Market swings

Ryne Sandberg

This year's free-agent class of hitters is less than stellar. Last year's crop was anchored by Carlos Beltran; this year's group is led by Johnny Damon and Rafael Furcal. I think that is the reason why Damon and Furcal asked for large contracts.

What is more amazing than the dollar amounts they're seeking is the amount of years they want in their deals. Damon is asking for a seven-year contract at the age of 32. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are interested, but it looks like neither team is willing to pay Damon for seven years.

Furcal expected to get a five-year deal close to $50 million. The Atlanta Braves were hoping they could get a hometown discount, but the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers each offered more money. The Dodgers reached an agreement with Furcal on a three-year, $39 million contract.

Here's my list of the top free-agent hitters going into the winter meetings, which start on Monday.

TOP FREE-AGENT HITTERS

10. Brad Ausmus – He's known for his ability to handle a pitching staff and would be a solid pickup for a team needing an every-day catcher. Best fit: Houston Astros. They'll find a way to keep him.

9. Sammy Sosa – Sosa had an injury-plagued 2005 season and it looks like he'll have to sign a minor-league deal and prove he's healthy. If no big-league team takes a chance on him, Sosa might sign with a team in Japan. He would make more money by playing there. Best fits: Tampa Bay Devil Rays or Florida Marlins.

8. Alex Gonzalez – He'll probably have to see what happens with Furcal first, but you would assume the same teams that are in the Furcal race would be interested in Gonzalez. If the Braves lose out on Furcal, look for them to make a move on Gonzalez or Julio Lugo. Best fits: Braves, Dodgers or Cubs.

7. Carl Everett – He will have to see where the market is set, but it is unlikely he will stay with the Chicago White Sox. Because of his difficult personality, Everett could come at a discounted rate. An American League team will take a chance on him – one that is looking for a big bat in the designated hitter spot. Best fits: Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers.

6. Kenny Lofton – One of my favorite players, Lofton will have to wait to see what happens with Damon. Even though he is 38, he will fit nicely in the outfield of team that is looking for a leadoff batter. Best fit: Yankees … that is, if they lose out on Damon.

5. Jacque Jones – He's a serviceable hitter and outfielder. It was rumored that the San Diego Padres might have interest in him, but they re-signed Brian Giles. Best fit: St. Louis Cardinals.

4. Preston Wilson – He could find a home in a few places. He hit just .261 with 10 home runs and 43 RBIs in 68 games for the Washington Nationals last season. Best fits: Dodgers or Cubs.

3. Mike Piazza – It looks like his days in the National League might be over. Piazza will likely have to move to a DH role. Minnesota has showed interest. Best fit: American League.

2. Nomar Garciaparra – Nomar has been injured the last two years, and that is going to hurt his chances of signing a big contract. I think he is still holding out for a shortstop job, but that is not likely. He will likely have to move to second or third base or the outfield. His contract is going to have to be incentive-laden as a utility guy. Best fits: Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles or Angels.

1. Johnny Damon – The Yankees and Red Sox are in another feud, but this time it's over the top free-agent position player. The Yankees are looking for a replacement for Bernie Williams in center field as well as someone to hit leadoff so Derek Jeter can move to the No. 2 spot. The Yankees will keep pushing the dollar amount up, but keep the years close to three years. Best fit: Yankees or Red Sox.