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.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: