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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.
The free agent market for second basemen is short on big names and only offers a few players who would be considered solid regulars. The Twins, Athletics, Mariners, Mets, Nationals, Astros, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Padres could be in the market for second base help.
Mark Ellis, Orlando Hudson, and Juan Uribe are credible options to start at second base. Ellis, the only Type A free agent second baseman, has a $6MM club option. The Athletics will entertain the idea of bringing him back somehow. Uribe provides more power and versatility than Hudson. Hudson is a better choice for OBP. We're assuming Omar Infante's $2.5MM club option is picked up.
Fighting For Playing Time
Melvin Mora, David Eckstein, Cristian Guzman, Jerry Hairston Jr., Bill Hall, Adam Kennedy, Felipe Lopez, and Nick Punto will have to fight for regular playing time at second base. Hall had a Uribe-like season, slugging .456 with 18 home runs and playing all over the place. Mora had a nice year, posting a .358 OBP for the Rockies in 354 plate appearances. He hasn't played a ton of second base in his career, though.
Most of the remaining free agents will be pushed into utility roles if they haven't already been: Willie Bloomquist, Ronnie Belliard, Craig Counsell, Akinori Iwamura, Julio Lugo, and others. Several will have to settle for minor league deals.
Last year Kelly Johnson was non-tendered by the Braves. He signed as a free agent with the Diamondbacks and hit .284/.370/.496 with 26 home runs. This year, Jose Lopez, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Clint Barmes, Willy Aybar, and Jeff Baker are potential second base non-tenders. Lopez, Theriot and Barmes are likely to be cut, though the Giants may retain Fontenot. Barmes hit 23 home runs back in '09, while Lopez hit 25. Aybar and Baker are more in the utility mold.
First base is a place for offense, and the free agent market offers plenty of options. The Orioles, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, White Sox, Rangers, Braves, Nationals, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Dodgers, and Giants could be seeking first base help in some capacity this winter. That's nearly half the teams in baseball, so we could see quite the first base shuffle.
Coming Off Big Years
Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Aubrey Huff had well-timed walk years. Dunn and Konerko each approached 40 home runs, while Huff hit for power and drew 83 walks. As a Type A, Konerko could cost a new team a draft pick if he turns down an arbitration offer from the White Sox. Konerko's big year suggests a multiyear contract, though he will head into next season at 35. Unlike Dunn, he seems open to increased time at DH. Konerko seems willing to walk away from the game if he doesn't find an acceptable offer. Dunn and Huff are Type Bs. Dunn has been a model of consistency with his home run totals, though his walk rate took a dip this year. For some reason, the common refrain among writers is that four years and $60MM will get him signed. Memories of Huff's abysmal 2009 season could limit his offers.
Lance Berkman, Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee, and Nick Johnson had strong 2009 seasons but suffered injuries and/or decline in 2010. Berkman, 35 in February, still draws plenty of walks but had a power outage this year as he dealt with knee and ankle injuries. Johnson, 32, was limited to 98 plate appearances due to multiple wrist surgeries. Berkman and Johnson could DH next year. Lee, 35, dealt with side, hand, back, hamstring, thumb, and foot injuries this year. Pena, 33 in May, took a nosedive in 2010 but still drew 87 walks. The Boras client could sign a one-year deal in hopes of returning to his 40 home run days.
Russell Branyan, Ty Wigginton, Jorge Cantu, Troy Glaus, Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady, and Lyle Overbay may view themselves as starters, but could find offers of regular playing time hard to come by. LaRoche should be OK coming off a 100 RBI season, though his OBP was just .320. Similarly, Branyan has power but struck out plenty and didn't get on base frequently.
Casey Kotchman will be cut by the Mariners after a rough year; he turns 28 in February. The Dodgers could trade or non-tender James Loney, who hit .267/.329/.395 but would get a raise on this year's $3.1MM salary. The Rays' Dan Johnson could be cut, though he had a huge year at Triple A and had his moments with the big club.
First base openings are widespread this offseason. Dunn, Konerko, Huff, and Pena should be in demand, while the others may have to scramble for work or head to the American League as part-time DHs. The trade market, covered here, should offer at least one heavy hitter in Prince Fielder.
It's time to kick off a new series with a look at the free agent market for catchers. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, White Sox, Angels, Rangers, Marlins, Reds, and Dodgers are among the teams facing uncertainty behind the dish. You can check out our full 2011 free agent list here.
Victor Martinez stands alone as the big name among free agent catchers this offseason. The switch-hitter missed over a month with a broken thumb, but still hit .302/.351/.493 with 20 home runs in 538 plate appearances. ESPN's Gordon Edes says Martinez hopes to return to Boston, but is excited to test the free agent waters. He turned down a reported two-year offer from the Red Sox during the season, and should cost a draft pick if he signs elsewhere. Martinez is also capable of playing first base, and he told Edes, "I'll do anything." V-Mart is not known for his defense, but he did improve throughout the year.
John Buck, Ramon Hernandez, Miguel Olivo, Yorvit Torrealba, A.J. Pierzynski, Bengie Molina, and Rod Barajas are your solid regulars, with Gerald Laird on the fringe after an awful offensive season. Buck is appealing for his power and youth, while Hernandez led free agent backstops in OBP. Olivo and Barajas have good pop. Pierzynski and Hernandez are Type A free agents, so they may cost a draft pick to sign if they turn down arbitration offers from the White Sox and Reds.
Russell Martin, due more than $5MM next year in his third year of arbitration, could be non-tendered by the Dodgers if they can't find a trade match. Martin's power seems lost but he still gets on base. Other non-tender candidates include Ronny Paulino, Mike Napoli, Jeff Mathis, Dioner Navarro, Brayan Pena, Koyie Hill, and Humberto Quintero. Napoli is intriguing for his bat, though he's more likely to be traded than cut loose.
Backups Ramon Castro and Jose Molina could be plucked off the market if their club options are exercised. The Brewers are expected to decline their option on Gregg Zaun, while Olivo and Torrealba have mutual options.
Beyond V-Mart, it looks like a buyer's market for catchers. All but a few teams have decent young options behind the plate. A team like the Marlins, who are known to be seeking a veteran catcher, should be able to get a bargain by offering an opportunity to start. And don't forget the trade candidates likely to flood the market, which we discuss in a separate post.
- Lowest ERA: Brendan Donnelly, Kiko Calero, Takashi Saito, and Rafael Betancourt. XFIP leaders: Betancourt, Donnelly, and LaTroy Hawkins.
- Best strikeout rates: Octavio Dotel, Calero, Betancourt, Russ Springer, and Donnelly.
- Best control: Josh Banks, Matt Herges, and Springer.
- Toughest to hit: Calero, Josh Fogg, Brandon Lyon, and Elmer Dessens.
- Lowest home run rate: Calero, Julian Tavarez, J.J. Putz, and Donnelly.
- Best groundball rate: Danys Baez and Jamey Wright.
- Innings leaders: Wright, Lyon, Aaron Heilman, Baez, and Miguel Batista.
- If you're a holds fan, Batista, R.A. Dickey, and Wright are your leaders.
- Highest average fastball velocity: Hawkins, Guillermo Mota, Putz, and Baez.
- Chad Cordero is the only guy who will be under 30 in 2010.
- Marlins scrap-heap pickups Calero and Donnelly are intriguing. But Calero spent time on the DL with shoulder inflammation, while Donnelly had calf, shoulder, and back problems.
- The following righty relievers had strong 2008s: Joe Nelson, Chad Bradford, and Geoff Geary.
- Chan Ho Park was excellent in relief this year: a 2.52 ERA in 50 innings with 52 strikeouts and 16 walks.
- Joaquin Benoit, Kelvim Escobar, and Putz make for interesting post-injury signings.
- Projected Type A free agents: Betancourt, Dotel, and Hawkins. Type B: Doug Brocail, Calero, Bob Howry, Lyon, Mota, Park, Springer, and David Weathers.
- Club options: Betancourt, Brocail, Putz, Saito, and Weathers.
Lefty relievers are a popular offseason wish list item this year. Let's take a look at the free agent market.
- The group's ERA leader (1.50), Scott Eyre, is considering retirement. Mike Gonzalez is next at 2.42, though he may be seeking a closer job. John Grabow at 3.36 rounds out the top three.
- Gonzalez leads with a 10.9 K/9, followed by Darren Oliver at 8.01 and Ron Mahay at 7.51.
- Brian Shouse (club option) had the best control with a 2.25 BB/9. Then it's Oliver at 2.71 and Joe Beimel at 3.09.
- Grabow and Oliver led in home run prevention at 0.62 per nine. Eyre and Gonzalez were the toughest to hit.
- How about shutting down lefties? Shouse (.246), Eyre (.269), Horacio Ramirez (.288), Oliver (.295), and Beimel (.297) led in OBP against. Grabow (.284), Ramirez (.327), Eyre (.355), and Shouse (.373) led in SLG against. Combining the two, Grabow (.614), Ramirez (.615), Shouse (.619), and Eyre (.624) were your OPS against leaders. Will Ohman, injured much of the season, was excellent against lefties in 2008 (.571 OPS against).
- Shouse is the one true groundball artist of the group at 61.3%. He's an intriguing choice, but the 41-year-old tallied only 28 innings due to an elbow strain. The Rays have a $1.9MM club option with a $200K buyout for 2010. Grabow is a decent option, if not for his 5.0 BB/9. Ramirez was pummeled by righties but quietly dominated lefties in his short time with the Royals. He did not have the same success against southpaws in 2008, however.
- Projected Type A free agents: Oliver, Gonzalez, and Grabow. Type B: Shouse, Eyre, Beimel, and Ohman. Scott Schoeneweis and Ron Villone are represented by Scott Boras. Embree, Ohman, and Shouse have club options.
Looking for a free agent closer to fill your team's ninth inning void? Let's examine the market.
- Saves are in large part of function of opportunity, but I'll note that Trevor Hoffman leads free agent closers with 36. Fernando Rodney has 35. Hoffman and Rodney also rank first and second in save opportunities. Rodney leads with a 97.2% success rate, and Hoffman is next at 92.3%.
- Hoffman leads with a 1.76 ERA. Then it's Valverde at 2.08, LaTroy Hawkins at 2.20, and Mike Gonzalez at 2.49. XFIP leaders: Rafael Soriano at 3.00, Gonzalez at 3.52, and Hoffman at 3.62.
- Soriano leads free agent closers with a 11.89 K/9. Gonzalez is next at 11.07, and Jose Valverde checks in at 9.69. Kevin Gregg also whiffed more than a batter per inning (9.31).
- Hoffman has the best control, with a 1.94 BB/9. Then it's Hawkins at 2.35 BB/9, Soriano at 3.10, and Valverde at 3.29. Rodney is the riskiest at 4.74 BB/9.
- Best home run rate: Hoffman (0.35 per nine), Soriano (0.74), Gonzalez (0.87), and Valverde (0.87). Rodney is the only real groundball artist at 56.4%.
- Hoffman is the toughest to hit at 6.00 per nine. Soriano (6.32), Valverde (6.40), and Gonzalez (6.84) were also stingy. Hoffman is also your BABIP leader at .237.
- Gregg threw the most pitches at 1305. Hoffman had the least at 696.
- Valverde and Rodney have the highest average fastball velocity at 95.9 mph. Hawkins and Wagner averaged 94.2.
- Billy Wagner didn't close this year, but he'd like to in 2010. He's returned from Tommy John surgery to post 22 strikeouts against 8 walks in 13 innings. Other free agent pitchers with closing experience: Luis Ayala, Danys Baez, Miguel Batista, Joaquin Benoit, Rafael Betancourt, Chad Cordero, Octavio Dotel, Kelvim Escobar, Eric Gagne, Tom Gordon, Bob Howry, Jason Isringhausen, Jorge Julio, Brandon Lyon, Troy Percival, J.J. Putz, Takashi Saito, Justin Speier, David Weathers, and Eddie Guardado. Kiko Calero also merits consideration.
- Type A free agents: Wagner, Valverde, Gonzalez, Hoffman, Soriano, Hawkins, and Gregg. Rodney is a Type B.
Today let's take a look at the free agent market for starting pitchers.
- ERA leaders: Randy Wolf (3.24), Joel Pineiro (3.24), John Lackey (3.56), Jarrod Washburn (3.78), and Jason Marquis (3.98).
- Prefer xFIP? We've got Pineiro (3.69), Lackey (4.06), Wolf (4.27), Marquis (4.43), and Andy Pettitte (4.48).
- Best strikeout rate (K/9): Rich Harden (10.9), Erik Bedard (9.8), John Smoltz (8.5), Randy Johnson (8.0), Lackey (7.2), Pettitte (7.0), Wolf (6.8), Doug Davis (6.5), and Carl Pavano (6.4).
- Best control (BB/9): Pineiro (1.1, leads all of baseball), Smoltz (1.6), Pavano (1.7), Wolf (2.4), Lackey (2.4), Washburn (2.5), and Jon Garland (2.7).
- Lowest home run rate (HR/9): Pineiro (0.31), Marquis (0.66), Tim Wakefield (0.71), Lackey (0.74), and Jose Contreras (0.87).
- Best groundball rate: Pineiro (61.4%, leads all of baseball), Marquis (55.2%), and Looper (46.8%).
- Lowest hit rate (H/9): Bedard (7.0), Wolf (7.5), Harden (7.8), Washburn (8.2), Lackey (8.7), and Pettitte (8.8). Along those same lines, your BABIP leaders: Washburn (.254), Wolf (.256), Marquis (.285), and Braden Looper (.286).
- Innings leaders: Marquis (206), Wolf (203), Pineiro (203), Garland (194.6), Pettitte (184.3), Pavano (183), and Looper (182.6).
- Most pitches thrown: Davis (3253), Wolf (3112), Pettitte (3096), Marquis (3085), Garland (3084), and Looper (3075).
- Highest average fastball velocity: Brad Penny (94.0), Harden (92.1), Padilla (91.9), Contreras (91.7), Sidney Ponson (91.7), Lackey (91.6), Bedard (91.5), Todd Wellemyer (91.5), and Smoltz (91.5).
- Under 30 years old in 2010: Daniel Cabrera, Harden, Brett Myers, and Mark Prior.
- Scott Boras represents Washburn and Rodrigo Lopez.
- Projected Type A free agents: Lackey, Harden, and Wolf. Projected Bs: Pettitte, Wakefield, Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Brandon Webb, Pineiro, Garland, Vicente Padilla, Looper, Marquis, Davis, and Wellemeyer.
- Pitchers who were solid in 2008: Ben Sheets, Webb, Wellemeyer, Bedard, Duchscherer, and Johnson. Freddy Garcia, Tim Hudson, and Myers are other interesting injury bounceback candidates.
- Smoltz, Penny, and Padilla have been somewhat effective upon moving to the NL.
- Pitchers with 2010 options: Cliff Lee (an obvious choice to exercise at $8MM), Garcia, Garland, Hudson, Looper, Brian Moehler, Wakefield, and Webb.
Supply always exceeds demand in the market for designated hitters, since only 14 such jobs exist. Well-paid declining sluggers David Ortiz, Pat Burrell, and Travis Hafner seemingly have locks on three of those 14 spots for 2010. Three more will disappear if Mike Jacobs, Adam Lind, and Jason Kubel maintain their principal '09 roles. Plus, certain teams prefer to keep the DH spot open to give aging players a break. If the free agent hitters below can't muster up tolerable first base/left field defense and good health to match, they may be limited to eight or fewer open American League DH spots.
- Hideki Matsui leads DHs with a .369 OBP. Jim Thome is next at .367. Gary Sheffield is up there at .369, and he even managed 501 innings in the outfield this year. Manny Ramirez, should he decline his $20MM player option, might be best-served bringing his .422 OBP to the DH market.
- Manny would be the SLG leader at .559. Then we have Russell Branyan at .520, though he spent most of his time at first base in 2009. Next is Matsui at .515, Thome at .484, Vladimir Guerrero at .472, and Hank Blalock at .469. Aubrey Huff spent most of last season at DH and posted a .552 SLG.
- Carlos Delgado would be a wild card if the 37-year-old decides to make the transition from first base to DH. He hit .298/.393/.521 in 112 plate appearances for the Mets before going down for hip surgery.
- Vlad and Manny project as Type A free agents. Matsui, Huff, and Delgado project as Type Bs. Manny is the only Scott Boras client in the group.
- We have not been trying to predict non-tendered players or trade candidates in these free agent market discussions. But keep in mind that Jacobs, Jack Cust, and Milton Bradley may also be in the mix.
- Teams hold a clear advantage over those vying for DH jobs, so low-risk one-year deals should be the norm. Guerrero, an intriguing option after missing much of '09 with a torn pectoral muscle, could sign for two years or one year with an option.