Last-minute shopping: Top 10 unsigned free agents

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Spring training is (thankfully) right around the corner, but there are still a surprising number of significant free agents unsigned heading into February.

Four of those players–Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, and Howie Kendrick–have draft pick compensation attached to their free agency thanks to turning down one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offers, which has no doubt played a part in their remaining unemployed. And the rest … well, they just haven’t found a good fit or (most likely) a team willing to meet their demands.

Here’s my list of the 10 best remaining free agents:

1. Dexter Fowler, 30-year-old center fielder

Fowler is not without flaws–including costing a draft pick to sign–but he’s a relatively young, switch-hitting center fielder with good on-base skills, plus speed, and a .750 OPS or higher in each of his seven full seasons. There’s been surprisingly few rumors linking teams to Fowler, although now that Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes have signed the outfield market almost can’t help but shift its attention to him.

2. Howie Kendrick, 32-year-old second baseman

Kendrick has been remarkably consistent offensively, basically hitting .290 with a .750 OPS every season, but at age 32 his defense at second base may be slipping and his lack of experience at other positions limits his potential landing spots. Kendrick has been linked to the Diamondbacks recently and that would make sense given that they’re definitely in win-now mode, but Arizona might have to find a taker for Aaron Hill‘s contract first.

3. Ian Desmond, 30-year-old shortstop

Once upon a time there was talk of Desmond being in line for a $100 million deal as a free agent, but since a career-year in 2012 his OPS has dropped from .845 to .784 to .743 to .674. As bad as he was last season Desmond still managed to hit 19 homers and even a modest bounceback offensively would make him a solidly above-average shortstop. If he stops holding out for something bigger my guess is lots of teams would have interest in Desmond on a one- or two-year deal, although the draft pick compensation makes that tricky as well.

4. Yovani Gallardo, 30-year-old starting pitcher

Gallardo’s declining strikeout rate and raw stuff should scare teams, but he’s considered the best remaining free agent starter and several other shaky bets had no trouble securing multi-year deals despite costing a draft pick to sign. Last season’s 3.42 ERA was the best of Gallardo’s career, which is impressive considering his league switch and move to a hitter-friendly ballpark, but 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings from a 30-year-old who previously missed lots of bats can scare teams off.

5. David Freese, 33-year-old third baseman

Freese is coming off a season right in line with his career norms–14 homers, .743 OPS in 121 games–but the Angels opted against making him the $15.8 million qualifying offer and now he’s having trouble finding a new home despite the lack of draft pick compensation attached. At age 33 he’d be a poor bet on a long-term deal, but Freese is an above-average third baseman.

6. Austin Jackson, 29-year-old center fielder

Jackson never quite lived up to the promise he showed early on and has bounced around in recent years, which contributes to his becoming an afterthought. However, as a 29-year-old center fielder with solid defensive skills, plus speed, and the ability to post a .700 OPS he’s seemingly being underrated. Jackson would fit best in a part-time role in which he can face mostly left-handed pitching, but even as a regular he’d be an upgrade for some teams.

7. Doug Fister, 32-year-old starting pitcher

Fister has never been a strikeout pitcher and his velocity has dropped into the mid-80s, which doesn’t leave much margin for error. Still, given a choice between parting with a draft pick to sign Gallardo for multiple years or keeping that draft pick while signing Fister for one season there’s definitely an argument to be made in Fister’s favor. He’s coming off a rough, injury filled season with the Nationals, but Fister had a 2.41 ERA in 2014 and a combined 3.11 ERA from 2011-2014.

8. Mat Latos, 28-year-old starting pitcher

Latos has been banged up for the past two seasons and every team he joins seemingly grows to hate him almost immediately, but he’s also still just 28 years old and posted a sub-3.50 ERA every season from 2010-2014. Early in the offseason the Pirates were linked to Latos as a potential reclamation project, but they went in a different direction and now he’s likely scrambling for a cheap one-year deal just a couple years after being one of the best, most durable right-handers in the league.

9. Alfredo Simon, 35-year-old starting pitcher

Simon made the All-Star team in 2014 with a lot of smoke and mirrors before collapsing in 2015, posting a 5.15 ERA for the Tigers. Knee problems might be to blame for that, but at age 35 he’s not a great bet to stay much healthier and Simon’s strikeout rate has always been lacking. With that said, on a one-year deal he’d make sense for quite a few teams looking to fill out the rotation with a veteran.

10. Juan Uribe, 37-year-old third baseman

Freese struggling to find work doesn’t bode well for Uribe, who’s four years older and searching for a home at the same position. Uribe’s late-career renaissance includes a .761 OPS during the past three seasons, which along with good defense at third base and a seemingly beloved clubhouse presence should generate some interest from a contender on a one-year pact.

Jimmy Nelson to undergo back surgery

Jimmy Nelson back surgery
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Bill Shaikin of The Los Angeles Times reports that Dodgers pitcher Jimmy Nelson will undergo lumbar surgery on his lower back on Tuesday.

Nelson, 31, signed with the Dodgers on an incentive-laden one-year, $1.25 million contract with a vesting 2021 option back in January. With incentives, Nelson could have pushed his 2021 option from $2 million to $9 million. The Dodgers can instead buy him out of his contract for $500,000.

At the beginning of spring training in February, Nelson was battling groin and lower back issues and ultimately exited a late-February bullpen session due to back issues, ending his chance to win a spot in the Dodgers’ rotation.

Nelson missed the entire 2018 season due to a shoulder injury and briefly pitched for the Brewers last season. Across 22 innings, the right-hander allowed 17 earned runs on 25 hits and 17 walks with 26 strikeouts.

David Price recently opted out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, so the Dodgers’ rotation appears to include Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías, Alex Wood, and one of Ross Stripling, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin.