Free agency has begun, and here are 20 intriguing players to keep an eye on:
1. Josh Hamilton, OF — The best player available. You can talk about his past problems with addiction, and the fact that he gets hurt and that he has disappeared on the Rangers in the playoffs. But at the end of the day, his numbers are his numbers. You have to look at him seriously if you're the Yankees, Red Sox, Brewers, Blue Jays, Padres, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Marlins, White Sox, Tigers, or Orioles.
2. Zack Greinke, RHP — Like Hamilton, it's always, "Oh, he can only play in certain markets," because of his anxiety disorder. His former pitching coach, Bob McClure, said earlier this year that's bunk. Greinke does prefer the West Coast, so he might stay in Los Angeles with either the Angels or Dodgers. The Rangers will go hard after him. But a few unexpected teams will also kick the tires.
3. Nick Swisher, OF — The former Yankee will likely get a good look from teams in the East such as Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Toronto, and perhaps even Baltimore, even though his preference might be to go West, where Colorado could be a fit.
4. Michael Bourn, OF — The best center fielder on the market should get a lot of attention from the Braves (Scott Boras tells me not to rule them out), Nationals, Phillies, and perhaps even Red Sox if they part company with Jacoby Ellsbury.
5. B.J. Upton, OF — Well, are we wary of Tampa Bay outfielders in Boston after the Carl Crawford fiasco? There are many scouts who wouldn't recommend him if he were the last player standing. Yet, his skills are undeniable and he is still only 28. From those who believe he's heading into his prime and maturing, he'll get his share of endorsements. Nationals, Phillies, Braves, Red Sox, and Yankees could all be suitors.
6. Anibal Sanchez, RHP — The Tigers will try to re-sign the former Boston farmhand, and they have the funds to do it. The Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Dodgers, Cubs, Padres, Rockies, and Orioles could all be interested.
7. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP — Good value here. He would take a one-year deal, because at age 37, he wants flexibility to return to Japan after this season. The Yankees have the funds to re-sign him, but the Dodgers would love to have him back. If the Yankees don't tie him up quickly, he may be the most sought-after pitcher in terms of number of teams interested. The Red Sox have a shot because they have a good history with Japanese pitchers enjoying the city.
8. Edwin Jackson, RHP — Has always been an intriguing guy because he throws hard and pitches a lot. After a one-year deal with Washington last season, he is ready for a long-term commitment. Would you give him four years? That'll be the debate. One of the AL East teams might make the best fit. The Royals may be another team that bids.
9. Adam LaRoche, 1B — An outstanding all-around season by the classy first baseman should net him a big contract. He's a 30-homer, 100-RBI producer with a Gold Glove. The Red Sox, Orioles, and Mariners should have interest.
10. Kyle Lohse, RHP — A successful season in St. Louis will get him decent offers from select teams. Probably best suited to stay in the National League with a team like the Dodgers.
11. Rafael Soriano, RHP — He opted out of his Yankees deal. As his agent, Boras, says, there isn't a team that can win without a top notch-closer, so he's banking that Soriano will draw interest from teams needing just that. The Angels perhaps? The Tigers?
12. A.J. Pierzynski, C — Hard to picture him anywhere but Chicago, and he definitely wants to stay there. But if the White Sox aren't competitive with an offer, he will have options. Texas could be one. The Yankees could be another. Tampa Bay could use him, but it doesn't seem plausible that it would pony up the money.
13. Shane Victorino, OF — He'll get shut out of Los Angeles, but because he should be reasonably priced, he may get quite a bit of activity from the Nationals, Giants, Jays, Tigers, Yankees, and even the Mets.
14. Angel Pagan, OF — The Giants loved him at the top of their order, but not sure he's a big-money guy. It's hard to figure what Pagan is worth, so you have to kind of feel your way through this one. If the Braves lose Bourn, he could be a fit there.
15. Mike Napoli, C/1B — He has Boston written all over him, because of his Fenway swing and Boston's need for a first baseman/part-time catcher. Napoli could also fit the Orioles, Rays, and Blue Jays.
16. Ryan Dempster, RHP — The Dodgers tried to get him from the Cubs at the trading deadline, so they could be interested again. The Cubs are also interested. Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Minnesota could also be interested.
17. Francisco Liriano, LHP — Everyone loves his stuff, but the numbers are never that good. You're not going to spend a lot of money on this guy unless you have a pitching coach you know can fix him. And not even the great Don Cooper was completely successful once Liriano came over to the White Sox.
18. Jeremy Affeldt, LHP — The Giants want to retain him, but he will likely test the market and will have many suitors. The Yankees will surely be one of them, but a number of teams in both leagues would love to have him in their bullpen.
19. Ryan Ludwick, OF — If the Red Sox don't re-sign Ross, why not Ludwick as a righthanded bat? He hit .275 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs for the Reds. And as our Bill Chuck points out, he hit .432 when he pulled the ball, with 19 homers and 19 doubles; 73 of his 116 hits went to left field. That seems like a pretty good recipe for Fenway Park.
20. Torii Hunter, OF — A character player with something left at age 37, he is definitely going to be in demand. Hunter has to be realistic about contract length; it appears two years would be a decent deal for him. A number of teams, including the Red Sox and Rays, would have to have interest in a short-term fix like this.
Apropos of something
Baseball has certainly missed Andy MacPhail, who for 25 years was a general manager and president of the Twins, Cubs, and Orioles before resigning last season to help take care of his ailing father, Lee MacPhail, a longtime baseball man himself.
Andy MacPhail is ready to return to baseball in some capacity. He was often viewed as a future commissioner, after Bud Selig left, and it stands to reason that MacPhail could follow his father's footsteps and get involved in league matters.
"I had a couple of conversations last year at this time, but I knew it wasn't the right time," he said. "There were things here at home that took precedent and I'm very happy I made the decision I did and will never look back on that."
MacPhail took solace in the fact that his four years in Baltimore were not wasted, that an outstanding season there was the product of some of the players he brought in through the draft and trades, with new general manager Dan Duquette putting the final pieces in place.
Just as Duquette deserved some credit for the 2004 Red Sox team that Theo Epstein tweaked into a world champion, MacPhail deserves some for the 2012 Orioles, who made it to the Division Series. On the other hand, MacPhail recalls getting too much credit for the 1987 Twins, one of his two championship teams; core players such as Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Kent Hrbek, and Kirby Puckett were already in place when he took over.
"I was just very happy for the fans in this area to see baseball so important to them again and to see the stadium filled," said MacPhail. "I'm happy for a bunch of people there, including Buck [Showalter], who Peter [Angelos] and I brought in.
"I'm happy for Peter because nobody was more supportive of what we tried to do during those lean years than Peter. We stuck to a strategy and it paid off. We invested in the Dominican and it's paid off big dividends."
MacPhail praised Duquette for building an outstanding pitching staff.
"He did one of the hardest things there is to do, and that is to build a pitching staff that can compete at a high level," said MacPhail.
MacPhail wouldn't rule out working again as a team president or GM, but for the moment, he is not engaged in any talks of that kind. Most teams seem to have their hierarchy in place for the time being.
MacPhail said the offseasons are the times he misses most.
"This was always sort of the time when it was your turn at-bat, where you got to get your team in shape for the upcoming season," he said. "During the season, you react to events as they unfold in terms of injuries and roster, but the offseason was always the exciting time when you're a GM."
Apropos of nothing
1. The addition of Houston into the American League has created new opportunities for designated hitters. Michael Young might be on the move after a subpar season, so the Astros will need a DH. There has been talk about Lance Berkman returning — plausible, in that Berkman loves the organization, though the team will probably struggle next season. Tampa Bay, Texas, Baltimore, and Toronto all could be in the market for a DH, which means Delmon Young (who will not be re-signed by the Tigers with Victor Martinez returning), will have suitors. Berkman (who won't be re-signed by the Cardinals), Young, Luke Scott, Mark Reynolds, Kendrys Morales, and Aubrey Huff all could be in play, in free agency or via trade.
2. Funny how teams have different viewpoints on managers. The Blue Jays went the no-experience route with John Farrell, and after two fourth-place finishes they now want an experienced manager. Don Wakamatsu and Jim Riggleman seem to be on the radar.
3. The Jays lost two excellent people from their organization. Advance scout Kevin Cash, the former Sox backup catcher, has joined Terry Francona in Cleveland as bullpen coach, while Mike Redmond, who managed in their system, is the Marlins' new skipper.
4. Still thought Ozzie Guillen was fun to be around. Interesting to see where he will land.
5. The pitfalls of the year after winning a title — the Red Sox experienced them in '05 and '08 (and beyond). The Giants went through it in 2011. GM Brian Sabean hopes to avoid it in 2013, but who knows? Sabean will have personnel losses and will likely have to adapt on the fly, as he always does. He hit the jackpot in 2010 with Cody Ross and in 2012 with Marco Scutaro.
6. Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera coming up small in the World Series makes you wonder why you're paying out so much money if at the biggest time of the year they don't perform.
7. So the Dodgers took Mark McGwire from the Cardinals to be their hitting coach. Are they going to get everybody?
Updates on 9
1. Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers — The Dodgers denied a Buster Olney report that Ethier could be available in a deal. But here is where it makes sense: Josh Hamilton. The Dodgers are on a mission, and Hamilton would add more power and run production. He also would take some attention away from Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, which might be a good thing, especially for Gonzalez.
2. Alfredo Aceves, RHP, Red Sox — There was a lot of speculation that he was the guy the Red Sox were trying to include in a Dan Haren deal. The Red Sox love Aceves's arm and stuff, but don't like the high maintenance. They won't give him away for nothing, but he is very much available. Teams love his rubber arm and the fact he can fill different roles. Aceves still prefers to start.
3. James Shields, RHP, Rays — We suspect the Rays will field a lot of calls on him in the coming weeks. Whether they pull the trigger in order to obtain offense remains to be seen. With former Rays special adviser Gerry Hunsicker now in LA, the Dodgers may make a push to get Shields, but what could they give back? Ethier? It makes sense if they have their eye on Hamilton. But the Rays may not be able to carry Ethier's contract. They have already received inquiries on Shields from the Twins.
4. Melky Cabrera, OF, free agent — Baseball is expected to conclude its investigation of the whole Cabrera/Sam and Seth Levinson case soon. If there are more charges, teams will stay away from Cabrera, who served a 50-day suspension for testing positive for testosterone and also is being investigated for a false website that sold products to disguise steroids.
5. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox — He is taking a wait-and-see approach on the Levinson brothers, who are his agents. A few clients have already jumped ship, but Pedroia said, "They have been very good to me and my family."
6. John Valentin, hitting coach, Dodgers organization — A rising star among hitting coaches, the former Boston infielder feels Red Sox outfield/first base prospect Jerry Sands (acquired in The Deal) could be a very good hitter. "He's big and athletic and will hit for power," said Valentin. "He hits the breaking ball really well."
7. Vicente Padilla, RHP, free agent — The Red Sox would like to re-sign Padilla, who proved to be an effective set-up man this season, but he is on the radar of a few teams, including the Angels, who are desperately looking to retool their bullpen. Padilla ran out of gas late in the year. Bobby Valentine used him often and resurrected Padilla's career.
8. Gary DiSarcina, Angels executive — The former major league shortstop from Billerica will have an expanded role next season. DiSarcina was the minor league field coordinator but will assume duties as special assistant to general manager Jerry Dipoto, dealing with player development and more major league decision-making.
9. Vernon Wells, OF, Angels — He is being shopped to anyone and everyone, with the Angels willing to eat a lot of the $42 million he is owed. Wells, who will turn 34 in December, never panned out in LA. Worse, he has shown very little passion for baseball. The Red Sox are one team the Angels have tried to start talks with; the Angels would love to get John Lackey back, but the Sox are intrigued by what Lackey might look like after Tommy John surgery.
From the Bill Chuck files: "From 2006-08 with the Red Sox, Kevin Youkilis played 437 games, averaging 145.6 games per season. From 2009-12, Youk played 480 games, averaging 120 per season." Also, "What do Ricky Romero and Justin Masterson have in common? Other than the fact that John Farrell was the manager of the former and the pitching coach for the latter, both led the majors with 313 baserunners allowed in 2012." . . . Happy birthday, Carlos Baerga (44).