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Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder top list of baseball free agents

Pujols, whom many expect to re-sign with St. Louis, and fellow first baseman Fielder are the biggest names in a fairly shallow talent pool that also features starting pitcher C.J. Wilson.

December 04, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Slugging first basemen Albert Pujols, left, and Prince Fielder will set a new standard for free-agent signings this offseason.
Slugging first basemen Albert Pujols, left, and Prince Fielder will set… (Photos by David J. Phillip…)

Free agents should carry the same disclaimer as investment funds: Past performance does not guarantee future results.

The Boston Red Sox spent $142 million on outfielder Carl Crawford last winter, and the Washington Nationals spent $126 million on outfielder Jayson Werth. The two combined for 31 home runs, the same number outfielder Lance Berkman hit all by himself, for the St. Louis Cardinals, for $8 million.

Berkman ranked among the top 10 in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in the major leagues. Neither Crawford nor Werth cracked the top 100.

Baseball's winter meetings start Monday in Dallas, and the dollars will be flowing freely.

They already are, in fact, with shortstop Jose Reyes getting $106 million from the Miami Marlins on Sunday.

Aramis Ramirez is the best available third baseman and has hit at least 25 home runs in eight of the last nine seasons. The Angels, one of his suitors, have not had a third baseman hit that many homers since Troy Glaus did it in 2002, the year they won the World Series.

Here's a look at several of the more prominent free agents, and an intriguing name yet to join the market:

ALBERT PUJOLS, first base

Age on opening day: 32

2011 statistics (Cardinals): .299, 37 HR, .906 OPS

It's hard to spark a bidding war when no one believes Pujols plans on leaving the St. Louis Cardinals. It's also hard when no team has signaled an intention to top the $200 million the Cardinals already have offered. It's harder still when the usual big-money suspects — the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies — all are set at first base. The Chicago Cubs and the Marlins have checked in, and the Texas Rangers are a dark horse, but Pujols might have to disavow the Cardinals to stir much action. This looks like a repeat of the Alex Rodriguez non-bidding war of 2007.

PRINCE FIELDER, first base

Age on opening day: 27

2011 statistics (Brewers): .299, 38 HR, .981 OPS

That Fielder would leave Milwaukee was a given at the end of the season. Now, if Fielder would take $20 million a year for five or six years — so he could try free agency again at 32 or 33 — the Brewers just might keep him. The Cubs have checked in here too, as have the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals. Rivals expect the Rangers, whose first baseman batted ninth last season, to try for Fielder if they cannot retain pitcher C.J. Wilson. It's a longshot, but how about agent Scott Boras taking the Brewers' one-year arbitration offer and pitching Fielder to the Dodgers' new owner next winter?

C.J. WILSON, pitcher

Age on opening day: 32

2011 statistics (Rangers): 16-7, 2.94 ERA

Wilson grew up in Orange County, and the Angels would love to bring him home, but they're not the only team wondering whether his status as the best available starter in free agency means they would be paying ace dollars for a guy who might not be an ace. On the Angels, he'd be No. 3, behind Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, so would the Angels top the five-year, $85-million deal Weaver signed last summer? The Marlins, Nationals and Rangers all are interested, but the New York Yankees apparently are not — at least not for $100 million — despite their need for pitching and ability to outbid all comers.

RYAN MADSON and FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ, relief pitchers

Age on opening day: 31 for Madson, 30 for Rodriguez

Madson's 2011 statistics (Phillies): 2.37 ERA, 32 for 34 in saves

Rodriguez's 2011 statistics (Mets/Brewers): 2.64 ERA, 23 for 29 in saves

Madson thought he had a $44-million deal to return to Philadelphia. The Phillies denied it, then signed Jonathan Papelbon for $50 million. With Papelbon off the market, and with Heath Bell signing with the Marlins, Madson and Rodriguez might be the two best closers left. However, each might make more money on a one-year contract by accepting arbitration and returning to his team as a setup man. The Angels, Red Sox, Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays are among the many teams looking for bullpen help, but supply and demand — for relievers in general and closers in particular — is working in favor of the teams.

YU DARVISH, pitcher

Age on opening day: 25

2011 statistics (Nippon Ham Fighters): 18-6, 1.44 ERA

This is the guy who could prompt an all-out bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox. Darvish is younger than Dodgers rookie closer Javy Guerra, but he is the top pitcher in Japan, with almost eight strikeouts for every walk and a sub-2.00 ERA for five years running. He is the son of a Japanese mother and an Iranian father who met at a Florida college. In addition to the Yankees and Red Sox, his suitors could include the Angels, Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Nationals, Rangers and Kansas City Royals. Darvish has not committed to come to the major leagues. He is expected to do so soon, but the longer he waits, the more teams might already have exhausted their winter budget. That could be a shrewd strategy on Darvish's part, because the perennial contenders with the biggest bucks might be the only bidders late in the off-season.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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