2012 Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 90-71

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Continuing this week’s countdown of the top 111 free agents, here’s the exciting part two, which features our first Type A free agent.

Free agents Nos. 111-91

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

90. Jason Varitek (Age 39, Red Sox, Type B): With a .225/.297/.440 line and 18 homers in 334 at-bats, Varitek has outhit most backup catchers the last two years. He doesn’t have much of an arm anymore, but it’s not as though he’s coasting on intangibles; he’s still well worth having as a second-stringer. The Red Sox have to decide whether it makes sense to bring him back for another year and keep Ryan Lavarnway on the farm.

89. Michael Wuertz (Age 33, Athletics): One of the AL’s better relievers when he fanned 102 batters in 78 2/3 innings in 2009, Wuertz has fallen on hard times. He had a 4.31 ERA in 39 2/3 innings in 2010 and a 6.68 ERA in 33 2/3 innings when healthy last season. The good news is that his injuries in 2011 were to his hamstring and thumb. He managed to finish the season on the active roster, so he’ll probably get some guaranteed money as part of an incentive-laden deal for 2012.

88. Livan Hernandez (Age 37, Nationals): Hernandez can still soak up plenty of innings; the only reason he didn’t top 200 last season is because the Nationals wanted to look at younger pitchers in September. He’ll have to wait for things to shake out, but some team will come calling with a fifth starter gig.

87. Nate McLouth (Age 30, Braves): McLouth rebounded a bit from his awful 2010, hitting .228/.344/.333 in 267 at-bats before a sports hernia shut him down. Still just 30, he should be a perfectly reasonable fourth outfielder for a few years.

86. Laynce Nix (Age 31, Nationals): Nix faded badly as the year went along, hitting just .202/.269/.349 in 109 at-bats after the All-Star break. Still, he came in at .263/.306/.475 in 297 at-bats against right-handers on the year. His power will make him attractive to a few teams, though others will probably write him off because of the career .288 OBP.

85. Mike Gonzalez (Age 33, Rangers): Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt are staying in San Francisco and Darren Oliver figures to re-up with Texas, so even though his stock is well down from a couple of years ago, Gonzalez is probably the best left-handed reliever changing teams in free agency this winter. George Sherrill is the primary competition.

84. Jorge Posada (Age 40, Yankees): The big question here is whether anyone is going to want Posada as a one- or twice-per-week catcher. He’s not going to be worth signing as a full-time designated hitter, but some team could carve out a niche for him if it thinks he could catch.

83. Takashi Saito (Age 42, Brewers, Type A): Saito remains a force, as he demonstrated while pitching seven scoreless innings in the postseason for the Brewers. He’s probably not going to be healthy enough to give a team more than three good months, but one can hope they’ll be the right three months.

82. Jonny Gomes (Age 31, Nationals): Gomes has finished with OPSs of .914, .856 and .863 against left-handers the last three seasons, so he definitely has his uses. If he’s willing to embrace a bench role, he can help a contender. Maybe a lesser team will offer him a starting job in left field, but he’s probably going to have to settle for $2 million or so regardless.

81. Chris Snyder (Age 31, Pirates, Type B): Snyder is a fine starting catcher, but since he’s missed the bulk of two of the last three seasons with back problems and he’s coming off surgery, no one is going to pay him starter’s money.

80. Jon Rauch (Age 33, Blue Jays): Rauch struggled in his year in Toronto and is coming off knee surgery, so he’s due a cut from the $3.5 million he made last season. He needs to find his way back to a bigger ballpark.

79. Raul Ibanez (Age 39, Phillies, Type B): One wonders if Ryan Howard’s torn Achilles’ tendon may have bought Ibanez another year in Philadelphia, albeit at a big pay cut. He shouldn’t be a starting left fielder any longer and he probably doesn’t offer enough as a DH, but he could serve as a stopgap at first base for the Phillies until Howard returns.

78. Jeff Francis (Age 31, Royals): Francis put together his first full season since 2007, but the end result was a 6-16 record and a 4.82 ERA. His peripherals were better than his ERA, but since shoulder problems have robbed him of velocity, his upside appears very limited.

77. Chad Qualls (Age 33, Padres): A bust as a closer for the Diamondbacks in 2010, Qualls was better as the Padres’ seventh-inning guy last year, finishing with a 3.51 ERA in 74 1/3 innings. Of course, it needs to be noted that he had a 5.05 ERA away from Petco Park. Also, his strikeout rate was well down from previous seasons. He’d be a mistake on a multiyear deal.

76. Rod Barajas (Age 36, Dodgers, Type B): Barajas gets big points for consistency; he’s hit .225-.240 with 16-19 homers each of the last three years. He won’t be any team’s top choice to serve as a starting catcher, but he’ll probably be in an Opening Day lineup anyway.

75. LaTroy Hawkins (Age 39, Brewers): Little was expected from Hawkins after he missed most of 2010 following shoulder surgery, but he ended up amassing a 2.42 ERA in 48 1/3 innings for the Brewers and then pitching four scoreless innings in the playoffs. Here’s a fun stat: even though he made 98 starts at the beginning of his career, Hawkins is third on the appearances list among active pitchers, trailing only Mariano Rivera and Arthur Rhodes.

74. Brad Penny (Age 33, Tigers): Penny’s 5.30 ERA was the worst among all qualifiers last season, and he struck out just 74 batters in 181 2/3 innings. He’s still throwing 91-94 mph and getting a fair number of grounders, so he could bounce back in the National League. It’s doubtful he’ll have much in the way of AL suitors.

73. Jamey Carroll (Age 38, Dodgers): With a .290/.359/.347 line in 452 at-bats, Carroll was just as good as ever at age 37. He was miscast as a shortstop for the Dodgers after Rafael Furcal went down, but he makes plenty of sense as a cheap option as at second base.

72. Kosuke Fukudome (Age 34, Indians): It was another fast start and slow fade for Fukudome, who finished with a career-low .712 OPS in his fourth year in MLB. I’d take my chances with him over a few of the outfielders ahead of him on this list of free agents, but he’s looking at going from a $13.5 million salary to a $2 million-$3 million salary if he stays in the US.

71. Yuniesky Betancourt (Age 30, Brewers, Type B): Betancourt has long been a sabermetric whipping boy because of his awful defensive metrics and terrible OBPs, but while he’s still the master of the first-pitch out, his defensive numbers have progressed from horrible to merely poor the last two years. On July 1, I would have guessed that he’d be out of a starting job in 2012. Since he played a whole lot better in the second half, it’s now a given that he’ll get one more chance.

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.