Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune had an interesting idea in a recent column. He proposed the White Sox use their old spring training grounds in Tucson—they're moving to a new co-facility with the Dodgers in Glendale—to organize a spring training camp for out-of-work players. The thing is, since there are so many unsigned free agents still out there, he may have a point. In fact, with all of the talent still on the market, you could field a pretty decent team with the remaining bits and pieces left over.
But what matters in Fantasy World is not the question of whether or not a former major leaguer will be able to put food on his family's table this year. (Hint: He will.) But how their fantasy performances will be affected by where they end up. Let's take the top five free agents left and what we could expect from them:
Best Fit: For a player like Manny, it doesn't matter whether or not a team has room for him; any team can find him a place in their lineup. With that pesky issue out of the way, there's no better place for anyone to play than in the Yankees "best team on paper" lineup. Simply move Nick Swisher out of left field—or Hideki Matsui from DH—and slot in Manny's dangerous-when-not-lethargic bat. (And yes, I realize the Yankees can't sign Manny since they've already signed their quota of Type A or B free agents this offseason. But it's the Yankees we're talking about. They'll find a way to beat the system.)
Prediction: The Dodgers, since they're the only team really being mentioned in connection with Manny anymore. The only other destination would be a stint in Japan, if only for the hilarious reality series, Manzilla, that will no doubt ensue.
Projection: It's a little much to expect Manny to continue the outrageous tear he was on with the Dodgers last year—projected over a full season, Manny would have hit .396 with 50 HRs, 156 RBIs, 106 runs and a whooping six SBs. In any case, since he's no doubt already bored in L.A., expect numbers closer to his stats from the Boston portion of last year projected over a full year: 299, 30 HRs, 102 RBIs and 100 Rs. Still, nothing to scoff at.
Best Fit: While Dunn has claimed to be unwilling to play first base, he may be forced into that role since the contracts coming into his agent's office have been underwhelming. And you know who could use a hefty bat to replace some power left vacant by a departing first baseman? The Los Angeles Angels. With Teixeira quickly learning what kind of zoo "Yankees baseball" is, the Angels should feel satisfied sticking Dunn's guaranteed 40 HR power after Vlad and Torii Hunter.
Prediction: The same Angels. Even if Dunn sticks to his "no first base" rule—for a minute, let's say that Kendry Morales is The Answer—Mike Scioscia still can't feel happy being forced to take up two spots in his lineup card with the names Gary Matthews, Jr. and Juan Rivera.
Projection: With five years in a row hitting 40 home runs on the dot, let's go ahead and pencil him in for another 40, with that same horrendous batting average and googolplex of walks you've come to know and love from the Dunn family name.
Best Fit: There aren't many teams in the majors looking for a starting second baseman. And, what do you know? My very own Chicago White Sox are currently one without. Not having to compete for a starting job is only the first positive; Hudson would also be that legitimate leadoff threat the Sox have been looking for since Scott Podsednik was good. Hitting in front of a lineup featuring Carlos Quentin, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye would mean that O-Dog will finish a good amount of his base-path journeys by crossing home plate.
Prediction: Seeing as every word coming out of White Sox GM's Ken Williams mouth this offseason has been about the struggling economy, there's a good chance owner Jerry Reinsdorf isn't going to loosen the purse strings, not even for a one-year rental in Hudson. As such, the only other place I see him ending up is with the Cardinals, who just sent Adam Kennedy packing.
Projection: Hitting in front of the best hitter in the game is all well and good, but you have to take into account moving from one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league (Chase Park) to one that is moderately more pleasant to pitchers (Busch III). Expect a decline in his already declining production. Something like seven HRs, 40 RBIs, 50 Rs, five SBs. An average hovering around .290 seems about right.
Best Fit: The big knock on Abreu this offseason—the reason teams aren't lining up for his services—is his diminishing defensive skill set. So, let's say Abreu ends up being forced into a DH role. Where does he fit? Right now, the DH role in Seattle is being taken by Jeff Clement only because Kenji Johjima—he of the .227 batting average last year—is currently being forced into the catching role to justify why the team signed him to a three-year contract extension last year. The best move for the brain trust in Seattle would be considering Johjima a sunk cost and benching him, shifting Clement to duties behind the plate, and leaving the DH open for Abreu to step in.
Prediction: My own guess is that Abreu ends up further down the west coast, in the place of Rice-A-Roni and Zodiac killers: San Francisco. (Unless this goes down.) Adding any adequate bat to go along with their ridiculous pitching staff should give them a chance to claim themselves champions of the worst division in baseball.
Projection: Even in his age-35 season, there's no reason not to expect Abreu to approach 20 HRs, 100 RBIs and 20 SBs yet again.
Best Fit: While you can't question Nick Punto's "grit" and "determination," what you can question is a team that sees Punto's four home runs over the past three seasons and says to themselves, "I think we found our starting shortstop." It's time to move Punto into that all-important utilityman/cheerleader role. Hence Orlando Cabrera, who would give the team a nice, professional table-setter before getting into the fear-inducing Morneau-Mauer portion of their lineup. Also, it allows Cabrera access to some much-needed therapy in the form of reaping revenge on the rival White Sox. By all accounts, their split following last season was less than amicable.
Prediction: After embarrassingly missing out on the Rafael Furcal sweepstakes, the Braves will attempt to get rid of that awful taste in their mouths by going after Cabrera. Whether or not he's an upgrade over current shortstop Yunel Escobar remains to be seen. This particular column thinks not.
Projection: What you saw last year seems to be his current peak, meaning high single-digit home runs, somewhere around 20 stolen bases, and a batting average in the .280-.290 range. In other words, still a top-10 shortstop in mixed leagues.
Player on My Team of the Week: A-Rod, on my squad for the past two years in my illustrious AL-only league, for taking one for the team and getting himself into that steroid mess, only weeks before my first fantasy draft. Something tells me his auction price will take a big dip because other owners will refuse to bid on his services because of their "morals." Good thing I don't have any.
How to Heckle One of My Players of the Week: "Hey Alexi Casilla, at least you'll never be accused of taking steroids!"
The Great Zombie Movie Hope Award of the Week: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a parody of the classic Jane Austen novel by Seth Grahame-Smith that features Elizabeth Bennet and her gentlemen suitor Mr. Darcy fighting a zombie hoard, is close to being optioned even before the actual book hits stores. (Note: This marks two consecutive columns with positive zombie news. 2009 is going to be one for the undead ages!)
Buy High: The return of Bob Uecker's comedic stylings, after Shout! Factory announced they will release a five-disc set of the first two seasons of Mr. Belvedere on March 17th. (Here's a fun fact: Gary Portnoy, who co-wrote the show's theme song "According to Our New Arrivals," also wrote the classic "Where Everybody Knows Your Name.")
Sell Low: A contender to finally dethrone Clue as the greatest board game adaptation of all time, after it was revealed that CandyLand is coming to a multiplex near you. No word yet if there's truth to the rumors that they'll be going for a "Hard R" rating.