Thursday, November 3, 2011

Making sense of the free agent market

US Presswire photo
Lefty Mark Buehrle could be an top target of the Nationals this winter.
One hundred sixty-six major-league free agents were free to begin negotiating with any club they wanted at 12:01 a.m. today, the unofficial commencement of baseball's Hot Stove League. But before you start scouring flight path websites to see where Ted Lerner's private jet has been, a word of caution: This is going to be a slow process.

Baseball's free agency period stands in stark contrast to those in the NFL and NHL, where there's a mad rush of signings the moment the clock strikes midnight. Baseball players, general managers and agents prefer to take a more calculated route toward consummating deals, letting the market establish itself over time.

In fact, there probably won't be a whole lot of players signing with new clubs for several more weeks, not until the days leading up the Dec. 5-8 winter meetings in Dallas. But the groundwork is being laid right now, as everyone tries to gauge who's in the market for what, and how much any given player is going to cost.

The Nationals' objectives this winter are clear. GM Mike Rizzo has said it since the season's final week: He's searching for a center fielder (preferably one who can lead off) and a No. 3 starting pitcher.

We've discussed several names over the last month, but let's start paring those lists down to the handful of free agents who appear to make the most sense for the Nationals. (There's also, of course, a decent chance Rizzo will try to fill these holes via trades. For now, though, we'll just stick with the free agents.)

Grady Sizemore: In many ways, Sizemore fits exactly what the Nationals need. He's a Gold Glove-winning center fielder who sports a career .357 on-base percentage and has hit leadoff for 703 of his 869 career starts. He's only 29 years old, and his return to the organization that first drafted him in 2000 would make up for the Expos' terrible decision to include him in the ill-fated trade that also sent Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips to the Indians for Bartolo Colon. There's just one hang-up: Sizemore is a huge injury risk. He's played in only 104 total games over the last two seasons due to a smorgasbord of ailments, and he recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. It's entirely possible -- maybe even probable -- that he'll never come close to regaining his old form. But if he did ... wow, he would be a perfect addition for the Nationals.

Coco Crisp: Crisp enjoyed something of a bounceback season in Oakland, stealing a career-high and AL-best 49 bases, but his overall numbers weren't that great. In particular, his .314 on-base percentage was his lowest in eight years. Crisp also had a whopping two outfield assists in 133 games. That said, the 32-year-old could be an affordable fallback option for the Nationals. And if nothing else, he'd still be an upgrade over what the Nats had in center field and the leadoff spot this season. [UPDATE: Crisp's agent told the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser today that his client prefers to sign with a West Coast team.]

Carlos Beltran: His name hasn't come up very much in the last month, and probably for good reason. He'll be 35 in April, and though he played in 142 games this season, he missed considerable time in 2009 and 2010 with injuries. Both the Mets and Giants decided he could no longer play center field, so he spent the entire year in right field. Still, Beltran figures to find a club (most likely an AL team) willing to shell out good money over several years for his services.

B.J. Upton: Here's the thing about Upton: He's not a free agent, at least not yet. He's still got one more year of arbitration eligibility with the Rays. That said, there has been serious speculation that Tampa Bay might elect not to tender him a contract next month, which would put him on the open market. The question is whether Rizzo is willing to wait it out, perhaps losing one of the other guys in the process. If not, he could always try to trade for Upton, though his disappointing numbers the last three seasons (not to mention the fact his current team is thinking about dropping him altogether) suggest he may not be worth giving up much of consequence.

C.J. Wilson: Now that CC Sabathia has re-upped with the Yankees, Wilson is the consensus top starter on the open market. Which means he's about to make a boatload of money. The question is whether he's actually worth it. The upside: Wilson was the No. 1 starter on a team that just came within a strike of winning the World Series, he's a rare power left-hander who struck out 206 batters in 223 1/3 innings and he's still relatively young (he turns 31 this month). The downside: Wilson has only been a starter for two seasons, he's issued the second-most walks in the AL over those two seasons and he was decidedly unimpressive during the postseason. Is all that worth perhaps nine figures? The Nationals have to make that decision.

Mark Buehrle: The veteran lefty (he'll be 33 by Opening Day) fits the description of what the Nationals could use: A well-established, reliable starter who can set a positive example for Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and churn out a good number of quality innings. Buehrle has made at least 30 starts and logged at least 200 innings for 11 consecutive seasons. He's won three straight Gold Gloves (for whatever that's worth) and owns a 3.83 ERA despite pitching his entire career at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. The White Sox will make a strong push to re-sign him, but he's no guarantee to return to the South Side.

Edwin Jackson: Jackson's name came up as a possible trade target of Rizzo in July 2010, and his fantastic repertoire make him an attractive free agents. But buyer beware, because Jackson is as erratic as they get, as we saw during the postseason. He's capable of either throwing a no-hitter or walking eight on any given night. (Or, he could do both, as was the case on June 25, 2010.)

Chien-Ming Wang: Technically, Wang is now a free agent who can sign with anyone. But, as we've expected for weeks, he's all but assured of re-signing with the Nationals. The two sides are still working out final details, but the deal should be done sometime soon. If the right-hander can pick up where he left off in September, he'll be a key piece to the Nats' rotation. But is Wang's best good enough to slot him right behind Strasburg and Zimmermann, or would the Nationals still want to add another arm to be the No. 3 starter and thus slide Wang down in the rotation.

Yu Darvish: I delved into the Darvish Dilemma in a post last week, so no need to rehash the entire thing. Suffice it to say, the Japanese right-hander is going to cost a whole lot of money. He may live up to the hype and establish himself as a front-line starter in the majors, but he'd be the first Japanese pitcher to do that since Hideo Nomo.

Roy Oswalt: This would be an intriguing possibility for the Nationals, who could certainly benefit from Oswalt's experience and success. The only red flag is his back, which limited him to 23 starts this season in Philadelphia and probably will remain an issue for the rest of his career. If the Nats are willing to accept the 34-year-old won't be throwing 200 innings for them, he could be a nice addition. But they might need more of a sure thing out of a No. 3 starter.


Wally said...

Nice write up, Mark.

Beltran fired Boras recently.

Plus, saw this on MLB Trade RUmors about Crisp:
Crisp is looking to play for a competitive West Coast team and the Giants are a “viable” option for him, according to Comte.

Wally said...

Also saw this re: Oswalt. If long term means more than 2 years, I would pass.

The agent for Roy Oswalt told Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports that the right-hander is healthy and "definitely looking for a long-term contract" this offseason.

Anonymous said...

Juan Pierre and David Dejesus are also options, if Werth can play CF (with Morse to RF). A flyer on Nate McClouth, if finally healthy, may not be out of the question either.


Oldguyjim looking for Spring said...

This is easy. Sign Reyes and Beuhrle. Wang a done deal as #5 guy. Sign Sizemore to high incentive contract. Trade Lannan for Upton to come off the bench play or play CF if Sizemore continues to be hurt. Keep Desi as utility IF. Then make you plans for the playoffs!!!

Water23 said...

What about a Buerhle, the solid starter, on a two year deal. Reyes, a decent risk/reward gamble, on a 5-6 year deal. And Yu Darvish, ultimate gamble, if he works out then one or more of Buehlre/Wang/Lannan could be moved for value.

With filling the Leadoff position without using a CF spot you preserve your options in the OF/1B until at least mid-season.

That would be one:
15-20 million deal (Buerhle)
$120-140 million deal (Reyes)
$100 million (Yu Darvish)

Seems like a lot and we have not even discussed the extension RZim.

The Michael said...

The CF prospects aren't flattering. I guess I'd roll the dice with Sizemore. I can't see him garnering more than a 2 year deal which is reasonable. If he fails, we'll need a stopgap until Harper is ready.

CJ Wilson would be a great fit. Buerhle isn't a bad fall back option. Would be surprised not to get 1 of them.

Jon Heyman said...

Stop speculating about Wang. As I reported last night, you've got a deal done for one year. Granted, neither Wang nor the team has said as much and the team's beat writers have reported to the contrary, but I reported it, so it must be true.

Anonymous said...

Signing Reyes fills the leadoff spot nicely and the Nats have plenty of backup infielders to protect an injury. It also allows the club to not overpay for questionable cf talent (BJ Upton, Denard Span, Grady Sizemore). They can then look for that starter who can eat innings as a solid 2 or 3 and take pressure off the bullpen every fifth day.

Harper_ROY_2012 said...

CF - If you want someone who is already a major league CF off the free agent stack this offseason, I am not sure I would give anyone a long term deal. Honestly, I think a better option is finding a strong armed RF for a 1 year deal and have Werth play CF where his weak RF arm becomes average for a CF. Not that I have a current major league answer in RF either. Our best hope is that Bryce makes the club out of ST 2012 and we do nt need a free agent OF for the next 6 years.

SP -CMW is analmost certainly so that is GREAT news and I think Buehrle is the only really good option out there, I know CJ Wilson has been hyped but I think he is just that hype, he plays in a horrible division. I also know that Rizzo is in love with Edwin Jackson but he is not the answer at #3 I think he would make a great #5 guy, if you are going to also sign Buehrle and then trade Lannan (please god let this happen).

Now to the 500lb elephant in the room, if there is not legit leadoff CF that we can via free agency or trade then we still need a leadoff guy and the only one out there is Reyes. If you sign Reyes (I think he needs to mature a bit, but maybe Davey can help him there) what do you do with Desmond? Melvin Mora part deux or doyou trade him with Lannan for something else you are missing


Water23 said...

Anon 10:45 AM,

And an ancillary benefit is that it denies the Mets and Phils another chance to fill a hole in their lineup.

markfd said...

Scratch CoCo Crisp off the list he has come out saying he wants to only play on the West coast.

jd said...


IMO Buerhle gets more than 2 years and more than 10mil per. Reyes gets about what you say (not worth it) and Darvish is tricky because you have to outbid everyone (including the Yankees who are definitely in on this) just to get to where they can negotiate a contract with him.

Binx Bolling said...

Sign Aaron Rowand on the cheap and let him fight it out with Ankiel and Bernandina. Or else sign Crisp for bigger money. No to Upton. Too much money and he's baseball dumb.

NatsJack in Florida said...

I have problems with both Jackson and Wilson (aside from having to overpay).

The organization has commanded through out the system that pitchers cut down on walks and focus on proper command.

Both these guys have control issues. Not a good message to the solid young arms coming through the system.

And Harper_ROY_2012..... in spite of the what Davey said yesterday, The Kid can't be ROY while only playing on an expanded September roster. You better think about changing your post ID.

David said...

Of course Oswalt wants 3 years. But he's only going to get 1 or 2 year offers. I hope we make a push for him in the 2 year, 18 million range. Even with a bad back, I trust him more than Buerhle. Maybe I just haven't seen Buerhle pitch enough over the years...

jd said...

This may not be a popular sentiment here but the best value on the FA market may very well be Prince Fielder who is only 29 and is a sure bet to remain big time productive for the length of his contract.

Signing a 32 year old or older FA means you are paying for what he has done in the past and are almost assured to be over paying in the future. Albert Pujols will sign for stupid money this off season and if he's really older than his reported age someone will be paying through the nose while he declines year after year (ALA Jayson Werth).

jd said...


Oswalt is better than Buehrle but he has chronic back problems so he is almost assured of missing big chunks of playing time. I wouldn't touch him for more than 2 years and even then I would want an out option after 1 year.

sjm308 said...

jd: agree that Fielder is actually a decent value but he is NOT a sure bet to remain productive for the next 7-9 years. Just look at his body!! He might be ok in the AL where he can dh but I just see a big breakdown in a couple years (very similar with what his father did after a couple of terrific years). To me, even with his huge demands, Reyes is the answer. I have given reasons in previous posts so I won't be repetitive. I would go
1. Reyes
2. Buerhle
3. Sizemore (big injury risk but worth a gamble)

David said...

Okay, go with an option for year 2. That works. I'd rather have 20 starts from Oswalt, with 12 "injury" starts going to Peacock or Milone, than 32 starts of Buerhle, next year.

Canada's #1 Nats Fan said...

What about Hiroki Kuroda for the stsrting rotation? Haven't heard his name bandied about in the free agent talk.

Harper_ROY_2012 said...

NatsJack in Florida...we shall see but BHarp is an unstoppable force who is making leaps forward in his development in a short period of time at each level, including the AFL. we will see who is right by May/June 2012.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of Sizemore - sure, he'd be a risk and maybe he never recovers his full ability, but even if he's only what he was in '09 - a 2-ish WAR player, he's still miles better than anything we have had in CF in years. I like that he's got some lefty pop, I like that he's only 29, and that he can slide around in the outfield and I like the undoing of the plundering of the 'spos aspect. With Harper coming, it's a good risk to take, I think. Maybe you spend a 2-yr, $16million plus a third year team option to find out he's washed up, but this is a much better reclamation bet than Wang was or than DY was.

Also, @jd - I highly doubt Prince is "a sure bet to remain big time productive for the length of his contract." I think it depends - I think he's likely to be big time productive for somebody over the next 2-3 years, but I think there's also a risk based on age, body type, and past precedent that he's a candidate to be a 3-4 WAR player one year and then suddenly done the next year, similar to other big-bodied sluggers. The second they get a half-second late to get that beef around on the fastball, they're done. And if that happens when he's 31, you're going to be stuck paying $18-$20 million a year for 4 years to a player who's going to be an aging DH. Between the two of them, I'd rather take the lower-cost, equal-upside risk on Sizemore.

Anonymous said...

The Sizemore, Phillips, Lee for Colon trade destroyed the Expos franchise! Just proves once again that most big names are has-beens and giving up young talent for them is stupid unless a team is looking for a missing piece to win it all.

Binx Bolling said...

A note about most power hitters- they tend to peak in their mid-to-late twenties and slide in their early-to-mid-30s. There are exceptions (who didn't use steroids) like Hank Aaron. Hammerin' Hank didn't slide until the year he reached Babe Ruth when he was 40. But most are like Adam Dunn, Todd Helton, George Bell, George Foster, John Mayberry Sr., Jim Wynn, Roger Maris, Nate Colbert, Gorman Thomas, even Ted Williams and hundreds of others. Chances are that whoever signs Pujols and Fielder may regret it two or three years down the road.

David said...

I think Pujols is too good of a pure hitter. He will make it till 38 or 39 years old. Like Vladdy, will end his career playing DH on a good AL team. Fielder on the other hand...

Anonymous said...

Speed guys hold their skills longer than the Fielder types. That's why Reyes is a better bet to retain value. His injury history is being overblown. Only one season in the past 7 has had less than 126 games played or less than 586 plate appearances (2009).

Bowdenball said...

The risk of Jose Reyes regressing significantly is probably greater than the risk of Grady Sizemore.

I wonder if people who want him think he'll post the same .384 OBP going forward that he did in 2011. That was his career high by thirty points. His career number of .341 and his 2010 number was .321. And he's an injury risk too. He spent time on the DL each of the last two seasons, missing around 30 games on average, and be barely played at all in 2009.

A cynic might even conclude that he took a more focused and disciplined approach in 2011 because it was his free agency year, and that once he gets paid he'll revert to his free-swinging ways.

Also, his fielding is mediocre at best.

Signing Reyes and re-signing Zimmerman probably means the Nats are done with quality free agents for the next few years. Is an injury-prone poor defender who is coming off a year that looks more like an outlier than a trend really the guy we want to blow our wad on?

Water23 said...

Canada #1 Nats FAN,

good idea but Kuroda has stated he wants to play in LA.

MicheleS said...

Harper ROY 2012
your comment about Reyes needing to mature and can Davey do that. He had Doc and Strawberry and those druggies/party aninmals on the Mets. He didn't control that clubhouse. The question is, did he learn from that? Will an older wiser DJ be able to handle this, Does he need a solid Vet/Bench coach to police that?

Nats1924 said...

Here is a question...

Could you see the Yankees trading Teixeira to free up space in order to sign Prince?

its a long shot, but just curious

Gardner said...

- Sign Reyes, Fielder and Sizemore (incetive laden short term deal)
- Trade Laroche to the Phillies as cover for Ryan Howard until his achilles recovers
- Teach Desmond to play all infield spots as well as corner outfield spots and make him super utility guy
- Let Wang go and pick up Oswalt (with Peacock and Millone as cover for any time he misses).
- Head in to the season with Strasburg, Zimmermann, Oswalt, Lannan, Millone/Peacock with one of the last 2 stepping in after Stras eats up his innings.

We'd still be nowhere near the top of the majors in payroll. Fielder and Reyes block no player progressioms (not counting Desmond, Marrero, Moore, etc). That's a potential wild card team. If Fielder eats himself off of FB just ship him to the AL where he can DH.

Golfersal said...

This is the problem with free agency, buyer beware.
All of these guys you mentioned, including wang have gambles and downsides. Hopefully Wang and the Nationals can do a deal, it's sounded since mid-Septmeber that it would happen but now that Wang is a free agent could someone come in and possibly give a better offer which Wang would take? Always a question mark and would be a shame it that happened.
I do see only one player in the list that Zuckerman gives us and that is Mark Buehrle. But didn't Rizzo signed a person like Buehrle last year in Gorzelanny and that hasn't turned out to be that great.
Again the problems with free agency for every gem found in this process I can show you five stiffs that don't work out.

Water23 said...


I think you are overestimating Gorzy in saying he is similar to Buehrle. Buehrle is far superior to Gorzy in every way. He has been a SP for years and years. He has been consistently injury free. He has been the Ace of the staff. Now, he is on the backside of his career but still it would be like saying Pujols and LaRoche are similar.

Anonymous said...


but Rizzo did sign Marquis who's the first player came to my mind while reading Mark's take on Buehrle's career.

Tcostant said...

The New York Post today did the "odds" on where Reyes will sign. The Nationals were #1 at 3-1 with Brewers second if (when) they loss Fielder.

I don't believe it, but interesting...

Soul Possession, PFB Sofa said...

Tcostant, did the Post say how they arrived at that conclusion, or were they just blowing smoke like most everybody else?

JaneB said...

Yikes, Tconstant! That would be crazy. I was against having Reyes till this very moment. Now my heart is beating faster.

I feel a little dopey saying this, but we wasted a boatload on Maya, on the grounds that a baseball country's best would rock it out here. That didn't work wit Yunesky. Makes me worry about Darvish.

HabsProf said...

Reports are out that the Nats and Wang have reached an agreement on a 1-year deal (no other details disclosed) pending a successful physical.

SonnyG10 said...

I'm afraid Reyes would turn out to be another Christian Goozman, so I'm not in favor of signing him. I don't think signing Fielder or Pujols are good ideas either. We already have 1st base covered. I like the idea of taking a chance with Sizemore, though. I'm sure that Rizzo, with help from the front office, will make the best available decisions for the Nats.

blovy8 said...

I don't think the Nats ought to be the team to pay Reyes 110 percent of his value for being able to play 75 percent of the time, when they have Desmond, Espinosa, Lombardozzi, and Rendon soon in their middle infield. I guess we keep getting a .280 average for a span of time out of Desmond and mistakenly think it means he can lead off, but I don't think you pay any non-Rickey Henderson-numbers in his prime leadoff guy the rumored Reyes money. Werth in center is not a very encouraging idea, I don't see how Harper could force their plan for him to accelerate until he shows he can play the outfield a lot better. While Upton may not be the player everyone thought he would be, he's probably better than that option. At this point, he really can't cost much more than his salary, and the Rays may be in a position to have to deal him since they have Jennings ready to take over and are looking like they'll keep Shields - they've got to cut some salary

blovy8 said...

I like Oswalt's stuff better than Buerhle's, and remember that he didn't throw a fit when there were trade rumors about him coming here. It seems to me like Buerhle will be pickier about where he's going. The Nats have the depth for him to go on the DL once a year, so long as they get 25 or so good starts from him, and he's ready for the stretch run, I think he's the better pitcher, and may even cost less because of last year.

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