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Baseball shopping begins

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From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:

It is open season on Major League Baseball’s free-agent market beginning today, and here is one-man’s opinion on the top players at each position.

First base — Mike Napoli (Red Sox). The Angels and the Rangers both probably regret letting the former catcher get away. If the champion Red Sox are smart, they will keep him.

Second base — Robinson Cano (Yankees). Is a second baseman worth a $300-million contract? I say no, but the injury-plagued Yankees need him — and perhaps vice versa. The Yankees will keep him and $200 million seems more legitimate.

Shortstop — Jhonny Peralta (Tigers). He served a 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy, but came back and played meaningful moments in the playoffs.

Third base — Mark Reynolds (Yankees). Very weak crop here, with other candidates being Kevin Youkilis, Placido Polanco and Michael Young (once an All-Star but now past his prime). You know what you get with Reynolds: plenty of pop with plenty of strikeouts.

Outfield — Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox), Carlos Beltran (Cardinals) and Shin-Soo Choo (Reds). Ellsbury is an igniter at the top of a batting order; Beltran is a premier postseason run-producer who is now more suited at DH and is injury prone at age 36; Choo enjoyed a terrific, under-the-radar season (.423 on-base percentage, 107 runs and 21 homers). Honorable mention pick: Curtis Granderson (Yankees).

Catcher — Brian McCann (Braves). It’s all but certain the 29-year-old will leave Atlanta and may head to an American League team. Honorable mention pick: Carlos Ruiz (Phillies).

Designated hitter — Nelson Cruz (Rangers). Like Peralta, he served a 50-game PED suspension and returned just in time for the playoffs to make the last out in Texas’ loss to Tampa Bay in the AL tie-breaker game.

Starting pitcher — Matt Garza (Rangers). Not a great year for starters on the market. He can be very good to very bad depending on the day. Honorable mention picks: Ervin Santana (Royals), Hiroki Kuroda (Yankees) and Tim Hudson (Braves), if he’s fully recovered from ankle surgery.

Relief pitcher — Grant Balfour (A’s). The Australian didn’t blow his first save chance until late July. Very dependable and very intense.

The biggest mystery man in the free-agent pool is Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, 25, a right-hander who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the regular season. He’s expected to go to a high-profile spending team like the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels or Phillies.

Richie Rich’s Top 10 in college football: 1. Oregon; 2. Alabama; 3. Florida State; 4. Ohio State; 5. Baylor; 6. Stanford; 7. Auburn; 8. Clemson; 9. Missouri; 10. LSU.

Richie Rich’s Top 10 in the NFL: 1. Broncos; 2. Chiefs; 3. Seahawks; 4. 49ers; 5. Saints; 6. Packers (played Monday night); 7. Patriots; 8. Colts; 9. Cowboys; 10. Bengals.

Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at rfyle@wdt.net

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