Here’s the second twenty, free agents Nos. 40-21. The closer run begins here, and I’m also including the one potential Japanese import I felt comfortable enough ranking. I’ll be wrapping up the series Friday morning.
(All ages as of April 1, 2012)
* denotes players with contract options
40. Aaron Hill (30 – Blue Jays)*: With Hill coming off a .205/.271/.394 campaign last year, the Blue Jays declined their chance to keep him at $26 million for 2012-14. They still control his rights with $8 million club options for both 2012 and ’13, but as things stand now, he’s simply not worth the money. He’s hit .239/.283/.338 with just three homers in 222 at-bats this season. He finished with 36 homers in 2009 and 26 last year, plus he plays a pretty good second base, so there will be bidders. Still, the Jays have to be running out of patience.
39. David DeJesus (32 – Athletics): DeJesus has really fallen out of favor since Bob Melvin replaced Bob Geren in the manager’s seat for Oakland, but that should be a temporary situation. And if it’s not, then a trade will come this summer. DeJesus is just 31, and he’s about as good of a player as someone who has never hit 15 homers or stolen 15 bases can be. With any sort of rebound in the second half, he should be in line for $15 million over two years or $21 million for three.
38. Francisco Cordero (36 – Reds)*: After blowing eight saves last year, Cordero had to deal with speculation that Aroldis Chapman might replace him as Cincinnati’s closer. He’s been terrific so far, though, amassing a 1.62 ERA and converting 15 of his 17 save chances. There’s not much chance of the Reds picking up his $12 million option no matter how well he pitches, but they might have some interest in bringing him back at lesser price tag. Something like $15 million for two years would be reasonable.
37. Josh Willingham (33 – Athletics): Willingham has plenty working against him now: he turns 33 in February, he has a history of back problems and he possesses an old player’s skill set. What he also has is a fine .262/.362/.469 career line despite never having played in a good environment for hitters. As tough as it can be to find right-handed power, he figures to catch the eyes of a lot of clubs. However, he’d be a poor bet on anything more than a two-year deal.
36. Michael Cuddyer (33 – Twins): I think Cuddyer is a weaker option than Willingham, but my guess is that he’ll land the bigger contract. He’s shaken off a terrible start to hit .283/.346/.453 with 10 homers in 254 at-bats. Unfortunately, he’s already a liability in the outfield and his bat doesn’t make him a particularly attractive option at first base. The Twins might re-sign him for a couple of years anyway, but they should really be looking to get more athletic in the outfield.
35. Matt Capps (28 – Twins): Having allowed some key homers and blown five saves in 16 opportunities, Capps hasn’t helped his stock any this year. Still, he’d be a safer play on a three-year deal than most of the other relievers in this section. With so many other closing options available, he might find his best bet is to go the Rafael Soriano route and sign to serve as a setup man on the contender.
34. Jose Valverde (34 – Tigers)*: Valverde was counting on a much bigger payday when he was a free agent two years ago, but he settled for a two-year, $14 million guarantee from the Tigers. That deal included a $9 million option for 2012 that will probably get picked up if Valverde maintains his current pace: he’s a perfect 17-for-17 converting save chances so far. The Tigers had hoped to replace him with Ryan Perry or Joel Zumaya down the line, but Perry isn’t ready and Zumaya can’t be counted on.
33. Rafael Furcal (34 – Dodgers)*: Furcal’s abysmal season has had him bring up the possibility of retirement. In between injuries, he’s hit just .212/.246/.273 in 66 at-bats. Furcal was productive when healthy last season, but it was just 97 games. He hasn’t truly been both good and healthy since 2006, his first year with the Dodgers. It’s a must that he come back with a strong second half if he’s going to land another multiyear deal. Right now, something like the Lance Berkman-Vladimir Guerrero special (one year, $8 million) seems more appropriate. The Dodgers’ option for 2012 is for $12 million.
32. Joel Pineiro (33 – Angels): Pineiro has gone 13-10 with a 3.92 ERA in 34 starts since signing a two-year, $16 million contract with the Angels prior to last season. Except for the missed time due to an oblique strain last year and a sore shoulder early this season, he’s been exactly the pitcher the team thought he’d be. The Angels, though, probably won’t come up with the money to bring him back for another go in 2012. Another two-year deal for roughly the same amount would be fitting.
31. Kelly Johnson (30 – Diamondbacks): Johnson has maintained last year’s homer pace, having hit 12 in 269 at-bats this season, but his OPS is all of the way down from .865 to .701. Most of that is batting average, but his walk rate has also dropped, while his strikeout rate has increased. I like Johnson’s bat, even though he hasn’t been nearly so productive outside of Chase Field since joining the Diamondbacks. Because he’s young and he has rare power for a middle infielder, he may land a three-year deal this winter. It could hinge on him getting his average up from .212 to .250-.260.
30. Paul Maholm (29 – Pirates)*: With a 3.29 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP, Maholm might be on his way to a career season at a perfect time. Well, not completely perfect, because instead of setting himself up for a nice three-year deal, what will likely happen is that he’ll get his $9.75 million option for 2011 picked up. But that’s nothing to scoff at. Maholm is one of those durable, average-to-somewhat-above-average starters that teams are a lot smarter about not overpaying these days. It’d make more sense to pay him $10 million next year than it would $30 million for four years.
29. Jonathan Broxton (27 – Dodgers): Broxton had a 0.89 ERA on this day a year ago, and he stood as the clear No. 1 in the exceptional class of closers set to become free agents after 2011. The last 12 months have been disastrous, though, with Broxton losing velocity, confidence and his closing gig twice. Now he’s on the DL with a bone spur in his elbow that might yet require surgery. He could salvage things in the second half and still earn a big multiyear deal as a free agent. However, barring an exceptional finish, he might be better off taking a one-year contract in an attempt to rebuild his value. He’s just 27, after all.
28. Hisashi Iwakuma (30 – Japan): The A’s won the bid for Iwakuma through the posting system last year, anteing up $19.1 million for his rights, and they were willing to pay him another $16 million for four years in salary. That wasn’t enough for Iwakuma, though, and he opted to return to Japan for the one year he had left before free agency. Iwakuma’s stock is down now, as he’s been sidelined with a shoulder injury since opening the season 3-2 with a 1.72 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. If he gets healthy, he’ll make his way into the top 20 here by season’s end. After all, the A’s thought he was worth about $35 million for four years.
27. Jason Kubel (29 – Twins): Kubel was at his absolute best in 2009, when he hit .300 with 28 homers in 514 at-bats for the Twins. In 2010, his power mostly stuck around, even though Target Field proved to be a terrible home run park, but his average dropped to .249. This year, he’s back hitting for average, but his power has slipped, as he’s at .310 with five homers in 200 at-bats. Kubel will be an interesting call as a free agent, since he’s younger than all of the guys like him. If he strikes early, I think he’ll have a decent shot of landing a three-year contract. If he waits, teams may start wondering why he’s worth a $20 million commitment when an older player could do the same job for $5 million next year.
26. Erik Bedard (33 – Mariners): Bedard, who missed all of 2010 and much of the previous two seasons with shoulder problems, is looking about as good as ever lately; his ERA stands at 1.54 for his last 10 starts and 2.93 overall. He’s going to be a huge risk on a multiyear deal, but some team will go three or four years on him if he stays healthy throughout the season. The Yankees are one of the teams that could afford to take the chance.
25. Francisco Rodriguez (30 – Mets)*: As you may have heard, K-Rod’s much-discussed, three-year, $37 million deal with the Mets includes a $17.5 million option for 2012 that vests with an additional 27 games finished this season. He’s already finished 27, so he’s on pace to get there, though many in the Mets organization would surely prefer he didn’t. After a fantastic first two months, Rodriguez has slipped lately, having given up eight runs and blown two saves in June. For the year, he has a 3.34 ERA and 19 saves in 22 chances. Even though he’s been around for 10 years and is in position to land a second healthy contract as a free agent, Rodriguez is just 29. He doesn’t even turn 30 until January. His fastball isn’t what it was, but he should have several more 30-save seasons in his future.
24. Hiroki Kuroda (37 – Dodgers): If he wanted to, Kuroda could have gone out and gotten a three-year deal as a free agent last winter. However, he liked L.A. and he wasn’t sure how much longer he wanted to pitch in the U.S. anyway. In exchange for agreeing to a one-year, $12 million contract, Kuroda did get a full no-trade clause, yet I can’t help but wonder if he feels so strongly about remaining with the Dodgers given the messy state of the franchise. Should he put himself back on the open market, he may well command $24 million for two years.
23. Ryan Madson (31 – Phillies): After a few false starts, Madson is proving he’s just as good in the ninth inning as he’s been in the eighth. He’s 15-for-16 saving games this year, and he has a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings. Unfortunately for potential suitors, now that he has that closer sheen, he no longer figures to be undervalued in free agency. Given his relative youth and durability, he’ll be in line for a three-year deal worth at least $7 million per year. Actually, he’s the one reliever in the entire group that would be a reasonable option for four years.
22. Lance Berkman (36 – Cardinals): The Cardinals are wishing they could have tacked an option year on to Berkman’s one-year, $8 million contract. The longtime Astro has turned back the clock and hit .307/.418/.595 with 17 homers and 51 RBI in 215 at-bats this season, and since he’s gotten himself into better shape, he looks like a pretty good bet for the next couple of years. He does belong at first base, and given his likely price tag, he’s probably not going to remain teammates with Albert Pujols next year. However, he would be the obvious choice to take over at first if Pujols leaves.
21. Adam Wainwright (30 – Cardinals)*: Wainwright options for 2012 and ’13 vested at $22 million when he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting last season, but there’s a clause in his contract that allows the Cardinals to void them if he finishes 2011 on the DL with an arm problem, which is just what will happen after he underwent Tommy John surgery in February. They’re probably going to keep him anyway. Given the success veteran hurlers typically have overcoming Tommy John and the fact that Wainwright pitched like a $20 million-per-year guy each of the last two seasons, it’d be even riskier to let him go than it would be to commit the cash to him.