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64° Good Afternoon

Free agency, the Mets and the Giants

This morning, I'd like to follow up on my free-agent rankings and predictions, for two reasons:

1) I would've done some of this yesterday, but due to technical difficulties, the piece didn't appear on our website until about 10 a.m. So as I did my writing late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, I wasn't going to yammer on about something which might not have been accessible at all.

2) The benefit of waiting a day is I got to see some good feedback, both on the blog here and at Baseball Think Factory.

Anywho, in no particular order:

1) I decided once again to go with WAR from the last two years - this year I utilized the caluclations as well as FanGraphs - because there really does seem to be a "forgiveness factor," if you will, for at least some players who experienced a bad walk year. Or an absent walk year, in the case of Ben Sheets, who got $10 million from Oakland to pitch in 2010 despite missing all of 2009.

I think Javier Vazquez will be a good test case for this. He recorded an awesome 2009 with Atlanta and a horrid 2010 with the Yankees, the former helping him rank a respectable 11th. He has very strong representation in brothers Sam and Seth Levinson. I'm betting the Levinsons convince some National League team _ I picked Washington, because I think the Nats are looking to spend some dough _ that 2010 was an aberration, and that Joe Girardi buried Vazquez, and so on and so forth.

2) I wavered on Cliff Lee, a few times. There are people whom I respect who really think Lee will return to Texas. We know by now that he enjoyed his time with the Rangers, and that his Arkansas home is about a 40-minute flight from Dallas-Fort Worth. And that, unlike his old Indians teammate CC Sabathia, Lee doesn't plan to move his family to his new team.

Ultimately, though, I went with the Yankees because my sense is the Yankees really, really want Lee. Whether they should really, really want him is a discussion item for another day. But they want him badly. And when was the last time they didn't get a free agent they wanted badly? You'd probably have to go back to Greg Maddux in the 1992-93 offseason, when he chose the Braves over the Yankees partly because he thought Atlanta's climate would allow him to play more golf.

A commenter on BBTF raised a good question that JE carried over here, and that I had discussed with a baseball official just on Friday: If the Yankees pay Lee more annually than Sabathia's $23 million, will Sabathia exercise his opt-out after next season?

I just don't see it, and this is coming from the person who was absolutely convinced - when Sabathia first signed - that the big lefty would be gone after 2011. But Sabathia, as we just mentioned, has moved his family to New Jersey, and moving back out is not a decision he would take lightly.

And really, if he did opt out, what would be the end-game? Let's see the Yankees give Lee $24 million a year like I predicted, $1 million more than Sabathia. Who would give Sabathia even $24 million a year for four years, matching the length of his curent deal? I can't think of a team besides the Yankees. And if the Yankees have a good 2011 in terms of starting-pitching development, then I think the Yankees would view a Sabathia opt-out as a welcome opportunity to shed payroll.

Which is why, to work our way back around, I just don't see it happening.

3) I went with the majority in pointing Carl Crawford toward Anaheim (excuse me - Los Angeles) and Jayson Werth toward Boston. Crawford seems like a perfect fit for what Mike Scioscia likes to do with the Angels, in terms of the aggressive baserunning and strong defense, and a few people with whom I spoke brought up Crawford's friendship with Torii Hunter.

Werth? He'll go to the highest bidder, and he seems like an absolutely perfect fit for the Red Sox, who can play Werth in leftfield in 2011 and then switch him to rightfield in 2012, following J.D. Drew's departure.

One sleeper team for Werth's services: Washington. I'm expecting the Nationals to make a serious play for Werth.

4) Derek Jeter. One of the funniest parts of this saga is some Jeter-worshipping Yankees fans are offended by the notion that other Yankees fans don't love Jeter as much as they do.

Trust me, there's a segment of Yankees fans that does not want to see Jeter treated as an icon in these negotiations. Not necessarily as a no-con, to steal a phrase Jerry Seinfeld used in this "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode.  but as a reasonable business negotiation. Unless the people e-mailing me and tweeting me are Yankees haters posing as Yankees fans.

I can't stress enough how wide a gap there is, philosophically, between Jeter and the Yankees regarding his value. I asked a friend of Jeter's to guess at what the final package would be, and the friend guessed four years and $91 million. That's nearly $23 million per season, up from his current $18.9 million. And that's anticipated as the compromise number.

The Yankees, of course, want to cut Jeter's pay, somewhat significantly - think closer to $15 million a year. Which is why I went with the three years, $57 million guess. That would give Jeter a nominal raise from $18.9 million to $19 million, but it would tether him to the Yankes for only three years.

And as much as the Yankees don't want to pay Jeter that much, especially as they try to keep the budget static while taking on Lee, they really don't have a great Plan B for shortstop. Nor would they want to deal with the agita of Jeter walking away.

This'll be a great test of wills, have no doubt. We know how it's going to end _ Jeter will return _ but the journey should be fascinating.

5) Adam Dunn. Two years for $18 million?! Oy. What was the term that Tim Lincecum used recently?

I'd ask out loud, "What was I thinking?" but I know what I was thinking, and I stand by the greater principle: No one thinks that Dunn wants to go to the American League. He likes playing defense, and he likes having familiarity with the pitchers (yes, yes, of course pitchers switch leagues, but it would obviously be a more dramatic adjustment shifting over to the AL).

I just pegged the number too low, that's all. He'll almost certainly get more than two years and $18 million. And if I had that mulligan to raise the number, I'd probably change the team from the Braves to the Cubs.

One of the fun components of free agency, though, is that it is fluid. It's a living organism, to use an exaggeration. Factors in place on Nov. 8 change throughout the process. So what the heck, maybe Dunn will sign with the Braves for two years and $18 million.

(Almost certainly not, though).

6) I rolled the dice pegging Rafael Soriano for the White Sox. Consider it a hat tip to the unpredictability of White Sox GM Kenny Williams. The White Sox will probably non-tender their current closer Bobby Jenks, and J.J. Putz is a free agent, too. The White Sox have a need there

7) Regarding ex-Yankees, I'm hearing that Johnny Damon's preferences, are Atlanta, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. I think we can forget Atlanta, since Damon is pretty much a full-time DH at this point. I went with Tampa Bay because I thought he could be a good fit on a one-year deal there, on a team that needs some offense with the loss of Crawford.

Hideki Matsui, I hear, would like to sign with Oakland and the White Sox - two American League teams looking for DH help that play on natural grass. I know the A's want to add some offensive firepower this winter, so I have them adding both Matsui and Adrian Beltre.

Matsui, interestingly for geeks (like me) who care about this stuff, is a Type B free agent this year, after being unranked last year - even though his 2010 was worse than his 2009. Why? It's the two-year factor, the same reason Matsui made my Top 30 this year after missing last year. What it comes down to is, while his 2010 was worse than his 2009, it was better than his 2008.

And that's also why Vladimir Guerrero didn't make this list for the second straight year. His 2009 was so terrible that it weighed down his rebound 2010.

8) Miguel Olivo. A few people, including JE, asked me why exactly Toronto would give Olivo two years and $7 million when it traded for him and immediately passed on a one-year, $2.5-million option, paying $500,000 to do so.

This was a roll of the dice on my part. Toronto acquired Olivo, obviously, with the intent of offering him arbitration, and then getting a sandwich-round draft pick when Olivo turns down that offer and signs elsewhere. But what if Olivo accepts the arbitration offer? Then the Blue Jays would be locked into Olivo.

It's quite possible that Olivo had a verbal agreement with Colorado, that could have transferred over to Toronto, to not accept arbitration in this scenario. If so, I'll have to wipe some egg off my face.

What are you gonna do? Gotta take some risks in this thing. A year ago at this time, I don't think anyone foresaw the Red Sox signing John Lackey - or, for that matter, the Phillies trading Lee to Seattle. As I've written in prior years, these predictions are based partly on reporting and partly on attempts to think along with teams and anticipate movements around the industry. On guesses, in other words.

We'll see how it all plays out. But it sure is fun discussing it.

In any case, we might see a little action this week, but things won't really pick up until Nov. 23. That's when teams must decide whether to offer arbitration to their own Type A and Type B free agents.

Here are my guesses as to whom will be offered arbitration: Balfour, Adrian Beltre, Crawford, Scott Downs, Dunn, Pedro Feliciano, Aubrey Huff, Lee, Victor Martinez, Olivo, Carl Pavano, Arthur Rhodes, Soriano and Werth.

--Add DeMarlo Hale to the list of Mets managerial candidates. Hale has a strong reputation in the industry, but at this point, if the Mets hire someone without major-league managing experience, I'd expect it to be the other Hale, Chip. I'd have to give the edge to the experienced guys like Terry Collins, Clint Hurdle, Bob Melvin and Don Wakamatsu.

The idea of the Mets' new manager being a ticket-seller is no longer in play, I believe, as the Wilpons were talked out of that right around the time they dismissed 

A couple of housekeeping issues:

1) I wrote this blog post at the outset of the World Series, focusing on the admirable Giants and Rangers fan bases. And at the end of it, I wrote, "And when it ends, I can't wait to check in with either Gary Mintz or Jamey Newberg to get a sense of what they're feeling."

Well, first of all, as a grammar nerd, I realize ti should've realized it's "how he's feeling." "Either/or" is a singular entity. But more to the point, I did check in with Gary Mintz, and then never bothered to post his thoughts here.

Keep in mind that Gary, a die-hard Giants fan, strongly disapproved when I named the Giants as my "NL Front Office of the Year" in my end-of-season awards. Here's what he wrote me just hours after the last out:

Ken!!! Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!! Unbelievable!! Bochy and Sabean best management in baseball!!! Sabean, as you put it, EXECUTIVE OF YEAR!!! Bochy had the series of his life. Loved your article this morning abour Renteria, unfortunately earned him a new deal from Sabean!!!

All jokes aside, I have wandered aimlessly since 1969 and now feel like a champion. Keep shaking my head, can't complain anymore!! Always said, the worst thing my dad ever did was make me a Giants fan, now it's the best. There are no words for this!!

Still smiling, WOW!! My sporting life is now complete!!!!!!!!!! This afflicition is no longer that!!!!!!!

On the other side, meanwhile, Jamey Newberg put his feelings into words quite eloquently here.

As we said - not a great World Series by any stretch, but great stories on both sides.

2) Back on Memorial Day weekend, I published my annual "turnaround teams" poll, when I ask industry officials to forecast the futures of clubs that - to that point - had gone from 2009 losers to 2010 winners or vice versa. It's an annual exercise I very much enjoy doing.

I of course should've addressed this upon the completion of the regular season, but I didn't. In any case, you can see - when you run the projections against the final standings - that the polled officials did pretty well. Most thought the Reds and Padres would go on to have winning records, and everyone thought the Mariners could not climb up from the hole into which they had fallen.

The biggest failure on the polled officials' part? The Blue Jays, easily. Only four of 12 folks thought Toronto would maintain its winning ways, and the Jays finished a healthy 85-77. On the other side, 11 of 13 people thought that the Angels would pull itself up over .500. The Angels finished 80-82, so those 11 weren't too far off. But they were off.

--Have a great day. This week, I'll check in during afternoons depending on what news we have.







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