Crawford, Werth top free-agent outfielders
One offers speed, the other power in a varied group of players
There is a lot of power to be found among the outfielders on the free-agent market this offseason, but relatively little of it will come from the man who might be the most sought-after position player.
Carl Crawford has 104 home runs over nine Major League seasons, 185 behind fellow free-agent outfielder Magglio Ordonez and 250 fewer than free-agent slugger Adam Dunn. But it's Crawford who teams want.
There's also Jayson Werth, who has two big seasons on his resume to set him up as one of baseball's top free-agent options for teams looking for a power surge. Add in Ordonez's .300-plus hitting and proven run production, and there's a little bit of everything for teams seeking outfielders.
As baseball has moved away from offenses built around the home run, teams have coveted players like Crawford who can create runs without leaving the yard. Now, clubs will have their shot at the real thing, and at an age when most players enter their prime years.
Crawford's stats certainly suggest he still has his best years ahead of him. This past season he had a career-best 19 home runs and 90 RBIs -- an impressive total for someone who has never had a 20-homer season -- and an .851 OPS that also topped anything he had previously accomplished.
He's arguably the marquee offensive player on the market, and it's partly because he transcends the notion of a particular offensive style. He could fit with a team known for mashing the ball in a smaller park, such as the Red Sox, or supplement a running team like the ultra-aggressive Angels. In left field, his defense -- notably his range -- puts him on another level.
Yet some of the same teams that could be in on Crawford might also be interested in Werth, who also boasts some speed but is better known for his efficiency on the basepaths in addition to his pop with a bat. He topped an .860 OPS in each of his four seasons with Philadelphia, including a .921 clip this year, thanks to a career-best 46 doubles.
Which one will make the bigger impact on the club he joins remains to be seen. Some fan bases might debate it much sooner than that. But there's no question that both players will attract their fair share of attention.
Looking to buy: The Tigers have the payroll space to spend on multiple big-name free agents, and they have at least one corner outfield spot open to find a supporting hitter for Miguel Cabrera. All things being equal, Crawford is the more appealing player to them, but they could quickly shift their attention to Werth if it becomes apparent that Crawford is looking elsewhere. ... Likewise, the Red Sox have been reported to have interest in both players, though they've long been considered suitors for Crawford. ... The Angels need offense, and they've reportedly targeted Crawford, who fits their style. ... Down the freeway, the Dodgers need a left fielder, though it remains to be seen whether they would pursue Crawford and/or Werth. ... The White Sox have enough outfielders as is, but they have enough of a need for a left-handed-hitting catalyst, and an aggressive enough GM, that they could make a play for Crawford. ... The Athletics could use some right-handed power and could fit that in the outfield, but they might be more likely to find it in a trade.
Top dog: Along with Cliff Lee, Crawford is the guy many will track once the offers start building this winter. Unlike Lee, who seems poised for a battle between the Yankees and Rangers, the potential bidding for Crawford is wide open, and could lead anywhere from Boston to Detroit, Chicago's south side to southern California. Though the track record of free-agent speedsters is mixed, Crawford's hitting game suggests he could age more gracefully once he gets into his 30s. ... Werth stands as the best right-handed hitter on the market. His power numbers benefited from a homer-friendly park in Philadelphia, but they were balanced on the road until this season. Add in a strong outfield arm and deceptive speed for his size, and he's an all-around contributor.
Best of the rest: Ordonez was on his way to a massive bounceback season before he fractured his ankle on July 24, an injury that will be a question for teams to answer as they look at the soon-to-be 37-year-old. ... Pat Burrell put a new spin on his contract year once he got to San Francisco, where he posted an .872 OPS for the World Series champions. ... Brad Hawpe had four straight seasons with at least 20 homers and a .283 average before a 2010 season he'd love to forget; he could be a mid- to smaller-market sleeper. ... Melky Cabrera's production plummeted across the board once he was traded out of New York, but at 26, he's young enough for somebody to take a shot at a rebound season. ... Jeremy Hermida remains an intriguing project at 27, despite a contract-year dropoff. ... Rick Ankiel's numbers have taken a slide since his 25-homer season for St. Louis in 2008.
Worth a shot: Willie Bloomquist, Jody Gerut, Bill Hall, Willie Harris, Eric Hinske, Reed Johnson, Andruw Jones, Austin Kearns, Gary Matthews Jr., Xavier Nady, Randy Winn. Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez are also available, but opinion is that they're both better suited to be designated hitters.
Potential class of 2012: If Jose Bautista can follow up his 54-homer season with similar results in 2011, he'll be a big player in next winter's market, if the Blue Jays don't trade him in the meantime. Cody Ross could be in a similar situation if he takes his postseason momentum into next season. Michael Cuddyer's quiet production could make him a hot commodity if he doesn't stay in Minnesota.