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Final destinations anyone's guess

Baltimore Sun

Scott Boras says November is a "greeting card month" for free agents.

Teams send out feelers, check medical records and weigh their options. They might discuss parameters of a deal, but only rarely do they start sincere negotiations before Thanksgiving.

CC Sabathia signed with the Yankees on Dec. 11 last year. Mark Teixeira didn't get his deal done until almost two weeks later. Signing season officially opened Friday, but agents and club executives are expecting this year's top free agents to sign again at a leisurely pace.

This early in the process, it's guesswork as to where players are going. Here are some projections:

Matt Holliday, Red Sox: Boston had the inside track on Teixeira before backing away. The Red Sox aren't likely to let that happen again. The Cardinals will make at least a face-saving attempt to keep him, but Holliday is a Boras client, so money is going to talk. The Mets are also in the picture.

Jason Bay, Angels: A good fit in Boston, Bay may regret walking away from a four-year, $60 million offer. But the Angels are in need of another bat with Vladimir Guerrero on his way out.

John Lackey, Angels: The best pitcher on the free-agent market almost never stays put. But 2009 was a down season for Lackey, causing teams to worry about his health. He would be a hugely attractive player for his preferred team in most years, but the Rangers are handcuffed by their ownership situation. Don't be stunned if he takes arbitration and returns to the Angels for one more season.

• Johnny Damon, Yankees: He sure didn't look like a guy at the end of his rope in the playoffs. He wants to stay, and the Yankees want him back. He's 36, so it's tough for Boras to find a better mix.

Aroldis Chapman, Mets: The Cuban flamethrower is in demand, but his firing of agent Edwin Mejia in favor of Randy and Alan Hendricks may delay his signing. The Mets love Chapman and need to make a splash.

• Miguel Tejada, Cardinals: If Holliday and Mark DeRosa leave, general manager John Mozeliak will be under pressure to keep Albert Pujols happy. Somebody's going to get overpaid, and it might as well be one of the game's most productive shortstops.

Chone Figgins, Giants: Before a horrible October (3-for-35, nine strikeouts, no stolen bases), he was positioning himself as an elite free agent. He will attract a lot of interest, but will anyone go beyond three years, $30 million?

Rich Harden, Twins: While a contract extension for Joe Mauer is priority No. 1, the Twins have money to spend with the move to Target Field. Harden and Justin Morneau played together on select teams in British Columbia.

•DeRosa, Phillies: The former Penn quarterback is a good fit to replace Pedro Feliz.

Hideki Matsui, White Sox: The World Series MVP will get a two-year deal somewhere to DH. The Yankees are keeping that role open as a once- or twice-a-week slot for Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Damon (if they re-sign him).

• Jermaine Dye, Braves: He doesn't want to DH but hasn't ruled out a move to first base. The Braves can sign him and trade their pitching surplus for prospects.

•Guerrero, Nationals: Washington has enough money to bring back the eight-time All-Star to his original franchise, making it more acceptable to trade Adam Dunn for some badly needed pitching.

Rich get richer: White Sox fans were taken aback that Gordon Beckham finished fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting after receiving that honor from Sporting News and in the Players Choice awards. But the real bad news might be for teams in the National League, baseball's junior varsity division over the last decade and a half.

Andrew Bailey, Elvis Andrus,Rick Porcello, Jeff Niemann and Beckham all had the numbers to win the award. That group's average age is 23. Bailey and Niemann will have to prove they weren't one-year wonders, but Porcello, Beckham and Andrus - like 2008 winner Evan Longoria, '07 winner Dustin Pedroia and '06 winner Justin Verlander - have the look of being impact players with staying power.

My AL picks, in order, were Porcello, Beckham and - a sentimental choice - the late Nick Adenhart. I didn't have a vote.

New category: Because he began his big league career on May 6, 2007, and not eight days later, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is about to be swimming in money. He earned $650,000 this year and only $405,000 in 2008, when he won the first of his back-to-back Cy Youngs. Now he gets to go to salary arbitration as a Super 2 player - one whose service time ranks in the top one-sixth of players classified as two years-plus.

Given the possibilities of jumping beyond $10 million, shouldn't he have his own category? Call him a Super-de-duper 2 player.

No first-year arbitration player has had as much leverage, although Ryan Howard would have come close. The Phillies slugger went to arbitration after an MVP season in 2007. He filed for $10 million, the team offered $7 million. Howard won his case, but instead of going to arbitration the next year, he signed a three-year, $54 million contract.

The Giants can expect to pay roughly that price for Lincecum. He has 2 years, 148 days of service time. The Super 2 cutoff was 2 years, 141 days. How unfair would it have been if he hadn't qualified and the owners arbitrarily could have assigned him a salary?

Phil Rogers covers baseball for the Chicago Tribune.

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