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.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.