Top 111 Free agents: Nos. 90-71

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This is part two in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agent class. I’m listing each player along with his age, as of next April 1, and his place in the previous edition of these rankings from May.
Nos 111-91
90. Chad Tracy (29) – Prev. #72 – Tracy, who posted a 901 OPS in 2005, probably hasn’t lost his ability to hit, but knee problems have robbed him of the range to play third base and he’s struggled to adapt to being used as a role player. That he seemingly has less upside than several other available left-handed-hitting first basemen/designated hitters could make things very difficult on him this winter.
89. Miguel Olivo* (31) – Prev. #91 – There’s a $3.25 million mutual option on Olivo’s contract that the Royals seem set to decline, even though a recent surge has elevated Olivo’s numbers well above his career norms. He’s hit a career-high 20 homers and amassed a .249/.283/.483 line in 358 at-bats.
88. Austin Kearns (29) – Prev. #56 – These last two seasons couldn’t have gone much worse for Kearns. Even though he was a disappointment offensively early in his career, he was still an above average regular in 2006 and 2007 once defense was factored in. Now he’s back looking like an injury-prone wreck, and many teams will probably view at him as being washed up at age 29. He may have to find a non-contender willing to let him play regularly if he’s going to bounce back.
87. Jamey Carroll (36) – Prev. NR – The .225/.317/.300 line for the Rockies two years ago suggested that Carroll would be out of the league by now, but he’s currently batting .294/.370/.368 and playing quality defense at second and third for the Indians. That Cleveland declined to move him at the trade deadline suggests that he’ll be offered a modest raise to stick around for another year.
86. David Weathers* (40) – Prev. #75 – Weathers is sporting his usual ERA in the mid-3.00s, but the workhorse is going to finish this season at right around 60 innings. He had thrown at least 69 innings every year since 1998 and topped 80 five times in that span. The Brewers are likely to decline his $3.9 million option and instead pay the $400,000 buyout.
85. Craig Counsell (39) – Prev. NR – Following three years with OPSs in the mid-600s, Counsell has hit .283/.354/.414 in 374 at-bats this season. Incredibly, he’s still an adequate shortstop and an above average second baseman at age 39. It’s doubtful that he’ll ever have another season like this offensively, but he remains a rather valuable property.
84. Randy Johnson (46) – Prev. #60 – It’d be foolish to count him out, but Johnson is probably at the end of the line. He just returned this week as a reliever after missing 10 weeks of a rotator cuff tear. Another full season would get him to 5,000 strikeouts, but given that he’s already second place all-time in the category and that’s not going to change for decades, it’s not quite the milestone that 300 victories was.
83. Kiko Calero (35) – Prev. NR – Fully recovered from the torn rotator cuff that threatened to end his career, Calero has amassed a 1.96 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 55 innings this season. There’s nothing fluky about the numbers, but the slider specialist could see his arm blow up again at any time. He should have his pick of fair one-year offers as a free agent, but any team that goes beyond that will be asking for trouble.
82. Rocco Baldelli (28) – Prev. #93 – Baldelli has served separate DL stints due to a strained hamstring and a bruised foot, but the latter especially was an injury of convenience for the Red Sox. He’s handled his limited role well, hitting .255/.313/.453 with seven homers in 137 at-bats. Now it’s to be seen whether he’ll want to spend a second year on the Boston bench or look for an expanded role elsewhere. It’s going to be all up to how he feels he’s progressed as he battles mitochondrial myopathy.
81. Ivan Rodriguez (38) – Prev. NR – I don’t see Rodriguez making his teams better, but the Rangers seem pleased with his play since picking him up for the Astros and could invite him back as a part-timer in 2010. With his heart set on 3,000 hits — he’s currently 296 away — he may up with whatever team that promises him the most playing time.
80. Todd Wellemeyer (31) – Prev. #25 – Wellemeyer broke through by going 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA last year, but a loss of velocity and a bigger loss of confidence doomed him this season, and he’s gone from looking like a good bet to get a three- or four-year deal to become someone who is going to have to compete to land a rotation spot next spring.
79. Alex Gonzalez* (33) – Prev. #83 – Even though he had a no-trade clause, Gonzalez wisely accepted a deal back to the Red Sox without hesitation last month, and he’s probably looking at a substantially nicer payday as a result. He’s hit .299/.306/.495 in 97 AB for Boston after coming in at .210/.258/.296 with Cincinnati. Just as important, he’s demonstrated that he’s still a fine defensive shortstop after losing 2008 to a broken knee. His $6 million option won’t be exercised, but he should be looking at landing a starting job this winter.
78. Takashi Saito* (40) – Prev. NR – Saito technically doesn’t have the service time for free agency, but it’s in his contract that he’ll be released if the Red Sox decline his option, which will likely be for $5.5 million or $6 million. While Saito has amassed a fine 2.54 ERA in 49 2/3 innings this season, he’s never truly earned manager Terry Francona’s trust. He figures to head elsewhere.
77. Darren Oliver (39) – Prev. NR – Oliver turned in a career-best ERA when he finished at 2.88 in 2008 at age 37. Now he appears set to do it again this year, as he’s at 2.67 through 64 innings. The left-hander recently said he plans to pitch one more year and then call it a career, but if he remains this effective, it’s not going to be easy for him to shut it down. Expect him to stay with the Angels for something close to the $3.665 million he’s making right now.
76. Ramon Hernandez* (33) – Prev. #63 – Slower than expected to recover from what was supposed to be minor knee surgery, Hernandez hasn’t played since mid-July. The Reds won’t exercise his $8.5 million option, and he’s probably not going to think much of the offers he receives when he enters free agency off a .249/.330/.355 season.
75. Coco Crisp* (30) – Prev. #24 – Shoulder surgery limited Crisp to 49 games this season, and he finished with a .228/.336/.378 line that won’t impress potential suitors. He was, however, quite productive for five weeks before getting hurt, and he still has youth and his quality glove on his side. The Royals figure to decline his $8 million option and attempt to re-sign at a reduced price.
74. Rafael Betancourt* (34) – Prev. NR – Betancourt has rebounded from a rough 2008, but since the Indians knew they weren’t going to exercise his $5.4 million option this winter, they went ahead and traded him to Colorado in July. His ERA stands at 1.40 since the deal, and he’s at 2.70 with a 53/19 K/BB ratio in 50 innings for the season. Betancourt has always had the rep that he’s too soft to function as a closer, but there should be plenty of teams interested in him as an eighth-inning guy.
73. Carl Pavano (34) – Prev. NR – After taking the ball 26 times in four years with the Yankees, Pavano has made 29 starts this season and gone 12-11 with a 4.91 ERA. That’s not especially impressive, but both his WHIP and his strikeout rate are better than his career norms and he does have a 3.75 ERA in eight starts since joining the Twins. If he can be had on another one-year deal, he’d be a pretty good investment for 2010.
72. Rod Barajas (34) – Prev. #81 – Barajas has 18 homers and a career-high 66 RBI in the second busiest season of his career, but he is getting on base just 27 percent of the time. If the Blue Jays bring him back, it’d likely be for just one more year.
71. J.J. Putz* (33) – Prev. #32 – The Mets thought they’d have a tough decision at the end of the season when it came to Putz’s $8.6 million option for 2010, but their “second closer” was a complete bust in compiling a 5.22 ERA before undergoing elbow surgery. Putz will either sign with a small-market team willing to give him a chance to close or a large-market team willing to guarantee him more money in the hopes that he’ll rediscover his best stuff and contribute in the seventh and eighth innings.

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.