2009 MLB Free Agents Rumors

Free Agent OBP Leaders

Many teams will be looking to add OBP-oriented players this winter.  The below chart ranks free agents by on-base percentage (.340 and above is considered solid).  I also included BB%, the percentage of plate appearances in which the hitter drew a walk.  This helps identify those whose OBPs may be deceiving because of reliance on batting average (Hairston’s .338/.388/.475 line is an example).

Player OBP BB%
Milton Bradley 0.445 16.6%
Manny Ramirez 0.424 12.7%
Mark Teixeira 0.409 14.3%
Brian Giles 0.393 13.0%
Adam Dunn 0.390 19.0%
Jerry Hairston Jr. 0.388 6.9%
Jason Giambi 0.376 13.9%
Ray Durham 0.375 12.2%
Pat Burrell 0.375 16.1%
Bobby Abreu 0.374 10.2%
Ramon Vazquez 0.372 10.9%
Raul Ibanez 0.370 9.5%
Orlando Hudson 0.367 8.8%
Doug Mientkiewicz 0.367 12.5%
Fernando Tatis 0.363 8.9%
Jamey Carroll 0.356 9.5%
Cliff Floyd 0.356 11.1%
Casey Blake 0.355 8.2%
David Eckstein 0.355 7.8%
Ken Griffey Jr. 0.354 13.9%
Frank Thomas 0.349 13.5%
Mark Grudzielanek 0.345 5.3%
Nick Punto 0.343 7.7%
Mark Kotsay 0.343 7.4%

Giambi and Bradley may hold strong appeal as players who can help a team’s OBP but may not require long-term commitments.  Vazquez and Tatis are a couple of interesting sleepers.  Are they one-year wonders?

Free Agent Starters By Strikeout Rate

The free agent market offers fewer than thirty viable starting pitchers.  If you’re looking for dominance, here’s how they rank by strikeouts per nine innings:

Player K/9
John Smoltz 11.57
A.J. Burnett 9.31
C.C. Sabathia 8.90
Randy Johnson 8.74
Ryan Dempster 8.15
Oliver Perez 8.14
Randy Wolf 7.90
Ben Sheets 7.45
Bartolo Colon 7.09
Pedro Martinez 6.93
Andy Pettitte 6.80
Derek Lowe 6.38
Mike Mussina 6.22
Odalis Perez 6.01
Tim Wakefield 5.81
Jamie Moyer 5.75
Josh Fogg 5.26
Tom Glavine 5.26
Kyle Lohse 5.06
Brad Penny 4.90
Greg Maddux 4.60
Braden Looper 4.37
Kenny Rogers 4.31
Jon Garland 3.96
Paul Byrd 3.89
Mike Hampton 3.83
Sidney Ponson 3.79
Livan Hernandez 3.47

A strikeout rate of 6.0 per nine or greater is considered decent.  Only 14 free agents managed that so far.  John Smoltz, Bartolo Colon, and Pedro Martinez are injury risks.  Randy Johnson and Andy Pettitte aren’t true free agents in that they’re likely to be very selective about their teams (Smoltz and Mussina may also fit in this group).  That basically leaves us with fewer than ten healthy pitchers with decent strikeout rates who are expected to hit the open market.  These guys should fly off the shelves quickly.

’09 Free Agents: Injury Discounts

Last winter we saw many free agents sign at a discount following injury-plagued seasons: Milton Bradley, Randy Wolf, Kerry Wood, Jason Jennings, Matt Clement, Bartolo Colon, and Mark Prior are examples.  Let’s take a look at members of the ’09 free agent class who might be signed at similar discounts.

  • Nomar Garciaparra, IF.  Nomar has been a respectable hitter in 114 plate appearances this year.  He’s dealt with a knee sprain, calf strain, and broken hand while earning $8.5MM.
  • Orlando Hudson, 2B.  Though Hudson will miss almost two months with a broken wrist, not much of a discount is expected.  He should get more than $10MM per year.
  • Rafael Furcal, SS.  Furcal is an interesting case – easily the best available shortstop, but he only managed one torrid month before hitting the DL with a back injury.  He prefers to re-sign with the Dodgers before other teams have a shot at convincing him otherwise.
  • Hank Blalock, 1B/3B.  Blalock will hit the market if the Rangers buy out his $6.2MM option.  He’s had shoulder, hand, wrist, back, and hamstring problems this year.  He had shoulder surgery back in October of ’06.
  • Joe Crede, 3B.  He was off to a decent start, but hasn’t played since July 21st due to back stiffness.  The Boras client had back surgery in June of last year.
  • Rocco Baldelli, OF.  Baldelli’s options were declined, so he’ll be a free agent after the season.  He’s dealing with a mitochondrial disorder.
  • Frank Thomas, DH.  Thomas missed all of June and July with a quad injury, and so far hasn’t rediscovered his May form.  No word on whether he’s mulling retirement.
  • There’s a group of starters who have pitched very little this year: Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Kris Benson, Matt Clement, Jason Jennings, Mark Mulder, Carl Pavano, and Mark Prior.  These eight pitchers were paid a total of $25MM for 62 big league innings.  They’ll all be signing cheaply for ’09.
  • The injured reliever pool includes Eric Gagne, Todd Jones, Joe Borowski, and Tom Gordon.

Heyman On Top Free Agents

SI.com’s Jon Heyman names his top seven free agents for this winter, complete with projected contracts.  He sees Mark Teixeira getting the largest total deal at $168MM.

Here is the free agent list.  After Heyman’s seven, Orlando Hudson, Milton Bradley, Raul Ibanez, Bobby Abreu, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, and Brian Fuentes should make good money.  Feel free to leave some contract predictions in the comments; we can look back at this thread in March.

Rosenthal’s Latest: Delgado, Sexson, Crisp, Byrd

Ken Rosenthal has some items worth discussing in his latest Full Count video:

  • Trade Carlos Delgado for Richie Sexson? Rosenthal doesn’t see why not. They’re both in walk years, neither have a no-trade-clause, and they’re both making roughly the same amount. I’ll add to that by noting both have arguably met more success hitting in each other’s league.
  • The Indians may put Paul Byrd on the block in an effort to acquire pieces that could eventually lead to an upgrade at 2B or 3B later this season.  The Indians currently have 7 capable starters in Sabathia, Carmona, Lee, Byrd, Westbrook, Sowers, and Laffey.
  • Crisp’s Latest: It may be in the best interest of the Red Sox to wait to deal Coco Crisp in the offseason when the demand increases.  The Padres could use him now but the 2009 Free Agent class is thin at centerfield.  Coco could be maintained for $5.75MM in ’09 and a club option in 2010 for $8MM, or a $0.5MM buyout.
  • Two Byrds in one post! Marlon Byrd‘s return from the DL could mean more time at DH for Josh Hamilton in an effort to keep him rested throughout the season.  Hamilton only played 90 games last year after missing about 4 years due to drug suspensions and injury.  If Byrd performs then this would take the Rangers out of the DH market.  So far, so good.

By Nat Boyle

Free Agent Stock Watch: Ben Sheets

It looks like Ben Sheets made the right decision by signing a four-year contract with the Brewers after his spectacular 2004 season. The then-25-year-old tossed 237 innings to the tune of a 2.70 ERA, striking out 264 to just 32 walks, with a WHIP below 1.00. Those are absolutely insane numbers, but because his team was lousy, he finished just eighth in the Cy Young voting. (To be fair, Randy Johnson should have won it, with Sheets a close second.)

Since then, Sheets hasn’t pitched more than 157 innings in a season due to a number of injuries. He’s still managed sub-4.00 ERAs in those seasons, though, a testament to his superior talent. But if he can’t stay healthy, he can’t expect a team to invest big dollars for even four years. His most recent injury does not help allay those fears.

Despite the injury — which seems minor — Sheets has been game-on in his walk year. In his 28 innings this year, he’s struck out 24 to just four walks, and allowed just 14 hits, for a nifty WHIP of 0.64. Time will tell if he can hold up for the entire season, missing the occasional start here and there, as he might next time around the rotation.

So what’s a team in need of pitching to do? If Sheets gets to 190 innings this year, do you gamble four years and, say, $65, $70 million on him? It’s an enormous risk, but if Sheets can stay healthy for three of those four years, it could be well worth it. He joins the top of a free agent pitching class that includes C.C. Sabathia and Carl Pavano Derek Lowe.

Any guesses as to where Sheets goes and for what? I’ve got the Mets at three years and $55MM.

Posted by Joe Pawlikowski.

Sheets & Sabathia Head Next Year’s Free Agent Class

A couple nice nuggets to confirm what we already suspect regarding a couple big fish on the 2009 Starting Pitcher Free Agents list.

As MLBTR covered here, this should be Ben Sheets‘ last year with the Brewers.  Further affirming the inevitable, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says,

If the 29-year-old right-hander finally has a healthy season and puts up impressive numbers, the Brewers would be hard-pressed to meet his asking price on what has been a runaway pitching market in recent years.  And, should Sheets break down again and turns his four-year, $38.5 million contract into a complete boondoggle, the Brewers would be taken to task for giving him another chance.

And news on an even bigger fish, Patrick McManamon of the Ohio Beacon Journal brings us a quote from Indians GM Mark Shapiro that could lead one to believe that C.C. Sabathia will be voted out of the Tribe:

”We’re forced to confront decisions every year,” Shapiro said. ”We don’t lose much next year. We lose one core player next year . . . maybe not. But then the two years that follow we lose almost no one — and none of our core players.  ‘The biggest challenge that we’ve got over the next four years, the three years that follow this one, is how we handle losing C.C., if we lose him.”

Tim recently put together an excellent breakdown of Sabathia-suitors here.

By Nat Boyle

2009 MLB Free Agents List

Our trusty 2009 MLB Free Agents list is back (players who are free agents after the ’08 season).  The link has also returned to the sidebar for easy reference.  Have a look.  Thoughts on the shape of the market, or corrections to the list?

2009 MLB Free Agents: The Under-30 Group

Today let’s take a look at the players in next winter’s free agent class who will be under 30 years old for the 2009 season.

Mark Teixeira (29) – Teixeira is a Scott Boras client, and he seems primed to mash 40 homers and 120 ribbies in his contract year.  I think we’re talking seven years, $150MM here.  Will the Braves pony it up?  What about big budget teams like the Yankees and Mets?  What about the Red Sox, Angels, or Giants?  The Orioles have made no secret about their desire to bring the Annapolis native aboard.  (Speaking of Baltimore, I just finished season four of The Wire and it was awesome).

Felipe Lopez (29) – He’ll need to get his OPS back up over .700 to become interesting.  And the move to second base doesn’t help.

Cesar Izturis (29) – He’s only had an OPS over .700 once in his career…he’ll be flashing the leather for the Cards this year in an attempt to rebuild value.

Hank Blalock (28) – It’d be pretty surprising if the Rangers passed on his $6.2MM option for ’09.

Adam Dunn (29) – He’s basically Teixeira with worse defense.  I wonder if he’ll get Torii Hunter‘s five-year, $90MM deal.

Wily Mo Pena (27) – He’s got a $5MM club option or a $2MM player option for ’09…seems that one of ’em will be exercised.

Rocco Baldelli (27) – The Rays have to make his option decision by April 1st.  He remains an intriguing talent in need of a good medical staff.

Jon Garland (29) – Seems that Garland is primed to push the bar for mediocrity to $13-14MM over four or five years.

Oliver Perez (27) – Think he’s going to get a lot of attention next December?  He just needs to replicate his 2007 season to earn himself a good $16MM per year.  No joke.  Earned only $2.3 mil in ’07, too.  Could be an expensive consolation prize for teams that miss out on Sabathia.

C.C. Sabathia (28)Johan Santana‘s contract may serve as a guidepost…I’d be surprised if Sabathia takes less than $20MM annually.  He’s the top free agent pitcher in this class, unless Santana plays out the string with the Twins.

Francisco Rodriguez (27)Mariano Rivera got three years, $45MM.  K-Rod is set to coast past that to set a contract record for a closer.  Five years, $80MM maybe?  Seems absurd but could happen.  If he doesn’t fly past Rivera, Joe Nathan will.

Rafael Soriano (29) – Could be a $9-10MM guy if he has a big year and saves 35 for the Braves.  If the Braves lose Soriano and Teixeira, at least they’ll get some sweet draft picks.

Juan Cruz (28) – Intriguing live strikeout arm, needs a healthy ’08.

Brandon Lyon (29) – Could earn one of those big-money setup man deals for $5-6MM over three or four years.

The 7 Most Interesting 2009 Options

Even during a down time for rumors, a ton of fun can be had analyzing the 2009 MLB Free Agents list. Below I present the seven most interesting 2009 options.

1. Manny Ramirez – $20MM club option.  Rob Bradford recently discussed this, a topic that will pick up steam in Boston as the season rolls along.  He notes that Andruw Jones was able to snag a deal averaging $18MM despite coming off a terrible 2007.  Also, Manny seems to want to retire in a Boston uniform.  $20MM is just the right amount to make this a tough decision (not clear on whether there’s a buyout).  If Manny hits 35+ home runs I think they’ll exercise the option.  Otherwise, Adam Dunn could be an alternative a year from now. 

2. Ken Griffey Jr. – $16.5MM club option with a $4MM buyout.  That’s a net of a one-year, $12.5MM deal to keep Junior.  I’m not positive but I don’t think any of the ’09 salary would be deferred.  The price seems reasonable if Griffey can approximate his ’07 season again, but otherwise the Reds will have to make the tough decision to cut him loose.

3. Carlos Delgado – $16MM mutual option with a $4MM buyout.  This will be an easy decline for the Mets if Delgado posts another sub-.800 OPS.  But what if he has a 2008 season more like his ’07 second half – .285/.375/.469?  Then is he worth one year and $12MM?  This may depend on how Mark Teixeira‘s situation unfolds.

4.  Garret Anderson – $14MM club option with a $3MM buyout.  $11MM net doesn’t seem terrible, and Anderson had a nice second half with an .892 OPS.  However my best guess is a subpar season with little to no defense, leaving the Angels with no choice but to decline.

5.  Mark Mulder – $11MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout.  Given the market for pitching, will he be worth $9.5MM in 2009?  Will the time and money spent watching him rehab influence John Mozeliak’s decision?

6. Jason Giambi – $22MM club option with a $5MM buyout.  The oddly hefty buyout at least gives you pause here.  On the free market would anyone give one-year, $17MM to Giambi?  Doubtful unless he bounces back to 2005-06 form and health.  Most likely the Yanks will be happy to clear this money.

7. Jim Thome – $13MM club option with a $3MM buyout.  $10MM for a 35 HR/.410 OBP middle of the lineup monster?  Should be an easy one.  But say Thome is only healthy enough for 110 games in ’08.  Do the Sox still go for it?