Free Agent Market Rumors
The free agent market for right-handed relievers features a number of pitchers who succeeded in major league bullpens last year. The selection for teams in search of left-handed relievers isn't quite as good. Here are the free agent lefties (closers excluded) that teams like the Yankees and Phillies will be considering as they look for relief help this winter:
The Type As
Scott Downs and Arthur Rhodes will both cost a draft pick if they turn down arbitration from their respective clubs. The Reds would like to bring Rhodes back and he's interested in returning to Cincinnati, so Downs may be the lone lefty who costs a pick.
Pedro Feliciano has led the National League in appearances for three consecutive seasons. He posted a 3.30 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 last year and should have his share of suitors. Hisanori Takahashi posted a 3.61 ERA in 122 innings as a swingman for the Mets with 8.4 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. He could re-sign in New York, but that seems unlikely.
There are a lot of lefty specialists to choose from this year and these relievers all limit lefty batters well (stats are for lefty-lefty matchups only): Randy Choate (9.2 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 62% ground ball rate), Mark Hendrickson (7.6K/9, 3.2 BB/9), Dennys Reyes (9.5 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 58% ground ball rate), Will Ohman (9.5 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 55% ground ball rate) and J.C. Romero (7.8 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 63% ground ball rate).
Joe Beimel and Ron Mahay don't get as many grounders or strikeouts against left-handed hitters, but they do limit walks well. Taylor Tankersley, a new addition to the free agent pool, has succeeded against lefties throughout his career.
Downs, Rhodes, Takahashi and Feliciano are four capable left-handers for teams to pursue. Plenty of lefty specialists will remain for teams looking to fill out their bullpens with proven relievers who can retire tough left-handed bats.
The Tigers, Blue Jays, Cubs and Twins are some of the many teams that will likely consider free agent right-handers for their respective bullpens. Here are the names on the market this winter (non-closers only):
The Type As
If they turn down arbitration, Grant Balfour, Jason Frasor, Matt Guerrier and Dan Wheeler will each cost a draft pick to sign. Keep in mind that the budget conscious Rays won’t necessarily offer arbitration to Balfour and Wheeler. The Blue Jays will likely offer Frasor arbitration.
Denny Bautista (11.8 K/9), Takashi Saito (11.5 K/9), Koji Uehara (11.3 K/9), Joaquin Benoit (11.2 K/9), Justin Miller (11.1 K/9), J.J. Putz (10.8 K/9), Octavio Dotel (10.6 K/9), Jose Contreras (9.1 K/9), Kyle Farnsworth (8.5 K/9) and Jesse Crain (8.2 K/9) can all strike opponents out. Most of these relievers have their faults, though. Bautista and Dotel walk too many hitters, Saito will be 41 next season and Uehara, Benoit and Putz have missed time with injuries in recent years.
Useful Middle Relievers
Jon Rauch, Chad Durbin, Miguel Batista, Aaron Heilman, Elmer Dessens, Jamey Wright and Guillermo Mota were somewhat useful last year and could help teams in 2011. Dessens won’t be posting a 2.30 ERA again, but he could be a solid reliever. It’s hard to imagine anyone here but Rauch signing a two-year deal.
Former Starters For Bullpen Depth
Jeff Suppan, Micah Owings, Boof Bonser, Chad Gaudin, Jeff Weaver and Chan Ho Park can chew up innings, but they don’t have much upside and you probably don’t want them pitching in high-leverage situations. Park, to his credit, pitched well in Pittsburgh, but most of these pitchers appear to be in line for minor league deals.
Tyler Walker hasn’t pitched since June, David Riske came back from Tommy John surgery last year and Mike Lincoln suffered an oblique injury and didn’t pitch after May. If teams want to get really adventurous, they can call up Kelvim Escobar.
The market for right-handed relievers features a ton of strikeout machines and a number of relievers with closing experience. There are also some lesser arms out there, but overall it's a good crop of relievers, especially if you think Benoit, Putz and Uehara can stay healthy.
The free agent market for right-handed starters mainly offered innings eaters. Here's a look at the available southpaws.
Baseball's Sixth $100MM Pitcher
He may have taken the loss in two World Series games, but Cliff Lee is still the marquee name among all free agent starting pitchers. The 32-year-old has a 2.98 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, and 0.61 HR/9 in 667.3 regular season innings since 2008. He tossed 248 innings this year including the playoffs despite not making his first start until April 30th. Lee is eligible for free agency for the first time in his career and will finally get to settle down with one team. For more on his market, check out Mike Axisa's October 4th post.
Strong, Abbreviated Seasons
As usual, Andy Pettitte's options appear to be retirement or a return to the Yankees. That leaves Jorge de la Rosa as the second-best lefty available and perhaps the second-best starter overall since the Dodgers locked up Ted Lilly. As a Type A free agent, De La Rosa will cost a draft pick along with his contract. De La Rosa, 30 in April, missed ten weeks this season with a torn tendon in his finger. He throws hard, strikes out plenty, gets groundballs, and walks too many.
Three Semi-Interesting Names
If you dig a bit you'll find Hisanori Takahashi, Chris Capuano, and Bruce Chen as a trio of lefties capable of starting. All three had decent peripherals as starters this year, though only Chen topped 100 innings in the role.
Hoping To Stay Healthy
Jamie Moyer and Jeff Francis managed to top 100 innings despite injuries, while Doug Davis, Erik Bedard, and Mike Hampton didn't pitch much if at all. Francis' shoulder remains a concern, but he'll be 30 in January and may have something left to offer.
Looking For Work
Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis will have to prove themselves in the minors, as might Jarrod Washburn after sitting out 2010. Rich Hill and Mark Hendrickson are in a similar boat; all of these guys should be flexible on their roles.
Zach Duke, Scott Olsen, Andrew Miller, Brian Tallet, and Glen Perkins are the names to watch here. Duke, 28 in April, has been useful at times but dealt with elbow trouble this year. Olsen's issue was his shoulder. Miller was once among the game's top prospects; Mike Axisa discussed his case on Saturday.
Many teams in the starting pitching hunt just won't have the cash to seriously bid for Lee. De La Rosa will get plenty of action, but there aren't many other free agent lefties you'd plug into a rotation.
The free agent market for right-handed starters features an array of mediocrity. Let's break it down.
The Best Available
Five healthy right-handed starters jump out from this year's free agent class: Carl Pavano, Bronson Arroyo, Jake Westbrook, Jon Garland, and Hiroki Kuroda. Arroyo is expected to be retained by the Reds, however. All five pitched 195+ innings, with Pavano actually tallying 227 including the playoffs. Pavano also leads free agent righties in innings per start by a wide margin at 6.91. As a Type A free agent, he'll likely carry the added cost of a draft pick.
Out of this group no one posted an ERA above Westbrook's 4.22, but Baseball Prospectus' cool SIERA stat suggests no one deserved one below 4.00 except Kuroda. Aside from Arroyo, they're all groundballers. Kuroda is the only thing close to a strikeout pitcher here, and his control and groundball rate were strong too. Though he turns 36 in February, Kuroda is my pick from this group. They're all capable innings eaters, though.
Teams willing to spend $8MM+ per year on one of these guys should look at Japanese righty Hisashi Iwakuma. He may require a $16MM posting fee plus a contract, but he's only 30 and had pretty good numbers in Japan this year.
Back-End Rotation Types
Rodrigo Lopez, Kevin Millwood, Dave Bush, Jeremy Bonderman, and Freddy Garcia profile as 4.75 ERA, back-end rotation types. Lopez and Millwood can chew up innings better than the others. All five are prone to the longball.
Javier Vazquez, Kevin Correia, Aaron Harang, and Rich Harden are a year removed from useful seasons. All four had attractive strikeout rates as starters this year. Correia, with a 48.9% groundball rate, could be a sleeper.
Injured In 2010
Vicente Padilla (forearm) and Brad Penny (back) had strong but abbreviated seasons. Brandon Webb (shoulder), Justin Duchscherer (hip), and Chris Young (shoulder) barely pitched at all. Many millions will be guaranteed to these guys in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle.
Outside The Box Options
Pedro Martinez and Braden Looper sat out the 2010 season; perhaps they could still help at the back-end of an NL rotation. Koji Uehara spent the year as a reliever but would be an interesting starting candidate if he could stay healthy.
Fighting For Innings
As always, there's a handful of pitchers coming off solid seasons and a larger group of injured or ineffective hurlers.
With so many quality hitters available to fill designated hitter jobs these days, it's embarrassing for a club to get subpar production out of the spot. Demand might be high too, though - of the 14 American League teams, only the Indians are locked into a player they must use at DH. Let's examine the free agent market.
Already Full-Time DHs
David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, and Hideki Matsui each played at least 119 games at designated hitter this year, and won't be looking to transition back to regular field work. The Red Sox could pick up Ortiz's $12.5MM option after a bounceback season. Vlad's $9MM option with the Rangers is mutual, but expect the two sides to try to hammer something out after the World Series. Matsui does not have an option. The Angels may have to let him go if they'd prefer to move Bobby Abreu or Juan Rivera to DH.
Johnny Damon played 36 games in the outfield this year and 97 at DH. With his slugging percentage down to .401 this year, he may be a tough sell for Scott Boras as a designated hitter.
Jim Thome picked up just 340 plate appearances this year, but had a big impact with a .283/.412/.627 line and 25 homers. He's just 11 home runs shy of 600, and he'd like to return to the Twins. The Twins also must decide on Jason Kubel's $5.25MM option.
Could Occupy Full-Time DH Roles
Manny Ramirez, Lance Berkman, and Aubrey Huff spent much or all of their seasons in the National League. Ramirez, whose .409 OBP was second only to Thome among free agents, seems a lock to seek a full-time DH job. Berkman could still be a first base option. Huff, the Giants first baseman, didn't DH at all this year but has plenty of experience in the role from his time with the Orioles and Rays. Only Huff is coming off a strong contract year, but any of these three will help on offense.
Fighting For Playing Time
Ten hitters who figure to chase the best opportunity for playing time: Nick Johnson, Marcus Thames, Troy Glaus, Andruw Jones, Brad Hawpe, Jonny Gomes, Russell Branyan, Jose Guillen, Mark Kotsay, and Jorge Cantu. Some of these guys can still play the field. A few, such as Thames and Jones, are coming off solid part-time seasons. Seven of them reached double digits in home runs.
Jack Cust had a robust .395 OBP this year for the A's, but they could choose to go in a different direction. He was non-tendered and then re-signed last winter, but was coming off a worse year. The Rays have a couple of non-tender candidates in Willy Aybar and Dan Johnson.
American League teams such as the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Orioles could stay in-house at DH, but there are plenty of vacancies. If Ortiz, Guerrero, and Thome are re-signed early, Manny, Berkman, and Matsui will become the best available.
The Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Nationals, Pirates, Cardinals, and Giants may be in the market for a right fielder this winter. Let's examine the free agent options.
The Big Name
Though his agent Scott Boras keeps talking about center field, Jayson Werth has mainly played right in the Majors. Werth, 31, is the marquee right-handed bat on the free agent market and plays strong defense as well. In the opinion of CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury, "it’s clear that the starting price will be something in the range of the seven-year, $120 million deal that Boras client Matt Holliday received from St. Louis last winter." Werth will also cost a draft pick if a team other than the Phillies signs him. The Tigers, Angels, and Nationals could be contenders for his services, and despite full outfields most expect the Red Sox and Yankees to check in.
Magglio Ordonez and Brad Hawpe might be solid regulars next year, but there are concerns. Ordonez, 37 in January, is represented by Boras and was limited to 84 games this year due to ankle surgery. Will he take one year and a sizeable pay cut despite a solid offensive performance? Hawpe, 31, slipped to .245/.338/.419 and was cut by the Rockies in August. If UZR is any indication, he's better suited for a DH role.
Jason Kubel was pressed into right field duty this year; like Hawpe, he's better off at DH. Kubel's off-year still looks pretty good compared to other free agents, but the Twins may pick up his option at a $4.9MM net price. Xavier Nady played right field fairly regularly in 2008, but may not have the arm for an everyday gig after a second Tommy John procedure in July of '09.
Jose Guillen, Andruw Jones, Gabe Kapler, Randy Winn, Austin Kearns, Willie Bloomquist, and Jeremy Hermida all tallied 100+ innings in right field this year. Jones and Kearns flashed decent OBPs, while Jones and Guillen showed some pop.
The non-tender candidates don't add much to the discussion. Jeff Francoeur is the main name, but he hasn't hit much since 2007. He'll have to take a part-time role or minor league deal, as will Gabe Gross, Jason Repko, Ryan Church, Delwyn Young, Brett Carroll, and Travis Buck.
For clubs that don't have $100MM+ to spend on Werth, Ordonez and Hawpe are decent offensive-minded alternatives.
The Royals, Braves, Marlins, Nationals, and Padres may be looking for center field help for 2011, but the free agent market is ugly and there are no interesting non-tender candidates. Let's take a look.
Could The Big Names Switch Positions?
Scott Boras is prone to exaggeration, but he touted Jayson Werth's ability to play center field in a September conversation with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Werth played 171 innings in center this year, 62.3 in '09, and 233.3 in '08. It's smart for Boras to position Werth as a center field possibility, given the market.
Carl Crawford has the speed for center but seems unlikely to make the move. He hasn't played 100+ innings in center field since '04.
Probably Not Available
Though Coco Crisp played only 75 games this year for the Athletics, his contract is looking decent because of his performance and the $5.75MM club option for 2011. Though Rajai Davis can play center too, the A's seem very likely to keep Crisp. Crisp is the only free agent who played 600+ innings in center this year. Only Jim Edmonds, who probably won't play center field next year, matched Crisp's offensive production.
Capable Of Playing Center Field
With Edmonds talking about a backup first base role for next year if anything, only Rick Ankiel and Melky Cabrera remain as free agents who logged 300+ center field innings in 2010. Both struggled offensively, though Cabrera was decent in '09.
Tony Gwynn could join the free agent ranks if the Padres non-tender him. He didn't do much with the bat but the speedy 28-year-old did play 701.3 innings in center this year. Non-tender candidates Scott Hairston and Reggie Willits can handle center on a part-time basis.
Corey Patterson has a case for a big league contract this winter. He hit .269/.315/.406 in 340 plate appearances for the Orioles, which would be acceptable for a part-time center fielder. Patterson hasn't played the position in the Majors much in recent years, though he did tally 67 minor league games in '09.
Gary Matthews Jr., Reed Johnson, Jody Gerut, and Willy Taveras played 300+ innings in center last year. They'll be signing minor league deals most likely. Same goes for DeWayne Wise, a non-tender candidate for Toronto.
Assuming Crisp is retained by the A's and Werth stays in right field, there are no free agents you'd want playing center field on a regular basis. We'll see later if the trade market offers anything.
Left field is traditionally a power position, yet Pat Burrell is the only free agent who hit 20 home runs in 2010. The Rays, Tigers, Angels, Braves, Reds, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres, and Giants may be looking for help at the position. Let's break down the free agents.
The Big Name
Carl Crawford's name will be all over this website for the next several months. Here's our stock watch post on him. Crawford is so good that teams I did not name above, such as the Red Sox and Yankees, are expected to at least kick the tires.
Burrell put himself back into the "solid regular" conversation by hitting .266/.364/.509 with 18 home runs in 341 plate appearances after signing with the Giants. There could be one other left field 20 home run bat available if the Twins choose Jason Kubel's $350K buyout over his $5.25MM club option, but I think they'll pick up the option.
Aside from Crawford, Jonny Gomes and Scott Podsednik were the only other free agents to log at least 1,000 innings in left field this year. Gomes, who has a $1.75MM club option with a $200K buyout, is a decent source of power. Podsednik's game is all about speed; he has the ability to void the Dodgers' $2MM option.
Looking For DH Jobs
Useful Bench Bats
Andruw Jones, Bill Hall, Marcus Thames, Austin Kearns, and Corey Patterson all played 100+ innings in left this year and had their moments. Thames and Jones were particularly useful offensively. Willie Harris, Jeremy Hermida, Randy Winn, and Reed Johnson will also be vying for utility roles.
Scott Hairston, Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera, Conor Jackson, and Ryan Langerhans are among the left fielders who may be non-tendered on December 2nd. Laynce Nix and Lastings Milledge are candidates as well, but were useful enough to be tendered contracts for 2011. Hairston, Diaz, and Cabrera were quality players in 2009, but they'll have to earn their playing time.
For teams that don't have $100MM for Crawford, the free agent market for left fielders is weak. Burrell, Gomes, and Podsednik may find regular left field work, while Manny and Damon may still dabble at the position.
The Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Indians, Tigers, Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Marlins, Cardinals, and Giants may be looking for third base help this winter. Here's a look at the hot corner free agent market.
The Best Choice By Far
By signing a one-year deal last offseason, Adrian Beltre positioned himself for another big contract. He hit .321/.365/.553 with his usual stellar defense, so don't be surprised if Scott Boras seeks more than the five years and $64MM Beltre received in 2004. On top of the contract, signing Beltre will require giving up a draft pick. The Red Sox hope to re-sign him, but don't expect a discount.
May Not Hit The Open Market
Even coming off a bad year, Aramis Ramirez would be an appealing free agent. However, the Cubs' third baseman is expected to exercise his $14.6MM player option for 2011. The Tigers may not pick up Jhonny Peralta's $7MM option, but they expect to retain him and play him at shortstop.
Most clubs won't be thrilled to pencil in Jorge Cantu, Pedro Feliz, Brandon Inge, Miguel Tejada, Juan Uribe, Melvin Mora, Nick Punto, or Ty Wigginton as their starter at third base, though many of them played regularly this year. Inge is looking to re-sign with the Tigers at a fair price, and GM Dave Dombrowski would like to reach an agreement before he hits the open market according to Tom Gage of the Detroit News. Inge shows pop from time to time, but most of his value is in his defense.
Kevin Kouzmanoff, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Lopez are the most notable non-tender candidates at third base. The A's may keep Kouzmanoff for lack of a better option, but Encarnacion and Lopez are likely to join the free agent ranks. Andy Marte, Andy LaRoche, and Kevin Frandsen could also be cut loose.
It's Beltre or bust this year if you're looking to sign a free agent third baseman. Whoever you'd rank behind Beltre, it's a distant second. Teams that find him too expensive may turn to the trade market.
As usual, the free agent market for shortstops is barren. There are no stars, and solid regulars are hard to come by. The Orioles, Twins, Reds, Astros, Cardinals, Padres, and Giants could be seeking help at the position. Let's take a look.
Technically A Free Agent
Even after an off-year, 36-year-old Derek Jeter is the top free agent shortstop. Everyone assumes he'll re-sign with the Yankees. Will he even receive legitimate offers from other teams? If something causes Jeter to look elsewhere, it'd shake up the market at this position.
Also Probably Unavailable
Juan Uribe, Orlando Cabrera ($4MM mutual option), and Cesar Izturis topped 850 innings at shortstop this year. Only Uribe was useful with the bat. Uribe has cause to seek a multiyear deal, since he's one of the better free agent choices at both middle infield positions.
One wild card, though he's not technically a free agent, is Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 28-year-old is expected to be posted by the Seibu Lions after a .314/.385/.511 campaign that included 20 home runs in 579 plate appearances.
Edgar Renteria may be pushed to an early retirement, but if healthy he'd still be able to find playing time. Miguel Tejada, Jerry Hairston Jr., Adam Everett, and Cristian Guzman are not inspiring shortstop options, but they all logged at least 450 innings there this season or last. Everett is the defensive whiz of the bunch, while Tejada still provides a little offense.
Some of the players listed above will find only utility roles. Other free agents like Nick Punto ($5MM club option), Craig Counsell, Juan Castro, Bobby Crosby, Julio Lugo, Geoff Blum, and Omar Vizquel will be scrapping for playing time and could sign minor league deals.
The non-tender candidates could shake up the market, because they're just as interesting as the regular free agents. Jason Bartlett, J.J. Hardy, and Ryan Theriot are the big names. Bartlett is here because he'd be due more than $4MM next year, but given the terrible free agent class and his fine '09 season the Rays would likely find a taker on the trade market if they want to move on. Hardy is a similar story - most of you expect him to be tendered a contract, but he may be traded. Theriot is likely to be cut loose by the Dodgers. He served as the Cubs' main shortstop for three seasons before being supplanted by Starlin Castro this year.
Once again, the free agent market for shortstops is bleak. Uribe should be popular, and Nakajima plus the non-tenders could provide a boost.