Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics

Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 30-11

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Now we’re starting to see some bigger names. Here’s the fifth of six columns looking at the winter’s top 111 free agents. Nos. 30-11 are featured below.

Free agents Nos. 111-91
Free agents Nos. 90-71
Free agents Nos. 70-51
Free agents Nos. 50-31

30. Lance Berkman (Yankees – Age 35) – Berkman’s worst OPS in 10 full seasons was an 896 mark until he plummeted all of the way to 781 this year. He only truly got hot in July, when he clubbed six homers. Perhaps he would have continued to improve his numbers from there as an Astro, but after being traded to the Yankees and accepting a lesser role, he hit .255/.358/.349 with just one homer in 106 at-bats. Berkman has always had an old player’s skill set, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll remain effective in his upper-30s. On the plus side, he’ll likely command just a one-year deal after his poor season. He’ll also probably be willing to settle for less money to play somewhere he’s comfortable.

29. Adam LaRoche (Diamondbacks – Age 31) – The Diamondbacks got what they needed from LaRoche. His 788 OPS was a bit low, considering that his career mark was 834, but he was more valuable than that suggests because he came in at 924 with RISP, allowing him to drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career. Still, it apparently wasn’t quite good enough for Arizona, as the team is expected to decline its half of a $7.5 million mutual option, paying him a $1.5 million buyout instead. Consistent throughout his career and still relatively young, LaRoche is the safest choice among the first basemen available this winter. The team that signs him for $6 million or so will know what it’s getting.

28. Orlando Hudson (Twins – Age 33) – Luis Castillo excepted, second basemen tend to have a difficult time in free agency. Hudson overplayed his hand each of the last two winters and was forced to settle for modest one-year deals as spring training was starting up. He had something of a down 2010 with the Twins, but it wasn’t so significant after accounting for the fact that offense was down as a whole and Target Field was a tough scoring environment. Hudson has definitely lost some range through the years, but he remains an above average regular and he’s the top second baseman on the market right now. Perhaps he’ll finally get his first multiyear deal at age 33.

27. Johnny Damon (Tigers – Age 37) – If Damon can keep plugging along at 140 games per season, he’s three years away from reaching 3,000 hits. The decline in his production this year was largely the result of him moving from a ballpark that was ideally suited for his power stroke to one that wasn’t. He went from 24 homers to eight, but his OBP stayed right at his career mark and he delivered 36 doubles, matching his high mark since 2000. With the way his defense has eroded, Damon isn’t worthy of a multiyear deal. Still, he remains a perfectly useful left fielder and top-of-the-order hitter. He’ll find a team willing to give him another $7 million-$8 million for 2011.

26. Scott Downs (Blue Jays – Age 35) – Downs will be made one of the game’s highest-paid setup men after another exceptional year in Toronto in 2010. Left-handers hit just .152 off him, and he finished with a 0.99 WHIP in 61 1/3 innings. Not just a specialist, Downs has held right-handers to a sub-.250 average each of the last four seasons. Both the Red Sox and Yankees could be involved here, and it’d be a surprise if Downs doesn’t end up receiving at least $15 million for three years.

25. Derrek Lee (Braves – Age 35) – Lee and Berkman are the same age, but while Berkman has the superior career OPS by about 90 points, Lee will probably be viewed as having more left in the tank. He’s the more agile defender at first base, and he has been the better player the last two years. Also, Lee improved as 2010 went on, hitting .287/.384/.465 in 129 at-bats after joining the Braves. Whether that gets him a multiyear deal remains to be seen. Like Berkman, he’ll be pretty picky about where he plays, and he’ll probably be willing to accept less money for the security of a two- or three-year contract.

24. Manny Ramirez (White Sox – Age 38) – Is the ability still worth the hassle? Ramirez didn’t play a lot for the Dodgers this season, but when he was in the lineup, he hit .311/.405/.510, making him one of the NL’s top performers over the course of his 196 at-bats. The White Sox looked at that and figured it was worth taking a chance on him, but while he didn’t cause any problems in Chicago, he drove in just two runs while hitting .261/.420/.319 in 69 at-bats. Ramirez is currently lobbying to play in Toronto after the Jays hired former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell as their new manager. The Jays do have an opening for him, and if he’s willing to sign for $6 million-$8 million, perhaps they’ll give him a try. However, if Ramirez tries holding out for $10 million or more, he’ll likely go unsigned into spring training.

23. Brian Fuentes (Twins – Age 35) – Fuentes was injured and ineffective early, but from June 22 onward, he allowed runs in just two of 30 appearances. He ended up with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 48 innings. He’s still in line for a paycut after finishing up a two-year, $17.5 million deal, but he should find another multiyear deal either as a closer for a middle-market club or a setup man for one of the big spenders.

22. Magglio Ordonez (Tigers – Age 37) – A broken ankle suffered in July not only cost Ordonez the rest of the 2010 season but also a chance to have his $15 million option for 2011 vest automatically. The Tigers, of course, will decline the option now, but it sounds as though they’d like to have Ordonez back at a reduced price tag. He was hitting .303/.378/.474 in 323 at-bats before getting hurt, and while he’s not exactly fleet of foot these days, he’s still a viable right fielder. He’d probably be an asset at half of the option price.

21. Jon Garland (Padres – Age 31) – Signing up to pitch in Petco was the smartest thing Garland could have done last winter. He threw his usual 200 innings and posted a career-best 3.47 ERA with the league’s top pitcher’s ballpark helping him along. That said, he was perfectly solid on the road as well, finishing 7-7 with a 4.01 ERA. Garland figures to decline his half of a $6.75 million mutual option for 2011 and seek a multiyear deal in free agency. With few quality starters available, he’d make sense on a two-year, $15 million contract.

20. Aubrey Huff (Giants – Age 34) – A bargain after signing for $3 million last winter, Huff was an MVP candidate for four months in 2010 before fading. Fortunately, even as he declined, he never stopped being productive, and he finished 10th in the NL with an 891 OPS. He didn’t help himself so much in the postseason, hitting a mediocre .268/.339/.357 with one homer in 56 at-bats. Still, the Giants won anyway and they figure to make a strong bid to re-sign him after he led the team in average, homers, runs and RBI. He could get two years and $14 million-$16 million.

19. Javier Vazquez (Yankees – Age 34) – Maybe the toughest call in free agency this winter. Vazquez was one of the NL’s top five pitchers in 2009, and he’s been remarkably durable. However, his down 2010 wasn’t simply a matter of him being unable to handle the pressure of New York; he lost his fastball in the second half of the season and never recovered it. Vazquez never complained of an injury or spent time on the disabled list, but he didn’t resemble a quality major league starter at any point after mid-July. For that reason, Vazquez may have to take a one-year deal in an attempt to rebuild his value.

18. Vladimir Guerrero (Rangers – Age 36) – It was a brutal postseason for Vlad, as he hit just .220/.242/.271 with no homers in 59 at-bats. He also had a down second half following his terrific start and finished with a modest 841 OPS. While he had the sterling triple crown line (.300-29-115), both his walk and doubles rates have declined, leaving him a less effective player. The Rangers should still exercise their half of a $9 million mutual option, but it’s no given that Guerrero would do better on the open market.

17. Jake Westbrook (Cardinals – Age 33) – Westbrook took a little while to get going in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, but he finished nicely, going 4-4 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 12 starts after a trade to St. Louis. The Cardinals are focused on re-signing him, probably to a two-year deal. In this market, though, Westbrook might be able to get three years if he shops himself around. He’s a pretty good bet to stay healthy now that his elbow is once again sound, and with his sinker, he can pitch in any ballpark in the league.

16. David Ortiz (Red Sox – Age 35) – It’s amazing how Ortiz has reverted to form after horrible starts the last two seasons, but one of these years, he’s going to fail to find the one switch. It’s that thought that surely has the Red Sox worried as they have to decide whether to placate Ortiz with another multiyear deal, pick up his $12.5 million option for 2011 or set him free. If he weren’t Big Papi, the smart play would be to let him test the market. He’s probably worth $10 million for 2011 or $15 million for two years, but it’d cost them more than that to re-sign him now.

15. Rafael Soriano (Rays – Age 31) – Sure Mariano Rivera is a free agent as well, but since no one believes he’s going anywhere, Soriano is the top closer available this winter. Once one of the game’s most injury-prone pitchers, Soriano has been healthy four of the last five seasons, and he amassed a 1.73 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP on his way to 45 saves in 48 opportunities this year. He likely priced himself out of Tampa Bay with his performance, but the Braves, Nationals and Angels are among the teams that could come calling. He’ll probably seek $21 million-$24 million for three years.

14. Carlos Pena (Rays – Age 32) – Pena’s 2010 season was the best ever for a sub-.200 hitter, but that’s not saying a lot. Since he hit .282 during his MVP-caliber 2007 season, Pena’s averages have dropped to .247, .227 and now .196. He still hits plenty of homers and draws a ton of walks, but he’s not going to stay in a major league lineup it he can’t reverse that trend. Had Pena been a free agent a year ago, he likely would have been in line for around $30 million for three years. Now, after the down year and with plenty of competition at first base, he may need to take a one-year deal. He does offer more upside than the other first basemen in his price range.

13. Andy Pettitte (Yankees – Age 38) – Two possible outcomes here: Pettitte will either accept another one-year deal to remain with the Yankees or he’ll opt for retirement after flirting with it these last several offseasons. From a performance standpoint, Pettitte is coming off his best season since 2005 and one of the very best of his career. However, he was limited to 21 starts by a groin strain, his first significant injury since 2004. If Pettitte returns, it will probably be for something close to the $11.75 million he made this year.

12. Carl Pavano (Twins – Age 35) – The Twins decided Pavano was worth $7 million after he finished 2009 with a 5.10 ERA, and he rewarded them with a 17-win campaign. Now he’s probably going to want a three-year deal and at least a modest raise. Pavano was a true workhorse this year, finishing with a 3.75 ERA in 221 innings. He tied for the AL lead with seven complete games. The Twins will make a bid to retain him, but they may bail out if someone else is willing to go to $30 million for three years.

11. Jorge De La Rosa (Rockies – Age 29) – The team that signs De La Rosa will be gambling that his best days are still ahead of him. He’s been inconsistent but still often effective in going 24-16 for the Rockies the last two seasons. His 4.31 ERA over that span is nothing special, but he was dealing with Coors Field half of the time and he struck out 306 batters in 306 2/3 innings. Don’t be surprised to see him get at least $27 million in a three-year deal this winter. Even a four-year pact is a possibility here.

Must-Click Link: Big Brother is Watching Ballplayers

Big Brother
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Over at Vice Rian Watt has a great story about how technology is changing baseball. No, it’s not about sabermetrics or statistical analysis. At least not as you all know and understand those things. It’s about how the players themselves are now becoming the data. About how wearables — little devices which monitor everything about an athlete’s behavior — and analysis of that behavior is changing clubs’ understanding of what makes baseball players excel.

Which is fine if you approach it solely from a technological standpoint and do that usual “gee, what a world we live in” stuff that such articles typically inspire. Watt, however, talks about the larger implications of turning players into data: the blurring of their professional and personal lives:

Welcome to the next frontier in baseball’s analytic revolution. Many of this revolution’s tenets will be familiar to anyone who works for a living—the ever-growing digitization and quantification of things never-before measured and tracked, for instance, or the ever-expanding workplace, the blurring distinction between the professional and the personal, and the cult of self-improvement for self-improvement’s sake. These broader trends are colliding with baseball tradition on backfields and in training facilities around the major leagues, and those collisions have raised questions about privacy, security, and what employees owe their employers.

Players already accept drug testing and rules about personal behavior. But can a club, armed with knowledge about how it affects a player’s performance, make rules about how he sleeps? What kind of shoes he wears off the field? Everything he eats?

I’m the last person to fall for slippery slope fallacies. In most instances there are lines that can be drawn when it comes to regulating the behavior of others and making new rules. But in order to draw those lines you have to ask questions about what is and what is not acceptable. You also have to acknowledge that it’s really easy for technology to get ahead of our ability to comprehend its ethical implications.

Vin Scully recites the “People will come” speech from “Field of Dreams”

James
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You all probably know my thing about “Field of Dreams.” Specifically, that I hate it. Maybe my least favorite baseball movie ever. And I have sat through “The Slugger’s Wife” at least twice. That’s really saying something. At some point I’ll watch it again and liveblog the experience to explain my position on this — I know all of you think I’m nuts for not liking it — but just accept that I don’t like it for now, OK?

But just because a movie stinks doesn’t mean every aspect of it is bad. I loved Burt Lancaster in everything he did and he did an excellent job in “Field of Dreams.” Same with James Earl Jones for the most part. I thought he did a great job playing a character which, at times, didn’t have as much to work with as he could’ve had. No, there are good elements of “Field of Dreams.” If there weren’t — if it were just a total turkey — it wouldn’t inspire the feelings I have about it. If it were an unmitigated disaster, I’d occasionally re-watch it on a so-bad-it’s-good theory.

The “People will come” speech is good. Not necessarily for its content — there’s some hokeyness to it — but because James Earl Jones does a great job delivering it. He could read the dang phone book and make it compelling

Yesterday Major League Baseball launched a partnership thingie with the Field of Dreams site in Iowa. Part of that effort involved having Vin Scully recite the “People will come” speech over some baseball footage. Watch and listen:

Personally, I’d prefer Vin to tell some kooky story about an opposing player actually being a part time flautist or what have you. He’s had many monumental moments, but Scully is Scully for the way he makes the workaday and the mundane sound poetic, not because he takes the already poetic and elevates it further.

Still, this is good. Even to a hater like me. And I’m sure a lot of you will love it.

The Yankees release former prospect Slade Heathcott

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Slade Heathcott #71 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait on February 27, 2016 at George M Steinbrenner Stadium  in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Yankees announced last night that they have given an unconditional release to outfielder Slade Heathcott. They needed room on the 40-man roster and he was seen as expendable. There is no indication that they’re going to try to re-sign him or anything. He’s just gone.

Heathcott was the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft and at one time was considered the second best prospect in the Yankees’ system. Injuries and decreased production as he climbed the minor league ladder took the shine off this particular apple, however. He had a nice little cup of coffee with New York last season, but he’s hitting a mere .230/.271/.310 at Triple-A this year in his second go-around.

Heathcott can play center field and has good tools, but he’s going to have to use them working for another organization.

Pete Rose says no one ever told him not to gamble on baseball anymore

Former Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose poses while taping a segment for Miami Television News on the campus of Miami University, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Oxford, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Associated Press
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Pete Rose will soon be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame and have his number retired and all of that jazz. To mark the occasion, Cincinnati Magazine interviewed the Hit King. And, for, like, the 4.256th straight time, Rose shows that he’s in complete denial about why he was banned in 1989 and why he was not reinstated last year when Rob Manfred agreed to review his case:

In this time of limbo after the ban, did you worry about your legacy? I normally don’t ever worry about anything that I’m not in control of. I wasn’t in control of anything in that situation. I went through a period when I got suspended where I didn’t even go to the ballpark. It’s not because I didn’t want to. There were so many restrictions on me, I just didn’t want to put people through that. It didn’t feel good to me.

Sure he wasn’t in control of anything. He was a tiny boat, cast out onto the waves, left to drift in a sea of uncertainty and powerlessness.

But it gets better. Rose was asked about how he changed his life after his ban:

But you still bet on baseball, albeit legally. It seems like the commissioner’s office has taken issue with that fact. Have you considered not betting on baseball anymore? That’s a good point. You remember reading about Bart Giamatti telling me to reconfigure my life? OK, no one has ever told me—including Manfred, including Selig—what does that mean? I guess my point is, just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it. I’m in control. Just tell me. If I want to bet on Monday Night Football, and that’s the way I enjoy my life, why is everybody so worried about that? I’m 75 years old, I have to be able to have some form of entertainment. I’m not betting out of my means. It’s not illegal. If you don’t want me to bet on baseball or anything else, just tell me.

If they told you that— I’d do it. Absolutely. But no one has ever explained “reconfigure your life.” I have taken responsibility for it. I have apologized for it. I have shown I’m sorry. But there again, no matter how many times you say you’re sorry, not everybody’s going to hear you. All I can do is imagine what they meant when they said reconfigure my life. And evidently, no one’s willing to tell me what that means.

So it was all a big misunderstanding. A man who was in his late 40s was banned for gambling on baseball and was told to straighten up yet he had no idea, for 26 years, that maybe it’d be a good idea for him to not gamble on baseball anymore in order to get back into the good graces of the folks who banned him. Damn, why did they pose such impossible riddles to him! If only he had a clue as to what sort of behavior would have improved his chances!

But really, guys: Rose is ready to stop betting on baseball. All you have to do is tell him. If he had known before now, well, we’d be having a TOTALLY different conversation, I’m sure.