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.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.