2012 Top 111 Free Agents: Best of the rest

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Starting Monday, I’ll be spending the week counting down next winter’s top 111 free agents. First, though, here are some notable names failing to make the cut.

(All ages as of April 1, 2012)

Vicente Padilla (33 – Dodgers): No. 112 on the list. Pitching out of the pen for the first time since 2001, Padilla was briefly the Dodgers’ closer this year and picked up three saves and five holds in nine appearances. Unfortunately, his season is already over due to neck surgery.

Tim Wakefield (45 – Red Sox): If he decides he wants to continue his career, then he’ll be in the top 111 come November. Filling in for Daisuke Matsuzaka, Wakefield has gotten the chance recently to show that he’s still a perfectly viable bottom-of-the-rotation guy, even at age 44. He’s 3-2 with a 4.39 ERA.

Chris Young (32 – Mets): Had a 1.88 ERA in four starts before his latest shoulder injury knocked him out for the season. He’ll be signing another incentive-laden deal this winter.

Bill Hall (32 – Giants): The Astros gave him $3 million to play second base, but he flopped, hitting .224/.272/.340 in 147 at-bats. Now he’s with the Giants trying to rebuild his value.

Mike Cameron (39 – Red Sox): Boston hoped a healthy Cameron would be one of the game’s best fourth outfielders, but he’s hitting just .157 in 83 at-bats. He could opt for retirement after the season.

Mike Gonzalez (33 – Orioles): Gonzalez fanned 90 batters out of the pen for the Braves in 2009, causing the Orioles to sign him as a closer. In the year-plus since, he’s recorded just one save and amassed a 5.29 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.

Brandon Webb (32 – Rangers): After missing more than two years due to shoulder problems, Webb has progressed to the point at which he’s now making rehab starts for the Rangers’ Double-A club. If he’s able to contribute in the second half, he’ll shoot up the list quickly.

Eric Hinske (34 – Braves): Hinske is slumping in an extended role of late, but he’s a rock solid bench player. He’s hit 19 homers in 430 at-bats for the Braves the last two years.

Jerry Hairston Jr. (35 – Nationals): A useful spare part who has received too much playing time the last two years, Hairston can start at any of six positions without hurting a team. He’s hitting .249/.321/.350 in 177 at-bats for the Nationals this season.

Casey Kotchman (29 – Rays): Kotchman has quietly hit .339/.400/.468 in 171 at-bats since getting a chance to overtake Dan Johnson as the Rays’ first baseman.

Joel Zumaya (27 – Tigers): Zumaya had a 2.58 ERA in 38 1/3 innings before suffering a broken elbow on the mound last year. He is questionable to return this season after a follow-up surgery in May. If he misses the entire season, then he’ll probably have to settle for a minor league deal this winter.

Omar Vizquel (44 – White Sox): Still doing a nice job as a utilityman for the White Sox, Vizquel is hitting .279/.312/.360 in 86 at-bats this season. Maybe this will finally be it for him, but he hasn’t given any indication that he’s done.

Jack Wilson (34 – Mariners): Injuries have robbed Wilson of some of his defensive abilities, and it’s not like he can make up for it with his bat. Now buried on the Seattle bench by the Dustin Ackley callup, he badly needs a trade.

Jack Cust (33 – Mariners): Cust doesn’t seem long for Seattle with his playing time starting to go to Mike Carp. He’s still getting on base, but he’s gone from hitting 33 homers in 2008 to just two in 182 at-bats so far this season.

Yuniesky Betancourt (30 – Brewers)*: The Brewers won’t be picking up Betancourt’s $6 million option, and it’s possible that no one will want him as a starting shortstop next year. He’s hitting just .227/.251/.330 at the moment.

Carlos Guillen (36 – Tigers): Guillen, who has yet to play this season, is now hoping to return from knee surgery after the All-Star break. With his four-year, $48 million contract coming to an end, he could possibly have a nice run as a role player in the right situation. He just needs to stay healthy.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.