There are only three weeks left in the regular 2011 season and this off season may produce a few blockbuster deals, so now may be a good time to predict which teams are most likely to acquire the big talent for 2012. The strongest options in the upcoming free agent market include Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Prince Fielder, and, the obvious headliner, Albert Pujols. We have to remember total salary does not always determine these moves, so where do we look?
|Philadelphia Phillies||89.4 M||98.3 M||113.0 M||141.9 M||173.0 M||123.1 M||34.26 M|
|Minnesota Twins||71.4 M||56.9 M||65.3 M||97.6 M||112.7 M||80.8 M||23.44 M|
|Tampa Bay Rays||24.1 M||43.8 M||63.3 M||71.9 M||41.1 M||48.8 M||18.97 M|
|Boston Red Sox||143.0 M||133.4 M||121.7 M||162.4 M||161.8 M||144.5 M||17.77 M|
|Chicago Cubs||99.7 M||118.3 M||134.8 M||146.6 M||125.0 M||124.9 M||17.67 M|
|Detroit Tigers||95.2 M||137.7 M||115.1 M||122.9 M||105.7 M||115.3 M||16.24 M|
|San Francisco Giants||90.2 M||76.6 M||83.0 M||98.6 M||118.2 M||93.3 M||16.14 M|
|Florida Marlins||30.5 M||21.8 M||36.8 M||57.0 M||56.9 M||40.6 M||15.86 M|
|Toronto Blue Jays||81.9 M||97.8 M||80.5 M||62.2 M||62.6 M||77.0 M||14.96 M|
|Kansas City Royals||67.1 M||58.2 M||70.5 M||71.4 M||36.1 M||60.7 M||14.68 M|
|San Diego Padres||58.1 M||73.7 M||43.7 M||37.8 M||45.9 M||51.8 M||14.27 M|
|New York Mets||115.2 M||137.8 M||149.4 M||134.4 M||118.8 M||131.1 M||14.07 M|
|Cleveland Indians||61.7 M||79.0 M||81.6 M||61.2 M||49.2 M||66.5 M||13.54 M|
|Texas Rangers||68.3 M||67.7 M||68.2 M||55.3 M||92.3 M||70.4 M||13.47 M|
|Colorado Rockies||54.4 M||68.7 M||75.2 M||84.2 M||88.1 M||74.1 M||13.40 M|
|Seattle Mariners||106.5 M||117.7 M||98.9 M||86.5 M||86.5 M||99.2 M||13.37 M|
|Los Angeles Angels||109.3 M||119.2 M||113.7 M||105.0 M||138.5 M||117.1 M||13.08 M|
|Chicago White Sox||108.7 M||121.2 M||96.1 M||105.5 M||127.8 M||111.8 M||12.65 M|
|Oakland Athletics||79.4 M||48.0 M||62.3 M||51.7 M||66.5 M||61.6 M||12.50 M|
|Houston Astros||87.8 M||88.9 M||103.0 M||92.4 M||70.7 M||88.5 M||11.65 M|
|Baltimore Orioles||93.6 M||67.2 M||67.1 M||81.6 M||85.3 M||79.0 M||11.61 M|
|Washington Nationals||37.3 M||55.0 M||60.3 M||61.4 M||63.9 M||55.6 M||10.70 M|
|Arizona Diamondbacks||52.1 M||66.2 M||73.5 M||60.7 M||53.6 M||61.2 M||8.91 M|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||108.5 M||118.6 M||100.4 M||95.4 M||104.2 M||105.4 M||8.81 M|
|Atlanta Braves||87.3 M||102.4 M||96.7 M||84.4 M||87.0 M||91.6 M||7.64 M|
|New York Yankees||189.6 M||209.1 M||201.4 M||206.3 M||202.7 M||201.8 M||7.46 M|
|St. Louis Cardinals||90.3 M||99.6 M||88.5 M||93.5 M||105.4 M||95.5 M||6.99 M|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||38.5 M||48.7 M||48.7 M||34.9 M||45.0 M||43.2 M||6.20 M|
|Milwaukee Brewers||71.0 M||80.9 M||80.2 M||81.1 M||85.5 M||79.7 M||5.32 M|
|Cincinnati Reds||68.9 M||74.1 M||73.6 M||71.8 M||75.9 M||72.9 M||2.67 M|
|AVERAGE||82.6 M||89.5 M||88.9 M||90.6 M||92.9 M||88.9 M|
Payroll information from USA Today.
That's a lot of data to take in, but I believe the key lies within the standard deviation of the teams' payrolls. A large deviation indicates a greater change in payroll over the last five years. Only three teams on this list have consistently raised their payrolls every year since 2007: the Phillies, Rockies, and Nationals. The Philadelphia Phillies payroll has nearly doubled over this time to reflect their recent acquisitions of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt. Essentially the Phillies are becoming the new Yankees of the National League.
Let's categorize a few teams.
Most deviation: Phillies, Twins, Rays, Red Sox, Cubs.
Least deviation: Reds, Brewers, Pirates, Cardinals, Yankees.
Highest average payroll: Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Cubs, Phillies.
Lowest average payroll: Marlins, Pirates, Rays, Padres, Nationals.
Time for some cross-referencing.
Most deviation & above average payroll: Phillies, Red Sox, Cubs, Tigers, Giants.
Most deviation & below average payroll: Twins, Rays, Marlins, Blue Jays, Royals.
Least deviation & above average payroll: Cardinals, Yankees, Braves, Dodgers, White Sox.
Least deviation & below average payroll: Reds, Brewers, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Nationals.
If you presume the teams with the most deviation and highest payroll would be able to support the largest contracts, then you would be mostly correct. Of course you still have to take into account a team's needs. For example, three of those five should not be in the mix for Pujols or Fielder because they already have solid first basemen on contract in 2012.
This longer term analysis does not take into account the more recent resurgence of previously conservative teams either, such as the Nationals who recently signed Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, and Jayson Werth. One could assume several low budget teams will become buyers this winter as well due to their positive performances this season, like the Diamondbacks, Indians, or Pirates. The Marlins will be moving to their new stadium in 2012, so they may want to make a trade to attract a larger crowd. The Yankees have been unusually quiet in 2011 and I would wager they will make at least one big move, too, especially if CC Sabathia opts out of his contract early. Many analysts do not expect the Yankees to chase after Pujols or Fielder while they own Mark Teixeira, unless they try to convince one of them to take on their designated hitter role. Finally, the Brewers and Cardinals should hope to make at least one big deal if they hope to retain their star first basemen.
So who will make a big splash this off season? Here is a list of my predictions:
Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Pirates, Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees.
Only time will tell where the cards will fall.