I usually like to release my free-agent rankings and predictions - which I believe pre-date the blog - on the first day of open free agency. This year, that day will be Thursday. I think the feature is a nice way to kick off the unrestricted period, and I like using the days between the end of the World Series and open free agency to do more reporting on this.

So why are we running them today? 1) Sunday newspaper means both more space to fill and more prominent play for this, and 2) I'm going off the clock starting tomorrow, wanted to do this and didn't feel like dealing with it this week.

Besides, I think New York fans in particular are ready for this.

My explanation of this feature's timing reminds me of Troy McClure's explanation for his new project in this episode of "The Simpsons":

Brent: We've got ourselvs a special guest, actor Troy McClure, whose new sitcom is premiering tonight - coincidentally enough, right after the game!
Troy: Thanks, Brent. My new show is called `Handle with Care'. I play Jack Handle, a retired cop who shares an apartment with a retired criminal. We're the original Odd Couple!
Brent: What made you want to do a situation comedy?
Troy: Well, I fell in love with the script, Brent. And my recent trouble with the IRS... sealed the deal!

Anyway, here are the free-agent rankings.

As I write in the introduction, some of these are based on hard reporting, and some on glorified mind-reading. What the hell. It's a talker.

And just so you have an idea of which is which, I'll offer additional thoughts on some of the more high-profile guys:

1. Albert Pujols. I think the Cardinals' joyous World Series title only increases the likelihood that Pujols will return to St. Louis. The emotional ties are just so darn strong now. Plus, the World Series run matters because it gives the Cardinals more actual money.

2. CC Sabathia. We've discussed this one ad nauseam. I spoke with Sabathia and his wife Amber, and I believe that they want to stay in New York. But that isn't going to stop them from playing hardball in negotiations. I'm betting that Sabathia opts out tomorrow night - that's why I put him on this list - but I'll bet even more than he'll be back in a Yankees uniform next year.

3. C.J. Wilson. The lefty is a Southern California boy, and industry folks think the Angels want to strike back at the Rangers for Texas' pilfering of Angels players the past couple of years - Vladimir Guererro in 2010 and Mike Napoli this year - who helped them make two straight World Series. 

Thanks to MLB Trade Rumors, I saw this tweet from L.A. Times reporter Mike DiGiovanna, in which Angels owner Arte Moreno says the team's payroll will be in the $130-$140 million range. If he truly means that, then it'll be difficult for the club to sign Wilson. We'll see.

4. Jose Reyes. All things being equal, I think that Reyes would like to stay a Met. Shoot, if the Mets even make an offer to Reyes in the same ballpark as other clubs, I think Reyes would stick around.

Right now, though? My hunch is that the Mets' offer won't be in the same neighborhood as other clubs. He should get six years from someone. Would the Mets go even five years? I don't think so.

That's why I went with the Marlins, who seem like they want to make a splash as they open their new ballpark. Hanley Ramirez can move from shortstop to third to accomodate his pal Reyes.

And the Mets? They'll survive. Again: Reyes was on the team in September, and Citi Field was a ghost town. At the stage where the Mets are, they can't be worrying about attendance. They have to worry about putting together a team that will consistently contend and draw fans that way.

It makes sense, by the way, that in this closer-rich market, someone will fall down to the Mets' level. Joe Nathan could prove to make sense.

5. Prince Fielder. He won't be returning to the Brewers, of course. An official from another team with good instincts (IMO) suggested Toronto as a team that been building up, has money to spend and operates in stealth mode. 

Can you imagine Fielder and Jose Bautista sharing the middle of a Toronto lineup? Good Lord.

7. Roy Oswalt. This one goes in the mind-reading file. I think that Oswalt's preference is to stay in the National League, but I don't see any great fits besides perhaps staying in Philadelphia. The Tigers, meanwhile, offer a contender in a relatively easy division that plays in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. 

8. David Ortiz and 12. Jimmy Rollins. Like Pujols, both are immensely popular with their respective fan bases, and there's something else at play with these two that's different than Pujols: Supply and demand. Ortiz is by far the best DH available, and Rollins is the second-best shortstop, after Reyes. Neither position has a glut of great options.

Whereas first base, just for conversation's sake, does.

13. Carlos Beltran. By all accounts, Beltran enjoyed his time in San Francisco, and the Giants are a team that tends to keep their own players and also, for better or worse, don't get deterred by a position player's age.

16. Freddy Garcia. Yeah, he really was quite good with the Yankees this past year, and not too shabby with the 2010 White Sox, either. Nevertheless, I don't see his market being that high because of the perception of his fragility and because he isn't really an innings-eater anymore.

The Yankees enjoyed having him and he enjoyed iptching for the Yankees, so maybe there's room here for a renewal of vows.

19. David DeJesus. Just a guess that he'll be low-flying fruit that Brian Cashman will want to make the team more versatile and athletic. Nothing more.

24. Francisco Rodriguez, 26. Heath Bell, 29. Jonathan Papelbon and 30. Ryan Madson. My rankings system, based on WAR, is always somewhat out of whack because these closers will make far more money than many people ranked higher.

To me, it shows that closers aren't as irreplaceable as we perceive them to be. But I get it. Teams like to have someone they know and trust in the ninth inning.

Bell going back to San Diego was the easy one; he's made it pretty clear that he wants to return. I thought Papelbon going to the Phillies could happen because Papelbon's agents Sam and Seth Levinson have a good relationship with the Philadelphia people; they hammered out the Raul Ibanez contract a few years ago. 

K-Rod to the Reds is assuming that Cincinnati doesn't exercise Francisco Cordero's team option for 2012 and wants to spend some money. Madson to the Twins? Minnesota will look to get right back in contention and badly needs bullpen help, with Nathan and Matt Capps entering free agency.

25. Carlos Pena. "Hello, Mark? This is Scott. Since you can't afford Prince, I have another first baseman that I think would be just perfect for you."

--Have a great day, and see you down the road.

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