Starting Sunday, when free agents can begin nitty-gritty contract discussions with their suitors, the wildest offseason since the freewheeling winter of 2000-01 will officially begin.
The names aren't as big, tops among this year's class being a Japanese player without an inning of major-league experience instead of an Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Manny Ramirez six years ago. And while the money isn't as big, either – talk of the next $150 million-plus contract won't come until Miguel Cabrera files for free agency in three years – it's still significant, particularly considering what 2006-07 has to offer.
And that is … a whole mess of blasé, which happens to rhyme with overpay. Baseball, flush with enough cash to make the B.J. Ryan and Johnny Damon deals of last winter look reasonable, now confronts an offseason offering six stars and about 150 others who are thankful this is their free-agent season.
So use the following list of 101 names as a primer for this week's general manager's meetings, the Winter Meetings on Dec. 3-7 and the rest of a hot-stove season full of free-agent maneuvering.
Crème de la crème
1) Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP – Oh, to be the lucky team that actually wins the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka. That privilege alone will cost perhaps $30 million, which will be paid to Matsuzaka's current team, the Seibu Lions. And on top of that, the "winning" club will probably want a four-year deal – three years would allow Matsuzaka access to free agency too soon, and five is likely a risk seeing as he once threw 250 pitches in a game – for about $50 million. Compound that with Matsuzaka's agent being Scott Boras, and all 30 days of the negotiating window could feel like an episode of "24." Point is, Matsuzaka is that good – and he'd better be.
2) Alfonso Soriano, 2B/OF – Teams are lining up with six-year offers for Soriano, and with their value likely between $90 million and $102 million, it begs the question: All this for someone whose career high in walks, before a 2006 season in which he was often pitched around, was 38? Power speaks, even if illogically.
3) Barry Zito, SP – Zito might be the perfect concoction for a free agent: A young (28) winner (2002 Cy Young, 102 victories) who throws with a desirable arm (left) that has not undergone anything undesirable (surgery). So what he asks for (lots of money) he's going to get (up to $85 million over five years) from the place he wants (Los Angeles or New York).
4) Aramis Ramirez, 3B – Not only does Ramirez get to leave the black hole that is Wrigley Field after opting out of his contract with the Cubs, he can cash in on a tremendous second half, too. With a dearth of standout third basemen, Ramirez could get $75 million over five years.
5) Carlos Lee, OF – This is a preemptive assessment of a $50 fine for the first person who utters the words, "Houston, we have a problem," when Lee shows up to spring training in a couple years weighing 300 pounds. Conventional wisdom says Lee ends up with the Astros, who have more than $50 million off the books with the expiration of Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte's contracts. One way or another, it will likely be the National League: No one wants to spend $70 million on a designated hitter.
6) Jason Schmidt, SP – Lesson to all potential free agents: Two good months can earn you up to $20 million. Take out Schmidt's superlative May and very good June, and his earned-run average in 2006 was 4.64. The record will show that he finished '06 with a 3.59 ERA, one that trends up from a poor 2005 season and one that will likely land Schmidt, 33, in Seattle for five years at $65 million.
In his own category
7) Barry Bonds, OF – Sure, he can't move. Neither can Lee, and he's going to get five years. Bonds hit the seams off the ball the last two months, and as much influence as Bud Selig might have, he can't convince all 30 teams to leave a productive hitter on the market. Bonds will find a team that will pay him $10-12 million, break Hank Aaron's home run record and retire to a life that hopefully does not include as much self-loathing as his baseball one does.
8) J.D. Drew, OF – After playing a career-high 146 games, Drew is confident enough in his agent, Scott Boras – not to mention the market – to opt out of a contract that owed him $33 million over the next three years. Drew has plenty going for him: He’s an excellent right fielder, he walks as much as any free agent and he’s got power potential. Then again, there is the fear of injury and malaise that will chase Drew until he proves otherwise – for good.
9) Gary Matthews Jr., OF – He's going to get $40 million for four years, and if Matthews doesn't give at least $10,000 to the person who coined "Web Gem," he should be sued, because Matthews' spectacular catches, more than anything, turned him from a journeyman into a commodity.
10) Nomar Garciaparra, 1B/3B/OF – If Garciaparra doesn't get hurt … wait, shouldn't that be the preface for everything uttered about him? If Garciaparra doesn't get hurt, he's a top-tier free agent. If Garciaparra doesn't get hurt, he's probably not a free agent, because a team would have locked him up long-term. If Garciaparra doesn't get hurt, he might still be playing shortstop. Too bad, then, that Garciaparra hasn't played a full season since 2003.
11) Akinori Iwamura, 3B – With more than 30 home runs each of the last three seasons and five Gold Gloves for the Yakult Swallows, Iwamura could end up with Cleveland, which needs a third baseman. Iwamura's Achilles': He has struck out more than 100 times in each of his six full seasons, including 173 in 138 games in 2004.
12) Jeff Suppan, SP – Suppan's golden touch in October did not translate to November, when Jim Talent – whom Suppan supported because of his opposition to stem-cell research – lost his Missouri Senate seat. Oh, well. With the $40 million over four years Suppan is likely to get, he can buy plenty of TV time.
13) Jeff Weaver, SP – How about this for a transaction-wire flip-flop: From "designated for assignment" in June to "signs a four-year, $36 million deal" in December.
14) Julio Lugo, 2B/SS– Forget his two awful months in Los Angeles, because everyone else seems to have. He's the top shortstop available, and that pays. Just ask Rafael Furcal and his $13 million a year.
15) Juan Pierre, OF – At one point, Pierre was threatening to be the least productive hitter in more than 30 years. Then, somehow, he led the National League with 204 hits. And even though he can't muster a walk, Pierre is that amalgam of speed and singles for which general managers love to pay excessively.
16) Vicente Padilla, SP – Fifteen wins and a 4.50 ERA means at least $32 million over four years if you have stuff like Padilla's.
18) Ted Lilly, SP – He's left-handed with a pulse, and those happen to be the two criteria for riches in this market.
19) Gil Meche, SP – He's young with loads of potential, and those, too, will sell.
20) Adam Eaton, SP – See Meche.
21) Jim Edmonds, OF – If St. Louis doesn't pick up his $10 million option, another team will snatch him up on discount for two or three years.
22) Ray Durham, 2B – Very quietly set himself up for one last big contract with career highs in home runs (26), RBIs (93) and on-base-plus-slugging (.898).
23) Mark Loretta, 2B – Much like Pierre, a player whose reputation exceeds his productivity. Essentially, the opposite of …
24) Frank Catalanotto, IF/OF – He hits more than Loretta, gets on base more, slugs higher and is far more versatile. While he doesn't play Gold Glove-caliber defense like Loretta, Catalanotto can likely be had at a bargain.
25) Mike Piazza, C – His appalling defense could mean his last stop before the Hall of Fame is as a DH.
26) Randy Wolf, SP – His 4-0 record was deceiving. In 12 starts after coming back from major arm surgery, Wolf posted a 5.56 ERA. Still, lefty, pulse, etc.
27) Danys Baez, RP – He is no B.J. Ryan. He's not even Bobby Howry. Only because he's the most accomplished of a poor lot will Baez get paid.
28) Bengie Molina, C – He overplayed his hand angling for a big payday last year. After a decent season, Molina won't do it again. Question is, will he even get the chance?
29) Justin Speier, RP – At 33, Speier could finally get a chance to close full-time. A three-year deal for $16 million wouldn't surprise anyone.
30) David Dellucci, OF – If a team gives him 500 at-bats, he could be an absolute bargain.
31) Dave Roberts, OF – Already garnering interest from the Cubs, Rockies and Giants.
32) Sean Casey, 1B – The only bright spot for the Tigers in the World Series fits in both leagues, even if his defense is limited.
33) Aubrey Huff, 1B/3B/OF – Following a brutal April and May, Huff rebounded with an OPS of .833 or greater in each of the remaining months.
34) Jason Marquis, SP – Buried by Tony La Russa in the postseason, Marquis' arm will get him at least a three-year deal, even with his 6.02 ERA last year.
36) Shea Hillenbrand, 1B/3B/DH – Mr. Titanic could end up back in San Francisco, where he and Bonds will battle for biggest blowhard.
37) Moises Alou, OF – Until he stops hitting – .301, 22 home runs in 345 at-bats, .571 slugging percentage in '06 – he'll have a job.
38) Luis Gonzalez, OF – Might have another good year left in him. If so, he'd love for it to be in the NL West, where he could play Arizona 19 times.
39) Shannon Stewart, OF – Remember the Stewart who hit .300 every year, played great defense and finished fourth in AL MVP voting in 2003? Yeah, neither do we.
40) Chad Bradford, RP – For someone whose fastball rides at 84 mph and doesn't dip, dive or dart, Bradford has made – and will continue to make – a nice living.
41) Rod Barajas, C – Lower-level defensive catcher who can make up for it with his bat, although he finished 2006 with 11 home runs – 10 less than he hit in '05.
42) Pedro Feliz, 1B/3B – The up: 98 RBIs. The down: .281 on-base percentage.
43) Mike Lieberthal, C – Turns 35 in January, and is two years removed from any semblance of productivity.
44) Ron Villone, RP – Could scare teams off with the Joe Torre overuse hangover.
45) Kenny Lofton, OF – Poised to join his 11th team.
46) Mark Mulder, SP – Would certainly be in the top group if not for rotator-cuff surgery. And still, some executives believe Mulder will get a three-year deal anyway. So goes life in a dollar-flush market.
47) Eric Gagne, SP – Would join Mulder up top if not for lingering elbow issues and back surgery this past season.
48) Kerry Wood, SP – Would join Mulder and Gagne up top if not for the fact that Kerry Wood+injuries returns about 390,000 hits on Yahoo's search engine, which is more than Barry Bonds+BALCO.
49) Trot Nixon, OF – Only 32, Nixon is a breakdown waiting to happen: He's played in at least 150 games just once in his eight full big-league seasons.
50) Cliff Floyd, OF – By no means a shoo-in for spring training following surgery on his worn-down Achilles'.
51) Guillermo Mota, RP – Do the Mets, as Newsday reported, really want to re-sign the reliever who will miss the season's first 50 games because of a steroid suspension?
52) Kip Wells, SP – It took foot surgery to finally finish Wells' season after a blocked artery caused him to miss the first half and shoulder soreness felled him as well. If Wells is healthy, mediocrity is the goal.
53) Jose Guillen, OF – After lining himself up for a big payday this offseason with strong years in 2004 and 2005, Guillen fell on his face in '06. Behavior questions will keep chasing him until he proves he's worthy of more than a make-good one-year deal.
Likely to re-sign
57) Craig Biggio, 2B/OF – Will sign a one-year deal with Houston and, barring injury, get the 70 hits necessary to reach 3,000 – all of them in an Astros uniform.
58) Bernie Williams, OF – If he plays, it will be with the Yankees.
59) Rich Aurilia, IF – Even though he declined a $2 million option with the Cincinnati Reds, Aurilia should return there after seeing there isn't a huge clamoring for 35-year-olds with spotty consistency.
60) Kaz Matsui, SS – The Colorado Rockies want him back. And Queens laughs.
Old … and reliable
61) Roger Clemens, SP – About $20 million for a last hurrah in Boston sounds right for the 44-year-old.
62) Greg Maddux, SP – One genius month kindled Cy Young talk. Three terrible ones quashed that. And two more good ones just might have gotten Maddux, 40, a two-year deal.
63) Andy Pettitte, SP – Nostalgia is only on his side if Pettitte wants to go back to New York, where they seem to stockpile old starting pitchers.
64) Orlando Hernandez, SP – Speaking of old, El Duque, listed at 37 but more like 41, could be back for another go-around with the Mets.
65) Woody Williams, SP – Either St. Louis (where he pitched four seasons) or Houston (where he went to school) make sense for the 38-year-old.
Off the market
66) Seung-Yeop Lee, 1B – The Lion King could have made plenty more than the four-year, $3 billion yen (around $25 million U.S.) deal he recently signed with the Yomiuri Giants.
68) Gary Sheffield, OF/1B – Had his $13 million option picked up by the Yankees, who are expected to trade the malcontent.
69) David Riske, RHP – Listed first only as a warning: His last name is the embodiment of giving big money to bullpen arms. To wit …
70) Joe Borowski, RHP – He's 35.
71) Darren Oliver, LHP – He's 36.
72) Alan Embree, LHP – He'll be 37 in January.
73) Mike Stanton, LHP – He's 39.
74) Octavio Dotel, RHP – He's brittle.
75) Aaron Fultz, LHP – He's a big inning waiting to happen.
76) Ray King, LHP – He's called "Burger" for a reason.
77) Jose Mesa, RHP – He's 40.
78) Mike Remlinger, LHP – He's 40.
79) Arthur Rhodes, LHP – He's nuclear.
80) J.C. Romero, LHP – He's been lost since leaving Minnesota.
81) Wes Helms, 1B/3B – Lots of interest after Helms hit .329 and served as a mentor for Florida's kiddie corps.
82) Alex Gonzalez, SS – Golden glove, tin bat.
83) Jose Valentin, 2B – Resurgent at the plate and more than capable with his glove, Valentin's problem is his age: He turned 37 during the playoffs.
84) Adam Kennedy, 2B – Might start somewhere that can afford a hole in the lineup in exchange for great defense.
85) Scott Spiezio, IF/OF – Super-utility man earned himself another multi-year deal in the postseason.
86) Tony Armas Jr., SP – Has never gone a whole season with a sub-4.00 ERA, and he's still likely to get a multi-year deal or incentive-laden one-year contract.
87) Craig Wilson, IF/OF – Will someone finally give him a full-time job?
88) Preston Wilson, OF – In the right spot – as a platoon player – Wilson is worth a roster spot.
90) Tomo Ohka, SP – A potential bargain who, when healthy, is a good option as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
91) Darin Erstad, OF – From MVP votes six years ago to no home runs and five RBIs in 95 at-bats last season.
92) Rondell White, OF – Watch out, Kenny Lofton. White could join his eighth team this offseason, and he'll be only 35.
93) Steve Trachsel, SP – One more win and Trachsel would have tied for the NL lead last season, which says more about the league than the pitcher, whose ERA was 4.97.
94) Todd Walker, 2B – Although unlikely to get a starting gig, Walker brings a nice bat off the bench.
95) Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B – Adequate defensive replacement and left-handed bat off the bench. Sounds like what the Yankees need.
96) Jaret Wright, SP – Free-agent bust who implodes in the playoffs. Sounds like what the Yankees don't need.
98) Chan Ho Park, SP – Safe bet: He does not get five years, $65 million this time around.
100) Ramon Ortiz, SP – "Little Pedro" consistently throws up big stinkers.
101) Mark Redman, SP – On the basis of his 11 wins with moribund Kansas City, perhaps he deserves to be higher. Then again, after he won Royals Pitcher of the Year – an oxymoron if there were any – Redman said he hopes to re-sign with Kansas City, which merits the final spot on any list.