Time to check the shopping lists
Attention, free-agent mart shoppers. Your 2008-09 Free Agent Super Store will open bright and early Friday morning. So grab a cart and join us now as we zip through all 30 teams and their free-agent shopping agendas:
WHAT THEY NEED: Bullpen depth, right-handed-hitting outfielder, a starting pitcher if they can't re-sign Jamie Moyer. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Doug Brocail, anyone? HOW THEY'LL SHOP: The Phillies didn't buy their way to a World Series, and they won't try to spend their way to another one. Outgoing general manager Pat Gillick proved to the execs he left behind that it's the little moves that glue good teams together. So they're not in the market for any Mannys or CCs. Their winter is all about adding depth and options, not names for the marquee. You can expect them to focus on names like Brocail and Russ Springer for their bullpen mix, and Rocco Baldelli, Juan Rivera and an assortment of non-tendered free-agents-to-be-named-later for their outfield mix. WHAT THEY NEED: Starting pitching, closer, bullpen, left fielder. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Derek Lowe. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: It looks as if the Mets have only about $25 million to play with and lots of places they need to spend it. So this is a defining offseason for GM Omar Minaya. Does he do his customary star-shopping, for K-Rod, Lowe and maybe even Manny? Or does he spread his money around on lesser names and plug more holes? K-Rod isn't impossible if he decides he'll take three years instead of five. But Brian Fuentes seems more likely. And as much as the Mets need bullpen reinforcements, teams that have talked to them say their first order of business is a starter to slot behind Johan Santana. Early rumblings are that their top two names are Lowe and Oliver Perez (if that relentless Scott Boras ever stops chasing a four- or five-year deal). WHAT THEY NEED: Bullpen arms, defensive upgrades. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Arthur Rhodes. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: This just in: The Marlins' payroll is doubling. OK, relax. They're doubling only $21.8 million. And arbitration raises will chew up most of that windfall. So while the Marlins won't remind you of the Yankees, that doesn't mean they won't do ANY shopping. If they can't re-sign Rhodes, they'll chase the Darren Olivers of the free-agent pool. They'll also hunt for low-budget outfield bats. And one name we keep hearing is Orlando Hudson, who would inspire them to shift Dan Uggla to third. WHAT THEY NEED: Two starting pitchers, left fielder, center fielder, left-handed reliever and, if they trade Yunel Escobar, a shortstop. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: A.J. Burnett. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: It's a pivotal winter for the Braves, and they're acting like it. They're the favorites to land Jake Peavy. And even if they do, they'll still be stalking the likes of Burnett, Lowe, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wolf. They'll also undoubtedly give John Smoltz and Tom Glavine a shot to get healthy and rewrite their final chapters. And this team needs to add outfield bats, but probably not through free agency. So when's the last time the Braves had a shopping list this big -- 1989? WHAT THEY NEED: Bats, starting pitching, a first baseman. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Mark Teixeira. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: GM Jim Bowden dreams big. So the Washingtonians will no doubt make a run at both Teixeira and Adam Dunn. And after a season in which this lineup was outscored by every team in its division by over 100 runs, that's a fine idea. But wheeling and dealing is more Bowden's style, and writing humongous checks has never been team president Stan Kasten's style. So expect most of their holes to be addressed in the trade market, not the free-agent market.
NL CENTRALWHAT THEY NEED: A left-handed-hitting outfielder, Dempster or somebody to replace him, Kerry Wood or a new closer and a new, improved leadoff hitter who could bump Alfonso Soriano deeper in the lineup. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Raul Ibanez. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: Get back to us in two weeks, and this picture should be slightly clearer. The Cubs' agenda depends on whether Dempster returns. And depends on whether they deal for Jake Peavy. And depends on whether they can reel in Wood. But no matter how their pitching questions are answered, they'll be back in the market for a left-handed outfield bat -- although not one looking to make $15 million a year. Astute Cubs observers will remember they chased Ibanez at the trade deadline. Stay tuned for the free-agent sequel. WHAT THEY NEED: A heroic return by CC Sabathia, a closer to replace the abruptly retired Salomon Torres. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: CC. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: Well, that depends. If Sabathia really, really, really wants to return, the Brewers can find $100 million-plus to fork over to him. But realistically, he's going to take bigger bucks from the Yankees or Dodgers or Angels. And at that point, that $100 million disappears from the Brewers' shopping budget. Whereupon Plan B kicks in, and they'll be looking to trade a starting infielder (Rickie Weeks? J.J. Hardy? Even Prince Fielder?) -- or possibly Mike Cameron -- for pitching reinforcements. WHAT THEY NEED: Starting pitching. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Randy Wolf. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: The Astros are actually trying to move money (Jose Valverde? Miguel Tejada?), so you won't find this team making any $100-million signings this winter. They'd love to bring Wolf back after a two-month late-season rental that both sides seemed to enjoy. If not, expect to hear Mike Hampton's name. WHAT THEY NEED: Closer, left-handed reliever, shortstop, second baseman, starting pitcher, middle-of-the-order bat. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Brian Fuentes. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: This is a team with more needs than dollars. So, given their hold-the-payroll mandate, they'll probably do more swimming in the trade waters than the more treacherous free-agent seas. But Fuentes would be a perfect fit. And they'll be dialing the numbers of many a second-tier pitcher, from Randy Wolf to Joe Beimel. There are also rumblings about the possible return of Edgar Renteria. WHAT THEY NEED: Set-up men, veteran starting pitcher, experienced catcher, right-handed-hitting left fielder, shortstop. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Mark Mulder. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: The Reds have lots of fishing poles in the water. They're just in the trade waters, not the free-agent waters. They'll bottom-feed once the market settles and they know where their trading adventures have left them. But Mulder's history with GM Walt Jocketty makes him an intriguing low-cost, high-upside name to watch. WHAT THEY NEED: Veteran starting pitcher. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Paul Byrd. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: If you paid attention last July, you might have noticed this is a team expunging veterans, not collecting them. So free agency isn't the Pirates' kind of shopping scene. But they are looking for an established starting pitcher who can provide some semblance of leadership and mentorship to the young group. And GM Neal Huntington knows Byrd well from their time in Cleveland. So he's one potential fit.
NL WESTWHAT THEY NEED: Manny or an impact outfield bat, Sabathia or a top-of-the-rotation starter to replace Lowe, Casey Blake or a new third baseman, Rafael Furcal or a new leadoff man and a shortstop or second baseman or both. Is that all? FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Manny or CC, but not both. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: Should be a fun winter. The Dodgers have shed 12 free agents and nearly $60 million in payroll. So they have dollars to spend, but big holes to fill. They'll chase Manny, but they won't let Scott Boras spin them through his Cuisinart indefinitely. And if they give up on Manny, they'll be a major player in the Sabathia lottery. This is a team with so many rings in its circus, it's impossible to list them all. So suffice it to say we'll be talking Dodgers all winter. WHAT THEY NEED: A low-budget second baseman, bullpen inventory. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Eh, would you believe Ramon Vazquez? HOW THEY'LL SHOP: How much do those Diamondbacks hate the annual free-agent madness? They were the only club in baseball that didn't sign one free agent to a major league contract last winter. And you can expect a reasonable facsimile this year. They do need a second baseman to replace the free-agency-bound Orlando Hudson. Which is where Vazquez or someone like Adam Kennedy might fit in. They could re-sign Brandon Lyon and/or Tony Clark. And there's an outside shot at keeping Randy Johnson around. But the D-backs will leave the rest of the auction to the Yankees, Dodgers and the other usual suspects. WHAT THEY NEED: Middle-of-the-order bats to replace Matt Holliday (and Garrett Atkins if they deal him, too), starting pitching, a set-up man. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Jeremy Affeldt. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: Holliday is gone. Atkins and Willy Taveras ought to be the next ones out the door. And the just-acquired Huston Street is already on the market. So the rest of the Rockies' offseason shopping list will depend on what's left to do after the trading rubble has settled to earth. But they'll need bullpen arms regardless. And they've actively explored bringing Affeldt back to a place where he had success in 2007. WHAT THEY NEED: Shortstop, set-up men, somebody who could hit a home run once a week. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Rafael Furcal. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: Our buddy Buster Olney has argued eloquently for why the Giants should pursue CC Sabathia. But there's no evidence they'll be doing that. Instead, they'll build around their young rotation, attempt to trade for a legit run-producing bopper and spend their free-agent dollars on a shortstop and set-up arms. Their interest in Furcal looks legit. Remains to be seen whether he'd like to leave his heart in San Francisco. WHAT THEY NEED: You name it. Outside of first base, they need it. But we can summarize their wish list as "good players who will work cheap." FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Pick the low-budget free agent of your choice. Mark Prior? Jason Jennings? Emiliano Fruto? HOW THEY'LL SHOP: A lot depends on the final haul from the Jake Peavy sweepstakes. But with their new shrink-wrapped payroll, the Padres will be mostly chasing pitchers who have always wanted to pitch in the most pitcher-friendly ballpark on earth, live in Del Mar and not care how many digits are on their paycheck. There must be a few people left like that, right?
AL EASTWHAT THEY NEED: Right-handed-hitting right fielder, DH, bullpen depth. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Rocco Baldelli. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: They may have beaten the Yankees and Red Sox in the standings. But the Rays will never beat them in the offseason spend-a-thon. So they'll probably trade for that outfield bat, try to re-sign Baldelli and bargain-hunt in January. But the payroll already seems ready to rocket from $43 million to close to $60M. So it's tough to see this team doing any serious free-agent spending -- not until they start drawing more than 22,000 people a game, anyway. WHAT THEY NEED: A catcher to (theoretically) replace Jason Varitek, a middle-of-the-order bat, a starting pitcher, a veteran reliever. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Mark Teixeira. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: No team multitasks better than the Red Sox. So they could go in a thousand different directions. Teixeira? A.J. Burnett? Derek Lowe? Junichi Tazawa? Sure. They're all possible. But so is none of the above. They could bring back Varitek, or trade for one of those Texas catchers, or both. Or neither. But they'll start this game by trying to get their catching dilemma sorted out and then go from there. Or not. WHAT THEY NEED: Three starting pitchers, a run-producing bat, possibly a catcher if Jorge Posada has any setbacks and, of course, to end their long, painful eight-year drought without winning one darned World Series. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: CC. (What? You were expecting maybe Jeff Weaver?) HOW THEY'LL SHOP: Hey, they're the Yankees. They've just lopped nearly $90 million off the payroll. They have a new gazillion-dollar money-machine ballpark opening. And you might have noticed they didn't make the playoffs this season. So if it can be bought, they'll buy it. They'll be all over CC, Burnett, Lowe and Teixeira. And once they get all that sorted out, they'll be all over the next wave of free-agent starters if they're not shopped out. They could even chase Manny Ramirez and Orlando Hudson if they really get lathered up. So in other words, they'll be a New York Post back page waiting to happen every 15 minutes this winter. WHAT THEY NEED: A.J. Burnett or someone like him (minus the nipple rings), plus another bat. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Brad Penny. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: All depends if Burnett returns. But assuming he doesn't, the Blue Jays will have his money to spend, plus another $10 million or so, unless they can dump a contract or two. They think they have a shot at signing Penny, another fan of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg from their days in Florida. And those Jason Giambi rumors don't quit, either. WHAT THEY NEED: A big-bopper first baseman, a shortstop and pretty much an entire starting rotation beyond Jeremy Guthrie. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Mark Teixeira. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: You have to go back five years (to Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez, in December 2003) to find the last time the Orioles signed a free agent who was considered a true star attraction at the time. But if they don't sign another one this winter, it won't be because they didn't throw many, many dollar bills in the right directions. They have the unique enticement of two big-time free agents (Teixeira and A.J. Burnett) with Baltimore ties. So they'll be in the thick of the bidding for both of them. How powerful is the allure of crab cakes (and dollars)? We're about to find out.
AL CENTRALWHAT THEY NEED: Second baseman, third baseman, center fielder, pitching depth. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Cuban third-base phenom Dayan Viciedo. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: The White Sox will be active. They just don't figure to be real active in free agency. But they'll make an exception in the case of Viciedo, a 19-year-old stud who once played with Alexei Ramirez in Cuba. Ozzie Guillen has never seemed like a major fan of Joe Crede's prospective replacement, Josh Fields. So Viciedo could turn into the third baseman of the future here if the White Sox can get him signed. WHAT THEY NEED: A right-handed bat at third base or shortstop and assorted set-up arms. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Casey Blake. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: The Twins' forays into free agency last winter (Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, Livan Hernandez) didn't turn out so hot. So they'll be even more cautious this winter. But they could have one significant signing in them if the right guy at the right price comes along. And Blake could be that guy. He's already been a Twin twice. He lives in Iowa. There are indications he would like to get back to the Midwest. And he's a fit for this team, on the field and off. But in a free-agent market with almost no attractive third basemen besides Blake and Crede, Blake's price (and years) could inflate beyond Twins-type levels. WHAT THEY NEED: Closer, third baseman, No. 3-type starter. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Trevor Hoffman. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: GM Mark Shapiro once said the best approach to the free-agent market is "to avoid it." So the Indians will be their usual careful selves. But they'd like to bring back Blake. And if they don't, the versatility of their infield would allow them to pursue a middle infielder who fits, then move a current starter to third base. Meanwhile, they'll be all over every conceivable late-inning bullpen option, except possibly the triumphant return of Jose Mesa. WHAT THEY NEED: Veteran middle infielder, outfield power, starting pitcher, bullpen inventory. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Rafael Furcal (well, he would top it if money were no object, except it is). HOW THEY'LL SHOP: When Dayton Moore was lured to Kansas City to be the GM 2½ years ago, he was promised he'd have money to spend. Sure enough, he was given enough cash to overpay for Gil Meche two winters ago and then for Jose Guillen last winter. But this year, all of a sudden, the Glass family has sealed up the cash flow in an attempt to keep the payroll as close to $60 million as possible. The result: We haven't heard a single free agent connected to this team, unless you count free agents they can't afford. Which would be, um, pretty much all of them. WHAT THEY NEED: Catcher, shortstop, closer, set-up men, pitchers of all sizes and shapes. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: They might not even start shopping until January. But think Brandon Lyon or someone like him. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: They're not in the mood to bump the payroll north of where it was last year ($138 million). So this is a team in no hurry to plow into free agency. Teams that have talked to the Tigers say they're willing to discuss dealing just about anybody on the roster besides Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson. So they'll try to clear some dollars and address needs on the trade market first. Then, when the January free-agent clearance sales kick in after New Year's, they'll see who's left and who's willing to take a one-year deal to pitch, catch or play short. So think names like Lyon, Bob Howry, Henry Blanco, Adam Everett, etc.
AL WESTWHAT THEY NEED: Mark Teixeira, a back-of-the-bullpen arm (but not necessarily a closer), one more starter. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Teixeira -- but CC Sabathia isn't far behind. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: This team wants Teixeira back. But do the Angels want him back desperately enough to go 10 years, $200 million? Doubtful. Do they want him back desperately enough to let Scott Boras turn them into marionettes all winter? Doubtful. So as soon as the Angels get tired of Boras' shenanigans, they'll shift their attention immediately to Sabathia and figure out first base later. Meanwhile, they're prepared to move on to life after K-Rod. But if the years and price tag shrink dramatically, it's always conceivable that could change, too. So this will be an action-packed free-agent winter for this team. "If the Angels were at the craps table in Vegas," says one scout, "they'd be the high rollers." WHAT THEY NEED: Starting pitching. And also starting pitching. In addition to starting pitching. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Ben Sheets. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: As a team that has opened its very own Catchers "R" Us outlet, the Rangers won't have to dip into free agency to fill all their pitching needs. They have plenty (of catchers) to trade for at least some of it. But there isn't any source for arms they won't investigate. And Sheets, a real-live Dallas native, seems like way too perfect a fit -- other than the fact he has made five visits to the disabled list and missed 40 starts over the past four years. If he'll take a short-term deal, the Rangers figure to charge hard in his direction. WHAT THEY NEED: Offense, ideally at first base and/or shortstop, FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Jason Giambi. HOW THEY'LL SHOP: We're not used to a world in which the A's take on some OTHER team's salary dump. But that's the world Billy Beane is living in this winter, thanks to all those payroll-purging deals of his own over the past year. So Matt Holliday has already arrived. And Beane isn't through. (Is he ever?) He's expected to make a run at Rafael Furcal (and trade Bobby Crosby). And if Giambi is still floating around the bargain bin in January, that's a reunion waiting to happen. WHAT THEY NEED: Two outfielders (assuming Raul Ibanez exits), a first baseman, DH. FREE AGENT WHO COULD TOP THEIR LIST: Kenneth Griffey Jr. perhaps? HOW THEY'LL SHOP: As a team operating in a reconstruction zone, the Mariners will drive slowly and obey all posted speed limits. It appears they'll first dangle several of their veteran names (J.J. Putz, Jarrod Washburn, Adrian Beltre) to see what's out there on the trade front. Then they'll piece together their other needs via January free-agent deal-hunting. Names bouncing around their rumor circuit include Joe Crede (if they trade Beltre), Jason Giambi and Spokane's own Jeremy Affeldt. And finally, there's Griffey, who almost seems destined to finish his glorious career where it all began, no matter how little logical baseball sense that makes.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.