Free Agency Preview: Third basemen

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Free Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
Free Agency Preview – Second base
This is part four in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. Up now is third base.
Chone Figgins (Angels) – Viewed by most as the No. 3 position player on the board behind Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, Figgins is in position to get a four-year deal worth at least $10 million per season. It helps that he’s not limited to third base. He’s probably no longer an option as a full-time second baseman, but he can handle center or left without much trouble. The Phillies are known to want him as a replacement for Pedro Feliz, the Mets appear to like him as a left fielder and the Cubs could use him in center field. It’s possible that the Angels will keep him, but they do have Brandon Wood ready to take over at third base if the bidding gets out of control. Prediction: Cubs – four years, $48 million
Adrian Beltre (Mariners) – While Figgins is getting all of the attention, Beltre might well be the better bet going forward. He’s the younger of the two by a year, and he’s arguably baseball’s best defensive third baseman. His 2009 season was a mess because of injuries, but he’s still played in more games than Figgins over the last six seasons and he has the superior career OPS even though playing in Safeco has held him back (he’s a career .287/.338/.488 hitter in road games). He’d be an outstanding choice for the Twins if they could come up with the money, and the Red Sox would likely pursue him if they could find a taker for Mike Lowell’s contract. As is, his market is cloudy. Prediction: Phillies – three years, $27 million
Mark DeRosa (Cardinals) – DeRosa shouldn’t be viewed as a starting second baseman at this stage of his career, but because of his increased power production the last couple of years, there will be several teams in on him. The Cardinals, Phillies, Mariners, Angels and Twins may have interest in him as a third baseman, while the Cubs, Braves and Mets could use him in the outfield. Perhaps that will be enough to land him another three-year deal. Prediction: Cardinals – three years, $18 million
Troy Glaus (Cardinals) – Shoulder surgery, followed by some back troubles, limited Glaus to 29 at-bats last season, but he still thinks he can play third base regularly. He was able to start 151 games and hit .270/.372/.483 in 2008, so it’s too early to write him off. Still, it’d be best if he landed in the American League, giving him the DH spot to fall back on just in case. Time will tell whether the steroid taint causes him any difficulty. Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota and Baltimore make sense as possible destinations. Prediction: Athletics – one year, $4 million plus incentives
Joe Crede (Twins) – A third straight season with fewer than 100 games played guarantees that Crede is going to have to accept another incentive-laden deal. Despite all of his back problems, he remains exceptional defensively at third base when he’s in the lineup. However, he didn’t impress with his .225/.289/.414 line at the plate in 333 at-bats last season. If the Twins want to keep going cheap, they’ll probably re-sign him. Prediction: Twins – one year, $2.5 million plus incentives
Pedro Feliz (Phillies) – At least you know what you’ll get from Feliz; he’s finished with OPSs between 694 and 717 each of the last five years. He’s also played in 150 games four times in those five seasons (133 in the other). Feliz will turn 35 in April and he has lost a step defensively, but he’s still well above average. He likely has one or two years left as an adequate starter. Prediction: Astros – one year, $2.5 million
Melvin Mora (Orioles) – Mora is just a year removed from a terrific .285/.342/.483 season, but he lost 150 points of OPS in 2009, and since he’s turning 38 this winter, there’s little reason to think he’ll bounce back. That he remains above average defensively means he’s still worthy of a roster spot, if not a starting job. He’s another potentially cheap option for the Astros or Marlins. If he wants to stay close to home, then perhaps the Yankees, Phillies or Mets would take him on as a bench player. Prediction: Mets – one year, $1 million
Other free agents: Aaron Boone (Astros), Dallas McPherson (Giants), Mike Hessman (Tigers), Brian Barden (Cardinals), Joe Thurston (Cardinals), Joe Dillon (Rays), Brian Buscher (Twins), Rich Aurilia (Giants), Chris Woodward (Red Sox), Pablo Ozuna (Phillies)
There isn’t a lot of help here. Boone and Aurilia are expected to head off to retirement, and McPherson and Hessman are more likely to receive opportunities in Japan than in the U.S. … Barden deserves another look as a utilityman after the Cardinals gave up on him quickly last season. He’s an excellent defender at third and adequate at short.
Trade candidates: Mike Lowell (Red Sox – NTC), Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays), Kevin Kouzmanoff (Padres), Garrett Atkins (Rockies), Ty Wigginton (Orioles), Mat Gamel (Brewers), Brandon Wood (Angels), Jeff Baker (Cubs), Brendan Harris (Twins), Andy Marte (Indians), Neil Walker (Pirates), Greg Dobbs (Phillies), Jeff Keppinger (Astros), Matt Brown (Angels), Adam Rosales (Reds)
With Lowell’s hip slowing him down, the Red Sox would like to go in a different direction at third, either by shifting Kevin Youkilis to the position or by signing a free agent. Lowell, though, has a no-trade clause that he could choose to wield. His $12 million salary won’t make him easy to move anyway, though the Red Sox could help out with that. … The Blue Jays have seemingly wanted to be rid of Encarnacion since the day they picked him up for Scott Rolen. My feeling is that they should install him in right field and see what happens. He has very little trade value at the moment.
The Padres should play up Kouzmanoff’s sterling fielding percentage and his numbers outside of Petco Park and move him now. His dreadful approach at the plate isn’t getting any better, and they have Chase Headley capable of stepping in at third base. … It’d be quite a waste for the Brewers to send Gamel back to Triple-A, but that’s what they’ll probably do with Casey McGehee expected to start at third base at the beginning of next season. Maybe someone will step up and offer a quality starting pitcher for him.

Non-tender candidates: Garrett Atkins (Rockies), Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Brendan Harris (Twins), Jeff Keppinger (Astros), Eric Bruntlett (Phillies), Andy Marte (Indians), Freddy Sandoval (Angels), Brooks Conrad (Braves), Andy Tracy (Phillies), Andy Green (Mets)
The Rockies could have gotten something for Atkins at midseason. Now they’ll probably have to cut him. It’s hard to imagine someone acquiring him when he’ll almost surely come cheaper in free agency than in arbitration. He’d be due about $7.5 million next season in arbitration. … Bautista is a useful part-timer, but not at the $3 million or so that he’ll make in arbitration. … Harris will only make about $1.2 million, so he should be safe. The Twins might trade him, though. … Keppinger will probably earn about $1 million. That’s a fair number for an infielder who is pretty useful against lefties. The Astros, though, wouldn’t have room for him if they went out and got a Feliz or a Mora.
2010-11 free agents: Aramis Ramirez (Cubs)*, Jhonny Peralta (Indians)*, Mike Lowell (Red Sox), Scott Rolen (Reds), Brandon Inge (Tigers), Garrett Atkins (Rockies), Eric Chavez (Athletics)*, Ty Wigginton (Orioles), Bill Hall (Mariners)*, Ramon Vazquez (Pirates), Geoff Blum (Astros)*,
2011 options: Ramirez – $14.6 million player option, Peralta – $7 million ($250,000 buyout), Chavez – $12.5 million ($3 million buyout), Hall – $9.25 million ($500,000 buyout), Blum – $1.65 million mutual option
2011-12 free agents: Aramis Ramirez (Cubs)*, Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays), Casey Blake (Dodgers)*, Mark Teahen (White Sox), Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Greg Dobbs (Phillies)
2012 options: Ramirez – $16 million vesting mutual option ($2 million buyout), Blake – $6 million ($1.25 million buyout)

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.