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.

Red Sox sign outfielder Chris Young

Chris Young Getty
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Veteran outfielder Chris Young thrived in a platoon role for the Yankees this past season and now he’s headed to the rival Red Sox to fill a similar role, signing a multi-year deal with Boston according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.

Young was once an everyday center fielder for the Diamondbacks, making the All-Star team in 2010 at age 26, but for the past 3-4 years he’s gotten 300-350 plate appearances in a part-time role facing mostly left-handed pitching. He hit .252 with 14 homers and a .773 OPS for the Yankees, but prior to that failed to top a .700 OPS in 2013 or 2014.

Given the Red Sox’s outfield depth–Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Brock Holt even with Hanley Ramirez back in the infield–Young is unlikely to work his way into everyday playing time at age 32, but he should get another 300 or so plate appearances while also providing a veteran fallback option. And it’s possible his arrival clears the way for a trade.

David Price said to care about more than just the money

David Price

Every year free agency brings with it its own set of politics and talking points and spin. Factors which are said to be more important to players than the money being offered.

And, to be fair, there is one big factor that is likely more important than money for many of them: winning. I truly believe players want to win. They say it all the time and there’s no reason to think they’re being disingenuous about that, especially the ones who have been around the game a long time.

I’ll note, however, that given how success cycles work in baseball (i.e. teams that aren’t close to being true contenders aren’t likely to be spending big in free agency anyway) that consideration often washes out of the system. Every year you hear of one or two losing teams making a big, competitive offer to a free agent, but it’s not that common.

What I’m talking about more here are the truly soft factors. Factors which often anchor hot stove rumors, but which rarely if ever truly stand out as determining factors when it comes to where a free agent ends up. Examples of these include geographic proximity to where the player grew up, his wife grew up, he went to college or what have you. Remember how CC Sabathia was going to play in California? And Mark Teixeira was going to play for Baltimore? Heck, I’m so old I remember when Brandon Webb was gonna break the bank playing for the Reds.

It’s pretty rare, though, for that to pan out. Sabathia and Teixeira went to New York. If Brandon Webb’s shoulder had cooperated it’s not likely he would’ve ended up in Cincinnati. Money talks for free agents, much louder than any of the soft considerations. Even when, like Mike Hampton and his Denver-public-school-loving self claimed that he signed with the Rockies for reasons other than the fact that they unloaded the money truck for him.

I think we’re seeing a new soft factor emerge. Today Peter Gammons reported this about David Price:

Cities are fairly strong as soft factors go, I reckon. Somewhere south of money and winning but north of “my wife’s family lives there.” Money can make up the difference between a fun city and a lame city, but if things are equal, going someplace you want to be likely is a factor.

But that second one — being able to hit — seems a bit suspect. This is not the first time I’ve heard that this offseason. Zack Greinke was said to prefer the NL because he likes to hit. I’ve heard this about other pitchers too. I question how important a factor that truly is — the actual hitting part actually affecting a free agent decision — as much as I suspect it’s a negotiating tool designed to get AL teams to pay a premium to get the guy to “give up” hitting. Or, more likely, that it’s code for “it’s WAY easier to pitch in the NL because I get to face a pitcher who can’t hit for crap 2-3 times a game.”

On some level I suppose this is all unknowable. I doubt David Price or some other free agent pitcher is ever going to hold a January press conference in which he says the following:

“Well, the money was absolutely equal between the final two suitors and, as you know, both made the playoffs last year and play in cities with copious cultural resources for my family and me. And, having plotted the two cities on Google Maps, I discovered that the two cities are each EXACTLY 347 miles from my Aunt Tilly’s house! What are the friggin’ odds?

Ultimately, though, I signed here so I could bat.”

Like I said, not likely. But wouldn’t it be something if that happened? If so, I’d probably cast a 12-inch statue of Mike Hampton and start giving out an annual award or something.

Player pool for MLB postseason shares is a record $69 million

television money

MLB just announced the postseason shares for this year and the players’ overall pool is a record total of $69.9 million. Nice.

That total gets divided among playoff participants, with Royals receiving $25,157,573.73 for winning the World Series and Mets getting $16,771,715.82 for finishing runner-up. That works out to $370,069.03 each for the Royals and $300,757.78 each for the Mets.

Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports that the Royals have issued full playoff shares to a total of 58 people, plus 8.37 partial shares and 50 “cash rewards.” In other words: There was a whole bunch of money to go around if you were in any way involved in the Royals’ championship run.

According to MLB public relations the previous high for the overall player pool was $65.4 million in 2012 and the Mets’ playoff share is the highest ever for a World Series-losing team, topping the Tigers’ share of $291,667.68 in 2006. Kansas City’s playoff share is slightly less than San Francisco received last year.

Here are the individual postseason share amounts by team:

Royals – $370,069.03
Mets – $300,757.78
Blue Jays – $141,834.40
Cubs – $122,327.59
Astros – $36,783.25
Cardinals – $34,223.65
Dodgers – $34,168.74
Rangers – $34,074.40
Pirates – $15,884.20
Yankees – $13,979.99

Marc Anthony gets into the agent business, signs Aroldis Chapman

Aroldis Chapman

There is a somewhat mixed history of entertainers and musicians getting into the sports agent business. Sometimes it works out (Jay-Z has done OK). Sometimes it doesn’t (Master P says “Hi”).

Add another one to the list. A pretty big one. Ken Rosenthal reports that Marc Anthony’s Magnus Media is getting into sports. And the company, Magnus Sports, just signed a new client: Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. From Rosenthal:

The company said in a news release that it will team with a baseball agency, Praver Shapiro Sports Management — and that the group’s first major client will be Reds closer Aroldis Chapman.

Praver Shapiro represents a number of Latin players, including Marlinsshortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler, Reds pitcherRaisel Iglesias and free-agent third baseman Juan Uribe.

Chapman is on the trading block right now but 2016 is his walk year, and barring injury he’ll due for perhaps the biggest payday a closer has ever seen. Whether he’ll actually get it depends on the negotiating skills of the biggest salsa artist the world has ever seen.

Gentlemen: you have a year to get some song title pun/headlines ready.