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Top 10 Free Agents In 2006


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While the remaining high-profile free agents can't be rightly classified as "low-hanging fruit" ? guys like Johnny Damon, Kevin Millwood and Jacque Jones are still out there ? most of the notables have already been signed.


Yes, the coals of the hot stove are beginning to cool, and that's just no fun at all.


In order to maintain all the delightful roster wish-casting that's going on in the baseball world, we'll need to look even further ahead. This time out, let's table for the moment all things 2005 and take a look down the road to the free agent class of 2006. We have an entire calendar year for some of these players to sign contract extensions, go in the tank, or perhaps even retire. But right now the names you're about to see figure to be the best of the bunch. Not included are players under any sort of contract option for 2006 ? team, player or voidance options. Is this list subject to change? You betcha.


On to the ridiculously early preliminary rankings ...


1. Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs

Age on Opening Day 2006: 31


Derrek Lee had a career year last year. Was it just a fluke, or will he be able to do it again? (Elsa / Getty Images)


Before 2005, Lee was a good player; in 2005, he was a great one. His stock on the market depends to a large degree on whether he can come close to replicating his numbers from last season. From 1997-2004, Lee put up batting line of .266 AVG/.353 OBP/.474 SLG, and last season he hit .335 AVG/.418 OBP/.662 SLG. Obviously, the last set of numbers is wildly out of step with the rest of Lee's career, so the question is: fluke or new level of performance? It's not realistic to expect Lee to repeat his MVP-worthy numbers, but if he improves on his pre-2004 numbers he'll cash in next winter. Throw in his exceptional defense, speed on the bases, intelligence and solid-citizen status, and you'll have a coveted free agent.


2. Mark Mulder, SP, Cardinals

Age on Opening Day 2006: 29


Mulder cobbled together an interesting season in 2005. On one hand, he posted the worst full-season strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career, but on the other hand Mulder recorded the highest ground ball/fly ball ratio of his career (in fact, he ranked fourth in all of baseball in groundball-fly ball rate last season). If Mulder's able to retain those skills in 2006, he'll make nifty addition for a team with a strong infield defense. He'll also be young relative to most other free agents.


3. Jon Garland, SP, White Sox

Age on Opening Day 2006: 27


Garland in 2005 enjoyed a breakout season. In prior years, he posted an ERA of 4.68, but in 2005 it tumbled to 3.50. The key to his success was improved control: Last season, Garland's walks per nine innings was a nifty 1.91, while pre-2005 it was 3.75. That's a promising development. To be sure, Garland benefited from having a strong White Sox defense behind him, but he also made half his starts in one of the toughest environments around for pitchers. That Garland will only be 27 when he hits the market, which will boost his value tremendously. First, however, he needs to show that 2005 was no fluke.


4. Andy Pettitte, SP, Astros

Age on Opening Day 2006: 34


You can muster a case that Pettitte in 2005 was the best starting pitcher in all of baseball. He worked 222 1/3 innings and posted a 2.39 ERA despite pitching the majority of his innings in a park that's quite hostile to left-handed pitchers. The command ratios and other peripheral indicators all suggest continued success, but Pettitte has endured some serious elbow problems in his recent past. If Pettitte puts together a healthy season in 2006 and records another sub-3.00 ERA, then that and his cachet as a winner will land him a lucrative contract, even at age 34.


5. Barry Bonds, OF, Giants

Age on Opening Day 2006: 41


Bonds going forward is very much an unknown quantity. Will his knee hold up? Will his skills degrade? Will he decide to walk away? His next contract ? if there is one ? will need to be with an AL team that can stow him away at DH. In 2006, if Bonds is even a spare semblance of his recent self (.347 AVG/.556 OBP/.805 SLG since 2001), he'll command a number of offers from AL teams in "win now" mode. If he hits like he has this decade, then you can bump Bonds up on this list.


6. Barry Zito, SP, A's

Age on Opening Day 2006:


Quite a forthcoming market for lefty starters, eh? Zito, because of his Cy Young in 2002 and his comely career record, tends to be overvalued in most circles, but he did rebound nicely from a lackluster 2004 season. If he comes up strong in 2006, he'll leverage his recent record of success and his name value to haul in a high-dollar contract. Zito, because of his fly-ball tendencies, needs a home environment that cuts down on homers. So caveat emptor, Rangers.


7. Julio Lugo, SS, Devil Rays

Age on Opening Day 2006: 31


Lugo, quite simply, is one of the most underrated players in the game. He's a strong defender at short, and he provides above-average offense for the position. Good glove, good bat. Any number of teams can use a player like Lugo.


8. Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals

Age on Opening Day 2006: 28


The good: He's young for a free agent, and he has tremendous on-base skills. The bad: He's injury prone, and his power is inconsistent. Since 2000, Johnson has been on the DL six times, so that's certainly a drawback. However, Johnson also enjoyed his best season in 2005. Despite playing half his games in pitcher-friendly RFK, Johnson put up a batting line of .289 AVG/.408 OBP/.479 SLG. If he stays off the DL next season, there will be a market for him.


9. Cliff Floyd, OF, Mets

Age on Opening Day 2006: 34


Great ballplayer, lots of injuries. When healthy, Floyd's gets on base and hits for power, but the problem is staying healthy. That said, Floyd did manage to play in 150 games last season, and he's been on the DL only twice since 2000. It'll take more of the same in 2006 if he's to garner a multi-year offer. He's still capable of helping a contender, but in order to minimize the injury risk Floyd these days is best deployed as a DH.


10. Jason Schmidt, SP, Giants

Age on Opening Day 2006: 33


Schmidt didn't have one of his best seasons in 2005, but he was hindered by a shoulder strain for much of the year. From 2002-04, Schmidt logged 618 innings, struck out 655 batters and posted an ERA of 2.99. That's ace-quality pitching. Of course, Schmidt has battled shoulder problems for much of his career, and his health will always be a concern. If he's healthy and effective in '06, he'll have plenty of suitors.


Other notables: 2B Ronnie Belliard, CF Milton Bradley, SP Jose Contreras, SP Tom Glavine, CL Eddie Guardado, 2B Adam Kennedy, OF Carlos Lee, SP Greg Maddux, 3B Melvin Mora, OF Trot Nixon, CF Juan Pierre, C A.J. Pierzynski



I think Carlos Lee not being on there and Nick Johnson being on is a joke but other then that a solid list.

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I think Carlos Lee not being on there and Nick Johnson being on is a joke but other then that a solid list.



Nick Johnson 28 years old, .289-.408-.479-.887-heavy pitchers park

Carlos Lee 29 years old .264-.324-.487-.811-moderate hitters park

Johnson has only played over 130 games once in his career, and that was last year.


Lee has done that every year but his first season, and he played 127 games that year.


Johnson has never been consistently there.

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With Mulder, Garland, and Zito out there, I think there are WAY too many carrots dangling for Cashman to pass up on at least ONE of these guys!


Personally, I'd like to see the Yankees sign Mulder if he doesn't get re-signed. I want to see a younger lefty in the rotation. If I *have* to settle for Zito I guess I can deal [obviously I would love to sign him]. The only reason I have Mulder over Zito is because a curve ball pitcher simply doesn't last as long as a flame thrower [see: Clemens, Roger and Ryan, Nolan].


Besides, the average age of our rotation by 2006 will be approaching somewhere around 97 years old... Which leads me to my next point, I am super-psyched about the trade for Ron Villone. :rolleyes


I still want a CF and a catcher. Posada has two maybe 3 years left before he has to becomeour DH. We need to unload Giambi and get a clutch 1B who can field his position. We also need to unload RJ for some youth in the rotation. Beyond his pitching abilities, I don't want to see the Yankees forced to lose Posada's bat simply because RJ wants his own guy.

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