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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.

Mark Melancon is considering surgery

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Giants’ right-hander Mark Melancon is considering surgery for an undisclosed injury, the pitcher told reporters prior to Friday’s game against the Phillies. Melancon did not divulge the exact location of the injury, but revealed that it had been plaguing him off and on since the 2012 season and was a separate issue from the right pronator strain that kept him sidelined through much of July and August. Giants’ head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner called the injury day-to-day and has not revealed a timetable for the right-hander’s return, should surgery become necessary.

Melancon, 32, has struggled to replicate the sparkling pitching line he produced with the Pirates and Nationals in 2016. He’s toting a 3.80 ERA through 25 appearances with San Francisco, flanked by a 1.1 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 23 2/3 innings. His season has been significantly shortened after multiple trips to the disabled list for a right forearm strain, and while he looked to be in line to resume his closing duties this week, the Giants will likely play it safe with the veteran righty to keep him from compromising his health in 2018.

Although the injury doesn’t appear to be severe in nature, it’s clearly intensified over the last few months. Per MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Melancon said he’s “had discomfort every day this season,” though he hopes to continue pitching through the remainder of 2017. The Giants aren’t on the verge of contending by any stretch of the imagination, but a solid end to the 2017 season could help Melancon make some headway as he looks to reclaim his status as the team’s closer next spring.

Watch: Javier Baez snares a 106-MPH ground ball

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What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Just ask Javier Baez, who tracked down a sizzling 106-MPH ground ball from Jose Bautista on Friday afternoon. The defensive gem helped preserve the Cubs’ three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning, paving the way for Wade Davis‘ 25th save of the season.

Baez also impressed at the plate, collecting an RBI single in the second inning before getting tagged out at home by Miguel Montero on a convoluted 9-6-3-6-2 putout. He returned in the eighth inning to pester Tim Mayza and cleared the left field hedge with a 409-foot, two-run blast for his 20th home run of the year. With the win, the Cubs improved to 64-57 and now hold a scant 1.5-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central.