Open Mouth, Insert Football: Hot stove predictions

Ben Morrow
Sports columnist

Now that the World Series has ended, on to the next great American sport. Football? No. Basketball? Please.

It’s free agency time! We can’t emotionally move on from such a great baseball season to other things until we speculate how this year’s free agent class will unfold.

This isn’t a magazine or a sports blog, so our space is limited. Here’s a look at the top nine MLB players available and where they should go.

1. Albert Pujols (1B). AVG: .299. HR: 37. RBI: 99.

Current Team: Cardinals

Next Year’s Team: Cardinals

See last week’s column as to why Albert should and will return to St. Louis. In short, there’s no way they let him walk after bringing the trophy home for the second time in six years. It was reported that World Series Game 7 seats behind home plate sold for more than $20,000 each, and standing room only tickets approached $500 a piece. Betcha every dime of that went into a “Bring Albert Back” savings account.

2. Jose Reyes (SS). AVG: .339. HR: 7. RBI: 44. SB: 39.

Current Team: Mets

Next Year’s Team: Marlins

I’m putting Reyes a slot above Fielder mainly because of the importance of his position. A huge stolen base threat who also happened to win the NL batting title this year, Reyes will command a lot from teams needing an athletic infielder. Don’t be surprised if he takes his talents to South Beach and opens Miami’s new ballpark next year.

3. Prince Fielder (1B). AVG: .299. HR: 38. RBI: 120.

Current Team: Brewers

Next Year’s Team: Cubs

Sorry, Milwaukee fans. Fielder had the most impressive line of numbers of 2011 of all the hitters. Someone’s going to pay for him. New Cubs GM Theo Epstein should make his first big move by signing the hard-hitting first baseman.

4. Heath Bell (CP). SV: 43. ERA: 2.44. WHIP: 1.149.

Current Team: Padres

Next Year’s Team: Padres

Closers aren’t usually more highly sought than starters, but with C.C. Sabathia off the market and Wilson’s no-show in the playoffs, Bell gets the nod here. That said, I think the Padres re-sign Bell. Condolences to Cardinals fans not sold on Jason Motte.

5. C.J. Wilson (SP). W/L: 16-7. ERA: 2.94. WHIP: 1.187.

Current Team: Rangers

Next Year’s Team: Angels or Cubs

Wilson was rumored to be the next $100 million pitcher before the postseason started. It’s not often you get to watch a person devalue by about $20 million right before your eyes. Meanwhile, do you think the Angels miss Mike Napoli? They will want repay the favor to the Rangers by opening their pocketbook for the guy who helped knock them out of the AL playoff race. Wilson was, after all, still the ace of a team one strike away from winning it all.

Meanwhile, look for Cubs’ Epstein to make a big splash by upgrading the starting rotation. Wilson is the best option out there, and the Cubs have the cash to spend. Wilson might have stunk in the postseason, but the top starting pitcher in free agency always commands cash.

6. Jonathan Papelbon (CP). SV: 31. ERA: 2.94. WHIP: 0.933.

Current Team: Red Sox

Next Year’s Team: Cubs

The Red Sox need Paps back, so big-spending Boston is always in play; but I think Epstein tries a coup here to bring Papelbon to Chicago to shore up the Cubs’ bullpen. Either way, Papelbon should come out of this with a nice payday. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m betting the farm that Epstein throws money around like crazy this offseason.

7. Carlos Beltran (OF). AVG: .300. HR: 22. RBI: 84.

Current Team: Giants

Next Year’s Team: Giants

Why is it this guy is so good in contract years? Come to think of it, Adrian Beltre had the same stigma, but he continued to play after his big contract with the Rangers. Rumor is, Beltran likes SanFran, and SanFran likes Beltran. The Giants are only one year removed from their World Series title, and keeping Beltran in that lineup makes sense. The Giants will have to pay for him, though.

8. Aramis Ramirez (3B). AVG: .306. HR: 26. RBI: 93.

Current Team: Cubs

Next Year’s Team: Nationals

Ramirez, on the other hand, is gonzo. He has been in the middle of trade rumors for much of his career in Chicago, and it’s time for a change of scenery. Look for one of the other big spenders to snatch him up.

9. David Ortiz (DH). AVG: .309. HR: 29. RBI: 96.

Current Team: Red Sox

Next Year’s Team: Red Sox

There are several big names in the twilight of their careers who will probably re-up and finish playing with their current clubs. Ortiz is definitely one guy on that list. While not as dominant as he once was, 2011 was a comeback year for Papi. Look for the Sox to keep him.

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