Ichiro Suzuki

2013 Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 80-51


Here’s part two of the top 111 free agents list. Part one can be found here, and I’ll be posting the top 50 tomorrow.

80. Carlos Lee (1B Marlins – Age 36): Lee still hits a fair number of liners at age 36, but his home run total has dropped six straight seasons and he hasn’t come all that close to sniffing a .300 average since 2009. It’s unlikely that anyone will be in a hurry to sign him as a regular this winter, though there is the chance that a veteran-loving team will settle for him after missing out on a couple of the better targets. Given his fondness for his ranch in Houston, he might simply opt to call it a career.

79. Joe Blanton (RHP Dodgers – Age 32): It’s hard to see how Blanton can be this bad while maintaining a 144/30 K/BB in 168 1/3 innings. Even accounting for the fact that he’s allowed 27 homers, his peripherals don’t support a 4.92 ERA. He’s also been no worse from the stretch than with the bases empty, so that doesn’t explain it. Nonetheless, Blanton isn’t likely to be taken seriously as more than a fifth starter this winter unless he can put together a big finish for the Dodgers. He’s lucky he’ll have the chance; if not for Chad Billingsley’s setback, he likely would have been bounced from the rotation after the Josh Beckett acquisition.

78. Daisuke Matsuzaka (RHP Red Sox – Age 32): Matsuzaka may be salvageable as a major league pitcher, but no team is going to spend a lot of money to find out. He’s gone 1-4 with a 6.15 ERA in seven starts this year after returning from Tommy John surgery, and he has a 5.17 ERA the last four years combined. If he wants to remain in the U.S., he’ll almost surely have to take an incentive-laden one-year deal.

77. David Ross (C Braves – Age 36): Ross is on the short list of the game’s best backup catchers. Playing behind Brian McCann, he’s hit .274/.363/.470 with 22 homers and 87 RBI in 530 at-bats for Atlanta the last four years. The Braves will surely want to keep him around, but they may need to offer him a substantial raise this time. While they’ve been fortunate enough to only have to pay him $1.625 million per year the last two seasons, some team might be willing to offer him $5 milion-$6 million for two years this winter.

76. Jason Grilli (RHP Pirates – Age 36): It’s been a long, twisted journey for the fourth overall pick in the 1997 draft, but Grilli is in the midst of his best season at age 35. Not only does he have 28 holds and a 2.16 ERA for the Pirates, but he’s fanned a whopping 76 batters in 50 innings. There’s a good chance it will earn him a multiyear deal from some team this winter, which would be quite a payoff for a guy who has never earned more than $1.1 million in a season.

75. Grady Sizemore (OF Indians – Age 30): The Indians took a chance on re-signing Sizemore last winter, but it’s proven to be a waste of $5 million. Absent all year because of continued back and knee problems, his future is very much in doubt. He might be ready to go next spring after resting his knee for a few months, but no team is going to sign him with the idea that he’ll be an everyday player. A large-market team could gamble on him as a fourth outfielder and hope for the best.

74. Brandon Lyon (RHP Blue Jays – Age 32): No one was counting on much of a comeback from Lyon this year after he underwent labrum surgery in June 2011, but he has a 2.98 ERA and he’s been especially good since a trade to the Blue Jays, amassing a 24/2 K/BB ratio in 15 1/3 innings. It may well earn him another multiyear deal this winter, albeit one that’s worth only a fraction of the three-year, $15 million contract he’s finishing up.

73. Octavio Dotel (RHP Tigers – Age 39)*: Dotel set a major league record when he appeared for a 13th different team this year. The guess here is that he won’t be adding to the total in 2013, as the Tigers will likely exercise his $3.5 million option. Dotel has a 2.88 ERA and a 58/9 K/BB ratio in 50 innings this season. If he keeps it up, this will go down as his best year since 2003.

72. Randy Wolf (LHP Orioles – Age 36): Wolf gave the Brewers about what they should have expected for the first two years of his three-year, $29.75 million contract, but they released him last month after he went 3-10 with a 5.69 ERA in 142 1/3 innings this season. The numbers suggest that most of the drop off was due to bad luck. Wolf’s velocity is the same now as it was 10 years ago, and his strikeout rate is up slightly this year from where it was in 2010 and ’11. There’s no reason he can’t be a reasonable No. 4 starter for some team next year.

71. Maicer Izturis (INF Angels – Age 32): A lifetime .273/.337/.383 hitter, Izturis was solid enough to play regularly in his prime, but he’s never had more than 449 at-bats in a season. Given that he’s now 32 (well, he will be next week) and he’s always been injury prone, it’d be a mistake to bring him in as a starter at second or third. Izturis’ off year may cost him a multiyear contract this winter, but he’ll still be valued as a quality utilityman.

70. Carlos Zambrano (RHP Marlins – Age 31)*: Zambrano still possesses quite a variety of pitches, but since his fastball has dropped from the 91-95 mph range to 88-92 mph and his control hasn’t gotten any better through the years, he’s a fringe starter these days. If some wisdom comes with age, I could see him bouncing back as he approaches his mid-30s. He still gets an above average number of grounders, and he’s always been pretty good at avoiding the home run ball. For $3 million-$4 million, he wouldn’t be a bad gamble.

69. Kyle Farnsworth (RHP Rays – Age 36): Farnsworth got hurt right away this year and had no chance of reclaiming his closer’s gig from Fernando Rodney after returning, but it’s not like he’s sulked; in 20 innings for the Rays, he has a 2.70 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. Since the beginning of 2011, he has a 2.32 ERA and just five homers allowed in 77 2/3 innings. It doesn’t make him worth a multiyear deal — he turns 37 in April — but if he finishes 2012 healthy, some team will give him $3.5 million-$4 million to work the eighth inning.

68. Darren Oliver (LHP Blue Jays – Age 42)*: Oliver talked about retirement after 2009 and ’10, but he’s still pitching as well as ever at age 41. In fact, he’s currently on pace to set a career low in ERA for the fifth straight year (he’s at 1.71 at the moment). The Jays hold a $3 million option on his services that amounts to a paycut from the $4 million he’s earning this year. It’s hard to imagine that they won’t exercise it as long as finishes the season healthy.

67. Carlos Pena (1B Rays – Age 34): The Rays made Pena their highest-paid player when they signed him to a one-year, $7.25 million contract last winter. His return to the AL started well enough, as he hit .286 with four homers during April. However, he came in under .200 each of the following four months, and the Rays announced at the end of August that they were reducing his role. With so much of his value coming in the form of homers and walks, Pena has a classic “old players’ skill set,” and his time as an effective regular could be over at age 34. His power will likely earn him one more chance as a starter, but the team that signs him should pair him with a righty platoon partner.

66. Erik Bedard (LHP free agent – Age 34): Bedard had never been both healthy and ineffective until his final 2 1/2 months with the Pirates. Pittsburgh’s Opening Day starter, he had a 2.48 ERA in five April outings and a 3.59 ERA through June 8, but he turned in quality starts in just four of his last 12 turns before being released. Bedard’s average fastball dipped from 91.5 mph in 2009 to 90.8 mph last year to 89.4 mph this season. Still, he was able to rack up 118 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings before being let go. There will certainly be more teams open to taking a chance on him.

65. Grant Balfour (RHP Athletics – Age 35)*: Balfour’s stuff has deteriorated somewhat and his strikeout rate is down for the fourth straight year. but it hasn’t stopped him from amassing a 2.64 ERA to date, and it looks like he’ll finish under 3.00 for the third straight year. Barring a disappointing finish, the A’s will probably exercise his $4.5 million club option for 2013.

64. Marco Scutaro (2B-SS Giants – Age 37): Scutaro wasn’t much of a regular for the Rockies this season, but since being sent to the Giants, he’s hit .322 with 23 RBI in 36 games. Given his age and declining range, he’s likely done as a regular shortstop. However, he still fits as a starting second baseman or an excellent utilityman. The Giants may well seek to bring him back on a one-year deal in the $4 million range.

63. Francisco Rodriguez (RHP Brewers – Age 32): After Heath Bell and Jonathan Papelbon jumped at their early offers, there weren’t any big deals out their for closers last winter. K-Rod ended up accepting arbitration from the Brewers, even though he knew that meant he’d occupy a setup role in front of John Axford. As it turned out, Rodriguez got another chance to close anyway, but he blew it in a big way while allowing nine runs in a three-appearance stretch in July. Currently sporting a 5.12 ERA, K-Rod is likely looking at another winter without any multiyear offers. He’s not done as a quality closer, though.

62. J.P. Howell (LHP Rays – Age 29): Returning to form after a couple of years of shoulder problems, Howell has a 2.89 ERA in 46 2/3 innings for Tampa Bay this year. Lefties have hit .184 with one homer in 76 at-bats against him, and righties haven’t been all that great at .224 with four homers in 85 at-bats. The Rays will probably have to step up with a multiyear contract offer if they’re going to keep him this winter.

61. Roberto Hernandez (RHP Indians – Age 32)*: The former Fausto Carmona has struggled since rejoining the Indians, going 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA, and he’s currently on the disabled list with an ankle injury. The Indians hold a $6 million option on his services for 2013, but they’ll probably decline it unless he looks outstanding in his last couple of starts. Hernandez will be pretty intriguing in free agency; he’s relatively young, he’s durable and he still shows a very good sinker when he’s on. He’s had just one good season in the last five, but there will be teams that believe they can get him turned around.

60. Scott Rolen (3B Reds – Age 37): Just when it seemed safe to write Rolen off after all of his shoulder problems, he’s come out and hit .325/.420/.513 in 117 at-bats since the All-Star break. A team can’t sign him with the idea that he’ll start 140 games at third base next year, but if he’s managed properly — and Dusty Baker has done a great job of handling him to date — he might be able to contribute for another year or two. Perhaps the Reds will bring him back with the idea of having Todd Frazier alternate between left field and third base.

59. Sean Burnett (LHP Nationals – Age 30)*: Unless Burnett’s recent bout with a sore elbow proves more troublesome than the Nationals are anticipating, it’s safe to assume the left-hander will decline his half of a $3.5 million mutual option this winter. One of the game’s top lefty specialists, he’s held left-handers to a .203 average, one homer and just one walk in 79 at-bats this season. He’s in line for a two-year deal worth around $4 million per season.

58. Joakim Soria (RHP Royals – Age 28)*: Maybe the game’s second best reliever from 2007-10, Soria took a big step backwards in 2011 and then required Tommy John surgery, knocking him out for the entire 2012 season. The Royals aren’t likely to exercise his $8 million club option for 2013, but they’ll probably have some interest in bringing him back at a smaller price. With his upside, one imagines several large-market teams will try to bring him in as a setup man, while others could sway him by promising him the closer’s role. Either way, he’ll probably want a one-year deal with a chance to go back on the market next winter.

57. Ichiro Suzuki (OF Yankees – Age 39): At .273/.299/.402 in 132 at-bats, Ichiro isn’t playing any better as a Yankee than he did as a Mariner. Still, he’s probably enhanced his value a bit with his willingness to move around the outfield and hit low in the order without complaint. Ichiro may well be a liability if signed as a full-time leadoff hitter this winter, but as someone who starts three or four times per week, pinch-hits and serves as a defensive replacement, he could help a lot of teams. He’d just have to buy into the idea of being a fourth outfielder.

56. Joe Saunders (LHP Orioles – Age 31): That Saunders didn’t get any multiyear contract offers after going 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA for the Diamondbacks last year is a testament to the increasing smarts in MLB front offices. It’s not that Saunders was or is worthless, but he’s exactly the kind of pitcher a team can go year-to-year with and dump if someone better comes along. That’s what happened in Arizona last month, as the Diamondbacks sent him to Baltimore in order to try a younger starter in his place. Saunders will probably make $5 million-$6 million as some team’s third or fourth starter again next year.

55. Brett Myers (RHP White Sox – Age 32)*: Myers’ move back to the pen has gone smoothly, but since he went from closing games in Houston to setting up in Chicago, his $10 million vesting option for 2013 that was based on games finished won’t kick in. The White Sox figure to buy him out, though they may be interested in retaining him at a lesser price. He has a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings since the move to Chicago and a 3.38 ERA in 50 2/3 innings overall.

54. Kelly Johnson (2B Blue Jays – Age 31): This makes two pretty disappointing seasons in a row for Johnson, but it’s not like there’s another second baseman with his kind of offensive upside available in free agency. After all, this is a guy who hit .284/.370/.496 with 26 homers for the Diamondbacks in 2010, and he’s only turning 31 this winter. He won’t command more than a one-year deal this winter, so a team needing to gamble on someone with firepower could spend $5 million-$6 million on him.

53. Jeremy Affeldt (LHP Giants – Age 33): The Giants spent big to retain their left-handed relievers last winter, picking up Affeldt’s $5 million option and re-signing Javier Lopez to a two-year, $8.5 million contract. They’ll have to decide again this winter whether it makes sense to put about $9 million of their payroll towards keeping both. With a 2.73 ERA in 52 2/3 innings, Affeldt has maintained his 2011 performance and actually improved his peripherals this year. He’ll probably command a two-year deal worth at least $4 million per season.

52. Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS Japan – Age 30): Nakajima was posted last winter, but with the Tsuyoshi Nishioka flop fresh in the minds of everyone, he didn’t get taken seriously as a regular. The Yankees won his rights for $2 million, but he decided he’d rather stay in Japan for another year than come to the U.S. as a utilityman. Nakajima has done nothing to hurt his stock since; he currently leads the Pacific League with a .323 average and has 12 homers and 27 doubles in 421 at-bats for Seibu. As bare as the middle-infield market is this winter, there should be more interest in Nakajima as a free agent this time around. The Diamondbacks are thought to like him at short, and others could have interest in him as a second baseman.

51. Roy Oswalt (RHP Rangers – Age 35): Oswalt’s midseason return to the majors certainly hasn’t gone as planned, as he’s currently an unhappy reliever after being cast off from the Texas rotation. In Oswalt’s defense, he probably wouldn’t have signed with the Rangers had he known that three bad starts would be enough to sour the team on him. While Oswalt’s ERA stands at 5.94, he has an exceptional 47/10 K/BB ratio in 50 innings, and his velocity has held steady from where he was last year. His plans for 2013 are up in the air, but he’d fit as a fourth or fifth starter for a contender.

Alex Rodriguez credits Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein with Cubs’ turnaround

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13:  Tom Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs, celebrates after the Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the National League Division Series to win the NLDS 3-1 at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals with a score of 6 to 4.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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It isn’t difficult to see the fingerprints left by Cubs’ president Tom Ricketts and general manager Theo Epstein on the club’s remarkable 2016 season. In a piece for FOXSports.com, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez highlighted the duo’s effectiveness in liberating the Cubs from a five-year losing streak and six-year postseason drought, citing both the unrelenting work ethic and passion that Ricketts and Epstein brought to the club as major factors in their success.

Rodriguez’s first brush with sabermetric savant and all-around baseball wizard Theo Epstein came in 2003, when the then- 27-year-old All-Star was eyeing a deal with the Red Sox. The Major League Baseball Players Association eventually nixed the trade, and the Rangers’ young shortstop was sent to the Yankees shortly thereafter, but not before Rodriguez glimpsed the inner workings of Epstein’s mind.

What I remember best about that time was watching Theo furiously scribbling out the Red Sox lineup for the upcoming season on a room-service napkin. That’s when I saw Theo’s baseball mind at work. I saw he had a passion for the game, a depth of knowledge, and a thirst to be great. Theo’s passion was contagious. We were three 20-somethings convinced we were about to turn baseball upside down together. Though I never got a chance to work with Theo, I knew then that he was going to be a force.

A-Rod also referenced Ricketts’ thorough approach to rebuilding the organization. Ricketts, who purchased the franchise for $875 million in 2009, first made it his mission to transform Wrigley Field into a comfortable and enticing playing environment, then targeted top-tier management to run the show behind the scenes. With Ricketts fully backing Epstein’s transformative approaches — including an overhaul of the Cubs’ farm system, investments in international player development, and a comprehensive understanding and practical application of sabermetric advances — the Cubs’ path to a 97-win season in 2015 seemed a natural consequence of the pair’s hard work.

This year, the attention has been even more intensely focused on the Cubs’ elusive third World Series title. Rodriguez, however, believes that winning a championship is secondary to the strides Ricketts and Epstein have taken with the club.

Together, Ricketts and Epstein have built one of the greatest franchises in baseball and transformed 1060 W. Addison St. It’s a task that no one could quite get right for a hundred years. While four more wins would put a giant exclamation point on five years of focused work and determination, I won’t worry if this team doesn’t win the World Series in the next nine days.

Mets expected to pick up 2017 option for Jose Reyes

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22:  Jose Reyes #7 of the New York Mets celebrates after hitting a game tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies Citi Field on September 22, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reports that the Mets are expected to pick up the 2017 option for Reyes, but they haven’t done it yet. The option will be worth the major league minimum salary ($507,500), as the Rockies will continue to pay down the remainder of Reyes’ $41 million remaining on his contract.

The Mets signed Reyes after the Rockies released him in June. He had a .659 OPS in Colorado but improved to a .769 OPS in 279 plate appearances with the Mets, mostly playing third base in place of the injured David Wright. Bringing Reyes back next season will provide them more insurance at the hot corner.

Reyes, 33, served a 51-game suspension due to an offseason domestic violence incident while on vacation in Hawaii with his wife. As a result, he didn’t make his season debut until July 5, having spent some additional time in the minor leagues to get into game shape.