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Saturday, November 3, 2012
Five crazy free-agent ideas

By David Schoenfield

Keith Law unveiled his list of the top 50 free agents and, as you can see, it filters out pretty quickly. Truth is teams are doing a good job these days of locking up their young stars to long-term contracts, so you just don't see the number of premium free agents like you once did. Next year's potential free-agent class looks even thinner than this year's, so considering national TV revenue more than doubles to $50 million per team starting in 2014, I expect this year's crop of free agents to receive some generous deals that will surprise us in their outlays.

As the saying goes, it only takes one.

With that said ... let's have a little fun. Here's a list of potential free-agent signings that are off the radar -- but actually make sense.

1. Zack Greinke and Nick Swisher to the Mariners.

The Mariners have only Felix Hernandez signed beyond 2013, so they have a young team with considerable payroll flexibility. They have a farm system with several highly rated prospects who could debut sometime in 2013 -- pitchers Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, catcher Mike Zunino and shortstop Nick Franklin. They have a local TV contract that pays $45 million a year but which they can opt out of after 2015 and probably get another $25 million or so. What they don't have right now is a team worth watching, let alone one that can contend with the Rangers, Angels and A's.

The Mariners aren't Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay -- this is a franchise that has spent in the past and drawn large crowds when successful. Ownership needs to makes some impact signings. It needs to make this team interesting and give fans hope. Spend and spend big. The rotation is thin behind Hernandez and Jason Vargas. The Mariners need an outfielder and first baseman. Greinke fits in perfectly behind Hernandez, in a media market more to his suiting and without the pressure of being a No. 1. Swisher provides some power and on-base skills and can play right field or first base. Plus, if you sign Greinke and re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma, maybe you trade one of those pitching prospects for another bat. And keep Greinke away from the Angels or Rangers.

2. Kyle Lohse and Anibal Sanchez to the Twins.

The Twins had a historically awful rotation in 2012, one that posted a 5.40 ERA that, when adjusted for the league average, made it one of the worst of all time. The offense has a solid foundation with Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit, Denard Span, Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe. What they need, of course, is some pitching and Lohse and Sanchez fit the bill. Lohse is a former Twin who fits the classic Twins pitcher profile -- a guy who throws strikes. Sanchez's control took a big leap forward in 2012 and he showed he can succeed in the American League.

Remember, these are not the Twins of a decade ago. They spent $113 million on payroll in 2011 and $100 million in 2012. They drew more than 3 million fans in 2010 and 2011 and 2.7 million in 2012. And despite the $23 million per season owed to Mauer through 2018, the payroll is in decent shape, especially once Morneau's $15 million is off the books after 2013.

Angel Pagan
Angel Pagan could fill gaps in the Reds' offense and defense ... and the Giants could fill the outfield hole with Josh Hamilton.
3. Angel Pagan to the Reds.

The Reds would like to re-sign left fielder Ryan Ludwick, but the outfielder they need to pursue is Pagan. Dusty Baker loves Drew Stubbs' defense in center field, but Stubbs has become so ineffective against right-handed pitching that he's really nothing more than a platoon guy now.

Pagan fills the three primary holes for the Reds: a better center fielder, a leadoff hitter and a left-handed/switch-hitter to help balance all the right-handed bats in the Cincinnati lineup. The Reds have to give Joey Votto a $7.5 million increase in 2013, but his $19 million drops back to $12 million in 2014 (before rising again). But they've axed $14 million worth of Scott Rolen and Ryan Madson. It's a tight squeeze, but this is a team that can win it all with just a move or two. Pagan should be that move.

4. Josh Hamilton to the Giants.

Who will spend the money on Hamilton? Why not the defending champs? If any hitter can hit the ball out of AT&T Park, it's Hamilton. With Pagan heading over to the Reds and Hunter Pence a non-tender possibility, the Giants will need an outfielder. Hamilton fits perfectly, especially since the Giants can let Gregor Blanco play center field and put Hamilton in a corner. Remember, this team had huge production from Melky Cabrera that it will need to replace.

Money? Shouldn't be a problem. This is a team that ranked second in the National League in attendance the past two years and has drawn 3 million all but two years since moving into AT&T Park in 2000. Long-term contract issues aren't a problem, especially with Barry Zito's deal down to one year and Tim Lincecum signed only through 2013. That's $40 million off the books by 2014. You can give Hamilton a lower salary in 2013 and then have it escalate. Plus: A 3-4-5 of Hamilton, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval would look awfully sweet.

5. Melky Cabrera to the Rangers.

With Hamilton possibly on his way out and Nelson Cruz in decline, the Rangers need to rearm in the outfield, although moving Ian Kinsler there is a possibility with infield prospect Jurickson Profar ready for the majors. The Rangers could take advantage of what will likely be an underrated asset because of his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and sign Cabrera to a one-year deal with a club option for 2014.

Signing Cabrera would allow the Rangers to play defensive whiz Craig Gentry more regularly in center and let David Murphy handle regular designated-hitter duties in place of the Veteran Formerly Known As Michael Young. It's a win-win situation for both parties.