It’s getting to be that time of year, so here is the first of two stabs at a Top 111 free agents list. The other will come shortly after the World Series concludes.
Players are ranked based on how I believe teams perceive them, not how I view them myself. Essentially, I rank the players based on the value of the contracts that I think they’ll receive. This first batch here should get one-year deals in the $2 million-$3 million range. I’m going to post Nos. 80-51 on Thursday and the top 50 on Friday.
Excluded from my list are players whose 2013 options look like locks to be exercised. In this case, the group includes Robinson Cano, R.A. Dickey, Curtis Granderson, Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz, James Shields and David Wright. I also left off Jorge De La Rosa under the assumption that he”ll exercise his player option.
All ages are as of April 1, 2013. Asterisks denote players with 2013 options.
(Oh yeah, I’m starting off with a three-way tie for No. 111. No, not because I did two extra writeups and didn’t want to trash them. Why even suspect such a thing?)
t-111. Brandon Inge (3B Athletics – Age 35): At .218/.275/.383, Inge finished up with a brutal average and OBP once again. However, he still plays an excellent third base at age 35 and he did have 12 homers and 54 RBI in 303 at-bats prior to his season-ending shoulder surgery. There won’t be many other everyday options at third base available in free agency, so Inge might land another starting gig.
t-111. Juan Carlos Oviedo (RHP Marlins – Age 31): The former Leo Nunez has missed the entire season, first while serving a 50-game suspension for his false identity and now because of a sprained elbow that may yet require Tommy John surgery. An experienced closer, Nunez saved 26 games in 20009, 30 in 2010 and 36 in 2011. However, he’ll have to settle for an incentive-laden deal this winter.
t-111. Hisanori Takahashi (LHP Pirates – Age 37): The Angels struggled to ever find a niche for Takahashi after signing him to a two-year, $8 million contract after the 2010 season. With his ERA up to 4.93, they cut him last month, and the Pirates claimed him off waivers. Takahashi’s peripherals are still quite strong — he has a 48/12 K/BB ratio in 46 innings for the season — and he has no platoon split to speak of. Used as a long man and a spot starter, he’d provide more value than the Angels ever got out of him.
110. Miguel Olivo (C Mariners – Age 33): Olivo was often the Mariners’ cleanup hitter last year, but it seems the team has seen enough of him now, as his playing time has eroded with John Jaso and Jesus Montero on the club. Unless they think they can trade him, they’ll likely decline his $3 million option for 2013. Olivo has hit just .213/.225/.358 this year, so there’s a good chance he’ll have to settle for a backup role next season.
109. Travis Hafner (DH Indians – Age 35)*: The Indians will finally get out from under Hafner’s horrible $57 million deal when they buy out his $13 million option for $2.75 million this winter. Hafner can still hit reasonably well — he’s on pace to finish with an OPS in the low-800s for the fourth straight season — but he can’t stay healthy even while being used strictly as a designated hitter. As a result, he could have just as much trouble finding work as Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon did last winter.
108. Jonathan Sanchez (LHP Rockies – Age 30): With his velocity down 2-3 mph from where he was a few years ago, it’s possible Sanchez is done as a useful starter. Still, we’re talking about a relatively young left-hander who has struck out 781 batters in 772 2/3 career innings. The only left-handed starters with better lifetime strikeout rates (min. 500 IP) are Randy Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax and Oliver Perez. Of course, Perez is pretty obviously the best comparison for Sanchez in that group.
107. Scott Feldman (RHP Rangers – Age 30)*: Based on his surprising 17-win 2009 season, Feldman was given a two-year, $11.5 million contract by the Rangers that includes a $9.25 million option for 2013. He’s been a big disappointment ever since, but he has served as an adequate fifth starter since injuries put him back into the rotation this year. While he’s 6-11 with a 5.01 ERA overall, he possesses a 4.06 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break. The Rangers certainly won’t pick up the option, so there’s a good chance he’ll move on this winter. He’d probably have a better chance of remaining a fifth starter with another team.
106. Raul Ibanez (OF Yankees – Age 40): Ibanez went from making $11.5 million in his final season with the Phillies to $1.1 million this year with the Yankees. He’s given the team what it was looking for in a part-time DH and left fielder, hitting .235/.302/.458 with 15 homers and 52 RBI in 324 at-bats. It’ll probably be enough to land him a similar gig next year if he wants one. At 40, he might prefer retirement instead.
105. Matt Capps (RHP Twins – Age 29): Capps was a disaster as the Twins’ closer in 2011, yet the team re-signed him for $4.75 million anyway. This year, he’s been effective when healthy (3.81 ERA, 14-for-15 in save chances), but except for two appearances last month, he’s been on the DL since late June with a bum shoulder. He really needs to make it back at some point this month if he expects to receive much guaranteed money as a free agent. He’ll probably be looked at as a setup man, not a closer, by suitors.
104. Ty Wigginton (INF-OF Phillies – Age 35)*: Wigginton’s versatility doesn’t really work in his favor any longer — he’s pretty bad anywhere other than first base — and his bat continues to decay. He’s reached the point in his career in which he should have to settle for a minor league contract. Still, the feeling here is that some team will guarantee him $2 million or so because he can provide pop off the bench. It’s safe to assume the Phillies won’t pick up his $4 million option.
103. Jason Bartlett (SS free agent – Age 33): Bartlett was one of the AL’s best players with the Rays in 2009. Since then, his average has gone from .320 to .254 to .245 to .133 in 83 at-bats this year. He’s been out since mid-May with a strained knee, and no team was in a hurry to pick him up after the Padres released him last month. A healthy Bartlett is still a pretty good defensive shortstop, so it’s possible some team will give him a look as a cheap starter next year. Contenders will likely view him as a potential utilityman.
102. Scott Baker (RHP Twins – Age 31)*: Baker didn’t undergo Tommy John surgery until mid-April, so his chances of being ready for the beginning of next season aren’t great. A healthy Baker would be one of the top eight starters available in free agency, but as is, he’ll probably want to take a one-year deal in an attempt to rebuild his value. The Twins won’t be picking up his $9.25 million option.
101. James Loney (1B Red Sox – Age 28): Loney has lucked out in that the Red Sox have actually decided to play him after getting him from the Dodgers in last month’s megadeal. He doesn’t warrant it after hitting just .254/.302/.344 with four homers and 33 RBI in 334 at-bats for L.A., but maybe he can get hot, just like he did in the second half of last year to save his job with the Dodgers. If not, he may well have to settle for a minor league deal as a free agent this winter. However, if he does bounce back to hit a relatively empty .300, someone will give him a shot. At 28, he’s one of the youngest free agents in the class.
100. Kelly Shoppach (C Mets – Age 32): That Shoppach was involved in the drama in Boston may not help his stock this winter, but the fact that his average is currently sitting at .248 after two consecutive years below the Mendoza Line certainly will. Shoppach’s offensive game is mostly about power anyway; he’s hit 65 homers in 1,445 career at-bats. He’s a lifetime .270/.363/.526 hitter versus lefties. A solid enough defender, he’s a terrific complement for a left-handed hitting starting catcher.
99. Matt Lindstrom (RHP Rockies – Age 33): Oddly enough, the better Lindstrom pitches, the more he gets passed around. He had a 3.00 ERA in 54 innings for the Rockies last year, but he was shipped to Baltimore along with Jason Hammel for Jeremy Guthrie over the winter. He posted a 2.72 ERA in 36 1/3 innings for the Orioles, but they figured the bullpen could do just fine without him and sent him to Arizona for Joe Saunders in August. Lindstrom’s fastball isn’t quite what it was when he entered the league and his slider has never turned into a true strikeout pitch, so fungible seventh-inning guy it is.
98. Andruw Jones (OF Yankees – Age 35): Jones obviously enjoyed his first year as a part-timer in New York, as he opted to stick around on an identical one-year, $2 million contract rather than shop himself around as a free agent. His 2012 was shaping up as a success as well, but he’s slumped mightily of late and is down to .203/.286/.425 in 234 at-bats. The Bombers may look elsewhere this winter if Jones fails to heat back up during the final month and the postseason.
97. Mark Lowe (RHP Rangers – Age 29): Lowe has always struggled to stay healthy, but with a mid-90s fastball and a quality slider, he has the stuff of an eighth- or ninth-inning guy. In 36 innings this year, he has a 2.00 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. If he can finish out this year without another DL stint, some team might be willing to give him a multiyear deal in the hopes that he’ll be the new Grant Balfour.
96. Eric Chavez (3B Yankees – Age 35): Chavez was leaning towards retirement when 2011 ended, but he ended up re-signing with the Yankees for a measly $900,000 and he’s come through with an outstanding year in a part-time role. He’s played in 91 games, his high total since 2006, and amassed an .851 OPS, which would be his high finish since 2004. Chavez will probably go ahead and sign another one-year deal with the Bombers at season’s end, but he can definitely hold out for more cash this time around.
95. Jon Rauch (RHP Mets – Age 34): Rauch ranked right up there with Jason Bay as Mets fans’ least favorite player after taking a whopping seven losses in the first half of the season. However, he’s been terrific the last two months, allowing just two runs in 17 1/3 innings, and his ERA is down to 3.04 in 47 1/3 innings. How he finishes from here will determine whether he’ll have to take a paycut from the $3.5 million he signed for in December. He’ll probably join his sixth team in six years this winter.
94. Juan Pierre (OF Phillies – Age 35): There was hardly any interest in Pierre last winter before he took a minor league contract from the Phillies at the end of January. He’ll be far more popular this time around, as it looks like he’ll end up having his second best offensive season since 2004. In 334 at-bats for the Phillies, he’s hit .299/.342/.362. He’s also gone 32-for-38 stealing bases after finishing 27-for-44 in his final year with the White Sox. He’d be better utilized as a fourth outfielder than a starter going forward, but one of the teams looking for a leadoff hitter will probably give him an expanded role.
93. Chris Young (RHP Mets – Age 33): Young has made 15 starts this season, his high total since 2008. A healthy September would give him his most innings pitched since 2007. There’s simply not as much upside here as there used to be, as shoulder woes have left Young with a mid-80s fastball. Still, keep him in a big ballpark and he’ll likely be a reasonable fourth starter when healthy.
92. Rod Barajas (C Pirates – Age 37)*: The Pirates moved quickly to sign Barajas last November, and he’s rewarded them with a .199/.275/.336 season to date. He’s still a reliable defensive catcher, but because of his offensive shortcomings, the Pirates have been turning to Michael McKenry more frequently. Expect Barajas’ $3.5 million option to be declined as the Pirates go shopping for an upgrade this winter. At 37, he might be finished as a starting catcher.
91. Placido Polanco (3B Phillies – Age 37)*: Polanco proved surprisingly durable from 2007-10, but he’s body has let him down the last couple of years and one wonders if he might consider retirement this winter. If he wants to give it another go, there will likely be several teams interested in him as a utilityman. The part-time role might serve to keep him healthier and allow a modest rebound on offense. His contract with the Phillies includes a $5.5 million mutual option, but there’s no way that he returns to Philly at that price.
90. Derek Lowe (RHP Yankees – Age 39): After being dumped by the Braves three-quarters of the way through a four-year, $60 million contract, Lowe started his Indians career 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA. He then went 2-9 with a 8.28 ERA in his next 13 starts to earn his release. Lowe’s velocity hasn’t dipped all that much through the years, but his strikeout rate has plummeted back in the AL this season. He needs to go back to the NL and find himself a team with a strong defensive infield, but he should be able to survive as a bottom-of-the-rotation guy for another year or two.
89. Vicente Padilla (RHP Red Sox – Age 35): Padilla’s 4.47 ERA doesn’t look like much, but he has a 48/13 K/BB ratio in 44 1/3 innings and 22 holds (plus one save) with just three blown saves as a setup man for the Red Sox. Since he now seems content to relieve, I expect that he has a few more fine seasons as a seventh- or eighth-inning guy ahead of him.
88. Luke Scott (OF/DH Rays – Age 34)*: The Rays picked Scott over bigger names like Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero for their 2012 designated hitter, but he’s missed a bunch of time and been pretty mediocre when healthy, hitting .224/.376/.433 with 12 homers and 46 RBI in 263 at-bats. He really needs a big finish now to guarantee himself another starting job this winter. The Rays hold a $6 million option on his services, but they’ll almost certainly buy him out for $1 million and look for a cheaper alternative.
87. Kevin Correia (RHP Pirates – Age 32): I still think Correia’s deal could and should have turned out worse for the Pirates; they gave him $8 million for two years after he racked up a 5.40 ERA as a Petco Park pitcher in 2010. As a Pirate, Correia has managed to go 21-19 with a 4.61 ERA in 48 starts and five relief appearances the last two years, even though his strikeout rate has plummeted (7.1 K/9 IP in 2010, 4.5 in 2011, 4.3 in 2012). He’ll probably find a team willing to make him its fifth starter this winter, but he should have to take a modest cut in salary.
86. Kevin Millwood (RHP Mariners – Age 38): Well, sure, anyone can pitch in Safeco with the way it’s played this year, but Millwood also has a perfectly respectable 4.38 ERA and 58/28 K/BB ratio in 78 innings on the road. It’s not just any road schedule, either: the three parks in which he’s made two starts are Yankee Stadium, Rangers Ballpark and U.S. Cellular. He also pitched a shutout against the Rockies in Coors Field. He’s been a nice little bargain at $1 million for the Mariners, and he should draw interest from other teams this winter.
85. Jeff Keppinger (INF Rays – Age 32): After being non-tendered by the Astros, Keppinger took a cut from $2.3 million to $1.525 million when he signed with the Rays last winter. He should get back up to the $2.5 million range if not higher after such a successful season in the AL East. He’s currently hitting .332/.382/.455 with more extra-base hits (21) and walks (20) than strikeouts (19) in 277 at-bats. He’ll probably fall back again next year, but he’s plenty useful with his ability to cover three infield positions and hit lefties.
84. Bartolo Colon (RHP Athletics – Age 39): Colon may have been setting himself up for an $8 million-$10 million deal with the way he was pitching prior to his testosterone suspension. Now he’s likely looking at another contract similar to the $2 million deal he got from the A’s last winter, assuming that he can find anyone willing to take a chance on him in the first place.
83. Scott Hairston (OF Mets – Age 32): Seemingly not a favorite of manager Terry Collins, Hairston was given just 132 at-bats in his first year with the Mets in 2011. This season, he’s claimed an expanded role due to injuries and hit .274/.317/.521 in 292 at-bats. David Wright has been the Mets’ only superior position player. Unfortunately, Hairston really blew it in 2010, when a quality season could have turned him into a long-term regular. Instead, he hit .210/.295/.346. He’s slugged .505 in the two years since, but since he’s a 32-year-old who has never had more than 430 at-bats in a season, he’ll likely continue to be perceived as a fourth outfielder.
82. Joel Peralta (RHP Rays – Age 37): Peralta has been a free agent on several occasions, but this winter will be the first time it’s by choice (as opposed to his getting released or non-tendered). While his ERA is up to 3.46 this year, he’s sporting an outstanding 67/12 K/BB ratio and a 0.86 WHIP in 54 2/3 innings for the Rays. Because he’s turning 37 in March, he might not get any multiyear offers. However, someone will probably throw $3 million his way.
81. Ben Sheets (RHP Braves – Age 34): Sheets had additional work done along with the Tommy John surgery when he was operated on in 2010 and still wasn’t ready to return at the beginning of this season. When he signed with the Braves mid-year, it came as quite a surprise, and he pulled off a successful return in short order, only to falter as August went along. He’s currently on the DL with shoulder inflammation after going 4-4 with a 3.54 ERA in eight starts. Sheets should be stronger in 2013, and while there’s no way anyone will count on getting 180 innings from him, he might provide 20-25 starts at a reasonable value.