By John Perrotto
The calendar has flipped to December and the free agent market has been slower than any off season in recent memory.
However, that could change next week when baseball executives convene for the annual Winter Meetings from Dec. 11-14 in Orlando. Plenty of player agents will also be hanging around the lobby of Walt Disney World’s Swan Resort, so it stands to reason that some deals will be struck.
Here is our look at the top three free agents and an educated guess as to where they might land:
Martinez’s new agent, Scott Boras, refers to his client as “The King Kong of Slug” after the outfielder hit a career-high 45 home runs this year with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. While sluggers may be overvalued in today’s offensive environment, Martinez figures to still land a large contract.
The defending World Series champions haven’t been mentioned as a suitor but don’t count out the Houston Astros. They have the need for a corner outfielder and some money to play with as they attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back World Series titles since the New York Yankees captured three in a row from 1998-2000.
Despite his dismal performance for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, which likely reduced his bargaining power to an extent, Darvish is still expected to sign the largest contract in terms of total value of any pitcher on the market.
The Texas Rangers know him well as he spent the first 5 ½ seasons of his major-league career with them before being traded last July. A return to Arlington makes plenty of sense for both sides as the Rangers could use another starter and Darvish could use a safe haven.
Considered “The Babe Ruth of Japan” because of his abilities as both an elite pitcher and hitter, the 23-year-old has reportedly narrowed his choices to seven teams. The biggest surprise is that the Yankees aren’t one of them, fueling speculation he wants to play outside an intense media spotlight.
The Seattle Mariners seem like a logical fit geographically. Furthermore, the franchise has a history of signing top Japanese players, beginning with Ichiro Suzuki and including Kazuhiro Sasaki, Kenji Johjima and Hisashi Iwakuma.
(Editor’s note: Since this article was written, Shohei Ohtani agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Angels with a package worth $2.3 million.)
John Perrotto, an independent sports journalist, based in Beaver Falls., Pa., has covered Major League Baseball since 1988, and is a regular contributor to USA TODAY Sports Weekly. You can also catch him at www.facebook.com/johnperrottosportswriter or reach him at email@example.com