Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 111-91

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This is the first article in a six-part series looking at this winter’s free agent class.  I’ve included players who might have their options picked up after the World Series, but left out the no-brainers like Adrian Gonzalez and Omar Infante.  Also omitted were the retiring Billy Wagner and Mike Lowell.

Players are ranked based less on personal preference and more on how I believe they’ll be perceived by major league teams.  So while I’d rather have Andruw Jones or Austin Kearns on my team in 2011, Jose Guillen will be ranked higher than either.

Ages as of April 1, 2011 are listed next to each player.

111. Dave Bush (Brewers – Age 31) – It was rarely pretty, but Bush did finish with an acceptable 4.54 ERA in 174 1/3 innings this season. He used to receive strong marks for his WHIP, finishing fourth in the NL in that category in 2006 and fifth in 2008. However, he came in next to last at 1.51 this year (Paul Maholm was the only qualified starter to fare worse). He needs to make the move to a big ballpark to have much chance of surviving going forward.

110. Carlos Delgado (Red Sox – Age 38) – Delgado was unable to make it back to the majors after signing a minor league deal with the Red Sox in August, and he underwent another procedure on his hip in September. When last healthy, he finished ninth in the NL MVP balloting with the Mets in 2008. Still, he’ll probably have to settle for an incentive-laden minor league deal this winter.

109. Craig Counsell (Brewers – Age 40) – Counsell is looking at a paycut from the $2.1 million he made this year, but he remains a viable shortstop and his experience and intangibles will count for a lot in the eyes of many. He’s also excelled as a pinch-hitter the last couple of years. The Brewers will likely make an attempt to re-sign him.

108. Gerald Laird (Tigers – Age 31) – Laird’s defensive reputation will keep him employed, but he’s not going to be signed as a starter after sinking to a new low offensively this year (.207/.263/.304 in 270 at-bats). The fact is that he’s been one of the league’s worst hitters three of the last four years. He’s on the Jason LaRue career path.

107. Joe Crede (FA – Age 32) – Crede opted to sit out the entire season and aim for a 2011 return from his latest back surgery. He was a solid player for the White Sox in 2008, hitting .248/.314/.460 in 97 games, but he slipped to .225/.289/.414 in 90 games with the Twins in 2009. He hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2006. It’s doubtful he’ll be handed a job at this point, but if healthy, he could be just as valuable as Brandon Inge, who received an $11.5 million commitment from the Tigers.

106. Adam Kennedy (Nationals – Age 35) – Prepared to go with Danny Espinosa at second base, the Nationals figure to buy Kennedy out for $500,000 rather than exercise his $2 million club option. Kennedy hit just .249/.327/.327 this year, and his lack of versatility gives him limited value as a bench player. He might have to take a minor league deal, just as he did before his strong 2009 season with the A’s.

105. Jason Varitek (Red Sox – Age 38) – Before suffering a broken foot on June 30, Varitek was excelling as a true backup to Victor Martinez, hitting .263/.324/.547 in 95 at-bats. He made just five appearances after returning in September and went 1-for-17. The Red Sox catching situation is awfully fluid at the moment, but it doesn’t appear likely that he’ll return. Several teams will have interest in his veteran presence as long as he’s content starting 40-50 games next year.

104. Melky Cabrera (Braves – Age 26) – Cabrera was still two years away from qualifying for free agency, but the Braves released him at season’s end. His career is already at a crossroads at age 26. If he were more consistent, he’d be a terrific fourth outfielder or a decent enough option as the worst starter in some team’s outfield. However, he’s terrible when he slumps and that he’s perceived as having little upside won’t help him find work. He shouldn’t have to accept a minor league deal, but his $3.1 million salary from this year will probably be cut in half.

103. Pedro Martinez (FA – Age 39) – Martinez didn’t lack for opportunities to come back and pitch this summer, but he turned them down. While his agent made it clear that Pedro hadn’t retired, odds are that he’s done at age 39, and if he does come back, it probably wouldn’t be for the full season.

102. Jeremy Bonderman (Tigers – Age 28) – Bonderman’s ERA stood at 4.79 at the All-Star break, but with a 1.32 WHIP, it looked like he had some room for improvement. Instead, he finished up with a 6.50 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP during the second half. He even talked of retirement while struggling, though it’s doubtful he’ll go that route at age 28. I’d like to see him tried as a reliever.

101. Kyle Farnsworth (Braves – Age 34) – Farnsworth was a disappointment after joining the Braves, giving up 12 runs in 20 innings, but he had a 61/19 K/BB ratio and a 3.34 ERA in 64 2/3 innings for the season. Kept in a medium-leverage role, he’ll probably give some team its $2 million worth. There can’t be another GM out there optimistic enough to give him a multiyear deal.

100. Jerry Hairston Jr. (Padres – Age 34) – Given his most extensive action at shortstop ever (53 starts), Hairston acquitted himself pretty well before going down in September with a broken leg. He should be viewed strictly as a utilityman going forward, but since he can play both middle-infield spots and the outfield, he’s a nice player to have around.

99. Justin Duchscherer (Athletics – Age 33) – Duchscherer missed 2009 with an elbow injury and then a case of depression. He was able to open 2010 in the rotation, going 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA before a sore left hip put him on the DL. He later underwent season-ending surgery. Duchscherer was an All-Star in 2008, going 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts, but he’s basically been healthy for six months in four seasons. That’s not worth more than a $1 million guarantee.

98. Gregg Zaun (Brewers – Age 39) – Signed to replace Jason Kendall in Milwaukee, Zaun played in just 28 games, hitting .265/.350/.392, before requiring season-ending shoulder surgery. The Brewers hold a $2.25 million club option on his services that they’re expected to decline, but Zaun will play somewhere next year. As long as his rehab goes well, he can be an asset while starting 80-100 games.

97. Chad Qualls (Rays – Age 32) – One of the NL’s most underrated relievers for half a decade, Qualls fell apart in his second year as the Diamondbacks’ closer, posting an 8.29 ERA in 38 innings before being dealt to the Rays at the trade deadline. He wasn’t a whole lot better then, finishing with a 5.57 ERA in 21 innings. He hasn’t lost much velocity, but hitters were definitely making better contact with his sinker than ever before. He won’t be signed as a closer, but some team could wager $2 million that he’ll bounce back.

96. Cesar Izturis (Orioles – Age 31) – Long one of the game’s worst hitters, Izturis truly bottomed out this year, coming in at .230/.277/.269 in 473 at-bats. The Orioles may want him back as their starting shortstop anyway, but they shouldn’t give him another multiyear contract. His glove is merely good, not great, at this stage of his career.

95. Jose Contreras (Phillies – Age 39) – Contreras was babied in his first year as a reliever and still lost stuff as the year went on, but he finished with a nice 3.34 ERA and a 57/16 K/BB ratio in 56 2/3 innings. He also allowed just one hit over four scoreless innings in the postseason. Some contender should sign him, stash him on the DL for two months and then plug him right into a setup role come June.

94. Andruw Jones (White Sox – Age 33) – It’s worked out the last two years that Jones has played his best ball when he’s not penciled into the lineup regularly. He got off to a fast start with the White Sox, hitting six homers in April, suffered in May and June and then reemerged as a bit player in the second half, hitting .272/.380/.565 in 92 at-bats after the All-Star break. His overall .230/.341/.486 line would make him a fine regular if he could do it for a full season. However, he’s likely looking at another part-time role.

93. Felipe Lopez (Red Sox – Age 30) – Lost in the shuffle after a fine 2009 season in which he hit .310/.383/.427, Lopez was guaranteed just $1 million when he signed with the Cardinals in late February. He never rediscovered the late-2008 magic in his second go-round with St. Louis, and he was released in September due to habitual tardiness. The Red Sox, who picked him up in late September, may choose to offer him arbitration, figuring he’d be a nice piece to have around at $1 million-$1.5 million. Lopez, though, would probably prefer to look for a starting job elsewhere.

92. Chad Durbin (Phillies – Age 33) – Durbin had a better season this year than in 2009, but while he was one of the Phillies’ most trusted relievers in the past, he appeared in just two postseason games this time around and he took a very costly blown save in one of them. Durability works in his favor, as he’s averaged 75 innings as a reliever the last three years. He should have plenty of one-year, $2 million offers to pick from. The team that goes to two years will get him.

91. Jorge Cantu (Rangers – Age 29) – Cantu drove in 100 runs in 2009 and it looked like he’d get there again two months into 2010, but he collapsed utterly and finished the year with a .256/.304/.392 line in 472 at-bats. He drove in just two runs in his two months with the Rangers to finish with 56 RBI for the year. Cantu is a subpar defensive third baseman, and while he has a history of producing runs as a No. 4 or No. 5 hitter, his career-best OPS stands at 808. It’s likely that he’ll land a first base job somewhere, but there’s certainly no good reason to pay him more than $2 million or so.

2017 Preview: San Francisco Giants

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The San Francisco Giants.

On a cold autumn night in San Francisco, with a three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning and a three-game deficit to reclaim in the NLDS, the Giants laid their even-year narrative to rest. Short of another championship title, it was the best outcome for a season that had seen massive ups and downs, from the early successes of the first half of the season to the collapse of a beleaguered bullpen and injured lineup down the stretch.

The Giants of 2017 will enter the season with a clean slate and, hopefully, a new narrative to write. They addressed two of their biggest weaknesses — a fragile bullpen and even more fragile left field corner — in the offseason while making little to no improvements in their lineup. On the heels of Angel Pagan’s departure, left fielder Jarrett Parker seems primed to take over the outfield corner, though his .236/.358/.394 batting line and .751 OPS in 2016 leaves a little to be desired.

When it comes to contending, however, the Giants are known for their pitching. AT&T Park is infamous for its appetite for hard-hit fly balls and warning track catches, and on some level it makes sense that the Giants would play to their strengths and double down on elite pitching. It worked for them in 2010 and 2012 with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and it’s continued to work for them with Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto heading the rotation in recent years.

Bumgarner will lead the Giants’ pitching staff again in 2017, with Cueto, Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija behind him. Jake Peavy, who was beset with back pain and effectively replaced in the rotation by Moore last year, will not return to the club. In his stead, Matt Cain and Ty Blach will vie for the fifth and final starting role. At 32 years old, Cain isn’t the hard-tossing spring chicken he used to be, and his middling numbers and poor health have compromised his position on the team, even with another $20 million still left on his contract. Blach, while younger, healthier and more dominant in camp, could double as a long reliever in the bullpen and might not secure a starting role until Cain hangs up his mitt for good.

Even an extreme pitcher’s park couldn’t disguise how poorly the Giants’ bullpen pitched in 2016. Santiago Casilla faded over the summer, nearly doubling his ERA during the second half of the season and blowing a career-high nine saves. Sergio Romo missed 84 days with a flexor strain, sidestepping Tommy John surgery but delivering just 30 2/3 innings during the regular season and blowing a save in Game 3 of the NLDS. Losing that pivotal Game 4 of the NLDS was a group effort: Derek Law, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Will Smith and Hunter Strickland set the stage for the Cubs’ four-run comeback in the ninth and eventual Division Series win.

The problem was finally addressed over the offseason, when the Giants cut ties with Casilla, Romo and Lopez and signed closer Mark Melancon to a four-year, $62 million deal. The 32-year-old right-hander split his 2016 season between the Pirates and Nationals, delivering a combined 1.64 ERA, 1.5 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 and recording 47 saves over 71 1/3 innings.

With Melancon anchoring the back end of the bullpen, Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy should be able to abandon his closer-by-committee approach, though a bit of bullpen tinkering may be in order after left-hander Will Smith undergoes Tommy John surgery this week. With both Javier Lopez and Will Smith out of the picture for 2017, the Giants don’t have a viable lefty left in the bullpen. A midseason acquisition might be one possibility, but until then, Bochy is reportedly expected to utilize left-handed candidates Josh Osich or Steven Okert, leaving Derek Law and Hunter Strickland as potential set-up relievers for Melancon.

On the field, not much looks different in San Francisco. Buster Posey is still the league’s No. 1 performer behind the dish, and even though he regressed with a .288/.362/.434 slash line and just 14 home runs in 2016, he still profiles as one of the Giants’ top hitters entering the 2017 season. Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Eduardo Nunez round out the rest of the club’s infield, and if Crawford’s antics in the World Baseball Classic are any indication, he’s poised for a monster season at the plate as well.

Hunter Pence and Denard Span will return to right and center field, respectively, while veteran defender Jarrett Parker takes over for Angel Pagan in left field. Last year, Pagan’s offensive output was the best it’s been since 2014, but debilitating back soreness cut into his playing time and eventually forced him off the roster. Rumor has it he’s in talks with several major league clubs, one of whom could be the Giants, but his return to the team would likely come in the form of a bench spot rather than a starting role.

The same question haunts every team that emerges from the long, dark stretch of the offseason: Have we done enough? Is this team fundamentally better than the last one that took the field, more capable of enduring another 162 games to improve its record, capture a title, sustain a franchise? For the Giants, the answer appears to be ‘yes.’ Mark Melancon isn’t the club’s only ticket to reclaiming the NL West, but he’s an integral part of the younger, healthier bullpen the Giants so desperately needed. With a fully functioning pitching staff, these Giants stand a chance of improving on their 28-27 record in one-run games, and perhaps even edging out the competition in close playoff races as well.

Whether that will be enough to overtake the division-leading Dodgers remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: Whatever success the Giants build on in 2017, they won’t need any odd-year magic to do it.

Prediction: 2nd place in NL West.

Mets closer Jeurys Familia receives a 15-game suspension for domestic violence

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Mets closer Jeurys Familia has received a 15-game suspension for domestic violence.

Familia was arrested in October following an incident at his home. Criminal charges were dropped in December. As we know, however, MLB’s domestic violence policy does not require criminal proceedings to be commenced, let alone completed, before the leveling of league punishment. MLB has been investigating the incident for the past several months.

Familia saved 51 games for the Mets last year while posting a 2.55 ERA. The Mets are expecting Addison Reed to fill in at closer until he returns.

Familia has released a statement:

Today, I accepted a 15-game suspension from Major League Baseball resulting from my inappropriate behavior on October 31, 2016. With all that has been written and discussed regarding this matter, it is important that it be known that I never physically touched, harmed or threatened my wife that evening. I did,however, act in an unacceptable manner and am terribly disappointed in myself. I am alone to blame for the problems of that evening.

My wife and I cooperated fully with Major League Baseball’s investigation, and I’ve taken meaningful steps to assure that nothing like this will ever happen again. I have learned from this experience, and have grown as a husband, a father, and a man.

I apologize to the Mets’ organization, my teammates, and all my fans. I look forward to rejoining the Mets and being part of another World Series run. Out of respect for my teammates and my family, I will have no further comment.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has a statement as well:

My office has completed its investigation into the events leading up to Jeurys Familia’s arrest on October 31, 2016.  Mr. Familia and his wife cooperated fully throughout the investigation, including submitting to in-person interviews with MLB’s Department of Investigations.  My office also received cooperation from the Fort Lee Municipal Prosecutor.  The evidence reviewed by my office does not support a determination that Mr. Familia physically assaulted his wife, or threatened her or others with physical force or harm, on October 31, 2016.  Nevertheless, I have concluded that Mr. Familia’s overall conduct that night was inappropriate, violated the Policy, and warrants discipline.

It is clear that Mr. Familia regrets what transpired that night and takes full responsibility for his actions.  Mr. Familia already has undergone 12 ninety-minute counseling sessions with an approved counselor specializing in the area of domestic violence, and received a favorable evaluation from the counselor regarding his willingness to take concrete steps to ensure that he is not involved in another incident of this type.  Further, he has agreed to speak to other players about what he has learned through this process, and to donate time and money to local organizations aimed at the prevention of, and the treatment of victims of, domestic violence.