The MLB regular season is well in the books and the post season will be coming to a close soon, so all teams will be evaluating their plans for the future. This off-season’s list of free agents is packed with big names, from multiple MVP winners to talented pitching options. Here is a quick list of five players who will demand a ton of attention (and money) once free agency kicks off:
Albert Pujols, 1B – After a slow start to 2011 the 31-year-old Pujols picked it up as the season progressed, finishing up batting .299 with 37 home runs and 99 runs batted in. Although those numbers are impressive for most mortals, 2011 was the first season where Pujols batted under .300 and drove in fewer than 100 runs. Pujols was rumored to be seeking $30 mil from St. Louis before the season started, but given his slight decline and injury risk around $22-25 mil may be more reasonable for the three-time MVP. Expect Boston to make a big run at Pujols with David Ortiz on the way out.
Prince Fielder, 1B – Fielder may be the true prize of free agency. He’s only 27, has mashed 30+ home runs in five consecutive seasons and is developing into more than just a power hitter (he tied his career high in batting average with .299 and cut down his strikeouts from 138 the previous two season to 106 in 2011). Prince is also extremely durable for a player his size, having only missed 13 games over the past six seasons. Even if the Brewers win the World Series, there’s no way Milwaukee can afford to keep him so half the league will be lining up to court Fielder, including St. Louis (if Pujols moves on) the Dodgers, Cubs and the Angels.
Jose Reyes, SS – Reyes is still one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the majors when he’s healthy, which he hasn’t been since 2008. Despite missing 36 games in 2011 Reyes still managed to lead the NL in triples and hitting (.337) and finished among the leaders in hits, stolen bases and runs scored while reaching career highs in on-base percentage (.384) and slugging (.493) so someone is sure to offer Reyes a big money long term deal to jump start their offense. Philly, St. Louis and Boston will all be targeting Reyes.
Grady Sizemore, OF – Sizemore has struggled with injuries each of the last three seasons (he has missed 276 of a possible 486 games from 2009-2011), but at only 29 Sizemore still has a chance to regain his 20-20 and gold glove caliber potential. Given his health issues he can be had for cheap. Low risk, high reward for a team in need of a solid fourth outfielder.
C. J. Wilson, SP – Wilson has posted an impressive record of 31-15 since being converted to a starter in 2010 and only appears to be getting better. The 30-year old left hander has a lot of miles left on his arm and if C.C. Sabathia doesn’t opt out of his deal, will be the premier free agent starter on the market. I can see Philly making a serious run at Wilson to replace aging Roy Oswalt, as would the Angels and Boston. Expect Wilson’s pricetag to be in the $15-18 mil range.