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.

Yankees decide to keep Luis Severino on regular rest, give Twins potential Wild Card preview

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Yankees starter Luis Severino pitched last Friday, putting him on track to start Wednesday’s series finale against the Twins. The Yankees mulled the possibility of pushing him back to start on Friday against the Blue Jays after an off day on Thursday so that the Twins wouldn’t get an early look at Severino in a potential AL Wild Card matchup.

However, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that Severino will indeed start on Wednesday against the Twins instead of Masahiro Tanaka. Hoch adds that Severino’s preference is to pitch on regular rest.

Severino, 23, has been the Yankees’ best starter this year and would be the most reliable arm in a must-win game. The right-hander is carrying a 13-6 record with a 2.93 ERA and a 218/49 K/BB ratio in 184 1/3 innings.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Yankees hold a five-game lead over the Twins for the first Wild Card slot. The Angels hold a 1.5-game lead over the Angels for the second slot. The Yankees are also very much in the AL East race, trailing the Red Sox by only three games with 12 games left in the regular season.

You should probably pay attention to Matt Olson

Associated Press
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The claim of “East Coast Bias” is often hurled as an accusation of smug superiority, and it’s often met with denial, but it’s a thing. It’s not the exact thing the west coast people think it is — it’s not hate, it’s just a function of time zones and TV ratings — but there are certainly factors that cause stuff that happens in California to get shorter shrift than that which happens back east, where most of the national media people are.

One thing getting short shrift this year: the performance of Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson, which one has to imagine would be getting all kinds of press if he played back east.

Wait, we don’t have to imagine that at all. Because Olson is doing basically the exact same thing Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez did last year, and Sanchez got tons of headlines for it while I’m guessing most baseball fans who either (a) live outside of the Bay Area; or (b) aren’t big fantasy players, attuned to all of the latest callups, haven’t heard Olson’s name much if at all . Their respective lines:

  • Sanchez 2016: 53 games, .299/.376/.657, 20 HR, 168 OPS+
  • Olson 2017: 54 games, .267/.360/.663, 22 HR 168 OPS+

Sanchez’s rate stats were better but Olson is doing it in tougher parks for hitters. Obviously Sanchez is catching and Olson playing the corner, but a dude coming out of the minors to put up these kinds of numbers in the final two months of the season is rare. That it’s happening again, in almost the same way, is quite the thing.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy in press is that Sanchez was making a strong argument for the Rookie of the Year Award despite playing less than half the season whereas Olson has no shot given what Aaron Judge has done this year. But I’m guessing more of it is simply a function of Olson’s games starting at 10:30 or so back east and most of us not seeing what he does unless we look at the box scores the next day.

Still, Olson, the A’s first round pick from 2012, is not someone to sleep on. And, given that he hit 23 homers in 79 minor league games this year — the last guy to hit 20 in both the bigs and minors in the same year was Giancarlo Stanton — he’s not a fluke. Indeed, he’s one of the few rays of sunshine for the Oakland Athletics. And someone to whom us folks back east should pay a bit more attention.