The MLB hot stove has officially begun to warm up.

Perhaps the most exciting time in the entire year for diehard fans and the most stressful for those working in front offices, the free-agent frenzy has great influence on the next season and beyond.

With SP Cliff Lee undoubtedly the biggest prize on the market, teams will be looking to make franchise-shaping moves in the coming weeks. While some teams may have more financial resources than others, sometimes avoiding dishing out the lucrative multi-year deal can be a better investment than reeling in a big-name bust like the Mets did with Jason Bay last season.


1. Cliff Lee, SP

As aforementioned, Lee will be top dog of the group. Expecting to command a contract that is very similar to the one CC Sabathia signed with the Yankees (seven years, $161 million), Lee’s demands could far exceed just about every team’s payroll except for one.

You guessed it, the Yankees.

While Lee’s wife has stated that she loves the time they spent in Texas, the re-invented lefty is 32 years old, and this will be his only chance to cash in on the big bucks. If the Yankees come knocking with an offer that trumps every other team’s, it’s hard to imagine him saying no.

Prediction: New York Yankees


2. Carl Crawford, OF

The closest thing to a five-tool player in the entire bunch, Crawford’s unique skill set should prove to be worth over $100 million to his new club. An original member of the Tampa Bay club, the only team he has ever known, will let him walk out the door.

While some have speculated that the Red Sox could possibly make a run, perhaps Crawford’s tenure in the AL East has led him to be somewhat calloused toward the rest of the clubs. Additionally, the Sox do not hand out long-term deals too readily, and have to worry about far too many other spots (catcher, namely) to think about throwing the big bucks at the other CC.

Prediction: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim


3. Jayson Werth, OF

Agent Scott Boras is doing his best to sell Werth as this year’s version of Matt Holliday, but he’s going to have a tough time on that one. The Phillies took a chance on Werth prior to the 2008 season, and the bearded beast has provided a phenomenal return on investment.

There is somewhat of a hesitancy to shell out a large contract to Werth, who really didn’t do much in his career prior to his tenure in Philadelphia, but someone is certain to overpay. While Werth is certainly a talented player, his home ballpark (Citizens Bank) is considered a bandbox, and his power numbers may fall off with his new team…unless he lands back in the division where his career began.

Prediction: Boston Red Sox


4. Adrian Beltre, 3B

Notorious for performing best in the walk years of his contract, Beltre’s one-year “pillow” contract with the Red Sox couldn’t have worked out better for both sides. Unfortunately for the Sox, the third baseman most likely priced himself off of the payroll with his very good 2010 season.

An excellent defender, Beltre’s offensive statistics were his best since his 2004 farewell season with the Dodgers. Now 31 years old, the veteran will be looking for a very hefty four or five-year contract that will pay him between $15-20 million per season, and only teams with money to spend can dole out that kind of dough.

Prediction: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim


5. Derek Jeter, SS

The stickiest contract of the entire offseason, Jeter will certainly take his sweet time in negotiating with the Yankees. With no other team expected to even call the career Bronx Bomber, both sides are going to have to get creative to satisfy one another.

While his numbers don’t justify much more than $7-$8 million per season, Jeter’s worth to the team extends far beyond what he does on the baseball field. The 27-time world champions will have to tie in personal benefits galore, lots of incentives and other crafty methods to ensure that the deal gets done, but in the end it’s doubtful to think that these two would divorce from one another.

Prediction: New York Yankees

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