Continuing this week’s countdown of the top 111 free agents, here’s the exciting part two, which features our first Type A free agent.
(All ages are as of April 1, 2012. Compensation noted as Type A or Type B when applicable)
90. Jason Varitek (Age 39, Red Sox, Type B): With a .225/.297/.440 line and 18 homers in 334 at-bats, Varitek has outhit most backup catchers the last two years. He doesn’t have much of an arm anymore, but it’s not as though he’s coasting on intangibles; he’s still well worth having as a second-stringer. The Red Sox have to decide whether it makes sense to bring him back for another year and keep Ryan Lavarnway on the farm.
89. Michael Wuertz (Age 33, Athletics): One of the AL’s better relievers when he fanned 102 batters in 78 2/3 innings in 2009, Wuertz has fallen on hard times. He had a 4.31 ERA in 39 2/3 innings in 2010 and a 6.68 ERA in 33 2/3 innings when healthy last season. The good news is that his injuries in 2011 were to his hamstring and thumb. He managed to finish the season on the active roster, so he’ll probably get some guaranteed money as part of an incentive-laden deal for 2012.
88. Livan Hernandez (Age 37, Nationals): Hernandez can still soak up plenty of innings; the only reason he didn’t top 200 last season is because the Nationals wanted to look at younger pitchers in September. He’ll have to wait for things to shake out, but some team will come calling with a fifth starter gig.
87. Nate McLouth (Age 30, Braves): McLouth rebounded a bit from his awful 2010, hitting .228/.344/.333 in 267 at-bats before a sports hernia shut him down. Still just 30, he should be a perfectly reasonable fourth outfielder for a few years.
86. Laynce Nix (Age 31, Nationals): Nix faded badly as the year went along, hitting just .202/.269/.349 in 109 at-bats after the All-Star break. Still, he came in at .263/.306/.475 in 297 at-bats against right-handers on the year. His power will make him attractive to a few teams, though others will probably write him off because of the career .288 OBP.
85. Mike Gonzalez (Age 33, Rangers): Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt are staying in San Francisco and Darren Oliver figures to re-up with Texas, so even though his stock is well down from a couple of years ago, Gonzalez is probably the best left-handed reliever changing teams in free agency this winter. George Sherrill is the primary competition.
84. Jorge Posada (Age 40, Yankees): The big question here is whether anyone is going to want Posada as a one- or twice-per-week catcher. He’s not going to be worth signing as a full-time designated hitter, but some team could carve out a niche for him if it thinks he could catch.
83. Takashi Saito (Age 42, Brewers, Type A): Saito remains a force, as he demonstrated while pitching seven scoreless innings in the postseason for the Brewers. He’s probably not going to be healthy enough to give a team more than three good months, but one can hope they’ll be the right three months.
82. Jonny Gomes (Age 31, Nationals): Gomes has finished with OPSs of .914, .856 and .863 against left-handers the last three seasons, so he definitely has his uses. If he’s willing to embrace a bench role, he can help a contender. Maybe a lesser team will offer him a starting job in left field, but he’s probably going to have to settle for $2 million or so regardless.
81. Chris Snyder (Age 31, Pirates, Type B): Snyder is a fine starting catcher, but since he’s missed the bulk of two of the last three seasons with back problems and he’s coming off surgery, no one is going to pay him starter’s money.
80. Jon Rauch (Age 33, Blue Jays): Rauch struggled in his year in Toronto and is coming off knee surgery, so he’s due a cut from the $3.5 million he made last season. He needs to find his way back to a bigger ballpark.
79. Raul Ibanez (Age 39, Phillies, Type B): One wonders if Ryan Howard’s torn Achilles’ tendon may have bought Ibanez another year in Philadelphia, albeit at a big pay cut. He shouldn’t be a starting left fielder any longer and he probably doesn’t offer enough as a DH, but he could serve as a stopgap at first base for the Phillies until Howard returns.
78. Jeff Francis (Age 31, Royals): Francis put together his first full season since 2007, but the end result was a 6-16 record and a 4.82 ERA. His peripherals were better than his ERA, but since shoulder problems have robbed him of velocity, his upside appears very limited.
77. Chad Qualls (Age 33, Padres): A bust as a closer for the Diamondbacks in 2010, Qualls was better as the Padres’ seventh-inning guy last year, finishing with a 3.51 ERA in 74 1/3 innings. Of course, it needs to be noted that he had a 5.05 ERA away from Petco Park. Also, his strikeout rate was well down from previous seasons. He’d be a mistake on a multiyear deal.
76. Rod Barajas (Age 36, Dodgers, Type B): Barajas gets big points for consistency; he’s hit .225-.240 with 16-19 homers each of the last three years. He won’t be any team’s top choice to serve as a starting catcher, but he’ll probably be in an Opening Day lineup anyway.
75. LaTroy Hawkins (Age 39, Brewers): Little was expected from Hawkins after he missed most of 2010 following shoulder surgery, but he ended up amassing a 2.42 ERA in 48 1/3 innings for the Brewers and then pitching four scoreless innings in the playoffs. Here’s a fun stat: even though he made 98 starts at the beginning of his career, Hawkins is third on the appearances list among active pitchers, trailing only Mariano Rivera and Arthur Rhodes.
74. Brad Penny (Age 33, Tigers): Penny’s 5.30 ERA was the worst among all qualifiers last season, and he struck out just 74 batters in 181 2/3 innings. He’s still throwing 91-94 mph and getting a fair number of grounders, so he could bounce back in the National League. It’s doubtful he’ll have much in the way of AL suitors.
73. Jamey Carroll (Age 38, Dodgers): With a .290/.359/.347 line in 452 at-bats, Carroll was just as good as ever at age 37. He was miscast as a shortstop for the Dodgers after Rafael Furcal went down, but he makes plenty of sense as a cheap option as at second base.
72. Kosuke Fukudome (Age 34, Indians): It was another fast start and slow fade for Fukudome, who finished with a career-low .712 OPS in his fourth year in MLB. I’d take my chances with him over a few of the outfielders ahead of him on this list of free agents, but he’s looking at going from a $13.5 million salary to a $2 million-$3 million salary if he stays in the US.
71. Yuniesky Betancourt (Age 30, Brewers, Type B): Betancourt has long been a sabermetric whipping boy because of his awful defensive metrics and terrible OBPs, but while he’s still the master of the first-pitch out, his defensive numbers have progressed from horrible to merely poor the last two years. On July 1, I would have guessed that he’d be out of a starting job in 2012. Since he played a whole lot better in the second half, it’s now a given that he’ll get one more chance.