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Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 50-31

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It’s time for part four, which will cover free agents Nos. 50-31. Now we’re going to start to see more players likely to command multiyear deals this winter. That’s particularly true of the relievers listed below.

Free agents Nos. 111-91
Free agents Nos. 90-71
Free agents Nos. 70-51

50. Jim Thome (Twins – Age 40) – Unwanted and unsigned until February, Thome made a bunch of teams feel silly for overlooking him by clubbing 25 homers in 276 at-bats this season. He was one of just six major leaguers to post an OPS over 1000 in at least 100 at-bats. Thome is no longer any sort of option at first base and he probably shouldn’t be asked to start more than 120 games as a DH, but he’s never failed to produce when healthy. He won’t have to settle for a $1.5 million contract again.

49. Kevin Gregg (Blue Jays – Age 32) – The Jays have three choices with Gregg: they can retain him for $4.5 million in 2010, exercise a two-year option that would pay him $8.75 million through 2011 or they can set him free. My guess is that they’ll go with the one-year option. Gregg performed admirably after quickly taking over the closer’s role in April, saving 37 games in 43 chances. He’s never really excelled at any point — his career-best ERA was a 3.41 mark in 2008 — but he is durable and he’s struck out a batter an inning everywhere he’s been.

48. Chris Young (Padres – Age 31) – Young was limited to four starts by another round of shoulder problems this year, but at least they were all exceptional outings: he allowed just two runs in 20 innings. The negatives with Young are obvious: his career high for innings is 179 1/3, he hasn’t even made 20 starts since 2007 and, as an extreme flyball pitcher, he probably wouldn’t fare nearly as well if he didn’t pitch in Petco Park half of the time. Ideally, the Padres could re-sign him for about half of the $6.25 million he made this year. However, some team with a bigger budget might be willing to give him an incentive-laden contract that would allow him to make much more if he stays healthy.

47. Jon Rauch (Twins – Age 32) – Pressed into the closer’s role by Joe Nathan’s injury, Rauch was 21-for-25 saving games before the Twins acquired Matt Capps. He slid down the depth chart as the year went on, but he never lost his effectiveness and he finished with a 3.12 ERA. He also pitched 1 2/3 hitless innings in the ALDS. That Target Field turned out to be such a tough home run park likely did him a lot of good. The Twins are expected to emphasize re-signing fellow free agents Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, so Rauch may have to go elsewhere for his two-year deal.

46. Aaron Harang (Reds – Age 32) – Never the same pitcher since hurting his elbow in 2008, Harang finished 2010 with a 5.32 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP in 111 2/3 innings. He hasn’t lost any velocity from his glory days, but he doesn’t miss bats like he used to. I think a switch to a bigger ballpark will allow him to hang on as at least a fourth starter for a couple of more years, but unless he suddenly picks up a quality changeup or cutter, his upside would seem to be limited.

45. Frank Francisco (Rangers – Age 31) – Francisco saved 25 games in 29 attempts in 2009, but when he had a bad week to open this season, the Rangers went right to Neftali Feliz in the closer’s role. Francisco bounced back quickly and was a major asset in a setup role until August, when he strained a muscle in his side and it turned into a season-ending injury. At least Francisco avoided arm woes this year, but the fact remains that he’s turned in just one 60-inning season since debuting in 2004. What chance he had of securing a three-year deal this winter was probably erased by the injury, but he’s one of the most talented relievers available and he should be attractive both to contenders looking for a setup man and weaker teams seeking a closer.

44. John Buck (Blue Jays – Age 30) – Sick of his low batting averages, the Royals sharply reduced Buck’s role in 2009 and then cut him following the season. He landed with the Blue Jays and made the All-Star team after hitting 13 homers in the first half. He ended up at .281/.314/.489 in 409 at-bats for the season, making him one of the league’s top offensive catchers despite an awful 111/16 K/BB ratio. With Buck probably in line for a multiyear deal, the Jays may choose to move on to J.P. Arencibia now. Buck’s lofty average was a fluke, but he’s a solid enough defender and he should be a capable regular for a couple of more years.

43. Pedro Feliciano (Mets – Age 34) – We’re about to find out just how much value the Mets place on Feliciano’s ability to pitch practically every day. The lefty specialist made 86 appearances in 2008, 88 in 2009 and then he became just the fifth different pitcher to work in 90 games, finishing at 92, in 2010. Despite the heavy workload, he’s been consistently terrific against lefties throughout. However, righties have fared well against him two of the last three years. He probably won’t command as much cash as the top righty setup men on the market. However, he may well land a three-year contract.

42. Brad Penny (Cardinals – Age 32) – He’s probably never going to do it for six months, but Penny opened last season as well as any pitcher not named Ubaldo Jimenez. He was 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA after four starts, and he didn’t fail to turn in a quality start until his eighth appearance of the season. Unfortunately, that proved to be his next-to-last start, as what was originally thought to be a minor back injury ended up costing him the rest of the year. The Cardinals are focused on signing Jake Westbrook at the moment, so Penny is likely to head elsewhere this winter.

41. Mark Ellis (Athletics – Age 33) – Ellis is a $6 million player when he’s in the lineup, but given that he’s played in 130 games just twice in his career, the A’s aren’t going to want to pick up his option and pay him that amount next year. They likely will attempt to re-sign him at a cheaper price, possibly to a two-year deal. While second basemen often lose it in their early 30s, Ellis is coming off his best season since 2007 and he remains a well above average defender.

40. J.J. Putz (White Sox – Age 34) – Credit Ken Williams for seeing that Putz would reemerge as a quality late-game reliever when he looked like anything but before undergoing elbow surgery in 2009. If not for a knee injury that shut him down for a spell in August, Putz probably would have taken over as the White Sox’s closer and rebuilt his value further headed back into free agency. He did return in September, and he was effective in allowing three runs over seven innings. Still, it was somewhat telling that the White Sox didn’t often let him face tough left-handed hitters with the game on the line. Putz’s strong work has put him back in line for a multiyear deal. If the White Sox are nervous about giving him one, he could sign on as a closer elsewhere.

39. Vicente Padilla (Dodgers – Age 33) – Padilla was effective when healthy this year, going 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA, but he missed most of May, June and September due to a bulging disk in his neck. That should serve to make him pretty affordable if the Dodgers want to bring him back. Because of Padilla’s attitude and occasional off-the-field problems, many teams view him as not being worth the hassle. However, he hasn’t appeared to be the source of any strife in the Dodgers clubhouse. Another one-year deal worth about $5 million would be appropriate.

38. Grant Balfour (Rays – Age 33) – While Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit got most of the credit, Balfour’s rebound was another big reason the Rays had one of the game’s best bullpens this year. He had a 2.28 ERA during the regular season, and he pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the ALDS against the Rangers. Often set back by arm problems, Balfour took a long time to establish himself. However, he’s been on the DL just once the last three years and that was for a strained rib muscle. Since he has a power arm and he won’t be too expensive, he could be pursued by as many teams as any free agent this winter. It might get him a three-year deal in the $12 million range.

37. Juan Uribe (Giants – Age 32) – Uribe has spent his entire career alternating between being underrated and overrated. He’s almost always had dreadful OBPs, and he’s frustrated his teams with occasional lackadaisical play. On the other hand, he was a legitimately excellent defensive shortstop for a few years and he hit 80 homers over a four-season span with the White Sox. Two years ago he was so underappreciated that he had to take a minor league contract from the Giants. Now the pendulum is going to swing the other way. Uribe set new career highs with 24 homers and 85 RBI while making $3.25 million this year, guaranteeing that he’ll receive a nice raise. The problem is that he’s no longer much of a shortstop, and he might be better off at third than at second. A utility role suits him best, but he’ll be paid like a starter this winter.

36. A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox- Age 34) – Nobody likes him, he doesn’t throw out basestealers and his offense took a significant dip this year, yet Pierzynski will still likely be regarded as the No. 2 catcher on the market. And deservedly so. He is durable, and he’s always seemed to handle pitchers well. Disappointed by Tyler Flowers’ progress this season, the White Sox will try to keep the veteran. Ideally, it’d be a one-year deal. There could be enough interest to force the team to go to two years, though.

35. Brad Hawpe (Rays – Age 31) – Hawpe’s furious fall from grace culminated in him getting released by the only organization he had ever known in August. Remarkably, there was little enough interest in him after he became a free agent, and he ended up playing only a bit role for the Rays down the stretch before he was left off their ALDS roster. The real fresh start will come next year. Hawpe is a lousy defender in right field, but he posted OPSs right around 900 each season from 2006-09 and he was nearly as good on the road as at Coors Field. What kind of career he has in his 30s will largely be determined by his ability to readapt to first base. It was his original position in the minors, and if he can pick it back up now, he should spend several more seasons as a regular. He wouldn’t have nearly as much value as a DH or an outfielder.

34. Joaquin Benoit (Rays – Age 33) – Just an unbelievable season: after missing all of 2009 following shoulder surgery that left his career in doubt, Benoit came back and posted one of the best WHIPs ever in 2010. He ended up with a 1.34 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP in 60 1/3 innings following his April 29 callup. Benoit had a couple of nice seasons previously, particularly in 2007 (2.85 ERA in 82 innings), but he was largely viewed as a disappointment in his Rangers career. It’s going to be very interesting to see how he’s treated this winter. He was always durable before the shoulder surgery, and he performed well on a big stage in October, throwing 3 2/3 hitless innings in the ALDS. It’d seem worth gambling $10 million over two years to see if he can do it again.

33. Jeff Francis (Rockies – Age 30) – Back from a labrum tear that cost him all of 2009, Francis was expected to put in a full season in 2010. However, he suffered a setback with his shoulder in spring training and didn’t make his first start until mid-May. After an encouraging initial run — he had a 3.53 ERA through eight starts — he began to struggle and he went back on the DL in August with shoulder tendinitis. Upon returning in September, he allowed 11 runs in 11 2/3 innings. Francis’ velocity has come all of the way back, and he displayed surprisingly good command for someone who figured to be rusty. He’s far from a sure thing to stay healthy, but he has the potential to be one of the winter’s top bargains.

32. Coco Crisp (Athletics – Age 31) – Crisp’s A’s career got off to a very rough start, as he was limited to two games in the first 10 weeks by a broken finger and a strained intercostal muscle. Finally healthy in late June, he was exactly the player the A’s hoped he’d be; he hit .279/.342/.438, stole 32 bases in 35 tries and played quality defense in center field. Expectations are that the team will pick up his $5.75 million for 2011.

31. Kerry Wood (Yankees – Age 33) – While all of the wildness remains a cause for concern, Wood certainly helped his stock during his time with the Yankees. After posting a 6.30 ERA in 20 innings as the Indians’ closer in the first half, he came in at 0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Bombers. He also had a 2.25 ERA in eight postseason innings. Including October, Wood walked 23 batters in 34 innings. However, he allowed just 20 hits and he struck out 38 in that span. Last time he was a free agent, Wood chose closing for a mediocre team over setting up for a contender. I’m guessing he’ll go in the other direction this time, though it’s possible he could get the best of both worlds if the Rays want him.

Matt Harvey unfairly slammed for snubbing the press

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24: Starting pitcher Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets looks on after allowing a two run home run by Daniel Murphy #20 of the Washington Nationals (not pictured) during the fifth inning at Nationals Park on May 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Matt Harvey had yet another nightmare of a game last night in what has become a nightmare of a season for him. He’s been terrible all year, particularly terrible in his past three starts and there are legitimate questions about whether he’s hurt, should be shut down or should be sent down to the minors. It’s not hyperbole to say that his career is at a crossroads right now. He may return to form, as many struggling pitchers do, but for those who don’t, this is what it looks like as things skid out of control for good.

In light of that — in light of the fact that he’s worked his entire life to make the big leagues and now that’s all in jeopardy — it may be understandable if Harvey is at a loss for words. If he doesn’t have any answers about his current plight. If, like most of us when we face a personal or professional crisis, he needs to gather himself in order to make sense of it all.

Matt Harvey is a baseball player, though, and baseball players don’t get that luxury. No, when they face a crisis, they’re expected to talk to reporters about it and, if they don’t, they can expect 800-1,000 angry, critical words thrown at them. Mike Vaccaro from the New York Post throws his angry words this morning:

The joke, of course, is that any of this would be remotely surprising by now. The Mets have abided by the Harvey Rules from Day 1, have tread lightly around him, have allowed him the kind of leeway and latitude that should never be afforded someone with 75 career starts, no matter how promising he used to be.

So why wouldn’t he duck and run now?

Why wouldn’t he leave it for his manager and his teammates to answer for him, to speak on his behalf, after another humbling bell-ringing at the hands of the Nationals, another night when he was less Dark Knight than Pale Pawn, another night when he couldn’t recapture even a fraction of the old magic?

It gets no better from there on. The bile is palpable as Vaccaro catalogs all of Harvey’s foibles of the past three or four years, real or imagined, and lets Harvey have it, all because he left the clubhouse before talking to the media.

To be clear, there is a tiny seed of a point to criticism of a player who doesn’t speak to the press. I’ve written about this in the past, and players and members of the media have talked about it before. That seed: when someone ducks the press, it puts pressure on their teammates to answer for them and they don’t appreciate that too much. That situation is largely inapplicable here, however, and doesn’t defend this vile column, for a couple of reasons.

One obvious reason is that Vaccaro does not appear to be concerned with Harvey’s relationship with his teammates in this column. There are no quotes from anyone about Harvey other than the manager, who would be asked about his starter’s struggles anyway. There is a generic reference to teammates having to answer for someone else, but no suggestion here that Mets players were irked about it last night.

Rather, the ire in this piece was a long time coming. The press has been eager to put the knife in Harvey for years and there is something close to glee spinning off of every word here based on old transgressions, not awkwardness from last night or even a pattern of Harvey ducking the press, which he has not done. If there is any doubt about that:

Maybe that was Vaccaro who said that, maybe it was another columnist, but the notion that these sorts of anti-player screeds are solely about poor teammates who are left to answer for their absent friends is a convenient lie. The press, especially the New York press, likes to torch certain guys and this is a case in which a columnist is gleefully torching a guy with his snub of the press merely being a convenient pretext.

Context matters too. It’d be one thing if Harvey was having a little snit last night over a bad performance and just peaced out of the clubhouse and left others holding the bag. That’s not what happened. What’s happening is a guy’s livelihood and identity flashing before his eyes. A pitcher suddenly losing it and having no idea why or how to arrest his slide. That there is zero empathy for that — zero understanding that a guy may not know what to say or how to say it when he’s asked about it — is pretty sad. I’m sure most Mets players, even ones who may not like Harvey, have been in that situation before and are willing to give him more leeway than this acidic column would suggest. I’m sure they’re worried about their teammate on some level and are just as baffled and worried as he is.

Should Matt Harvey talk to the press? Probably. MLB and its clubs want players to do that and it’s the custom. If a player routinely ducks this responsibility or if he does so because he’d rather make it to the nightclub than be there for his ballclub, yes, he should be criticized. But that’s not what’s going on here. What’s going on here is a press corps that has jumped on Matt Harvey for every little thing, however benign it may have been — a press corps which even turned a scary medical moment he experienced into the basis for jokes — jumping on him once again.

The glee with which they’re doing it is pretty telling. Far more telling than a man not wanting to talk to that same press corps mere hours after a personal and professional nightmare grew even darker.

Yasiel Puig benched after he failed to run hard out of the box

Yasiel Puig
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On Sunday Yasiel Puig made a pretty significant base running blunder, failing to advance to third base on an bunt which, in turn, led to the Dodgers playing eight extra innings of baseball. Last night the Dodgers right fielder made another mental mistake, also involving lackadaisical base running, and it bought him a seat on the pine.

Puig hit a deep fly to right in the sixth inning. He clearly thought he got all of it and began slowly walking to first base out of the box. The ball didn’t go out, however. It hit the wall. For anyone showing even a bit of hustle that would’ve been a double but Puig’s lack of effort held him to a single. He would come around to score — ironically because of hustle on the base paths, reaching home from second on a headfirst slide — but it was too little too late for manager Dave Roberts who was upset at the earlier loafing and removed Puig from the game.

Roberts after the game:

“He needed to be on second base. We talk about playing the game the right way.”

Puig:

“I thought it was a home run, and then I didn’t run out the ball, obviously. It was [Roberts’] decision to take me out of the game. It was a decision well made, because all my teammates are out on the field working hard, and I should have run out that ball.”

Those are the right words to say in that situation, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t come up and words that should go without saying. Especially in a year where Puig has tried to recast himself as a hard worker. And especially in a year in which he’s been struggling at the plate overall.

Here’s Puig after the game:

Here’s Roberts:

Somewhere, Don Mattingly is nodding.

 

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 24:  Leonys Martin #12 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after hitting a two-run, walk-off homer to defeat the Oakland Athletics 6-5 at Safeco Field on May 24, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rays 4, Marlins 3: The Rays won and guys did cool things and all of that but my favorite part of the game was how Kevin Cash brought in a lefty to face Giancarlo Stanton, who promptly homered off of him. Obviously Stanton has been struggling and obviously it didn’t matter to the outcome of the game but I do want to know what the thought process is to “I’m going to bring in a lefty to face the most powerful right handed hitter in baseball in this spot.”

Cubs 12, Cardinals 3: Jason Hammel allowed one run while pitching into the eighth and had a two-run double in the six-run first inning as Chicago ends a three-game losing streak. Michael Wacha gave up eight runs in four innings and has lost five consecutive decisions. Which isn’t really good.

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 0: The Yankees are back to .500 for the first time since April 14, which was the eighth game of the season. Carlos Beltran homered and drove in two and Nathan Eovaldi tossed six shutout innings. Only two hits in the whole game for the Blue Jays, who are near the bottom in the AL for runs per game this year. Last year they ran away with the Best Offensive Team in Baseball title. So yeah, there’s that.

Nationals 7, Mets 4: Yeah, so the Matt Harvey situation is getting pretty dire. The Mets’ erstwhile ace was lit up for five runs on eight hits in five innings. One of those hits was a Daniel Murphy homer. Two others were gopher balls given up to Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon. Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg struck out 11 in six and two-thirds. Terry Collins on Harvey:

“We’ve got to think what’s not just best for Matt, but what’s best for us moving forward at the moment. There are a lot of things to consider. We’re not going to make any rash judgments tonight. We’re going to sleep on it.”

Sounds like someone has either a DL stint or a trip to Las Vegas in his future.

Pirates 12, Diamondbacks 1: Gregory Polanco had three hits including a three-run homer and drove in five. Dbacks starter Shelby Miller was lit up for six runs on eight hits in five innings and saw his ERA climb above seven. Even Matt Harvey looks at that and goes “damn.” Pittsburgh reliever Arquimedes Caminero was ejected in the eighth after hitting a pair of batters in the head, one of whom — Jean Segura — was sent to the hospital with concussion symptoms. Dude seems to have no idea where the ball is going and has no business pitching right now.

Red Sox 8, Rockies 3: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends his hitting streak to 28 games or, as we say in the business, .5 DiMaggios. OK, we don’t say that in the business. I’m not even sure what “the business” is, actually. I sit on a couch with my cats all day. Pretty good business but I’m not sure if it’s representative of a professional class into which I can even plausibly shoehorn myself. David Price won his seventh game, allowing three runs over seven innings. David Ortiz went 2-for-4 and drove in four. No that does not entitle you to ask him if he is going to reconsider his decision to retire.

Tigers 3, Phillies 1: Justin Verlander struck out ten over eight shutout innings. Francisco Rodriguez notched his 400th career save. Miguel Cabrera stayed hot, driving in two. When your ace, your closer and your slugger are the three dudes who get mentioned in a short game description, it’s pretty much the Platonic ideal of a winning baseball game.

Brewers 2, Braves 1Scooter Gennett hit a tiebreaking single in the eighth to put the Brewers over. Julio Teheran struck out 12 while allowing one run in seven innings but got the no-decision and his team lost because such is the hellscape that is the Atlanta Braves 2016 season. For what it’s worth, he’s got a 0.89 ERA over his last six starts while striking out 42. He’s 1-2 in that span.

Rangers 4, Angels 1: Martin Perez tossed six shutout innings and Nomar Mazara hit a two-run homer in the sixth. The Rangers got an insurance run when Mazara was caught stealing and stayed in the rundown long enough to let another runner score, so give him an assist or something.

Indians 6, White Sox 2: Chris Sale lost. I repeat: Chris Sale lost a baseball game. The Indians got to him for six runs in three and a third innings, in fact, which seems damn nigh impossible this year, but box scores don’t lie. Heck, Sale had allowed only six runs in his previous five starts combined. Josh Tomlin, meanwhile, remains undefeated after tossing eight innings and allowing two runs.

Royals 7, Twins 4Salvador Perez stayed hot, hittting a two-run homer, and Lorenzo Cain had four hits and two RBI. Wade Davis got the save despite loading the bases with nobody out in the ninth. That’s an interesting way to do things. Maybe he’s just lacking excitement in his life and is looking for ways to make the adrenaline surge.

Astros 3, Orioles 2: Carlos Correa hit a walkoff single in the 13th, ending the Astros’ four-game losing streak. It was set up by Tony Kemp hitting a leadoff triple over Adam Jones‘ head. Astros pitchers struck out 19 Orioles batters. Sixteen of those strikeouts came from the Houston bullpen, which didn’t enter the game until there were two outs in the sixth inning.

Giants 8, Padres 2: The Warriors are bringing everyone in the Bay Area down but at least they still have the Giants. Brandon Crawford drove in four runs and Jarrett Parker homered as the Giants win their fourth in a row and 12th of 13. The Padres have lost all eight meetings with the Giants this year.

Mariners 6, Athletics 5: The Mariners were down 5-2 after the A’s batted in the eighth inning but then they rallied for four over the next two frames, topped off with a Leonys Martin two-run walkoff homer. Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer of his own in the eighth. Brutal loss for the A’s.

Dodgers 8, Reds 2: Nine losses in a row for the Reds who continue to be a great opponent for struggling contenders to face. Eight straight for the Dodgers over the Reds. Mike Bolsinger got the win after allowing two runs in a little under six innings. Your Aunt Tilly could get a win against the Reds right now, even if she was having trouble locating her offspeed stuff.

Yu Darvish will be on 85-90 pitch count in 2016 debut on Saturday

FRISCO, TX - MAY 1:  Pitcher Yu Darvish #11 of the Frisco RoughRiders warms up in the bullpen before taking on the the Corpus Christi Hooks at Dr Pepper Ballpark on May 1, 2016 in Frisco, Texas. Darvish is on Major League rehabilitation assignment with the RoughRiders, the Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.  (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
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Yu Darvish will be limited to 85-90 pitches when he makes his 2016 debut for the Rangers against the Pirates on Saturday, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reports. Darvish hasn’t pitched since August 9, 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail said, “That would be a good pitch count. It all depends on how he looks during the game and how many pitches he has. We’re not going to have him go out there and throw 150 pitches. Hopefully he gets out there and uses his fastball to get early outs and uses his pitches wisely and keeps us in the game.”

Darvish has made five minor league rehab appearances beginning on May 1. Over three starts with Double-A Frisco and two with Triple-A Round Rock, the right-hander yielded four runs (two earned) on nine hits and six walks with 21 strikeouts in 20 innings.