Free Agent Roundup

With baseball's second season officially getting underway over the weekend, the happiest people of all may be those in the real estate industry. Many of the game's best players are about to change addresses and pad their bank accounts. The stove is heating up, just before it blows its top at the winter meetings later this week.

AL East
The east is a division separated by a fine line. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have money and are willing to spend it, while the Baltimore Orioles spend significantly less and the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devil Rays can't spend nearly as much. The Yankees are expected to be major players for virtually every top free agent target. They have been rumored to have interest in pitchers Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano, Eric Milton, and David Wells along with outfielder Carlos Beltran, second baseman Jeff Kent, and even catcher Jason Varitek. The Red Sox are targeting many of the same players but must first decide what to do with their own free agents; Martinez, Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera.

The Orioles are a step above the Jays and Rays this off season and are expected to make a run at Carlos Delgado and some of the top arms on the market. The Rays could be a surprise destination for some of the second-tier players while the Jays are said to have interest in Corey Koskie if they are able to move Eric Hinske.

AL Central
The Central is a lot like the bottom half of the East. The Chicago White Sox are expected to be the big spenders in the division but that doesn't mean they will be spending much at all. They are deep sleepers for some of the top names on the market, including Beltran. The Cleveland Indians may be one arm away from being the best team in the division so they are targeting former member of the Twins, right-hander Brad Radke. The Minnesota Twins aren't going to just let him go however. They are expected to make a run at resigning him as well as free agent shortstop Christian Guzman.

The Detroit Tigers proved last off season that they are willing to spend money and try to lure a big-name player to Detroit. But very few reports have the Tigers as players for anyone significant, other than Lowe. That isn't to say that they won't come out of nowhere to sign a player like Pudge Rodriguez but a repeat of last year isn't very likely. The Kansas City Royals traded Carlos Beltran during the season because they wouldn't be able to afford him and nothing has changed. They have very little money to spend and won't be able to do much more than re-sign Joe Randa, which is less likely to happen with the signing of former Astros 3B Morgan Ensberg. The AL Central may be the cheapest division baseball.

AL West
Two of the most active clubs with money to spend this off season reside in the AL West. The Seattle Mariners have somewhere between $23 million and an endless amount of the former Nintendo founder's checkbook, depending on which report you read, and seem very willing to spend it on the right players. Rumors have them very close to landing a first baseman, believed to be either Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson. They are also expected to make a strong run at Adrian Beltre, Troy Glaus, and possibly even Carlos Beltran. Carl Pavano, Matt Clement, Odalis Perez, and Brad Radke could also end up in the Pacific Northwest next season. The Anaheim Angels, the biggest spenders last off season, may be at it again. While some rumors had them as looking to cut payroll, recent reports have said the opposite. They are now considered players for Carlos Beltran and even Pedro Martinez.

The Oakland A's are one of the "have nots" but always seem to find a way to add talent. They declined the option on Jermaine Dye but they may trade one of "Big Three" to add a slugger. Odds are that Barry Zito would be the one to go but with Billy Beane's financial restrictions, he could see the advantage of trading any of the three for the right price. The Texas Rangers have always had the same weakness: pitching. They don't have much money to spend and may end up having to deal Alfonso Soriano to save some but they may be a player for some of the second-tier starting pitchers such as Russ Ortiz.

NL East
For many teams in the NL East, the goal this offseason is to keep their own players instead of trying to pick up new talent. The Atlanta Braves are in trouble with J.D. Drew, Russ Ortiz, and Jaret Wright all available for free agency. They do not have enough money for all three and Drew is likely their top target. They may need to fill both rotation slots from within the organization or move John Smoltz in. The Florida Marlins managed to find a way to keep Mike Lowell but they may not be so lucky with Carl Pavano. They don't have much to spend and Pavano is drawing a lot of interest from the Red Sox, Yankees, and many other teams. The Washington franchise is struggling to find a name and a place to play, forget signing many free agents.

The New York Mets are expected to be the big spender in the division. They appear to be very interested in trading for Sammy Sosa and possibly swapping Mike Piazza for Shawn Green. If a deal isn't struck, they will make a strong run at Magglio Ordonez and possibly Carlos Beltran. The Philadelphia Phillies won't likely be spending but they may make a trade or two to bring an outfielder. One of the names being thrown around is Randy Winn.

NL Central
Two more potential suitors for Carlos Beltran reside in the NL Central. The Chicago Cubs have a dilemma involving Sammy Sosa but if that can be resolved in time to make a serious run at Beltran, they will be a major player. They are expected to let free agent pitcher Matt Clement walk and fill the empty rotation spot from within and go after a proven closer to solidify the back of the bullpen. Beltran's former employer, the Houston Astros, are expected to attempt to bring him back. Surprsingly, with Chris Burke ready, they have also been in contact with second baseman Jeff Kent. The other top team in the division, the St. Louis Cardinals, will be looking for a way to keep their free agent shortstop Edgar Renteria while making a run at trading for Randy Johnson.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have acted quickly, re-signing their free-agent closer Jose Mesa. They don't have much payroll flexibility and with the exception of a few minor moves, are expected to go to battle next season with the players currently in their system. The Cincinnati Reds have a decision to make. They have four players for three roster spots. After basically a lost season in 2004, Austin Kearns appears to be the odd man out of the Reds' outfield. They have experimented with a move to third base for Kearns but that hasn't gone well and the Reds may opt to trade Kearns in an attempt to pick up some much-needed pitching help. The Milwaukee Brewers will likely be quiet this winter with the exception of potentially trading closer Danny Kolb. Kolb was excellent in 2004 but he is arbitration eligible and may be too expensive for the Brewers in the near future.

NL West
Out West, the Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to be in the market for many of the high-priced talent. They will attempt to re-sign Adrian Beltre but have Troy Glaus as a fallback option. They have also been rumored in trades for both Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza. The San Francisco Giants are not typically big spenders but they have inquired about the availability of Pedro Martinez and Armando Benitez. They are a sleeper candidate to land one of the better free agent prizes this winter and added Omar Vizquel on Sunday.

In the camp of the Arizona Diamondbacks, all the talk is about Randy Johnson. It appears a trade is imminent and the Yankees and Cardinals are the two most likely destinations. The Colorado Rockies are another team attempting to clear salary- big surprise. Charles Johnson, Shawn Chacon, and even Preston Wilson are all said to be available. The San Diego Padres are the forgotten team in the big-name player market. They have many pieces necessary for a championship team but they are missing that one player. If some teams balk at Carlos Beltran, don't be surprised to see the Padres swoop in under the radar.

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