2012 Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 80-61

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Honorable mentions
Nos. 111-81

Part two of the top 111 free agents covers Nos. 80-61. I see most of the following players getting one- or two-year deals and making around $2.5 million-$4 million next year.

(All ages as of April 1, 2012)

* denotes players with contract options

80. Laynce Nix (31 – Nationals): Poor strike zone judgment undid Nix in his 20s, but he’s hitting an exceptional .285/.322/.533 despite a 47/9 K/BB ratio in 165 at-bats this season. He also performed well in his limited role with the Reds last year, hitting .291/.350/.455 in 165 at-bats. I’m still far from a believer, but someone is going to ante up this winter if he finishes the season at .270 with 25 homers.

79. Rich Harden (30 – Athletics): Harden has been awfully slow to recover from the strained lat muscle that’s sidelined him since the start of the spring, but the recent signs are encouraging and he’s on a rehab assignment with an eye towards joining Oakland’s rotation next month. He’s a long shot, but things seem more hopeful here than they do with fellow rehab projects Brandon Webb and Chien-Ming Wang.

78. Rod Barajas (36 – Dodgers): Barajas experienced an early homer binge for the Dodgers, but now he’s settled in as his usual self with a .220/.262/.385 line for the season. His defensive reputation is unstained, so there will be teams willing to overlook the unsavory OBP and sign him to play regularly. Still, he won’t necessarily match the $3.25 million that the Dodgers are paying him this year.

77. Aaron Cook (33 – Rockies)*: Shoulder problems have robbed Cook of some velocity, and given that he’s never been one to miss bats, it’s worth wondering whether he’ll be able to hold down a rotation spot going forward. He could be 30 spots higher or off the list entirely by the time I do the third edition of the top 111 in November.

76. Raul Ibanez (39 – Phillies): Ibanez is back slumping again recently after hitting .319 with seven homers in May. For the season, he’s at .243/.292/.402 in 259 at-bats. Better results can be expected the rest of the way, but given that he’ll be 39 next year, it’s unlikely that his bat will continue to trump his glove. Pity the fans of the team that throws a few million dollars his way.

75. Jorge Posada (40 – Yankees): Posada could choose to retire with his four-year, $52.4 million contract coming to an end, but he doesn’t sound ready to call it quits just yet. He’s performing much better at the plate lately, having hit .395 in 43 at-bats this month. If he can keep it going and post an OPS in the .850 range in the second half, then some team will want him as a DH and maybe a once-per-week catcher. It just won’t be the Yankees.

74. Javier Vazquez (35 – Marlins): A very tough call. I couldn’t leave Vazquez off the list, not with his velocity creeping back upwards of late. However, he’s still pitching horribly, having gone 0-3 with a 9.16 ERA this month. I’m actually a bit more optimistic about his future than I was two months ago, but if I were a GM, I don’t think I’d wager $3 million on him for 2012 at this point.

73. Chris Snyder (31 – Pirates)*: Snyder will attempt to make it back for the final month and a half of the season after undergoing another back surgery earlier this month. He was off to a nice start, having hit .271/.376/.396 in 96 at-bats for the Pirates. He’s a very solid starting catcher, but his history of back problems will make teams leery, likely forcing him to settle for a one-year deal. His $6.75 million option won’t be picked up.

72. Jason Frasor (34 – Blue Jays)*: With his market value lowered by his status as a Type A free agent, Frasor accepted arbitration from the Jays last winter and agreed to a deal that included a $3.75 million option for 2012. He’s been the team’s most consistent reliever to date, having amassed a 2.83 ERA in 28 2/3 innings. He’s a better bet than either Frank Francisco or Jon Rauch to stick around next season.

71. Frank Francisco (32 – Blue Jays): The Jays’ part-time closer since coming over from Texas for Mike Napoli over the winter, Francisco has seven saves and a 4.95 ERA in 20 innings. Health will determine whether he’s a sought-after reliever this winter: he’s pitched 60 innings just once in his career and he’s not on pace to get there in 2011.

70. Mark Ellis (34 – Athletics): The A’s made a mistake in exercising a $6 million option on Ellis over the winter, and they’ll likely attempt to trade him now that they have Jemile Weeks up playing second base. Ellis is still a fine defender at age 33, but he was horrible offensively this season before going on the DL — he was hitting .211/.245/.287 in 209 at-bats — and he can’t be counted on to stay healthy. He’ll be taking a paycut this winter.

69. Bruce Chen (34 – Royals): I don’t trust him either, but Chen is 16-8 with a 4.03 ERA in 183 innings since the beginning of last year, so he has to be ranked somewhere up here.

68. Koji Uehara (36 – Orioles)*: I’m still shocked that no one stepped up and made Uehara a quality offer last winter, but it did sound as though he preferred to stay in Baltimore. He’s managed to stay healthy this year and post a 2.53 ERA and a 39/6 K/BB ratio in 32 innings to date. There’s a vesting option on his deal worth about $3 million, so barring a season-ending arm problem, he’ll likely be back with the Orioles next year.

67. Jon Rauch (33 – Blue Jays)*: Rauch’s deal with the Blue Jays includes a $3.75 million option with a $250,000 buyout. Horribly injury-prone in his days as a White Sox prospect, Rauch has actually been one of the game’s most durable relievers for a half-dozen years now. He’s struggling some at the moment and is out of the closer’s role as a result, but a team knows what it’s getting from him.

66. Marco Scutaro (36 – Red Sox)*: Scutaro lost his starting job to Jed Lowrie this year, but he’s back in the lineup at the moment because of an injury to Lowrie and he’s playing well. He’s hitting .286/.355/.393, and he’s struck out just nine times in 112 at-bats. His contract includes a $6 million club option, with a $1.5 million buyout, and $3 million player option. The Red Sox probably won’t exercise their half.

65. Kyle Farnsworth (35 – Rays)*: It looks like Farnsworth may be starting to lose it a little bit now, as he’s allowed runs in three of his last four outings. Still, he has a 1.93 ERA and an awesome 0.79 WHIP for the season. His $3.3 million option, which is attached to a $650,000 buyout, would seem to stand a pretty good chance of being picked up.

64. Ramon Hernandez (35 – Reds): Hernandez really likes Cincinnati, which is why he was content to re-sign for $3 million last winter after his $3.25 million option failed to vest. He didn’t even test the market, though he must have cringed a little when the inferior Barajas got $3.25 million from the Dodgers. Despite his preferences, Hernandez will probably have to move on after this year, if he’s not simply traded first. He’s in the midst of a terrific season, having hit .302/.368/.504 in 139 at-bats, but the Reds have Devin Mesoraco ready to step in.

63. Brad Lidge (35 – Phillies)*: The club option is worth $12.5 million and won’t be picked up. Already out since the beginning of the season with a rotator cuff strain, Lidge is now experiencing elbow soreness, too. There’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to help the Phillies after the All-Star break, and even if he does come back strong, he probably won’t regain the closer’s role from Ryan Madson. I think he might be finished at age 34.

62. Casey Blake (38 – Dodgers)*: Blake’s career has lasted longer than anyone would have ever imagined after he hit .257/.312/.411 as a 29-year-old rookie for the Indians in 2003. He’s still pretty much a league-average hitter at age 37, but injuries have taken a toll and limited him to 34 games so far this year. If he can stay healthy and maintain his current .250/.336/.397 line in the second half, then there’s a chance the Dodgers will pick up his $6 million option. There’s a $1.25 million buyout attached, so what they’d really be deciding is whether he’s worth $4.75 million.

61. Kosuke Fukudome (34 – Cubs): Fukudome certainly hasn’t come close to living up to his four-year, $48 million contract, but his career .262/.372/.408 line isn’t so bad. He’s fifth in the NL with a .397 OBP this season. At $4 million-$5 million, he’d be a perfectly reasonable corner outfielder for some team next year. It’s possible he’ll choose to return to Japan, though.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.