Baseball's free-agent shopping about to heat up

Pitcher Cliff Lee tosses against the Giants in Game five of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in...

Pitcher Cliff Lee tosses against the Giants in Game five of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on November 1, 2010. (RONALD MARTINEZ/Getty Images)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:05 PM ET

TORONTO - With baseball’s off-season meat market barely underway, things stand to heat up at the end of this week and really catch fire next week at the annual winter meetings in Orlando.

There are plenty of big-time free agents, starting with pitcher Cliff Lee, outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, third baseman Adrian Beltre, first basemen Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko and closer Rafael Soriano.

Question is, which teams have the cash to move the market?

We have assembled a totally subjective pecking order.

The Big Shooters

1. New York Yankees — Well, duh. The Yanks had a $213-million US payroll last season. Right now, they have $144 million committed to 10 players for 2011. None of those players is named Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, or Andy Pettitte. Add another $40-$50 million for that trio and we haven’t even begun to talk about Lee, Crawford, etc.

2. Boston Red Sox — The Red Sox had a team record $168-million payroll in 2010. Right now, they have $112 million committed to 14 players. Even after they overpay Jonathan Papelbon, there is cash left over to be in the hunt for Crawford, or maybe Werth, with a side order of Beltre.

3. Anaheim Angels — Coming off a $121-million payroll in 2010, Arte Moreno has made it clear he’s going to spend for ’11. Right now, the Angels have $94 million committed to nine players with nine arbitration-eligibles still to be dealt with. The Angels have targeted Crawford and Soriano.

4. Texas Rangers — Fresh out of bankruptcy and flush with a boatload of TV money (20 years, $3 billion from Fox Sports), the Rangers are dangerous. For 2011, they have seven players under contract for a modest $37 million and six arbitration eligibles to deal with. If they want Lee back, they have the resources, and then some.

5. Detroit Tigers — The Tigers have already been busy (Victor Martinez, four years, $50 million; Joaquin Benoit three years, $16.5 million) but they still have some room to play. They spent $133 million on player salaries last year and are currently at $83 million committed to 10 players.

Eager To Play

1. Chicago White Sox — The South-siders had a payroll of $103 million in 2010 and they have 13 players under contract for $82 million right now. They’ll be shopping with care.

2. Oakland Athletics — The A’s spent only $58 million on salaries last year but GM Billy Beane has been making some noise by kicking the tires on Dunn and Lance Berkman.

3. Baltimore Orioles — With only $28 million committed, the Orioles will try to spend some money next week but it’s tough to attract free agents when you are destined to lose.

4. Tampa Bay Rays — Free agency has created some holes. The Rays’ payroll was $73 million last year, and right now, they have only $16 million committed to five players, but also have nine arbitration-eligibles.

Tapped Out

1. Philadelphia Phillies — The Phils spent $138 million on players last year and are already committed to spend $146 million on 17 contracted players in 2011.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers — The Dodgers’ payroll was at $102 million a year ago and they have obligations to 11 players for $87 million. And that’s before the divorce lawyers get their slice.

3. St. Louis Cardinals — Cards spent $94 million last year and already have $90 million committed to 11 players. They’ll be saving to pay Albert Pujols’ ransom next year.

4. New York Mets — Coming off a $126-million payroll, the Mets are almost at that number right now for 2011. They have $119 million locked in for 10 players already.

Bargain Hunters

Everybody else, including the Blue Jays, who had a payroll of $79 million last year and currently have $43 million in obligations to seven players, with nine arbitration-eligibles to deal with, including Jose Bautista and Shaun Marcum.

Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos has said on numerous occasions this off-season that Toronto’s best chance to continue to upgrade its talent is through the draft and through trades.

Thursday is the deadline for all teams to tender contracts to players under their control. Any non-tendered player becomes a free agent.


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