Specials remain in free agent market

Steals remain in free agent pool

Amid the mistletoe, sparkling lights and carolers, baseball's general managers really are just like everyday people. They are bogged down with holiday shopping for the team that has everything -- except, maybe, a situational lefty who can paint the outside corner.

By now the market has been stormed. At this stage of the shopping season, it's slim pickings, and you've got to fight over the goods remaining on barren shelves -- kinda like how your mom had to elbow for those Cabbage Patch dolls a few years ago.

But the GMs remain attentively on the job, eager to give to fans the kind of presents that won't fit under the tree, but hopefully will keep on giving ... like maybe good at-bats in the clutch, or seven quality innings every fifth day.

So, as you can see, there are 30 St. Nicks racing their sleighs. But whereas Santa Claus checks his list once or twice, Pat Gillick and Bill Stoneman have to check theirs much more often, because they keep changing.

As for knowing whether you've been good or bad -- who knows more about that than these guys? Their elves ... er, scouts ... tell them all they need to know, then there are those computer printouts of statistics.

So there are no secrets, or Secret Santas, here. No returns, either, for that matter. So shop wisely.

Some Manager's Specials still remain in the free-agent section:

(Ed. Note: This list excludes Roger Clemens, who at the moment is a free agent like, say, Nolan Ryan is a free agent.)

1. Barry Zito, LHP
2006: 16-10, 3.83
Career: 102-63, 3.55
Age: 28

Like a rock. Has made either 34 or 35 starts in every one of his six Major League seasons, during which he averaged 16 wins for Oakland. Agent Scott Boras, seeking negotiating leverage by dispelling the notion that his rocker client wants to be on a coast, said, "Zito is geographically free." From there the price goes up.

2. Jeff Suppan, RHP
2006: 12-7, 4.12
Career: 106-101, 4.60
Age: 32 (in January)

The most sought-after starter remaining on the market, because he has the track record and is considered more affordable. Has so many teams courting him, should be pitching a "Bachelor"-type show to the networks. Has made 30-plus starts in eight consecutive seasons for four different teams. Needs to match up with a defensively strong team to remain successful.

3. Mark Mulder, LHP
2006: 6-7, 7.14
Career: 103-57, 4.11
Age: 29

Now you know why GMs are falling over one another trying to sign him, even though he underwent rotator cuff surgery in September and might be of only partial use next season. He was lights-out before the relatively minor shoulder thing (inflammation) came up: 88-40 the previous five seasons. A lefty in his 20s with sharp control? Where do I sign?

4. Keith Foulke, RHP
2006: 0 saves, 3-1
Career: 190 saves, 41-34
Age: 34

Although he appears to be over his medical crises (knee, elbow, back), the Red Sox simply tired of his act. He seems to be relief pitching's version of Billy Martin, a guy who lights it up, then quickly wears out his welcome. Which might explain why he had 128 saves in a four-year stretch (2001-04) for three teams. But with quality closing at such a premium, you'll give this guy a chance to get on your nerves.

5. Jeff Weaver, RHP
2006: 8-14, 5.76
Career: 86-101, 4.58
Age: 30

He always had the raw stuff, and in October gave tempting evidence of having acquired the nerves to go with it. Could be something he picked up somewhere along the rough trail he has traveled. Realistically, only National League general managers should put him in their cart: He is 32-28 in their league, compared with 54-73 in the AL.


1. Aubrey Huff, 1B-3B
2006: .267-21-66
Career: .285-141-487
Age: 30

Having too many trades has blurred the value of this Jack, who can really jack. He has logged 150-plus games in the outfield, at both corners of the infield and as a DH. But last season was his fifth straight with 20-plus homers, and a guy with that kind of pop who also has a disciplined eye at the plate can be invaluable on a contender.

2. Ron Belliard, 2B
2006: .272-13-67
Career: .272-80-439
Age: 31

Remarkably consistent during an eight-year career, he is a little (5-foot-8) dynamo with excellent extra-base power. And his defense is eye-popping enough to have been credited with putting the Cardinals on the postseason track following his trading-deadline acquisition from Cleveland. Adam Kennedy has displaced him in St. Louis, but someone will find a prominent new place for him.

3. Mark Loretta, 2B
2006: .285 batting, .345 on-base
Career: .299, .363
Age: 35

He was an All-Star with the Red Sox in 2006, but it appears he won't return to Boston -- nor does a return to San Diego seem to be in the cards, with the Padres bringing in Marcus Giles to play second. But for GMs looking for a solid player in the field and at the plate -- and a true professional between the lines and in the clubhouse -- this would be a good pick.

4. Preston Wilson, OF
2006: .263, 17 HRs, 12 SBs
Career: .264, 188, 122
Age: 32

His flourishing career hit a major stumbling block with a left knee injury that limited him to 58 games in 2004, but this is still a prime-aged guy who'd had 36 homers and 141 RBIs the season before. OK, that was in Colorado -- but even at sea level he's had seasons of 31 homers, 121 RBIs and 36 steals.

5. Darin Erstad, 1B/OF
2006: .221-0-5 in 40 games
Career: .286-114-625
Age: 32

Injuries have taken their toll on one of the leaders of the 2002 World Series-winning Angels, and his days under the halo appear to have ended. The Rockies are among the teams said to be willing to give him a chance, and he's among a few other name veterans -- Trot Nixon, David Bell, Aaron Boone -- who could pull a Scott Spiezio and help a club.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.