYJanuary 04, 2006
Top 30 Free Agents (and More) Revisited
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

As a follow-up to our three-part Free Agent series (Part One [#1-10], Part Two [#11-20], and Part Three [#21-30]) in November, we are going to provide the status of each player, compare our projections with the actual results of the signings, and add fresh comments on the top 30 plus the honorable mentions. We hit the nail on the head on several but came up one year and a million or two dollars short on the majority of the free agents in a frenzy that surprised us and many others.

1. Roger Clemens - 43 - SP - 2005: Houston Astros

W-L 13-8 | SV 0 | ERA 1.87 | WHIP 1.01 | 185 K/62 BB

Projection: Either Clemens signs with the Astros or he retires. Only Roger knows. It all depends on whether he still has the fire in his belly. If he comes back at a reduced salary, the money saved could be redirected toward a third quality bat to go along with Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg -- giving Houston perhaps one last opportunity to make another postseason run before retooling for the future.

Status: Unsigned.

Comments: The Astros didn't offer Clemens arbitration. He is now ineligible to sign with Houston until May 1st. Other potential suitors include his home state Texas Rangers, plus the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The Rocket has one other option: retirement. The guess here is that he won't make any decision until after he pitches in the World Baseball Classic.

2. A.J. Burnett - 29 - SP - 2005: Florida Marlins

W-L 12-12 | SV 0 | ERA 3.44 | WHIP 1.26 | 198 K/79 BB

Projection: 4 years, $48 million. An expensive gamble given the number of times he has been on the DL throughout his career but one many teams won't hesitate to take.

Status: Signed, Toronto Blue Jays, 5/$55 million.

Comments: Burnett's contract actually worked out to a slightly lower annual amount than we forecast. A.J., however, made out even better because he got an extra year and the option to test the free agent market after 2008, if he so desires.

Burnett turned 29 on Tuesday. His age and career W-L record (49-50) are identical to Chris Carpenter when the latter joined the Cardinals in 2004. Could Burnett put up his best season to date in 2006, followed by a Cy Young Award in 2007?

3. Rafael Furcal - 28 - SS - 2005: Atlanta Braves

.284 AVG/.348 OBP/.429 SLG | HR 12 | SB 46 | 62 BB/78 SO

Projection: 4 years, $40 million. Edgar Renteria went from a .728 OPS in 2004 to this exact contract during the winter. Furcal will draw the same deal, and people will again cite that he's a "winner." Both sides will win at this rate.

Status: Signed, Los Angeles Dodgers, 3/$39 million.

Comments: We lowballed Furcal, on an annual rate, more than anyone on this list. It's reported that offers were up to five years, but Furcal decided to take an increased amount per year for less security. If he signs a two-year deal for more than $11 million after 2008, he made the right move. From where we are sitting, the Dodgers did, too.

4. Paul Konerko - 29 - 1B - 2005: Chicago White Sox

.283 AVG/.375 OBP/.534 SLG | HR 40 | RBI 100 | 81 BB/109 SO

Projection: At least a Richie Sexson-like 4 years, $50 million and a 5-year, $65 million deal isn't out of the question. Good luck.

Status: Signed, Chicago White Sox, 5/$60 million.

Comments: We're going to count this one as a success in terms of our prediction. If anything, we were a tad optimistic. Konerko is likely to earn his keep in at least two of the next three years, but we remain skeptical beyond that.

5. Kevin Millwood - 31 - SP - 2005: Cleveland Indians

W-L 9-11 | SV 0 | ERA 2.86 | WHIP 1.22 | 146 K/52 BB

Projection: 4 years, $36 million. Again, expectations will dictate whether this contract is a success or failure.

Status: Signed, Texas Rangers, 5/$60 million.

Comments: Texas can void the fifth year of the deal if Millwood doesn't pitch a certain number of innings in the early years of the contract, but the Rangers will pay him a minimum of $48 million for four years no matter what. Ugh!

6. Billy Wagner - 34 - RP - 2005: Philadelphia Phillies

W-L 4-3 | SV 38 | ERA 1.51 | WHIP .84 | 87 K/20 BB

Projection: 3 years, $30 million. That's more than $128,000 per inning based on last year's totals. By comparison, Clemens earned just $85,000 per inning despite making a record $18M for a pitcher.

Status: Signed, New York Mets, 4/$43 million.

Comments: Turns out that it's actually $138,000 per inning, with one more season than we had forecasted. The Mets wanted Wagner badly, needed a closer even worse, and have the money to overpay. But there is a lot of risk in a contract like this, and that's before we even talk about the problems involved in paying a reliever eight figures per year.

7. Brian Giles - 35 - OF - 2005: San Diego Padres

.301 AVG/.423 OBP/.483 SLG | HR 15 | RBI 83 | 119 BB/64 SO

Projection: 3 years, $30 million. Well worth it, at least for the next two seasons.

Status: Signed, San Diego Padres, 3/$30 million.

Comments: It's a match! Giles could have signed for more money elsewhere but chose to remain with his hometown Padres. We would not be surprised if he turns out to be the biggest bargain of this year's free agent class.

8. Hideki Matsui - 31 - LF - 2005: New York Yankees

.305 AVG/.367 OBP/.496 SLG | HR 23 | RBI 116 | 63 BB/78 SO

Projection: 3 years, $36 million. The Yankees won't lose him, nor care if they overpay by a couple million. Expect more of the same for all three years of this deal.

Status: Signed, New York Yankees, 4/$52 million.

Comments: Good for Matsui. He casually threatened to leave the Bronx a few times and, as a result, made more money than we had predicted. Matsui should be consistent for the first three years, as we guessed, but it's hard to think he'll be worth anything close to $13 million in 2009. Godzilla comes out on top.

9. Johnny Damon - 32 - CF - 2005: Boston Red Sox

.316 AVG/.366 OBP/.439 SLG | HR 10 | RBI 75 | 53 BB/69 SO

Projection: 3 years, $33 million. In four seasons with the Red Sox, Damon became one of New England's most recognizable faces. Loyalty pays a steep price.

Status: Signed, New York Yankees, 4/$52 million.

Comments: No one outside Boston can call Damon an "idiot" for taking the money and running. His signing fills a hole in New York while creating one for their arch enemy.

10. B.J. Ryan - 30 - RP - 2005: Baltimore Orioles

W-L 1-4 | SV 36 | ERA 3.54 | WHIP 1.14 | 100 K/26 BB

Projection: 4 years, $32 million. Bidding war will run high considering his number of suitors. His value should remain solid.

Status: Signed, Toronto Blue Jays, 5/$47 million.

Comments: Like most of the players on this list, we missed Ryan by one year and between $1-2 million annually. Apparently, that's just the current market. Ryan at five years is a big gamble but, given his age, it's a better risk than the Mets took with Wagner. Toronto also sent a message with this contract, which is a fact we can't ignore.

11. Nomar Garciaparra - 32 - SS - 2005: Chicago Cubs

.283 AVG/.320 OBP/.452 SLG | HR 9 | RBI 30 | 12 BB/24 SO

Projection: 2 years, $15 million. However, you can bet there will be enough incentives and options in the contract to drive its potential value through the roof. We're just not optimistic he'll meet any team's demands.

Status: Signed, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1/$6 million.

Comments: There is very little risk in this contract so, in that regard, it's hard to hate this deal for the Dodgers. But why, why, why would you pay $6 million for Nomar to play first base when you have Hee Seop Choi at less than a million and other needs to fill? From Nomar's perspective, this isn't a great deal either, but it gives him another chance to prove himself and earn a more lucrative deal next year.

12. Jeff Weaver - 29 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L 14-11 | SV 0 | ERA 4.22 | WHIP 1.17 | 157 K/43 BB

Projection: 3 or 4 years @ $8-9M per. Seems like a lot of money but isn't that what these guys are now commanding?

Status: Unsigned.

Comments: The Dodgers offered Weaver arbitration. The team has until Sunday, January 8 to sign him. Scott Boras is believed to be seeking at least a four-year, $38 million deal for his client.

13. Jarrod Washburn - 31 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Angels

W-L 8-8 | SV 0 | ERA 3.20 | WHIP 1.33 | 94 K/51 BB

Projection: 3 years, $25+ million. Teach your kids to pitch left-handed.

Status: Signed, Seattle Mariners, 4/$37.5 million.

Comments: Horrendous, horrendous signing. Maybe the worst of the winter. Why any team would pay this much money for Washburn, who was so obviously pitching over his head in 2005, is a mystery. Why the Mariners, who are still rebuilding in a sense, would gamble on their future like this is yet another red mark on Bill Bavasi's resume.

14. Tom Gordon - 38 - RP - 2005: New York Yankees

W-L 5-4 | SV 2 | ERA 2.57 | WHIP 1.09 | 69 K/29 BB

Projection: 3 years, $18 million. Likes Giles yesterday, he's a great bet for two seasons. However, some team will likely add a third year in order to secure their next closer.

Status: Signed, Philadelphia Phillies, 3/$18 million.

Comments: On the dot. Given the amount of money made by Wagner and Ryan, it's hard to believe that Gordon couldn't have held out for more. Pat Gillick did well in his first signing, taking a slight step backwards with Gordon but adding about $5 million to the payroll for each of the next three seasons. It's the White Sox way.

15. Ramon Hernandez - 29 - C - 2005: San Diego Padres

.290 AVG/.322 OBP/.450 SLG | HR 12 | RBI 58 | 18 BB/40 SO

Projection: 4 years, $22 million. His position and youth will be enough to convince a team this contract is worth it. We don't advise a four-year deal with very many catchers, but the price should be low enough to make him a worthwhile bet.

Status: Signed, Baltimore Orioles, 4/$27.5 million.

Comments: This signing came from left field, as no one expected the Orioles (already paying Javy Lopez a big chunk of money) to get involved with Hernandez. However, they struck quickly, and appear to have made a pretty good signing. They may have overpaid but, if there is a decent market for Lopez, the signing has the potential of being a success.

16. Bengie Molina - 31 - C - 2005: Los Angeles Angels

.295 AVG/.336 OBP/.446 SLG | HR 15 | RBI 69 | 27 BB/41 SO

Projection: 3 years, $20 million. An extra year or a few million more than prudence dictates.

Status: Unsigned.

Comments: Molina may have missed his opportunity with the Mets. If he doesn't get an offer to his liking, he could sign a one-year deal with the Angels to return on May 1st and then try the free agent market once again next winter.

17. Paul Byrd - 35 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Angels

W-L 12-11 | SV 0 | ERA 3.74 | WHIP 1.19 | 102 K/28 BB

Projection: 1 x $6 million with an option for a second year if the Angels sign him or 2 years, $12+ million should he go elsewhere. A serviceable pitcher when healthy.

Status: Signed, Cleveland Indians, 2/$14.25 million.

Comments: If he stays healthy, this could wind up being a good signing for the Indians. With Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia in the rotation (and Jeremy Sowers on the horizon), all they really needed was a #3 or #4 pitcher. Paul Byrd is just that.

18. Matt Morris - 31 - SP - 2005: St. Louis Cardinals

W-L 14-10 | SV 0 | ERA 4.11 | WHIP 1.28 | 117 K/37 BB

Projection: 2 years, $13-15 million. Incentives, options, and buyouts likely to factor into his next contract.

Status: Signed, San Francisco Giants, 3/$27 million.

Comments: We don't like this signing one bit. If Paul Byrd only is making $7 million per year, then in what world does Matt Morris make nine? Does Brian Sabean not factor in the past two seasons when he signs free agents? Not quite as bad of a deal as Washburn, but if we were grading it, Sabean would earn a big, fat "D."

19. Jacque Jones - 30 - OF - 2005: Minnesota Twins

.249 AVG/.319 OBP/.438 SLG | HR 23 | RBI 73 | 51 BB/120 SO

Projection: Last year, Jermaine Dye signed a 2-year, $10.15 million contract with the White Sox. The last $1.15 million is the buyout for a potential third season. Look for Jones to sign a very similar contract this winter.

Status: Signed, Chicago Cubs, 3/$16 million.

Comments: Jones certainly signed for more than Dye got, as the Cubs were quickly falling out of options. Bryan has defended the deal but, as a result, no longer has the respect of any Cub fan. With a good southpaw basher at a cheap price (Eduardo Perez?), the Cubs will do fine here. Jones did even better.

20. Kyle Farnsworth - 29 - RP - 2005: Tigers/Braves

W-L 1-1 | SV 16 | ERA 2.19 | WHIP 1.01 | 87 K/27 BB

Projection: 3 years, $15 million. There is a lot of risk involved with Farnsworth, which will keep his next contract low. However, if he pitches like 2001 or 2005, this could be one of the winter's best deals.

Status: Signed, New York Yankees, 3/$17 million.

Comments: Off by less than a million per year, and we probably would have guessed more had we known the Yankees would sign him. Farnsworth never had the head to be a great closer, so he might thrive in the Tom Gordon role. But it will be interesting to see how Kyle holds up in New York.

21. Esteban Loaiza - 34 - SP - 2005: Washington Nationals

W-L 12-10 | SV 0 | ERA 3.77 | WHIP 1.30 | 173 K/55 BB

Projection: 2 years, $9-11 million. He is what he is, a guy who can throw 200+ IP with an ERA between 4.00-5.00 in a neutral environment.

Status: Signed, Oakland A's, 3/$21.4 million.

Comments: We seriously underestimated the market for mediocre starting pitching. Given the market, the A's didn't really overpay, though they probably went one year too many. Oakland wanted to land someone quickly, and did so, as Loaiza was one of the first players to change hands. If this deal allows Billy Beane the opportunity to get as much for Barry Zito as he did for Mark Mulder, then we will call it a success.

22. Reggie Sanders - 38 - OF - 2005: St. Louis Cardinals

.271 AVG/.340 OBP/.546 SLG | HR 21 | RBI 54 | 28 BB/75 SO

Projection: 2 years, $10 million. An injury-filled past and old age will force teams to stay conservative with their offers. Whoever signs him should be pleased given the right expectations.

Status: Signed, Kansas City Royals, 2/$10 million.

Comments: Again, right on the nose. We have a little bit of respect for these Royals, as they are determined to show their fan base that someone does care. Sanders won't be playing for a World Series team again any time soon, but he'll have the opportunity to end his career being called a "leader."

23. Preston Wilson - 31 - OF - 2005: Rockies/Nationals

.260 AVG/.325 OBP/.467 SLG | HR 25 | RBI 90 | 45 BB/148 SO

Projection: 2 years, $10-12 million, as long as the Yankees don't get involved. A small- to mid-size market team will think his 25 HR and 90 RBI are a bargain at that price.

Status: Signed, Houston Astros, 1/$4 million.

Comments: Wilson will either make $4.5 million for one year (including a $500,000 buyout) or $28 million for four years if the Astros exercise a club option to extend the contract through 2009. Houston gets Wilson at a slight discount to the $5 million per year entry fee for most middle-of-the-road free agent outfielders with the added bonus of being able to lock him up longer term, if they so choose.

24. Trevor Hoffman - 38 - RP - 2005: San Diego Padres

W-L 1-6 | SV 43 | ERA 2.97 | WHIP 1.11 | 54 K/12 BB

Projection: 2 years, $14 million. He deserves to be overpaid a bit, but no one should make the mistake of giving him a third year.

Status: Signed, San Diego Padres, 2/$13.5 million.

Comments: We basically nailed this one. "There's no place like home...There's no place like home..."

25. Todd Jones - 37 - RP - 2005: Florida Marlins

W-L 1-5 | SV 40 | ERA 2.10 | WHIP 1.03 | 62 K/14 BB

Projection: 2 years, $7-8 million. A cheap closer option for a small- or middle-market team.

Status: Signed, Detroit Tigers, 2/$11 million.

Comments: Here's a joke for you. In 2006, the Tigers will be paying Troy Percival and Jones a combined $11.5 million. The end.

26. Bob Wickman - 37 - RP - 2005: Cleveland Indians

W-L 0-4 | SV 45 | ERA 2.47 | WHIP 1.26 | 41 K/21 BB

Projection: A Jones-like 2 years and $7-8 million. They don't allow month-to-month deals, do they?

Status: Signed, Cleveland Indians, 1/$5 million.

Comments: The Indians had the best signing among mediocre starters with Byrd. They also had the best signing among mediocre closers with Wickman. Ken Williams may have deserved AL Executive of the Year in 2005, but Mark Shapiro is doing one heckuva job in Cleveland, too.

27. Kenji Johjima - 29 - C - 2005: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

.309 AVG/.381 OBP/.557 SLG | HR 24 | RBI 57 |

Projection: 2 years, $13 million. Teams will only guarantee two, but you can bet they will have some options on the back end just in case.

Status: Signed, Seattle Mariners, 3/$16.5 million.

Comments: Very good signing. The Mariners have a following in Asia that is unmatched, and the Johjima signing will only help that. If he's an average catcher in the next three years -- and he has the ceiling to be much more -- this is a good signing.

28. Kenny Rogers - 41 - SP - 2005: Texas Rangers

W-L 14-8 | SV 0 | ERA 3.46 | WHIP 1.32 | 87 K/53 BB

Projection: 1 year, $6 million. He'll get a $1.5 million raise on his 2004 salary, plus some team will throw in an option for a second year, with a nice seven-figure buyout.

Status: Signed, Detroit Tigers, 2/$16 million.

Comments: Here's a joke for you. In 2006, the Tigers will be paying Kenny Rogers $8 million. The end.

29. Mike Piazza - 37 - C/DH - 2005: New York Mets

.251 AVG/.326 OBP/.452 | HR 19 | RBI 62 | 41 BB/67 SO

Projection: 1 year, $5 million. Piazza will be hard pressed to earn his keep on the field, but he just might be enough of a box-office hit for the right AL team to justify the price tag.

Status: Unsigned.

Comments: National League teams have shown little, if any, interest in the future Hall of Famer. As a result, Piazza may have to give up his desire to catch on a regular basis and sign a contract with an American League team to become a full-time DH and a part-time catcher.

30. Juan Encarnacion - 30 - OF - 2005: Florida Marlins

.287 AVG/.349 OBP/.447 SLG | HR 16 | RBI 76 | 41 BB/104 SO

Projection: 2 years, $8.5-9.5 million, basically repeating his previous salary. Encarnacion is young, consistent, and coming off perhaps his best year. You can rest assured that some General Manager will bite at that.

Status: Signed, St. Louis Cardinals, 3/$15 million.

Comments: Who would you rather have, Reggie Sanders for $5 million per for two years or Juan Encarnacion for $5 million per for three years?

* * * * *

Honorable Mention

  • Jeromy Burnitz

    Status: Signed, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1/$6 million.

    Comments: The two sides have agreed in principle as of Tuesday. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Burnitz's deal is "expected to be worth at least $6 million and would include an option for the 2007 season." If so, Jeromy will make more money than fellow free agent outfielders Encarnacion, Jones, Sanders, White, and Wilson. Thank you, Pittsburgh.

  • Octavio Dotel

    Status: Signed, New York Yankees, 1/$2 million.

    Comments: Dotel had reconstructive elbow surgery last June and isn't expected back until midseason. However, the Yankees, who are stockpiling relievers this winter, are hopeful that he can help them down the stretch.

  • Erubiel Durazo

    Status: Unsigned.

    Comments: Few players have had winters as quiet as Durazo. The holy grail will likely be signing a contract with less zeroes than he, and Billy Beane, had once imagined.

  • Carl Everett

    Status: Signed, Seattle Mariners, 1/$4 million.

    Comments: Mariners fans are making a lot of fuss for $4 million but, for what it's worth, we have set August 15 as the release date in the over/under contest.

  • Alex Gonzalez

    Status: Unsigned.

    Comments: A last-ditch option for Boston, if all else fails. Or perhaps for a team that might trade its shortstop to the Red Sox.

  • Mark Grudzielanek

    Status: Signed, Kansas City Royals, 1/$4 million.

    Comments: Another player dedicated to becoming a leader. A contending team should have made this deal.

  • Bobby Howry

    Status: Signed, Chicago Cubs, 3/$12 million.

    Comments: The Cubs really have guaranteed money towards Howry and Scott Eyre in 2008. Wow.

  • Bill Mueller

    Status: Signed, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2/$9.5 million.

    Comments: They really only need a stop gap for one season, as either Joel Guzman or Andy LaRoche will be ready by then. Therefore, Joe Randa probably would have been a better investment.

  • Frank Thomas

    Status: Unsigned.

    Comments: Teams are waiting for a medical report due this month before expressing an interest in Thomas. Look for an AL club to sign The Big Hurt to an incentive-based contract as a DH if he is cleared to play.

  • Rondell White

    Status: Signed, Minnesota Twins, 1/$3.25 million.

    Comments: We'd rather have Frank Thomas or Mike Piazza, but Twin fans should note that White has hit .300 or better in five of the past eight seasons with 12 or more HR every year. Hard to find much fault in a one-year deal at that price.

    * * * * *

    The following players are the remaining free agents who have signed for a total of at least $2 million:

    Braden Looper, St. Louis Cardinals, 3/$13.5M
    Scott Eyre, Chicago Cubs, 3/$11M
    Brett Tomko, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2/$8.7M
    Scott Elarton, Kansas City Royals, 2/$8M
    Brad Ausmus, Houston Astros, 2/$7.5M
    Hector Carrasco, Los Angeles Angels, 2/$6.1M
    Glendon Rusch, Chicago Cubs, 2/$6M
    Jamie Moyer, Seattle Mariners, 1/$5.5M
    Neifi Perez, Chicago Cubs, 2/$5M
    Joe Randa, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1/$4M
    Jason Johnson, Cleveland Indians, 1/$4M
    Tim Worrell, San Francisco Giants, 2/$4M
    Kenny Lofton, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1/$3.85M
    Elmer Dessens, Kansas City Royals, 2/$3.4M
    Abraham Nunez, Philadelphia Phillies, 2/$3.35M
    Jose Cruz Jr., Los Angeles Dodgers 1/$2.91M
    Ricardo Rincon, St. Louis Cardinals 2/$2.9M
    Roberto Hernandez, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1/$2.75M
    Jay Witasick, Oakland A's, 2/$2.75M
    Jose Mesa, Colorado Rockies, 1/$2.515M
    Ramon Ortiz, Washington Nationals, 1/$2.5M
    Mike Myers, New York Yankees, 2/$2.4M
    Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres, 1/$2.25M
    Eric Byrnes, Arizona Diamondbacks, 1/$2.25M
    Julio Franco, New York Mets, 2/$2.2M
    Tony Armas, Washington Nationals, 1/$2.1M
    Rudy Seanez, Boston Red Sox, 1/$2.1M
    Olmedo Saenz, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2/$2M

  • Comments

    "Bryan has defended the [Jacque Jones] deal but, as a result, no longer has the respect of any Cub fan."

    I still respect you, Bryan. I may not be able to look you square in the eye, but I respect you.

    ;)

    The most telling comment is your error factor -- one year, about $1.5m.

    Here's the interesting thing: That's been true for _years_. Look at Kris Benson. Subtract a year from his contract and $1.5m per, and it is suddenly a respectable deal. The same can be said for many, many players.

    I am curious how Paul Konerko will only be worth his contract for 2 or 3 years? He is only 29 and has yet to sustain a major injury. Granted he is Paul Konerko, but it is entirely possible he exceeds his current career bests in the next 5 years.

    It is certainly possible a player may have a peak year (or a near peak year) in his age 33-34 seasons (Konerko will be 30 for the first year of his contract), just not likely. There are late bloomers that will peak in those years, but typically they do not have initial success until age 30 (Steve Finley comes to mind) whereas Konerko has had good years since age 23. Konerko's comparables who have played past age 30 (Kent Hrbek, Jason Thompson, Ted Kluszewski, Bobby Thompson, Lee May, Dick Stuart) all had their power numbers (Konerko's only marketable skill) tail off after age 31. Jack Clark (his best year was at age 31) Fred McGriff (peaked at 30, excellent years at 35 and 37), and Carlos Deldago (peaked at 29, excellent years at 31 and 33), however maintained most of their power numbers until their mid-30s.

    I am curious how Paul Konerko will only be worth his contract for 2 or 3 years?

    I don't know how I can improve upon Sean's response other than to say most first basemen add little, if any, value unless they hit a ton. Will Konerko hit .280 with 40 HR in each of the next five years? I doubt it.

    I think Konerko can approximate those numbers in at least two of the next three years but would expect the decline phase of his career to begin no later than 2009. In fact, I'll be surprised if he hits .265 and 30 HR by the end of his contract.

    Konerko's OPS has been improving every year of his career except the mysterious 2003 season. Barring injury, the odds are with Paul Konerko having career bests the next few years and not tailing off until after the contract. I was surprised Konerko was not paid more because of the lack of good AL 1st basemen and his peak years are ahead of him.

    Except for 2003, Konerko has been a very consistent hitter.

    Here are his adjusted OPS* (OPS+) numbers for the past seven years, beginning with the first year he played regularly (which happens to coincide with his first year in Chicago):

    1999 - 120
    2000 - 108
    2001 - 120
    2002 - 123
    2003 -  85
    2004 - 123
    2005 - 136
    

    I really don't see a trend here. He just happened to have his best season in 2005.

    It is the exception, rather than the rule, for players to continue getting better from age 30 through 34. That doesn't mean Konerko won't post "career bests the next few years," but I wouldn't want to bet on it.

    * OPS+ is a better gauge than OPS because it adjusts for context in terms of league and ballpark.