Free agent season will officially begin in a few weeks when teams can start looking outside of their own organizations. Lou Piniella is sweating to get Aramis Ramirez to sign that dotted line, I'm sure (and just sweating in general, the man isn't exactly thin.) That said, here is a look at some of the free agents of any worth this off season, and what their market value is based on nothing more than my own, semi-informed opinion.
All of this is based on the ESPN free agent tracker, which at this point indicates that none of those who have filed for free agency have been retained by their current teams.
Also for this post, when I want to put a players picture by their brief, I am going to pick the first or second thing that comes up on Google when I type their name without quotes. Let's start with Ronnie Belliard as an example, and see how this works out...
Ronnie Belliard - So the guy is 31, but he looks and acts like he's still a rookie. However, there are a lot of younger second basemen out there who are decent, so he'll probably be with the Cards next season. He still plays pretty o-k defense. Watching the Cardinals I'm constantly amazed that his pudgy self can move as fast as he does. He'll be a good buy for a mid-market team looking to upgrade their fielding slightly but aren't really willing to invest in a superstar.
Barry Bonds - Hopefully he stays on the West Coast, far far away from any AL team I may have to see play more than once. That said, I like the guy insofar as his talent is concerned, and I think he would be a good fit for an AL team looking for an aging slugger to DH (not like, say, Albert Belle.) However, I think he'll take a one-year with SF to finish out his career. Here's hoping.
Alex Gonzalez - The Red Sox need this guy. He's the most steady fielder they've got, and he wasn't too bad offensively. Should have won the Gold Glove this season at short. He'll probably make a move somewhere else unless the Sox can get him some money. Hopefully out of the AL East if so. I hear Gonzo is pretty sick on drums, too.
Gabe Kapler - Bye bye, Boston. Hello NL.
Mark Loretta - As goes Gonzo, so goes Loretta. The Sox should definitely keep this duo alive. If they plan on doing something about their pitching (which they should), they'll need some solid defense on the middle infield behind some young pitchers.
The Cardinals Rotation - I wouldn't sign any one of these guys before taking a long, hard look at what's available in trade. Suppan, Mulder, Weaver and Marquis are all available, and despite the recency of their postseason triumphs, they're not someone I would want on a team I root for (Hi Matt Clement). Maybe a healthy Mulder. Weaver, who seems to thrive on that adversity and tension, could do well playing in a big market where the fans are more aggressively critical than in St. Louis. I'm thinking New York, perhaps... (SIKE!)
Trot Nixon - I'll miss ya, man. Good luck with the Padres. (Boston lite)
Juan Pierre - Lou Piniella would go on a diet if it meant the Cubbies would definitely sign Pierre. He's a light hitter, but ranked 2nd in the NL in steals with 58, started all 162 games in Center, and had 0 errors. I'd say he's worth the money. If he goes back that SWEET moustache I'd be eternally happy. Also, I'm still bummed that Tony Almaeda won't be back for Season 6 of 24. I'll miss his Cubs mug.
Jason Schmidt - He has a huge head. Also, he's kind of overrated, I think. He's finally coming down off of his stellar '03/'04 campaign, but I he's in for a decent ERA next season if he stays in the NL. His ERA has been climbing, but I think at 33 he still has a few good seasons in him. I certainly think he's better than the 3.59 he pitched last year, and the years following 2001 back me up on this (just not 2005). He's comparative to Jack McDowell (who retired at 33) and Kevin Milwood (who just finished off a not-so impressive season.)
Alfonso Soriano - Yeah, he's good, and he's the best player in the Free Agent class this year. Not much to say about him really. He'll be decent wherever he is. I liked him in the outfield this season though, I think it really helps that he's not getting in the middle of double play combinations at second, either, since there's less likelihood of injury that way. You can't afford to have him out of the lineup.
Craig Wilson - Reminds me of the fat kid blonde with the mayonaise stained hawaiian shirt who just wants to tag along. I bet he's still under private contract to clean Torre's gutters or something for putting him on the postseason roster. Doesn't help that he's fat. And blonde. He's not a bad player, he's just slovenly.
Preston Wilson - No thanks. How the hell he did better than the Tigers in the WS I will never know.
Randy Wolf - The Phillies need to sign him if they want to improve themselves for next year. If they don't, they're basically saying 'we know we almost made it, and we could make it with this squad, so let's get rid of a pitcher and see if we can come alllllmost close enough for a third consecutive year.' He's a good pitcher who didn't do so well in '06 because he was coming off of the DL. He should be strong next season, and will make a solid front three with Brett Myers and Cole Hamels. Hopefully other would-be suitors get scared off from his DL stint and lowball him, and he re-signs with the fightin' Phils.
Barry Zito - I am obsessed with his curveball as are most baseball fans. Not just the trajectory of the pitch, but how he throws it. Watch it sometime up close, it's sick. I think Zito (which in German means 'The Toe') is due for another 20-win season if he can get himself into a pitchers park, or the NL (not Colorado). He'll go for big money, probably the second highest paid player in the class. I know it's not really a pitchers park, but I would LOVE to see him in a Red Sox uni. I balk at how he would handle all the variables though, like the fans and the weather. The A's folded like a wet newspaper against Detroit, and he didn't help his cause, with 5 earned runs in 3.2 innings. We'll see. If he goes to the NL his stats wins will balloon (this is called the Arroyo Effect).
So that's about all I have to say about the Free Agent class this year. There are still a few more days for players to file, but anyone really notable has already filed. This years class is really, really weak, but I don't mind.
I like the idea of having a strong farm system brought about by good scouting and recruiting, and improving your team through shrewd trades. More players are signing deals during the year for contract extensions or new contracts, and for longer, meaning that less good players are ever even reaching the free agent market. A lot of people don't like this, but I think it will allow a more old-school type of ball to return, in that teams reward player loyalty, and vice versa.
As a fan, I hate seeing my favorite players get traded or lost simply because of money. That's why I like the fact that this free agent class is weak. Although, that does put more of an emphasis on lesser known but still stellar players like Alex Gonzalez and Mark Loretta who can now hamstring the Sox if they want to. Oh well.