Jim Thome

2012 Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 111-81

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I posted a look at some honorable mentions yesterday, but here’s the real countdown of the winter’s top 111 free agents. I’m including pretty much everyone except for a few locks. I am assuming that the Yankees and Cardinals will exercise their respective options on Robinson Cano and Yadier Molina. Also, I’m having a hard time imagining Vernon Wells (three years, $63 million) and Rafael Soriano (two years, $25 million) using the out clauses in their contracts. Everyone else is fair game.

So, here’s the first 31. One thing I want to make clear: this list is less about how I rank the players than how I believe they’re perceived by major league teams. There are several guys who didn’t make the cut that I’d take over Miguel Tejada and Juan Pierre, but I’m putting the player in a rough order of the salaries I expect them to make. Most of the players in the first 31 here are guys I see getting guarantees in the $1.5 million-$2.5 million range for next year.

(All ages as of April 1, 2012)

* denotes players with contract options

111. Scott Hairston (31 – Mets): Mets manager Terry Collins doesn’t think highly of Hairston at all — he’s written the outfielder into the lineup once in the last month — but Hairston has produced in his very limited opportunities, hitting .262/.328/.459 with three homers in 61 at-bats. If he can keep it up, he’ll probably get a chance to compete for a starting job with another team next year.

110. Jason Varitek (39 – Red Sox): Varitek has overcome a brutal April to hit .297 with three homers and 13 RBI in 64 at-bats since May 1. Two months ago it looked like the Red Sox would be desperate to upgrade their catching situation before the All-Star break. Now it seems entirely possible that they’ll want the duo of Jarrod Salatalamacchia and Varitek to return in 2012.

109. Miguel Tejada (37 – Giants): It’s safe to say Tejada won’t be signing for $6.5 million again. Had the Giants managed to stay healthier, he may well have been released by now. Tejada is hitting just .220/.251/.288 with one homer in 236 at-bats. It’s going to take a big rebound for him to get taken seriously as a potential 2012 regular.

108. Juan Cruz (33 – Rays): Plucked off the scrap heap by the Rays, Cruz has been a versatile middle man; sometimes he’s just a righty specialist, but he threw three scoreless innings in an appearance against the Mariners earlier this month. Overall, he’s 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 26 2/3 innings. He’s not in line for Joaquin Benoit money, but he’ll get a couple of million dollars thrown his way next year if he stays healthy.

107. Ivan Rodriguez (40 – Nationals): Pudge has given the Nationals exactly what they should have expected for their two-year, $6 million investment. He’s no longer enough of an asset defensively to justify regular playing time, but no one has more experience and that counts for plenty with some clubs.

106. Octavio Dotel (38 – Blue Jays)*: Dotel is still racking up strikeouts — he has 24 in 19 1/3 innings — but since he’s also walked 12 and given up four homers, the Jays haven’t displayed a lot of faith in him. He’ll need to improve if he expects the Jays to pick up his $3.5 million option for 2012.

105. Chris Capuano (33 – Mets): A two-time Tommy John survivor, Capuano has stayed healthy for the Mets this year and gone 5-7 with a 4.29 ERA so far. His history should rule out the possibility of a multiyear deal this winter, but he makes for a solid fifth starter.

104. Juan Rivera (33 – Blue Jays): Absorbing the last year of Rivera’s three-year, $12.75 million contract was part of the price the Jays had to pay to get the Angels to take Vernon Wells. He’s been a disappointment, having hit just .250/.314/.364 with five homers and 24 RBI in 220 at-bats. He’s only going to be viewed as a bench player this winter unless he picks it up.

103. Chad Qualls (33 – Padres)*: The club option is for $6 million, so that’s not getting exercised. Qualls hasn’t truly returned to form following his miserable 2010 season: while he has the nice 2.52 ERA, he’s struggled outside of Petco Park and struck out just 20 in 35 2/3 innings overall. Still, it is an improvement and there’s a good chance some contender is going to want to add him prior to the trade deadline.

102. Ben Sheets (33 – free agent): Sheets is rehabbing after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August and isn’t expected to pitch this year. He’s a question mark for 2012 as well, but if he shows velocity in offseason workouts, he should have plenty of teams offering him incentive-laden deals.

101. Edwin Encarnacion (29 – Blue Jays): Encarnacion hasn’t hit for average in years, but at least he managed to smack 21 homers in 332 at-bats for the Blue Jays last season. This year, he has just two while hitting .256/.293/.372 in 180 at-bats. Barring a big turnaround, he probably won’t last the year with the club.

100. Fernando Rodney (35 – Angels): Rodney has posted lower ERAs for the Angels than he did in his final three seasons with the Tigers, but it’s a good bet that he won’t be invited back for 2012. He’ll likely see his current $5.5 million salary halved or worse in free agency.

99. Jonny Gomes (31 – Reds): Gomes is likely better cast as a role player than as a regular: his OPS was 150 points higher against left-handers last year and it’s 450 points higher against them so far this season.

98. Brad Hawpe (32 – Padres)*: The Padres thought 2010 was an aberration when they signed Hawpe to serve as a platoon first baseman, but he’s hit just .231/.301/.344 in 195 at-bats. He’s back playing the outfield now following Anthony Rizzo’s arrival, and the club would be happy to trade him if any suitors pop up. The $6 million mutual option on his contract for 2012 certainly isn’t getting exercised.

97. Jamey Carroll (38 – Dodgers): Carroll didn’t debut in the majors until 28, but he’s a 10-year veteran now and he’s playing about as well as ever at age 37, having hit .308/.376/.375 in 240 at-bats for the Dodgers. One wonders how much longer he can keep it up, but at the moment, there aren’t many better utilitymen.

96. Jeff Francis (31 – Royals): Francis doesn’t have much of a fastball left after battling shoulder problems for years, but he’s managed to turn in nine quality starts in 15 tries for the Royals. Unfortunately, that’s only left him with a 3-7 record and a 4.83 ERA.

95. Lyle Overbay (35 – Pirates): The Pirates spent $5 million to get themselves a solid first baseman, thinking Overbay would come close to repeating his .243/.329/.433 line from 2010 with the Blue Jays. Instead, he’s hit just .228/.307/.353 with five homers for Pittsburgh. His future as a regular will hinge on an improved second half.

94. Michael Wuertz (33 – Athletics)*: Wuertz has struggled to stay healthy since an exceptional first year in Oakland, but he has a 2.95 ERA in 22 appearances this season. His $3.25 million option for 2012 will look pretty reasonable if he can stay off the disabled list the rest of the way. However, it might be another team that has to make a decision on that, since he is a strong candidate to be traded.

93. Clint Barmes (33 – Astros): Barmes likely would have been non-tendered by the Rockies over the winter, but the Astros thought he’d be a solid shortstop and both traded Felipe Paulino for him and signed him for $3.925 million as an arbitration-eligible player. He’ll almost certainly get less as a free agent this winter. Barmes is hitting just .224/.311/.342, which is just about where he finished last year. Most will view him as a utiltyman going forward.

92. Hideki Matsui (37 – Athletics): Matsui usually heats up with the weather, and he has improved to .222/.327/.422 in 45 at-bats this month. Overall, he’s hitting .222/.289/.357 in his first and likely last year as Oakland’s designated hitter.

91. Zach Duke (28 – Diamondbacks)*: The Diamondbacks thought it was worth committing $4.25 million to Duke even after he went 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA for the Pirates last season. After missing nearly two months with a broken hand, he’s come off the DL to go 1-2 with a 4.66 ERA in his first five starts for the club. It’s going to take a lot more than that if the team is going to pull the trigger on his $5.5 million option for 2012.

90. Nate McLouth (30 – Braves): A .240/.335/.341 line may not seem like much, but it’s a huge improvement over what McLouth did for the Braves in 2010. Still rather young at age 29, McLouth may get another crack at a starting job next year. Contenders, though, will likely only look at him as a fourth outfielder.

89. Darren Oliver (41 – Rangers): The ageless Oliver has a chance to post the best ERA of his career for a fourth straight season in 2011. He’s at 2.67 right now, which would be his second-best behind last year’s 2.48 mark. He’s provided a great return on a modest salary six years running.

88. Kerry Wood (34 – Cubs): Wood could have earned at least three times as much elsewhere, but he signed for $1.5 million over the winter because he wanted to return to Chicago. He’s on the DL at the moment with a blister, but he’s posted a 2.25 ERA in 24 innings this season.

87. Jim Thome (41 – Twins): It must be killing Thome that he can’t even stay healthy while being used as a part-time designated hitter. He’s hit a solid .237/.372/.447 in his 76 at-bats this season, but he may opt to call it a career at season’s end if his body continues to fail him.

86. Ryan Doumit (30 – Pirates): Things might have turned out quite a bit differently for Doumit if the Pirates had made him a full-time first baseman or right fielder a few years back. As an injury-prone, subpar defensive catcher, he’s of limited value, even with the nice bat. His latest injury, a fractured ankle, was the result of him getting slid into by Carlos Pena last month.

85. Wilson Betemit (30 – Royals): Betemit just made a huge impact on the NL postseason races by knocking out Albert Pujols for 4-6 weeks. Maybe he’ll get a chance to make another when the inevitable trade out of Kansas City comes. Betemit has hit .287/.344/.410 this season, but the Royals turned him back into a bench player when they called up Mike Moustakas. How he performs for his next team will determine whether he’s viewed as a regular this winter.

84. Livan Hernandez (37 – Nationals): Well, not really 37. Hernandez, though, has enjoyed quite a renaissance in Washington, not that it shows up in his current 4-8 record. He currently has a 3.77 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in 98 innings. He declined to test free agency last winter, instead signing a $1 million deal to stay with the Nationals. He’ll probably hold out for a bit more next time around.

83. Javier Lopez (34 – Giants): 13 years after being drafted by the Diamondbacks, Lopez has turned into one of the game’s best specialists. Left-handers are just 5-for-50 off him this year, and he hasn’t allowed a homer in 26 2/3 innings for the Giants. He’s currently in line for the first multiyear deal of his career.

82. Juan Pierre (34 – White Sox): Pierre keeps himself in fantastic shape, so he could have more years like his 2010, when he hit .275 and stole 68 bases for the White Sox. Still, with the lack of walks and the nonexistent power, that doesn’t make him much of a left fielder.

81. Freddy Garcia (35 – Yankees): Garcia and Yankee Stadium looked like a bad match, but with a 5-6 record and a 3.62 ERA, the right-hander has been a nice fifth starter for the Bombers. At the rate he’s going, he could be looking at a $5 million guarantee as a free agent this winter. However, given that Garcia hasn’t made 30 starts since 2006, odds are that he will get hurt at some point.

Tim Lincecum to hold long-awaited showcase on Friday

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 16:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the game at AT&T Park on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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At long last, the Tim Lincecum showcase has an official date: this Friday, May 6 in Scottsdale, according to CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic (citing a report from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman). Lincecum, still a free agent, has been allowed to throw at the Giants’ facility in Arizona.

Lincecum, 31, has reportedly still drawn the interest in at least half the league. San Francisco remains Lincecum’s preferred landing spot, however, per Pavlovic.

The right-hander showed better results in 15 starts last season after three consecutive tough campaigns. He finished the 2015 season with a 4.13 ERA and a 60/38 K/BB ratio in 76 1/3 innings. Given how starting pitching is always in demand, Lincecum should walk away with a handful of offers.

Video: J.J. Hardy collects carom off Manny Machado’s glove, converts the out

A ball hit by Chicago White Sox' Todd Frazier gets by Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Baltimore. Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, not seen, was able to get the ball and throw it to first to get out Frazier on the play. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Some great defensive plays leave you saying, “Wow!” This one will leave you saying that, and, “How the heck did that happen?”

In the top of the fourth inning at Camden Yards, White Sox slugger Todd Frazier lined a Ubaldo Jimenez offering right at third baseman Manny Machado. The ball skipped and caromed off of Machado’s glove, creating what seemed to be an easy single for Frazier. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, however, was ranging to his right and used his cat-like reflexes to snag the redirected ball. He planted and threw a one-hopper to Chris Davis at first base to convert the out.

The replay at about 21 seconds really does the play justice. Outstanding stuff by Hardy. The Orioles, however, wound up losing 7-1 to the White Sox.

Clayton Kershaw K’s 14 in three-hit shutout, provides Dodgers’ only run

National League pitcher Clayton Kershaw, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, throws during the second inning of the MLB All-Star baseball game, Tuesday, July 15, 2014, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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You could say Clayton Kershaw had a pretty good day. The Dodgers’ lefty limited the Padres to three hits over nine scoreless innings, striking out 14 while walking none. The Dodgers won 1-0, and Kershaw provided that lone run with a single up the middle in the third inning off of Drew Pomeranz.

Kershaw amassed a game score of 95 with the effort — the third game of his career with a game score of 95 or better. The others: a 97 game score against the Giants on September 29 last year, and 102 against the Rockies on June 18, 2014.

Kershaw improves to 3-1 on the year with a 1.96 ERA and a 54/3 K/BB ratio in 46 innings. He’s had double-digit strikeouts in each of his last four starts and he’s yet to go fewer than seven innings in all six starts this season.

Wanna work as a baseball broadcaster for free?

Two drake Mallard ducks fly over Lake Erie near the Cleveland shoreline, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Cleveland. Warming temperatures have brought a variety of waterfowl to the area as they stage for the northern migration. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
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(Hat tip to @ItsTonyNow on Twitter for pointing this story out.)

The Madison Mallards are a collegiate summer baseball team in Wisconsin. College players join the league to have an opportunity to showcase their talents for scouts. Though they’re not exactly the New York Yankees, the Mallards do relatively well for themselves. In 2013, they had the highest average attendance among amateur teams, per The Capital Times.

That makes one of their latest job postings seem rather curious. The Mallards are looking for someone to handle both play-by-play broadcasting duties as well as media relations, as seen in this post. Only one problem: the position is unpaid. Here’s the full description (emphasis mine):

The Madison Mallards are looking for an enthusiastic and ambitious individual to join the front office as the Radio Broadcaster.

This position will manage all day-to-day media relations duties and act as the traveling secretary on all road trips. This is a seasonal position, beginning in May 2016 and ending in mid-August. This position is unpaid. The candidate will serve as the full-time radio broadcaster, traveling with the team during the season.

Duties and responsibilities include but are not limited to:
* Write press releases promoting team initiatives including post-game recaps for the team website.
* Coordinate all aspects of team travel including notifying restaurants, hotels, and other teams, getting team orders, room assignments, etc.
* Broadcast all 72 Northwoods League games on 1670 The Zone including pre- and post-game shows, during the regular season (and playoffs if necessary).
* Ability to work long hours, including weekends, as business indicates.
* Strong written and verbal communication skills
* Produce radio commercials for the Mallards and business partners
* Work closely with GM and Corporate Service team to include all sponsor and promotional live reads each gameUpdate the Mallards website daily
* Other duties as assigned by GM

The habit of baseball teams looking for free labor isn’t exactly new. The U.S. Department of Labor investigated the Giants and Marlins in 2013 for possible wage law violations. That included the Giants being investigated for “possible improper use of unpaid interns.” The Giants ended up paying $544,715 in back wages. In a memo that year issued by Rob Manfred, he cited the Department of Labor believing that MLB’s habit of taking advantage of unpaid interns was “endemic to our industry.”

According to U.S. law, a for-profit company can hire an unpaid intern by meeting each of six criteria, according to FindLaw:

  • The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment
  • The experience is for the benefit of the intern
  • The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff
  • The employer providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded
  • There is no guarantee of a job at the conclusion of the internship
  • Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the internship

It would seem that the third and fourth criteria wouldn’t be met.

The Mallards are almost certainly looking for a college student — not a well-credentialed media veteran — looking to add to his or her resume. They are also very clearly looking to take advantage of that student given the plethora of job responsibilities with no pay. Current college students are part of the millennial generation which has increasingly been taken advantage of through unpaid internships. Steven Greenhouse wrote for the New York Times in 2012:

No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. (Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, with Intern Bridge, a research firm, finding almost half unpaid.)

In a capitalist society, businesses are always going to search for the cheapest source of labor. Considering how bad the economy is and has been for millennials, they’ve had a pretty good time finding it. It’s hard to fault college students jumping at the opportunity to work in an industry they like in the hopes of one day landing a dream job. But as much as those businesses might loathe admitting it, that labor is worth something whether it’s for an amateur baseball team or a major league team.