Ranking The The Top Remaining MLB Free Agents
Outside of Matt Holliday, John Lackey and a few other big names, the 2010 MLB free agent class was relatively thin to begin with. Less than five weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, though, all of the biggest targets have signed and there really aren’t many high-impact players available. TAUNTR.com ranks the best players left on the market.
Friday update: Ankiel, Davis, and Pineiro are now all off the list.
Orlando Hudson: Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre gave Hudson the shaft late last season, benching him in favor of the inferior Ronnie Belliard. Belliard got hot in a small sample but is nowhere near the type of player that the O-Dawg is. Hudson was screwed by being attached to a draft pick last offseason before inking an incentive-laden contract with the Dodgers, and he could be looking at a similar fate this time around. He can still play, though, and is coming off a decent 109 OPS+ performance. The fact that he was benched reflects worse on Torre than it does him, and there are several teams that could do well to run him out there as their second baseman. He has been linked to the Washington Nationals.
Erik Bedard: Bedard will always be remembered in Seattle as the centerpiece on the wrong end of one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. When healthy, though, the talented lefty is a dominant force who strikes out batters at an impressive clip. His health is too much of a question mark for a team to make a significant investment in him, and he even may prefer to sign a one-year deal with incentives, improve his value and then test the waters again after 2010.
Joel Pineiro: Interestingly, a case could be made that Pineiro is the best (safest?) free agent starting pitcher remaining. He became the latest St. Louis Cardinals hurler to enjoy a renaissance under the tutelage of legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan, going 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA and 118 ERA+. Buyer beware, though, because Pineiro is surely to regress, especially if he moves away from Duncan. He cannot miss bats for his life depended on it—he had just 105 Ks in 214.0 innings—but he does what you want out of a pitcher who allows a lot of balls to be put into play, inducing ground balls and limiting home runs. As well, he also nary issues a walk, coming off a season in which his 1.1 BB/9 rate was the majors’ best. He’s better suited for the National League, for sure, and counting on him to replicate his excellent ’09 seems like a trap.
Ben Sheets: Sheets is the perfect example of a high-reward, high-risk free agent. When healthy, he’s among the most talented starters in the game. The problem, of course, is that he’s hardly ever healthy and didn’t throw a single pitch in ’09 after undergoing elbow surgery last offseason. He threw for scouts in Louisiana on Tuesday, reportedly hitting 90 MPH on the radar gun and flashing some breaking pitches. He’s still only 31, and the team that signs him could end up with a steal. He’s worth an incentive-laden contract for a mid-to-large market team, but he comes with significant risk and could end up throwing as many pitches this upcoming season as Stan Tanna.
Johnny Damon: Adam LaRoche gets the award for misreading the market the worst, but Damon would fall a close second. Coming off a fine offensive campaign (.282/.365/.489, 24 homers) for the New York Yankees, he and his agent, Scott Boras, were expecting a multi-year contract. At this point, though, the market for his services is pretty minimal, with only a few potential realistic landing spots. Plus, while Damon hit 24 homers for the World Champion Yankees, he benefited from the short porch in right field at the New Yankee Stadium as much as anybody. Moving away from that hitter-friendly ballpark will certainly deflate his numbers, so odds are he’ll end up swallowing his pride to come back to New York at a fraction of what he originally expected. The Yankees still need a left fielder, and, while he throws like a woman and his range has regressed, he’s still a dangerous offensive performer.
Russell Branyan: Poor Branyan. He has been blocked his entire major league career from a regular gig at the major league level, despite his tremendous power and legendary home run-hitting capabilities. Finally given the chance to play every night for the Seattle Mariners in ’09, he made the most of his opportunity during a stellar first half. He slugged .520 and blasted 31 homers for the season overall, but injuries unfortunately cut short his season and have affected his market value. The Mariners didn’t have room for another injury risk and were forced to move on, going the run prevention route and adding slick-fielding Casey Kotchman to play first base. Branyan’s options are now limited and he’s clearly looking at a short-term deal.
Miguel Tejada: Tejada has his uses as a baseball player. He can hit for a high batting average and offers gap-to-gap power; he led the Senior Circuit with 46 doubles in ’09. Unfortunately, though, he offers nothing in walks and has a hack-tastic approach at the plate, leading to a lot of outs. He has also led the league in grounding into doubles plays for two consecutive seasons, as some of those outs prove extra costly. His .313/.340/.455 line is good for a shortstop, but he really should be moved to a corner at this stage of his career. His average should regress with his luck on balls in play, and he has been aided by playing half his games in Minute Maid Park. On top of that, Tejada is a known steroid cheat and already lied about his age. Listed at 35, he could be even older, so I wouldn’t be willing to offer anything more than a lone year.
Felipe Lopez: Lopez has quietly put together an excellent season and a half. Ever since leaving the Nationals two summers ago, he has absolutely raked while playing a fine second base. He hit .310/.383/.427 combined between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers last year, posting a solid 111 OPS+. According to the leading statistical analysis site FanGraphs, he was tied with Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers as the fourth-most valuable second sacker in baseball. Nobody outside of either city noticed, but the former first-round pick truly put together a remarkable season in his walk year. But you know what comes next: regression to the mean. He was aided an unsustainable .360 batting average on balls in play—excluding home runs and strikeouts—that was the highest in baseball and .37 points above his career mark. So, when that comes down, so too will the average, and he’ll also likely decline on defense and in power. Either way, he should get a guaranteed job and pretty good money.
Jermaine Dye: Not too long ago, Dye was one of the elite outfielders in baseball. After a rough final season with the Chicago White Sox, though, Dye is still looking for a job this late in the offseason. He hit just .250/.340/.453 in 2009, posting his lowest OPS+ (103, league average is 100) since 2004. To top it off, his defense has regressed to a near unplayable level. The Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres have reportedly expressed interest, but a National League team would be foolish to sign Dye because of the sub-optimal defense. About to turn 36, he’s a should-be designated hitter who isn’t worth a substantial investment.
Xavier Nady: I’m going to say it right now: the Nady injury turned out to be a blessing for the Yankees. With him out of the picture, Nick Swisher was given the chance to play right field every day and he delivered with a great campaign. Before the season, there was an ongoing debate about which outfielder New York should trade, but holding onto each worked out perfectly. Coming off surgery, Nady could be worth a flier, but he was a tremendously overrated player with the Pittsburgh Pirates (who sold high on him) and during his limited time in the Bronx. Another Boras client, he should get a full-time job somewhere, but the odds of him ever being a major force again are pretty slim.
Joe Crede: Crede is among the best defensive third baseman in baseball, which makes him quite valuable. Staying on the field is an issue for him, however, because he has the back of an 80-year-old man. He’s worth a one-year flier, because his defense truly is elite at the position.
Pedro Martinez: During the postseason, Martinez proved that he still has something left in the tank. His stuff is nowhere near what it once was, but he can still get hitters out the first two times through the lineup by relying on command and smarts. He’s better suited for the inferior National League, but he definitely deserves another shot if he wants it. The Dodgers have been linked with the all-time great.
Doug Davis: The Nationals are interested in Davis, seemingly hoping to sign every veteran possible to mentor their young pitchers. First it was Pudge Rodriguez, who they paid nearly four times than what anyone could have expected so that he could be Crash Davis to Stephen Strasburg’s Nook LaLoosh. Davis’ veteran leadership and ability to play coach is apparently what is attracting them to Washington. Pitching wise, he is what he is: an innings eater who can be counted on to make 34 underwhelming stars. He led the N.L. with 103 walks, though, and hardly misses bats, pitching to his defense. Like Pedro, he’s best suited for the Senior Circuit.
Orlando Cabrera: Probably the best remaining shortstop, Cabrera is an interesting name left on the market. He has seemingly played for every team in baseball, always going year-to-year on contracts. The defensive metric Ultimate Zone Rating wasn’t kind to Cabrera in ’09, killing his overall value. But, just a season earlier, he was among the majors’ best defensive shortstops according to the stat, which is known to fluctuate wildly. Most likely he falls somewhere in between, but like most aging shortstops, could get worse as his body gives out. He’s a decent hitter for the position, too, with the ability to hit for a .280ish average and so-so power; he just offers nothing in walks and makes too many outs.
Jon Garland: Garland, 29, is just another innings eater who doesn’t do anything particularly special. He has good command but he doesn’t strike out many, either, and also relies on his defense far too much. He makes sense for a few teams, just as a backend rotation type. In other words, I’m sure that Omar Minaya is salivating at the chance to sign him to Oliver Perez money to come pitch for the New York Mets.
Carlos Delgado: A false tweet on Tuesday led to many believing Delgado was headed back to his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The rumor was quickly shot down, however, and he remains one of many old, all-hit, no-field DH-types left on the market. He’s definitely on the downward slope and injury prone, but, last spring before injuries just ravaged the Mets, he produced, posting a 914 OPS. And, if you remember, he was a misguided MVP candidate just a year earlier after slugging 38 homers.
Jim Thome: The aging Thome might not find any legit DH offers, but he could still be a dangerous pinch hitter off the bench.
Kiko Calero: First of all, Calero has the most badass name left of any free agent. Second, he can pitch, coming off a 1.95 ERA, 69-K performance in 60.0 innings for the Florida Marlins. The veteran reliever has drawn interest from the Cubs, but the team reportedly has concerns about his throwing shoulder.
Vicente Padilla: Padilla pulled a Plaxico Burress earlier this offseason, accidentally shooting himself in the leg while hunting. He’s still a talented pitcher who did a nice job for Los Angeles down the stretch, but it’s worth pointing out that the Texas Rangers disliked him as a person so much that they felt it best to cut him even though they were in the chase for the American League Wild Card. A return to the Dodgers is a possibility.
Ronnie Belliard: As mentioned earlier, Belliard became a Torre favorite as Los Angeles marched towards the playoffs. He played over his head in the best two months of his life, forcing Hudson to the bench. In reality, though, he’s simply an average player who’s going to come down considerably.
Rick Ankiel: The modern day Roy Hobbs—former pitcher turned batter—fairytale story became a nightmare last spring. Ankiel injured himself running into the wall on defense and never returned to form. He hit just .231/.285/.387 with only 11 homers, killing his free agent value. Boras has gotten lucrative offers for clients with less enticing prospects of success, but the soon-to-be-30-year-old outfielder would be happy to get a full-time job at this point. Here’s hoping he does, because even with the HGH cloud hanging over his head, his return from failed top pitching prospect to power hitter is one incredible story regardless.
Rocco Baldelli: Rocco’s mitochondrial disorder has unfortunately dimmed the star to a once-bright career, limiting him to only a few days a week of playing time. He’s still quite talented, though, and could turn out to be a bargain still if he somehow puts the injury issues behind him.
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