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Notable names still without a home on Opening Day

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The 2017 regular season began on Sunday afternoon with the Yankees facing the Rays, the first of three games on the slate. With every team’s Opening Day roster finalized, there are still a handful of notable players hanging around in free agency.

Ryan Howard: That Howard is still a free agent comes as no surprise. The free agent market was full of 1B/DH types, which really hurt Howard and a handful of other hitters who will be mentioned below. Howard is also 37 years old and is coming off the worst season of his career. His bat is waning, he’s a well below-average fielder, and he can’t run. According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Howard still wants to play. Sadly, it’s tough to see Howard getting a shot even during the regular season as there are some more attractive 1B/DH players available.

Angel Pagan: Pagan had a decent showing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, but remains unsigned. The teams most recently linked to him include the Braves, Blue Jays, Giants, Padres, and Tigers. Pagan, 35, still has gas in the tank as he hit .277/.331/.418 with 12 home runs, 55 RBI, 71 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 543 plate appearances last year with the Giants.

Jonathan Papelbon: We haven’t heard much about Papelbon since December, when his agent Seth Levinson said the veteran closer was focused on dealing with a private family matter. Papelbon is 36 years old and coming off of the worst season of his career, which saw the Nationals acquire Mark Melancon to take over the closer’s role from Papelbon mid-season. The club eventually released him in August. He didn’t sign with a new team though some, including the Red Sox, showed interest.

Alexei Ramirez: Ramirez, 35, is coming off of the worst season of his career, which is starting to sound like a familiar theme. With the Padres and Rays last year, he hit .241/.277/.333 in 506 PA. Along with the weak bat, Ramirez’s speed and defense have cratered. Injuries do happen throughout the year and Ramirez can play both shortstop and second base, so it seems feasible he might find an opportunity during the season.

Billy Butler: Butler spent 2016 with the Athletics and Yankees, finishing with a .752 OPS in 274 PA. The veteran, who turns 31 on April 18, is a platoon DH at this point in his career, but a big warning flag is that Butler’s production even against lefties has fallen. Unfortunately for him, he’s competing with other 1B/DH types for work in an industry that values players of that archetype less and less every day.

Doug Fister: Three years ago, Fister was the Nationals’ best pitcher, putting up a 2.41 ERA over 25 starts. He wasn’t able to replicate that success, putting up a 4.19 ERA in 2015 and 4.64 last year. Interest in his pitching services was lukewarm during the offseason, with the Royals, Mariners, Marlins, Padres, and Pirates showing muted interest. Pitching is always at a premium, however, so Fister is likely to find an opportunity at some point this season.

Justin Morneau: The Twins showed interest in bringing back Morneau, but decided against it. The 35-year-old hit .261/.303/.429 in 218 PA with the White Sox last season. His age, positional limitations (1B/DH), and injury history have given teams pause when considering him. As he showed he’s still close to league average as a hitter, though, he could be to a team what Matt Stairs was to the Phillies in 2008.

Aaron Hicks to go on the disabled list with an oblique injury

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks left Sunday’s game against the Rangers after four innings due to soreness in his right oblique. After the game, Hicks said he expects to go on the 10-day disabled list and miss the next three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports.

Hicks was 1-for-2 with a single before departing on Sunday. He entered the game batting .288/.397/.515 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 198 plate appearances. It is by far the best season of his career.

Jacoby Ellsbury is on his way back from a concussion, so the Yankees will only have to bridge the gap in center field for a week or two. Mason Williams could draw some starts in center field in the meantime.

Report: Phillies making Maikel Franco available in trade discussions

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Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that the Phillies are making third baseman Maikel Franco “more than available” in trade discussions.

Franco, 24, is having an abysmal season after showing promise in 2015 and ’16. Through 289 plate appearances, he’s hitting .221/.280/.365 with nine home runs and 37 RBI. His hitting has tanked and his already below-average defense hasn’t shown any improvement.

It’s a bit surprising that the Phillies would be so eager to move Franco with his value about as low as it can go. Franco is also under control of the rebuilding Phillies through the 2021 season, so the team doesn’t have to rush into moving him. He will become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the season.

Furthermore, the Phillies don’t have an immediate replacement for Franco at third base. Andres Blanco would likely get everyday starts at the hot corner in the short-term, but as far as prospects go, there are no third baseman banging down the door. If the Phillies were to trade Franco, it would likely have to be in return for a young, talented third baseman who will be under team control for several more years.