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Monday, October 22, 2012

Playing Matchmaker for Some of the Top Free Agents This Off-Season

Even with the playoff action at a fever pitch, it’s not too early to look ahead at the free agent class of 2013 and how they might impact teams next season. Ultimately the number of zeroes on the checks will determine where the players sign, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean that they will go where they would be the best fit. Every player about to enter free agency has one landing spot that would work well for them and the team; it just depends on if they both realize it and if the money is right.

If I were playing matchmaker, here is who I would pair up this offseason:

Josh Hamilton- Baltimore Orioles: It’s funny to think that a player coming off a 43 homer season may have played himself out of the good graces of his team and fans, but Hamilton may have pulled off that feat with his quirky absences from the lineup and lackadaisical dropped fly ball in the Wild Card game. It may be that he needs a change of scenery, and the Orioles could offer just that.

In the past Baltimore had jumped into the free agent fray, but was unable to score big, as nobody wanted to take their money because of their miserable losing tradition. Now that they got the monkey off their back with their magical 2012 season, they will be looking to build momentum. Signing Hamilton to play leftfield and act as their lineup anchor between Adam Jones and Matt Wieters would be a major power move in the AL East and announce that the team is a serious contender beyond their magical 2012 season. Hamilton has killed the ball at hitter-friendly Camden Yards throughout his career (.370, 9 home runs, and 26 RBI in 20 games), so playing 81 games a year there would be great for him and the Orioles.

Zach Greinke- Milwaukee Brewers: Just because the Brewers traded Greinke earlier this summer doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do everything in their power to bring him back. They already have the talent to compete on a yearly basis, but sorely lack an ace. The Brewers should pull out a hammer and smash their piggy bank to do their best to sign Greinke because there literally isn’t a better option for them.

Something magical happens whenever Greinke toes the rubber at Miller Park. In 24 career games there he has gone a perfect 15-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 149.2 innings. Plus, if you buy into the frequent disclaimer that Greinke is a better fit in a smaller market because of his anxiety, Milwaukee certainly fits that bill. It’s too perfect a marriage to happen, but here is hoping they both figure it out and get it done.

Nick Swisher- Boston Red Sox: Swisher fills needs for Boston on multiple levels. He plays right field and first base, both positions that are currently black holes in Boston. His plate discipline and ability to reach the short foul poles in Fenway make him an attractive upgrade to a Red Sox lineup that dissolved into Triple-A status by the end of this past season.

Signing Swisher would be a lot cheaper than Hamilton and be a lot safer on potential return. Because of how he fizzled in this year’s playoffs his price may be a little lower than originally expected. Swisher is also exactly the type of player Boston needs; an intense grinder on the field and a laugh-a-minute clubhouse glue guy off it. His addition would go a long way in rebuilding veteran leadership that has been decimated in recent years by trades and poor attitudes.

BJ Upton- Texas Rangers: If the Rangers allow Josh Hamilton to walk this offseason (as I expect they will) they will need someone to replace him in centerfield. They have no obvious answers in their minor league system, so Upton would make a lot of sense. His speed allows him to patrol vast patches of outfield, which would greatly assist Nelson Cruz and David Murphy; the two pillars of salt who currently play the corners.  Upton is also the bat who might best mitigate the loss of Hamilton, as his speed and raw power have traditionally played well at Rangers Ballpark, where he has a career .987 OPS.

Upton never became the star he was projected to be when he was the number two overall pick in the 2002 draft, but he is a very useful player with a specific skill set that becomes even more enhanced in the right environment. He stuck out like a sore thumb in Tampa, where he was often needed as a focal point in their anemic lineup. In Texas has enough beef in their lineup that would take a lot of that pressure off and allow him to concentrate on his game of speed and 20-30 home runs.

Any time a team signs a free agent they hope that it will pay off in production, wins, and fan approval. There is always extraordinary risk involved, but the best way to get a new partnership off on the right foot is making sure that it is a good match for both sides. Seeing the numerous free agents who have fizzled over the years it seems that such advice is rarely heeded. Perhaps that trend will change in 2013, as there are truly some great matches out there for some of the top players on the market.


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