Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 70-51

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This is part three 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
Nos. 90-71
70. Jason Varitek* (37) – Prev. #66 – He’s struggled mightily as a part-timer, but before the Victor Martinez acquisition resulted in a reduced role, Varitek was hitting .236/.345/.453 through four months, making him one of the game’s top 10 catchers. The bigger issue than his offense is his poor arm. Still, there’s so much respect for his game-calling abilities that he’ll likely be pursued as a starter if he opts to depart. The Red Sox figure to decline their $5 million, leaving Varitek with a $3 million player option to return as a part-timer.
69. LaTroy Hawkins (37) – Prev. #67 – There doesn’t figure to be any demand from AL teams, but several NL teams will see about bringing in Hawkins as a setup man. He has a 2.31 ERA in 58 1/3 innings for Houston, and while he’s failed miserably as a closer before, he was surprisingly effective while filling in for Jose Valverde earlier this season.
68. Pedro Feliz* (34) – Prev. #68 – By month, Feliz has posted OPSs of 872, 745, 712, 663, 631 and now 549. His $5 million option looked rather reasonable at the All-Star break, but the Phillies may want to look elsewhere if he turns in another poor postseason.
67. Andruw Jones (32) – Prev. #84 – It’s anyone’s guess what kind of season Jones would have had if he found a team willing to play him regularly. He had a 1304 OPS in 32 at-bats during April and he slammed eight homers in 67 at-bats during July, but he was never an everyday player at any point and, possibly as a result, he’s been terribly inconsistent. Of course, with the way his body has let him down, he might not have managed more than one or two good months as a regular anyway. If Jones can still play an adequate center field or an above average left or right, then he might have another two or three years left as a solid regular. He figures to come rather cheap, so it should be worth finding out.
66. Justin Duchscherer (32) – Prev. #37 – Working as a starter for the first time, Duchscherer went 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in two-thirds of a season in 2008. This year, he got shut down with elbow woes in spring training, underwent surgery and then halted his comeback in August because of depression. He’s likely in line for an incentive-laden one-year deal.
65. Orlando Cabrera (35) – Prev. #39 – Cabrera’s stock seemed to be on the way back up thanks to his performance in his last weeks with Oakland, but he’s hit just .244/.277/.369 in 45 games for the Twins, leaving him at .269/.306/.366 for the year. His defensive numbers are also well off this year. He’ll get a modest one-year deal and a starting job initially, but he can’t expect his new team to be as patient with him as a the A’s were this year.
64. John Smoltz (42) – Prev. #74 – Too many weren’t willing to overlook the numbers, but it should have been clear that Smoltz had something left even while stinking up the joint for the Red Sox. He’s posted a 3.21 ERA and a 32/4 K/BB ratio in five starts since joining the Cardinals, though it is worth noting that he did miss a turn because of his troublesome shoulder. The current guess is that Smoltz will return for another year in 2010, and if that happens, it will almost certainly be with an NL team. The Cards figure to invite him back.
63. Octavio Dotel (36) – Prev. #59 – Dotel hasn’t been a dominant setup man in Chicago, but he has been a healthy one while striking out 165 batters in 126 2/3 innings over the last two years. That will make him a candidate for another multiyear deal this winter.
62. Braden Looper* (35) – Prev. #57 – Looper has given the Brewers their money’s worth while going 13-6 this year, but he does have a 4.89 ERA that makes him quite a question mark at $6.5 million for 2010. Then again, he was never likely to play under the option anyway. If the Brewers exercise it, he’d sill be able to void the deal and become a free agent.
61. Jim Thome (39) – Prev. #46 – Thome hit .249/.372/.493 with 23 homers in 345 at-bats as a DH for the White Sox to match his 2008 production nearly exactly. Now he’s serving as a pinch-hitter for the Dodgers, but that’s strictly a short-term role. If Thome wants to play in 2010, he should be able to land another DH gig.
60. Kevin Gregg (31) – Prev. #53 – Gregg’s WHIP is right at his career norm and his strikeout rate is a bit better than usual this year, but yielding 13 homers has pushed his ERA up to 4.72 and cost him his job as the Cubs’ closer. He always made more sense as a setup man anyway, and since he’s proven quite durable, he might be a nice investment after the off year.
59. Xavier Nady (31) – Prev. #41 – Could the elbow injury have been best for both the team and the player? If Nady didn’t get hurt, it might have taken a couple of months for Joe Girardi to see that Nick Swisher was clearly the Yankees’ best option in right field. And because Nady did get hurt, he’ll head into free agency still largely being judged on his career-best 2008 season, rather than as a player who almost surely would have lost his job to Swisher. Nady should be ready to go in 2010 after Tommy John surgery. He’s in line for a one-year deal, but he’ll be looked at as a starter.
58. Akinori Iwamura* (31) – Prev. NR – Iwamura wasn’t included in this list the first time around because his $4.25 million option seemed like a lock to be picked up. Of course, that was before he blew out his knee and watched as Ben Zobrist excelled in his place. Iwamura went on to pull off a surprisingly quick return, and he’s back playing frequently now with Zobrist patrolling the outfield. He’s hitting .295/.358/.391, putting him right at his career line. The Rays, though, are pinching pennies, so they still might trade or release him this winter.
57. John Grabow (32) – Prev. #62 – Besides Billy Wagner and Mike Gonzalez — both of whom could be pursued as closers — Grabow will be the top lefty reliever available. He’s gone most of his career without much of a platoon split, but he’s limited left-handed hitters to a .216 average and one homer this season. His ERA stands at 2.29 since the Cubs picked him up and 3.09 overall. The Cubs figure to make a strong bid to retain him.
56. Aubrey Huff (33) – Prev. #18 – Huff’s usual pattern is to start slow and heat up — April and May are easily his worst months — but the opposite has happened this year. He hit .189 in July and .191 in August, collecting just three homers between the two months, and he’s currently sitting at .245/.309/.393 for the year. Another three-year contract worth in excess of $20 million seemed reasonable when these rankings were originally compiled in May. Now he seems like a lock for a one-year deal.
55. Randy Winn (35) – Prev. #33 – Winn is going to regret not working out a contract extension with the Giants last winter. He’s an elite defender in an outfield corner and an excellent baserunner, but he’s hitting just .263/.320/.358 line in 509 at-bats and now that he’s squarely in his mid-30s, he can’t be counted on to bounce back. Ideally, he’d settle into a role as one of the game’s best fourth outfielders for a couple of years. However, it’s likely that someone out there will see him as a starter.
54. Pedro Martinez (38) – Prev. NR – There are a lot of teams looking foolish for not giving Martinez the $5 million or so that he demanded last winter. If he wants to come back in 2010, there should be much greater demand for his services. He could always choose to exit on a high note if the Phillies win another World Series.
53. Russell Branyan (34) – Prev. #86 – Branyan finally found a team that believed him, and he rewarded the Mariners in a big way by hitting .303/.400/.606 for three months. Unfortunately, he’s come in at .193/.274/.414 since the All-Star break and back problems forced him to the DL at the end of August. In a way, he might have done the Mariners another favor. Now, he should be re-signable for something like $5 million-$6 million for a year. If he had carried on, Seattle still would have finished out of contention and probably would have had to offer up a multiyear deal to bring him back.
52. Freddy Sanchez* (32) – Prev. #40 – When the Giants picked him up from the Pirates at the trade deadline, expectations were that Sanchez’s $8.5 million option for 2010 would vest based on plate appearances. However, he’ll come up well short now after missing three weeks. The Giants figure to use the opportunity to negotiate to bring him back at a lesser price. Sanchez is a fine second baseman when healthy, but given his injury history and skill set, he probably doesn’t have many quality years left.
51. Vicente Padilla (32) – Prev. #55 – Padilla’s $12 million option is no longer in play since the Rangers released him. Now back in the NL, he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA in five starts for the Dodgers. Given his performance and age, Padilla deserves to be ranked at least 10 spots higher here. However, teams will be wary of offering him a multiyear deal because of his attitude and his, well, let’s just call them conditioning issues.

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.

Mets unhappy with Dodgers’ request to make outfield markings to position fielders

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28:  The 1986 New York Mets are honored before the game between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on May 28, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The New York Mets are honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1986 championship season.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Mets have asked MLB for clarification on the Dodgers’ use of a laser rangefinder for defensive positioning over this weekend’s series at Citi Field. The Dodgers notified the Mets’ ground crew that they wanted to mark certain positions in the outfield grass after determining positions with the rangefinder. The grounds crew said they could leave two marks in center field and one in left field.

However, the grounds crew then went to their superiors and told them that the Dodgers threatened to dig holes in the outfield grass with their cleats, so the grounds crew was then instructed to “erase or obliterate” any of the Dodgers’ markings.

According to Rosenthal, Major League Baseball reinforced a few weeks ago that teams aren’t allowed to use markers to aid defensive positioning. The Dodgers haven’t been accused of doing anything nefarious during a game. Howie Kendrick was seen pulling something out of his pocket in the outfield, but Brett Anderson clarified on Twitter that it was just a piece of paper with notes for defensive positioning.

The series between the Mets and Dodgers has been heated, as Noah Syndergaard was ejected for throwing at Chase Utley on Saturday. Utley then responded by hitting two home runs, one of which was a grand slam. The Mets may have a legitimate concern, or it may just be gamesmanship.