Lance Berkman

2012 Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 40-21

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Honorable mentions
Nos. 111-81
Nos. 80-61
Nos. 60-41

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.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Rain falls during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights.

Oh, and here is my take on the idiotic ending to the Reds-Cardinals game which could potentially cost the Giants a playoff berth.

Nationals 5, Diamondbacks 3: Wilmer Difo hit his first major league homer. Pedro Severino hit his second. No National succumbed to season-ending injuries. So a rare success for Washington in these final days of the regular season.

Yankees 5, Red Sox 1: CC Sabathia allowed one run and four hits while pitching into the eighth inning. It was only his ninth win of the year — his first win in a month — but he lowered his ERA to 3.91. He strike out fewer guys than he used to, walks more and allows more hits. But the fact that he made 30 starts this year and made at least a modest return to form suggests that, maybe, Sabathia still has something in the tank. Not as an ace, of course, but at least as a guy who can give you some respectable innings at the back of a rotation. In other news, the Yankees were eliminated in the middle of this game by virtue of the Orioles beating the Blue Jays. Inevitable, but the mere fact that they staved off elimination until game 159 is pretty impressive given all that has happened this year.

Cubs 1, Pirates 1: You don’t see many ties in baseball. Unless it’s spring training. Or, like, 1912 or something and it gets dark. Thank Mother Nature for the game being called at 1-1. Thank this game having no playoff implications whatsoever for it not being resumed at a later date. It was the first tie in a regular season game since 2005.

Orioles 4, Blue Jays 0: Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hit shutout. Jimenez allowed one of those hits in his six and two-thirds innings. The O’s and Jays are tied in the Wild Card standings with Detroit (1.5 back) and Seattle (2 back) the only ones left who can break up their postseason party.

Braves 5, Phillies 2Freddie Freeman‘s 30-game hitting streak ended but the Braves won for the 10th time in 11 games. The Tigers play Atlanta in the season’s final series. A month or two ago that looked like a nice way to end things. Right now, however, there’s a decent chance that the Braves help end the Tigers season. If that comes to pass, please say a prayer for those Braves fans you know who are engaged to grumpy Tigers fans come Sunday. Not, um, that I know any of those.

Twins 7, Royals 6:

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Same.

Cardinals 4, Reds 3: Not sure what else there is to say at this point that I didn’t say here. I dunno, Yadier Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers. Wheeeeeee.

Rays 5, White Sox 3: Congratulations to Chris Archer for avoiding his 20th loss of the season. Pitcher wins and losses mean little about the skill or prowess of a pitcher, but it’s better not to be the answer to a trivia question like that.

Dodgers 9, Padres 4Joc Pederson doubled twice and drove in three as the Dodgers avoided a sweep. The Dodgers are two games behind the Nationals with three to play in the race for home-field advantage in their division series matchup. Between that and possibly keeping the Giants out of the Wild Card game, they have a lot to play for this weekend in San Francisco.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2: Mike Zunino hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning to keep the Mariners alive for at least one more day.

Giants 7, Rockies 2: Johnny Cueto started out a bit shaky, giving up two in the top of the first, but he settled down and didn’t allow anything else in his remaining six innings. It was close until the sixth when the San Francisco pulled ahead, thanks in part to an uncharacteristic defensive blunder by Nolan Arenado. The Giants control their own destiny in the Wild Card, standing a game ahead of St. Louis with three to play.

Indians vs. Tigers: POSTPONED: The leaves of brown came tumbling down

Remember in September in the rain
The sun went out just like a dying amber
That September in the rain

To every word of love i heard you whisper
The raindrops seemed to play our sweet refrain
Though spring is here to me it’s still September
That September in the rain

The idiocy of baseball’s replay system was on full display in St. Louis last night

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals scores the game-winning run against the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Baseball’s current instant replay system, in place since the beginning of the 2014 season, has experienced hiccups, but it has generally avoided extreme controversy or high profile failures. Last night in St. Louis, however, the replay system failed in spectacular fashion, potentially costing a team a playoff berth.

We wrote about the play last night: bottom of the ninth in a tied Reds-Cardinals game, Matt Carpenter on first base, Yadier Molina at the plate. Molina hits a ball which should’ve been a ground rule double, halting Carpenter at third. The umpires missed the ball bouncing out of play, however, and Carpenter was allowed to run home, scoring the winning run. Due to the noise and confusion of the Cardinals’ apparent walkoff win, Reds manager Bryan Price could not hear the phone call from his video coordinator telling him to challenge the play. By the time the message got to Price, he was told his challenge was too late. Game over.

The lack of a replay review in that situation was huge. The call would’ve, without question, been overturned if it were reviewed. If that had occurred, there is a possibility that the Cardinals would’ve lost that game, putting them two games back of the Giants with three to play. Instead, they were gifted a win and are now one game back with three to play. At the very least, this will cause the Giants to have to play one more meaningful game this weekend than they might’ve otherwise had to, in turn giving them one less game to rest players and set up their pitching staff for the Wild Card game. It could also, of course, prove to be the difference between them making the Wild Card game and going home after Sunday’s finale against the Dodgers.

If this comes to pass, Major League Baseball will no doubt characterize Thursday night’s events as a freak occurrence. Just one of those things that you could never predict and thus could never prepare for. If you don’t buy that they’ll admonish you that this outcome would’ve occurred the same way had it happened before replay was instituted in 2014 and, hey, we’re doing the best we can. If you’re still not satisfied, baseball will ignore you and pivot to the fans who care less about it, casting the replay failure as a charming and memorable historical event, a la Merkle’s Boner, the Pine Tar Game or Don Dekinger’s blown call at first base in the 1985 World Series. One which, however bad it seemed at the time, is poised to become just another chapter in baseball’s grand history, ready for highlight reels and preroll ad-sponsored video clips. Baseball will turn the page on this, so why can’t you?

Don’t buy any of that. Not for a second. Don’t buy the notion that this was some sort of freak play because freak plays are, by definition, unforeseeable. And while the narrow specifics of last night’s replay failure in St. Louis may not have been predicted, the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of instant replay as implemented were foreseeable from the moment baseball idiotically decided to use a challenge system to initiate replay reviews.

We sharply criticized the use of a challenge system for instant replay in baseball at the time it was adopted in August 2013. Indeed, we sharply criticized a challenge system almost a year earlier when it was merely suspected that baseball would go in that direction with all of this. The reasons were pretty straightforward. Conceptually speaking, it should not be the responsibility of managers to correct the mistakes or oversights of umpires on the field, which is what a challenge system requires. Moreover, a challenge system, and its rules limiting the number and manner of challenges, subordinates getting the call right to strategy and gamesmanship with respect to when and how to use the arbitrary number of challenges granted, and that makes zero sense when the point is to simply correct mistakes.

The problems with a challenge system were not all conceptual, however. Some were practical. In January 2013, Mike Port, who served as Major League Baseball’s vice president in charge of umpiring between 2005 and 2011, talked about how managers were the weak link in a challenge system, saying “you would be amazed how many managers, coaches, and players are not conversant with the rules.” He might’ve added, as others have, that managers cannot possibly see everything that happens on the field from their vantage point, including balls hit to the boundaries. As a result, the notion that a manager can always instantly and knowledgeably pop out of the dugout to challenge a call is unrealistic. He’s going to need some help.

Which is why every team hired a video coordinator, sitting in the clubhouse watching the plays, ready to call the manager in order to tell him when to challenge and when not to. This arrangement solved one problem — the manager’s inability to see it all — but created others. For one thing, it creates potential inefficiencies and inequalities, with some clubs inevitably having more savvy or highly-skilled coordinators, giving them an edge that fair and impartial umpiring would never have created. For another, it necessitated the use of technology — video and phone lines — and technology can always fail. Just as it did last night when Bryan Price’s phone could not be heard over the roar of the crowd in a pre-playoff frenzy.

It was a technological failure that last night’s crew chief, Bill Miller, implied could’ve been fixed if Price had “made eye contact” or something but, hey, he didn’t, so the game was over. When baseball first announced the challenge system in 2013, John Schuerholz, tasked with defending it, said that it would create “a happy balance that will retain the uniqueness and charm of baseball.” I suppose there’s something “charming” about the need for a major league manager to have to gaze into the eyes of an umpire in order to get a blown call corrected, but one would hope that, in 2016, there are better ways to handle things.

Of course it was obvious that there were better ways to handle it in 2013 when Major League Baseball came up with this dumb system. Baseball’s managers, who did not want a challenge system, knew it. Baseball’s former umpire chief knew it. Even dumb bloggers in their mother’s basement knew it. In 2013, baseball had carte blanche and the support of everyone in the game to institute a system that got calls right. They chose, however, to go with a system that, by definition, does not have getting calls right as its sole objective and by necessity limits the ability for calls to be reviewed in the first place due to managers not being omniscient and omnipresent and due to technological limitations.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of an answered phone call, a playoff spot might be too. It never had to be this way, but baseball wanted it this way. If the Giants end up sitting at home next week rather than playing the Mets in a Wild Card game, I’m pretty sure they won’t be comforted by whatever baloney Major League Baseball dishes out to tell everyone why this is all OK.