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: Jaime Garcia hits a 399-foot grand slam

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Jaime Garcia has been at the center of trade talks for several days now, but on Friday night, he commanded center stage for an entirely different reason. The Braves’ southpaw went head-to-head with Dodgers’ lefty Alex Wood and mashed his first career grand slam: a two-out, 399-foot blast that cleared the wall in right field and put the Braves up 9-0 in the fifth inning.

The bases-loaded knock was the third career home run for Garcia, whose contributions at the plate have been few and far between over his nine-year track in the major leagues. Not only did the homer mark an impressive career first for the 30-year-old, but it was just the second pitcher grand slam in Braves’ history and the first since 1966.

Garcia looked almost as impressive on the mound during Friday’s series opener, issuing one run, four hits and three strikeouts through his first six innings. The Braves currently lead the Dodgers 12-1 in the top of the seventh inning.

As for whether the slam will affect negotiations between the Braves and Twins? MLB.com’s Mike Petriello put it best:

Ryon Healy exits game after taking a ground ball to the face

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Athletics’ first baseman Ryon Healy had a scary moment during Friday’s loss to the Mets. Lucas Duda smacked a single to the first base side, where the ball took a high hop and caught Healy in the left temple. He crumpled to the ground after getting struck by the one-hopper, but was eventually able to stand and walk off the field with assistance from a trainer.

Prior to the injury, Healy went 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI single in the first inning. He was replaced by Yonder Alonso, who finished off the rest of the night’s 7-5 loss with a walk in two plate appearances.

Following the game, manager Bob Melvin told reporters that Healy did not appear to have sustained a concussion as a result of the hit. Healy said he thinks he’ll be good to go for Saturday’s game, though a final decision likely won’t be made until tomorrow.