Jorge Posada

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.

Darvish wins 1st start since 2014 as Rangers top Pirates 5-2

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Yu Darvish struck out seven in five strong innings in his first start in the majors in almost 22 months, and the Texas Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 on Saturday night.

The Japanese right-hander allowed three singles with a walk in his return from last year’s Tommy John surgery, ending Pittsburgh’s five-game winning streak.

Adrian Beltre had a two-run homer in the first inning off Juan Nicasio (3-3) to become the fourth third baseman with at least 1,500 RBIs, finishing with 1,501.

Mitch Moreland snapped a 1-for-27 skid with a solo home run in the fourth.

Four Texas relievers allowed four hits and a run with four strikeouts in four innings.

The “Yuuu” calls from a sellout crowd started early for Darvish, who last pitched in the big leagues on Aug. 9, 2014. He missed the rest of that season with right elbow inflammation, and ended up needing ligament reconstruction surgery after his only spring training appearance last year.

Darvish (1-0) had a 0.90 ERA in five rehab starts this month, culminating with an 87-pitch outing. He threw 81 against the Pirates, hitting 98 mph with his fastball in the first inning and displaying his usual array of breaking pitches, some as slow as 70 mph.

John Jaso had a leadoff single on Darvish’s second pitch before Andrew McCutchen struck out. The Pirates didn’t get another hit until Francisco Cervelli‘s sinking liner in front of rookie right fielder Nomar Mazara in the fifth.

No. 9 hitter Cole Figueroa ended Darvish’s shutout bid by pulling a hanging slider into right-center field for a single that scored Cervelli from second. Darvish then struck out Jaso for the second time to finish his outing.

Beltre’s homer just cleared the wall in center field after Prince Fielder‘s RBI groundout to score leadoff hitter Jurickson Profar, who had two hits filling in for suspended second baseman Rougned Odor. It was the second game of Odor’s seven-game ban.

SHORT HOPS

Joey Gallo, who had just one at-bat in his five-day stint, was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock to make room on the roster for Darvish. … Pirates lefty reliever Tony Watson came off the paternity list and pitched a perfect eighth.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Pirates: Manager Clint Hurdle planned to give 2B Josh Harrison the night off after he came out of the series opener early. He’s been battling an illness that kept him out of the lineup Thursday as well.

Rangers: C Robinson Chirinos is expected to start a rehab assignment Tuesday with Double-A Frisco. He’s been out since April 10 with a broken right forearm and could be activated as soon as he is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on June 9.

UP NEXT

Pirates: LHP Francisco Liriano (4-3, 4.30) has won his last four starts against the Rangers and is 5-1 with a save and a 2.89 ERA in nine career games against them, most of those with Minnesota. His last appearance against Texas was Sept. 10, 2013.

Rangers: LHP Martin Perez (2-4, 3.13) makes his team-high 11th start and has gone 2-2 with a 2.23 ERA in his past six starts. He threw six shutout innings in a 4-1 win over the Angels in his last start

Utley answers with slam, solo HR as Dodgers rout Mets 9-1

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NEW YORK (AP) After the New York Mets missed, Chase Utley connected twice.

Utley hit a grand slam and a solo homer after Noah Syndergaard threw a 99 mph fastball behind his back, and the Los Angeles Dodgers went deep a season-high five times in routing New York 9-1 on Saturday night.

In a scene that seemed inevitable since October, Syndergaard was immediately ejected following the third-inning pitch – which certainly appeared to be his shot at retaliation against Utley for the late takeout slide that broke the right leg of then-Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in last year’s playoffs.

Plate umpire Adam Hamari tossed Syndergaard, sending Mets manager Terry Collins into a rage, but no trouble ensued between the teams. A longtime New York nemesis, Utley raised one hand slightly in the direction of the Dodgers’ bench to keep teammates calm – and later responded by doing all sorts of damage with his bat.

“I think a loud, energizing environment gets the best out of you. I think it’s fun,” said Utley, who has 19 RBIs this season, nine in the first two games of this series. “It kind of gets the adrenaline going a little bit, makes you kind of dig down deeper.”

Asked if he thought Syndergaard delivered a purpose pitch, Utley said: “Possibly, but I understand it.”

Adrian Gonzalez homered and had four hits for the Dodgers, who spoiled the Mets’ 30th anniversary celebration of their 1986 World Series championship. Howie Kendrick and Corey Seager also connected, all after Syndergaard was gone.

Kenta Maeda (4-3) shook off an early line drive that hit him on the pitching hand and threw five shutout innings. The right-hander yielded two hits, both singles in the first, and stopped his three-game losing streak.

“Pretty impressive. You wouldn’t see too many other pitches staying in the game at that point,” Utley said.

The stoic Utley is playing at Citi Field this weekend for the first time since Tejada was injured. The Mets – and their fans – were incensed by the aggressive slide, which led to a change in baseball rules this season designed to protect infielders in what some call the Utley Rule.

But the Mets had not tried to retaliate until Saturday night; Utley played all four games without incident May 9-12 when the teams split a series in Los Angeles.

With one out and nobody on in the third inning of a scoreless game, Syndergaard’s first pitch to Utley sailed behind the second baseman by a considerable margin.

Hamari immediately ejected Syndergaard, prompting Collins to come storming out of the dugout. Collins also was ejected after screaming at Hamari and pointing in his face during an animated argument. The manager was finally escorted back toward the New York dugout by another umpire.

“The ruling was that he intentionally threw at the batter,” crew chief Tom Hallion told a pool reporter. “We can either warn or eject. And with what happened in that situation, we felt the ejection was warranted.”

Hallion said no warnings were issued before the series.

“We take each game individually,” he said when asked if last year’s playoff series played a role in the ejection. “We have to make a snap decision. We can’t think about, OK, well this guy did this or he did that in Game 6 of whatever. We don’t have enough time to think that way. We make a decision on what happens in the game.”

Collins said he had never before seen a pitcher get ejected without a warning.

“My argument was, nobody got hit,” Collins said. “There was a time when, in this game, where you had a shot and nothing happened, the ball went to the backstop. So that was kind of my argument.”

After waiting near the mound with teammates for some time, Syndergaard walked calmly to the Mets dugout without showing any emotion as the crowd cheered him.

“It was just a pitch that got away from me. That’s all I got,” Syndergaard said. “I can understand why he did what he did. I still think a warning would have been better.”

Collins acknowledged he’s a little concerned Syndergaard might get suspended.

Logan Verrett (3-2) entered for the Mets and, with a vocal contingent in the sellout crowd of 42,227 urging him to hit Utley with a pitch, eventually threw a called third strike past him. But then Utley homered on Verrett’s first pitch of the sixth for a 1-0 lead.

Booed all night, Utley added his sixth career slam off Hansel Robles in the seventh, making it 6-0 with his 38th homer against the Mets.

Pinch-hitter Juan Lagares homered in the eighth for New York, long after the outcome was decided.

In the series opener Friday night, Utley was greeted with loud jeers and derisive chants. He had four RBIs in a 6-5 loss, including a three-run double that tied the score with two outs in the ninth.

“We came together as a group,” Utley said. “We battled, and it was a good win.”

WHERE ARE YOU NOW?

Tejada was released by the Mets during spring training and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, who designated him for assignment Saturday.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Dodgers: RF Trayce Thompson exited in the fifth with lower back soreness. He was replaced by Yasiel Puig, who hit an RBI single off Verrett in the sixth.

Mets: INF Wilmer Flores (hamstring) went 1 for 2 with a sacrifice fly in his fifth rehab game for Double-A Binghamton. Before the game, Collins said it was reasonable to think Flores could come off the disabled list Sunday.

UP NEXT

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (7-1, 1.48 ERA) starts the series finale Sunday night against 43-year-old Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.44). Kershaw, coming off a two-hit shutout against Cincinnati, is 7-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 10 starts vs. the Mets. He is 5-0 with a 0.64 ERA in May – including a three-hit shutout of New York on May 12 at Dodger Stadium. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has struck out 55 and walked two this month.

Mets’ Syndergaard ejected after throwing behind Utley

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NEW YORK — In a scene that has seemed inevitable since October, New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard has been ejected for throwing a 99 mph fastball behind Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Utley is playing at Citi Field this weekend for the first time since his late takeout slide in last year’s playoffs broke the right leg of then-Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.

New York was incensed by the aggressive slide, which led to a change in baseball rules on slides at bases this season. But the Mets had not attempted to retaliate until Saturday night.

With one out and nobody on in the third inning of a scoreless game, Syndergaard’s first pitch to Utley sailed behind the second baseman’s back by a considerable margin.

Plate umpire Adam Hamari immediately ejected Syndergaard, prompting irate Mets manager Terry Collins to come storming out of the dugout. Collins also was ejected.

Indians’ Brantley unsure of return from shoulder injury

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CLEVELAND — Indians outfielder Michael Brantley has no timetable for his return from the shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the second time this season.

Brantley spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since being placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 14. He began the season on the DL following surgery for a torn right labrum in November. Brantley hit .231 with seven RBIs in 11 games before being shut down again.

“I wasn’t bouncing back quick enough to keep playing back-to-back games, which is very important,” he said. “I want to be healthy each and every day and I have to play at a high level. This is the major leagues. You have to be at the best of your ability and the highest health-wise you can be.”

Brantley, who received an anti-inflammatory shot in the shoulder two weeks ago, doesn’t think he returned from the surgery too soon.

“I was ready,” he said. “We talked about it. We had a great process laid out. Everything went smoothly. It was just a bump in the road.”

Brantley has been hitting off a tee but isn’t sure when he will begin taking swings in the batting cage. He is playing catch since he throws left-handed but wants to be cautious about resuming a hitting program.

“Surgery is nothing to play with,” he said. “You have to be smart and understand your body.”

Brantley visited Dr. Craig Morgan, who performed the surgery, in Wilmington, Delaware after he returned to the DL. An MRI showed no changes in the shoulder.

“He said everything checks out good, just make sure to take your time and we’ll see what happens from there,” Brantley said.

Brantley finished third in the AL MVP voting in 2014 when he hit .327 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs. He batted .310 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs last season.