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MLB Free Agency: Power Ranking the 15 Biggest Risks Still on the Market

Free agency is quite often crucial to a team’s short- and long-term success. While many players are drafted and brought through an organization’s farm system, more times than not it comes down to the ability of a team to bring in top-end free agents. 

However, the risks involved with signing free agents are apparent in every Major League Baseball season. Year in and year out, players fail to live up to their multi-million dollar contracts.

Who are the riskiest players available this year? Whether it is a player’s age, inconsistency, or propensity to be injured, each player on this list has his own set of risk factors.

Here are the 15 biggest risks still available on the free agent market.

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Carl Crawford Signs With Boston Red Sox: How This Impacts the 2011 Season

And just like that, the power has shifted in the American League. According to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, Carl Crawford has agreed to a seven year, $142 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. 

Just days after trading for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Theo Epstein and company made the biggest splash of the Winter Meetings thus far by signing Crawford.

It was previously believed that Crawford would not make a move until Cliff Lee was signed.

In theory, Crawford may have hoped that if the Yankees could not acquire Lee, they would throw more money his way.

However, with a contract as lavish as this reported deal, it is understandable why Crawford would wait no longer. 

Now, the question looms: What does this mean to the rest of the American League? Are the Red Sox front-runners for a World Series run? 

Coupling Crawford with the newly-acquired Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox will boast one of the league’s best lineups. Crawford, who will play left field as he did in Tampa Bay, will likely lead off, followed by Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz. 

Jacoby Ellsbury will also be in the mix.

It is likely that with such a powerful lineup, Ellsbury will bat ninth, however, this makes the Red Sox that much more dangerous.

With the speed of both Crawford and Ellsbury, the Sox will boast two of the league’s best leadoff hitters as the lineup turns over each game. Both players have the ability to turn walks or singles into doubles with their speed. As a result, the Sox power hitters will have twice as many opportunities to knock in runners from scoring position. 

Another part of Crawford’s game that is often overlooked is his power. Last season, Crawford hit 19 home runs while driving in 90 runs. While he will not have as many opportunities to drive in runs in Boston, he will certainly benefit from the short porch in right field. 

The Red Sox will also return a strong starting rotation and bullpen in 2011.

While the pitching staff underachieved as a whole in 2010, if starter Josh Beckett and closer Jonathan Papelbon can bounce back, the Sox will also have one of the best staffs in baseball. Following stellar seasons from 26-year-old starters Clay Buccholz and Jon Lester, Boston has a rotation with the ability to shut down opponents on a nightly basis. 

With two blockbuster deals, the Red Sox have put themselves ahead of the pack in the American League. The New York Yankees, who were also in hot pursuit of Crawford, are undoubtedly concerned after seeing the Red Sox acquire two of the league’s best position players available. 

These deals put even more pressure on Yankees GM Brian Cashman to make a deal for Cliff Lee.

The Yankees pitching rotation was a disaster in 2010, as dismal seasons from starters A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez derailed the Yanks’ World Series hopes. The Yankees needed another top-end starter to compete in the American League prior to the Red Sox transactions. Following these mega-deals, the acquisition of Cliff Lee is more imminent than ever.

Howver, even if the Yankees are able to sign lefty Cliff Lee, this deal immediately puts the Yankees in a hole in the American League East. Carl Crawford was not the priority for the Yanks. While they would have loved to have him, he was essentially a backup plan if the team was unable to acquire Lee.

However, if there was one team in baseball the Yankees did not want to sign Carl Crawford, it was the Boston Red Sox.  

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MLB Rumors: Ranking the Next 10 Players to Sign, and Picking Where They’ll Go

The rumors are flying in the already steaming Major League Baseball hot stove.  With the Winter Meetings starting today, many free agents are sure to find new homes in the upcoming days and weeks.

But where will they end up? The answer is not as sure for some as it is for others. 

With the outlandish deal given to Jayson Werth, the uncertainty of this offseason has dramatically increased. After more major players sign, the dominoes are sure to fall. Here are 10 of the most coveted prizes of this offseason, their possible suitors and where they will end up. 

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New York Yankees: Offseason Questions Loom

It has been some time since the New York Yankees weren’t involved with an offseason’s top free agents. This year—to the chagrin of many baseball fans—is no different.  The most prized member of this year’s free agent class, lefty Cliff Lee, tops just about every team’s free agent priority list. For the Yankees, Lee could quite possibly be the piece that seemed to be missing down the stretch in their 2010 campaign. 

However, Lee will not come without opposition. The team that may pose the biggest threat to the Yankees is the Texas Rangers, the team with which Lee finished the 2010 season. After leading the Rangers past the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and into the franchise’s first-ever World Series appearance, Lee said that he would love to remain a Ranger. 

With that being said, the Rangers do not have near the spending power of the Steinbrenner brothers. Just as in years past, it may come down to teams bidding up the Yankees, just so they will be forced to pay more than they would like. The same occurred two years ago, when the Yankees paid $82.5 million for A.J. Burnett, an injury-prone pitcher known for his inconsistency on the mound. As Burnett’s disastrous 2010 season indicated, he was probably not worth nearly that amount. In fact, Burnett may have been the beneficiary of being one of the top pitchers in an otherwise weak 2008 free agent class. 

But Cliff Lee is not A.J. Burnett. In fact, over the past three years, Lee has been one of the best and most consistent pitchers in the game. Barring two losses in this year’s World Series, Lee has also shown a pedigree for postseason success. This will not go unnoticed in the Bronx, where a player’s legacy is built upon his ability, or inability, to lead the Bombers to their next World Series ring (see: Scott Brosius). 

When the dust settles, the Yankees’ ceiling will probably be much too high for any other team to match. If Lee decides to follow the money, he will be led straight to 161st and River. 

So what does that mean for the rest of the Yankees’ offseason? Beyond Mariano Rivera, who will more than likely re-sign, and Andy Pettitte, who is considering retirement, there are a few players who should be firmly fixated atop the team’s list of priorities.

The most obvious is Derek Jeter. It is nearly inevitable that the Yankees will have to overpay to retain Jeter, at least in terms of last year’s statistics and his future statistical projections. However, Jeter’s presence looms much larger than his statistics, in many respects. As the Yankees captain, just the 13th in the team’s 107-year history, Jeter represents everything that is the Yankees mystique. Jeter will most likely be paid in terms of his past success, both individually and in leading the Yankees to five world championships in his 15 seasons so far. It is fully expected that the Yankees will re-sign Jeter, at a price that may not please the Yankees’ front office. 

Another big name free agent on the Yankees’ radar is Carl Crawford, the 29-year-old left fielder who has played all of his nine seasons in Tampa Bay. Crawford, a career .296 hitter, would bring dynamic speed and another plus bat to an already stacked Yankees lineup. A true leadoff hitter, he would be able to take over the top of the lineup from Jeter, who would fall back into the two-hole where he has spent most of his career. While there is not an imminent need for an outfielder in the Bronx, New York will assuredly make a run for Crawford. It must be said, however, that Crawford, in all likelihood, is only a backup plan for the Yanks, if they are unable to sign Cliff Lee. It would be unlikely for the Yankees to spend top money on two players for yet another offseason (although crazier things have happened). 

Perhaps the most understated re-signing for the Yankees this offseason will be that of reliever Kerry Wood. Wood, who came over from the Indians via trade in July, was lights-out for the Yankees in August, September and into the postseason. With all the focus on the possibility of New York signing Lee to bolster a rotation that struggled in 2010, Wood’s importance down the stretch has been largely overlooked. His presence in the bullpen, as a bridge to closer Mariano Rivera, filled a large void that had been left by a struggling Joba Chamberlain. The 33-year-old Wood could turn out to be an important piece to the Yankees 2011 puzzle. 

Year in and year out, there is one thing for certain: the New York Yankees will be in the middle of the free agency circus. After a season that did not live up to expectations in the Bronx, the Steinbrenners will pull out all the stops to assure that the Yankees sign at least one of this year’s top free agent prospects. George would settle for nothing less.

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King Felix Hernandez 2010 AL Cy Young: Major League Baseball Gets It Right

After decades as the majority among the Baseball Writers Association of America, the traditionalist voters were finally overtaken by something that has eluded the Cy Young voting since its inception: Baseball logic. 

In a year that was widely renowned as the “Year of the Pitcher, Part II,” Felix Hernandez stood head and shoulders above his American League counterparts.

In years past, the BBWAA voters have been duped by a statistical category that is becoming less meaningful each year: The win-loss record. 

In 2001, Roger Clemens won the AL Cy Young with a 20-3 record—and a 3.51 earned run average. In that same season, another young Mariners pitcher, Freddy Garcia, finished the year with an 18-6 record and a 3.05 ERA—nearly half a run lower than Clemens.

Garcia also tossed 18 innings more than Clemens, giving up six less hits. And these are even in the categories deemed “traditional” by baseball writers and fans alike.

But none of this mattered to the voters; Clemens’ flashy record was enough to earn him 21 first-place votes and his sixth Cy Young. 

This wasn’t the only similar situation in recent years: In 2005, Bartolo Colon won in a year when Johan Santana was clearly the better pitcher. 

But all of that changed with Hernandez’s victory over the competition, namely CC Sabathia, the best pitcher on the league’s most popular team, the New York Yankees.

Hernandez won the award with the fourth-least wins in history (13), ahead of only Willie Hernandez in 1984 (9), Dennis Eckersley in 1992 (7),  and Rollie Fingers in 1981 (6).

But there is one major difference: All three of the other pitchers were closers

Beyond wins and losses, King Felix’s statistics were unmatched.

Hernandez was tops in the American League in ERA (2.27), innings pitched (249.2), and quality starts (30).

He was second in strikeouts with 232, just one behind Angel’s starter Jered Weaver, and in WHIP (1.06), behind only Cliff Lee.

Felix also led the league in Wins Above Replacement (6.0). That is, Hernandez earned his team six more wins than they would have had with a replacement pitcher. 

Imagine if Felix played for the Yankees.

First, there would not have even been an argument; Hernandez would have won the award with these statistics simply because he played in the Bronx.

However, if Hernandez had received the average run support of CC Sabathia (a healthy 7.31 runs per game), his win-loss record would have skyrocketed.

Simply put, it is unfair to penalize a pitcher for playing for a terrible team. 

Maybe it’s not the fault of the voters.

After all, the award’s name, Cy Young, has caused confusion similar to that of college football’s Heisman Award; should it be given to the league’s best pitcher, or the league’s most valuable pitcher?

Not even the voter’s know exactly which way to vote.

In college football, the Heisman certainly would not be given to a great player on a mediocre team. But if such a player is the best in the nation (or in this case, the American League), shouldn’t he be given the award? In the past, this has not been the case.

Sure, there have been exceptions, like in 2009 when Zack Greinke won the Cy for the 97-loss Kansas City Royals. But that year, Greinke’s stats were overwhelmingly better than those of any other pitcher.

In fact, it can be argued that the 2009 version of Greinke was much better than the 2010 version of Hernandez.

To give the award to another pitcher on a playoff team would have been tragic.

What if these performances had happened in the same year? Baseball traditionalists would have had a collective heart attack. 

Even so, can’t it be argued that Felix Hernandez was not only the league’s best pitcher, but the league’s most valuable pitcher as well?

Going back to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Hernandez’s 6.0 was more than half a win better than any other pitcher in the American League. This alone makes an argument for him as the league’s most valuable pitcher.

On a team that gave him the least run support among American League starters, Felix was able to win the Mariners six more games than they would have one with somebody else starting.

To put it in perspective, that is nearly 10 percent of Seattle’s wins this season (61).

No other pitcher came close to a WAR equivalent to 10 percent of his team’s victories. 

And this time, the voters realized all of this.

The Mariners’ right-hander received 21 of the 28 first-place votes.

It is naive to think that all (or even the majority) of voters chose Hernandez because of his league-best Wins Above Replacement.

This statistic, and other sabermetrics categories of its kind, surely have not been universally accepted by the baseball minds, and probably will not ever been seen as important as the traditional statistical categories.

However, the BBWAA voters should be applauded for realizing the importance of the other “traditional” statistical categories beyond wins and losses.

Or, perhaps, they simply started doing their job.


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