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Similar studs top free-agent outfield crop

Similar studs top free-agent outfield crop

Every free-agent market has a focal point, and in this one, the bull's-eye falls on a pair of outfielders who are strikingly similar.

Matt Holliday and Jason Bay provoked the most anticipation, and are expected to generate the most attention and dollars.

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Both are powerful right-handed hitters of comparable age, with Bay one year older at 31. Both are modest, soft-spoken individuals much better at playing a good game than at talking it.

So, fittingly, both are being led into the free-agent wilderness by outspoken, opinionated agents. The selling by Scott Boras, Holliday's man, and Joe Urbon, Bay's guy, is already under way.

Urbon: "I think the most important thing about Jason Bay is that he is truly the most complete player in this free-agent class. I don't think, I know."

Boras: "I've been around baseball for a long time, and the reality is that Matt Holliday is a complete player ... a franchise player."

This is only going to get better as each seeks top dollar for his client.

Whomever he signs with, Holliday should consider making a sizable donation to an Oakland charity in A's general manager Billy Beane's name. After an offseason trade from Colorado, Holliday's stock appeared as down as any on Wall Street as he entered July with merely eight homers and a batting average 45 points below his career mark, feeding the perception he may have been just another in a long line of Coors Field creations.

But after Beane dealt him back into the National League, Holliday instantly took off as Albert Pujols' conspicuous bodyguard in the St. Louis lineup, and here he is, wearing Boras' "franchise player" tag.

A trade also helped elevate Bay's profile. He was already a two-time All-Star in Pittsburgh, but when the Pirates dealt him to Boston and into Manny Ramirez's footsteps in July 2008, everyone had a chance to realize what a big-time player he was.

Holliday and Bay do cast giant shadows, but they aren't the only options for teams seeking outfield help.

Also prominent on the market are Johnny Damon and forgotten Yankees teammate Xavier Nady, another ranked free agent; Jermaine Dye, whose option was declined by the White Sox; a pair of defensive giants in center in Mike Cameron and Coco Crisp; and two of the decade's top headliners, former Angels teammates Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero.

For GMs with perhaps more guts than bucks, there are some on whom to take fliers: Andruw Jones and Brian Giles are the top risks.

Head of the class

Bay (36 HR, 119 RBIs, .267 AVG), Type A He proved to be a reliable clutch hitter in his only full season (thus far) with the Red Sox, who were 27-7 when he homered. Some scouts are alarmed that he struck out 25 more times in 46 fewer at-bats this season than last. Fenway Park's short left field emphasized his defensive strengths (good instincts, accurate arm), but he won't cover much ground.

Holliday (24-109-.313), Type A: A strong, muscular hitter with a surprisingly good knowledge of the strike zone, Holliday was among the few pure power hitters who had more RBIs (109) than strikeouts (101). It is interesting that he's considered only the Red Sox's fallback option, because his swing seems much more tailor-made for Fenway Park than that of Bay.

Damon (24-82-.282), Type A: Boras could have a point in citing "genetics" to ward off concerns about Damon's advancing age (he turned 36 the day after the World Series ended). Statistically, his four seasons in the Bronx were stunningly similar to the four prior seasons in Boston. As for durability, he has never played fewer than 143 games.

Dye (27-81-.250), Type A: Aside from the $12 million price tag, the White Sox clearly were put off by his second-half dive. Dye took a .302 average into the All-Star break, and thereafter went 38-for-212 (.179), with only 11 extra-base hits. Yet, overall, his 27 homers were second among free-agent outfielders, trailing only Bay's 36.

Byrd (20-89-.283), Type B: Is he the second coming of Gary Matthews Jr.? Matthews was a free agent who cashed in big after one breakthrough season in Texas. As had Matthews in 2006, Byrd shattered his previous career highs with 20 homers and 89 RBIs at age 32. It will be up to suitors to determine his staying power.

Nady (0-2-.286), Type B: He'll be coming off the second Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, but he is one of the youngest free-agent outfielders (he turned 31 over the weekend). The first procedure had been done before he established himself as a Major Leaguer with moderate power, so there's no reason to believe he can't make another comeback.

Randy Winn (2-51-.262), Type B: A right fielder with an atrocious strikeouts-to-homers ratio (93-to-2) figures to be far down the list of most shoppers.

Cameron (24-70-.250), Type B: He may not be as sought-after as in the past, but Cameron has sustained his consistent power (2009 was his eighth season between 21 and 30 homers) and is still a fearless, instinctive flyhawk.

Guerrero (15-50-.295), Type B: At 34 and in his 13th season, he suddenly looked worn down. Injury contributed to halving his typical run production (15 homers, 50 RBIs), but he also missed hitting .300 for the first time since 1997.

Anderson (13-61-.268), Type B: One of the most consistent hitters of his generation has, at 37, reached the journeyman stage. He could be ticketed back to the AL, where his ability to hit tough lefties could make him an ideal everyday DH.

Giles (2-23-.191), Type B: His play only a year ago was strong enough to support an Elias ranking through a lost 2009 season. He could also get lost in the offseason shuffle.

Hideki Matsui (28-90-.274): At age 35 and with two bad knees, Matsui is ideally a DH -- he hasn't played in the outfield since early in the 2008 season. But he has said that he could return to the field, and he's coming off a solid offensive season in which he hit 28 home runs and had 90 RBIs in 142 games.

Also on the market

Rick Ankiel (Cardinals), Rocco Baldelli (Red Sox), Frank Catalanotto (Brewers), Endy Chavez (Mariners), Crisp (Royals), Jerry Hairston Jr. (Yankees), Eric Hinske (Yankees), Reed Johnson (Cubs), Jones (Rangers), Austin Kearns (Nationals), Jason Michaels (Astros), Greg Norton (Braves), Corey Patterson (Brewers), Scott Podsednik (White Sox), Gary Sheffield (Mets), Matt Stairs (Phillies).

Ready to buy

Between the two teams facing a big hole in left field, the Red Sox are far more bent on either retaining Bay or getting a comparable (Holliday) replacement. St. Louis GM John Mozeliak certainly did not appear anxious to get into market bidding for Holliday when he compared his potential slice of the payroll to his contribution by saying, "I don't think there's one guy who can make that kind of an impact."

The Yankees will be far more involved than some foresee, beyond settling their Damon-and/or-Matsui dilemma. Landing a right fielder would allow them to deploy Nick Swisher as a full-time DH who wouldn't have to come out of tight games for a defensive replacement. The Braves, Mets and Giants also have needs -- although the Angels seem more interested in prioritizing the trade market.

Window shopping

The Cubs must be on the alert in case they are able to productively move Milton Bradley. The Mariners bear watching because they believe they're close to breaking through. Clubs such as the Brewers, Astros and White Sox will be OK with internal help -- yet the market is varied enough to speculate in some low-cost, high-return guys.

Potential 2011 class

Alfredo Amezaga, Pat Burrell, Eric Byrnes, Carl Crawford, David DeJesus ($6 million club option with $500,000 buyout), Adam Dunn, Jody Gerut, Jose Guillen, Willie Harris, Brad Hawpe ($10 million club option with $500,000 buyout), Jason Kubel ($5.25 million club option with $350,000 buyout), Magglio Ordonez ($15 million club option) and Jayson Werth.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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