Cole Hamels is positioned perfectly for free agency, because it appears there will be nobody else like him on the market in the fall, assuming he doesn't sign with the Phillies. (And as of Thursday evening, his contract talks with the Phillies remain dormant.) Zack Greinke might be the second-best starter available this fall, and there are some big-market teams that will likely pass on him altogether because of questions about how he would adapt.
But the fall market for outfielders looks to be much more flush, with many accomplished players poised to cash in on free agency at a time when a lot of executives are re-evaluating the proper risk on long-term contracts and trying to determine appropriate prices.
This might not be a good thing for free-agent outfielders.
Less than two years ago, Carl Crawford got a seven-year, $142 million deal from the Red Sox, and Jayson Werth landed a seven-year, $126 million contract with Washington. Many club officials now consider those signings to be wildly outpriced -- yet it was just two weeks ago that Adam Jones, still more than a year from free agency, got a six-year, $85.5 million deal from the Baltimore Orioles.
What does all this mean for outfielders about to reach free agency? "I think the market is still trying to decide," a GM said Thursday.
But the number of alternatives may ultimately work against all of them, in one way or another.
The outfield free agents-to-be:
Josh Hamilton: He'll be the most prominent name on the market, and nobody doubts his talent -- least of all the Rangers, who look at him as a game-changer. But what's the proper level of investment, given the risks suggested by his personal history? If Hamilton is going to be in line for a deal over $100 million, which teams, exactly, are going to compete with the Rangers?
The Yankees are now bumping up against their budget and already have other pressing needs -- most notably Robinson Cano's impending free agency in the fall of 2013 -- so it's highly unlikely they'd get involved. The Red Sox already are overstocked with big contracts. The Angels are loaded with outfielders. The Cubs are rebuilding from the ground up, so it might make little sense for them to throw out a huge deal to an over-30 outfielder when they're burdened by Alfonso Soriano's deal. The Mets have to deal with David Wright's situation first.
Baltimore could an interesting option, one GM mused. "But I don't think he's got a lot of places to go," in light of what his salary will be.
The big question about the Rangers' offer to him is going to be how many years will they guarantee. Two? Three? Four, with a lot of vesting options attached? We'll see.
Hamilton intends to use his free-agent dollars for philanthropic purposes, writes Randy Galloway.
Michael Bourn: He is having an excellent season, hitting .305 with a .357 on-base percentage, and he's on pace for a season of 210 hits, 117 runs and 43 stolen bases. And he's a center fielder.
Andre Ethier: Other Dodgers felt like he came to camp with a renewed sense of purpose, and it's showing: He's been mashing, hitting .305 with 48 RBIs, and is in line for a lot of top-10 MVP votes.
Melky Cabrera: He's a wild card, because of his explosive emergence as an elite outfielder the last two seasons. He had 201 hits for the Royals in 2011, and Kansas City, looking to free up center field for Lorenzo Cain, swapped him to San Francisco -- and Cabrera has generated more of the same, with a .403 on-base percentage and 25 extra-base hits among 87 hits. He left Thursday's game with a hamstring issue.
Shane Victorino: The Phillies' Gold Glove center fielder was offered a three-year deal in the offseason, and he's looking for five years. So far this year, he's hitting .249 with seven homers.
B.J. Upton: There has always been a sense among evaluators that Upton was capable of doing more than he's done. Still, he has hit 20-plus homers and stolen 30-plus bases and played an outstanding center field, and he's just 27 years old.
Carlos Quentin: Rival officials believe he could be the first prominent hitter dealt this summer, and he's been crushing the ball since being activated off the disabled list. But with the Padres' ownership in a state of flux, the team could look to slow-play this situation, and give the incoming owners -- whoever they turn out to be -- a chance to bid on him before he hits the market place. There are no ongoing talks, but some officials guesstimate that Quentin could be in line for a deal in the range of four years, $48 million; that could climb to Jason Bay territory (4/60) if Quentin stays on the field and keeps hitting.
Nick Swisher: He's hitting .250, with eight homers and 35 RBIs, but typically, he has been an on-base percentage machine. Swisher is 31 years old.
Torii Hunter: He's reached the age at which he's not going to get a huge deal, but he's in great shape and is a nice alternative on a short-term deal.
Angel Pagan: He's hitting .321 this season.
His command of his knuckler, an extraordinarily difficult pitch to master, is remarkable. Compare Dickey's strikeout-to-walk ratio this year to the best single-season K/BB rates of other knuckleball pitchers:
R.A. Dickey: 4.11
Phil Niekro 3.39
Joe Niekro 2.41
Wilbur Wood 3.39
Tim Wakefield 2.63
Charlie Hough 2.23
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Dickey shut down the Nationals:
A) Thirty-six of the 37 two-strike pitches Dickey threw were knuckleballs. Nationals hitters were 1-for-14 in two-strike at-bats.
B) Recorded 13 ground-ball outs (including two double plays), his most in a start this season.
C) Nationals hitters were 1-for-8 in at-bats ending with a pitch away, and 0-for-7 in at-bats ending with a pitch inside. All eight of Dickey's strikeouts came on pitches off of the middle of the plate.
Dickey's knuckleball has been far more effective this season than in 2011, and it's a significant reason he is one of the front-runners for the NL Cy Young a week into June.
Dickey struck out eight on Thursday, his fifth consecutive start with eight or more strikeouts. That's the longest such streak in the majors this season. It's the longest streak by a Mets pitcher since Pedro Martinez did it in six straight starts in 2006. David Cone holds the all-time record with 10 straight starts in 1992.
• The Royals signed their No. 1 pick, for below the slot recommendation. The Astros signed the No. 1 overall pick, for significantly below the slot recommendation of $7.2 million.
The Astros have crafted a smart, bold plan, writes Jerome Solomon.
• The Marlins are among the teams to bid on Jorge Soler, writes Juan Rodriguez.
• Derek Holland has some shoulder fatigue, so the Rangers pushed some dominoes: Alexi Ogando was moved into the rotation, and Tanner Scheppers was called up from the minors. Ogando figures he can throw about 60 pitches in his first outing.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Twins' recent surge shouldn't affect their plans to be sellers, writes Jim Souhan.
2. Ken Williams needs to make moves, writes Joe Cowley.
3. The Jays' lineup shuffle is paying off.
Dings and dents
1. Jason Bay's return was delayed by a bad stomach.
7. Grady Sizemore's rehab has slowed.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
5: Consecutive starts with eight-plus strikeouts by R.A. Dickey, the longest streak in the majors this season.
14: Orioles hitters were 0-for-14 against Clay Buchholz with runners on base Thursday.
347: Distance of Giancarlo Stanton's home run, tied for the shortest in his career.
1946: The last year the Dodgers franchise swept a four-game series against in Philadelphia.
1. An error hurt the Yankees.
3. O-Dog got a big hit.
4. The Marlins got blown out, and were swept at home.
5. The Jays had their guts ripped out.
7. The Pirates rallied to win.
10. Clay Buchholz was outstanding in throwing a shutout at the Orioles, as Peter Abraham writes.
16. David Price shut down the Yankees. From ESPN Stats & Info, how he won:
A) Threw 23 curveballs out of 109 pitches (21.1 percent), his highest percentage in a start since June 11, 2011.
B) Threw 14 of the curveballs with two strikes, and Yankees hitters were 0-for-3 in at-bats ending with the pitch, all strikeouts.
C) Yankees hitters were 0-for-9 in two-strike at-bats overall, putting just one two-strike pitch in play, Price's final pitch of the game.
D) Yankees hitters were 0-for-7 with RISP against Price, including four strikeouts.
While Price may have only lasted five (effective) innings Thursday against the Yankees, he gave it his all while he was out there. Price registered an average fastball velocity of 96.7 mph, not only his highest of the season, but his highest in nearly two years. It continues a recent trend. This is his average fastball velocity over his last five starts:
June 1: 96.0
May 26: 95.8
May 20: 95.3
May 15: 94.9
• From ESPN's Home Run Tracker, these are Thursday's longest home runs:
Jason Heyward: 439 feet
Jason Heyward: 434
Ryan Ludwick: 424
Michael Bourn: 416
Bryan LaHair: 410
Carlos Beltran: 410
The 27 home runs hit Thursday had an average distance of 385.6 feet, the lowest of any day this season. Seven of the 27 homers had true distances less than 360 feet, and only 10 were at least 400 feet.
• Major League Baseball modified its drug program.
• Rudy Jaramillo is having a tough time with weak personnel, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.
• The Angels have some T'n'T.
• Tommy Lasorda was released from the hospital.
• The Nationals have the right recipe, writes Thomas Boswell.
• Some Mariners have run with their opportunity, writes Larry Stone.
• The Tigers' defense must improve, writes Mitch Albom.
• This Subway Series will be filled with drama.
And today will be better than yesterday.