Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 111-91

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This is the first article in a six-part series looking at this winter’s free agent class.  I’ve included players who might have their options picked up after the World Series, but left out the no-brainers like Adrian Gonzalez and Omar Infante.  Also omitted were the retiring Billy Wagner and Mike Lowell.

Players are ranked based less on personal preference and more on how I believe they’ll be perceived by major league teams.  So while I’d rather have Andruw Jones or Austin Kearns on my team in 2011, Jose Guillen will be ranked higher than either.

Ages as of April 1, 2011 are listed next to each player.

111. Dave Bush (Brewers – Age 31) – It was rarely pretty, but Bush did finish with an acceptable 4.54 ERA in 174 1/3 innings this season. He used to receive strong marks for his WHIP, finishing fourth in the NL in that category in 2006 and fifth in 2008. However, he came in next to last at 1.51 this year (Paul Maholm was the only qualified starter to fare worse). He needs to make the move to a big ballpark to have much chance of surviving going forward.

110. Carlos Delgado (Red Sox – Age 38) – Delgado was unable to make it back to the majors after signing a minor league deal with the Red Sox in August, and he underwent another procedure on his hip in September. When last healthy, he finished ninth in the NL MVP balloting with the Mets in 2008. Still, he’ll probably have to settle for an incentive-laden minor league deal this winter.

109. Craig Counsell (Brewers – Age 40) – Counsell is looking at a paycut from the $2.1 million he made this year, but he remains a viable shortstop and his experience and intangibles will count for a lot in the eyes of many. He’s also excelled as a pinch-hitter the last couple of years. The Brewers will likely make an attempt to re-sign him.

108. Gerald Laird (Tigers – Age 31) – Laird’s defensive reputation will keep him employed, but he’s not going to be signed as a starter after sinking to a new low offensively this year (.207/.263/.304 in 270 at-bats). The fact is that he’s been one of the league’s worst hitters three of the last four years. He’s on the Jason LaRue career path.

107. Joe Crede (FA – Age 32) – Crede opted to sit out the entire season and aim for a 2011 return from his latest back surgery. He was a solid player for the White Sox in 2008, hitting .248/.314/.460 in 97 games, but he slipped to .225/.289/.414 in 90 games with the Twins in 2009. He hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2006. It’s doubtful he’ll be handed a job at this point, but if healthy, he could be just as valuable as Brandon Inge, who received an $11.5 million commitment from the Tigers.

106. Adam Kennedy (Nationals – Age 35) – Prepared to go with Danny Espinosa at second base, the Nationals figure to buy Kennedy out for $500,000 rather than exercise his $2 million club option. Kennedy hit just .249/.327/.327 this year, and his lack of versatility gives him limited value as a bench player. He might have to take a minor league deal, just as he did before his strong 2009 season with the A’s.

105. Jason Varitek (Red Sox – Age 38) – Before suffering a broken foot on June 30, Varitek was excelling as a true backup to Victor Martinez, hitting .263/.324/.547 in 95 at-bats. He made just five appearances after returning in September and went 1-for-17. The Red Sox catching situation is awfully fluid at the moment, but it doesn’t appear likely that he’ll return. Several teams will have interest in his veteran presence as long as he’s content starting 40-50 games next year.

104. Melky Cabrera (Braves – Age 26) – Cabrera was still two years away from qualifying for free agency, but the Braves released him at season’s end. His career is already at a crossroads at age 26. If he were more consistent, he’d be a terrific fourth outfielder or a decent enough option as the worst starter in some team’s outfield. However, he’s terrible when he slumps and that he’s perceived as having little upside won’t help him find work. He shouldn’t have to accept a minor league deal, but his $3.1 million salary from this year will probably be cut in half.

103. Pedro Martinez (FA – Age 39) – Martinez didn’t lack for opportunities to come back and pitch this summer, but he turned them down. While his agent made it clear that Pedro hadn’t retired, odds are that he’s done at age 39, and if he does come back, it probably wouldn’t be for the full season.

102. Jeremy Bonderman (Tigers – Age 28) – Bonderman’s ERA stood at 4.79 at the All-Star break, but with a 1.32 WHIP, it looked like he had some room for improvement. Instead, he finished up with a 6.50 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP during the second half. He even talked of retirement while struggling, though it’s doubtful he’ll go that route at age 28. I’d like to see him tried as a reliever.

101. Kyle Farnsworth (Braves – Age 34) – Farnsworth was a disappointment after joining the Braves, giving up 12 runs in 20 innings, but he had a 61/19 K/BB ratio and a 3.34 ERA in 64 2/3 innings for the season. Kept in a medium-leverage role, he’ll probably give some team its $2 million worth. There can’t be another GM out there optimistic enough to give him a multiyear deal.

100. Jerry Hairston Jr. (Padres – Age 34) – Given his most extensive action at shortstop ever (53 starts), Hairston acquitted himself pretty well before going down in September with a broken leg. He should be viewed strictly as a utilityman going forward, but since he can play both middle-infield spots and the outfield, he’s a nice player to have around.

99. Justin Duchscherer (Athletics – Age 33) – Duchscherer missed 2009 with an elbow injury and then a case of depression. He was able to open 2010 in the rotation, going 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA before a sore left hip put him on the DL. He later underwent season-ending surgery. Duchscherer was an All-Star in 2008, going 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts, but he’s basically been healthy for six months in four seasons. That’s not worth more than a $1 million guarantee.

98. Gregg Zaun (Brewers – Age 39) – Signed to replace Jason Kendall in Milwaukee, Zaun played in just 28 games, hitting .265/.350/.392, before requiring season-ending shoulder surgery. The Brewers hold a $2.25 million club option on his services that they’re expected to decline, but Zaun will play somewhere next year. As long as his rehab goes well, he can be an asset while starting 80-100 games.

97. Chad Qualls (Rays – Age 32) – One of the NL’s most underrated relievers for half a decade, Qualls fell apart in his second year as the Diamondbacks’ closer, posting an 8.29 ERA in 38 innings before being dealt to the Rays at the trade deadline. He wasn’t a whole lot better then, finishing with a 5.57 ERA in 21 innings. He hasn’t lost much velocity, but hitters were definitely making better contact with his sinker than ever before. He won’t be signed as a closer, but some team could wager $2 million that he’ll bounce back.

96. Cesar Izturis (Orioles – Age 31) – Long one of the game’s worst hitters, Izturis truly bottomed out this year, coming in at .230/.277/.269 in 473 at-bats. The Orioles may want him back as their starting shortstop anyway, but they shouldn’t give him another multiyear contract. His glove is merely good, not great, at this stage of his career.

95. Jose Contreras (Phillies – Age 39) – Contreras was babied in his first year as a reliever and still lost stuff as the year went on, but he finished with a nice 3.34 ERA and a 57/16 K/BB ratio in 56 2/3 innings. He also allowed just one hit over four scoreless innings in the postseason. Some contender should sign him, stash him on the DL for two months and then plug him right into a setup role come June.

94. Andruw Jones (White Sox – Age 33) – It’s worked out the last two years that Jones has played his best ball when he’s not penciled into the lineup regularly. He got off to a fast start with the White Sox, hitting six homers in April, suffered in May and June and then reemerged as a bit player in the second half, hitting .272/.380/.565 in 92 at-bats after the All-Star break. His overall .230/.341/.486 line would make him a fine regular if he could do it for a full season. However, he’s likely looking at another part-time role.

93. Felipe Lopez (Red Sox – Age 30) – Lost in the shuffle after a fine 2009 season in which he hit .310/.383/.427, Lopez was guaranteed just $1 million when he signed with the Cardinals in late February. He never rediscovered the late-2008 magic in his second go-round with St. Louis, and he was released in September due to habitual tardiness. The Red Sox, who picked him up in late September, may choose to offer him arbitration, figuring he’d be a nice piece to have around at $1 million-$1.5 million. Lopez, though, would probably prefer to look for a starting job elsewhere.

92. Chad Durbin (Phillies – Age 33) – Durbin had a better season this year than in 2009, but while he was one of the Phillies’ most trusted relievers in the past, he appeared in just two postseason games this time around and he took a very costly blown save in one of them. Durability works in his favor, as he’s averaged 75 innings as a reliever the last three years. He should have plenty of one-year, $2 million offers to pick from. The team that goes to two years will get him.

91. Jorge Cantu (Rangers – Age 29) – Cantu drove in 100 runs in 2009 and it looked like he’d get there again two months into 2010, but he collapsed utterly and finished the year with a .256/.304/.392 line in 472 at-bats. He drove in just two runs in his two months with the Rangers to finish with 56 RBI for the year. Cantu is a subpar defensive third baseman, and while he has a history of producing runs as a No. 4 or No. 5 hitter, his career-best OPS stands at 808. It’s likely that he’ll land a first base job somewhere, but there’s certainly no good reason to pay him more than $2 million or so.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Matt Olson knew the Atlanta Braves were too talented to stay in a season-long slump.

That’s why no one panicked when the New York Mets’ division lead swelled to double digits in May. Now the Braves are on the cusp of another NL East title.

“It’s a clubhouse full of guys who want to win,” Olson said. “That’s all it’s been since the moment I walked in. That’s No. 1 on the program.”

Dansby Swanson and Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Braves beat New York 5-3 on Sunday night, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closes out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

“We’ve felt this confidence since the beginning of the year,” d’Arnaud said. “It just didn’t go our way early in the year, but pulling on the same rope, having each others’ backs, not trying to do too much. We’re just trying to play the game of baseball and have fun with it.”

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

“We still have three games left in the regular season, we’re still going to the postseason, that doesn’t change, but there’s a lot of learning points that we can take from this series moving forward,” Mets slugger Pete Alonso said. “I thought we played well, but the Braves played better. They played excellent baseball this entire weekend.”

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

“Everyone knew we were underperforming when we were flirting around that .500 range,” Olson said. “It was one of those things where it was trusting the talent we have and the guys in the clubhouse. Everybody was solid, head down, do your work, it’ll turn around and you wind up winning.”

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).