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.