We're wrapping up the countdown of this winter's top 100 free agents. I'm ranking players based more on how I imagine teams perceive them than how I'd rate them myself. Also, I'm including only including players currently on major league deals. That means no Ben Sheets, who probably would have been in the 11-20 range, and no potential Japanese free agents.
Each player's age, as of April 1, 2010, is listed in parenthesis.
10. Vladimir Guerrero (35) - The revelation this spring that Guerrero was a year older than his listed age probably won't hurt him very much. I assumed that it was probably a two- or three-year difference, and I'm guessing a lot of GMs thought the same thing. What could really hurt is the torn pectoral muscle that's sidelined him since mid-April. He may not show his usual power after returning, and if that happens, it's quite possible that he'll have to take a one-year deal as a free agent and attempt to rebuild his value. Guerrero is obviously on the decline, but he's not nearly finished as a quality major league hitter. After a mediocre start last year, he hit .330/.391/.580 in the second half.
9. Rick Ankiel (30) - Sure to be an interesting case, Ankiel has 35-homer power and room yet to improve. He hit .270/.334/.515 with 36 homers in 585 at-bats between 2007 and 2008 before getting off to a rough start and landing on the DL this year. He'd make more sense in right than in center going forward and it'd be really nice if showed more durability, but he's probably worthy of a four-year deal anyway. The best is yet to come.
8. Tim Hudson* (33) - We still haven't heard the final word on this one. The Braves believe Hudson's $12 million option with a $1 million buyout is completely controlled by the option, while Hudson's agent has called it a mutual option. Assuming that Hudson makes it back from Tommy John surgery in August or September as hoped, the Braves intend to exercise the option. If it turns out that Hudson becomes a free agent anyway, he could be as hotly pursued as anyone on the market.
7. Jose Valverde (32) - The top closer on the market, Valverde saved 47 and 44 games the last two years. He dealt with arms woes early on in his career, but he hasn't had any problems since 2005. The injury last month that led to his first DL stint since 2004 was to his calf. The Astros probably won't be able to come up with the cash to sign Valverde beyond 2009, so they could trade him in July if they're out of contention.
6. Adrian Beltre (30) - Beltre turned in one of the most famous contract years in history in 2004, hitting .334 with 48 homers and 121 RBI in his final year with the Dodgers. His second-best totals in those categories are .290 (2000), 26 HR (2007) and 99 RBI (2007). Apparently it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime season, because with his five-year, $65 million pact with the Mariners ready to expire, he's been a bust through the first fifth of 2009. Still struggling after shoulder and thumb surgeries, he's currently hitting .227/.257/.318. Of course, he'll do just fine this winter if he puts together one of his usual second halves. Beltre finished with OPSs right around 800 each of the previous three years. Taking into account his Gold Glove-caliber defense and the fact that Safeco Field has held him back, he remains a very good regular. He'd be a bargain if he could be had at $36 million for three years.
5. Manny Ramirez* (37) - That certainly changes everything. Ramirez figured to decline his $20 million player option for 2010, but depending on both his performance and the kind of reception he receives after returning from a 50-game suspension, he may be best off exercising it. Ramirez was going to rank second on his list prior to last week's news.
4. John Lackey (31) - At the start of the year, I would have gone with a top three of Matt Holliday, Lackey and Ramirez, with no starting pitcher besides Lackey in the top 10. Lackey, though, has started 2009 off the exact same way he did 2008: on the disabled list. In fact, last year, he debuted on May 14. This year, his season debut will come on May 16. Right elbow inflammation has been the cause of his absence, though there may be more going on in the elbow than the Angels are willing to admit. Expectations were that the Angels would have him signed to a long-term extension by now. However, they have very good reason to wait and see what happens. After five straight seasons with 32 or 33 starts, he'll be held under 25 for a second straight year in 2009.
3. Jason Bay (31) - In five short weeks this year, Bay may have gone from looking at a four-year, $50 million deal to something like $70 million for five years as a free agent this winter. The Red Sox and he were deep into negotiations this spring before talks were halted. The Red Sox wanted to extend him, but the economy was making it especially difficult for the two sides to find middle ground. Bay now has to be glad he waited, and the Red Sox must be wondering if it's going to be worth re-signing him if his price tag will rival Holliday's. Bay would probably rank first or second in the AL MVP balloting it if were done today. He's batting .312/.455/.643 with nine homers and 35 RBI.
2. Erik Bedard (31) - While Bedard doesn't look quite as dominant to date this year as he did for the bulk of 2007, he still has plenty of time to get there. Besides, he has a 2.53 ERA and a 43/11 K/BB ratio in 42 2/3 innings anyway. It's an amazing turnaround for a guy most believed would be non-tendered by the Mariners after he underwent shoulder surgery. It is worth remembering, though, that Bedard has never thrown 200 innings in a season. He's made 30 starts just once, and there have been a couple of times that he's just flat-out stunk for a month at a time for no good reason at all. Also, he doesn't have a great reputation in the clubhouse, though that's at least partly because he doesn't like dealing with the media. Fortunately for him, many of these same kinds of issues didn't prevent A.J. Burnett from landing an $82.5 million contract.
1. Matt Holliday (30) - Five bad weeks while adjusting to a whole new set of pitchers hasn't damaged Holliday's stock a whole lot. The AL teams that were thinking of pursuing him should be excited to see him getting this experience now instead of after he lands a nine-figure deal this winter. Miguel Cabrera makes for a fantastic comparison here. He didn't start off as badly as Holliday did last year, but after finishing his first three months with the Tigers with an 809 OPS, he came in at 962 over the rest of the year. Holliday is likely a little overrated with the bat, but he's a terrific all-around player who figures to age quite well. He's an easy call as this winter's No. 1 free agent.