2012 Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 111-91

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With Monday’s option deadline having passed, here’s take two of the winter’s top 111 free agents. Please note that I rank players not on how I rate them but rather on how I believe teams will rate them; essentially, I’m ranking them according to how valuable their contracts will be.

(All ages are as of April 1, 2012. Compensation noted as Type A or Type B when applicable)

Since the original list came out in June, six members of the top 20 have come off the board (CC Sabathia, Chris Carpenter, Brandon Phillips, Nick Swisher, Ryan Dempster and J.J. Hardy). But while this year’s second tier of free agents looks pretty weak (unless one is looking for a closer), there is a fair amount of depth. I’ll be counting them down over the next six days, starting with…

111. Chris Young (Age 32, Mets): Young had a 1.88 ERA in four starts for the Mets before his latest shoulder surgery knocked him out for the year. He expects to be healthy for 2012, but he probably won’t get more than a $1 million guarantee as part of an incentive-laden deal.

110. Mark DeRosa (Age 37, Giants): Because of wrist problems, DeRosa played in just 73 games and hit one home run over the course of his two-year, $12 million contract with the Giants. He turns 37 in the spring, so he may be finished as a useful player. However, if it looks like he’ll be healthy, several contenders will come calling with offers of a bench role.

109. Dan Wheeler (Age 34, Red Sox, Type B): Wheeler got off to a dreadful start last season, rebounded to amass a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings from June through the end of August and then struggled again along with the rest of the Red Sox in September. Boston declined his $3 million option and probably won’t make much of an attempt to re-sign him at a lesser price. It’s time for him to return to the NL.

108. Zach Duke (Age 29, Diamondbacks): Arizona decided it was worth giving Duke a $4.25 million guarantee after he went 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA with the Pirates in 2010 and then seemed surprised when he didn’t pitch well enough to keep his rotation spot. He actually ended the season with a 4.93 ERA in 76 2/3 innings, but it doesn’t look like there are many believers left now.

107. Ivan Rodriguez (Age 40, Nationals): Rodriguez wants to play another three years, but even so, it’s not at all likely that he’s going to get the 156 hits he needs for 3,000. Having batted .255/.291/.341 over 522 at-bats with the Nationals these last two years, he’ll likely be viewed strictly as a backup this winter.

106. Guillermo Mota (Age 38, Giants): Used primarily in low leverage situations, Mota soaked up 80 1/3 innings for the Giants last season, racking up 77 strikeouts along the way. Someone figures to throw $1.5 million or so his way.

105. Reed Johnson (Age 35, Cubs): Johnson turned in his best offensive season since 2006 in his return to the Cubs, hitting .309/.348/.467. He’s become a ridiculous hacker, posting a 113/10 K/BB ratio in 448 at-bats the last two years, but at least he still knows how to work the HBP as well as anyone this side of Carlos Quentin.

104. Aaron Cook (Age 33, Rockies): It’d be a shame if Cook were done, but with ERAs of 5.08 and 6.03 the last two years, it appears as though it might be the case. A gutty performer who managed to tame Coors Field with one of the game’s better sinkers, he’s lost his best stuff due to shoulder problems.

103. Juan Cruz (Age 33, Rays): Often Joe Maddon’s pick to come in when the Rays were down a run or two, Cruz managed to go 5-0 with a 3.88 ERA in 48 2/3 innings last season. His awful walk rate hasn’t gotten any better with age, so he’s a tough guy to trust. Still, there are still several pitching coaches who wouldn’t mind getting a hold of him.

102. Lyle Overbay (Age 35, Diamondbacks): After getting let go by the Pirates, Overbay hit .286/.388/.452 line in 42 at-bats for the Diamondbacks. His season line wasn’t nearly as impressive: .234/.310/.360 in 394 at-bats. He’ll probably come off the board late while waiting to see what teams can do better at first base.

101. Ronny Cedeno (Age 29, Pirates): The Pirates declined Cedeno’s $3 million option after he hit just .249/.297/.339 in 413 at-bats last season, but they may have interest in him at a lesser price. It’s hard to imagine him finding a starting job elsewhere.

100. Ben Sheets (Age 33, free agent): Besides the standard Tommy John surgery, Sheets also had two tendons replaced in his elbow in Aug. 2010, putting his future as a pitcher in doubt. He’s missed two of the last three seasons and he wasn’t very good in 2010 before getting hurt, but if he says he’s healthy, the teams will come running to his tryouts.

99. Kelly Shoppach (Age 31, Rays): Shoppach can offer a team power and defense, but given that he’s batted just .185 in 379 at-bats over the last two years, he’s probably not looking at a starting gig this winter.

98. Todd Coffey (Age 31, Nationals): The team that signs Coffey won’t be doing any cartwheels, but it will be getting a useful cog in middle relief. The big right-hander offers durability and a 3.68 ERA in 205 2/3 innings over the last three years.

97. Kevin Millwood (Age 37, Rockies): Boston’s decision to let Millwood go may very well have cost the team a postseason berth. Upon hooking up with the Rockies in August, he went 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA and a 36/8 K/BB ratio in 54 1/3 innings. That should be good enough to make him some team’s fifth starter entering 2012.

96. Scott Hairston (Age 31, Mets): Playing for a manager in Terry Collins who didn’t seem to appreciate him at all, Hairston was asset for the Mets last season, hitting .235/.303/.470 and driving in 24 runs in just 132 at-bats. He started a mere 25 games all season, though he collected 16 RBI in those games. He should land an expanded role elsewhere this winter.

95. Willie Bloomquist (Age 34, Diamondbacks): Bloomquist can still exercise his half of a $1.1 million mutual option to return to the Diamondbacks, but he’s expected to hold out for more money. Arizona’s starting shortstop after Stephen Drew got hurt, he hit .266/.317/.340 in 350 at-bats. While I wouldn’t put him in a top 111 on merit, his versatility and scrappiness may well get him a multiyear deal.

94. Jason Isringhausen (Age 39, Mets): Izzy had a 2.70 ERA at the trade deadline last season before struggling in August and sitting out most of September with a back injury. He wants to return for another season, and it’s likely he’ll be back with the Mets after he asked the team not to trade him over the summer.

93. Fernando Rodney (Age 35, Angels): Firmly entrenched in Mike Scioscia’s doghouse by the end of the year, Rodney pitched just twice in September. His season-ending ERA of 4.50 wasn’t particularly terrible — he actually finished at 4.40 in 2009 before the Angels gave him a two-year, $11 million contract — but it came with a dreadful 26/28 K/BB ratio in 32 innings. There certainly shouldn’t be any interest in him as a closer.

92. Andruw Jones (Age 34, Yankees): Jones has struggled against right-handers while occupying reserve roles with the White Sox and Yankees the last two years, but he’s been terrific against left-handers and he managed to finish with an .851 OPS in his 190 at-bats last season. It’d be interesting to see what he could do if given another shot to play regularly. The Yankees will likely welcome him back if he’s interested in playing a limited role again.

91. Jerry Hairston Jr. (Age 35, Brewers): Hairston took over the Brewers’ starting third baseman in the postseason and upped his stock by hitting .385/.422/.538 in 39 at-bats. While he’s nothing more than an emergency option at shortstop, there is going to be a great deal of interest in him as a utilityman.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.