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Strong Second-Tier MLB Free Agents Still Available

Mark Buehrle

Mark Buehrle (Photo Credit: Getty Images, By: Jonathan Daniel)

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By Zachary Finkelstein-

(CBS) Along with the December snow that is soon to come, the sport of baseball’s hot stove season is set to kick into high gear.

The temperature on the transaction wire was rather tepid during the off-season’s opening month. Historically speaking, the top players tend to sign after November, anyway. There was major news to report last week, however, as Major League Baseball and its players signed a memorandum of understanding on a new collective bargaining agreement that drastically alters the way clubs are compensated for losing free agents.

Long story short: Under the old system, teams had to forfeit draft picks when signing higher-tier free agents. Come 2012, free agents will only be subject to draft-pick compensation when their former franchises offer a deal equal to the average salary of baseball’s 125-highest paid players (around $12 million this season). This is significant for the sport’s 30 teams, which will now be able to sign free agents without passing on the chance to draft a top prospect.

For one last offseason, however, the previous system will remain in place.

Now that we have covered the bases from the week that was, let’s take a look at the sixth-10th best free agents still available. (Click here for a review of the top 5.)

6. Jimmy Rollins: Has a National League MVP, a World Series title and three Gold Glove awards to his name, but the lifetime Philly is clearly the second-best free-agent available at his position. The No. 1 shortstop for the taking is Jose Reyes, who, along with Rollins, has missed considerable time with leg injuries. Having turned 33 years old on Sunday, Rollins is more than four years older than the 2011 Mets shortstop, however.

The Phillies would like to re-sign Rollins, who is adored in the City of Brotherly Love. The shortstop has indicated that he wants a five-year contract, however, which is long for someone well into his 30s. On the other hand, the team’s top shortstop prospect, 22-year-old Freddy Galvis, has only played 33 games at Triple-A. And unless the Phillies were to splurge on Reyes, any other free-agent shortstop signing would be considered a downgrade.

Rollins may not have New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s superlative sentimental value, but he has nonetheless been the beloved spark plug of a club that has won five straight NL East division crowns. Still, production is the name of the game
at day’s end, and Rollins has not been able to replicate the superb stats produced during his 2007 MVP season. The team leader could have another three years in the tank, however.

Prediction: Rollins will relent on his contract demands by one season, re-signing for four years and $58 million.

7. Mark Buehrle: In 2011, he posted a 3.59 ERA over 205 1/3 innings during his 11th straight season with more than 200 frames logged. And his career ERA+ of 120 notwithstanding, Buehrle has led the league in hits allowed in four of the past seven seasons, which is a product of both his strike-throwing ability and below-average stuff. The southpaw has spent his entire career with the White Sox, who, along with the hurler’s hometown St. Louis Cardinals, reportedly have the inside track to locking up the lefty for 2012 and beyond. The Redbirds, on the other hand, will likely be out of money to spend after re-signing Albert Pujols (who has not received an offer exceeding the one St. Louis made last offseason).

Although Buehrle would rather remain on the south side of Chicago, he still will not come cheap. The left-hander’s preference aside, he has reportedly been pursued by more than 10 teams. And when demand trumps supply to this extent, players get paid much more than they are worth.

Prediction: Buehrle will stay with the White Sox after rejecting the highest offer, which he will turn into a three-year deal worth $45 million.

8. Aramis Ramirez: Recorded a terrible slash line of .241 BA/.294 OBP/.452 SLG in 2010 but rebounded with .306/.361/.510 en route to winning a Silver Slugger in 2011. The third baseman elected to decline his part of a $16 million option to remain with the Cubs, who on Wednesday offered the slugger arbitration. Although arbitration would likely award Ramirez a one-year pact for $17-18 million, he is still going to decline the overture in favor of a long-term contract elsewhere.

Prediction:Ramirez will ink a four-year, $60 million deal with the Detroit Tigers, whose best option for 2012, Brandon Inge, hit .197 last season with three home runs and a stint in Triple-A to work on his swing. The 33-year-old Ramirez, who loved hitting at Wrigley Field, could end up as a terrible signing. Fortunately for him, there are no other free-agents who should be starting at the hot corner next season, however.

9. David Ortiz: After the Red Sox collapsed in September, Big Papi said he would consider a change of scenery (even with the Yankees) because there was too much drama in Boston. He backtracked during the World Series, however, saying, “Of course I would like to come back [to Boston].” Anyway, the Red Sox have indicated that they would like Ortiz to return, as well. So even though the Orioles and Blue Jays have indicated their interest, Big Papi will end up back in the city where he is beloved. Cost: Two-years and $24 million.

10. Edwin Jackson: Despite possessing no-hit stuff, Jackson has been traded six times in the past six seasons.

However enigmatic he may be, the righty will continue to find work as long as his fastball and slider (when properly located) remain among the filthiest pitches in baseball. Potential notwithstanding, Jackson’s strikeout rate is lower than what you would expect from someone with high-octane heat. And make no mistake, the 2009 All-Star is worse than C.J. Wilson and less consistent than Buehrle. There are worse things one can say about a starter, however. Jackson, even without realizing his full potential, can provide depth to the middle of a team’s rotation.

Prediction: Quality starting pitching is scarce, so someone will overpay for the 28 year old. Prediction: Jackson to the Nationals for four years, $50 million.

Zach Finkelstein is a contributing writer for YESNetwork.com and SNY.tv.